Pandemic Diary #71 – reflections on graduate school (20 Nov 2021)

all the ways grad school let me down (or i let myself down?)

  • no five years of stability in income and health insurance
    (which would have been way worth the pay downgrade to me — if i wanted my life to be so unstable, i could have just done contract work…)
  • no traveling and eating on other people’s dime
  • no making cool robotics friends around the world
  • no being excited about teaching undergrads and inspiring them about robotics and making sure none of them fall through the cracks

good things to come of the last 5 years

  • i’m no longer scared of equations, and i can understand why the precision is needed. bring on the set notation
  • i learned what proofs are
  • i got an A in a serious grad class & finished a cool controls project, no one can take that away from me
  • i published a first-author paper! for a long time felt like it’d never happen. so, professors can’t just dismiss me outright
  • i got a robot arm to throw a knife
  • i met and talked to so many cool people ! so many people’s doors are open to me if only i have it in me to ask
  • i got to present a paper, and people told me the presentation was really good πŸ™‚

it’s weird that now as a “senior” grad student, in grad school i almost entirely hang out with people younger than me (and way more accomplished). i remember when i felt like i was turning a new leaf and maybe there was a chance to do well for myself

and all the while i’ve yet to review any papers etc.

if i was here two years ago – before the pandemic feels like it took over 1/3 of my grad time — i would be pretty excited actually to start this field (ai for social good). now i just feel in a rush to leave… but that leads to poor work. (i’ve never felt like i’ve had the time and stability to do good work, to really show what i’m capable of — but isn’t that true for everyone). in some sense i could still aim high, i know at least one person who published just one paper in five years, it was a really good paper and went on to postdoc at a good school. but i feel so tired

things i want to do within the next 1 year:

  • newport bermuda or newport halifax races — do long ocean passages & learn safety at sea. maybe an all-female BVI or Mediterranean charter
  • pass my quals, graduate ! (just make something up when profs ask you how this fits into overall field, like you did for your fellowships!)
  • publish two first-author papers in AI for social good
  • finish at least 4 of my side projects

next 2 years

  • get a nice cushy job that isn’t too stressful
  • make it to six figures in nominal savings (three fund portfolio) (i estimate this should be a year of industry-competitive salary) or live abroad for 3 months
  • sail across the atlantic ocean
  • idk do the life thing
a stray made friends with me at tal mixta cave in gozo

i was just sitting on the floor of the cave resting due to my ankle and it walked up to me and started kneading my dress. could’ve sat there and enjoyed the view for hours. pretty grateful to semi-stranger (met at conference) for totally unplanned touristing, this cat will probably be the highlight of my trip. i feel accepted and appreciated now

Pandemic Diary #70 – solo injured travel internationally T^T (20 Nov 2021)

so i sorta set my mind for a workcation / solo travel / living abroad

then two days in i sprained my ankle T__T first time spraining it. at least it’s not such a bad sprain, i can put weight on it without hurting. my foot is definitely swollen though even now three days later

this caused a strange set of events, like getting pushed on a luggage trolley by a world renowned robotics prof in order to catch the tour ferry, getting piggy back rides from people i met three days ago, and getting accosted by like every other person on the street asking if i need help

i’m not certain if i’m overplaying it, i move like snail speed right now. i think i can probably trust my foot more but i’m scared to since i remember that pain

hopping around and also hobbling around on a cane is so much effort

mostly i’m a bit sad i can’t do work and then take a walk around the seaside ! and i’ve been so exhausted just from every day things that i haven’t been able to get much work done πŸ™ πŸ™ πŸ™ πŸ™ and motivation is low when sitting is tiring since i’m trying to keep my foot elevated, and the chair at the airbnb is totally the wrong height.

still, so far so good in terms of travelling logistics. smartphones and the internet make it sooo easy. i set up google fi (which did require chatting with the agent once in malta to fix my connection issues T__T) and so i could comfortably book airbnbs, and also scooter and cab rides through my phone (they required text verification so another +1 for google fi, free texting)

Malta is surprisingly like LA, 90% the signs are all in english, and almost everyone I’ve encountered also speaks almost perfect english

ths ankle sprain really drove home how much simpler in some ways it is to travel as a two-person group. of course there’s more possibilities of drama esp. if not on the same wavelength, and logistically can be time-consuming to agree on schedules etc. But it would have been really nice to have someone be able to handle luggage and get groceries and things. Still, everyone i’ve met has been so nice…

I feel quite silly babying my ankle so much, and attracting so much attention, when it doesn’t even really hurt most of the time. (more like growing pains than anything acute). but also like i really want it to heal in two weeks and not two months. and, since i got the injury from rushing (legit some stranger on the street told me to take it easy, and i was like eh i’m okay… SUCH KARMA), i figure it’s not a bad idea to take it slow.

compression socks are so expensive bought in a random pharmacies! and also they have sizes >__>; a pharmacist was insistent i was size small, later i measured, def. medium, and probably not good to over-compress my foot lol. and, people here don’t say canes, they say “walking stick”. the first pharmacy didn’t have one and suggested i look in a tourist shop for a wooden one LOL fortunately the one two doors down had a cane

at first being injured made me feel quite far from home and a little lonely even. still, overall i am feeling pretty okay

i have been sleeping a lot. this new room is on the 5th floor but the sun is filtered through a canopy and a terrace so it feels a bit like a basement room.

i guess that i still feel quite weird about international travel, so no pics for now, except for this cat which appeared at the conference

ok just kidding, here are some more pics. halloumi dog — delicious fried cheese

i went grocery shopping while hungry — everything is in english o.o these are quite tasty — a lot less sweet than i’d expect in america, which i really like

accessibility tools: on-demand car services and scooters, via smartphone app

(i paid a sweet $70 for a google fi unlimited plan because I didn’t want to mess around with missing work, and i dislike the mental energy consumed by rationing data. it’s been great for using the scooter, rideshare, whatsapp etc. apps)

i got copies of the book our paper is in! i’m putting them to good use as a laptop stand

on the desktop you can see my timezone reminders — in the bottom right, I used shell clock, which replaces clock with output of a shell command. also google calendar allows you to have two time zones, so i screenshotted and annotated that with the 9-5pm of my work mates.

okay the calendar bubbles are not actually how much i’m working, just rough time blocks so i don’t thrash that hard between my main projects

see where a comment has the command for timezones, and . one-click browser install, so handly. then go to gnome-tweaks and extension settings. i used “””bash -c “echo $(date +’%b %d %H:%M’) \(EST $(TZ=America/New_York date +’%H:%M’)\)”””

(the codes are at


it was so good to hang out with roboticists, i don’t feel like i got to know them that well. i wish that i could go again but i doubt that i’d ever have the spare cash to just throw $1k at a conference registration without including the travel and accomodation fees (this time around it was covered by NSF). it felt really awkward to hang out with people talking about $150 per diem meals and $3k flights while i had paid my way on the cheapest flights i found and staying in airbnbs. but my roommate put a positive spin on it that it was neat that i yeeted myself into another country for a few weeks.

also a bit strange to remember when i was so enthusiastic about this new world of academia i was discovering, and excited to contribute to society and talk about cool things with cool people

hopefully this resolves some of my urge to live abroad? (probably i just made it worse, i was expecting to have much more difficulty getting around — in some ways montreal felt a bit more foreign as there the signs are also in french o.o). and even more hopefully i get enough work done to feel confident about taking my qualifier exams. (it was interesting hearing about how all the different phd systems are set up in different countries ! i guess that’s how people end up applying to postdocs in other countries). then i’d consider it a good trip and good monetary investment (?) regardless of how much i get to trave/not travel (due to my sprained ankle)

i am not sure if these are functional but they are around

the afternoons and evenings of the conference were guided tours of malta, so i did at least get to see the main tourist sites and the different scenic views of malta πŸ™‚ and now, time to work

Pandemic Diary #69 – international travel (17 Nov 2021)

i’ve done it, i’ve broken my red line and eaten indoors with a bunch (30ish) of other unmasked people. they are all vaxxed to enter malta but still yeesh

all it took was feeling grumpy about spending a large amount of money, being surrounded by 30 other people I have spent some time getting to know over the last two days (including some wizened professors) who are willing to do so…

?? well I guess I will get tested again (for the first time!) at some point to enter the US.

but my presentation went well apparently?! and I got the sensor demo working (with lots of help / borrowed equipment)

it was nice to hang out with roboticists again briefly and just think about how cool robots are. it definitely has that feel of “these are my people” that I get a lot less of from pure CS unrelated to robotics. and, the professors here do seem like nice people

maybe i just need to actually talk to some CS-based AI for social good professors outside of my program — I guess that I must first publish a paper to do that

but also, I am running out of my self-allotted time to do so. i am in year 5 ! (jeez I have so much work to do in the next two months — it’s always like this — i should take more time to finish my 10 year backlog of side projects, as that will make me happy, but graduating on time-ish would also make me happy…)

still this is a weird feeling to remember how fun / excited i used to be about research and robots and learning about academia for the first time. i guess that actually this is my first in-person conference where i am presenting my own work, and it’s a really intimate setting (30 ish people, 3 professors who are just having a good time)

malta is surprisingly less foreign, the appearance is really cool, the signs are somehow 90% in english, it’s interesting. maybe it will feel stranger when i get outside of the conference / hanging out with conference people

the airbnb situation is okay, i realized i really like having a private bathroom even if i share the room with a family (which i was a bit concerned about in terms of COVID, but ?? the host keeps saying i can take my mask off inside lol). sadly i have not really had a chance to talk to them as i have been just barely waking up in time for conference until now

the jet lag honestly has not been so bad. mostly the first night i stayed up quite late to finish demo / slides, and then the second night i crashed and then woke up to perform daily ablutions and then was up for a while, and then got bit by mosquitoes and woke up repeatedly lol

but tonight i finally slept well!

sad to think this is the last day. maybe i will take some time in the next ten minutes to try to remember people’s names and topics and schools, i have been so out of it

and google fi was a disaster, but finally i contacted phone support and hopefully it is fixed?

the presentations have been interesting. there are some small details (like small font on axes titles, colors that don’t work well on projector vs screen), it’s nice to have gotten stuff out of way with roommates

still it’s clear that mine is a one-off paper (and that no further work has been done since final submission), perhaps just improving on the possibilities for gelsight designs, which are maybe helpful for robotic manipulation, while other people have much more a sense of how their work fits into a bigger overall picture.

it also forced me to think about my current research vis-a-vis the larger picture. i am getting pigeonholed into HT vs the broader CS community which i dislike. i think the solution is to dig into fairness, but in an applied way (not theoretical), as it’s what i spend a lot of time thinking about.

but i must do the work. in some search really excited to settle in saturday and spend ten days just grinding on research (…with side work on bank stuff = visualization work, and research work = rl agents). i feel like i made a recent restart (was stuck on database design for no reason?!) and am eager to get started

Pandemic Diary #68 – halloween makeup (01 Nov 2021)

y’know i think i’ve been meaning to blog about halloween makeup for like 5 years now

so perfect is the enemy of good and all that

here are some pics

bleeding wounds

not great but at least doesn’t look like a kid with a crayon? note: nail polish rubbed off a bit, fixed it up later, as well as imporved stitches

youtube recipe

fresh claw/scratch wounds are four-ingredient, 5 minute easy. (liquid) lipstick, lip gloss, and black+red eye shadow (plus two brushes – small ones. Very important!! otherwise it will just look like a kid drew with a fat crayon on you)

  1. dab brush in red eyshadow, brush a fat ish line (`1.5 cm at thickest). this is the area where the skin is kinda infected / inflamed. Then in center (same size brush) black eyeshadow. Blend the two together.
  2. liquid lipstick – draw a line down the center (~1 cm max). this is the bleeding / open wound part
  3. with flat-edged brush and black eyeshadow, add depth to the edges of the aforementioned line. this is some dried blood on the edges
  4. dab lip gloss in the center of the lipstick line (~0.5cm max). this is the fresh blood. do a dip sideways if you want the fresh blood to be spilling a bit from the wound

or in visual format (which is very important!) see:

IRL wound makeup

I got two smallish brushes ($2 each). I had lip stick but it was cheap and not dark / vivid enough / not liquid lipstick and didn’t look good when I applied it with the brush. so I used red nail polish. I also added some concealer along the edges to kinda mimic the inflamation. BUT — I have NO idea how these wounds like IRL, and didn’t go looking for source material.

But also… maybe I should have committed to the halloween, extra look – not aim for realism but for exaggeration! drippy blood everywhere, like in youtube thumbnail


Stitches: I made these with liquid eyeliner, it was relieving to work with such a fine brush. I didn’t look up a tutorial, just kinda doodled. Note that afterward I looked up stitches for IRL reference material vs just halloween tutorials. So you want to add a dot of black and maybe some red at either end of the thread and maybe a loop in the middle. This is the thread entering the skin, so the skin may be a bit inflamed.


  • Healed stitches at:
  • Types of sutures at:
  • Realistic stitch sfx at:

But again… maybe better to aim for exaggeration for halloween? there is something kinda fun about realism though


i did nothing for halloween last year, and this year i wasn’t going to any parties, but i did at least feel like doing something. of course i decided halloween morning so the stores were out of face paint which was followed by like 5 hours of disastrously trying to make face paint, but the actual make up itself was really straightforward to draw.

despite the mishaps at least now i have no fear of committing to full face makeup. was fun to just draw on face !


followed tutorial at: “Last Minute Halloween Makeup Tutorial for Men”

later i found out he was just using normal acrylic paint, not face paint T^T though i am super curious how it worked out after it was dry in an hour or so.

but also, would highly recommend just like… having the foresight to buy black and white face paint for like $20 instead of spending 2 hrs shopping, 4 hours mixing, and 2 hrs cleanup trying to make face paint.

IRL DIY facepaint failures

not recommended but idk this is a diary entry anyway, not nicely edited

ok so i could not find white facepaint, what do? clearly i should make my own (wtf was i thinking)

so the issue with the flour was, i just used regular all purpose flour and it’s not nearly fine enough. eventually i realized i should look to youtube to understand the consistency i needed, and found the recipe here is just water, cornstarch and rice flour — these are all finer powders than flour. i added some white tempura paint ($0.8) to make it more opaque, and black tempura paint for the 2nd color of course. this was a lot better than the coconut oil, which was just like… thick clumpy paste…

in the end still everything was terrible, i think adding lotion was needed to the latter mixture to prevent flaking when dry. it would be okay in the street at night, but in daylight…

well TBH the cracked look is kinda neat in its own way, if it weren’t for the flakiness. Halloween has a whole falling-apart aura to it and this fits into that
and then afterward there was such a huge mess to clean up… T__T

But anyway. I can add skeleton makeup to cuts as something that I can do fast in the future. I’ll just know what supplies to get online before hand.

Here are the pictures of the WIP.

painting my ear was the worst

In future I can also look at more skull references

This tutorial just uses pale foundation, with baby powder to set it.

This tutorial ( has more of the fun countouring stuff, and actual face paint recommendations: Face Paint Cheaper Alternative (Mehron Paradise Paint) which is about $13 for a cake of white, which is pretty reasonable given THE 8 HOURS I SPENT TRYING TO MAKE MY OWN i hate my spontaneity sometimes

lessons learned

decide on friday so you can amazon face paint to yourself on sunday because all the stores will be out of face paint on halloween,

also if you’re making your own, add lotion to the paint so it doesn’t flake everywhere after it dries

don’t care so much about the white layer, you’ll f*k it up and wipe it clean and just apply another white layer anyway

buying things

I have been reflecting a bit. I’ve been trying to go to stores in person (now that I’m vaxxed) locally vs buying amazon. But it saves so much time to just buy online sometimes (well… unless too much indecision due to massive # options). And there are more likely to be used items for less money and feels better than consuming new things. Plus, I already pay amazon $60-$70 a year to host this website. So does anything matter?!

other notes

even when it looks awful compared to youtube, people IRL don’t have that reference and will just be impressed at the boldness of doing full face makeup o__o

2017, when it all started

aw yea that crayon look, for lack of a $2 brush…

so much crayon look, wtf was i thinking

try 2 on the next day went a little better…

2017 supplies used:

makeup supplies

my notes at the time:

  • Just ordinary eyeshadow (for lining the eyes and eyebrows),
  • eyebrow shadow (optional),
  • eyeliner (for thinner black lines for the wound),
  • lip balm (bright red for the blood, which should be cover an area bigger than the black lines) (I wish I had had a thinner red. Also, this leaves stains for a day even after I scrub with makeup remover clothes),
  • clear nail polish,
  • pale foundation (to give it an eerier feel) — could also be combined with the white eyeshadow for a paler shinier feel
  • and latex peel-off nail polish (you put it around your nail bed for easy cleanup after applying nail polish).
  • Not pictured: hairspray, just to keep things together (it doesn’t seem to help with shininess?)

Pandemic Diary #67 – sailing? yoga? mango lassi? (22 Oct 2021)

sooo relaxed about covid lately, still not eating indoors, but is it so different than outdoors less than 6 feet, which is always the case

it’s hard to not normalize to whatever everyone around you is doing (where everyone is a set of like 10 people)

did a sail to spectacle. it was pretty, but rushed T^T people and their real life schedules, wish had more of a chance to enjoy the view. I’m logically sure people had a good time but emotionally I’m certain everyone was upset lol. Also, had first (only?) powerboat incident of year, on the third docking of the day. Turns out in the dark it’s a lot harder to judge how fast you’re going!! and therefore how soon to make the final turn. I think I made the turn at roughly the same distance, but was coming in hot so it just didn’t respond in time at all. Think nothing bad happened, and my lesson there is that I need to practice docking in the evening. Undocking at spectacle was also a challenge, due to the strong waves pushing against the dock — I struggled to even move the boat forward a cleat, though I was pretty tired.

also something unavoidable with sails with large group inexperienced people — it’s actually much more difficult to communicate clearly! since you have to simultaneously explain to 3 people at once in a way they’ll understand, when something unexpected is happening, that it’s hard to communicate anything at all. I always imagine I’ll just tell everyone except one person to sit their butts down, but that’s a lot easier when you have at least one person you’ve done docking/undocking with before lol. But yea, way easier with just one inexperienced person to slowly and calmly explain what they should do differently to help out in terms that they’ll understand.

But mostly my inexperience docking in the dark.

started a 1000 piece puzzle.

me to 2nd roommate: “you missed out on the puzzling yesterday!”
2nd roommate lifts up felt to look at puzzle: “Seems like I’ll have plenty more chances to puzzle”.


what else, made mango lassi. hadn’t made in a while.

and it’s fall now. apple picking? maybe i’ll look some hiking place up, excuse to drive somewhere, look at the view with the leaves.

leaves changing color

went to yoga, have only been maybe 4x nearly 10 years ago or something. (PE class). it was great to sit under the trees in the park, watch a bird flitting around above us.

my friend’s yoga class materials !

thought we got 3d printer working. not actually (can’t print my yoyo for the persistence vision of yoyo project!), but did manage to print this cleat. I’ll make an board for sailing and practicing knots over the winter (I’m sooo bad at knots)

much PLA printed cleat, from thingiverse

just contemplative lately. being grateful for all the opportunities i have and trying not to focus on how other things could have been. two cool collaborations right now, one even paid, (the other I should take advantage of a lot more!), learned some theory (at least I know what “that large U” aka union is lmao I remember trying to search that my first semester T^T), have some big nameish things on my resume, have friends who send contract work my way (?! really grateful, having income is great lol), in good physical/mental health overall, lovely roommates (we’re starting on a robot arm project together!)

I’M AN ADULT, XMAS IS ANYTIME I WANT – is how I felt opening that box. and mmm dat bearing grease in the bottom right corner

projects blog (nouyang)