January 31, 2018, 4:57pm
Lutetia and I are engaged! I proposed January 1st on the shores of the Berkeley Marina and she said yes. The story of the proposal is pretty fun but this post is actually about the ring.
The story of the ring starts when I stumbled across the element, Lutetium (atomic number 71), during a late-night Wikipedia deep dive. This rare-earth metal has some interesting properties, including the highest hardness, density and melting point of the lanthanide series. I was intrigued with this element and sent my friend, Waddie a message:
Yo Waddie! Long time. Hope this crazy world’s been treating you well lately.
I know you work primarily in silver, but I’m wondering if you have any experience working with rare earth metals. I’m looking to get a custom ring made of lutetium. I did some research and it seems like pure lutetium might corrode and/or cause skin reactions but there are alloys that might mitigate some of these problems.
Is this a project you might be interested in?
Waddie is a super-talented silversmith whose style I was sure Lutetia would dig (check out his gallery to see what I mean). I also knew he'd be down to go deep into the nerdy science and chemistry of this strange metal with me. We discussed the logistics of a lutetium ring but particularly concerning to Waddie was the element's extreme melting point: over 1,200 degrees hotter than that of silver. We explored a few ideas like embedding a chunk of lutetium into the ring (didn't solve the corrosion problem) or casting silver around a narrow band of lutetium (super-heating an unknown metal was deemed unsafe). Waddie ended up referring me to his Stanford silversmithing professors, Amanda and Sara from RedStart Design, who echoed his concerns.
I'd hit a dead end but not for long.
While searching for lutetium alloys, I came across an interesting crystal: lutetium aluminum garnet (Al5Lu3O12). This crystal borrowed many properties from its parent element, lutetium: most notably high hardness and durability, along with some new properties, like a high refractive index and exceptional thermal conductivity. After reading this description from Wikipedia, I was sold:
LuAG is a scintillating crystal that will demonstrate luminescence after excitation.
- Lutetium Aluminum Garnet (via Wikipedia)
Wikipedia led me to a lab in Montana (Scientific Materials) that grew LuAG crystals, whom I contacted about acquiring a small sample. They were quite puzzled by the request, since LuAG's typical application is high-powered laser amplification. Once I explained the significance of lutetium and Lutetia, they happily sent me two samples of their highest purity LuAG crystals.
I shared these crystals and its physical properties with Amanda and Sara at RedStart and they signed off to design an engagement ring featuring a faceted lutetium aluminum garnet with me. It was June 17, 2017 and this crazy idea floating around my head was on its way to becoming a reality.
By this point over six eventful months had passed since beginning the ring research. It was summer and after finishing up a crazy first year in Cleveland, Lutetia and I were back home for six weeks (Lutetia in China, me in LA). Six weeks was the longest we'd been apart since we started dating (weird to think about) and provided some welcome distance to reflect on the relationship. I also took this opportunity to chat with friends and family about the ring and the monumental decision it would accompany.
If you've had a conversation with me in the past few years, there's a good chance I brought up the classical elements (earth, water, fire, air) at some point. Just about everything I do now is based around the elements, like my recent mobile puzzle game, Godai, concepted around the Japanese interpretation (try it free on iOS and Android!). In particular, as an emotionally insensitive INTP, it helps to examine human relationships through psychographic lenses like elemental affinity and Myers-Briggs type indicators.
An examination of a person's elemental affinity generally begins with his or her astrological sign. Lutetia is Taurus (earth) and I'm Libra (air). Not only are these opposite elements, but our secondary elements (Lutetia: fire, me: water), are opposite as well. This means at our best, we represent all four elements and unlimited potential. It also means that we must be extra-careful not to neutralize each other's strengths, lest we end up a lukewarm puddle of mud.
After many deep chats and long walks under the California summer sun, my mind was resolved. I viewed our antagonistic elemental alignment as a portent of potential rather than incompatibility and accepted the inordinate amount of effort that such a relationship would entail.
In late June, I made a trip to the RedStart studio in San Francisco to hand over the LuAG samples and share my vision for the ring with Amanda and Sara. I didn't have too much clarity at the time but knew I wanted to start from the elemental motif. The stone was an ideal representation of Lutetia's earth/fire nature (a rare-earth crystal with exceptional thermodynamic properties) so the band and setting should reflect air/water. The RedStart ladies listened patiently as I shared a jumbled stream of ideas, gently shooting down the crazier ones (like a parabolic base that focused light into the stone) and helping overcome paralysis over details like the stone's size and cut (we landed on one carat, round cut).
In early July, Lutetia and I reunited in Turkey for our friend Mia's wedding. We spent two incredible weeks there, traveling from Istanbul to Gemlik to Cappadocia, then back to Istanbul.
Here are some pictures from the trip:
Although it was a fantastic trip, I picked up a stomach bug in Cappadocia and spent much of the trip's latter half attached to a toilet. After a harrowing 13-hour flight and a few restorative days back in LA, my gut returned to normal and I boarded a flight back to Cleveland in high spirits. Little did I know, the poop-storm had only just begun.
Last May, Lutetia and I hurriedly moved into a new apartment then immediately left Cleveland for the summer, leaving all of our belongings in various bags and piles on the ground. In particular, all of the non-perishable foods (flour, sugar, spices, etc.) were in garbage bags on the kitchen counter while the landlords refurbished the shelves. This provided an ample supply of food for the family of mice that moved in while we were away.
I'll spare the gory details for those people who came expecting a cute, romantic story (for those who like gory details, check out this post) but capturing and cleaning-up after the mice was an ugly endeavor to say the least. During this time, I was also exchanging emails with Amanda and Sara about the ring's design.
They sent me a set of initial concept sketches which incorporated air and water elements into an Embarcadero setting, as we discussed in June. Thematically, I liked E because the top looked airy while the bottom was like water and aesthetically, I liked the symmetry of F and that it resembled the shape of laminar air flow around a cylinder.
After a couple more sketch iterations, they took a first pass at modeling the ring. At the time, I was elbow-deep in mouse poop but I thought the ring was beautiful. Just to be sure, I sent the 3D render to my sister who shared her approval.
The ring was almost done but missing one crucial component: Lutetia's ring size.
Iterating on a design is pretty familiar to me and geeking out over science came quite naturally. The hardest part was broaching the subject of marriage with Lutetia. It took ten days to finally bring it up the topic of engagement and when I did, she didn't even know her ring size! Regardless, over dinner at the Cheesecake Factory, I casually inquired about her hypothetical requirements for an engagement ring. Here's what she came up with:
I was pretty elated because I knew about the first two, and the second two were serendipitously addressed through the design process. I left that Cheesecake Factory without the sought-after knowledge, but with the knowledge that I was on the right track.
Amanda and Sara mailed me a set of ring sizers and I asked them to add prominence to the water wave in the band since it was now a specifically requested feature (very impressed by their preemptive design insticts!). We also determined that since the exact shape of the water wave wasn't important, it could be utilized for resizing: expanding and contracting without needing to add or remove material from the ring. Among water's chief defining characteristics is its fluid, malleable nature and I was enamored by the simultaneous symbolism and practicality that emerged from this simple little wave.
The design was complete.
A few weeks later I received notice from RedStart that the ring was done! This was early October and I was crunching to prepare Godai for release. It was launched on October 17th, 2017: my 32nd birthday but also the day I completed the the final payment on the ring. It was done and delivered to my parents' house in LA, and although I wouldn't see it for two months it was now up to me to manufacture a proposal and deliver the ring to Lutetia.
...but that's a story for another time.
November 27, 2017, 1:01pm
Lutetia and I spent this Thanksgiving, like last year, with her sister in New York City. It's no secret that I love New York so when I found myself on my own this Black Friday while Lutetia was out with her sister, I embarked on a mission to walk from our AirBnB in Bed-Stuy (the Brooklyn borough notoriously home to Jay-Z and Biggie Smalls) to Manhattan, and beyond.
In total, I walked 29 miles from 197 Hull St, Brooklyn to 125th Station, Harlem, then took the A-train 29 stops back to where I started.
I started the day by sleeping in, watching online GDC lectures and pushing some code for the day. I left my Air BnB around 11:30am.
I wanted to visit Prospect Park, so I started down Fulton St.
Tom Brady knows that hydration is the key to success and this Brady does too. A side-effect of this is that many of my adventures involve searching for a restroom. I found myself on such an adventure very early in my journey. It proved more difficult than I imagined, as there were not many public restrooms in Brooklyn. This park had some but they were sadly chained shut.
I've had a life-long infatuation with pizza so Brooklyn's abundance of cheap, delicous pizzerias was amazing. I hadn't eaten yet so when I passed this $1 slice joint on Nostrand Ave. I had to check it out.
This wasn't my favorite Brooklyn slice (that honor goes to the $2 slice at Kennedy Pizza and Chicken further up Nostrand Ave.) but it instantly triggered memories of elementary school cafeteria pizza. To be clear, the pizza tasted cheap but that's not a bad thing: the childhood flashbacks were worth the price many times over.
I still hadn't found a restroom and the situation was gaining urgency. I came across the Brooklyn Museum of Art but ignored it in search of better accessibility.
I passed a couple of cafes but none of them seemed to have restrooms. Also, I spent my last dollar on that delicious slice of pizza.
Fortunately, I discovered, there are Chase banks and ATMs EVERYWHERE in New York.
Ultimately, my bladder found salvation at the Brooklyn Library, although the bathroom wasn't easy to find.
Walking down Fulton St., I felt a little self conscious taking pictures on my phone. There were lots of people walking around who would openly stare with an expression like, "Why's this jerk taking pictures of that sign?" With my bladder relieved, I found a couple of fun art books to flip through while I charged my phone for a bit. I also took a selfie, just because.
After the library, I took a stroll through Prospect Park.
I found a nice spot to sit and finish this book from the Playdom game designers book club which I've carried between four different apartments and across 12 states before finally cracking it open on this trip. WOW, this book is amazing! Very relevant to my current work.
Autumn in New York is pretty magical.
I still hadn't eaten a proper meal and was looking forward to some chicken over rice from a Manhattan Halal cart so I started walking again.
First, I had to refill my wallet.
I passed by Barclays Center just as the Brooklyn Nets were wrapping up their game against the Portland Trailblazers.
I'd been following the game on my phone for the past hour and was excited that it was so close. For those who don't know, the Nets are known for their famous owners: most notably Russian billionaire, Mikhail Prokhorov, and Brooklyn hustler, Jay-Z. They are also famous for short-sighted trades for washed up players like old Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Timofey Mozgov for draft picks that became young superstars like Jaylen Brown, Kyle Kuzma, and Markelle Fultz (whom the Celtics turned into Jayson Tatum and Kyrie Irving). The Nets have been over-achieving this season and were competitive with the hot Blazers until the final seconds, when they choked away their lead. I sat outside and watched the sad New Yorkers stream out of the stadium, then bought a Nets beanie for $5 from a dude outside.
Many believe that the the Bay has overtaken NYC as the wealthiest American city and that LA has claimed the food, art and culture crown. I don't know about all that, but I do know that this street art stopped me dead in my tracks and I can't remember the last time that happened. I'm uploading this one at full-res: it's worth your data.
I've eaten a lot of West-Coast pizza in my life and concede that NYC slices are in a class of their own. I've given a lot of thought to what makes them so exceptional since my inagural NYC trip last year. As a kid in LA, I experienced pizza in four ways:
In college, I'd pick up an occasional late-night slice at Blondie's or Fat Slice but by then, my go-to was La Burrita. These slices were always kept warm under a heat lamp and served directly to you on a plate. Also notable is The Cheeseboard Collective, which served local, organic vegetarian pizzas that were quite delicious, but always had a long line and is only open during the day.
In New York, each slice is moved from the display to an oven and heated to perfection while you wait. This result is a crisp, toasted dough (none of the sogginess characteristic of heat lamp slices) with a beautifully thick layer of melted cheese on top. Once handed your pizza, you turn and walk out the door and you're in bustling, vibrant NYC. Strutting down the street with a fresh Brooklyn slice is a wonderful experience and the inescapable reason NYC will remain the king of pizza for the forseeable future.
I've crossed the Brooklyn Bridge twice before so I decided to walk the Manhattan Bridge this time.
Unlike its westward neighbor with a clear view of Lady Liberty and a glut of tourists, the Manhattan Bridge was much more utilitarian, with chain links and non-descript buildings on one side and girders, trains and traffic on the other. Grimy.
After a few minutes, there was a gap in the buildings and I caught a glimpse of a highway. Being from LA, I've seen plenty of highways and I was not impressed.
As an aside which will soon become clear, in Japanese garden landscape design, there is a concept called miegakure, or hide-and-reveal. Here is a description from japanesegardening.org.
Miegakure refers to this aesthetic when it is applied to landscape design. Vistas are artfully arranged so that they may not be seen in their entirety from a single vantage point, but constantly shift as the viewer progresses along designated routes or paths. Since the vistas move in and out of view as the visitor progresses along a route, the term is often translated as “hidden and revealed”. The philosophy behind such an aesthetic concept is strongly allied to the Buddhist belief in the illusory or transitory nature of the physical world, and, in particular, to the Zen notion of the emptiness or nothingness of the universe as experienced directly and non-verbally (mu). Aesthetically, it relies on a manipulation of space and perspective. As Tadahiko Higuchi puts it, miegakure “relies heavily on the principle of overlapping perspective and involves making only a part of an object visible, rather than exposing the whole. The purpose is to make the viewer imagine the invisible part and thus create not only an illusion of depth but also the impression that there are hidden beauties beyond. Miegakure is, in short, a means of imparting a sense of vastness in a small space.”
The "hide" is accomplished in a variety of ways, including leading the guest down challenging terrain (like a rock path through a stream) that draws their attention down toward their feet, then coinciding the terminal moment of relief and conquest with an upward gaze that reveals the most beautiful view of the garden. Why do I mention this? Well...
This view took my breath away.
I mean, are you kidding me??
Soon, I stepped off the bridge into the heart of Chinatown. What a contrast.
I was a little hungry so I picked up a pork bun and rice ball from this bakery.
I then walked a few doors down to a fancy dessert shop. Despite being known for their handcrafted ice cream, I only ordered a black coffee.
This was a fantastic pork bun and only $1!
This rice ball was tasty but for the price, I'd rather have a slice of pizza.
I'd walked along West Manhattan already so I turned East, knowing that I'd miss sunset over the Hudson. I came across the Williamsburg Bridge and knew I wanted to be on it. Unfortunately, I was already by the water and had to backtrack half a mile to the bridge entrance.
Finally, made it!
This bridge was pretty ugly and the nice views were all obscured by fences. Hardly any tourists.
The ground was covered by interesting graffiti.
Despite being on the wrong side of the fence and the city, sunset over the Manhattan skyline was still beautiful.
The pink girders were a nice complement to the soft, warm sunset colors.
I love the layers of paint on this sign.
I was disappointed that all my pictures contained garish fence links in the foreground but I realized that they were integral layers to the city view.
Earlier in the week, the sky was pouring rain but the sky was crystal clear this entire day.
I didn't cross all the way to Williamsburg but the East River was quite nice.
It's not clear from this picture, but I was struck by the multiple moving layers as I walked. The fence, girders, trains, cars, lights, pedestrians and skyline were at different speeds and different distances and created a nice parallax effect. Maybe I should have taken a video.
Sunset behind the Manhattan Bridge from Williamsburg Bridge.
I turned around and headed back to ground-level Manhattan and continued to walk along the East River.
I've always liked walking/running by the water.
I was getting a little tired so I found a quiet spot alone to rest my feet. Between the beautiful autumn weather, I was surprised more people weren't out in the park.
Soon I realized I wasn't alone -- As the sun went down, the rats came out. Still, they didn't bother me so I didn't bother them.
This stretch of road was pretty unexciting so I started taking selfies as I walked.
Lots of cars, joggers and bikers on this road.
My urban style can best be described as Hobo Ninja.
Picking up a comfortable pair of walking shoes was a life-changing purchase and so was this backpack. On this hike, I carried my laptop, a book, a notebook, a light jacket, hat, gloves, scarf, phone charger and glassses for the entire 29 mile NYC hike and my back was fine. A good backpack is well-worth the investment.
Pretty nice, but I was starting to get hungry again.
As expensive as NYC can be, I'm amazed by how much great food you can get for cheap. This burger and beer at The Globe was only $12 and was delicious.
I found a little private nook where I had a TV to myself and could stretch out my feet. The usual problem with nooks like this is that the wait staff can never see you. I was impressed by The Globe's use of mirrors, as they gave the bar a direct view of my table and they would swing by as soon as my glass was near empty.
I utilized the mirrors for a quick self-portrait.
Then I suited back up...
...faded into the shadows...
...and was back on the street.
I wanted to walk through Central Park and head back around midnight so I set off with Columbia University as my destination.
Walking up Madison Ave. on Black Friday was quite different from Fulton St. in Bed-Stuy. I was the same person, but I went from being a harmless street oddity to a threatening weirdo that the obscenely rich pedestrians would eye nervously as I walked past. In both cases, my trick was to maintain a fast walking pace so I'd be gone before anyone was inclined to give me more than a passing thought.
I was close to Rockefeller Center so I swung by to check it out. It was a madhouse!
I really like walking through large crowds, contorting my body and slipping through seams without breaking pace. Here's a fun chest-level view of what that looks like.
In case you're curious about the hottest style in NYC, it's poofy fluffs on Uggs.
Finally made it to Central Park!
I saw signs saying the park was closed after 10pm but there were some people walking around and the paths were all lit. I was a little nervous that it would be dangerous at night, like say Golden Gate Park or People's Park, but there were no vagrants (aside from a few rats) and I felt completely safe.
While walking through the park, I stumbled across the Met.
Lutetia once told me she likes that I'm an artist but is sometimes disappointed by what kind of artist I am. What she meant is that she likes to go inside museums during the day while I'd rather creep around and take pictures outside late at night. Hey, relationships are hard.
If I die without a sculpted bust of my head somewhere prominent, I'll consider it a wasted life.
Even late at night, there were many people jogging and walking dogs around this huge lake in the middle of Central Park. This was my last clear view of the Manhattan nightscape.
Foot fatigue was really starting to set in so I took a quick rest on this bench.
Just me and the rats.
I made my way out of Central Park but ended up in another park.
This one had a lot of stairs and dead ends.
Water makes me happy.
Finally, I found a non-dead-end exit.
Columbia was locked up and guarded so I visited the Hudson River one last time.
On my way to the subway, I passed Grant's Tomb. Maybe it's more impressive during the day.
Outside Columbia was a Halal Truck so I picked up one more meal for the road.
I usually get chicken on rice but thought I'd try the lamb instead this time. The chicken is better.
The 116th St. subway was closed so I walked up to the 125th St. station through Harlem.
Once I made it to the subway, it was a direct 29 stops down the A-line back to Brooklyn.
And so concludes my 29-mile Black Friday NYC walk!
August 01, 2017, 12:17pm
I arrived in Cleveland five days ago to discover a family mice had invaded the kitchen of my new apartment — every bag of non-perishable food and every surface was doused in piss and shit. We set sticky traps and have caught 14 so far, with 8 last night alone. It was hard to sleep with the chorus of dying mice squeals echoing up the staircase.
The humane thing to do would have been to drown the mice as soon as they were trapped it but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Instead, I listened to existential screams of primal mouse horror all night. Even more disconcerting, the screams lured their family members onto the traps as well — one trap had an adult mouse and a baby mouse, while another had four babies on it. There was a baby behind the dishwasher and one behind the washing machine. None of the mice died immediately — they spent an entire night into the morning stuck on traps surrounded by the screams of their dying kin.
There’s still more mice out there. I hear them rustling downstairs as I type this. I wonder what’s going through their heads as they run around the kitchen with their families decimated and the stench of fear-soaked piss permeating the air.
Our handyman is an old, white-haired man with a hunched back and friendly smile. He bends down to retrieve and dispose of our mouse traps, despite his no-doubt achy joints, with no regard for the terrified mice contorting in his hands. He says he’s never been a part of a mouse hunt this successful and is very impressed by our results.
Embarrassingly, I can’t take any credit for the hunting success — Lutetia places all the traps. I’m having a hard time coping with the mice, which I find revolting. Lutetia said her trick was to pretend she was a mouse and imagine the path she would travel, then put traps at key junctures. It was obvious to her but I found it foreign and baffling. And so, I let the mice wail all night and let Larry break his back to pick up the traps and let Lutetia claim alpha-hunter status in the relationship because I really can’t deal with the chaotic biology of these disgusting creatures.
July 08, 2017, 8:32am
June 12, 2017, 12:25am
Exactly one year ago today, Lutetia and I pulled out of Berkeley with all of our belongings packed in the back of a U-Haul truck. In many ways, it was a day like today: the sun was shining, the Warriors had commanding a 3-1 Finals lead over the Cavaliers and everyone was talking about Donald Trump. Underneath the surface though, much has changed.
Late Thursday night, I hopped on a bus for a spontaneous trip to the Bay to watch Game 4 of the NBA Finals. Even though the Warriors lost (I still root for the Warriors despite living in Cleveland) I enjoyed walking around. The Bay Area and I have both changed and grown a lot over the past year but I take comfort in knowing that a lot has stayed the same too.
The weather in Berkeley was unbelievably beautiful. Everyone always talks about the California sunshine but it's the cool Pacific winds that makes it perfect. Even on the hottest days, I could always open the windows to get a cross breeze and it would be fine -- no AC needed. The salt air blowing through the Bay is clean and crisp, unlike the humid, muggy air that travels over Lake Erie to Cleveland to make both me and my electronics overheat in the summer.