post PhD, China, books about computers

Well, it’s done and dusted- I got a PhD and moved to China. I am currently a postdoctoral researcher at the Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics, which is located on the campus of the Peking University in Beijing. The portion of the campus surrounding the Kavli Institute is exceptionally beautiful. See?

My new workplace- the Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics. 🇨🇳

A photo posted by gully gully (@xgully) on

###How did I end up in China?

Moving half-way around the world to a huge foreign city is a non-starter for many. For me, my move here was gradually inspired by a few key people. Greg Herczeg, a professor at the Kavli Institute, is an expert in observations of young stars, particularly accretion processes and stellar spectroscopy. Greg mentioned the prospect of me working in Beijing while he and I were walking to Joel Green’s house on the way to dinner one night. I instantly thought of my friend, former Austinite, ex-housemate, and all-around great guy Chase Nye, and his wife and all-around great lady Lauren, who had just moved to Beijing. Chase and Lauren teach at a top Beijing high school that offers instruction in english (they teach US History and Enlish literature to some really talented students). Over the next few months Greg, Chase, and Lauren got me excited about moving here. Greg offered unlimited academic freedom to pursue any topic–under the wide umbrella of young stars– that I deemed most worthy of my attention. This intelluctual freedom was especially attractive, since I had ambitions to experiment on a new project combining spectral inference and IGRINS (more on this idea in future posts). The amount of free time was also attractive– I have no duties!

At the same time, Chase and Lauren sent photos of their cool life in China: copious rock climbing, cycling, hutongs, Yunnan food, and tacos. Meanwhile, my partner was offered a great job in Beijing that has the potential to catapult her career into a position of more leadership. All these factors conspired to make this place the right choice.

Best summer ever

I took an actual vacation this summer and loved it. We started in Austin, Texas and went as far north as Portland, Maine, via Dallas, New Orleans, Miami, Key West, Savannah, Kitty Hawk, DC, Brooklyn, New Haven, Boston, Martha’s Vineyard, and more. All in all we put about 6- or 7- thousand miles on the car between June 1 and September 1. Highlights included copious road cycling, spending real quality time with family and friends, and snorkeling in Miami and Maine. The lowlight of my summer was dealing with international visas, and the logistical complexities surrounding an international move.

Computer science books

The only real work I did all summer was to brush up on computer science. I have always felt that I need more computing skills and knowledge. I managed to build some computer skills during grad school, e.g. git and Python. The number and complexity of software tools is growing immensely in the data science era. Keeping pace with each new software package is like trying to meet every new 20-something moving to Austin. They just keep coming. Luckily, the resources for learning new tools have also become more numerous and more user friendly. I favor outlets like Code School and HackerRank, which offer interactivity to try out new code. There are also MOOCs, podcasts, Meetups, and video tutorials.

This summer I read a few books on computing. First I read 9 Algorithms that Changed the Future. My review is here. In short, it was informative at a popular science level, despite its clickbait title. I read two O’Reilly Media books. O’Reilly is the company that has a unique monochrome illustration of an animal on the cover of each book. My animals were the Spring Haas and a Blue Whale, for the Third Edition of the Python Cookbook by D. Beazley, and Docker Up and Running by two New Relic employees. I considered also getting the small-spotted catshark (Learning Spark: Lightning-Fast Big Data Analysis), but correctly anticipated that the Python Cookbook and a healthy dose of beach-going would keep me occupied. My full wish-list of 33 books is on my goodreads. The books I most lamented not getting were Clean Code and The Clean Coder, both by Robert C. Martin. Nora and Tony (Enthought) urged me to read these books after an Austin Python meetup one night. These books are next on my list!