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.

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.

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.

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.

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)


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.


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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

13 August 2008

George Orwell on clear writing

George Orwell wrote this nice essay about obfuscated writing and how to avoid it. He was responding to the political writing culture of his time (1946).

I used to worry about my writing on this blog, but nowadays I write crappy first drafts. After using Wordle to look for common words in my blog, I have become more vigilant about excising superfluous words, such as "just." I like how blog writing has made me throw words on a page without worry, but I would like to practice good writing now and then. As Orwell says, bad writing comes from laziness. Eventually bad writing leads to poor thinking, even for bright people. I'd like to avoid that result.

Ronda Rousey, judo terror

I read a New York Times profile on Ronda Rousey, a 21 year old American woman who is competing in judo at the Beijing Olympics. The Boston Globe did a nice profile on her as well.

I was fascinated for a number of reasons. The next sport I want to try is a martial art and I'm heavily leaning towards a grappling discipline like judo. Also, Rousey is from California. How can I not feel kinship with a fellow Californian? Well, a southern Californian but I'll forgive that.

In particular, I was struck by Rousey's personality. How often do you hear about a girl who trashes both girls and guys in a martial art? Rousey is brash, hates to lose, and outrageously quirky. She even keeps a blog at rondarousey.net where she writes things like "it’s a big turn off if I can beat up a guy easy, "i set up a mean hookah", "when i’m waaay too comfortable i drool in my sleep." She once said in an interview in response to what people should know about her: "Not all jocks and blondes are dumb. Because if that's true, then I would be doubly dumb, and I'm actually not that dumb."

She is also a courageous young woman who survived her father's suicide and came back to judo after a turbulent period when she ran away from home.

Yesterday in Beijing (today in America), Rousey won a bronze medal in 63-70 kg women's judo. Way to go Ronda!!!

10 August 2008

Rent review

I went to see a Sunday matinee of Rent at the Nederlander Theatre in New York City today. I wanted to see it before Rent closes on September 7.

Rent was originally performed on Broadway in 1996. The music, lyrics, and book were all written by Jonathan Larson, a promising young composer. Unfortunately, Larson died shortly before the show's first off-Broadway performance.

I remember Rent being a huge hit during my freshman year in high school. My high school choir sang "Seasons of Love" for our Valentine's concert (as well as "Loveland" from Stephen Sondheim's Follies!) I also have some family friends (a few years younger than me) who are big fans.

Going into today's matinee, I had only previously seen the movie and listened to the movie soundtrack. I was pretty disappointed despite my great view from a front row center mezzanine seat. The sound was over-amplified and the energy level of the cast overall seemed low. The singing was subpar compared to the movie. I did like the actors who played Mark and Joanne.

It's interesting to think about why I got hooked onto this musical after seeing the movie. At the time (about three years ago), I related to the angst of feeling alone and helpless. Today, I felt the same, but I also appreciated the theme of relationships. A friend of mine told me recently: "Relationships are hard." I thought the song "Tango Maureen" was pretty funny especially when Joanne sings: "She cheated / She cheated / Maureen cheated / F**kin' cheated / I'm defeated / I should give up right now / Gotta look on the bright side / With all of your might / I'd fall for her still anyhow." Then later in the second act, Maureen and Joanne sing their spat duet "Take me or leave me," which is equally amusing.

However, it was bizarre to watch the actors create "bohemian" New York on stage. I couldn't relate to a bunch of HIV-positive people who are so poor that they burn scripts to heat their apartments. I simply don't have any friends with life-threatening chronic illnesses. As many people have pointed out, HIV is no longer a death sentence, so the musical is dated.

I haven't changed my mind about my favorite songs. The musical numbers that resonate most with me revolve around the theme of love/friendship/being alone: "Seasons of love," "Life support," "Will I?" Also, the songs "La vie voheme" and "Take me or leave me" are extremely fun and entertaining if you are in a sassy, rebellious mood.

I'm still glad I went to see Rent, though I wish it had been better. Maybe by putting together my live viewing today and the movie, I get a feel for the original Broadway cast, which everyone claims was fantastic. After 12 years on Broadway, Rent feels old and the producers have wisely made the decision to move on.

09 August 2008

Championship round of summer co-ed rec league

For the first time in four years of playing summer co-ed rec league, my team made the championship game! The standings were pretty tight this year. The #1 seeded team had 12 points, three teams including ours tied for 10 points, followed by two teams which tied for 9 points.

All six teams played in the playoffs. The first round was a two game series with the tie-breaker being a shootout. In the first round, we split the series with the #1 seeded team, so we went to the shootout. It was a 5 shooter sequence and we won it in dramatic fashion 2-1 (shootout score, not game score). Despite the fact that the #1 seed lost, they still advanced to the next round because they were the loser with the highest seed.

In the second round, we played a really tough game with only 9 skaters. Our star player managed to score two goals and we carried a 2-1 lead into the third period. We spent the last period mostly in our defensive zone, frantically trying to fend off attacks. Our goalie wasn't too talented, but he managed to cover the puck during scrums in front of the net. To top things off, one of our defensemen broke a thumbnail in the second period and had to leave. So we were down to 8 skaters... but we hung on for the win! So next, we will be playing in the championship game. It will be rematch with the #1 seed.

I don't take summer hockey too seriously, but it is a nice, small achievement to make the championship. I'm proud to say that my team works hard and lately we have been playing to our full potential... which is why we have been winning.

The weightlifting I've been doing has really helped my power and speed but I ran out of energy in the second period of the last game. I guess I need to do more cardio!

08 August 2008

Undergrad community in the Carleton physics department

A few years ago, I complained about the lack of community in my department. This morning, I read a post by Prof. Melissa Eblen-Zayas about the undergrad community in the Carleton physics department. Carleton College is a prestigious liberal arts college in Minnesota.

In particular, she notes the distinction between tightly knit and loosely woven communities. Tightly knit means the stereotypical hard core physics majors who do all their problem sets in the student lounge until midnight and try to sneak into lab to get more data. (I know, my undergraduate department was like that.) Loosely woven means people who just do physics as a major and spend time on other extracurricular activities, for example, being on an athletic team or being part of a theater group. Prof. Eblen-Zayas thinks there should be both a tightly knit and a loosely woven community in her department. She speculates that women science majors prefer a loosely woven community, so they end up choosing a major like biology or chemistry instead of physics. I'm not sure if there's room for two types of communities in a small school like Carleton.

I was always part of a tightly knit community from birth (nuclear family) to college (my living group, undergrad physics department), so I have always preferred my work and social circles to be tight. Maybe that's why I had problems in grad school. Our department is loosely woven, though some experimental groups can be tight. I'm getting more used to the loosely woven scheme, though I can definitely say that tight knit is a better fit for me.

Motivation mix

Here's the upbeat Rhapsody playlist I use to lift my mood and motivate me through mind blocks.
  1. "The devil went down to Georgia" performed by Charlie Daniels
  2. "The old apartment" performed by Barenaked Ladies
  3. "Falling for the first time" performed by Barenaked Ladies
  4. "Get out of my mind" performed by Hootie and the Blowfish
  5. "Einstein on the beach (for an eggman)" performed by Counting Crows
  6. "Homecoming" performed by Green Day
  7. "Run-Around" performed by Blues Traveler
  8. "ABC" performed by The Jackson 5
  9. "Ain't nobody here but us chickens" performed by Louis Jordan & his Tympany Five
  10. "La vie boheme" written by Jonathan Larson
  11. "Take me or leave me" written by Jonathan Larson
  12. "Tom Dooley" performed by Rob Ickes
  13. "Ode to a butterfly" performed by Nickel Creek
  14. "House of Tom Bombadil" performed by Nickel Creek
  15. "Cuckoo's nest" performed by Nickel Creek
  16. "The fox" performed by Nickel Creek
  17. "Stumptown" performed by Nickel Creek
  18. "Scotch and chocolate" performed by Nickel Creek
  19. "A love like that" performed by Alan Jackson
  20. "My next thirty years" performed by Tim McGraw
  21. "It's a great day to be alive" performed by Travis Tritt
I choose the songs for the upbeat music, not the lyrics. In fact, some of the songs are depressing or contemplative if you listen to the words. I usually don't focus on the words when I listen to music. I take that back; I do listen to the words of the last three country songs because they have personal meaning for me.

07 August 2008

Hockey goals 2008

It's early, but I have some ideas on things I want to work on for this coming fall season.
  • Skating, skating, skating (this is always on my list)
    • Backwards crossover
    • Backwards skating
    • Transitions
    • Quick feet (especially accelerating)
  • Keep my head up (this is a big one)
  • Concentrate on a good first shift during a game. My first 2-3 shifts are often lackadaisical as I'm trying to get my head into the game.
  • When setting up in front of the net on offense, don't so deep as to stand at the top of the crease. Come out a little into the slot for some space.

06 August 2008

Link of the day: The Ice Hockey Escapades

I didn't realize that there are a number of adult women hockey players who blog about their experiences. Librarygrrrl has collected a number of links. The best by far is "The Ice Hockey Escapades," written by Lori Hylan-Cho. Her posts go all the way back to 2000! She even does video! Wow, I feel inspired to keep up my hockey posts.

It's nice to read about similar experiences and compare. I like how Lori breaks down her games and notes her good and bad plays.

02 August 2008

Make happy/motivating things visible in your life

After I read this Lifehacker article on boosting morale with inbox fuzzies, I was reminded of how important it is to keep up your self-esteem by making happy and motivating things visible in your daily life.

One example is the gym streak board I started. I've also found myself re-reading emails where people say nice things about me. It's always a huge boost to know that Person A thinks I'm awesome. So I marked those emails with a "yay_me" label in Gmail. I'll have to keep thinking of more ways to make happy stuff prominent in my life.

This discussion of nice emails reminds me of a particular incident. I have one physicist friend who's always a bit reserved. That's his personality. I went up to his office and waited for him to finish his email so we could go out to lunch. Glancing over his shoulder, I noticed an email I had written to my physics colleagues months ago about some personal problems I was having. Now this occurrence was not because he neglected to clear out his email. There were only about a dozen emails in the inbox. It was nice to know that he kept that email there because he cared about how I was doing.