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.