Monthly Archives: December 2011

Blame it on the Altitude


Mt. Whitney (in the background behind us), the highest summit in the contiguous United States at 14,505 feet. Oh, and these are my best friends. Nothing beats coming home to them.

I feel so horrible for not writing in so long, but I went on a trip over the last few days to Mammoth to ski and snowboard before New Years. No internet access felt so unfamiliar, yet refreshing at the same time. Of course, I expected there to be tons of snow considering Mammoth had the most snow in the world this time last year, but sadly the few runs that were open were covered by icy man-made snow and the sides of the trails were lined with dirt. I guess global warming really is happening…

Aside from the lack of a winter wonderland atmosphere, there’s nothing quite like being in a cabin with ten of your best childhood friends. It really feels like home and reminds me how lucky I am to have been raised in a small town among great people.

During my trip, I noticed that quite a few people had headaches, nausea, and other uneasy symptoms. I had a fever for a day and horrible stomach pains, which I later found out was food poisoning…but that’s a story for another time. Going from sea level to up to 11,059 feet really can’t be easy on the body physically, and it sparked my curiosity to look up altitude sickness:

Altitude sickness is a pathological effect of high altitude caused by reduced air pressure and lower oxygen levels usually at altitudes exceeding 8,000 feet. Altitude sickness usually occurs following rapid ascent, as your body cannot get as much oxygen as it needs due to the “thin” air at high altitudes. It causes symptoms similar to a flu or hangover, such as headache, nausea, and fatigue. There are no specific factors, such as age, race, gender, or weight, that make one more susceptible to altitude sickness than another. According to, some scientists believe altitude sickness is caused by swelling of the brain which could cause a small increase in the pressure inside the skull and lead to symptoms of altitude sickness. The swelling may be due to increased blood flow to the brain or leakiness of blood vessels in the brain, but research on this theory is not conclusive. The best way to avoid these symptoms is to ascent slowly and take it easy the first couple days at a heightened elevation. Your body can only help you as much as you help it.

And if you’re wondering, altitude sickness rarely occurs in airplanes because the cabin is pressurized to maintain a barometric pressure equivalent to that at 8,000 feet, which is tolerable by most. For those that are affected, there are always those handy barf bags…

Hope everyone has a great New Years tomorrow! Stay safe and make sure to share all your stories with me! May 2012 bring prosperity, laughter, and love.


Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?


The oh-so-trendy interior of Gjelina (Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice Beach, California)

I met my cousins for lunch yesterday at a trendy – think communal tables and dishrags as napkins – restaurant in Venice Beach. As I was waiting for my habitually-late cousins, I couldn’t help but notice all the great-looking people roaming the street. Seriously, even the dogs in this neck of the woods were eccentrically beautiful. I’m well aware that LA, especially the westside, instills a sort of unavoidable superficial mentality among its inhabitants, but I’ve never really stood somewhere for long enough to really people watch. What makes a person attractive? Is there a common denominator among “really, really ridiculously good looking” people? Here is my stab at the science of attraction.

According to a 2009 study at Osaka University in Japan, researchers found that the most important factor for facial beauty was both symmetry and averageness. It is simply our natural instincts persuading our subconscious to choose a healthy and fit partner because that person will likely have “good genes” and parent a healthy, beautiful baby. Thus when we see an unusual face, we are programmed to regard him or her with being unhealthy which leads to the preference toward symmetrical, average faces. Survival of the fittest at its finest.

For better of for worse, there actually is a way to mathematically calculate the perfect facial structure. It is known as the golden ratio and was developed during the Renaissance (recall da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man”). According to this mathematical formula so to speak, a beautiful person’s face is about 1.6 times longer than it is wide. Measurements of three facial segments – forehead hairline to the midline of the eyes, between the eyes to the bottom of the nose, bottom of the nose to bottom of the chin – should be identical. Eyes are just above the halfway point at the front of the head and should be 1/5 as wide as the face. Ears lay flat and extend from the middle line of the eye to the opening of the mouth. The bridge of the nose should be straight and not be too protruding or flat, face should generally be oval-shaped with smooth skin and visible cheekbones. You get the idea. According to Dr. Schmid, an assistant professor of biostatistics at the University of Nebraska Medical School, there has never been a living person analyzed to have perfect proportions, though Brad Pitt is very close at 93% proportional.

Women are typically attracted to males with relatively narrow waist, a V-shaped torso, broad shoulders, taller than they are, have high facial symmetry, and have masculine facial dimorphism. Men are typically attracted to women with clear smooth skin, full lips, clear eyes, feminine features, long hair, and bodily symmetry.

Now, you might think I’m crazy trying to use science to justify who we are attracted to. And you’re right, I probably am. But the truth is, our basic instincts are driven by our subconscious desire to procreate efficiently and advantageously. We want our good genes to be carried on, and we want our offspring to be healthy, strong, and appealing. This is just what we are programmed to do; Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest really just cannot be denied. That being said, humans are a complex species. We are the only animal that is smart enough to ask questions and seek answers about ourselves, and that alone adds a twist to the basic science of attractiveness. In our multi-faceted world, there are no scientific and mathematical boundaries to who we think is beautiful and who we choose to love. And I’m perfectly okay with that.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.

Thank you for beer and bread, yeast. What would we do without you?


My first loaf of bread! White bread with olive oil and basil.

Today I was feeling a little under the weather, so I decided to forego venturing out into the world of holiday traffic and opted to stay home all day. I really don’t remember the last time I’ve had a day to do absolutely nothing. I could finally get to reading, playing guitar, maybe squeeze in a power nap…

Instead, I chose to bake, as baking is something I enjoy immensely yet rarely have the time to really invest tender loving care into. Patience with baking is key, and today I had all the time in the world. Among the usual cookies and fruit tarts that I love making, I chose to take a stab at something I had never made before: bread.

Of course, it is a well-known fact that yeast makes bread rise, but I honestly have never really thought about its mechanism. How does yeast make bread rise?

Yeasts are eukaryotic (multi-cellular) micro-organisms within the fungal species. The species used in baking is usually Saccharomyces cerevisiae and it ferments the sugars present to extract energy and multiply, and consequently produces carbon dioxide and alcohol. The gaseous carbon dioxide formed causes the dough to expand and rise as gas bubbles and air pockets are formed. The ideal temperature for fermentation is 85-90°F, any higher and it will ferment at a rapid rate and produce undesirably large bubbles. When the dough is baked, the yeast dies beginning at about 120°F, the air pockets are set, and the alcohol is evaporated off. The result is the bread’s sponge-like appearance and airy texture. Before commercial yeast was available, bread was allowed to sit outside and would eventually rise by utilizing the natural yeast found in plants and in the air. This same mechanism holds true for fermentation of beer. 

Besides the roughly 2% of micro-organisms that are harmful, the rest are actually pretty damn great to us. Where would we be today without beer and bread, the epitome of college life, football Sundays, family dinners, America, Germany…? Fun fact: Saccharomyces cerevisiae was also the first eukaryotic genome to be completely sequenced, which has provided a major leap in research of the basic molecular biology of humans and other animals.

And by the way, if you know how to operate an oven, you really should consider baking homemade bread. I was entirely shocked at how much better is tasted than even the best store-bought loaf. It was extremely easy to make, and although it was time consuming, the end product was dense yet still light and moist on the inside, crunchy on the outside, flavorful. Really, I don’t think I will every buy store bought bread again. Tomorrow, I’m planning on buying ingredients to make gluten-free bread that I can freeze for future consumption. And with my baking spirits high, I guess it’s time to start thinking about what dessert to make for Christmas!

I Win, Mom!


Heaven - Pizzeria Mozza, Newport Beach, California

I almost didn’t write tonight because I ate too much at dinner. I went with my parents to Pizzeria Mozza in Newport Beach. Their first available dinner reservation for tonight was at 10PM for a party of three, but compared to their location on Highland and Melrose in LA where reservations need to be made months in advance, I had no complaints about eating a late dinner. And it truly was worth the wait. Bacon, Yukon gold potato, Bermuda onion, and sunny-side up egg pizza. Prosciutto, Brie cheese, and arugula pizza. Wild mushroom and thyme pizza. Roasted mussels in a spicy tomato wine sauce. Tricolore salad. Chicken liver, caper, and parsley bruschetta. Banana gelato pie with candied hazelnuts. I died and went to heaven for a couple hours tonight, but now I’m back…kind of.

Earlier today I had cleaned out my closet and bedroom, donated a large chunk of my old belongings to Salvation Army, and ran around like a chicken without a head getting my errands done. It is quite inconvenient to run out of shampoo and toothpaste right before Christmas; I got stuck in traffic everywhere – shocker – and before I knew it my car started screaming at me about its low gas level. My mom generously offered to fill my tank for me (free food and gas…I love coming home). BUT, my mom and I have this ongoing debate about the importance of octane level, you know the 87-regular, 89-plus, 91-premium shenanigans. My car calls for 91, but my mom swears there is no real difference between the different grades of gas. But since I regularly started using only the 91 octane fuel in my car, I’ve noticed that it never has problems. Ever. So what the heck does octane level mean and does it really make a difference? Let me attempt to figure this one out so I can settle the argument with my mom once and for all.

It didn’t take more than a few seconds for me to realize I don’t know anything about engines. I might have drastically misinterpreted my research, but I hope not. For those of you in my same boat, here is an extremely brief overview before I really dig in:

Each cylinder in a car’s engine has a fuel/air mixture that is compressed by the piston. When it is fully compressed, the spark plug sparks the inside of the cylinder to give that cylinder the force is needs to create energy.

Octane rating is a standard measure of the performance of motor fuel. It is a measure of how likely a gasoline or liquid petroleum fuel is to self-ignite. Higher octane fuels correspond to higher activation energy requirements and thus it is harder for the higher octane fuel to reach the energy level required for it to ignite at an uncontrolled rate. High-performance engines are designed to run at a high maximum compression, which would cause a lower octane fuel to self-ignite prematurely due to the increased forces in those engines. Self-ignition leads to engine damage if it occurs during compression before the desired position of the piston in the cylinder as appropriate for valve and engine timing, and these problems are referred to as engine knock. Knock occurs when the peak of the combustion process no longer occurs at the optimum moment; the shock wave creates a characteristic “pinging” sound, and cylinder pressure increases dramatically. In the case of my car, my engine has 2.5 liter inline 6-cylinder engine, which requires high compression and leads to the dealers’ insistence on 91 octane fuel only, as stated in the owner’s manual. They also wanted $370 for an oil change…riiiight.

So there we have it, octane level really does make a difference on the type of engine you have. I’d rather be safe then sorry in this case, so I’ll gladly spend the extra few bucks a tank and go for the high octane. Sorry mom, I win this one.

Bad Hair Day

I went out to lunch with my aunt and uncle today, and my uncle was quick to point out one thing: “Your hair is flat.” Internally panicking, I replied, “I didn’t get to blow dry it today.”

…not like I ever blow dry my hair.

I really should count my blessings for my straight hair because as much as I wish it was wavy, the utter disregard I have for doing my hair beyond brushing it is almost pathetic sometimes. I guess it does get a little on the flat side on a day-to-day basis, but can you blame a girl for not wanting to fuss with her hair when it’s fine (or so I thought) on its own? I’ve been using sulfate-free shampoo for the past few months, which doesn’t strip your hair as much as regular shampoos, thus causing my hair to be more dense and more prone to becoming flat. Now I’m thinking, should I switch back? Is all the buzz about sulfate-free or organic or [insert enticing word here] hair care really all its hyped up to be? The last hair stylist I saw in July told me sulfates stripped hair of moisture, caused color fading, thinning, and contributed to chronic split ends, among others. My long hair and I freaked out and went straight to Whole Foods to buy something all-natural. After meticulously scrutinizing every single shampoo label at the store, I walked out with Giovanni of Beverly Hills shampoo and conditioner, and they have really made a huge difference in the strength, shininess, and health of my hair. Ever since that day, I’ve worked my way through quite a few brands of sulfate-free shampoos, and I have to say Giovanni is the prevailing champion. Now it’s time to dig into the science of my shampoo dilemma. Yes, I’m serious.

Almost all of the shampoos on stores’ shelves and in salons contain sodium laureth sulfate (SLS), ammonium laurel sulfate (ALS), or some other long nomenclature surrounding the word sulfate. Sulfates act as surfactants. In the case of hair products, sulfate lowers the surface tension of water, allowing it to penetrate into hair strands to wash out the oils and dirt that have built up. Each surfactant has a hydrophilic head that is attracted to water molecules and a hydrophobic tail that repels water and instead binds to oil and grease in dirt. These opposing forces loosen the dirt and suspend it in the water, thus you are left with clean, clean, clean hair. Seemingly good, but really what sulfate is doing for us is creating fluffy lather and stripping our hair of its essential oils, contributing to dryness, split ends, and loss of vibrancy. While doing my research, I found this awesome blog on the effect of sulfates on hair. She actually conducted a study and found that all her participants showed decrease in hair thinning and breakage within a couple months after using sulfate-free products. Full disclosure: although your hair will be shiny and strong, sulfate-free shampoo doesn’t lather much, it was nice while it lasted childhood bubbles…


Giovanni of Beverly Hills is thus far the best organic, biodegradable, sulfate-free line I've tried. And it's inexpensive. Win-win!

I guess I’ll have to start caring more about my hair in the morning to avoid any future “flat” comments. Although using regular shampoo would be an easier quick-fix, and the amounts of sulfate used in shampoo may not cause serious immediate damage, I’d hate to look back when my hair actually does start thinning and wish I had chosen to use sulfate-free shampoos when I was this age. It’s kind of like using sunscreen; I use SPF 100 on my face everyday just because I don’t want to look back like my Mom does and think I could have prevented the freckles and wrinkles. Call me vain, but if we eat our fruits and vegetables to help our insides functioning optimally, why should we let our outsides wither away?

Naughty or nice?


Who would have known hatcheting a door down would be so fun?

Wow I am really on terrible streak of not writing everyday like I am supposed to. Please let me explain:

  • I locked mine and my roommates’ keys in our room (the bedroom door is a keyed lock).
  • I used a hatchet to knock down the door because the locksmith couldn’t guarantee he could pick the lock.
  • I bought a new door and brought it home, only to find it was about 1/2 an inch too wide.
  • I took the it back, but the lumber department didn’t cut doors, so I went to Plan B and bought a saw and some sandpaper.
  • Sawed my door; attached it. I learned this is much easier said than done.
  • Then my kitchen cabinet door broke.
  • Fixed it; compared to a bedroom door, the cabinet was cake.
  • Went to my last day at work, packed, and hit the road to my parents’ house for the holidays, BUT I forgot driving through LA during the holidays, or any time for that matter, is like the death sentence, so naturally there were four accidents and I sat in the parking lot known as the 405 freeway for about five hours. That’ll get your road rage going…

Since the last few days were so eventful, I really haven’t had time to sit down and think, let alone write. But now that I’m home, back in the comfort of my parent’s house (fully stocked fridge, I have missed you…), it is time to revisit the blogosphere.


My Mom's new iPhone case and background...seriously.

Naturally, when I come home, my mom always likes to show me her new gadgets. This time, there were two that she could not wait until the morning to show off. The first was a bread machine. It’s pretty magical; for basic bread add flour, yeast, sugar, salt, and water into the machine, close the lid (you don’t even have to stir), and voila! The second was her iPhone case and background, which was really the star of the show. Her case was fuzzy leopard print with two tiny ears on the top of it. Her background picture was a close-up of our fat cat, Milton. “Lesly, look, I’m teaching the kitty how to be a leopard!”I guess I figured out where my goofiness comes from.

But now I’m thinking, what makes a cat person a cat person and a dog person a dog person? Are there personality traits that link a person to favor a certain animal? Here is what I found:

According to a study at the University of Texas at Austin, a team of researchers led by Sam Gosling developed the Gosling-Potter Internet Personality Project to determine whether certain personality traits relate to dog or cat preference in humans. Findings show that “dog people” are likely to be conscientious, extroverted, and agreeable, whereas “cat people” tend to be more open and neurotic. Dog lovers are probably self-disciplined, outgoing, enthusiastic, energetic, trusting, and sociable. Cat lovers are more curious, creative, artistic, easily stressed, and nontraditional. The way I see it is that cats are naughty and dogs are nice; while cats are out being mischievous, dogs are by their owner’s side. Of course this isn’t a perfect measure, and I know plenty of cat fiends who embody all of the supposed dog personality traits and vice versa, but this is the closest any psychology study has come to accurately mapping personality traits as a function of dog or cat preference. You can read more about this study at

Personally, I am 100% a dog person. Strike one: I’m allergic to cats, and I mean can’t breathe if I’m around a cat without taking allergy medicine. Strike two: I have a scar on my leg from getting into a tiff with my friend’s cat (territorial little thing he was). Strike three: the family cat brings home rodents and leaves them in the hallway, and though I realize we should be commending Milton for his stealthy skills as a predator, stepping on a mushy mouse carcass is a little out of my comfort zone.

Tonight I’m enjoying being back in my own bedroom. I can almost hear myself think again.

In a Rush


Your typical UCSB bike rack at Campbell Hall, an arts and lectures hall with an 860-person capacity.

UC Santa Barbara’s campus is home to quite a few bikes. And by a few, I mean around 30,000 bikes. That being said, you can imagine how many of those bikes are impounded every year due to students leaving them in restricted areas, not locking them in a proper bike rack, leaving them in a bike rack for too long, etc. Of course once winter break sets in and the campus becomes empty and quiet, the students leftover naturally are up to no good when boredom ensues. My friend researched and found the location of the University bike impound lot. It is at Devereux, and last night we ventured over there. Mischievous, excited, and nervous, we had quite the adventure.

Devereux is a rehabilitation center providing services for adults and elders with developmental and intellectual disabilities, emotional disorders, neurological impairments, and autism. The bike impound lot is located at the children’s care facilites, which has been closed and abandoned since 2006. Walking onto the abandoned lot is quite eerie; boards cover the building windows, red lettering reads “CAUTION DO NOT ENTER,” a small basketball court and the remnants of what looks like a chicken coop are now deserted. But right in the middle, surrounded by an 8-foot chain link fence, are rows of thousands of bikes – from beach cruisers to road bikes – impounded and left to rot.

The rest of the night is questionably illegal so I’m going to keep the story short and sweet:

  • Jumped over the fence.
  • Heard a dog barking.
  • Heard the dog’s barking getting closer.
  • Panicked.
  • Launched ourselves back over the fence.
  • Ran like hell.

Though we had no bad intentions, the thought of a guard dog was enough to make our blood boil. For a girl standing 5 feet and 1/2 an inch like myself (yes, I’m including the 1/2 an inch), I’m sure the only reason I was able to climb and jump over a fence and run a block in 4 minutes was because of my adrenaline fueled flight-or-fight response. And last night really reminded me how intense that rush is.

An adrenaline rush is the fight-or-flight response of the adrenal gland, which releases the catecholamine hormone adrenaline, known formally as epinephrine. Another hormone called dopamine is released which acts as a natural pain killer, which is probably the reason behind the soreness I’m feeling today from yesterday’s panicked movements. During an adrenaline rush, there is an increase in muscle respiration, heart and lung action, inhibition of stomach action and digestion, inhibition of tear production, and tunnel vision – you are focused on your destination and nothing else. The effects of adrenaline-binding to adrenergic receptors causes increased blood glucose and fatty acids, providing the means for energy production within cells throughout the body. Your body puts priority on all the functions to help you get the hell out of wherever you are. And get the hell out we did. Guess I can’t blame adrenaline junkies because that feeling is pretty incredible, though I don’t have the guts to chase after adrenaline more often than once every few years.

Tonight, I’m going to make a great last dinner with my roommate and friends, probably along the lines of lobster mac ‘n cheese, sides of bruschetta and spinach artichoke dip, and the catch of the day from the local fish market at the Santa Barbara harbor. Seeing as how I just realized there is only one week before Christmas and I have yet to do any shopping, I’m sure I’ll have quite the hectic day tomorrow. So, I’m taking it easy tonight and I can’t wait.