Friday, August 22, 2008

My blog is moving!

I will no longer be posting here. My new all-purpose blog (which includes lots of stuff about science) is at: - "I was lost but now I live here"

Please re-subscribe to that feed, change your bookmarks, etc etc. Thanks!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Got platelets?

A friend of a friend is in dire need of platelet donors in the Houston area. The blood type doesn't matter, but the number of donors does; the more people who donate on her behalf, the higher on the priority list she goes. If you're in the Houston area, please consider donating! See below for more information.

Please donate! Kathryn Meacham, Patient ID: 754592

Friends & Family,

We are writing because we hope you can help secure or donate blood platelets in the Houston area for our sister/cousin Kathryn (Katie) Meacham. Katie is presently undergoing treatment at MD Anderson for a very aggressive strain of Hodgkin's Lymphoma!!!

Kathryn (Katie) Meacham is 25 years old and was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma in April 2008. Katie underwent 3 months of unsuccessful chemo in New York. At that point, Katie and her mom made the difficult decision to move to Houston to undergo treatment at MD Anderson, which is known to have the best treatment available. Her current treatment plan includes a very aggressive chemo followed by a stem cell transplant.

When Katie has her stem cell transplant (in the next 2-3 weeks), she will be in great need of frequent, single donor platelets transfusions. Due to past negative reactions to multi-donor transfusions, single donor platelets are particularly important to Katie and often unavailable at the moment patients need them. We are in desperate need of finding people in the Houston area to give platelet donations for Katie. The more people who donate on her behalf, the higher on the priority list Katie gets. Blood type does NOT matter, the number of people donating does. We cannot overstate the importance of platelet transfusions to her treatment.

If you know anyone in the Houston area, please forward this message on to them and ask them to forward to everyone they know. We need platelet donors and words cannot sufficiently express our gratitude for your assistance and donations!

If you are interested in donating please call/email Lori or Wendy. We are trying to create a list of potential donors so we can contact people once the need arises. Unfortunately platelets have a short shelf life. With this in mind, please do not donate until we coordinate the donation with you to ensure it best helps Katie in her treatment. When you call or email us, please let us know your blood type (if you know it) and the best way to reach you.

Lori Rosen (Katie's sister)
Cell: 773-220-0418
Work: 312-277-1655

Wendy Clarfeld (Katie's cousin)
Cell: 206-375-2655


Call or email us with any questions and thank you for your support!!

Much thanks and love,

Lori Rosen and Wendy Clarfeld

Wendy, Alice & Katie pointing towards Paraguay, Argentina & Brazil

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Moving out, moving on

After tomorrow, we will officially be moved out of the house at Miramonte. It's amazing to see how much stuff you can accumulate, the amount of which you never really realize until you have to pack it into boxes. I think we've taken 6 small truckloads (little Toyota), 3 large truckloads (big Chevy), and 3 hatchback loads already, with maybe one more small truckload and hatchback load to go. This doesn't include my bike, Chris's motorcycle, and the three cars between the two of us. We've been having a continuous freecycle pile in our driveway and have taken a small truckload to Goodwill (via Paul) as well.

I watched "Into The Wild" on Sunday night while taking a break from moving. I'd read the book as well, and the movie version struggles a bit from having to condense more than a year of Chris McCandless's journey (plus several years back of context) into less than 2 hours. But it still makes you appreciate his desire to free himself of material wants, of the trappings of society, and "things, things, things, things, THINGS..." Maybe this message was driven home more forcefully by the fact that moving surrounds you with so many things. Suffice it to say, our new living room has barely enough space to walk right now. Craigslist, here we come!

Since I forgot to take any pictures of the new place (and have sold my camera, besides), some hand-drawn renditions will have to do. First, the view from the front:

It's a cute front/back duplex (technically a triplex since the owners converted the garage into another unit, but also technically illegal so it may remain a duplex), and we're in the front unit. There's a side alley on the right that goes to a shared laundry room which opens out on the other side to a communal cement patio. The patio is basically an extension of the driveway, which is on the left side of the house; in fact, it used to be the driveway when the back unit was still a garage. The picnic table from the old house is there now, along with our tomatoes and herbs, and there's a grill, woot! The best thing about the house is the kitchen, which has hardwood floors, bright red cabinets, and new stainless steel appliances, including a sweet five burner gas stove. The second best thing about the house is that it's painted bright blue with yellow shutters and doors. The inside of our unit used to have funky yellow and green walls in the living room too, but they decided to repaint it a neutral beige before we moved in. The big downside is that there's not much storage - the closets are fairly big, but since we have no garage and only a modestly sized living/dining room, we're going to have to get rid of a lot of stuff, mostly furniture. To give you an idea, here's the floorplan before and after we moved in (caution: fuzzy pictures!):

All things considered, it's a nice little place that's pretty new inside and there are definitely perks. The plum tree out front has delicious plums and we also have an apple, persimmon, walnut, and orange trees overhanging from neighboring houses. Our duplex neighbors are really nice and have already done neighborly things like order us recycling bins (she works at city hall) and water my tomatoes. Our street itself is just a tiny bit sketchy in that it's crowded and some of the houses are run down, but it's pretty varied in terms of who lives here and the location is great - about half a mile to Whole Foods, Safeway, and Target in addition to all the stuff on Woodside Rd, a bunch of shops, restaurants, and markets within a few blocks, and about a mile from downtown. It's also 2 miles closer to my work by bike and 15 miles closer to Chris's work. If I got a commuter bike I could pretty much bike to everything in just a few minutes! That's pretty rad.

Though it can be fun to set up house in a new place, I'm really looking forward to the day I have my own house and don't end up moving every year. I could garden to my heart's content, install a porch swing, paint the walls spring green, and get a cat and a dog instead of just fish (sorry Doc and Marty, but you're just not super exciting). That's when I think it'll finally feel like I've moved on with my life.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


It's been a rather crazy June, an even crazier July, and is looking to be a crazy August. So much for the lazy days of summer! For a quick run down:
  • May 31-Jun 1 = Cal States tourney, Santa Cruz
  • Jun 26-29 = Boston Invite tourney, Devens
  • Jul 3-7 = Potlatch tourney, Seattle
  • Jul 7-9 = Conference, Bethesda
  • Jul 9-13 = Visiting home in NJ, friends in NYC
  • Jul 17-22 = Conference, Toronto
  • Jul 26 = Mixed mixer tourney, San Rafael
  • Jul 28-30 = consulting workshop, San Francisco
  • Aug 6-7 = BioBarCamp unconference, local
  • [ Aug 8-10 = college friends reunion???, Atlanta ] - looking unlikely with my schedule and finances... :(
  • Aug 11 = open science informal meetup, local
  • Aug 15-17 = Wedding, Boston
  • Aug 23-24 = Spawnfest tourney, Seattle
  • Aug 30-31 = Labor Day tourney, San Francisco
Sometime in August I will possibly be moving to farther north on the peninsula, which means now is when the house hunting madness starts. We're looking somewhere between Palo Alto and South San Francisco, though I guess if we're willing to move up to SSF, we might as well go all out and give city living a try. But it really just depends on whether there are any decent and affordable 1 or 2 BR places that aren't apartments. If we do move, I'm going to have to figure out how to transport my tomato plants, which have started outgrowing their little enclosures. I planted them in buckets for just that reason, but given how big they've gotten, I have no idea how they'll react to 20 or 30 miles on the highway! They're one of the only things I've planted that have thrived, so it would be sad if they didn't make it.

Despite the crazy schedule, I've still found time to read (long flights and delays help). Since finishing "Kitchen Confidential", I've read "Under the Banner of Heaven" and "Into the Wild" by John Krakauer, "Complications" by Atul Gawande, most of "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins, "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" by Mohsin Hamid, and am now reading "Merle's Door" by Ted Kerasote. I've enjoyed all of them (and am now again running out of books to read...)

Off to prepare for my next conference!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Feeding frenzy

I don't diet, but I do think quite a bit about what I eat. This is motivated mostly by a desire to be "healthy" but I would hope not in an unhealthy way. Growing up in an Asian household with a mother who loves and excels at cooking traditional Asian dishes, this meant that I ate a lot of different kinds of vegetables, seafood, and stir-fried fare as a kid. Sure, I ate my own fair share of junk food, too - I'd demolish half a party-size bag of Doritos in one sitting and often had dinner-sized snacks (consisting of last night's dinner) right before dinner, but I escaped becoming another obesity statistic through my devotion to Ultimate Frisbee. (I wouldn't say genetics has that much to do with it, since it appears my immediate family is quite capable of packing on the pounds when limited to a sedentary lifestyle.)

At any rate, my culinary tastes have changed quite a bit since then, but virtually all in good ways. I did not enjoy cheese, yogurt, or seafood a great deal in those days, but now love all three. And I still love fruits and vegetables and will try almost any dish put in front of me, courtesy of being exposed to exotic Chinese foods like tripe and pig ears at an early age. My typical route through a grocery store consists of a beeline to the meat and produce sections, with the occasional visits to dairy, juice, pasta, and baking aisles but rarely any others. Without really making a conscious choice, it turns out that I rarely eat anything that's been processed and can count the number of times I willingly eat/drink junk food in a year on two hands (and maybe a foot). Then again, I probably eat as many or more calories now that I've discovered the joys of heavy cream, baking bread, and cooking with butter. Ah well.

So I'm a (mostly) healthy eater, right? Well, let's just say that after reading The Omnivore's Dilemma it's apparently not that simple. That book can strike fear into the gut of even a relatively balanced eater like myself. Cows are corn. Chicken are corn. Fish are corn. Juice is corn. Toothpaste is corn. Basically, corn is the Borg and resistance is futile. Think we're 90% water? Wrong - we're like 99% corn. Even most so-called "organic" products and "free-range" animals aren't the rosy sun-over-pasture image depicted on their containers. Not to mention the carbon footprint made by transporting asparagus from Argentina. Here in California, we can kind of get away with it because much of the produce in our stores are actually grown in California, and there are farmer's markets every weekend the entire year. (Growing season? What's that?)

But whenever you rationalize one thing about food, another bogeyman pops up. Take caloric restriction and aging, for instance. Just the act of eating - nevermind what you're eating, though this has an impact, too - is thought to damage the body. Digestion produces destructive molecules called free radicals that can go around and beat up your cells. Some foods, like those high in antioxidants (like berries and pomegranate) help to reduce the damage free radicals inflict. But just the act of consuming calories damages your cells, which contributes to aging. When mice and worms are starved (something like 1/3 of their normal caloric intake), they live significantly longer. Although the effect hasn't yet been reproduced in humans, the fountain of youth beckons many, and caloric restriction has become a trend as people strive to live longer by eating around 1000 calories a day. I heard there's this one professor studying aging who claims that just looking at food causes you to age (albeit imperceptibly).

In the midst of this national personality crisis about food, I'm reading books about the joys of cooking and eating, participating in cooking and eating, and having a good time cooking and eating. Food, whether it be making it or consuming it, is one of the few things that consistently makes me happy, so I think I'm willing to forgo a potential bonus in lifespan to have what I know is good right now. After all, I'm pretty risk-averse, and while to some that would mean going caloric restricted to the max, to me it means going for the sure thing - food bliss.

By the way, here's a delicious recipe for cold sesame noodles!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Juno - "Like the city in Alaska?" "No."

I'm probably a little behind the times since I just watched "Juno" for the first time last night. I enjoyed it very much, though watching "Smart People" a couple weeks ago introduced me to Ellen Page and so I wasn't as enamored with her in Juno as most were. This isn't to say she wasn't great in her role - few people do cynical "I do what I want" angsty graduate-level vocabulary spouting teenager better than she does. But her character in "Smart People" was basically the same, if better dressed and in better context (her father is a widowed English professor rather than a remarried H-Vac salesman).

In both cases, her character seems just a bit overdone, though this is often to comic effect and leads to some great lines. Underneath the jaded faux-mature exterior always lies the fact that she is, despite how hard she tries to escape it, just a teenager coping with big problems. I think "Juno" did a better job of developing the characters overall than "Smart People", which after watching "Juno" feels more and more like a vehicle for seeing just how far the Juno character could be taken. There's been some criticism of Ellen Page playing essentially the same character and worries that she'll be pigeon-holed, and I definitely agree. She does it well, but too well - you can believe that maybe that's all she can convincingly portray (or all that we'll let her, after two movies like that).

Ellen Page isn't the only one potentially guilty of that. Michael Cera, who plays Bleeker in "Juno" and one of the guys in "Superbad", pretty much seems to play one character also. He always comes off as endearing, though, which might be better than coming off as irritating, which too much of Ellen Page's character can easily do. But disregarding the future of their careers, "Juno" was still a good, funny, quirky movie that leaves you smiling.

The one thing I do want to mention about Ellen Page, however, is how much she reminds me of an old roommate of mine. Not in a bad way at all, but it's rather amusing. Not just the physique and appearance - slim, pale-skinned and freckled brunette - but also the manner of speaking and dress. The whole geeky hipster look, a face made for librarian glasses, the deadpan quips and witticisms, the perpetual hint of sarcasm, the ease with which you can imagine them listening to NPR or hunkering down with a battered copy of a dead Greek guy (my old roommate is a Ph.D. student in Classics - Latin, Greek, etc). The character in "Smart People" reminded me of her more, but the basic essence is the same in "Juno". Though we didn't hang out much, she was a good roommate, and seeing her reflected in Ellen Page through these two movies definitely made me think of her fondly. I'm sure someone has told her of the resemblance and I wonder what she thinks of that?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A Lois Lowry triple header

I remember a lot of good books when I was a kid but there is something to be said for reading books of your childhood again when you're an adult. Some are simply too complex for most kids to appreciate, like the Wrinkle in Time series by Madeleine L'Engle and everything by John Steinbeck (I thought Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath were big and boring when I was in high school but I read East of Eden (even bigger) a year or two ago and absolutely loved it). Other books can be appreciated as kids, but take on even greater meaning years later when revisited.

Megan gave me a bag of books to read and three by Lois Lowry were included - The Giver, Gathering Blue, and Messenger. I'd read The Giver in 7th grade but not the others. Megan recommended reading them in that order and I gamely obliged (at least, I think that's the right order; it seems appropriate in retrospect). They're relatively quick reads and you could probably finish each one in less than 2 hours. When I was told that the three went together, it put me on the lookout to figure out how, but if you didn't know that, you probably wouldn't figure out how they were connected until Messenger. Without giving away too much of the plot for those who haven't read them...

The Giver takes place in a seemingly utopian, isolated community where people give up free will, basically, in return for security. But one person is responsible for keeping all of the "memories" of the people inside him - the knowledge of history, of emotion, of beauty, and most importantly, of pain and suffering. This person is known as the Receiver, and without him/her, all these memories would go back out to the people where they'd cause pain and suffering once again. The boy who is chosen to become the new Receiver learns all this and attempts to escape. Given that I have very little idea of what I want to do career-wise, the system described in The Giver appealed to me in a strange way - everyone was told what job they would fulfill as an adult based on how they volunteered their time as a pre-teen. At the very least, it makes you think about how life might be easier in such a community, and what the value of our memories and experiences have for us.

Gathering Blue, on the other hand, takes place in a community that you know immediately is far from utopian. People live in poverty and squalor and treat each other, including their children, terribly. They live in fear of "beasts" in the forest surrounding the village and cast out the weak, sick, or otherwise handicapped to die. This book tells the story of a girl born with a twisted leg who should have been cast out, but was allowed to live because of her widowed mother's connections. But it turns out that she has a gift for needlework which is highly prized by the leaders of her community. After her mother dies, she is given a life living in good conditions working on an important garment that symbolizes the past and future of her people. For once, she has respect, freedom, and all of her needs provided. But secrets lurk throughout, as she learns, and she soon realizes that what she is really meant to do is to change the future of her community.

Messenger was my least favorite of the three books. Although you learn how each book is connected and it helps to resolve some of the disappointment that the other two books leave you with (they both end abruptly, leaving you wishing you knew what happened), as its own story it feels a little... small. I simply didn't care as much about what happened in this book. Part of it may be that it felt too ad hoc, too contrived. But it was still engaging enough for me to read it in one sitting, and it's nice to know what happens to the characters. I just wish it had left me feeling a little more satisfied.

So after all that, I have a newfound respect for Lois Lowry. I remember really enjoying Number the Stars as a kid, too. But reading these books now, I really appreciate her ability to take a compelling idea, craft an entire society, and weave them together into a cohesive whole that has depth and can speak to people of different ages. Although the books are short, she is able to create convincing worlds and tell richly textured stories. And the books are so effortless to read, it almost makes you think it's not that hard to write that well!

Journey to the garlic dilemma

Thanks to Megan and Nancy, I've had a bunch of awesome books to read lately. Three of these were The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan, Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne, and Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl.

The Omnivore's Dilemma
I loved this book. A lot of people get bored in the middle when he spends page after page talking about the intricacies of the industrial food chain, but I remained mostly fascinated throughout, and couldn't put it down towards the end. For those unfamiliar with the book, Michael Pollan essentially embarks on a journey to learn about where food comes from. To do this, he visits a cornfield in Iowa, a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) where they raise cattle for slaughter, a sustainable polyculture farm, and the wild outdoors. He learns that everything we eat comes from corn in some way or another, and learns about the consequences - environmental, health, financial, moral - of the way our food, both plant and animal, is raised. He learns to rotate cattle and chickens on the farm, to kill chickens, and to hunt and forage. He wrestles with the philosophy behind vegetarianism. It's all quite thought-provoking and written engagingly. At least for me, I've always had a foolish and romantic desire to work on a farm and live off the land, so reading Michael Pollan's descriptions of his experiences only stoked that desire more.

Journey to the Center of the Earth
I've always had the impression that books written "back then" are stuffy or boring to read. But Jules Verne's story is such a fun ride I barely noticed it was written more than 100 years ago! Told from the point of view of Axel, a young man more or less forced onto what seems like a preposterous undertaking by his pretty much crazy uncle, the book keeps you hooked with lively dialogue, cheeky commentary (through the thoughts of Axel) and a plot that keeps you curious what will happen next, and what fate will ultimately befall our poor protagonist. Impressively, Journey also treads very well that fine line of science fiction - enough science (or sciencey talk) to keep you wondering just how much is fiction. But at some point it just doesn't matter because you're so caught up in the story!

Garlic and Sapphires
This is an autobiographical account of a popular food writer's experiences as the restaurant critic for the New York Times. In order to do her job, Ruth Reichl has to adopt a number of disguises, most of them ridiculous, with usually amusing, sometimes shocking, and always interesting results. It's a fascinating romp through Manhattan's food culture as well as a commentary on identity, relationships, and being true to yourself. Reichl writes in a way that makes you feel as if you are right alongside her as she comes into her own as a NYT critic, pretends to be different people, navigates the rocky waters of media and power in Manhattan, and slowly realizes that she is losing parts of herself because of what she does. The book is warming and uplifting as well as educational.

I'd wholeheartedly recommend all three books, and especially Omnivore or Garlic if you are into food at all!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Hi, my name is Shwu and I'm a Twinkie

About a month ago I had the honor of playing with Down Town Brown (DTB) at the Fools West Ultimate Frisbee tournament in Santa Cruz. Originally a men's team comprised only of players of color, they have since competed as a mixed gender team, and this tournament marked the first time they had enough women to field a women's Down Town Brown team. Even given its founding principle of diversity, the team was remarkably diverse, with players ranging in age from 17 to pushing 40, and ethnicities including Japanese, Chinese, Indonesian, South Asian (Indian), African-American, Brazilian, Thai, and Cambodian. We even gave a nod to affirmative action and had a white girl (but her story wasn't so different from many of ours, as we would learn)!

The tournament itself was a lot of fun; not surprising if you consider how many great players we had. Jody Dozono, who won the Callahan back in the day and a veteran handler for Fury. Anna Nazarov, pretty much responsible for UCLA's huge rise to power. Slap, who is off the ground (usually 3 ft high and horizontal) more often than not. Nancy Sun, my childhood friend and basically my role model for Ultimate, who has a knack for building teams into powerhouses (MIT and Brute Squad). Many others who either have been or are still are rock stars on their respective college teams. Besides Nancy and Slap, I hadn't played with any of them before, which added to the excitement and novelty. Pickup teams can be hit or miss, but the ones that are a hit usually have something for the players to rally around - whether it be a crazy theme concept like stuffing 15 players into a PortaPotty, a reunion of sorts, or a common love of partying. In this case, the unifying element was the fact that we were all women of color.

After each day's games, the team gathered into a circle and spent a few hours in the Down Town Brown tradition - each person sharing with the rest of the team their unique experiences and stories. While normally the circle would've emphasized being a person of color, this particular circle was made up of women, and so we had a multi-faceted issue on which to reflect: what does it mean to be a woman of color, and how does this affect us? Many people talked about how they'd felt uncomfortable with their ethnicity growing up, how they'd been the only non-white person at school or wished they were white, or how they were embarrassed of their parents, or how they'd been the victim of discrimination. Some described where and how they grew up, where their families came from, and how this has shaped their lives. Others talked about being a woman in male-dominated arenas. There were sad stories, funny stories, angry stories, and, especially, enlightening and inspiring stories. We learned a lot about everyone, and, hopefully, in the process, ourselves.

Clearly, I spent the whole time panicking about what I was going to say. Roshan can attest that every time he says "tell me a story" I've got nothing, claiming "I'm not a storyteller." So I ran through a dozen different potential topics in my head before my turn came, my brain getting all tangled up in all the interconnected story lines, with the end result being that I rambled a lot about not very much and it felt very inconsequential afterwards.

What I talked about was my parents, how they'd come to the US for graduate school, had me and my brothers, how we lived in a school district that was 30% Asian, how I hung out with mostly Asians but not the "cool aZns", how I went to Chinese school and played hooky during the activity sessions and how our friends' parents started a "joy luck club" of sorts to "homeschool" us and how I kind of wish I hadn't lost most of my Chinese language ability given that it was my first language, how my dad would take us to play tennis all the time as kids, how I started playing Ultimate at geek camp and got all my friends to start playing in high school, and how in the beginning I was one of the very few girls who played Ultimate, and that's how I felt different, but I didn't mind because it was kind of badass, and that now there are so many girls playing Ultimate and it's awesome. Uh, what? Can you say, "who cares"? Although I'd wanted to mention most of that stuff, it amazed me in retrospect how little substance my spiel actually had, how trivial what I talked about was. What it really sounded like was "I had it good growing up and I rock."

What I really wanted to talk about was mostly the first part - that I had it good growing up. Because my discomfort with being Asian is less about being Asian, and more about not being Asian enough. It started around the time we started forming cliques - middle school or so. Although almost all of my good friends were Asian, when the Asians split into the "cool" and "not as cool" Asians, I found myself solidly ambiguous. I had friends who were "cool" and friends who were arguably less, and while I didn't necessarily suffer any of the miseries attached with being "uncool", I found myself identifying less and less with "aZns". They seemed to care about fast cars, fashion, hip hop, and generally acting "ghetto". I'm exaggerating here, and I had many friends who could be considered part of that crowd, but I guess the crowd overall (aZns the nation over) gave off a vibe that didn't sit well with me.

So I played Ultimate, listened to alternative punk and emo, hung out with a crowd of similarly fringe folk. In college, I continued to play Ultimate, which led me to hang out with a fairly homogenous group of people - amazingly diverse in activities, but surprisingly uniform in outlook and behavior. Namely, the hippie, socially-conscious type. I carried around Nalgenes, listened to acoustic guitar music and more emo, hung out with fewer and fewer Asians. I dated white guys and started looking like a walking advertisement for American Eagle. In my junior and senior years I participated in the Chinese Students Association and even dated a Chinese guy again, but while I had fun being part of the hip hop dance group and thought the guy was cute, I just didn't feel like I belonged in those relationships. At some point a few years ago, my brothers asked me why I acted so "white" - listened to white music, dressed like a white person, did white person things like care about the environment; basically, I like almost everything that white people like.

Combine that with the fact that my parents are not your typical Asian parents. Sure, they have high standards, as any parent should, but they did not overtly pressure any of us to do any of the stereotypical Asian things. They of course required that we do well in school (my reward for every good report card was a trip to the bookstore where I could pick out two books - and I thought it was the best reward ever), and started us all on piano, but they didn't insist we continue with anything if we didn't want to, and let us pursue what we did. So my older brother tried trombone, my younger brother tried the oboe, and I tried the cello. And eventually I started spending every day playing Ultimate and hanging out with friends. I even dated all through high school. So while my parents expected a lot of us, they never forced us to do anything and didn't place very many restrictions on us at all. We could grow up and do whatever we wanted, and they would be happy, as long as we were happy and successful.

Of course that's not how things turned out, necessarily. My older brother still majored in something he didn't really like because he wanted to please them, then flitted around from teaching to law and now business school, trying to find what he wants to do. My younger brother took the standard computer science route and is now a software engineer at a consulting company. And me, I'm still putzing around getting a PhD in something I started doing because I didn't know what else to do at the time and didn't want to go to any more job fairs with my crappy unfocused resume and no idea what job I wanted. I think my older brother and I both feel some guilt for not fully utilizing the rather rare mix of opportunity, ability, and freedom our parents worked so hard to give us, and yet pressed so little upon us.

And so if I am not fully reconciled with my ethnicity, it's not so much because I feel "different" for having darker skin. It's because I feel I should feel different, but don't. It's because I have the seemingly "white" luxury of agonizing over what I want to do with my life, because I had too many opportunities and never felt pressured to become a doctor or an engineer. It's because my brothers accuse me of being a Twinkie* and because I've never personally experienced any acts of racism. I don't feel particularly oppressed. Needless to say, I felt a little out of place in the sharing circle, despite having a face that in all appearances fit in.

So what does being a person of color mean to me? Unfortunately, not much. My conflict comes from having had so little conflict in my life. I guess that's something to be thankful for, in the grand scheme of things.

* Twinkie = yellow (asian) on the outside, white on the inside

Post script: I realized after writing this that it sounds like I act totally non-Asian, which I want to clarify is totally untrue. Sure, my tastes in clothes, music, and recreation are not particularly "Asian", but I take pride in the fact that I can cook reasonably authentic Chinese food, that I am an adventurous eater (tripe, chicken feet, cartilage stir fry, duck blood, jellyfish... delicious!), and I'm generally a cheapskate. Ok, so I don't hold chopsticks the right way. You've got me there...

Monday, April 14, 2008

In which I cop out of blogging

No, I'm not going to stop blogging, yet... but I have gone about 3 weeks without posting here and so I feel the need to post something. But instead of writing a post in its own right, I will link to a post I wrote on another blog I author, One Big Lab. The idea described in that post is something I've been thinking about for a while now, and I did just spend at least an hour and a half writing it, and I did blog it, so I feel slightly justified in using it in lieu of an actual post on this blog.

It's still probably copping out, but that's what I get for trying to maintain two blogs!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Sweet Soy Marinated Short Ribs

I've received two recipes for short ribs in the past couple weeks (from my mom and Euge) and gave my mom's recipe a try last weekend. It's super quick and easy, and, of course, delicious. I almost venture to say that they were almost as good as my mom makes. Don't worry, Euge - I'll try your friend's recipe soon too, and maybe even make both at the same time at some point so there can be a rib-off!

The trickiest part of making short ribs is getting the short ribs. First of all, they don't usually sell short ribs unless maybe if you go to an asian supermarket - in regular supermarkets you usually only find "long" ribs (~6"), and then you have to have them cut into short ribs (~2"). The tricky thing is, most meat counters close around 7 or 8PM, and by close at 8, they mean the butcher leaves at 7, and by leaves at 7, they mean you're out of luck whenever the butcher shuts off and cleans the equipment, which is usually around 6. It's probably also a good idea to go to a store where they sell ribs by the pound as opposed to pre-packaged from third parties, because I'm not sure if they'll cut packages (I decided not to risk another disappointment and went to a place where they sold ribs by the pound, i.e. Andronico's as opposed to Safeway); you'll also get better choice and can get exactly the amount you need.

So now that you've got the short ribs taken care of, what do you do to them?

For 1.5 lbs short ribs (~5 servings),

1/4 C soy sauce
3 Tbsp vinegar
1 Tbsp ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp garlic, flattened, peeled and coarsely chopped
1-2 tsp ground pepper
1/2 tsp salt

Combine ribs with marinade in a large airtight ziploc bag and let marinate ~ 1 hr, turning the bag a few times to coat evenly.

1 Tbsp oil
1/3 C brown sugar
1 Tbsp cornstarch, mixed with 2 Tbsp water
1-2 Tbsp scallions, chopped

  1. Heat oil in a large skillet or wok and add ribs, reserving the marinade. Cook over high heat for 1-2 min, turning to brown evenly.
  2. Add the reserved marinade, bring to a simmer over low heat, and cook, covered until mostly done, about 7 min, turning ribs once or twice during.
  3. Add brown sugar and cook until reduced by 1/3 or 1/2, ~ 2 min
  4. Lower heat and add cornstarch mixture, cook until thickened, ~ 2 minutes.
  5. Add scallions during the last minute, and serve garnished with more scallions.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Beef Stew

One of the first recipes I made out of Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food was Beef Stew. I missed my mom's cooking and I remembered beef stew fondly for its savory, hearty comfort and ability to be paired deliciously with thick noodles for beef noodle soup. It was a rousing success the first time and now that I've made it three times I figure it's definitely something to blog home about! If you like it as much as I do, the best part is that it makes plenty for leftovers. So here, paraphrased from Alice Waters, is a very simple recipe for Beef Stew. This might be illegal... maybe?

  • ~3 lbs beef chuck, cut into 1-2 inch cubes and seasoned with coarse salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 4-6 strips of bacon, diced
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 1/2 cups red wine
  • a couple tablespoons brandy (optional)
  • 2 or 3 each of carrots and parsnips (optional), chopped into large pieces
  • 1-2 medium onions, quartered
  • a couple sprigs each of thyme, parsley, rosemary/savory
  • 4 whole cloves, each stuck into a quarter of onion
  • 2 star anise
  • a couple peppercorns
  • 3 tomatoes, diced
  • a small head of garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • ~4 cups chicken or beef broth

  1. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet or wok and cook bacon until fat is rendered and bacon is lightly browned but not crisp. Remove bacon.
  2. In batches, brown the beef on all sides in the bacon fat and transfer to a large pot.
  3. Pour off most of the fat from the skillet and cook the carrots, parsnips, and onions with the herbs, anise, and peppercorns until lightly browned. Transfer to pot with the beef.
  4. Add the brandy to the skillet if using, and the red wine. Scrape up any browned bits from the skillet and boil the wine until reduced to 1/3. Pour over the beef and vegetables in the pot.
  5. Add the tomatoes, garlic, and broth to the pot. The liquid should come up at least 3/4 of the way up to the top of the beef/vegetables; add more broth if needed. It does not need to cover the ingredients entirely.
  6. Cook at barely a simmer for 2-3 hours or until meat falls apart when tested with a fork. Season to taste with salt and serve over rice.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

On reading

Reading is like many of my other hobbies in that I don't do it consistently, but when I do, I do it hardcore. That means I may end up buying dozens of books in 2 months, read 75% of them, and then not finish another one for the next 6 months. Ever since I started taking the train, however, I've come to appreciate having reading time on a regular basis (all 10 minutes a day of it), enough that I think it may become more of a mainstay than it has been. The trouble now is finding the books.

About 2 years ago I went through a golden age of reading. Sure, there were a couple books I didn't quite care for, but in the end I more than doubled my list of favorite books. Memoirs of a Geisha, Middlesex, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Empire Falls, The Kite Runner, and The Power of One, to name only a few. I learned that I enjoy contemporary popular literature of the trade paperback variety. Not the mass market type full of dialogue, or the trendy stream of consciousness episodic style, and nothing even remotely obscure either, just good, pretty, sometimes witty prose. East of Eden by John Steinbeck, anything by John Irving. I also have a soft spot for prehistorical fiction - e.g. Jane M. Auel, Edward Rutherford, etc.

At any rate, now that I've exhausted my familiar names, I no longer know where to find dependably good books. Just going by what's new and notable doesn't work for me; few things depress me more than buying a book only to discover that I'm just not that into it. I've latched onto a few authors to try and stave off the dry spell - Robert Sapolsky, Oliver Sacks - but am quickly running out of titles. Lately, it's been a "nonfiction" phase. Not necessarily true nonfiction, but the anecdotal, pop culture type exemplified by Freakonomics (Stephen Levy) and The Tipping Point (Malcom Gladwell). I've found that I lose interest in anything that goes into too much detail (RIP, The Elegant Universe...).

Currently, I'm reading Monkeyluv by Robert Sapolsky. I have nothing lined up after that, so if anyone has suggestions for books, I'd definitely welcome them. Here are more books I've read recently that I really liked:

Animals in Translation - Temple Grandin. If you're at all interested in animal behavior, or in autism, this book is amazing.
A Primate's Memoir - Robert Sapolsky. Self-deprecating humor at its finest.
An Anthropologist on Mars - Oliver Sacks. Enlightening and perfect for anyone who loved reading psych case studies in college.
Blink - Malcolm Gladwell. Good if you're the type to contemplate why people do what they do.
Bringing Down the House - Ben Mezrich. Fast-paced and makes you think maybe, just maybe....
Until I Find You - John Irving. If you like John Irving, this will be familiar. The ending, unfortunately, seems just a tad too little, too late.
Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Not quite as florid or fantastical as 100 Years of Solitude, but still beautiful, and stays fresh to the end.
Corelli's Mandolin - Louis de Bernieres. Passionate and moving, the love story is interwoven with the war story without demeaning either one. It might just make you cry.

And other books I did not particularly like:

Atonement - Ian McEwan
The Known World - Edward P. Jones
The Singularity is Near - Ray Kurzweil
The Interpreter of Maladies - Jhumpa Lahiri
The Tangled Wing
Saving Fish From Drowning - Amy Tan (but I loved all of her other stuff)

Maybe I just don't like books starting with "The"?

Monday, March 3, 2008

How long would that take in chicken-pounds?

Units are a funny thing. They're definitely useful, and let us communicate unambiguously with other people about quantitative amounts. At the same time, they can be incredibly arbitrary, and when you're dealing with different units for the same type of measurement, it can be a bitch to convert between them. But as long as we're going to have hundreds of different units, why not come up with some some more that are only relevant to a small subset of people?

Chris and others once ruminated on the chicken-pound: the amount of time it takes to cook 1 pound of chicken in a microwave. This unit is made even better by the fact that it is subject to the microwave brand and model, and the altitude at which the microwave is being operated.

Alain, a model flight enthusiast, speaks of prices in terms of the jet: the amount of money it costs to buy a model jet (~ $8K). I then argued that a jet should be the amount of one full size jet, and a millijet should be the amount of one model jet.

Over at MIT, they measured the bridge over the Charles River in Smoots: the length of a student from days of yore whose last name was Smoot (as the story goes, they laid him end to end and found the bridge to be 364.5 Smoots).

There are no doubt other awesome units out there; these are what I could think of for now.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Lokesh Dhakar

While I was perusing various science social networking sites today, I came across an engaging blog by Lokesh Dhakar. The site itself is well designed, but the content contains some great examples of well-displayed information (not to mention detailed "scholarship"). Edward Tufte would be proud.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Thank You For Smoking

I watched "Thank You For Smoking" last night and was quite impressed. It's basically the story of a divorced father of a 12-ish yr old boy who happens to be a very successful spokesperson for Big Tobacco. You want to hate the guy, but you end up loving him because he's so damn good at it, and you are able to believe (just barely) that he's a decent guy and a good father under all that smooth talking. The movie has at least 3 things going for it:

  1. Great writing. The dialogue was crisp, funny, and kept the film moving at a good pace.
  2. Great cast. Every character is superbly played, with just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek. Aaron Eckhart is a genius. I can't see Katie Holmes these days without thinking "crazy woman" (mostly because of Tom Cruise) but she was also pretty good.
  3. Great cinematography. I don't even know if that's the right word for it, but the editing, the little flourishes and stylizations, the asides and willingness to play around made the movie a lot of fun to watch. It just had this great, quirky personality, kind of like Scrubs mixed with The Daily Show with a splash of Will Ferrell.

In short, I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Kaimana bigger and better

The last few weeks have been rather hectic. I worked on a conference proposal for Open Science and attended my department's annual retreat, in addition to the regular research mumbo jumbo. Planted a bunch of herbs (rather haphazardly, so we'll see how that works out), rototilled the crap out of my backyard, and started planning my edible circus (70 lb cabbage! tiny eggplants that look like orange watermelons! actual watermelons that look like a starry night sky! purple tomatoes! you get the picture). Had the first planning meeting for Mischief. It's been busy, so when it came time to pack up and head to Hawaii for Kaimana, I decided it was in my best interest not to bring my laptop, and just focus on chilling and playing intense Ultimate.

This was my 3rd time at Kaimana in the last 4 years - the first time was with the Stanford team, the second time was with mostly California-based team Dirty Dozen Dames, and this time was as a reincarnation of DDD with an infusion of eclectic players from all over the country, called Hot Lava. Brynne and Alice did a great job bringing together a team of really cool people who just happen to be awesome players as well. I think I knew the most people on the team, but for the most part, no one knew everyone else, so it was very exciting to see how well we could work and learn throughout the tournament.

The first day, our inexperience playing together showed when we played the Stanford alum, who threw a tough zone on us that we couldn't effectively break; however, the next day was markedly different, with a definitive upset against the #1 seed and defending champs Howling Coyotes and double game point win over tri-state area team Phine to take the 1 seed going into quarters. We faced the Santa Barbara alum in the quarters and played a solid game on them, and then rematched against Phine (who defeated 2 seed Ponies with Uzis on double game point) in the semis. This game was similar in intensity to the previous Phine game, except that instead of clawing our way out of a 5-9 hole to win 11-10, we started out with a 2 or 3 point lead which widened at one point to 4 or 5 points, and then closed to the final score of 11-10. I think Phine played a tremendous tournament, having only 11 people, beating the 2 seed, and playing all of their games that I saw to within 1 point differential.

Beating Phine in semis catapulted us into finals against... Howling Coyotes, who beat 3 seed SmokeFireHireLower in the other semi. I'm not really sure what happened here, but we lost to them something like 15-9. They were able to use their roster a little more effectively (big players like Chelsea Dengler, Jody Dozono, and Arly ?) and it could be argued that they played sleepy and underestimated us in our earlier match. Yet when it comes down to it, they didn't play all that well in the finals, with a lot of throwaways you wouldn't expect from seasoned club players. We also generated plenty of Ds on them. I think what it came down to was offense. While we had several points with really nice offensive flow, we struggled a bit against the wind and couldn't convert enough of our Ds into goals, answering with throwaways of our own.

In the end, though, it was a great run for a team that really had never played together before. We had a signature Hot Lava shot, sizzling jerseys and shorts designed by Lori (I'm now a fan of Five Ultimate gear), and everyone on the team played like a rockstar. I can't even count the number of times Alice, Minh, and Jen Smith laid out. Finding your niche defensively is also really gratifying - discovering that you can match up against really good players, read them, shut them down, and capitalize when they're tired. There are some players I have yet to figure out, but when you do figure someone out, it's a revelation. It's things like these that help rekindle your love for the sport.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Gong xi fa cai

I celebrated Chinese New Year yesterday with a bunch of friends from school, hosted at David's apartment. I volunteered to make dumplings, so I prepped the filling and brought over some equipment since I figured (accurately) that David's place would be too small to handle that many cooks in the kitchen. Unfortunately, I forgot my packs of dumpling wrappers that were thawing in the fridge, so we only had the 60 or so wrappers that I had him buy for me; fortunately, that turned out to be just the right number, and now I have wrappers at home to make fresh dumplings with the leftover filling whenever I want.

This led me to my first revelation: pre-made dumpling wrappers rock. I tried to make my own dough before, and there were some problems - hint: always add flour to the liquid ingredients, never the other way around!, and a fat rolling pin does not for a skinny rolling pin substitute. It turned out ok that time, but I've concluded it's not worth the effort for most dumpling occasions. Plus, the wrappers you can buy are just the right ratio of dough to filling and cook in about 3 minutes. The only problem I can think of is that you need to pay more attention to how much filling you wrap, because if it's not enough, the dumpling can get all floppy when cooked with too much empty space inside.

At any rate, the dumplings were a big hit, and a lot of fun for people to make as well. We had about 4 or 5 different styles going on - my simple but 2 fold style, the more elaborate 6 fold style you see in dim sum a lot, a russian style, and even a bao zi (steamed bun) style, which actually looked really cool. Maybe one of these days I'll get really ambitious and attempt xiao long bao (soup dumplings).

Aside from dumplings, we had two big pots of huo guo (fire pot) going, and tons of stuff to throw in them - beef, pork, chicken, shrimp, cuttlefish sticks and fish balls; fried and soft tofu, mushrooms, rice noodles, and about 5 different kinds of vegetables, 3 of which I didn't recognize. In traditional Chinese fashion, there was a ton of food, perfect for the new year.

My second revelation was that people can have full Chinese ancestry and not like soy sauce or spicy food, not be able to pronounce Chinese words, and not own a rice cooker. Well, let's just say I'm still a little skeptical that he is truly Chinese.

Here is the recipe I use for dumpling filling, passed down from my mom (who is the best Chinese cook I know):

2-2.5 lbs ground pork
bottom 1/2 of a napa cabbage, chopped fine
~ 3 inch diameter bunch of green/garlic chives (long and flat, not the small wispy ones), chopped fine
3 large cloves garlic, minced
~ 1 cubic inch of ginger, peeled and minced
1/4 C soy sauce
1 T sesame oil
1-2 T vinegar

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl with a sturdy utensil.

To wrap dumplings, prepare a bowl of cornstarch mixed with water (about 1/2 T to 1/2 C water). Place a wrapper flat on the palm of your hand. Place a small ball of filling in the center, about the size of 1 tablespoon. Dip a finger into the cornstarch solution and wet the top edge of the wrapper. Bring up the bottom half of the wrapper and pinch shut at the top in the middle. Wet the front sides of the wrapper, then start folding up the front part of the wrapper up towards the middle, pinching the top closed as you go. You should have 1-3 folds (depending on your style) on each side on the front of the dumpling, with a slightly curved shape that helps it sit upright.

To cook dumplings, bring a large pot of water to boil. Place about a dozen dumplings in the water. When they pop up to the surface, pour in a cup of cold water. Wait 1 minute, then remove from the pot. They're done!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The "cool" candidate?

I posted earlier today endorsing Obama, but I have to admit that I am easily swayed by powerful messages, such as the Yes We Can music video. I also have a history of political apathy, which translates to a severe lack of comprehension regarding pretty much all campaign issues and the political process in general. So here's another confession: I like Obama because it makes me feel good.

Why does it make me feel good? Mostly because I'm on a very welcoming and empowering bandwagon. Obama is by far the most popular candidate in the demographic circles of which I consider myself a part (young 'uns, liberals, students, Ultimate Frisbee players). When you support Obama, you find yourself a part of surging crowd of energized people all inspired by his message of hope and change. But how many are simply there, swept along by peer pressure and exhilarated by being a "part of something"? How many see him as the only candidate it could be considered "cool" to endorse?

Alex Joseph wrote a very engaging essay for Slate reflecting on his support for Hillary Clinton. It was quite entertaining to read, and made me think about my reasons for supporting this or that candidate. In truth, I only really care about science, the environment, and our global image, so that rules out most of the Republicans - I don't like them because they don't believe in evolution or don't think the environment is a big enough issue. But figuring out what I like about certain candidates? Frighteningly enough, I hadn't really thought about it until now.

Yes We Can

I was actually a little undecided who to vote for today. Very superficial things nagged at me: Hillary you either love or you hate, which doesn't bode well for a would-be president. She does have more experience, but what is that experience worth? Obama on the other hand, is more popular with my generation, but will he be able to back up his big words in office? Here is a confession. Before today, I had not heard Obama speak, I'd only seen pictures and read articles in Newsweek. I admit his boyish demeanor made me pause. But then I saw a music video created by a group of diverse artists, and it completely changed my outlook on this election.

One - the music and the video are beautifully done. Two - Obama's message really comes through. But Three - Obama clearly provides the inspiration and hope that has been missing from our country for almost a decade. A slight edge in experience on paper pales in comparison to the ability to galvanize a struggling nation to optimism and action. I want a leader who makes us believe that Yes, We Can.

And I wish I hadn't waited this long to listen to Obama speak, because that is a voice you can believe in.

Vote Obama!

Monday, February 4, 2008

SalesGenie, what were you thinking?

So I watched the Superbowl yesterday - and actually got into it. That's kind of big, because I don't follow football at all, and can probably count the number of Superbowls I've really sat down and watched on one hand, even if I was missing 3 fingers. But apparently boys like football, and this boy I'm with now really likes football (he love love loves the 49ers, which makes for some sad Sunday afternoons, but at least they won the game I got him tickets to (their last game, against the Bengals)!), so I've watched way more football the past 6 months than I have in all my life previously. At any rate, I think I'm actually starting to appreciate football a little more now, though I still wonder why they always run straight into the pack.

While the football connoisseurs out there chuckle at my naivete, let me turn to the other reason many people watch the Superbowl - the ads. If you watched any of them, I'm sure we'd agree that they were supremely disappointing this year. Budweiser, come on. Maybe instead of making 3 terrible ads you could've made 1 halfway decent ad. - I could've done without the bloody heart bursting out of the woman's chest. Probably more than half of the ads had nothing to do with the product and were simply attempts at memorable skits that mostly succeeded in being dumb or boring. But the ones that really made my eyes widen were the cartoon ads for

Ad #1: Caucasian supervisor dude tells "Ramesh" his numbers aren't looking so hot. Ramesh contemplates his options in a "Kwik-E-mart" accent. Oh look, helps him do a better job so he can feed his fobby immigrant wife and 7 kids!

Ad #2: A couple of pandas are having trouble with their bamboo sales or something ridiculous. Guess what! Their names are Ching Ching and Ling Ling! They proceed to chatter using heavy Asian accents. Oh look, helps them sell more bamboo so they don't have to go back to the zoo!

The fact that I never see commercials this racist on regular TV makes it all the more astonishing that they were allowed to air during the Superbowl. Did no one screen the ads first? Do they just assume that if a company is willing to spend $50 million for 30 seconds of airtime, they must be good commercials? (Well, we already know the answer to that one.)

Thank goodness the game itself was exciting this year. I mean, the Pats vs. the Giants? Arguably my two home teams (assuming I cared about that growing up) - who would I root for? I spent 4 years in the Boston/Providence area, but grew up in New Jersey, plus it's cooler to root for the underdog, so Giants it was. Who would've thought they'd actually end up winning??

I know a guy who flew to Vegas to bet $25,000 on the spread. Let's ignore the fact that that's my yearly income (woot, grad student stipends...). He must've had the night of his life!

Friday, February 1, 2008

How do you trump "The Atlas of Creation"?

Apparently more than half of Americans don't "believe" in evolution. I put in quotes because I'm one of those who considers evolution a fact, and not something you can believe in or not believe in (though that doesn't stop a lot of people). What many so-called "anti-evolutionists" have latched onto lately is the unfortunate label of "theory" attached to evolution; because it is often called the "theory of evolution", they claim it means evolution is unproven. As I understand it, however, evolution as a mechanism - mutations in DNA leading to changes in phenotype that can in turn influence which organisms survive and pass their DNA on to the next generation - is not a theory, it is a fundamental fact of nature. Maybe the idea that evolution is the sole means by which humans and all modern organisms came to be the way they are today could be considered a theory, though it is difficult for me to think of this as a separate, refutable concept.

So many things lately have me believing that the world (or maybe just America) is going to shit, and they mostly have to do with religion. About a year ago, my PI received the "Atlas of Creation", a truly incredible piece of work - and by "incredible", I mean utterly ridiculous, flabbergasting, and truly frightening. For those unfamiliar with it, the author attempts to invalidate evolution by showing page after page of fossils with their modern day "counterparts" which have not changed over millions of years. Never mind that many of his examples of modern day insects are actually pictures of very realistic fishing lures (hooks still attached).

In the last few months, the situation has only gotten more ridiculous, with Creationism jostling for equal status with evolution as a scientific theory. Look, I have no real problem with there being a God, or with him saying "let there be evolution". But literal translation of the Bible? Why? At any rate, I watched the videos of Mike Huckabee espousing his views on evolution with a kind of morbid fascination, sort of like watching the impending doom of the United States. Then, of course, the Creation Museums, complete with robotic dinosaurs. The latest jaw-dropping "tell me I'm dreaming" development is the arrival of a "professional, peer-reviewed, scientific journal" for Creation "science" called the Answers Research Journal. Words cannot begin to describe my reactions to this mockery of science. Something between disgust, shock, and anger.

Wired has a lively thread on the subject. Really, you just need to see for yourself.

Maybe later I'll post about why Creationism is not science, instead of just expressing my outrage. But right now I'm just a little too worked up to do it justice. The scary thing is, the idiocy is not limited to America.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

More reasons to hate MySpace

I'm sure we all have our top 5 reasons to hate MySpace. Here were mine, before I learned that they deleted an atheist/agnostic group for no reason other than that Christian users were offended:

1. It's ridiculously ugly.
2. It's ridiculously annoying.
3. The typical MySpace user is ridiculously annoying, and probably ugly.
4. I kind of dislike social networking sites in general, and MySpace was one of the first.
5. It's so ugly that it deserves to be on here twice.

Now let me add to the top of the list:

1. It is a bastion of intolerance.*

If you have an account on MySpace and you value the freedoms of speech and assembly, I urge you to find an alternative.

* I realize my top 5 list comes across as pretty intolerant. :) Mostly I just think it's an ugly site and if people can stand to use it then they must have pretty low standards. Plus Rupert Murdoch is pretty evil.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Caltrain 1, shwu 1

I have a love/hate relationship with Caltrain. Some days, we're good - really good. It makes me want to be a better person, and I can't imagine my life anymore without it. Other days... well, I'm left utterly disappointed, disillusioned, and - dare I say it? - inconvenienced.

For those unfamiliar with Caltrain, it's the regional rail line that runs between San Francisco and San Jose (it extends to Gilroy, but most people outside of California who don't follow the garlic industry don't care about Gilroy). On peak hours on weekdays, it mostly serves Bay Area commuters who like saving the environment and their cortisol levels, much like NJ Transit or Amtrak regional does in the northeast.

Caltrain is great, as a concept, but they have some serious implementation flaws, the biggest one being their "proof-of-payment" system. Rather than have turnstiles or some other way of checking whether you have a valid ticket before you board, they assume you've bought one, and do random checks onboard (very infrequently). What this means (besides tempting you into cheating the system - which often happens unintentionally because their ticket punching machines are pieces of crap) is that tickets are timestamped and must be used within a certain timeframe - 4 hrs for one way, by 30 min past midnight the day you buy them for day passes, and within 60 days for 10-ride passes (which you must validate using aforementioned crappy ticket punchers each time you ride). This means you can't just buy single tickets or day passes ahead of time; if you want to stock up, the 10-rides are probably the best bet, but only if you are going to use them. The other bad thing about Caltrain is that it isn't BART. BART is the rail service for the entire rest of the bay area - East Bay, North Bay, and San Francisco too. This means if you want to get to the East Bay, or even to the San Francisco airport, you need to transfer to BART, which uses a different ticketing system. Argh x 2.

Anyway, all that said, I can't really bash Caltrain too much, because it does have some cool stuff going for it. One is that they have bike cars - cabins where you can store bikes while you ride - which is great for people like me who like to bike to/from the train station. And it doesn't cost extra, which is nice considering that the bikes take up the space of seats for paying passengers. Plus, their express and limited stop trains make travel much faster for certain commuting trips (Palo Alto to Mountain View, chaching). The other nice thing is that when a train is stopped at a station, they often aren't covering up the track crossings, and so they'll raise the crossing bar while they're stopped to let people who got there just a second too late to cross anyway and get on the train. W00T! ... Except when they don't let the bar up.

On two occasions, this morning being one of them, I've arrived at the station just as the train arrives, and thus can't cross. Usually, the bar rises while the train is stopped to let latecomers cross, but not either of those two times. Once, the train was physically stopped over the crossing, so the bar couldn't go up, and I was angry because the train isn't supposed to stop over the crossing! This time, the train was stopped about 25 feet from the crossing, but they still didn't raise the bar. Double $!*@!!

(Actually, there was another time, a week or two ago, where I got there, saw the train was already there, saw the bar was up, quickly crossed the tracks, but as soon as I crossed and got on the platform, the bar went back down and the train started moving, right past me. So maybe the score is really Caltrain 3, shwu 1.)

So where does my victory come in? Ok, after telling about those other incidents, I really see that Caltrain wins by a landslide. My, let's say, 1/2 point comes from one of the conductors giving me a "destination tag" for my bike the other day. Bikes on Caltrain are expected to have tags saying where they're going so that people can stack the bikes accordingly. My bike didn't have one because I was told you can only get those tags at San Jose or San Francisco (or make them yourself). But the other day one of the conductors actually had some, so I scored one. Too bad that Chris had already made us much nicer looking tags the day before (that I forgot to bring with me). Hmm... make that 1/4 point.

Caltrain 3, shwu 0.25. (>_<)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Publish or perish

In science, they have a saying, "Publish or perish". Basically, you need to publish papers on your research regularly, otherwise no one will think you're worth anything, your career will die a horrible death, and hungry lions will eat you alive. The number of first (or last) author publications you have can factor into everything, from grant applications, to post-doc positions, to job applications, even to internal reviews. A lot of people dislike the emphasis placed on this cold tangible because it is usually at the expense of important intangibles like personality (crap, what do you do when you don't have either?). A person might be productive on paper, but does he or she know how to connect with people, form meaningful collaborations, or motivate others? But despite a growing disillusionment with the publication measuring stick, it is still the status quo, and as I find myself farther along in my PhD, it is becoming more and more relevant to me.

About two years ago, I started writing a paper about my research. Last August, I finally submitted it. One revision, one reformatting, one data uploading, multiple website debuggings, and one hefty payment (not by me, fortunately) later, it is now published, with the caveat that this is just the "provisional" PDF and they haven't formatted it for print or HTML yet. If you want to read something esoteric and boring, though, have at it! Most importantly, after three and a half years doing who knows what, I can finally add something to my resume.

Speaking of papers, I'm also in the midst of the writing process for two other papers, one that's a review of the method I use, and one that's totally unrelated to anything else I'm doing. The review paper should be ready for submission by the end of the month, hopefully, but I have no idea about the other paper. It involves experimental work in which I was in no way involved, and needs a LOT of revision that I can't do, because of said uninvolvement. Plus, while the guy who did the experiments slaved away over the wet bench and the draft of the paper, the rest of us pretty much ignored him. Now, 6 months later, we have all these questions, concerns, and criticisms. Awkward. Paper writing is definitely not easy, even when you don't have to do any actual "work" for it (work being computation, or experiments, or analysis) and are only doing the writing, especially with multiple authors having an equal stake in it. I guess this is all part of the PhD.

Buuuut, let's assume everything gets resolved - that would mean potentially 3 papers published in one year! Not bad, not bad at all. Nobel prize, here I come!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Shout out to Mitch

Things are much clearer and more confusing to me since I discovered Mitch Hedberg. It only seems right to name a blog with Mitch as inspiration, since both subscribe to the same mission: attempt to make sense of the world, impart personal discoveries, and tell everyone what they already know but didn't know that they knew. All three of those are optimistic goals on my part.

The pancake joke
The name for this blog comes from one of Mitch's jokes about pancakes, and I chose it because 1) I agree with him on the pitfalls of pancakes, and 2) for me, life is like a stack of pancakes.

"You can't be like pancakes - all exciting at first, but by the end you're fucking sick of 'em!"

A lot of things to me are "all exciting at first", but the excitement quickly fades as I realize that eating pancakes is a lot of work, and while I'm pretty damn good at the eating the first one or two, enjoyment decreases inversely proportional to commitment required for every pancake after that. Guitar, snowboarding, knitting, blogging - all have fallen prey to my pancake mentality.

I'm not really denouncing pancake mentality. I told someone the other day that I'm too much of a dabbler, and he said that wasn't necessarily a bad thing - those kinds of people can have a lot of fun and get a lot out of life because they like and can do so many things. I replied that those people probably don't win the Nobel prize, and he agreed, but hey, I don't need to win a Nobel prize. I'm super ok with not winning a Nobel prize. At this point in my life, I just want to do things that are fulfilling, and it just so happens that those things are small and many.

So the title of this blog may be a bit of a misnomer. You CAN be like pancakes. Just don't count on winning the Nobel prize.