My toilet paper holder B.Sc. degree = GET!

So, many of my friends got their degrees a couple of months ago, and I attended their commencement to congratulate them. Many of them were surprised that I wasn’t graduating with them (although I did steal Odin’s grad regalia and posed), and today is a good day to write down the unusual story of my $_GET[B.Sc.] story.


So, the story can date back to my first year, when I realized just how much fun being a full time student was. All I had to do was learning and hanging out with smart people and talking about interesting smart things. I thought to myself: man, if there is any way I can spend an extra year as a university student, I’ll do it!

And there was a way. Actually, there are more than one ways (co-op, exchange, etc), but, after a few tries, I decided on my way: double major in pharmacology and computer science. (I wrote about how I reached that in this post.) A double major would take my 5 years to finish, so my official graduation date was set to 2010.

After all the trouble I went through to get this to work, I was happily on my way to getting a loaded degree.

Now, on another tangent, I knew that med school is my goal. Sometimes I thought of the comp sci branch of my education as my backup plan, sometimes I thought of it as an escape from all the memorizations in life sciences. In any case, I knew that it’s best to apply to med school 2 summers before you graduate, so that if you failed, you have another chance at it comfortably. For example, if you plan to finish undergrad in 4 years, it’s best to apply after 2nd year so that if you failed, you can try again after 3rd year without worrying about wasting a year of your time. Whereas if you apply after 3rd year and found out you didn’t get in after 4th year, you need to figure out what you would do with the year’s time before the next application cycle.

So I applied to UBC in 2008.

Now, here’s the interesting thing: for my double major, I had to finish pharmacology courses in the first 4 years, and use the 5th year to finish my comp sci courses. I noticed this interesting fact, and made sure that I really could graduate in 4th year if I wanted to, by taking all the art requirements, etc., and deferring some comp sci courses to 5th year.

In other words, my degree was like the rod in a toilet paper holder:


It can be shorter or longer, depending on what I want.

It can be a 4-year degree in Pharmacology, or it can be a 5-year double major degree!

If I didn’t get into med school, I can finish my double degree as planned. If I did, I still get a B.Sc. anyway!

All throughout 4th year, I have no idea whether I’ll be graduating or not this year. This created some interesting decisions: do I take the grad photos with my pharmacology class? Do I tell med school I plan to graduate in 2010 or 2009? Is there a way to tell them “your admission decision is deciding when I graduate”?

Eventually, I decided to go ahead with the graduation photos (I wasn’t even sure whether it’s allowed to be in the grad photos without actually graduating), and pretended there is no confusion. In reality, my program advisor was confused and asked me why I wasn’t on the grad list; my friends were confused and asked me where my gawn was; everyone who I’m introduced to was confused because my answer to “what program are you in” is about twenty times  more than the average length; etc. I wasn’t even sure if switching my program after being accepted to med school is allowed.

Thanfully the case is closed today. I more than satisfied the degree and program requirements for B.Sc. and major in pharmacology (required total credits = 125; my total credits = 147), and will get my B.Sc. degree this November.

Why bother, you ask, since I’m getting an M.D. anyway?

Well, firstly there’s the sentimental value. The past 4 years of UBC undergrad was more than life-changing, and having an official medal to mark it off is sweet. Second there’s the practical considerations: I’m working in a research lab right now, and since I haven’t officially gotten my B.Sc. degree, I’m paid as an undergrad. I don’t know how much money I lost this summer, but hey, having toilet-paper-holder flexibility is well worth the price.


Computer bugs are not viruses… (end of SDS!)

After some hardcore programming last weekend (I stayed in the same room for over 12 hours on Sunday), we finally pulled off something that we were somewhat happy with. GWT is not the solution for a website, by the way; we agreed that if we were to do this again, we will do anything but GWT. 

Anyway, I’m too busy to write down everything that I’d like to document with regards to my experience coordinating a Student Directed Seminar. But I’d just like to take this chance and let my none-geek friends know: bugs are not viruses. When we say we spent 6 hours trying to catch a bug, it doesn’t mean we sat watched the antivirus software for 6 hours XD. Besides, generally us geeks are careful enough to avoid getting viruses, but most of us are doomed to live out our lives battling bugs after bugs.

So what exactly are bugs in programs? In the most general term that I can think of, bugs are what make programs fail, like typos and grammer errors are what make essays fail. Some bugs are as silly as a typo, which are generally easy to catch and can be avoided by more experience programmers, but some bugs are hidden in the complexity of the program. Yet some other bugs are just plain impossible to find (like how we can run the exact same program in one environment but not another, or some sort of concurrency issues). 

Viruses are kick-ass programs that probably don’t have bugs in them. Viruses are out to do harm to anyone’s computer, bugs only make users and developers develop hypertension. 

I hope that gives you a picture of what I did in the past few days. Basically, sat in front of my computer, sputing profanity at both the failure and success of what we do all day – bug squashing.

Storm the Wall – 撞牆精彩大實錄

本來用英文寫了幾句,覺得還是改成中文比較到味。就委屈看不懂中文的朋友了… 看圖說故事也很好玩啦… 

話說,我從大一參加這個撞牆大會之後,一直沒有再挑戰過這面12英呎高的木牆。直到今年Tina小姐興奮不已地說要報名,我才招兵買馬,抓了幾個SPAC program的朋友一起來撞牆。

以下是我們撞牆之前,還人模人樣的團體照 (感謝Tina的媽媽擔任我們的最佳啦啦隊+攝影師!!!)

由右而左,依次是:不是路人而是我們的腳踏車手 – Nelson,活力充沛的RC牆人 – Linh,長跑手 – Jennie,短跑衝刺 – Tina (兩人很明顯都在看為什麼我們的腳踏車手那麼像路人),和負責在游泳池裡不要死掉的小弟我。




之後我和Tina跑去游泳池check in,其他三人則是到Education Library前面報到。Tina的任務就是在我游完泳從游泳池跑去Education Library。



(是說你也可以把以下的橋段當作激勵人心的勵志故事觀賞… 或是警惕世人的警語,傳達的消息是要多游泳免得你組了個接力隊卻沒人會游泳所以要你自己下  海  游泳池)

總之,我對游泳池一直保持著 “哈囉你好… 恩… 下次再見”  的安全距離,每次游泳很少超過100公尺不停的。上次一次游超過100公尺可能是8年前,國二的事了。

但是義不容辭,當然義無反顧,慷慨就義。就這樣,過去練跑練了4年的旱鴨子脫下慢跑鞋,下水了… (感人嗎?勵志嗎?)

下水前我的表情很嚴肅,如果你以為我心裡在唸 “風蕭蕭兮易水寒,壯士一去兮不復還” 的話,您太抬舉了。我當時只在想:”我看不到Tina (沒戴眼鏡阿),但她一定在看我… 希望不要掛在一半被救生員拉出來…”


之後發生的事情快到讓人無法領悟它的嚴重性。基本上我和其他的永者被隨便叫到水裡 “You guys can get in the water now”, 然後過了一下就吹哨子了!!! 




厲害啦,我衝過來以後竟然只輸鄰居女一段!然後我不會翻身蹬牆(8年前會的… XD)所以一轉彎就輸掉不知多少了。


然後自由式英勇地衝兩趟以後就沒力了… 一共要游9趟…


換成蛙式也是很拼,很拼的結果就是換氣大亂,換氣一亂就很危險啦!大概在第4, 5趟的時候我覺得再不慢下來就要掛了,還好最後勉力把氣調順一點。

不過最後兩趟真的是缺氧在游的… 本來很想就用漂的回來,但是看到岸邊有個藍色的人影在跳上跳下的,不是Tina是誰?所以還是很用力的把最後的力氣用掉…

喔!我差點不是最後一名… 倒數第二可能快我15秒吧 XD 


1. 不要被救生員救出來

2. 游完全程不要停

3. 不要最後一名

完成兩個,算及格 😀


開locker從來沒那麼難過… 穿褲子更是沒那麼難過… 勉強套上sweat pants,還不忘綁好腰帶,不然頭暈成這樣如果爬牆褲子被拉下來可能會渾然不覺。東倒西歪穿好褲子以後,覺得沒時間穿鞋了,腦海裡浮現Tina和其他人在牆邊找不到我的樣子,就光腳拎著鞋走到牆那邊。用走的因為完全跑不動。Any attempt in moving my feet in large motion, and I’ll probably fall flat on my face.


差不多這個時候,阿嬤救星突然出現了~~!!!! (聖歌播放!)


“不知道,還沒來吧…” 我擠出幾個字。 “有沒有水?” 

阿嬤給我一個不知道是水瓶還是寶特瓶還是甚麼,我那時候連看東西也沒力氣,接過來就喝掉了。(後來阿嬤說我當時的樣子差不多是個殭屍, in a nicer way)


喝完好多了,但是還是覺得隨時會昏倒。隱約擔心如果在高牆上掛掉的話,會是一番甚麼樣的驚險畫面。後來Tina就跟Nelson & Linh來集合了,我也鼓起力氣跟他們會合。



首先是Tina! 她的朋友聽到她要來撞牆都很訝異,因為跟她平常的形象差的有點遠啊!幾個禮拜前的和服美女這次率先撞牆,也難怪大家會驚訝啦 XD












最後大家來看由阿嬤和Sally當旁白的SPAC Stormers撞牆全紀錄:


哇… 看完著個回顧,頭暈目眩想吐的感覺有點跑回來了… XDDD


不過一切都是值得的!我們的program leader Janet到場幫我們加油,Tina獻上大家簽過名的撞牆t-shirt,歡喜大結局!雖然我那時候眼睛還是睜不開… XD


這次真的有累到… 小朋友,撞牆是很危險的活動…

尤其是當你8年沒游過什麼泳,連換氣都亂換的時候,跟人家拼200公尺之後再撞牆… 這就是賣命啊! XD

最後再一次感謝到場支持的Tina的媽媽和Mark,幫我們精彩配音的阿嬤、Sally, 補助我們的Janet,和讓大家賣命撞牆的組隊起緣者Tina!!! 


大家不用擔心我~~ 後來喝點運動飲料就好多了 XD (所以我診斷是游完泳electrolyte imbalance加上缺氧造成的殭屍症)

隔天我跑去gym跑了20分鐘,狀況很好,沒有生命危險 😀

Take risks with your courses — and not worry about your GPA!

A friend of mine, Geoff Costeloe, posted a link to this article: Credit/D/F chugs along that I think everyone who’s not graduating until 2011 or later should take a look. (Because this option is available in Sept 2010.) (That’s you, Tina, Heidi, Charlie, et al.) 

Read the article for details. 

Basically, UBC is allowing students to choose whether they want to make a course count towards their GPA or not. They can now make any course a pass-fail course, and just shoot for a pass. 

This would have been awesome for me; I’ve taken a few challenger courses like Philosophy of Law with a bunch of intimidating pre-laws, and if I had the option to make that course Credit/D/F, I would have done that in a heart beat. I would probably take more of these interesting but GPA-bashing courses.

I wonder how this will affect the course-taking ecosystem at UBC. More people might take Pharmacology 305, for example, because this course is highly relevant to medicine but notoriously difficult. (Imagine a final exam that covers material from SEPTEMBER to APRIL.)

My brother thinks he might take sculpture if that class doesn’t have to count towards his GPA too. It is much too hard to get a great mark in fine arts than, say, math, because the marking is so subjective and arbitrary.

Storm the Wall – cheer squad rewarded


So, here at UBC, we pride ourselves with climbing a 12-foot wall after swimming, sprinting, biking, and running — a feat that surprises some certain high school individuals: “so that’s what they do in university?”

Yes, that’s what we do. And that’s what I will do next Tuesday, at 2:40pm, in front of the Knoll. 


I will not wear shorts like this guy, but otherwise this is what I will be doing at the above mentioned time. 

As you may know, I’m not a swimmer at any rate; if anything, I should be running the 1km. But no, I will be swimming, for if I don’t, my team will be disqualified

The swimming leg of the race is 225 yards, or 9 widths of the UBC pool. If I drown, which is likely given that the last time I did anything resembling a swimming training was at least 8 years ago, when I swam for a week then stopped, a life guard will jump in and save my life. But I won’t drown, for if I do, my team will be disqualified.

Imagine me struggling in the water, my sprinter (2nd leg of the race) waiting on the side of the pool watching the swimmers on other teams finishing one by one, a life guard deciding that I’m a lost cause, and jumping in to save me. If that’s not enough, allow me to add that the sprinter is Tina, who is super, super hyped up about storming the wall.

Yeah, that would be a worthy addition to  the dramatic moments in my undergrad career. 

But that’s not going to happen, because I am not letting my team get disqualified on the first leg. (Wow I just realized how much is on my shoulders… our team — the SPAC STORMERS — represents the SPAC program, and we are fully sponsored by Janet, who happens to be my adored med application reference.) 

So, let’s say I finish swimming. Tina will then sprint from the pools to Education Library, and Nelson will bike around (like he always do but faster) along Main Mall, and Jennie will run 1km to the wall. By that time, I should have regained my ability to walk and I will meet with everyone plus Linh, and the 5 of us will Storm the WALL!!!

NOW, how can YOU get involved?

Easy. Bring your voice and your camera to the Knoll next Tuesday, March 31st, around 2:30pm, and cheer for us! Then send us the pictures, and the SPAC STORMERS will designate you the official SUPER AWESOME FRIENDS OF SPAC STORMERS. 

If Tina, Jennie, Linh, Nelson and I climbing on top of each other is not enough incentive, please consider this picture:


Yeah, that’s my butt in tight spandex. Now you want to come cheer for us.

Too much, too fast: just a bullet list of going-ons in the past two days

Tuesday, 12:30pm: First Student Directed Seminar presentation

This is a milestone for every project in the course, all of which seem super awesome and will probably all attract lots of attention if we manage to complete them. But this is an extra special milestone for me: the course I devised (workshop topics, project structure, marking scheme, etc) managed to keep 15 diverse, experienced students entertained for a month, and the work everyone put into this project is awesome. 

Meeting Paul is  one of the biggest reward for me. He is extremely knowledgeable, experienced, and his talent is combined with uncommonly excellent patience, enthusiasm, and a genuine desire to help everyone around him learn. In short, Paul is quickly becoming one of my favorite programming buddies and overall a great inspiration. 

Tuesday 3pm: Talked to Google engineer about her campus outreach program

A  few programmers used their 20% time to work on a campus outreach program where they provide tutorials for students who are interested in learning about web technologies. Hey, sounds familiar? I got on skype and chatted about the Student Directed Seminar with Stephanie Liu, and how I think she can connect with the talent pool she’s interested in: recruit workshop leaders who are both motivated to learn new skills on their own and experienced with event planning, train them the web technologies, and have them organize small workshops for the other students.

Tuesday 4:30pm-8:30pm: Beyond the BSc

After months and months of planning (we started planning in October, had weekly committee meetings up to last week), it was finally our time to shine. And shine we did! This was actually the first event I co-chaired, but with tremendous help from my co-chairs Gaby and Liz, and expert help from Jen Scott of Career Services, our beloved Janet Sinclair, and of course the tireless planning committee who took care of everything from food planning to poster design to mentor invitation… 

The feedback I received from mentors and students were extremely encouraging; I changed my status to “I. Love. You. People.” later that night, after I changed out of my suits and generally collapsed in exhaustion. 

This short blurb does not nearly do justice to my experiences with this event. I wish I can find the time and motivation to say more soon.

Wednesday 1pm: Tech Career Fair

There were fewer companies this year, but this was the first time I actually prepared some resumes and dropped some off! I bombed: Microsoft, Informatica, and Safe Software. Microsoft because I knew the person manning the booth: Andrew Rothbart, who was the President of the CS Student Society when I first joined, Informatica because it was in San Fran and it has a flexible start and end time for summer internship, and Safe Software cuz they got killer domain name.

Wednesday 3pm: met a cool friend

Wednesday 3:30: Interview for International Peer Program – Student Manager

If I haven’t mentioned that the entire SCI Team loves Janet like children love their mom, well, we do. Due to the policy that SCI Team members must graduate after 2 years of service, Janet actively seeked out opportunities for me to stay involved on campus, and she recommended me to join the IPP as a Student Manager. 

The program has a great mission that I resonate with, the transition it’s undertaking fits my shoe very well, and Caroline, the program’s staff coordinator, was very considerate of students in my position and encouraged me to still apply even though there is a possibility that I will enter Med school next year and have to pull out of the program. So after some deliberation, I applied. 

The interview was a great opportunity for me to reflect on my skills and believes. I was interviewed for campus leadership opportunities in 1st year, 2nd year, 3rd year, and now in 4th year, I felt a lot more comfortable, but still I could catch myself sounding nervous. 

Wednesday 5:30pm: Peer Program Information Night

A salute of campus involvement and leadership opportunities, including the SCI Team, SPAC, and IPP, presented their programs tonight. This year, we’re actually doing a common application, and all of the information is consolidated here. I thought this is very clever, and it should make it a lot easier for students to apply.

The video they made did not get finished in time for this event, so I was pretty disappointed. I went with a fellow coach, Jonas, who was planning to go home when I stopped him and got him to come. (“But I’m not invited,” he said. “I’m not invited either! Let’s go!” was my answer). And at the last minute, we were given the task of presenting the SPAC program to the audience. And we pulled it off like no one else 🙂 

Gonna be filmed for SPAC tmr

SPAC stands for Science Peer Academic Coaches, an organization I’ve been involved with for three years, whose aim is to train students to help other students review, access, and improve study habits and mentality. SPAC is a member organization of the “Peer Programs”, which includes SCI Team, Wellness Center, IPP, Sustainability Ambassadars, E-Team, among others.

And tomorrow (actually today, since it’s 12:20am as I type) I will be representing SPAC on a video project organized by the Peer Program Center. Apparently my ESL-ness has been overlooked and I was known to be a decent talker. Cool!

Anyway, I don’t want to just wing it at filming because that will waste too much time. So here are some questions they will ask, and my plan to answer them.




All program questions


1)      “Who are you and what peer program are you from?”

a)      First name, Major, Year and Peer Program are you affiliated with

I can answer this one I think.

2)      So you are form the XXXX program.  What is the most insane study strategy you’ve heard?

True story: a friend of mine is so addicted to cue-cards, he posts them on the shower curtain so he can read them when he showers.

3)      “So… what makes UBC so freaking great?” in regards to student experience and peer programs

Seriously, anything you want to do, you can probably find someone at this huge school to do it with.

4)      “Why did YOU want to get involved with your peer program?”

First year was one of the best years of my life academically. I want to share this with everyone.

5)      “What is one skill you got from being part of the peer program you are a part of that you couldn’t get anywhere else”

Where else can you learn how to boost your GPA? 

6)      “What skills you got that you can utilize beyond ubc?

Using GMail as an extension of my brain. 

7)      “What is the most amazing moment, best memory, or the most rewarding experience that you have had during one of the peer program activities”

Earlier this week, I ran into a girl I couched two years ago. She gave me a big, happy smile. 

8)      “Who do you think would really be interested and/or benefit from being part of this peer program?

Carl Wieman 

9)      If you were Professor Toope for a day, what would you change or do?

I’ll give away all of my money because I will be a different person the next day anyway. 

10)  If there was something in the SUB you could add on, what would that be?

A large clean, well ventilated eating area. 

11)  What as the most people you ever spoke to in a crowd?

Maybe 300? 

12)  How many committees have you been on at one time?

Too many.

13)  What is the most creative thing you’ve ever done for a poster?

Hung it on the ceiling with strings and a tennis ball.

14)  UBC’s motto is Tuum Est, or “its yours/it’s up to you.”  Why do you feel UBC is yours? Why do YOU feel part of UBC?

I ate, breathed, played, worked, and lived at UBC for 4 years. 

15)  If you had to advertise your peer program all by yourself right now, how would you do it?

a)      Action/movement/saying/etc

This is a school, and you are a student. Let us help you to be the best one you can be.