18 October 2013

Notes on playing defense in hockey

  • Defensive coverage in the attacking zone: When your team playing offense in the attacking zone, you should work with your partner to balance offensive pinching and defensive coverage. The strong side defenseman should play deeper in the zone to participate in the attack and to keep the puck in. The weak side defenseman should play back to cover, in case the play goes the other way.
  • When you're playing the point in the offensive zone, periodically count the number of opposing players in front of you. It should always be 5. If it's not 5, there's a cherrypicker behind you and the potential for a breakaway.

29 July 2013

What physics teaches you

I've been talking to people outside of physics and a topic that has come up fairly regularly is what general skills does physics teach you. I've spoken with a couple people with bachelor's degrees in physics who are now working in software and they said that physics teaches you systems level thinking. I guess that's a good answer if you're applying to a software job. But I feel like "systems thinking" isn't the most satisfactory answer. If that was all you learned from physics, I don't see why you couldn't study another subject. There must be other academic fields that teach big picture thinking.

So I'm going to try and give my own answer. "What does physics teach you?" Physics prizes knowledge that is universal, enduring, and predictive; information that is too idiosyncratic and transitory is considered "uninteresting." [1] When you study physics, you assimilate these values. You can scan information and pick out the things that are universal and enduring and things that are idiosyncratic and transitory. The former you pay a lot of attention to, and the latter you assign low priority. When you're unsure how to categorize piece of information, you instinctively look for sanity checks.

In general, all serious academic fields value universal, enduring knowledge. However, there is one difference. Physics can predict the future. Physics possesses a bounty of beautiful and (most importantly) wildly accurate mathematical models -- where if you have enough information about the initial state of the system, you can make specific, quantitative predictions about how the system evolves. No other natural or social science has had this kind of success. And having all these successful, sophisticated models leads to a deep understanding of nature. When you study physics to a sufficiently high level, you experience the nirvana of deep understanding. [2] It's hard to become a deep thinker if you don't know what deep understanding looks like. So this is the gift of physics. It's the quantitative field of study that makes deep understanding most accessible. [3]

Studying physics molds you into an efficient, discerning, deep thinker. [4]

[1] Physicists (in my experience) also tend to be pragmatic, rigorous, and suspicious of hype. They're after the truth and reluctant to say things they're unsure of.

[2] If you're like me, that feeling is intoxicating and you want more of it!

[3] You could probably argue that some types of math lead to the same kind of deep understanding and thinking.

[4] When I took freshman physics in college, I picked up these impressions and got a taste of "deep understanding" which is why I ended up majoring in physics over other subjects. I sensed something greater than myself, that transcended human experience. It was a transformative experience and I wanted more.

14 May 2013

Song of the day: "The Right Regrets" by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman

This is another song from the NBC TV show Smash. In general, I haven't really liked the songs in Season 2, but this is a great one. Debra Messing and Christian Borle did a great job acting this song, too. I like the theme about writing, which is unusual.
A writer has the empty page where he can set the scene
He puts the actors on the stage or on the movie screen
The characters all say the words the writer wants to hear
And then my friend; a happy end

But when the writer steps outside that room where he is king
He can't control when lives collide or what the lovers sing
And so he hides behind his words the one place he belongs
And in black and white he can rewrite the wrongs

Where he can find the strength to say what those he loves should hear
And just erase mistakes she's made then make them disappear
Where he can change the plot so he's a hero not a louse
And when the curtain falls there's not a dry eye in the house

A writer hopes to leave behind a work no one forgets
And when he writes the end to find he has the right regrets
A writer has the empty page where he can use his pen
To mend his heart and try to start again

10 April 2013

Installing Ubuntu and Debian for a triple-boot machine

I recently installed Ubuntu and Debian for the first time. Here's how I did it.

The first thing I did was order a second 2.5" hard drive. I chose 320 GB drive, which is the largest size you can get without Advanced Format. I figured that I didn't need tons of space and I didn't want to worry about partitioning issues with an Advanced Format drive. My laptop is a Thinkpad T400. The great thing about Thinkpads is their modular design. Normally, the T series Thinkpads come with a DVD drive, but it is removable. So I took out the DVD drive and swapped it for a second hard drive. I found a third party hard drive adapter for the Thinkpad Serial Ultrabay Slim form factor. This way, I was able to keep my Windows 7 install on my main hard drive and not worry about breaking it with a Linux install.

I followed this partitioning guide and used GParted to split the second hard drive into four partitions: two root partitions (30 GB each for Ubuntu and Debian), a swap partition (8 GB), and a share partition (230 GB). I used Tuxboot to install GParted on a bootable flash drive.

Everything went great up to this point. Following the recommendation on the Ubuntu install page, I used Pen Drive's Universal USB Installer to load up Debian and Ubuntu on bootable USB drives. Then I tried to install Debian Squeeze and it kept failing to find my wifi. I tried my wired connection, but that failed, too. Since I was doing a net install (minimal Debian) off of a USB flash drive, I needed an internet connection to download all the GUIs and other packages which make Debian usable. However, because I had no internet connection, I kept ending up with a "command line" style Debian. I even tried downloading the "non-free" Debian which contains software that hard core Debian people consider proprietary. Didn't work. Ugh. After trying to get this to work all night, I gave up and installed Ubuntu 12.04 LTS on my other root partition. It booted up fine the first time, but the second time, I got a black screen. I finally went to sleep as the sun was rising.

When I woke up, I booted up Windows and remembered that I forgot to change my BIOS settings for the graphics card. My Thinkpad has switchable graphics, meaning that it can switch between integrated graphics and the discrete graphics card. I turned this off and set my computer to always use the discrete graphics card. Then Ubuntu booted up correctly and consistently. As for Debian, I went to the #debian IRC channel and presented my problem. People told me to avoid the current stable release ("Squeeze") and use the testing release ("Wheezy"). In addition, they told me to use the non-free version of Wheezy and to make sure I had all the firmware files for my wifi card. When I followed these directions, Wheezy found my wifi card and installed the packages off the internet. Now I had a desktop for Debian. Finally, I had both Ubuntu and Debian working!!!

The last thing to do was to fix my GRUB screen. The Ubuntu and Debian installers are really smart and automatically added themselves to the GRUB screen, allowing me to triple boot in Windows 7, Ubuntu, and Debian. However, after installing two distros and updating Ubuntu, my GRUB screen contained many useless entries. So I installed the GRUB customizer package on Ubuntu and used that to clean up my GRUB. Here's my edited GRUB screen:

All this work took two days, but in the end, success! In retrospect, installing Linux was a pretty smooth experience, with the exception of the Debian wifi problem.

29 January 2013

UDMA CF cards work in Epson P-3000 photo viewer

The Epson P-3000 photo viewer is a nice piece of equipment for a photographer to have, allowing you to back up 120 GB of photographic data [1] and view photos on a 4" screen with histogram and shooting data. But it's very old. So, it's surprisingly nice that it still works with the most advanced compact flash cards. I successfully backed up Lexar 1000x UDMA 7 16 GB compact flash cards to the Epson P-3000.

30 December 2012

Off-ice hockey shooting practice tips

On the backhand, you really need to push down hard with your bottom hand. Don't lift the blade too quickly. The puck should roll down the entire length of the blade.

For the slap shot, alignment of the puck is critical. Unlike the other types of shots (wrist shot, snap shot, backhand), you don't start with the puck on your blade. So you must precisely position the puck beforehand. I find that a good position can be determined by this method. Hold your stick at your side, near your hip. About a skate length behind the heel touches the ice is a good distance from your body. Then position the puck somewhere in the middle of your feet. When you're still a novice at the slap shot, look down at the puck while you shoot. That makes it easier.

Regarding the wrist shot and snap shot, the violent, fast push-pull and snap is critical. If you don't do it fast enough, you won't be able to lift the puck very much.

For all shots, practice shooting both from the side and facing the net.

As you get better, try stickhandling a bit before you shoot, like in a game situation. For a backhand, push the puck forward and pull it back for the shot. You need to pull the puck in pretty close to get off a decent backhand. For snap shots, try a toe drag. Or try loading and shooting many pucks in a row -- to get the feel of a quick release.

Extra stuff to work on:
  • one-timers (requires a band or bungee cord)
  • forehand and backhand passes (requires a band or bungee cord)
  • toe drags (requires a band or bungee cord)
  • saucer passes

07 October 2012

More on breakouts

These are my notes from the video "Break Out Techniques and Tips" by hockeyus.com

General tips

Open up to the teammate giving you the pass. Do this by doing a forward to backwards transition.

When you catch the pass, keep your feet moving. If you can't catch the pass moving, you need to get rid of the puck fast and make sure you step away from the wall. You need to be away from the wall so you have room to do things. You could chip the puck high off the glass, pass to the center, make a bounce pass, or make a move around a defender.

Don't pass to the center if he/she isn't open. If you are under heavy pressure, catch the puck and protect the puck against the wall. Keep the puck between your feet and put your stick between you and the defenseman.

If the passer isn't ready and you get to the hash marks, you need to stop and wait for the pass.

Breakout on the weak side
  1. Skate down the middle of the ice from the point.
  2. Do forwards to backwards transition and skate diagonally up towards the hash marks.
  3. Catch puck on your backhand.
Or if the pass comes earlier:
  1. Skate down the middle of the ice from the point.
  2. Do forwards to backwards transition and open up to the passer with your forehand.
  3. Catch puck on your forehand.
If you catch the puck on your forehand, you can make a quick bounce pass off the boards.

Breakout on the strong side
  1. Skate down the middle of the ice from the point.
  2. Do forwards to backwards transition and open up to the passer with your forehand, while skating backwards.
  3. Catch puck on your forehand.
In this situation, it's easy to 1) make a touch pass back to the passer, 2) make a bounce pass off your backhand, or 3) make a backhand chip off the glass and out.

If you don't have any pressure on you and you see that defenseman is going to wrap the puck around the glass,
  1. Skate down the middle of the ice from the point.
  2. Do a hockey turn near the goal line and keep skating forward (no transition).
  3. Catch puck on your backhand while moving.

03 October 2012

Cal Newport on following your passion

Cal Newport recently came out with a new book So Good They Can't Ignore You. Part of his central thesis is that "following your passion" and similar cliches given at graduation speeches are terrible advice.

I've followed Cal Newport's blog for years and he's been preaching this for many months. I agree with his idea, though I find his message kind of simplistic and I think he could explain it better.

I think that he's mainly pushing back against the cliche of "following your passion." There are a few jobs where passion is very common. Many people who go into sports, art, music, acting were children who saw adults doing something and decided they wanted to do it to. But most jobs aren't tangible like that. A lot of people got to their successful, fulfilling career through some circuitous route. The main point is that typically there is no easy obvious route to the wonderful career.

I went to a government career panel (for PhD scientists) and one of the panelists said that he talked to some other guys and they all agreed that they came to their current job in a circuitous route. It was only in hindsight that they could see how each choice they made along the way brought them to where they are now. It was perfectly logical now, but there's no way they could have predicted it when they were just beginning their working life.

Everyone will have preferences for some kinds of work over others and that is not something that should be ignored. But it might not be a overwhelmingly "passionate" preference -- like falling in love. The problem with a statement like "follow your passion" is that it makes it sound like the ideal career choice will suddenly come to you in a fit of heavenly inspiration. Like how a naive teenager might think that the first person they fall in love with is the person they'll marry for life.

There is also the pressure of living in a highly competitive world and opportunity cost. Life is much easier if you picked the "right" path from the start, went to the right college and majored in the right subject, etc. Yes, that is true, but there should be more discussion of how mild "failure" and changing directions is normal in a career.

11 September 2012

On paying attention

I recently had a conversation with someone I had never met before -- and the remarkable thing was that she devoted her entire attention to me. I could feel her looking intently at me, with full eye contact. She let me talk for a long time without interruption. How rare and special is it to have someone focused on you and not distracted by other things?

26 July 2012

Functional fitness

I've been rehabbing a groin pull and at my last session, I asked my physical therapist what his workout routine was. He said he does Olympic style lifting and body weight stuff (pushups, pull-ups, planks, etc) several times a week. He emphasized that he believes in "functional fitness." He said that a lift like the bench press is not a good exercise because you would never do anything like that in real life. The only purpose of the bench press is as a measurement of upper body strength, so you can compare to other people.. He thought that the true measure of fitness is: "can you pull a person out of a burning car?"... "if you're dangling off a cliffside, can you pull yourself up?" He's a huge fan of pushups (instead of the bench press). He also really likes squats and deadlifts, which work the posterior chain. I asked him about the TRX and he said it was a useful device because it allows you to work out your back, which is hard to do in bodyweight exercises.