“Where Is the Predicate?” — My English Learning Journey with Dad

“Where Is the Predicate?” — My English Learning Journey with Dad

While growing up and studying English at school, I was able to get by without much effort: I became the teacher’s classroom assistant and remained in this role for eleven years. Meanwhile, the most effective English language education I received was from my dad, the most diligent self-taught English learner around me.

Dad is a successful salesman with English skills playing to his advantage. He didn’t start learning English until he graduated from the naval academy, when he realized how important English was and decided that it would help his career. He bought himself the four-book textbook series of New Concept English — a popular series among Chinese learners in recent decades. He recited every passage one by one and over and over again, along with studying thoroughly music lyrics and lines from classic films. He crashed some courses sitting in on classes at an ESL-immersive university. Within a year, he even started to make a little money on the side as an amateur translator during the city-wide annual trade fairs. At some point, he started to use his skills to build connections with potential clients and win them over by volunteering to tutor their kids in English.

To people who don’t know him well…

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“YOU Take Control as a User Researcher”

“YOU Take Control as a User Researcher”

After two days of preparing materials, practicing the protocol, and setting up technologies, I finally am able to lead a one-hour pilot session. My mentor and peer teammate are observing behind my participant and me, offering support when I need.

After thanking our pilot participant after the pilot, my mentor closes the door.

I see. I am about to receive the first official “performance feedback” from the team. It’s big for me. It’s exciting. Until then, I have never received a sit-down feedback thing for moderating a user research test session. All I know about myself is that I love saying “I love receiving feedback from my mentors and improving myself based on that feedback.” I’ve said that so many times so that must be true.

“So, what do you think?” My mentor asks.

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Shall I Complain, They’re Already Wearing Headphones

Shall I Complain, They’re Already Wearing Headphones

Someday from five years ago, I was working on an assignment in a computer lab at UC San Diego. There was always a sign on the door reminding us not to talk or eat at any time in the lab. The lab was normally really quiet and clean.

Until it wasn’t quiet anymore. I heard music being played in the room. I turned my head around to see what happened.

Nothing in particular, I thought. Students scattered in the lab were either working on homework with serious looks on their faces or chilling with their headphones on. Where could that sound come from?

I listened in more closely to locate the source of the sound. I scoped down the target range to one guy, who was sitting a few seats to my left near the aisle. He obviously had his big headset on though.


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Arguments in the Recent History of Emoji -- In Honor of World Emoji Day 2018

Arguments in the Recent History of Emoji -- In Honor of World Emoji Day 2018

The first emoji was created in 1999 on Japanese mobile phones. As of the time I (just) Googled, there were 2,666 existing emojis. For the sake of the flow of this article, please expect no funny pics of emoji in between sentences 😂.

Emoji: A step forward or back for our language?

During an event at which Apple announced new, upgraded emoji features (added icons, color effects, etc.), one of the company’s developers claimed that using emoji is in conflict with the development of understanding the English language: “The children tomorrow will have no understanding of the English language.”

Supporting this idea was a female blogger’s 24-hour experiment, in which she texted her friends and family using only emojis. After the experiment, she came to realize several challenges of [using] pure pictorial communication {with emojis}. First, emojis are not fixed in meaning and are highly open to interpretation across cultures or background knowledge. For instance, the use of an emoji of two hands palm-to-palm is not consistent across cultures. According to researcher Neil Cohn, “🙏” tend to be used by Asians to express appreciation (“thank you,” “please”), while Western cultures generally use it as a substitute for “praying.” In this case, if one emoji could stimulate various responses or sensations, it is beyond prediction how a complete sentence built by only emojis would trigger massive misinterpretation.

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The Perfect Ambiguity

The Perfect Ambiguity

I met a sweet, outgoing, and stylish Chinese classmate around my age, Yi at the summer improv course at the university. To be more specific, Carnegie Mellon University, where the best School of Computer Science and School of Drama coexists. Shortly after we got to know each other, she invited me to grab dinner with her husband at a Turkish place near campus.

That night, we talked about our experiences in the US as non native speakers of English. The couple shared their concerns about their lack of mastery of the English language, especially in getting their points across in group conversations.

I also expressed my appreciation to Yi, mostly on how brave I thought she was in the improv class we took together, where she absolutely put herself out there, jumping into actives and just, having fun with us the whole time.

Her husband, Lao Yang, a reserved while witty one, decided to share with me something they odd they encountered in Boston a few weeks ago, where he claimed that “my wife thought my response to the English native speaker was a little rude.”

“Tell me tell me tell me.” I urged.

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When Happiness Is So Overrated

When Happiness Is So Overrated

I have been on Flickr for a while, especially as a big fan for its "Organizr" function that allows a single photo to be included in multiple galleries. With Flickr acquired by SmugMug, I decided to explore what SmugMug has to offer. 

I transferred some old photos and uploaded a few more. Then I received the following message on the screen: 

"Hooray! That's 1 happier photo.:)"

I was confused.

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Mind If I Practice the Piano Privately?

Mind If I Practice the Piano Privately?

My best friend called me on FaceTime, insisting that he play me a song he had been practicing recently on his electric piano.

Something Richard Clayderman for sure, I knew it. His piano pieces were always so familiar on the ears, so soft, and sometimes like an infinite loop that seems to have no end.

“OK! You are starting to loop the song!” I attempted to stop him at a seemingly appropriate place in the music sheet.


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What does Educational Technology Mean to Me When I Approach Educational Content Design?

What does Educational Technology Mean to Me When I Approach Educational Content Design?

I’m passionate about designing an experience for students to tell their stories, enhance their confidence, and see the value of what they’re learning. Because I’m passionate about letting the students feel like experts, I’m conscious of a problem in using educational technology wherein students do not feel confident or expert in certain tools. I solve this problem by focusing on the learning goals of the project beyond the technology.

I have been trying to understand the relationship between education and technology. On Wikipedia, I see that educational technology is "the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological processes and resources". What does it mean to me when I approach educational content design?

In the case of a recent photography workshop, I was able to inhabit both roles, subject matter expert and a content designer. I learned a few things about how these two roles could interact and benefit from each other.


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Two things happened lately. 

As someone with the minimum sense of direction that you could ever imagine in a person, I follow the same path from one classroom to another. On my Tuesdays and Thursdays of this semester at 10:20 am, after my Application of Cognitive Science class, I'd go downstairs to the ground floor of Baker Hall, exit the building, walk to the fifth floor (ground floor) of Wean hall, take the stairway to go down to its fourth floor, and take the bridge to Newell-Simon Hall.

The stairway from fifth to the fourth floor has been good, where I find interesting posters about plays and events that I found intriguing. Until last week, that it has become fantastic

The photos I grabbed with my phones were not able to do the experience justice. So here is a link to a documentation of the installation.

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From One-Button Simplicity to Infinite Doubts

Last semester, I was working with several classmates on a design project that aimed to foster the documentation process for a group of high school students. These students were working in teams designing games or apps while did not have an existing documentation process. 

When we were researching on the scope and context of the high school students' projects to better understand their needs, we got the chance to interview their mentor, John. In our discussion, he discussed some current practices of students documenting and the challenges that came along with it. For example, how can students document moments, such as taking photos or videos, without "breaking the creative flow?" 

Sometimes certain technologies sound easy. Like a simple one-button that takes a photo of the room when anyone presses on it. However, John proposed a question:

Then who is supposed to be in control of it? 

I couldn't forget about the discussion on this button for the longest time.

"Will you press the buttons?" 

"Will you press the buttons?" 

As a photography fanatic, I realized that I have this same one-button on my camera too: the shutter that takes one click to take one more photo. Being so effortless to take a photo, it also brings complexities: for one, by having more photos taken, it brings the challenge of managing a larger photo storage, spending longer time to saving photos (and potentially deleting some), and a lot more file management work. The questions, in this case, has become

How should I control the power of controling it? 

Let's Talk about Rejection Letters Like We Talk about...

Let's Talk about Rejection Letters Like We Talk about...

Seven years ago before I came to the US, as an ambitious high schooler in Southern China, I applied for 12+ undergraduate college programs in the United States. Rejected by most of them, I was surprised to have spent some good amount of time studying the language of rejection letters. I quickly drafted a piece where I quote statements in the rejection letters and interpreted each statement in the form of a relationship rejection. It then went rogue in the college application BBS. Seven years later, I wonder if it is still relevant to me. Absolutely. I am applying for jobs, no? 

I hope you find some joy & peace in my writing below. 


The admissions selection committee has reviewed your application for admission for the fall of 2011.

I received your love letters the other day.



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"Your Next One Is On Us"

Your drink should be perfect, every time. If not, let us know and we'll make it right.

In 2008, Starbucks posted the above promise in stores. However, it wasn't until last week that took a minute and thought about what it means. 

Last Thursday, I was at a Starbucks near campus. Because I planned to customize my drink extensively, I decided to make an order through the app. When my order was ready, I asked to confirm: "this is decaf, right?" The barista said no. I checked my order again and realized that the customization wasn't added to the order.

It's my own fault then, I thought.

The barista saw my hesitation and offered this card to me. 

photo of card.jpg

Though I felt a little guilty for accepting the card at first, I came around and appreciated Starbucks more. (After all, with this strategy, Starbucks potentially makes more profit considering that the customer might make a purchase over the $4 amount on the card).

No matter whose fault it is, a better drink is on them. And maybe I could help Starbucks improve their mobile app sometime soon. 

Hispanic or Latino? —Yes, No, and None of-the-above.

When I was filling out a job application on Workday, I came across the following question and was profoundly confused. I normally just quickly select no between the yes-and-no, but this time...I wonder what the survey collector will learn about the applicant from the third option: "None of the above.

hispanic or latino.jpg

Always curious of topics on diversity and cultures as such, I didn't want to assume anything before learning more about it. 

According to Wikipedia (entry: "Hispanic-Latino naming dispute), 

The usage of both terms has changed to adapt to a wide range of geographical and historical influences. The term "Hispanic" was used first; later, some Hispanics in the western United States came to prefer the term "Latino".

Why do job applications ask for this though? I found some responses on reference.com and discussions on Quora

These memes also educated me on understanding the differences between the terms "Hispanic", "Latin@," "Spanish," and more.

Well, back to UX design: the following examples is not user-friendly in terms of how they apply buttons for different purposes. In Q15, (compared to Q16,) if they want survey takers to select only one answer, it implicates that the two answers are mutually exclusive: they should use a Radio Button. In Q16, the current use of Checkboxes is justified. 


To learn more about the use of Radio Buttons and Checkboxes, see https://www.nngroup.com/articles/checkboxes-vs-radio-buttons/

Is There a Mirror Here in the Store?

When I was trying on an iWatch, I wanted to see how it looked on me. But I couldn't find a mirror in the store. 

When I was trying to decide which iPhone case worked best with my look and outfit, I wanted a mirror to help me choose. But I couldn't find a mirror in the store.

Why don't Apple Stores install mirrors? First I googled the question trying to see if anybody else had asked the question, but I didn't find it.

Now I am going to reach out to my contacts on LinkedIn and see what they think. 

Source: Google Images

Source: Google Images

When Google Calendar Didn't React to My Cancelled Flight

Stage 1 - Exposition
As an individual who plans everything on Google Calendar, I have been its most needy fan. At the moment, I am about to check in for my flight to my dear friend Olina's for Thanksgiving. 

Stage 2 - Rising Action
The self-check-in machine says that my confirmation code does not exist. I check my email again — yes, there is a confirmation email, with a confirmation code. I am not happy. I have a confirmation code. My flight is marked on my Google Calendar, showing instant updates about its delay too. 

Stage 3 - Climax
After an agent from the airline company approaches me and takes some time looking my information up, he decides to call their company backend to check my situation for me. It turns out that I changed my flight unintentionally to another date. I don't have a flight to my friend's anymore, one day before the Thanksgiving day. I tell the agent that I can pay the difference, as long as there is still a seat. 

Stage 4 - Falling Action
Yes, they do have a seat. I paid. But all I can think about is to get on that plane and call the airline company later to argue my money back. It's not the agent's fault, he is just being helpful and wants me to get to my friend's for Thanksgiving. There must be some bug in the backend. 

Stage 5 - Resolution
I pass the security check, flip on my Mac, get connected to the Pittsburgh Airport free wifi (sponsored by Duolingo), and log onto my Chrome (Google Calendar being my homepage). Google Calendar has invited me to see its update, a major interface update -- flat designed, colorful, app-assimilated. Nicely done

google calendar screenshot

I decide to check my email threads again before I call the airline company as an innocent customer to argue for her money. And then...I find out that there is a second confirmation email, which indicates my flight to be on another day. But I have missed this second email all this time. And plus, since Google Calendar still shows the original flight on my calendar, based on the first confirmation email I received, and I thought I was still bound to leave. 

It is my mistake then, not the airline company's.

Or is it Google Calendar's? 



"You know you can mute your phone, right?"

Keywords: inquiry | empathy

A graph I found relevant to this personal story of mine.

A graph I found relevant to this personal story of mine.

Observation: in class, students tend to take photos of the powerpoint slides when necessary. Instructors don't usually show that they'd have a problem with it. I do that too. There was this one lady friend, however, takes pictures with the shutter clicking sound. 

Hypothesis: I was wondering why she wouldn't mute her phone. Maybe she forgot...or maybe she didn't know she could change the settings? Well. ANNOYING. 

More Observation: I started to pay extra attention to this classmate of mine when she lifted her arm to snap. Still. Shutter. Noise. Sound. 

Validation: I am weird enough to just approach her and ask that question.

Me: "Um, Asuka, you know that you can mute your phone when you take a picture during class right? I am just worried if the professor's gonna think you forgot to do it.  

Asuka: "Oh thanks. Unfortunately I bought this phone from Japan, and the sound cannot be muted at all. For privacy-protecting purposes."

Me:  (internally) Glad that I asked. I think I can be friends with her again... 

P.S.: Here is a Quora discussion on how one might turn off the shutter sound on an iPhone bought in Japan. Turns out it's not quite possible yet? 

When A Real Genius Helped Me at the Genius Bar > iPhone Battery, Restoring, Firmware, and More

Not long ago, my less-than-one-year-old iPhone 6 suddenly started to die within several hours after being fully charged. This exact 10-month old iPhone 6 of mine, was actually a kindly-offered replacement from an Apple Genius Bar when the support team wasn't able to relieve the battery problem in my previous less-than-one-year-old iPhone 6. 

Concerned about this reoccurring battery breakdown, I headed over to the Apple Store located in Shadyside, Pittsburgh to seek help (and potentially get a new iPhone, but what if it breaks down again, well). 


The first technician ran a routine check on my battery hardware -- well, no problems found. He than just kindly advised that I restore my phone. (I went home, did it, battery still kept dying within a few hours.)

I went back hoping to get one more chance to save my young iPhone. A second technician, Gabriel, came to rescue. He told me how the battery would only recover if I restore my phone CONNECTED TO iTUNES instead of just restoring it on my phone like I did before. He said that this is the only way that the battery can be fixed through the problem in its firmware.

He helped me connect to an Air and restored it for me at the Genius Bar. Afterwards, my phone has been performing well in terms of battery. 


Where does my coffee cup go? (I mean it's good to have a recycle bin but...

  1. trash
  2. newspaper & magazines
  3. mixed office paper
  4. aluminum & steel cans; glass & plastic bottles

The above are four categories in the large recycle bin right out side of Sorrells Library @ Wean Hall of Carnegie Mellon University. It looks very considerate and comprehensive, but where should my coffee cup go? 

Having the cup sitting there and pondering. 

Having the cup sitting there and pondering. 

I still wasn't able to decide after 20 seconds of looking and checking, thinking what I must have missed. As an advocate of recycling, I hope this could me a little more encouraging.

I - I - I Can Do This

A lovely moment that I paused for after downloading the Origami Studios. The settings prompted: