28 December 2008

Link of the day: Five best data visualizations of 2008

I enjoyed this post about the five best data visualizations projects of the year 2008 from flowingdata.com. Every scientist has the problem of visualizing data and wants to go beyond the usual 2D line graphs, 2D contour plots, and 3D graphs.

The anthropologist in you might like "I want you to want me" exhibit, shown in early 2008 at the Museum of Modern Art. Surely, anthropologists are having a field day with all the social data from today's internet. The Radiohead "laser" film is pretty cool, too. I think I can see the diffraction patterns from the lasers.

27 December 2008

Scrubs and Buffy

I'm home for the holidays and the change in environment has given me more time to think and reflect. Lately, I've been watching the TV shows Scrubs and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (At some point, I intend to write more about these shows.) At first glance, it doesn't seem like the two have much in common. Scrubs is about newly-minted doctors in their late 20s struggling to survive the hospital on top of their young adult lives. Buffy is a show about a group of high school teens who fight vampires and other supernatural forces. There is much I could say. For instance, both shows are also artistically inventive shows that transcend their genre. Medical drama in the case of Scrubs and horror in the case of Buffy. However, in terms of my life, I relate to the common element of young adults trying to find their identity and their struggle to break free from authority and recognize their own powers.

Quote of the day: Forgiveness in Spiderman 3

Spiderman 3 wasn't the greatest movie, but it had a decent quote that resonated with me. Peter Parker (alter ego of Spiderman) begins to realize what a jerk he's been: seeking vengeance against his uncle's murderer, retaliating against a workplace rival, harassing his girlfriend. His Aunt May comes to visit him and Peter tells her that he's hurt people and he doesn't know what to do. May tells him:
Well, you start by doing the hardest thing: You forgive yourself. I believe in you, Peter. You're a good person. And I know you'll find a way to put it right.
I think it's harder to forgive yourself than anyone else. And you need to find people in your life who believe in you, believe that you are inherently a good person, no matter what you've done in your past.

12 December 2008

8 December game recap vs Rose City Warriors

Score: 3-0 loss
Opposition: They were significantly better than us. The coach dropped us back into a defensive, 1-2-2 forecheck.
Team performance: I think we played really well, better than the 7 December game against the Ice Breakers. Our opponents were tough and we hung with them, so the loss was nothing to be ashamed about. The coach was very unhappy with the referee, saying that he wasn't calling anything.

My performance: I played much better this game. I got mentally focused beforehand and I was determined to do better than the previous day's game. In general, I played a kamikaze, edgy game, which is when I'm at my best. I felt like I was skating fast and hard to knock off my skates. Around the second period, I started to have some nice breakouts. I realized that if I anticipated the breakout quick enough, I could swivel my head back for a quick look as the puck came up the boards. Then when I actually got the puck I knew whether I had time to skate it up or if I had to get rid of it fast. Instead of screwing up and accidentally icing the puck, I bounced the puck off the boards around the defender in a controlled way, so that I was able to enter the attacking zone with the puck on my stick. I also tried to stand around the crease but kept getting shoved away by the defenseman. The coach was livid about that, saying this tactic was illegal. She suggested that next time I should make small circles next to the net, instead of standing still. One time, I did manage to get my stick on a slapshot while standing near the crease, but I didn't do much. I've never really had much talent for deflections. Maybe I should just try to screen the goalie, but I always forget about that.

7 December game recap vs Ice Breakers

Score: 3-2 win
Opposition: We were pretty evenly matched, but I thought our team was slightly better. The Ice Breakers weren't fast skaters, but they positioned well and used their sticks well.
Team performance: Our team played well after a crappy first period. The coach mentioned that we played "hot potato" in the first period. We frequently have slow starts. We gave up two goals early on, but we came back to win in dramatic fashion. We pulled the goalie in the last minute and Melissa (a righty) scored off a nice one-timer off a rebound, from the left side of the net.

My performance: My play sucked. I wasn't mentally prepared to play and I was knocked to the ice many times in the first period. Way more falling than usual for me. After the first period, I got frustrated and started playing a bit better. Towards the end of the second period, I was hanging around the crease and the defenseman decided to hold my stick in her arms for five seconds. I was incredibly frustrated. When she finally released my stick, I slashed her on the shin guards directly in front of the referee. Then the two us go matching penalties. The two friends I invited to watch me play got to see me sit in the penalty box. What I had one good play where I carried the puck up the left side into the offensive zone. And I also had a good forecheck towards the end of the game, to keep the puck near the offensive zone.

03 December 2008

In the Heights review

I finally went to see the musical In the Heights, winner of the 2008 Tony Award for best musical. The musical has a fairy-tale story behind it. Lin-Manuel Miranda originally conceived of the concept while in college. The story is about a Hispanic neighborhood in Washington Heights (near 181st St in Manhattan) and loosely modelled on Miranda's childhood experiences growing up in New York City. Miranda wrote the music and lyrics and also ended up playing one of the lead characters, Usnavi.

As previously mentioned, the story is set in a Hispanic neighborhood of Washington Heights. It's July 3rd. Usnavi owns a deli/grocery store; his cousin Sonny also works there. Usnavi is very close to his Abuela (which means "grandma" in Spanish) Claudia. Nina is home from her freshman year at Stanford. She gets into trouble with her parents (who own an auto business) because she dropped out of school and because she starts dating a black guy, Benny who also happens to work at the auto business. Benny happens to also be Usnavi's best friend. Carla and Daniela own a salon. They really like to gossip. Vanessa works at the salon and Usnavi has a crush on her. (All the characters, other than Benny, are Hispanic.) The characters are brought together when Usnavi discovers that someone in the neighborhood holds a winning lottery ticket to $96,000.

The musical doesn't have a traditional plot. It's a mosaic of the American dream as interpreted by the different characters. Some characters, in particular Usnavi and Nina's family, illustrate the tension between family and the American Dream. Some critics have criticized the lack of cohesiveness in the book due to this approach. I agree that it does detract from the emotional resonance of the musical because there is no take-home message. Everyone has a different interpretation of the American dream and the musical doesn't single out any interpretation as the right one. The theme of tension between family and the American Dream is interesting, but it is not explored deeply in the musical.

In the Heights follows in the footsteps of Rent and tries to fuse modern music styles with the traditional Broadway musical. It was cute that the traditional overture was worked into the musical by having a guy put a boom box on the stage. Often the characters are associated with a particular style, for instance, Usnavi/hip-hop, Benny and Nina/pop, Carla and Daniela/Latin. The musical is an ensemble work. Almost everyone has a song, even the piragua guy!

The music is definitely the strong point of the work. Hip-hop has never been used extensively in a Broadway musical until In the Heights. It's definitely a very refreshing and novel sound. The ensemble numbers like "In the Heights", "96,000", and "Carnival del Barrio" are outstanding, and the pop duets between Nina and Benny are nice. The rest of the music seems forgettable, but the good songs make the cast album worth getting, just to hear the innovative hip-hop and the energy of the ensemble.

I found the performance itself a little disappointing. The actors seemed tired and flat, in particular Lin-Manuel Miranda during the opening number. The second act was more energetic, a shame since the best songs are in the first act. The best performances came from the supporting cast, such as Olga Merediz as Abuela Claudia. Maybe I should stop going to weekend performances. The actors must be exhausted by the end of the week. Or maybe the original cast is getting tired of performing the same thing for eight months. Fortunately, the cast album is excellent and captures the energy that must have been present during the first month after opening.

In the Heights is a musically innovative work with a weak book. However, it is a great first work from Lin-Manuel Miranda and I hope to see more from him.

28 November 2008

Shady "self-publication" in Elsevier journal

One of the hot topics in science these days in the case of Dr. El Naschie, editor-in-chief of Chaos, Solitons and Fractals, an Elsevier journal. Apparently, Dr. Naschle has 322 published papers in the journal including 5 of the 36 articles published in the December 2008 issue (all self-authored). This blatant case of editorial abuse forced El Naschle to retire, effective January 2009. For more details, see John Baez's blog post.

16 November 2008

16 November game recap vs Salisbury Stingers

Score: 5-0 win
Opposition: They weren't very skilled or good at skating, but they were well-taught in poke checking and being general pests. Unfortunately, the referee wasn't interested in calling penalties against their rough play. The lower-level of this team was a good opportunity for our team to execute the skills we've learned at practice.
Team performance: We had a really strong lineup for this game, and I think everyone played well. There was some nice passing, though the coach complained that our breakouts were a bit weak. Two players scored two goals... so close to a hat trick.

My performance: I played left wing on a line with Grace at center and Mary at right wing. I wasn't entirely pleased with my game, but in my defense, I was feeling a bit tired and didn't have my usual energy. I had one really lousy shift in the second period where I just hit the wall and struggled to get off the ice. I got tired easily battling for the puck along the boards. That's usually a strength for me, but I just didn't have the energy for those battles tonight. I felt like I had some trouble with the breakouts. The opponents had good anticipation on the forecheck and I wasn't good at finding an open spot. The good things I did. I had one nice shot on net (I even lifted the puck) and I made a great poke check while on the forecheck. I don't think the opposing player was expecting me to get the puck away from her. I also pulled another "skate through the puck along the boards" move. That always catches motionless defensemen off-guard. When I pull one of these moves, I always have a good feeling that I'm going to get the puck. So I rammed through the defenseman and went through her stick, but I lost sight of the puck. I think it popped into the air and bounced off my chest. Anyhow, I got the puck down deep into the attacking zone.

19 October 2008

October 19 game recap vs Storrs Lady Lightning

Score: 4-0 loss
Opposition: They were much faster than us and capitalized on our lackadaisical first period play. I think they scored 3 goals in the first period and 1 in the second period.
Team performance: We were clearly out-of-shape. We need to work on our conditioning. The coach told us that we need to cover the ice evenly on the forecheck so we don't get killed on odd-man rushes the other way. We had a tendency for the three forwards to either bunch up on one side or all converge on the puck. Our team did play much better in the second and third periods.

My performance: I think I played pretty well for the first game of the season. Working out over the summer really helped my conditioning and I felt strong through the first two periods. I didn't hit the wall until my last shift of the third period. I started off the game skating on the left wing with Alison playing center and Rose playing right wing. It was fun playing with Alison because her speed gave me room. I had one semi-breakaway with her where I shot on net. Alison fed me a nice pass from behind the net and I got off a nice one-timer. Unfortunately, it hit the goalie right in the chest. Somewhere in the middle of the first period, our coach decided to put Alison on another line to spark our offense. Then I played with Linda at center and Rose at right wing. Linda and I had at least two good scoring chances. During one play, the puck squirted into the offensive zone and I had a one-on-one fight with the defenseman for the puck. Somehow we both fell down and Linda ending up trying to shoot on net. Later on in the third period, Melissa looked tired, so the coach had me switch with Melissa so that she could have an extra shift to rest. I played with Moie at center and KC at right wing for the rest of the game. I remember making a nice defensive play. We were trying to break out of the zone and the puck came around the boards on my wing. The opposing defenseman tried to stop the puck. I pushed my stick blade forward like a poke check and simply charged through. I think I had a semi-breakaway and made the defenseman look really stupid. Awesome play. I have to do that more often.

I said all these good things about myself. I did notice that I had trouble handling the puck when it came into my skates. That happened at least twice and the opposing team just took the puck away from me. I'll have to work on that.

16 October 2008

Link of the day: "Goal setting for skeptics"

I really enjoyed this inspiring, short essay by Gina Trapani about why goal setting is important or in her words: "why you should risk dweebhood with written goals."

Our new hockey coach

We got a new coach this season. She has been very impressive in our first two practices and the new season feels promising.

Coach Russell played four years of Division I women's hockey, so she has a lot of experience. I really like how she runs hard, uptempo practices filled with lots of drills. It's mentally challenging and stimulating. This style reminds me of the way Coach Jensen ran the Heartland Hockey Camp practices. Russell is very open-minded and approachable. Since she played with most of the women during the summer co-ed league, she knows everyone which is handy because she knows everyone's name!

With a new coach, my teammates seem more engaged. Everyone has lots of questions and suggestions. I'm a bit worried that Coach Russell's familiarity with the players might compromise her authority. But so far, she's done a great job at balancing being fun and relaxed with being demanding.

Russell asked us to arrive at practice 30 minutes early for some chalkboard discussion. Here are my notes on the meeting:
  1. Put in your best effort at practice. Practice hard so you can do better at games. Everyone will play, no one is going to be benched. But everyone has to work hard at practice. Falling is good.
  2. Communication is key. Yell at your teammates. Examples: "I got high [slot]" or "One [man] on" Communication helps win games. Talking is great.
  3. We haven't had an opportunity to discuss our forecheck scheme. For now, we will setup a 2-1-2 forecheck, for a more aggressive, offensive posture. That means 2 forwards in. If the 2-1-2 doesn't work, we'll go with a 1-2-2 forecheck which means 1 forward in.
  4. We will learn several different ways of breaking out. For now, we will work out the basic breakout that the team had already been practicing with Rai. Typically, the defenseman breaking out will have three options: the wing on the boards, the center who will curl down low, and the defensive partner on the other side of the ice.
  5. When playing defensive hockey, develop the habit of lifting the stick with a quick hard upward slash and then taking the puck away.
  6. If you want to pokecheck, push your stick blade forward. That way the puck will go behind the opponent and break up the play. No lazy pokechecking where you swing the stick from side to side.
  7. Under the "new" USA Hockey rules, you cannot do anything that will impede your opponent's motion. If you hit your opponent's stick, keep it around the blade. When you go higher, you risk a penalty. However, you can lift the stick as much as you want. You can tap the opponent with your stick and annoy them if you want, as long as the opponent's movement is not restricted.
  8. Playing defense when an opposing player is in the crease. You can't get in the way of the player until the puck comes near you. Again, any impedement of the opponent's movement is a penalty under the new USA Hockey rules. If you want to be sneaky though, you can get behind the player and push your stick down on the player's pants to direct the person where to go. This is called the "washboard" technique.
  9. If you're a wing breaking out and positioning yourself on the boards, don't turn your back to the incoming defense. That makes you blind to the incoming defense and also restricts your possibilities of movement. Instead, stand with your body perpendicular to the boards. Then you have many options: going forward, sideways, etc.
  10. Always throw hard passes. It's better to see someone miss a hard pass than to cough up the puck because of a soft pass.
  11. We will be running uptempo (translation: hard) practices. You should be really tired (translation: exhausted) after practice. To keep the pace up, everyone should do a hard lap around the rink between every drill.

14 October 2008

Thirdly review 2008, Part 3

Yet again, I've been putting off my Thirdly review. This review will cover mid-May through end of August.

Summer is usually when I go on vacation, but I didn't do much this year. I was tired of how hectic pace of the spring and just wanted to stay home. However, I did go to Washington DC to visit my second cousin and her family. I thought it was just going to be my cousin, her husband, and the kids, but then her mom and her sister's family (including an infant and newborn) showed up. So the trip wasn't really relaxing since there were so many people around. With so many kids, the parents seemed incredibly stressed and that rubbed off on me.

I played hockey in the co-ed summer league for the fourth year-in-a-row. I don't really have much to say about it, but our team did advance to the championship game, which was nice. I also dabbled in learning Chinese during July. Unfortunately, I couldn't keep it up due to time constraints. I hope I can pick it up again sometime.

I tried to improve my work ethic by setting up routines and rituals. I started a five-day-a-week gym habit on June 17th. I think my initial lifting routines contained too many exercises, which made my workouts both inefficient and overly time-consuming. Gradually over time, I figured out which exercises to keep and which to throw out. I really liked doing the habit five days a week (on weekdays) because I couldn't skip any days. In late August, I studied Rippetoe & Kilgore's Starting Strength book and that helped me understand how to train properly. I finally knew how to do the major lifts with proper technique and that gave me the confidence to go up in weight. I doubled my squat and deadlift numbers in a month. Overall, the gym experiment was very successful. It made me feel better physically and mentally and conferred discipline. If I wake up and go to the gym before 9 am, it's probably going to be a good day.

I've also been trying to establish good habits for my bedtime and rise time. Ideally, I'd like to wakeup at 5:30 am and go to bed at 9:30 pm. I had a nice week in August where I actually accomplished my wakeup time. I haven't been able to do consistently ever since. I have found a good way to encourage me to go to bed by 9:30 pm. It works as follows. I try to finish up everything (email, logging, news) by 9 pm. I watch a 20-minute episode of Scrubs and hop into bed. This works pretty well.

I notice that I have problems with unplanned disruptions. During early August, I got hooked to following the Olympics. In late August, I received the Starting Strength book in the mail and started studying it. I thought I could learn it in one day but it took over four days. That meant my work being stalled for a week. Two weeks ago, I had to work out some issues with a friend of mine. Once I get disrupted, I takes me a long time to get back on track. I hope that when I finish establishing good sleeping and working habits, I won't have so many problems.

13 October 2008

Public communication, web 2.0, and all that

I'm not the most wired person out there, but I think I'm definitely above average. The web presents enormous opportunities to communicate with the general public and connect with people who have specific interests. This is very different from personal, one-on-one conversation, which I discussed in an earlier post. The idea of an interactive, user-defined internet is frequently called "Web 2.0."

I'll discuss some of my personal experiences with Web 2.0. (See Tim O'Reilly's article for an in-depth discussion of what Web 2.0 means.)
  • Blogging
    Well, this here is a blog! Blogging is a great way for me to practice writing and expressing myself. If you're a really popular blogger like Tim Ferriss, you can have very lively conversations with your internet audience. No one really talks to me about my blog. Not that I really expect anyone to, given that I write about random topics of personal interest and make no effort to connect with a target audience. But if you want to communicate with people via blogging, you can definitely make that happen. Even if it's on a small scale like sharing infant photos with the family.
    I really like using Blogger because of the tags, anonymity, and free storage space.
  • Facebook
    I like Facebook a lot. I will frequently double-post on Facebook and Blogger. I post on Facebook to let my friends know about a link I like. It's much less intrusive to do so via Facebook than via email. I also get faster feedback. When people log onto Facebook, they know consciously that they are having fun and blowing time. They are in the mood to respond. Facebook is viral in the sense that when people see one or two comments to a posted link, they themselves feel compelled to join in the discussion. In contrast, email is this awful catch-all for communication. My email is probably sandwiched in between a reminder about a meeting and a message from the boss. I also post on Blogger so that I can have a personal record for myself.
    The main difference between Facebook and other Web2.0 tools is the sophisticated privacy tools on Facebook. So depending on the user, Facebook is not as "open" as other platforms.
  • Flickr
    Photography is only a minor hobby of mine, so I don't spend too much time on Flickr or not as much time as some people do. I use Flickr pretty much the same way I use Blogger, to keep personal records that happen to be public. The main reason I chose Flickr is the excellent interface for tagging and viewing photos.
    Sometimes I'll get some nice, unexpected comments on my (amateur) photographs. That's the magic of tagging and geotagging on Flickr. It's so easy for people to find photographs of a specific location or specific tag. Two of my photos have been chosen for the Schmap online travel guides. I think it's because I did such a detailed job of tagging my photos. There are probably better photos out there, but mine were easy to find. I'm glad to pitch in my bit to make Web 2.0 the great resource it is. Flickr allows me to explore other people's interests and photographic creativity. Many photos, including mine, are licensed under Creative Commons so they can be re-used for non-profit purposes. I'm not too familiar with the social aspects of Flickr, but it appears there's quite a community there. You can join all sorts of groups. I was asked to submit photo to a Sharpie pen group!
  • Forums
    I'm a member of the ModSquadHockey forum and I used to hang out a lot in musical forums like Finishing the Chat and BroadwayWorld. Reading forums is a fantastic way to quickly acquire knowledge for a new hobby. I figured out how to pick my own hockey equipment and learned what theatregoers look for when they attend a play or musical. I'm still a member of the hockey forum because I really liked the atmosphere on the board (vigilant administrators are a must) and I periodically answer questions. I try to give back.
  • Wiki
    Wikis can be interactive but not on the level of blogs, Facebook, Flickr, and forums. The interaction is with the members of the wiki who write and modify the contents of the wiki. My only experience so far is submitting reference cards to the Starting Strength Wiki. I did get a nice note from the Starting Strength Wiki administrator, praising my contribution. I'm interested in doing more with wikis but I haven't gotten around to it yet.

12 October 2008

Upbeat playlist from Scrubs, Season One

  1. Good Time - Leroy
  2. A Little Respect - Erasure
  3. Dracula From Houston - Butthole Surfers
  4. Fool - Tim Cullen
  5. Camera One - Josh Joplin Group
  6. Hooch - Everything
  7. Fighting For My Love - Nil Lara
  8. Tubthumping - Chumbawamba
  9. Have It All - Jeremy Kay
  10. Fresh Feeling - Eels
If you have Rhapsody, here's a link to the playlist.

11 October 2008

Giving as good as you get

A couple times I've heard the phrase "give as good as you get." It refers to the idea that if someone insults you, you insult them back equally. Is this a staple of American culture? If so, I condemn it.

Yes, I agree, if you are 100% sure someone is a complete jerk and is doing it on purpose, then hit back hard, verbally, physically, whatever. But what happened to human decency and cutting people slack? Maybe it's because I'm Asian and Asian people have doormat culture? The idea to "give as good as you get" without any kind of reflection is incredibly rude. What happened to those Christian ideals about "turning the other cheek" and not retaliating?

This is something to keep in mind when playing competitive sports. I like what judoka Ronda Rousey said in an NBC Olympic interview titled "International competition":
People on the mat are a completely different personality from when they are off the mat. When someone is roughing me up and trying to bust my lip or whatever or doing cheap stuff on me on the mat... I won't hold it against them because they could be the coolest person to go out with on a Friday.

07 October 2008

Link of the day: Manic-depressive rollercoaster

Tim Ferriss wrote a nice post called "Harnessing Entrepreneurial Manic-Depression: Making the Rollercoaster Work for You" on his personal blog.

I especially like the plot.


Tim explains each of these different stages: 1. Uninformed optimism, 2. Informed pessimism, 3. Crisis of Meaning, 4. Crash and Burn, and 5. Informed optimism.

Tim's discussion is aimed at business owners, but the plot applies to anyone doing creative work, including academics. Try and avoid the "crash and burn" stage!

06 October 2008

Text messaging and other forms of personal communication

Recently, I tried text messaging (for real, not for goofing around). It can actually be useful, contrary to its image as a youthful American fad (I'm told that Europeans and Asians text all the time regardless of age).

I can think of several different methods of personal communication.
  • One-on-one in-person conversation
    The best way to talk to someone, but it can hard to arrange a meeting especially as people get older and busier. Also, this can be confrontational and intense, which is not desired in every situation. Examples: having dinner with a friend, taking a walk with a friend, traveling on the train with a friend.
  • In-person conversation in a group setting
    The good thing about this method is that at least you can see the person's facial expressions. The bad thing is that there are a lot of things you can't say directly when there are people around. I find it difficult to say anything serious in these situations, so I end up making jokes. Examples: hockey locker room, waiting for a meeting to start, mingling at an apartment party.
  • Phone conversation
    This is a very good substitute for one-on-one in-person conversations. Unfortunately, it can be just as hard to get a hold of someone on the phone as in-person. I find that the phone can be a little problematic if I'm speaking to someone who talks fast and doesn't like to be interrupted. I can't throw visual cues to get the person to slow down (actually this happens for me in in-person conversations as well).
  • Email
    Email is mainly great for short, non-emotional conversations or for getting things done (e.g. scheduling). You don't have to interrupt someone's schedule like you do if you talk to them in person or on the phone. In fact, if you are trying to talk to a busy, unavailable person, email is the only way to get in touch. If you are having weighty conversations and email is your only means of communication, be aware of the potential for feelings to get blown out of proportion. It's altogether too easy to project things that aren't there onto skeletal words. For this reason, fights over email are horrible. My problem is that I frequently ramble over email because I'm a better writer than speaker. The flip side is that I find it easier to express how I feel over email.
  • Text messaging
    This is a lot like email, but since people check their cell phones a lot more than email, they are more likely to pick up the message sooner. Text messaging can be very useful for check-up messages like "Did you pick up the milk?" or "Did you get my email?" If your friend is very busy and her computer is also broken (this really happened to me), text messaging is the only option. Text messaging is less intimidating and obtrusive than calling a person's cell phone. I hate to pick up voice mail sometimes, but I have no problem reading a text message. Also, it looks less rude for me to glance at my cell phone than to hold it at my ear. The downside of text messaging is that it's hard to write long messages. If you have access to a computer, you can send a text message via email.
The upshot is that when you pick a communication method, think about what you want to accomplish, think about your strengths and weaknesses as well as for the other person, and think about how long you want the conversation to be. Sometimes a 15 minute phone conversation is worth ten emails.

Next time, I'll write about public communication, including tools like Facebook, Flickr, blogging, and forums.

05 October 2008

High performance Scheme?

In college, my favorite class was the introductory programming class. It was amazing. We used Scheme and touched upon almost every programming topic under the sun, including compilers, streams, lambda calculus, and object-oriented programming. (So, it wasn't an ordinary intro class and we didn't use no ordinary textbook.)

I haven't used Scheme much these days, but a few days ago, a colleague asked me if I knew of ways to improve the performance of Scheme code. He was wondering if there was software analogous to Python calling C or Fortran code.

I found a good discussion of fast Scheme compilers at this forum. Apparently, Bigloo allows communication between C code and Scheme code. There are also some really fast Scheme compilers like Chicken, Gambit and Chez.

One thing I've wondered is how to translate loop-heavy C/Fortran code into Scheme. My programming class hardly even discussed loops. I did find a short discussion on how to write a loop in Scheme at the MIT ab-initio wiki.

I don't have any reason to look further into this right now, but these compilers could be useful someday in the future.

04 October 2008

Song of the day: "How long has this been going on?" by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin

I don't think this Gershwin tune is as well known as some others, but I love the bluesy melody. I've added it to my singing repertoire. Ella Fitzgerald does a wonderful version of this song on the album Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Gershwin Songbook.
'Neath the stars, at bazaars
Often I've had to caress men
Five or ten, dollars then, I'd collect from all those yes-men
Don't be sad, I must add, that they meant no more than chess-men

Darling, can't you see?
'Twas for charity?
Though these lips have made slips, it was never really serious
Who'd have thought, I'd be brought to a state that's so delirious?

I could cry salty tears
Where have I been all these years?
Little wow, tell me now
How long has this been goin' on?

There were chills up my spine
And some thrills I can't define
Listen sweet, I repeat
How long has this been goin' on?

Oh, I feel that I could melt
Into heaven I'm hurled
I know how Columbus felt
Finding another world

Kiss me once, then once more
What a dunce I was before
What a break, for heaven's sake
How long has this been goin' on?

(spoken)
Kiss me twice, once more, thrice, make it four

What a break, for heaven's sake
How long has this been goin' on?

02 October 2008

Quote of the day: Dr. Cox of "Scrubs" on being a good doctor

In the 21st episode of Season Two in Scrubs ("My Drama Queen"), Dr. Cox is forced to teach a class on doctor-patient relations. At first, he screws around, but finally he buckles down and makes a speech.
You wanna know the real skinny? If you want to be good doctors and nurses, you damn-sure better get ready to get in trouble -- a lot. Because patients are stupid, and they are really scared. And some of them need you to hold their hands, and you should. Others need you to kick their asses, and you absolutely should do that, too. But, it really all just comes down to whether or not you got the guts to say just exactly what you know in your heart of hearts you really should say.
I think the same philosophy applies to being a good parent, coach, teacher or friend. Hold their hand when necessary and kick their behind when necessary.

01 October 2008

Weightlifting routine - October 2008

I'm making some impressive gains on my major lifts -- squat, deadlift, and bench press. I've been struggling to increase my press. The problem is that there are only 35 and 45 lb bars. I can do 35, but 45 is too much. One idea I'm going to try is putting ankle weights on the 35 lb bar, so I can go up in a smaller increment.

Some notes:
  • I got rid of broomstick twists and replaced them with bicycle crunches
  • I got rid of tricep extensions since triceps are covered in dips
  • I'm going back to treadmill running as my cardio workout. I'm starting slowly to get my body used to running (15 minutes at 5.0 mph pace), so I don't get stitches all the time. I'm also trying to breathe deeply and inhale/exhale on my left foot.
  • New notation: "w" means warmup set
Monday: Upper body and cardio
Tuesday: Legs
Wednesday: Core and cardio
Thursday: Upper body and cardio
Friday: Legs

Legs
Squat 3-4w,3x5 [90 lb]
Deadlift 3-4w,3x5 [95 lb]
Hip abduction 3x8 [52 lb]
Hip adduction 3x8 [52 lb]
Rotary hip [50 lb], all four directions, both legs 2x8
Seated calf raises 3x8 [112 lb]
Leg curl 3x8 [34 lb]
Leg raise 3x8 [body weight] or crunches 3x20 [body weight]

Upper body
Bench press 3-4w,3x5 [75 lb]
Press 2w,3x5 [35 lb]
Assisted dips 3x8 [body weight - 57.5 lb]
Barbell curl 3x8 [25 lb]
Barbell wrist curls 3x8 [12 lb]
Barbell reverse wrist curls 3x8 [9 lb]

Core
Pendlay rows 3x8 [45 lb]
Leg raises 3x8 [body weight]
Bicycle crunches 3x10 [body weight]
Back extension 3x8 [body weight + 5 lb]
Dumbbell shrug 3x8 [2 x 10 lb]

Song of the day: "Overkill" by Colin Hay

Another great song from Scrubs. "Overkill" is used as the cold open to the first episode of Season Two.
I can't get to sleep
I think about the implications
Of diving in too deep
And possibly the complications

Especially at night
I worry over situations
I know I'll be alright
Perhaps it's just imagination

Day after day it reappears
Night after night my heartbeat shows the fear
Ghosts appear and fade away

Alone between the sheets
Only brings exasperation
It's time to walk the streets
Smell the desperation

At least there's pretty lights
And though there's little variation
It nullifies the night from overkill

Day after day it reappears
Night after night my heartbeat shows the fear
Ghosts appear and fade away
Come back another day

I can't get to sleep
I think about the implications
Of diving in too deep
And possibly the complications

Especially at night
I worry over situations
I know I'll be alright
It's just overkill

Day after day it reappears
Night after night my heartbeat shows the fear
Ghosts appear and fade away
Ghosts appear and fade away
Ghosts appear and fade away

22 September 2008

Instructional hockey skating links

A friend of mine is starting to learn hockey and he asked me for tips on skating. Here's a nice collection of (free) links I found.

Forward stop
http://robbyglantz.com/forwardstop.html

Turning
http://www.sportskool.com/videos/turning (video)

Backwards skating
http://robbyglantz.com/backwardskating.html
http://www.sportskool.com/videos/backward-skating (video)

Transitions
http://robbyglantz.com/transitionmoves.html

Quick start
http://robbyglantz.com/quickstart.html

Videos on skating (general)
http://www.hockeyshot.com/articles.asp?id=231

If you're willing to spend money, get Robby Glantz's skating DVDs.

17 September 2008

Link of the day: RescueTime

Lifehacker mentioned the computer usage tracking software RescueTime almost a year ago, but I didn't try RescueTime until now. [Note: The Lifehacker post is a little old so I recommend visiting the RescueTime website to see the current features.]

As long as you're not too worried about privacy or installing yet another application on your hard drive, RescueTime seems like a nice piece of software. It tracks what applications and web sites you're visiting, then transmit that information to a central data server where you can log in and see how you actually spend your time. It's sobering to see that you thought you did six hours of work, but actually only three. Of course, this doesn't work very well for off-computer time like updating my research notebooks.

In my first week of usage, RescueTime seems like a killer app and I recommend it. I'd like to write a more detailed post on RescueTime at some point (maybe a few weeks or months from now?)

10 September 2008

Song of the day: "Superman" by Lazlo Bane

OK, I've decided that "A Little Respect" is one of the most annoying pop songs I've ever heard, up there with the Backstreet Boys.

Back to the song of the day, this one is the theme song for Scrubs. It was supposedly suggested by show star Zach Braff. He thought that one of the core theme of Scrubs is the fallibility of the characters.

"Superman" is much better than "A Little Respect." I think alternative music pays more attention to lyrics than pop. Is it me or is the reference to 405 from Los Angeles?
Out the door just in time
Head down the 405
Gotta meet the new boss by 8 am

The phone rings in the car
The wife is working hard
She's running late tonight again

Well
I know what I've been told
You gotta work to feed the soul
But I can't do this all on my own
No, I know I'm no Superman
I'm no Superman

no

You've got your love online
You think you're doing fine
But you're just plugged into the wall

And that deck of tarot cards
Won't get you very far
There ain't no hand to break your fall

Well
I know what I've been told
You gotta know just when to fold
But I can't do this all on my own
No, I know I'm no Superman
I'm no Superman

That's right
== harmonica solo ==

You've crossed the finish line
Won the race but lost your mind
Was it worth it after all

I need you here with me
Cause love is all we need
Just take a hold of the hand that breaks the fall

Well I know what I've been told
Gotta break free to break the mold
But I can't do this all on my own
No I can't do this all on my own
I know that I'm no Superman
I'm no Superman
I'm no Superman

Someday we'll be together
Somedaaay
Someday we'll be together
Somedaaay
I'm no Superman

09 September 2008

Song of the day: "A Little Respect" by Erasure

No particular reason for this song except that it played a major role in the story line of Scrubs episode "My Best Friend's Mistake." Scrubs is an awesome show -- a real pick-me-up for those low times, especially when you can't fall asleep. To be honest, when I listen to pop music, it's as filler, catchy background music.
I try to discover
A little something to make me sweeter
Oh baby refrain from breaking my heart
I'm so in love with you
I'll be forever blue
That you give me no reason
Why you're making me work so hard

That you give me no
That you give me no
That you give me no
That you give me no

Soul, I hear you calling
Oh baby please give a little respect to me

And if I should falter
Would you open your arms out to me
We can make love not war
And live at peace in our hearts
I'm so in love with you
I'll be forever blue
What religion or reason
Could drive a man to forsake his lover

Don't you tell me no
Don't you tell me no
Don't you tell me no
Don't you tell me no

Soul, I hear you calling
Oh baby please give a little respect to me

I'm so in love with you
I'll be forever blue
That you give me no reason
You know you're making me work so hard

That you give me no
That you give me no
That you give me no
That you give me no

Soul, I hear you calling
Oh baby please give a little respect to me

Soul, I hear you calling
Oh baby please give a little respect to me

07 September 2008

A tale of two super brothers (sisters)

This is a tale of two brothers (sisters).

The two brothers (sisters) love each other very much. In fact, they share a house together. Ah, they live the American dream -- a house complete with a white picket fence and a "green" pipe for getting around (the siblings are environmentally conscious).


Notice that the house has the name of the older brother (sister) on it. Of course, Mario (qmechanic) is much more famous and important that his (her) younger sibling.


Mario (qmechanic), being the wiser and more mature brother (sister), frequently travels far from the house. When he (she) gets home, he (she) always sits down with bro (sis) Luigi to retell the adventure. This is one of the few times when Mario (qmechanic) talks more than his (her) brother (sister). When the siblings talk over the phone, Luigi is usually the loquacious one. To be fair, Luigi also goes on adventures, but the tales he (she) tells are so ridiculously exaggerated, who knows what happened? Just ask Luigi's partner, Blooey.


The house is decorated with white walls, as young Luigi favors a minimalistic scheme. The plant is probably not Enitsirk...


Note the bunk bed. Both brothers (sisters) enjoy sleeping. Their favorite lullaby is sung by Crazee Dayzee: "laaaa la la laa laa laa laaaa dink!" Though Mario (qmechanic) admits that Luigi's expensive gift of the sun clock also works very well.


As much as they love each other, they have the usual sibling rivalry. One day, Mario (qmechanic) found Luigi's diary.

First page:
Once again, my brother went on an exciting journey. Once again, he went alone. It's so unfair! I remember the carefree days when we played Golf and Tennis and had Parties. I remodeled the house and made a secret basement. My brother has no idea! It's the perfect place to write in you, my secret diary. I heard that a ghost appeared in Toad Town today. It was big, really big. And it had red eyes, a giant, gaping mouth and a mustache.
Second page:
..........Because you're my secret diary, I'll tell the truth: Yaaaah! I hate ghosts!! What will I do if it appears at night! Come back, Mario! I'm scared! Yikes! I can feel something behind me. Ahhh! I'm sure it's there, but I can't look back! No! No! Get away! I think I'll be safe if I don't freeze with fear. I'll just shut my eyes and take five steps back, and then I'll jump and dash into bed. Here I go!
Although Mario (qmechanic) used to beat up on his (her) brother (sister) when they were younger, Luigi secretly looks up to Mario (qmechanic).

In the later pages of the diary, Luigi writes of his (her) wish.


The wish had been written in pencil and subsequently erased, but the letters were still faintly legible.


Despite being ordinary plumbers (grad students) in their day jobs, they moonlight as superheroes. Hopefully, they will go on an adventure together in the near future!


Footnote: A few corrections are in order. Okay, we don't live in a house together yet, but we have thought about it. Despite the picture, qmechanic is actually taller than her sister. Also, qmnechanic's sister says she prefers red over green. It is true that qmechanic's sister lacks coordination. Remember all the times her character fell into a pit or into water while playing Thousand Year Door?

And just kidding about the diary. But wait... qmechanic better check the floor boards...

02 September 2008

Amateur computation

I finally got around to reading Brian Hayes's essay "Calculemus!" from the American Scientist. The essay and many of Hayes's other works are available on bit-player.org.

Hayes talks about making computation more accessible to laypeople so the average computer user can do "inquisitive computing." He gives some examples of inquisitive computing from mathematics, for instance, perfect medians. A positive integer m is a perfect median if it satisfies the equality 1 + 2 +... + m-1 = m+1 + m+2 + ... N for some number N.

Inquisitive computing is a cool idea. I have often thought about becoming a better programmer by challenging myself with little problems. I don't have the kind of personality to work on mathematical puzzles, but I would like to learn enough so I can write scripts to solve tedious everyday problems. For example, a week ago, I wanted to import my calendar file to Yahoo. The support staff at Yahoo told me that in order to safely import my 16,000 line CSV file, I should divide it into 1000 line chunks. If I hadn't been so lazy, I should have written a Python script to read the CSV file line-by-line and spit out a 1000 line CSV file after each 1000 line chunk. I was lazy because I don't know Python well enough yet.

These types of problems come up all the time and I'm always really impressed when I see a person post a script solution on a computing forum. One of my goals is to someday become that person -- the scripting guru.

01 September 2008

Weightlifting routine - September 2008

After reading Starting Strength, I made a number of changes to my workout.
  • I'm doing five sets of five reps (5x5) for the heavy full body lifts (e.g. squat, press), so I can focus on learning form.
  • Pendlay rows are a new exercise I'm using in substitution of the power cleans recommended in Starting Strength.
  • I dropped pullups and lateral raises from my upper body program. There were too many exercises and I couldn't find a way to do assisted pullups with a full range-of-movement. My gym is not pullup-friendly to short women.
  • Bicycle crunches are a core exercise, not a leg movement. However, I stuck them with the leg workout so I can get a bit more ab work in.
  • I'm pretty lazy on the cardio right now -- 30 minutes on the elliptical machine. By lazy, I mean that I could do that workout half asleep. Maybe I should increase the resistance. Another idea is to try the rowing machine. Personally, I find it difficult to do an intense workout on an elliptical or cycling machine if there is no one to push you but yourself.
Monday: Upper body and cardio
Tuesday: Legs
Wednesday: Core and cardio
Thursday: Upper body and cardio
Friday: Legs

Legs
Squat 5x5 [45 lb]
Deadlift 5x5 [35 lb]
Hip abduction 3x8 [36 lb]
Hip adduction 3x8 [36 lb]
Rotary hip [50 lb], all four directions, both legs 2x8
Seated calf raises 3x8 [90 lb]
Leg curl 3x8 [36 lb]
Bicycle crunches 2x10 [body weight]

Upper body
Bench press 5x5 [45 lb]
Press 5x5 [15 lb]
Assisted dips 3x8 [-60 lb]
Tricep extensions with EZ bar 3x8 [20? lb]
Barbell curl 3x8 [25 lb]
Barbell wrist curls 3x8 [9 lb]
Barbell reverse wrist curls 3x8 [6 lb]

Core
Pendlay rows 5x5 [25 lb]
Leg raises 3x8 [body weight]
Broomstick twists 3x8 [body weight]
Back extension 3x8 [body weight]
Dumbbell shrug 3x8 [2 x 7.5 lb]

29 August 2008

Link of the day: Concise explanation of quantum computation

A few years ago when I first started this blog, I tried to write up a layperson's explanation of quantum computation. Anyone who works in the field of quantum computation has to come up with such a speal. My experience is that people get lost when I try to talk about quantum computers. Nowadays, I just tell them that I work on superconducting circuits: "We fabricate circuits on chips just like your computer chips and then we put the chips inside really cold refrigerators."

Michael Nielsen, a co-author of the standard quantum computation text, offers his less-confusing but sufficiently-complex explanation of quantum computation. The idea of visualizing the information as a list of numbers is a good idea. Maybe I can use Nielsen's explanation to tell people what I do, instead of simply saying that I work on superconducting circuits.

Lang Ping, Chinese volleyball hero

The Beijing Olympics have been good for me. I learned a bit of history from the opening Ceremony ("who the heck is Zheng He?") and discovered judoka Ronda Rousey. Last week, I read about Lang Ping (郎平) in the New York Times.

Being Chinese-American, I should know more about my "other half." China made its first appearance at the Olympics in 1984. So it was a big deal when the Chinese women's volleyball team defeated USA in the gold medal match. Due to her team-leading performance, Lang Ping became a huge celebrity and a living historical icon. Her nickname is the "Iron Hammer" 「鐵榔頭」. (I want a nickname like that!)

Apparently, the celebrity eventually became suffocating and Lang Ping decided to leave her home country for a "normal" existence. Life has now come full circle for Lang Ping. She returned to the Beijing Olympics in 2008 as the USA women's volleyball head coach. The USA women eventually won silver, defeating China on the way to the gold medal match.

I found this amusing interview with Lang Ping. Most people probably won't understand why I find it funny, but Lang Ping talks a lot like my dad and my dad's sister. It's not just the strange grammar and word choice of a non-native speaker. Something about the innocent and earnest yet frank tone that I find refreshing and familiar.

Here is a humorous example:
Yes, many people were concerned about my safety when I went to carry the torch in San Francisco. Apart from friends and relatives, the person most concerned was the chairman of the United States Volleyball Association. He called me daily. Before I flew to San Francisco, he even told me that I could give up my position for safety reasons. But I was very calm. How can a Chinese person give up her right? I told him not to worry. If someone should try to grab my torch, they should know who I am! "The Iron Hammer"! I will strike him down with my torch!
The part of the interview I found most relevant to myself was the cultural differences between China and the United States. My parents ingrained in me some of those oft-stereotyped Chinese mannerisms -- stoicism, putting too much pressure on yourself, not celebrating small accomplishments because you're still working towards a bigger goal -- but like Lang Ping, I have gradually come to appreciate the "relaxed" American attitude which "puts the emphasis on participation and whether you have done your best." Perfectionism makes me unhappy and creates "excessive nervousness" as Lang Ping notes. Most importantly, perfectionism is not emotionally sustainable. You have to stop and smell the flowers regularly.

There are aspects of Chinese culture that I do like and that I want to keep. For example, Lang Ping says
When I criticize them for not playing to their potential in games, they usually respond by saying that they are "not in shape." This is somewhat distressing. In China, you cannot use the excuse of "not being in shape" for a lousy performance. You are not allowed to relax because the eyes of the nation are watching you. The honor of the state needs your success to sustain, and you cannot be emotional as if you please.
Being mentally disciplined to do things that need to be done despite your feelings is a great, great skill. All good leaders and athletes have this skill. Mental discipline is a wonderful Chinese tradition and I hope to keep it up.

28 August 2008

Rippetoe/Kilgore notes on the press

The Press

Start position
Grip the bar just outside of shoulder width, such that the forearms are vertical. Place your thumbs around the bar with the weight as close to the heel of the hand as possible. Rotate the elbows forward so that they are in front of the bar and pull the shoulders forward so that the bar rests on the deltoid or chest. Your stance should be 10-12 inches between the heels.

Look straight ahead and at the wall. Lift the chest, take a deep breath, and hold it during the entire rep. Lean back slightly.

Movement
Drive the bar over your head. To lockout, straighten your elbows and shrug your shoulders up. As soon as the bar crosses the top of your forehead, move your torso forward under the bar and lockout. At lockout, the bar should be behind the neck.

Key points
Don't let the shoulders slide forward during the movement. Keep the shoulder blades retracted and tight. Keep the bar close to the shoulder at all times. Visualize pushing the bar by your face, scraping the nose. Keep your body in a tight, squeezed column. Squeeze the abs to maintain the tight column.

You can also get this information in a 3" x 5" press quick reference card.

Rippetoe/Kilgore notes on the bench press

The bench press

Start position
Always start with the empty bar for the first set. When you lie down and look ahead, your eyes should be on the foot side of the bar. Use a medium wide grip. Place the bar in the heel of hand, away from the fingers. Wrap your thumbs around the bar. The fingers should be perpendicular to the bar when it is gripped. Lift the chest and pinch the shoulder blades.

The entire foot should be in contact with the floor. The width between the feet should be somewhat wide. The shins should be vertical to the floor, with the legs bent close to a 90 degree angle. Push with the feet horizontally along the bench to support your body and to lift your chest.

Movement
To unrack, push the bar up, locking out at the elbows. With the elbows locked, move the bar out to the position above the nipples. The forearms should be vertical to floor.

Keep the chest high by arching the upper back. The lower back should be in the air. Tighten the neck by holding your head half an inch over the bench. Keep the upper body and shoulders tight as you lower the bar to store elastic energy. Touch the bar to your chest barely, don't bounce. Inhale at the beginning of rep, hold your breath during the rep, and exhale at lockout. Finish the last rep to elbow lockout straight up, *then* rack the bar.

Key points
Keep a tight grip, don't allow the bar to roll in your hands. Your chest should be tight enough that you can't breathe during the rep. Focus your eyes on the ceiling. Use the ceiling as a fixed reference point for the path of the bar.

During the lift, the shoulders should stay in position on the bench, and the forearms should stay vertical to the floor. The angle between the upper arms and torso should stay the same during the movement. Don't shrug the shoulders on lockout.

You can also get this information in a 3" x 5" bench press quick reference card.

Rippetoe/Kilgore notes on the deadlift

The Deadlift

Start position
Take a stance that is vertical jump width. The bar should be placed over the mid-foot, 2-3 inches away from shins. Take a grip just outside the legs so your arms clear your body. Use a double overhand grip if possible. The hands should grip the bar such that the bar is at the place where the fingers join the palm. Bend your knees so the shins touch the bar. Your scapula should be over the bar so that your shoulders are forward of the bar. Arch your lower back and lift the chest. The elbows should be completely straight.

Movement
Squeeze the chest and pull the bar up along the skin of the shins and thighs. Each rep should start from a dead stop. At the top of the pull, lift the chest and pull the shoulders back. At lockout, the hips and knees should be fully extended, shoulders back, and eyes looking straight forward. (But don't exaggerate the shoulder pull and back arching.) As you set the bar down, lift your chest and arch your back.

The going down phase should be faster than the going up phase. Deload on each rep.

Key points
As you go up, the knee angle changes first. The angle of the back with the floor doesn't change until the bar passes the knees.

The back angle depends on your personal body shape. Long torso, short legs give a more vertical back angle and vice versa.

You can also get this information in a 3" x 5" deadlift quick reference card.

Rippetoe/Kilgore notes on the squat

The Squat

Start position
Set the rack height so the bar is at mid-sternum. Stand with your heels shoulder width apart, toes pointed out at 30 degrees. Carry the bar on top of the posterior deltoids ("low bar position"). Hold the bar with a narrow grip (elbows in). Keep the thumbs on top of the bar. The wrists should be in a neutral position. After lifting the bar out of the rack, secure your position by lifting the elbows and lifting the chest simultaneously. Tighten the shoulders and torso.

Movement
While squatting, look down at a spot on floor about six feet in front of you. Squat to full depth (below parallel). The bar should stay centered over the mid-foot. Keep your back arched during the movement.

As you go down, the knees should stay in a parallel line with the feet. Keep your muscles tight so you store elastic energy. That means don't go down too fast. Bounce out of the bottom of the squat by bouncing off the hamstrings and adductors, not the quads. As you go up, drive your butt straight up in air (up, not forward). You are using the hips to drive out from the bottom. The hips and shoulders should rise at same pace.

Key points
The angle of the back in relation to the floor is determined by keeping the weight of the bar centered over the mid-foot. Keep tension on the posterior chain as you squat.

Do not allow the knees to travel forward as you go up. Do not allow the knees to collapse inward at any time. Make all knee travel occur in first half of descent.

You can also get this information in a 3" x 5" squat quick reference card.

Calendar setup

In a previous post, I described how I use my calendar to send myself "strategic reminders." Reminding yourself to take your vitamins, look at your finances, schedule a haircut, etc is a pretty obvious idea and it's not surprising that Gina Trapani wrote about it in an article called "Tickle yourself with Yahoo Calendar."

I thought people might like a more detailed look at my calendar. I used Yahoo Calendar for over two years and it worked very well. However, recently I wanted to transfer my calendar from one Yahoo account to another. There was no good way of performing the transfer because I had too many events (Yahoo should fix this!). I became very annoyed and switched to Google Calendar.

One nice thing about Google Calendar is that I can manage many calendars and label each calendar with a different color. I have different calendars: "Daily reminders," "Weekly reminders," "Monthly reminders," "To do," "Appointments," and "Special events." I chose colors for the reminder calendars in the bluish-purplish part of the spectrum, allowing for easier identification.

Reminders are exactly what they sound like. They are to-do items -- reminders to do something. In general, I only require that the reminder be done the same day but I put a time on the reminder so that I get the reminder at the time-of-day when I should do that item. I should go to the gym in the morning, so the reminder email gets sent at 5 am. I don't want to worry about cleaning my room in the morning, so that reminder gets sent out at 7 pm. Often, I am so used to doing certain items on a daily basis that I will just do them without the reminder. Whenever I complete a to-do item, I delete the corresponding reminder email from my inbox.

Now for your amusement, here is my calendar for all of you to see. The first screenshot is only the daily reminders. There are a ton of them, which is why I turned off viewing for the other calendars. Most of the items are self-explanatory. "Temptation blocker" is a piece of software that prevents me from wasting time on the internet. You probably noticed that I track various information including my bedtime, wakeup time, my mood that day (on a numerical scale), and the work I planned and actually did that day (which I call a "worklog").


There are too many daily reminders, so they get cut off in the monthly view. Here's a detailed view.


As I already mentioned, these same daily reminders show up in my inbox. Since I use Gmail for personal communication and don't want to mix that up with to-do items, I setup a Gmail filter to forward calendar reminders to my Yahoo account.


Here's a view of my other calendars. The "To do" calendar consists of to-do items that don't reoccur, e.g. that only happen once. The "Appointments" calendar consists of to-do items where I need to be somewhere at a certain time. The "Special events" calendar current includes birthdays, though I might decide to add other types of events later.



Not everyone may agree with this method, but I always associate an email reminder with every calendar item. I like to be able to open my inbox and look at what needs to be done that day. I don't want to open up Google Calendar and look at the big picture unless I'm doing a weekly or thirdly review. My calendar operates on a need-to-know basis, which I believe is the most efficient setup.

27 August 2008

Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe and Lon Kilgore

Many people on the internet have recommended the book Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe and Lon Kilgore. I recently bought and read the book. It is a beautifully written, carefully researched, and meticulous in all aspects of barbell lifting technique. The book covers the main, full-body lifts including the squat, deadlift, bench press, (overhead) press, and power clean. Starting Strength answers almost any question you can think of including biomechanics, head position while lifting, breathing, equipment, why the lifts in the book are the most efficient for building strength, etc. I wish more people would write books like this, to explain the technical aspects of other sports (for instance, ice skating), but most people probably don't have the brain and if they did, they would rather spend the time coaching and making more money as opposed to publishing a book.

I won't go through the contents of the book (if you're serious at all about weightlifting, you should read it), but I note some surprising and interesting things I learned.
  • You bounce off the bottom of the squat by bouncing off your adductors and hamstrings, not your quads. This technique protects your knees.
  • You ascend from the bottom of the squat by driving your hips (a cue for this is "driving your butt up"). This technique keeps the tension on your hamstrings and also protects your knees.
  • You use a thumbless grip (thumb on top of bar) in squat to keep your wrist neutral. Up until now, I used a thumbs-around-bar grip. You can get away with the thumbs-around-bar grip for a while, but unless you want to kill your wrist, it won't work for heavier weights. There is absolutely no need to use a thumbs-around-bar grip because you are supporting the bar on the back muscles. Your arms just hold the bar in place.
  • Hold your breath for entire rep (for the squat and deadlift). Holding your breath extends and protects your spine during heavy lifting.
  • I had no idea that the press was a good upper-body lift. I hardly ever see anyone do overhead lifts with barbells. Most people use dumbbells.
  • I learned about the glute-ham raise. Unfortunately, most gyms don't have a glute-ham bench. One can do a glute-ham raise on the floor, but Mark Rippetoe doesn't like it because this so-called "natural" glute-ham raise is basically only the upper-half of the raise done on the glute-ham bench. A raise on the glute-ham bench will involve multiple joints and body parts (half the movement looks like a back extension and the other half is the "natural" glute-ham raise), so Rippetoe thinks it's a better exercise.
I note some supplemental resources to the book. Mark Rippetoe (the man himself!) does a little digital coaching in a Q&A forum at Strength Mill. There is also a nice wiki based on the book called Starting Strength Wiki. It includes the bodybuilding.com forum FAQ on Starting Strength and a collection of short instructional videos, some starring Mark Rippetoe.

25 August 2008

Update on "The disadvantages of an elite education"

Previously I composed a personal response to William Deresiewicz's piece on "The disadvantages of an elite education." In addition to my post, I also wrote directly to Dr. Deresiewicz. (I call him doctor and not professor, because he's no longer with Yale.)

Here is the text of my email sent on 29 July 2008.
Dear Dr. Deresiewicz,

I'm currently a [university name] physics graduate student and I read your essay "The Disadvantages of an Elitist Education" with great interest.

For those of us who don't want to turn into elitist zombies, what do you suggest? Your essay discusses the problems of an elitist upbringing with incredible thoroughness, but you don't propose any solutions.

Travel? Read great literature? Go camping, Thoreau-style? Take up hobbies that bring us into contact with non-elitists? Protest? (hopefully, not with GESO)

Sincerely,

[name]
Note: GESO is a Yale graduate student union which is infamous for conducting pointless protests against supposed mistreatment of Yale graduate students.

Here is Dr. Deresiewicz's response dated 2 August 2008. [He tried to respond by email, but it didn't work (?), so he sent a letter to my department mailbox!]
Dear [name],

My e-mail kept getting bounced back, so I'm sending this the old-fashioned way.

I'm glad you found my piece interesting. Your question is not easily answered. Graduate school, especially, can feel like a little bubble, and I think you need to make an effort to get outside it, maintain social and intellectual interests that go beyond your specialization. Your proposed answers are actually not bad. Obviously, knowing there's a problem and keeping your mind open are already the beginning of a solution. But it's a long-term project. I wish I could be more helpful, but I think everyone needs to find their own answer.

Yours,

Bill Deresiewicz

23 August 2008

Alarm clock setup - August 2008

I wrote about my "new alarm clock setup" back in January 2008. I claimed it worked. Well, I lied. I would simply get up and turn the alarm off.

Fortunately, I have a new and improved setup! My sister bought me a very expensive sun clock. It's a special kind of clock that simulates sunset and sunrise. At a preset time, the bulb attached to the clock will diminish or increase in intensity. The idea is that the simulated "sunshine" will help you in the wintertime when there isn't much light.

My particular sun clock is the BioBrite Digital SunRise Clock - Advanced Model with White Noise. The BioBrite can simulate sunset and sunrise in 15, 30, 45, and 60 minute durations. I use the preset 30 minutes.

So here's my new alarm setup. My bedtime is 9:30 pm. Around 9 pm, I pull out my sun clock and put it on a chair by my pillow. I turn the sun clock lamp up, all the way to full intensity and set it to sundown in 30 minutes. You can see I was a little late getting to bed last night. The clock reads 9:37 pm.



This is what the clock looks like at 9:52 pm.



At 10:01 pm, the clock is really dim. And I should be in bed by now.



The sun clock is set to wake me up at 5:25 am. The lamp brightens gradually. This is what it looked like at 5:07 am this morning. Yes, the sun clock woke me up earlier than 5:25 am. I decided to get up and take a picture before hopping back in bed.



The lamp is really bright at 5:33 am, 8 minutes after the alarm was supposed to "go off."



At 5:30 am, my iPod alarm clock kicks in. When I hear my iPod, it means I have to get up. Currently, my iPod is set to wake me up to the opening number of Sondheim's Company. Too bad the actors sing "Bobby, Bobby." I think I should edit the mp3 to have them sing my name in the morning. Wouldn't that be cool?!

I didn't actually take this photo at 5:30 am. The picture is just to show you what my iPod alarm clock looks like.



Yes, there is a radio alarm clock (the thing with the giant green numbers) next to the iPod stereo. I *could* set the radio alarm clock for a third alarm, but I find that two alarms is enough.

The current setup works pretty well. (Thanks, sister!) Independent of technology, it helps that I am finally putting my body on a regular schedule -- bedtime 9:30 pm, wakeup time 5:30 am. I find that once you get a regular schedule started (at least 7 days of waking up at the same time), it's much easier to keep it going.

21 August 2008

Link of the day: An anthropological introduction to YouTube

Professor Michael Wesch of Kansas State University does research on the YouTube phenomenon. He presents a summary of his findings in this hour long YouTube clip.

Amazing presentation! Fun, smart, poignant, insightful. I wasn't sure I wanted to spend an hour on this, but Michael Nielsen said it was great and I believed him. I thought it was pretty funny to learn about "first vlog" syndrome -- the feeling that you're talking to everyone and no one at the same time. It's very awkward and I felt the same when I made my first podcast.

I had no idea that YouTube was such a deep and diverse community, that the hardcore users care about each other. Is YouTube the solution to the "bowling alone" syndrome, to our modern age alienation as Professor Wesch seems to suggest?

17 August 2008

Hockey photography? Never mind...

A few weeks ago, I was thinking about taking photos of my hockey team. I read some nice tips about shooting hockey from the San Jose Sharks photographer Don Smith (Sports Shooter article and Lexar digital photography article).

The problem is that people recommend a dSLR camera that can shoot at least 5 fps (frames per second) and also a f/2.8 70-200 mm lens. Hockey rinks (especially non-NHL rinks) are typically very dim so you need a lens that lets in a lot of light. The Canon EOS 40D (10.1 megapixels, 6.5 fps) costs $1000 new. The Canon f/2.8 70-200 mm lens costs $1200 new for the normal version and $1700 new for the IS (image stabilizer) version.

Damn, I'm not sure when I'll be able to afford a $3000 extravagance like that. Ten years from now?

Hockey equipment advice for rookies

I thought I'd write up a list of tips for hockey rookies. This list is meant to go beyond the typical advice you get. If someone hasn't told you already, your priority should be to buy good, well-fitting skates and helmet.

Safety
  • Buy a mouthguard, preferably a custom one. I find that the cheap boil-and-bite mouthguards (e.g. made by ShockDoctor) don't fit very well or I melt them when I go through the process of making them.
  • If you don't want to go to a dentist, you can order a custom mouthguard online from Gladiator or Pro-Tekt. The nice thing is that these companies offer many options like different thickness for the mouthguard material, colors, etc. (A medium level thickness is probably good enough for rec hockey.) The process works as follows. These companies will mail you an impression kit. You make the impression(s), send them back to the company, and they will send you the mouthguard. I used Gladiator and they also sent me back the original impression so I can always have another mouthguard made without having to do another impression.
  • Use your mouthguard. It will prevent your teeth from being chipped and mostly importantly lessen the risk of a concussion. Always wear a mouthguard in games.
  • When you buy elbow pads and gloves, make sure there is little or no gap between the elbow pads and gloves. Ideally, the bottom edge of your glove should cover your elbow pad. You can probably safely get away with a small gap if you're playing in a recreation league, but be careful.
  • When you buy shinpads, make sure your shinpads have a calf protector. This is a piece of material that wraps around the back of your leg. The reason is that someone might step on your calf and cut the muscle. You don't want to end up like NHL player Kevin Bieksa who missed over half his season.
  • Consider buying a neck guard. If you thought that having the back of leg get stepped on would be bad, consider what would happen if someone sliced your neck. This is exactly what happened to NHL player Richard Zednick who lost five units of blood after having his carotid artery sliced by a skate. I like the Itech NK20 neck guard. It's pretty thin and not bulky compared to most neck guards. It did take a few games to get used to, but now I wear it for all my games and I don't notice it at all.

Sticks
  • There is a general consensus that it's easier to learn stickhandling with a wood stick. The reason is that wood gives you a better "feel" for the puck. The composite stick blades are very hard compared to wood, so pucks tend to bounce off the composite blades. Wood blades are much more forgiving. I played with wood sticks my first 2-3 years in hockey.
  • My favorite wood stick is the Sherwood 5030 Featherlite. Many expert players, including NHL players, love Sherwood wood sticks. Unfortunately, I'm not sure if these sticks are being made anymore since Sherwood wasn't making much money on wood sticks. The hockey market has shifted strongly to composite sticks in the last five years.
  • Try to resist the temptation to buy a composite stick for your first stick. Wood sticks aren't actually that heavy, and as mentioned already, the feel is much better. As a rookie, you are still trying to figure out what kind of pattern you like, and it's pretty expensive to develop your preference through buying expensive composite one-piece sticks.
  • One compromise is to buy a composite shaft and try different wood blades. There are two types of shafts: tapered and standard. Each type only accepts one type of blade. Although tapered shafts have a slight performance advantage over standard, I would get a standard shaft since there is way more selection of blades for standard shafts than tapered shafts.
  • What pattern/curve should a rookie start with? The general consensus is to learn with a blade that is as straight as possible. That would be a PM9 pattern in Bauer, Forsberg pattern in Easton, Tkachuk pattern in TPS, Boyes pattern in Mission, Federov pattern in Warrior, Modano pattern RBK, and Steen pattern in CCM. The rationale is that for a straight blade, your backhand passes and shots will be much better and you will develop better shooting technique because you can't cheat as much as you can with a very curved or open pattern like the Sakic Easton pattern. For this reason, junior patterns often have less curve than their senior counterparts (for example, the junior Nash pattern has less curve than the senior Nash pattern). I learned how to play with small curves.
  • Some curve is probably okay, but definitely stay away from curves that are twisted open such as Sakic and Drury in Easton, P92 Naslund in Bauer, etc.
  • Besides the amount of curve, the other major consideration in picking a pattern is the lie. The lie is the angle that the shaft makes with the blade. If you compare two sticks that are the same length but different lie, the stick with higher lie will allow you to stand more upright where as you will have to bend your knees more with the lower lie. Senior sticks typically come in lies of 5, 5.5, and 6. Intermediate sticks typically come in lies of 5 and 5.5. Junior sticks typically come in lies of 4, 4.5, 5, and 5.5 (5.5 being rare). If you play with a stick of a certain length and switch to a stick with lower lie, you will probably have to cut the new stick longer and vice versa.
  • Try to resist cutting the stick too long. A good length is for the stick to be up to your chin when standing in skates. Stickhandling is much easier with a shorter stick. In fact, if you look at NHL players, some of them cut their sticks ridiculously short (like chest level). Another benefit of having a short stick is that you have to bend your knees more and your skating will improve.
  • The lie that works for you will depend on your style of play. Of course, I already recommend playing with a straight blade and for whatever reason, retail companies only make straight blades in lies of 5. Some people like higher lies because it's easier to pick up a puck that has been passed close to your body. The lie will affect your shooting. Higher lies will make you shoot with the puck closer to your body.
  • My personal preference is to use a blade that is as short as possible. I find that with a long blade, the puck will hit my blade and I'll think I've picked up the pass, but in reality, the puck has bounced off in some crazy direction. If I play with a short blade and the puck hits my blade, I generally don't drop the puck. With a long blade, you have to worry about where the puck hits the blade. I think this is too complicated for a beginner. I think this is also why junior blades are usually one inch shorter than senior blades.

Skates
  • Don't buy skates with a forward pitch (which means your body weight is centered over the balls of your feet). Basically, this means don't buy Graf skates. I wore Graf skates for a while and found it hard to pivot and skate backwards because my body weight was forward and I wasn't even a beginning skater. I was shocked at how much easier it was to perform these moves once I switched back to Bauer skates. I'm sure experts can pull it off, but it's not a good idea for a beginner.
  • When you buy skates, make sure they are tight as possible without being uncomfortable. Most people buy skates that are too large. The rule of thumb is that you should be able to scrape the edge of the boot with your big toe.
  • Find a good skate sharpener and stick with him/her. A good sharpening should take at least 15 minutes. The characteristics of a good sharpening are square (e.g. level) edges and a good polish with a satin sheen and no waves (look at the bottom of the blade). If you run your finger along the bottom of the blade, it should not feel rough.
  • I like to use a honing stone on my blades after each game. What this does is remove the microscopic nicks and burrs from your skates. I think the extra maintenance decreases the number of trips to get my skates sharpened.

Helmets
  • Do not wear just a helmet or visor. You don't want to get a stick in the face or puck in the mouth during your first season. That will just ruin your hockey experience. Particularly in rec leagues, people are mostly beginning players and they accidentally high stick a lot. Wear a cage, shield, or combo (removable shield that goes on a cage).
  • If you don't like looking through cages, you might consider getting a face shield or combo for better vision. Itech pretty much dominates this market. The lower end shields/combos like Concept II (shield) and 920 (combo) are definitely enough for the beginning player. The high end combos like Recon and FX50 are more expensive because they have specially made shields that are distortion free. I tried both the low end and high end stuff and you can tell the difference. The Recon and FX50 don't look as attractive as the lower end stuff, but hey, you can see better! I use the FX50. Besides the distortion free view, I like it because it's easy to replace the shield without any tools. The shield just pops in and out. Be aware though that a cage will last much longer and cost much less than using a shield/combo. Shields have to be replaced typically at least once a season.
  • Make sure you periodically spray anti-fog on your shield/combo. Keep your shield/combo inside a helmet bag so that it doesn't get scratched up.

Caring for equipment
  • Always, always take your equipment out of your bag after every skate time and let it dry out. It will make your equipment last longer and not smell as bad.
  • You can wash hockey protective gear in the washing machine. I've washed elbow pads, pants, shoulder pads, and shinpads. You do have to be careful about large protective gear (pants, shoulder pads) because these pieces can rub against the machine and wear down the material. Be sure to set the washing machine on the gentle/low spin cycle. Some people apparently wash gloves in the washing machine as well, but I think it's too risky to ruin your palms. The dishwasher is an alternative to the washing machine. I haven't tried it but some people like this method.
  • Carry a small towel in your bag to wipe the moisture off your skate blades. You should put Terry cloth soakers on the blades afterwards.
  • If you find it hard to use squirt water bottles through your cage, try a bottle with a plastic straw. One example is the Mueller sport water bottle.

Finally, if you have a question that I haven't answered, try searching for the answer in the equipment forum at ModSquadHockey. If you still haven't found an answer after searching, post a new topic on the forum. The people on the forum are really nice, but they will get mad at you if you don't try searching first.

16 August 2008

Link of the day: 30 Days

I watched two episodes from the reality TV show "30 Days." Episodes from Season 1 and 3 are available on Hulu.com. The show is produced by Morgan Spurlock, the same guy who did the well-known documentary "Supersize Me." The idea is that for 30 days, someone has to experience a life experience very different from his/her own or someone has to interact with people he/she disagrees with, for 30 days. Hence the name of the TV show.

I watched "Minimum Wage," an episode where Morgan and his fiancee try to work minimum wage to support themselves for 30 days, and also "Same Sex Parenting," an episode where a mom against gay parent adoption stays with a two dad family for 30 days.

I don't want to spoil anything, but I found the episodes well-done and enlightening. I often read about social injustice or minority discrimination but good documentary TV like this really drives home the emotions behind the issues.