Year of 2015 – life in the strange world of consulting

I am surprised and touched after logging into here after more than a year tans found continuously high traffic volume…so much so that I’m thinking of picking this back up…no promises, though. =P

In any case, I have to say that it has been one of the most exciting periods of my life since I last posted (which, I guess, contributed to my not posting here).

Trajectory: t \in (\mbox{Dec 2014},\mbox{July 2015})


During this time, I:

  • left the prop painting job in Disneyland;
  • signed an offer with consulting firm McKinsey & Co.;
  • got my advanced scuba diving license and dived for a month in Thailand and the Philippines;
  • went to study representational painting in Florence;
  • climbed in China’s top rock climbing spot Yangshuo;
  • went to a ‘mini-MBA’ organized by McKinsey in Amsterdam;
  • backpacked from Holland to Poland;
  • got back to Princeton and defended my PhD thesis (yes, I finally did that);
  • volunteered in a wildlife conservation area in Kenya;
  • came back to Shanghai and settled down to start consulting;


The above took us from November 2014 to July 15th, 2015. Since July 15th I have been role-playing as a consultant in the strange corporate world. According to Fortune magazine, I am officially working for  “the most well-known, most secretive, most high-priced, most prestigious, most envied, most trusted, most disliked management consulting firm on earth,” it’s understandable that no client or content related to work can be mentioned here, so I’ll just talk about cool stuff I do outside of work, or life in general = )

Consultant costume:


Let’s pick up where we left off: I was painting props in Disneyland, moving from a sub-contractor to a general contractor, then hopefully to Imagineering (i.e. moving along the path described in ). All looking pretty promising in October 2014, until I hit a brick wall called internal politics >.< (won’t go into details) The result is that I decided to leave and find another way.

By some completely random sequence of events, I learned about this thing called consulting, in which I heard one can move around the world and across industries to solve problems. I decided that it sounds pretty cool and went for an interview, then two more follow-up interviews, then I signed the offer.

McKinsey turns out to be, umm, not much like what I imagined (for example, the ‘traveling around the world’ part have not happened yet; in fact I have been completely stuck in Shanghai since July >.<). But one thing I am very grateful for is that they let me pick when to join, given a window of one year since the contract. I picked July 2015 to have 7 months to complete many things I’ve always wanted to do, planned and budgeted with the aim of using up the whatever small amount of saving I had. You’ve already seen the results above ^_^

A few things I learned from the 7 months pre-consulting:

  • It’s important to make time and systematically complete things one wants to do, so that they don’t accumulate
  • Spending all of one’s money on cool stuff feels great, I’ll aim for doing this periodically
  • Going out and do things often unlocks next levels for pursuing the interest (a lot like video games)

A few things I learned from the 5 months with McKinsey:

  • Unlike in mathematics where I stare at a blank paper for weeks before putting down a stroke, people here start ‘doing’ things immediately; This takes a lot of pressure away and wish I have done things more like this in academia
  • The corporate world is not very creative, but strangely spending time on manual tasks satisfying and increases my urge to be creative during personal time
  • When things are not ideal (e.g. being stuck in China) one should: 1) try as hard as one can to move within the orginazation in the right direction 2) do things outside of work to completement what’s non-ideal

Plans going forward (laundry list, mostly for myself to check back when I get bored and can’t think of things to do) – it goes roughly from shorter term to longer and more involved items which I have less clue about how to proceed:

  • Do interesting side-projects on weekends, such as:
    • Design and build a working Turing machine with my recently obtained LEGO Mindstorm EV3 (I would need some help on this from my mathematical blog readers: Anyone have a good set of turing machine notes? I remember spending lots of time writing the states back in my undergrad days, need to refresh those memories but lost the notes)
    • Re-start improving my digital painting with my new iPad pro and apple pencil (so far I believe it’s going to totally substitute Wacom!)
    • Think about topology – sometimes I feel the need to read/think math in order to verify that I’m not becoming more stupid in this job =P 
  • Climb Kilimajaro in February 2016 – this was originally part of my African trip this June, but due to lost passport in Kenya it didn’t happen. Just booked the flight
  • Oil painting – follow up with connections built in Florence, possible next painting workshop in Rome, Venice, Paris or Sweden
  • Sculpture – would be great to start that at some point, ideally marble, in Florence or London
  • Flying – Go to Arizona and actually complete my pilot license (did’t get very far at all in Princeton due to weather and the fact that Airport is 30 min biking away from school >.<), can be done in a month with good weather and intensive flying
  • Diving – Need to do more boat diving in interesting spots, see whales, sharks and shipwreck
  • Rock climbing – Back to Yangshuo, follow up with connections built there with the rock climbing community, improve ratings, eventually move to large walls and climb El-Captain
  • Wildlife conservation – 1) Follow up with LUMO in Kenya, re-visit, try to fund my cattle program to prevent locals to kill Lions  2) Good NGOs to try connecting with: WildAid in China for stopping Ivory and shark fin demand and Save the Elephant in Kenya  3) explore how might I get McKinsey involved
  • Industrial design – Potentially get a masters in that, either ArtCenter or Europe
  • Disney (Imagineering or PIXAR) – Remains a huge void and question mark I need to figure out… Have to get there at some point in life… Ideally through building a portfolio and reputation in  visual development

Hopefully that would keep me occupied for some time =P

I would aim to write here whenever there is any thing intellectually interesting going on. Let me know if you have any suggestions for bits of things I can think of/write about!

Best regards,

“Dr.” Conan Wu

Back to the drawing (painting) board

OK, so recently I made some attempts in painting on computer (meaning open a blank canvas in Photoshop and paint on a tablet). After spending just a few nights on it, I can’t help wondering ‘why haven’t I done this earlier?!’. Anyways, to help saving fellow mathematicians from making the same mistake, I’m writing this post. (okay you got me, I just want to post because I think it’s cool >..< Oh well, I guess travelling salesman has to wait q few days.)

This one was painted last night (you should blame it if you can’t wait to read about the travelling salesman problem). After reviewing pervious attempts, I found somehow I tend to use less saturated colors when shifting from canvas to digital. Hence I picked a circus scene for color training (the scene was from Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame album), seem to work~ Also, before this I have been sketching at a smaller size hence details a little smoother on this one, click to enlarge.

OK, here comes my complete digital painting history to date:

The very first sketch I did the night my tablet arrived (by the way, I’m using a Wacom Intuos, small). This is a scene I saw back in Evanston, when I used to take mid-night long walks along the shore of lake Michigan, there were days when moon rise from the lake, creating a shiny silver region that silently sparkles in the mideast of the otherwise dark water. My picture certainly doesn’t do the justice, but this was one of the views I have been longing to capture but can’t do with a camera. (low light + moving water) People, if you every visit Northwestern, I highly recommend checking the moonrise schedule!

After the first try (which is mainly black and white), I decided that I should get familiar with color mixing techniques, since the eye-dropper tool is non-existant in the real world. So I did a ‘master study’ i.e. pulled out a hard copy of Pixar concept drawing (originally in colored chalk I believe) and tried to get all the colors working ^_^ So here comes my version of radiator springs from Cars~

The next day I went out of my office, sat on the stairs for a couple hour with a computer and tablet, did this quick sketch of “the only interesting piece of architecture around the math department” – Lewis library by Frank Gary. (never liked the green and orange blocks on the building hence I intentionally deleted them :-P) Can’t get into any details because it was past midnight and that day was fairly cold.

In conclusion, digital vs. traditional:

1. Much better at anything to do with color (mixing, getting color from another part of the picture, etc);
2. Faster (used to take me weeks to finish a painting)
3. Unlimited resources (creating custom brushes, color won’t run out)

1. More personal satisfactory (well, I guess nothing compares to holding canvas in you hands)
2. Can actually see the brush and stroke at the same time (took me some time to get used to not seeing where my hands are, but in fact not as bad as one might think)

Anyways, I’m about a week old in this field, so don’t believe anything I said :-P. By the way, a side effect of doing this is, I have now started to think about the RGB value each time I see a colored object in real life >.<.

Hope you had fun! (I certainly did)

A Chinese new year greeting~

So this is the first day of the Chinese new year, classes/seminars still haven’t resumed since December 17th, still two weeks to go before anything starts…

Anyways, I’m borrowing this occasion to thank everyone for continuously supporting this blog! We’ve had a great year, check the annual report at the end of the post for details.

As some of you may already know, I have decided that mathematics is not going to be my life-long career. So far it’s not clear in which direction will this blog go, it’s simply too important to abandon. I guess only time would tell. However, expect changes.

Finally, a sketch I doodled up last night~ Happy Chinese new year!

(btw, for those who have seen me in winter, yes I’m waring that Klein bottle hat in the picture!)

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 15,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.