2018, Year in Review

The concept of the year, a unit of time constructed to match the time it takes earth to orbit the sun, has been the fundamental tool for us to understand the macroscopic passing of time. The passing of a year is like a tick in the clock of life, signifying progress that isn’t usually recognizable throughout the day-to-day grind. A year is long enough of a span for us to distinguish from the ticks of hours and days, yet short enough to remind us that everything must move forward, that time is flowing, and the clock is ticking.

I haven’t always been a person who is good at reflecting, but as I get older and experience more and more, I can’t help to think that maybe it’s time for me to start systematically organize my progress, accomplishments, and learning in an apparent matter. This blog is my attempt to do exactly that, to capture my 2018, to remind myself of the lessons learned, and to create a benchmark for the years to come.


2018 was a great year for my work. I use “work” as a generalized term for things I do that impacts the communities around me, either with or without commercial/employment connotations.


2018 is a COLOSSAL year for Colossus. Started way back in 2016, after two years of non-stop work on this grand piece of hardware, Colossus finally saw it’s launch in February 2018. Our team pulled together an awesome launch party, inviting sponsors and advisors from all over the country to witness the ribbon cutting of Colossus.

Here’s some cool videos and pics from the Colossus Launch Party

I remained to lead the team until the end of Winter Quarter. Since I was graduating, I wanted to make sure that there’s enough time for me to transition the leadership of the project to the next lead and also giving myself some spare time to focus on errands with graduation.

Colossus further matured under the leadership of Jon Kavner. We conducted a series of tests throughout the spring to make sure that we are all set to perform the virgin hot fire of Colossus, the first big technical milestone in the operation phase of the project.

During this time, we had the fortune to bring Colossus up to exhibit at the center of the International Space Development Conference in Los Angeles. Getting Colossus inside of the venue took us 10 hours of non-stop work overnight. We actually had to disassemble part of the system, take the wheels off in order to fit it through the hotel door. Many exhibitors came to us the next day wondering how the heck we got it in there, I’m still impressed today that we pulled that off!

What’s even cooler, Jeff Bezos, yes JEFF BEZOS the RICHEST MAN IN THE WORLD stopped by Colossus to check it out. I had the fortune to hang out and chat with him!

On the last day, I spoke in front of the conference on behalf of my student organization, SEDS UCSD. Dennis Ren Speaking at ISDC 2018

Overall, that was the most magical conference I’ve ever been to. What made it so special was largely from my pride in the success of Colossus, my brainchild for the past 3 years.

In June, Colossus finally ready to rumble. After a quarter of intense validation and verification, all systems is a GO. We headed to the Mojave desert for this memorable day.


Fun fact, I actually skipped my commencement to be there for this event. That’s how important this project is to me.

That day marked a period to my contribution to Colossus as the Project Manager and Chief Engineer. Sad to leave, but happy to see Colossus all grown up and ready to take on the world!

Galactic Unite Gavin Jones Prize


I got a taste of non-profit work this year. I plan to write about the story behind this effort in length in another blog. To keep it short, I came up with the idea of starting a mentorship-scholarship program at UCSD for future space leaders after I saw a similar program took off at SDSU. Early conversations were exchanged between myself, Scott Borden, donor of the SDSU program and Maja Muric from Virgin Galactic. After months of pitching, revising of plans, I finally secured support from UCSD, funding from Mr. Gavin Jones, and mentorship commitment from the Virgin space companies. The program became administratively nested under the Gorgon Center at UCSD, thanks Shane, Ebonee, and Amanda for all your support!

In July, the application process of the program launched into a success. The pool of applicants was carefully vested by the selection committee. Without the help of the following reviewers, the program wouldn’t have happened, thank you!!

  • Deenah Sanchez, Virgin Orbit
  • Ebonee Williams, Gordon Center
  • Shane Moise, Gordon Center
  • Justin Herrera, Virgin Orbit
  • Edmond Ngo, The Spaceship Company
  • Deepak Atyam, Tri-D Dynamics
  • Alex Finch, Tri-D Dynamics
  • Jesse Lang, Tri-D Dynamics
  • Kim Weed, Virgin Orbit
  • Cameron Flannery, UCSD RPL

After half a year of planning, the cohort was finally selected. (http://jacobsschool.ucsd.edu/news/news_releases/release.sfe?id=2663) Congrats to the following scholars, wish you all a great year with your mentors, and a successful launch of your career that will impact the space industry in your own unique and meaningful ways.

  • Evan Kay, RPL UCSD
  • Ross Libman, RPL UCSD
  • Philby Wang, SEDS UCSD
  • Jack Najarian, SEDS UCSD
  • Surya Vohra, SEDS UCSD
  • Riana Menezes, Cubesat UCSD
  • Tiana Menezes, Cubesat UCSD

My two brain children of the year both made it to the Jacobs School of Engineering Annual Student Highlights!


Amazon Internship

I had a summer full of nerdy fun at Amazon’s Amazon Go cashiers store! For those who are not super familiar with Amazon Go check out this official video:

Although I can’t say much about my work there, I can surely tell you that I had a great time working there this summer. Seattle is a fantastic city to live in (at least during summer)! It is super walkable, great public transport, and full of millennialish good vibes. People say Seattle is San Francisco with a soul, I can totally agree to that!

I’m so happy that I got to work with so many amazing coworkers there. My team was young and dynamic, we frequented pretty much all the near by restaurants and pubs as a team, Teku Tavern in particular. Gotta love those moments when one person starts asking around the office “beer? beer?”. And you guessed it, my response was always “I’m down!” I worked a ton this summer, perhaps a little too much, but I couldn’t help it because I get so sucked into a problem that I literally can’t do anything else unless it’s at a savepoint. Yes literally like a savepoint in a video game. There are a few fun twist to my internships.

Twist 1: Operation Foam

So my buddy Kenneth threw a massive intern rager during summer. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend, but being the only person with a car in the group of friends who planned that party, I volunteered by car to shuttle beer kegs. Well, Kenneth overestimated the amount of beer people were going to drink, so I ended up with 3 full kegs in my car. I show up to work on a Monday and boldly brought the keg to my desk, everyone was LOLing at it. Later I actually convinced my manager to throw an office party because there’s a team member leaving just that week as well. We had one problem, though. The keg needed to be chilled and we didn’t have a kegerator. The crisis was resolved when one of my friend came and told me “hey there’s a thermal chamber in the reliability lab”. Without disclosing further self-incriminating details, here’s a picture for your imagination…

Twist 2: Camp 201

I actually ended up homeless for the final two weeks, so I camped up in the storage room at work with my sleeping gear. Amazingly, no one was aware of it until I told some of my close friends. I would use the shower in the building each day, work until midnight, get up at 8am, repeat 10 times.

It was tough to leave Go, not only because I miss my brain children, but also my coworkers. Great times indeed!


“If it ain’t fun, don’t do it” — Richard Branson


The 2018 season was one of the best to date. First year to ski on a pass, probably spent over 15 days on the slope. I feel compelled to share some of the footage of me eating shit.

note: we went down Hangman’s Hollow at Mammoth, the steepest run on the mountain no problem at all, but got destroyed by a hidden cat run that i couldn’t see, RIP

On the more positive note, here’s a great run I had down Dry Creek this fall. I have worked to improve my physique and endurance, otherwise there would be no way I could finish this following run in one go without taking a break.

Sking is my true love when it comes to sports. With the Ikon Pass this year, I plan to explore many other mountains, try new skis, hit bigger jumps, shread gnarlier runs!


Although I stayed mostly in the US this year, I still got to see many new cool places. New states added to my scratch map:

  • Oregon
  • Texas
  • New Mexico
  • Arizona
  • Colorado

Deenah and I took two vacations together, first one to Portland during spring break, another one to Austin Texas during Christmas.

In September, my college roommates and I took a mega road trip together. We spent 12 days driving through Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Nevada. This trip is worthy of a blog post on its own. I haven’t had time to organize that, but stay tuned, I’ll have more to share soon.


2018 was a GRAND year for my health. I’ve always had that “I’m invincible” mindset from my teenage years. Taking care of my body and health was one of the last of my concerns. Marching into senior year, I could visibly feel that my health is going down hill. I used to pull quadruple all-nighters as a freshman, I can’t even imagine during one all-nighter now. I started to feel constant fatigue, I find myself over-eating constantly. I ate too much crap, didn’t drink enough water, the list goes on and on…

This fall, free from 30 hours a week of SEDS work, I shifted my focus to myself. Taking care of my health has been something I wanted to do for a long time, but kept putting it off by excuses like I’m too busy. But sometimes you just gotta send it, which I did.

The first attainable goal I wanted to tackle is my weight. Over the 4 years of college, I’ve gained 20 pounds of pure fat. BAD! Along with trimming my weight down, I also really wanted to become more fit and have better cardio for the ski season. Just so that Scott won’t have to wait for me everytime I had to take a break when I tap out.

I’m happy to anouce that I’ve lost 15 of those 20 pounds at the time of writing! And this whole process took me little over 2 months. Thanks to my girlfriend Deenah, we decided to both enter a ketogenic diet together. Trust me, it is sooooo much better when you do a diet together with a loved one, and sooo difficult when you aren’t. Deenah has lost about 18 pounds so far as well.

I followed a strict Ketogenic Diet while maintaining a 600 calorie deficit a day, in addition to working out 5 days a week. The math adds up quite well, Since one pound of fat equates to approximately 3000 calories, I was able to lose about 1.5 lbs a week. For those who have questions about keto, I can tell you that it is actually quite easy to follow and very fulfilling, given that you are a meat lover.

You can see a huge dip around December 20th, that’s my what 4 days of skiing does to you. Then you can see that I bounced back real high because of Christmas and eating non-stop for the holidays. I currently weight 181 lbs, 15 lbs less than my 196 start weight.

And is an obligatory before and after comparison

Now that I’ve reached my weight goal, I’m going to focus on my cardio health and my body fat percentage. I have gone from 22% fat to about 16.5% now, I wish to maintain a healthy physique around 12-13%.


I don’t claim to be a legitimate book reader. It’s almost that I have dyslexia, I just can’t digest information very well from a large volume of text. Rather I resort to audiobooks, which is a great way for me to fulfill my curiosity in various subjects. Here’s a quick list of books I “read” on Audible this year and some comments.


Principles audiobook cover art

Awesome read on Ray’s success story and how he developed a detailed value system to guide his day-to-day life. The unique thing about this book is that Ray gives extensive insights into a type of organizational philosophy called “ideal meritocracy”, where decisions are made base on the best ideas, and people are awarded according to their merits.

Never Split the difference

Never Split the Difference audiobook cover art

Written by an ex-FBI negotiator, Chris gives a set of very easy to understand techniques that can be easily implemented by everyday people. Much of the book is stories of Chris’s personal accounts during his professional career which led him to come up with this system. He goes in length to explain the psychology behind these techniques and proven examples of success. I’ve personally put this book to work as I negotiated my car insurance, phone bill, personal training, and even a job offer. IT WORKS to say the least!


Outliers audiobook cover art

Motivation book written by the legendary Malcolm Gladwell. In this book, Gladwell examines various successful people and investigated why they were successful. Throughout the book, Gladwell downplayed the factor of talent and luck but emphasized on the merit of sheer hours of hard work and the bonus of a privileged environment. His conclusion is along the line of you need over 10,000 hours to become a master (Robert Greene has a whole book on this), that we are all large products of our environment, and that only the most well prepared are ready for opportunities governed by luck.

The Google Resume

The Google Resume audiobook cover art

I read this book amidst my ongoing job search. Although mostly catered to Software jobs, this book still covers the non-job specific parts of job hunting. It gave pretty useful tips on a resume, cover letters, general guidelines on interacting with recruiters, etc… Could be pretty useful especially if you’re CS.

AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order

AI Superpowers audiobook cover art

Written by Kai-fu Lee, international tech exec. He gives a first-hand account of the current status quo of the tech industry in both China and US, the development and prospect of AI technologies and how they could impact our world. My key takeaway is that while the US is likely to stay on the edge of new AI technologies, China is going to dominate the implementation of AI into common day things. Great book overall!

World Order

World Order audiobook cover art

Regardless of how people stand with Henry Kissinger politically, he is surely a master at international affairs and his insights are worth learning. Kissinger gave a comprehensive account of the way our world is structured, from the Treaty of Westfalia to today’s NATO. He comprehensively covers the principles of the Westfalian World Order, and the emerging powers such of China, India, and countries in the Middle East that seek to redefine this world order to incorporate to their heritage and values. The text is rather dense and academic, but it sure did lend me a new set of lens to inspect current day situations.

Checking in on My Goals

Here are my goals for 2018 I set forth during the last new year

  • Get admitted to a top 20 Eng Grad School
    • Check, I got into the UCSD BS/MS program for EE, although plans have changed and I’m no longer going.
  • Score a big 5 Internship
    • Check, I secured an internship at Amazon over summer
  • Get weight to 175lbs
    • Almost, @180 now, almost there!
  • Build a stunning personal website
    • Check, visit http://dennis.ren Although I’m still working on the “stunning” part
  • Bring Resting Heart rate to avg <70
    • Check, according to my apple watch, my average RHR reduced from 72 to 68
  • Figure out my 4 more year plan and commit
    • Nope, I’ve learned something important during this recent fall. That is, don’t over plan your future. Set a grand goal for your future, but don’t lay down each step of your implementation. Follow your heart, and you will get there. “You can never connect the dots forward” — Steve Jobs
  • Have a published paper
    • Nope, although I had the chance to author a paper on Colossus, I didn’t end up pursuing it
  • Get my 3.0 back
    • Nope, as I’ve figured out, I’m not really built for school

As 2019 unfolds, I wish that my new goals can be realized. I will share them at the end of the year this year.

Adios 2018, it’s been great! Here’s to more fun, more friends, more love, more progress, more adventures in 2019!