Wednesday, October 31, 2007

I used to want to be a cornerback

Not three years ago, the idea of a sold-out Rutgers stadium was pure fantasy. That a sea of scarlet-shirted fans would flood the field after a huge upset victory over a top-5 team... well, that was just crazy.

The Rutgers football team brought New Jersey together in a way that nobody could have anticipated. I mean, come on, this isn't Texas or Ohio. This is a state better known for media darlings (Bon Jovi and the Sopranos come to mind) than for athletics. Two NFL teams play in our state, but both claim to be New York teams. Something about the "New Jersey Jets" was too distasteful or embarrassing.

Now that Rutgers football is winning games, the whole state is rallying 'round the flag. You know what? It's fantastic to have a bandwagon to jump on. I don't care that there's controversy about a proposed new stadium, I don't care about the artificial correlation between athletic and academic reputation, I don't even care about Saturday morning tailgate parties outside my on-campus apartment.

It's just nice to be able to support a winning sports squadron. I did my undergrad in Cleveland, at a DIII school whose students would rather pay to watch Ohio State play 3 hours away than walk 50 yards to our school's free, empty bleachers. When the team won the homecoming game my freshman year (the only win that season), I was one of six people to rush the field.

Graduate school at Rutgers has been good to me so far - good academically, athletically, and socially, to say the least. This whole "football" thing is a very welcome icing on an already delicious cake. I wear clothing with Rutgers logos proudly, and I've even gotten used to the stupid new Block R that replaced the badass-looking knight.

When Rutgers loses, the whole state goes into mourning. This is to be expected, silly though it may be. What is surprising is that the day after a loss, if someone notices my Rutgers jacket, they'll ask, "what happened to Rutgers yesterday?"

How did they know of my secret friendship with Coach Schiano? Did they see his surreptitious 4th quarter phone call to me, asking my advice on a 3rd-and-long? Do they blame me for the bad play? Perhaps they're just idly wondering if I might have special insight into the football team because I live 5 minutes from the stadium.

My answer is always the same side-step. "Well, I wanted to play, but Schiano benched me. Wish I could've helped."

Monday, October 29, 2007

Graduate Chic: Facial Hair

(with thanks to Ben, my unwitting model)

I was asked by my friends at GQ to write about the latest trends in Men's Fashion. At first I was reluctant, because why should I give Joe Schmo any insights into my closely-guarded secrets of style? On the other hand, everyone who reads this already has great taste. Or is too far gone for my help anyway. Or is a girl.

Then, as a choir of heavenly angles sang "Back in Black" in 4-part harmony, the truth became clear: The world would be a significantly sadder, emptier place if I didn't put pen to paper and proselytize about facial hair.

Any fashionista worth his salt will tell you that for better or worse, image is everything. This is the case even somewhere as insular and idealistic as academia. The t-shirted TA is no less disadvantaged than the salesman with the mustard-stained tie or the stripper with the Caesarian scar.

Having nestled willingly in his perpetually mid-foodchain niche, the graduate student is certainly no exception. The fashion-forward grad knows that his best accessory is the beard on his face.

More affordable than a gold watch, more convenient than an attache case, and somewhat manlier than a purse, the beard can make or break a grad student's look. By observing a few simple guidelines, you too can be the "it" researcher in your lab.

Your project is going to take anywhere from 1 to 6 years to finish, and this process may not lend itself to progress reports. It's often impossible to tell the difference between a week of productivity and a week of youtube-surfing. Perfect in a pinch, the Two Day Shadow says "I'm getting so much done that I have neither time nor energy for shaving". Be careful, though, as the Two Day Shadow's effectiveness is tied to its shock value; it only works as a stubbly contrast to your normally clean-shaven skin. Don't be the boy who cried wolf.

Letting your follicles grow unchecked for more than two weeks results in the faux-pas known as Tenure Beard. Full, unkempt beards make you look like a homeless vagrant, or possibly a clergyman from a religion with Middle Eastern origins. The trend-setting professors you see in the tabloids sport this style, with beards that scream "I don't care", and indeed they don't care - but they don't have to, they have tenure. You, on the other hand, can't not care. You've got a thesis to write.

The new trend for the Fall is that sweet-spot beard somewhere between the Two Day Shadow and the Tenure Beard. Called the Fellowship Fuzz, this hot new look has been spotted already in the runways and labs of Paris. It's versatile, as suitable for holding Office Hours as it is for holding a swank after-party. It's a look that quotes Nietzsche, solves Fermat's Last Theorem, and condescends to everyone in the room, even as you silently sip your obscure Belgian ale.

There are more options, of course. Sideburns are very 1992, but the right person can always pull them off - the bigger the chops, the better the effect. They add youth and vigor to an embattled grad's weary face. Be wary of looking like your undergrads, as they might not believe you're the TA and worship you as such. Similarly, mustaches have gone the way of the dinosaur, and they only appear now in hipsters going for the "irony" look. You don't want to look like a hipster.

While this piece is being written for the stylish Hard Sciences student, it applies to other disciplines as well, albeit with a few modifications. For business students, the Two Day Shadow is taboo; shave regularly, and make your dare-to-be-different statement with a blue dress shirt and khaki pants. Liberal Arts grads enjoy more follicular freedom than most, especially vis a vis sideburns and mustaches - then again, the Liberal Arts grad isn't far from a Barnes-and-Noble barista, is he?

Future installments will include "Blazers in Academic Couture" and "Jeans for Jean-iuses". Stay tuned!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Craigmeur Report

Not to sound too emo, but I've been feeling like there's a part of me missing. Fortunately, I've figured out what it is... a large chunk of skin from my left knee.

The flesh is currently located in the gravel by the barn at the Craigmeur course. I miss it. If you find it, please contact me (

The good spin: I crashed while being aggressive. When I crash in Mountain Bike races, it stems from timidity. I ride like a nancyboy and lock up the brakes, and then I hit the dirt. At least today I took myself out by sprinting too hard in the gravel. That's a man's crash.

Also, my team rode fantastically. Congratulations to Jenks and FarmerAndy on your podia!

The bad spin: The spinning of my rubber-side-up wheels as I lay prostrate in the gravel. That was bad spin.

Like MacArthur before me, I shall return!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

I am going to regret this

And now, to alienate the vast majority of my audience.

It is hard to be thin. I'm not saying that it is a challenge for me to prevent weight gain - on the contrary, I've been eating as much as possible, hoping to bulk up, since 1999 (although from 2001-2002, the eating wasn't about weight gain, but about the munchies).

I contend that society hates skinny people.

This is where a paragraph about the underlying causes would go. This would be a sentence about how anorexics have given endomorphs a bad name. Here is a reminder of man's craving for inclusion, the ubiquitous us-vs-them mentality. There is no way for me to write this paragraph without the sort of assumptions and generalizations that place my foot in my well-fed mouth.

Instead of pontificating about the origins of my pariah status, I'll amuse myself by bemoaning the repercussions. Forget the patronizing "you're too thin!" accusations. Forget the unspoken rule that we must never speak of our own condition for fear of offending those friends with whose dietary woes we regularly sympathize. We're going to talk about clothes.

One caveat: I generally try to dress-to-impress by giving the illusion of wealth, but I don't actually have wealth. While I'll (probably) have a (somewhat) respectable (lower-middle class) income somewhere down the line, for now I'm stuck buying my yuppie-looking clothes at sub-yuppie department stores.

The frustration from this infra-yuppie shopping comes from the paltry choices available to someone my size. For example, I like dress shirts, but I like inexpensive dress shirts that one can get at unreasonably low prices. The cheap ones come in Small, Medium, and Large, rather than the neck-size / arm-length measurements of the classy shirts. I, being a thin man, buy the Small shirt... and then I ask my seamstress [read: mother] to add darts that make the waist slimmer. The Small-sized sleeves are always too short, which I sidestep by rolling them, but the torso is always a little too short as well. Without periodic maintenance throughout the day, my dress shirts all come untucked.

Similarly, I buy Small polo shirts. Occasionally, I get lucky and find a shirt that almost fits. It is far more likely, though, that a shirt that fits my chest and shoulders will leave enough room in the gut to house a third-trimester pregnancy.

Addressing the lower body is a little simpler. Anything dressier than sweatpants comes in waist-and-inseam sizing, which gives even the frugalest grad some control over fit. The challenge, however, is actually finding the pants that are in your size. The next time I go shopping, I'm bringing a Powerbar and a bottle of Accelerade.

Clothiers make clothes to match demand. Retailers stock clothes to match demand. I'm not saying that they should waste money or space on the needs of people in the fringes of society. It's just a shame that being thin means that I'm in the fringes.

Having written this completely self-indulgent diatribe, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that I am well aware of how lucky guys have it. Yes, we have chests, stomachs, waists, hips, butts, and legs, just like the womens. Getting clothing that fits these features, though, must be infinitely simpler for us than it is for the fair sex. Plus, we're better at driving.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Sweet Soul Music

If you haven't picked up on the recent theme, I've been spending a lot of time in the lab over the past few weeks. In the lab, by myself, late at night. Truly it is a glamorous life I lead!

It's easy to lose focus at times like these. Luckily, I have Pandora. After a few weeks of personalizing the playlists, some patterns have emerged, most of which don't surprise me. Apparently, I like slightly-electronic "indie" music with a hint of folk, as well as pop-punk and a smattering of late-80s rap.

What surprised me most was my fondness for Motown. When I've selected my "Temptations" playlist, the fingers start flying about the keyboard, time flies by, and before I know it the program is complete and the sun is rising.

No, I don't like pulling all-nighters, but it's a small price to pay for software-related success.

The next time you have a big task ahead of you, try listening to the musical stylings of Mr. Arthur Conley:


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Um... Ouch?

I'm pretty much juggling four projects these days. Of those four, one is all but done, and one is being saved for Summer '08. One is a totally sweet project that I've been working on since August, and one - let's call it The Abyss - is a long story.

Don't worry about the gory details. They may serve to explain my lack of enthusiasm about The Abyss, but mostly they'll just bore you. In short, The Abyss project should have been published in 2006. Now we're redoing it.

So it goes.

Today, I was cc'ed on an email between two of The Abyss' collaborating Principal Investigators. Here are some highlights:

Don has finally finished w/data
First of all, burn on Don? Second of all, no, Don hasn't finished with the data. Don is working on a different, 100% Don-controlled project. It seemed pretty clear from the way things were handled last year that The Abyss isn't exactly a priority, so Don treated it as such. Third of all, seriously? Burn on Don? Really?

we will send results soon
No we won't. Results aren't ready to be sent, and so they won't be sent.
Oh hell, who am I kidding? Of course I'll have the results ready to be sent. It's simply a matter of going sleep-deprived again. I just wish I'd been consulted before my time and energy were promised away.

Deep breath.

Here is how it is: I am my PIs' bitch. I am in the lab at midnight again. I am a PhD student.
Oh well, at least I'm not an undergrad!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Monday Night Dilemma

I like the television. I also like reading, going outdoors, exercising... all of those things that people neglect when presented the opportunity to watch TV. It's just that I really do like the television.

So sue me.

Monday night presents me with a unique dilemma: too many options. Normally, as my roommates will gladly attest, I am content to sit in front of the TV and flip through the channels in a seemingly-endless loop, complaining all the while that there is nothing on. Occasionally, in a fit of desperation, I'll plead "please stop sucking!" - sometimes I try to command "stop sucking now!" - but inevitably the TV does not stop sucking.

This is not the case on Monday nights at 8. There's Chuck on NBC, which is tempting, in that cute "turn off your brain, here comes an hour of boobs and explosions" way.

On BBCAmerica, if you're lucky enough to get it, there is Top Gear. I would describe this programme as a cross between a car commercial, a teenage boy's asexual fantasy, and a standup comedy special... all with a budget that is way too big for its own good. Want to compare insanely expensive supercars both on a test track and in the narrow back-alleys of Paris? Want to see who'd win a bike vs car race between Gee Atherton and Jeremy Clarkson on an urban course in Lisbon? Want to find out exactly how much abuse a Toyota Hilux can take, including flooding, fire, and head-on collisions? Wish you could play 5-on-5 soccer with cars? Then Top Gear is for you.

Unfortunately for our Limey friends, my affinity for flamboyantly creative car shows is outweighed by my affection for that which is awesome. The people who brought you such gems as "Suit up!", "Legen - wait for it - dary", and my personal favorite, "True story" never fail to impress. They've got plot-lines that are relevant to my life. They've got Doogie f'in Howser hitting on random bar floozies. They've got Cobie Smulders.

Game, Set, Match to How I Met Your Mother.

Of course, there is a fourth option: grade homeworks for the class I'm TAing. Homework, it seems, will always have to wait for 8:30.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Superman Traction and a Late Night in the Lab

They don't call him CaptainChaz for nothing. He's the self-declared Captain of our Mountain Biking team, much like Mark is the self-declared captain of our Cyclocross squadron, and I am the self-declared captain of our Rubik's Cube brigade.

Unlike me, with my vow to take the secrets of the Cube to the grave, Charlie makes a habit of teaching his teammates the way of the Fat Tire. Earlier this summer, he took Andy and me around Chimney Rock park to give us roadies a fighting chance at racing. Along with some dropping some knowledge about cornering and descending that seems to have stuck, Charlie taught us how to climb.

Climbing seems like it should be straightforward... just point yourself uphill and pedal. If necessary, pedal really hard. To climb well, spend more time pedaling really hard than your competitors do.

That works well enough on road, and it does translate to the dirt reasonably well, but there is another wrinkle when riding the trails... momentum. Roadies know inertia only in the sense that it's better to exit a corner at 25mph than at 20, so don't brake, and if you do brake you have to shout "SLOWING" and blame someone else (please don't actually do this or I will punch you). Mountain bikers, on the other hand, are familiar with momentum as that peculiar possession that, once lost, can create a huge gap to the next rider. Lose momentum in a corner and you'll lose a handful of seconds. Lose momentum on a climb and you may suffer the indignity of walking.

So here's the trick, as taught to me by that beacon of knobby-tired wisdom, CaptainChaz: Superman Traction. Killing yourself on a steep hill is way more frustrating when roots and rocks and small woodland creatures make your rear tire slip. By gaining momentum on the easier parts of the climb, the flatter sections or the patches with the most grip, you can make the overall endeavor that much less taxing.

Sure, when the going gets tough, the tough get going... but that doesn't mean you can't get ahead of the game by pushing yourself when the going is easy!

Over the past few weeks, I've been applying this philosophy in the lab, of all places.I started with some wires, some sensors, and an idea. Within two days I'd learned a new programming language and had a working demo. Momentum. I kept chugging along over the rest of that week, making progress without really making any breakthroughs, or needing to.

So last Wednesday was the usual Rutgers 'cross practice, and I did the usual dig-too-deep thing, resulting in the usual crankiness. After a quick, large dinner, I jumped in the shower with the intention of calling it a night.

Then I hit some Superman Traction. Ideas that had been floating aimlessly somehow congealed into a plan. Snippets of code had structured themselves over the course of a shower. My project suddenly seemed easy.

Is it crazy to walk to the lab at night, armed only with a head full of blueprints and a vanilla milkshake? Is it crazy to stay until 4am, with no looming deadline or external impetus?

It is not crazy. It is Superman Traction. I'm going to need to accomplish a gajillion tasks between now and graduation (what hubris I have, to dare even write the g-word)... why not get as many of them done as possible while things are going smoothly?

Now the real trick is going to be keeping this momentum. One never knows when they'll come across a hurdle (or a sandpit).

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Tying Up Some Loose Ends

Exactly 1 month ago, I posted about PIRG. I discovered its insidious little secret, and I wrote about it here, back in September.

Today, they wrote about it in Rutgers' daily, the Targum.

Let me just point out that I was first. More importantly, I'm not the only one! Vindication! It kinda makes me feel legitimate as a writer... more on that some other time (much, much more).

Also, when I bemoaned a photo of the world's ugliest bicycle back in July, calling it an "unholy bicycle", Clara asked what I would consider a "holy bicycle".

This, Clara, is a holy bicycle:

What makes this bikes so sacred, you ask? It's nice enough, but it's nothing spectacular... or is it? I'll tell you, Clara, what makes this bike a little slice of heaven right here on your screen... the end-caps:
The end-caps are made of Chimay beer bottle caps.

If I had a chance to own this bike, I would build it a temple, with gilded buttresses and stained-glass windows and an altar for animal sacrifice. I would start a cult for this bike, and we'd walk around airports shouting "Chimay Krishna!" and playing tambourines.

In fact, this cult already exists.

Join us.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Verb Symmetry

This semester, I'm taking a class on Cognitive Science, because I'm a glutton for punishment. It won't do anything for my dissertation, nor will it be even remotely useful in my future research. Basically, it's a 3 credit class with no homework and no tests. I am an academic sandbagger.

Actually, that's not entirely true. The coursework is a real challenge, especially given that I have almost no background in Cognitive Science. In fact, the one course I've ever taken in that field was a surprising mix of physiology and Electrical Engineering.

This class, on the other hand, is beter suited to AngryMark the English student (or Pluto, the blog-lurking Psych student) than to Engineery ol' me. It's a course for linguists and philosophers, not biomechanicists.

I'd be in over my head, if there was any homework or any quantitative assessment of my grasp of the material. Instead, while I can't swim, I'm really only wading in ankle-deep waters.

The first few weeks were really interesting, from what I could understand. We learned about the notion of causality, both in the physical world and in language. It's too long to reproduce here but next time you see me, ask me the story of the Rabbit who was gorping the Duck. Yes, gorping.

Now, thought, we're deep in the world of linguistics. I'm so lost. I'm missing a lot of basic vocabulary, and it's reached the point where I can no longer fake familiarity. It's frustrating, not at all because I'm worried in the least about my grades, but because there are so many better things I could b doing with my time than sit in a conference room and daydream.

For example, I could write a blog post. This blog post, to be specific.

In today's entire 2.5 hour lecture, I successfully absorbed only one idea... and I use the word "successfully" about as liberally as an unwashed tie-dyed barefoot hippie.

I learned about symmetry in verbs. Being a "hand-on" sort of student, it behooved me to come up with examples to illustrate the lesson, which I will share with you now...

example 1: Don matches Jay. Don and Jay match.Here, the verb "match" is totally symmetrical. Don matches Jay, and at the same time, Jay matches Don. They match.

example 2: Aaron kissed Will. Aaron and Will kissed.
Just because Aaron got a little friendly doesn't mean that the second sentence is true. "Kiss" is not symmetrical. Aaron kissed Will, but Will did not kiss Aaron.

example 3: Don danced with Jenks' mom. Don and Jenks' mom danced.
I'm not certain, but I think the symmetry is a function of the need for the word "with". In a sentence of the form Subject Verbed with Object, the verb is of some unique type, I think.

example 4: Don slept with Will's mom. Don and Will's mom slept.
Clearly, the above rule doesn't apply to slang or euphemisms like "sleeps with". After all, when I sleep with Will's mom, neither of us actually gets any sleep.


Is it bad to be addicted to coffee?

No. Next question.

I don't like the idea of being addicted to things. This probably sounds silly to you, since you're accustomed to reading about weekly Karaoke and daily bicycling. Honestly, though, I am strongly averse to the idea of "needing".

When I had to undergo surgery on my wrist last June, I was given the option of a variety of post-operative painkillers. Without hesitation, I asked for "the least addictive med". I am an idiot. The expensive Tylenol I was prescribed didn't do anything, and I was in quite a bit of pain for quite a while... but at least I don't have a debilitating dependence on painkillers, by jingo.

I started drinking coffee during the last semester of my senior year of college. I'd pretty much checked out at that point. However, I had a really cool class at 8am that happened to be taught by my adviser, so I really needed to bring my A game, or at least not sleep through class. Coffee to the rescue.

One morning I was running late for class. Like the Israelites fleeing Egypt, I had time to buy the coffee, but not prepare it as usual with cream and sugar. The first sip was horrible. The second sip caused an involuntary single-eyebrow raise. By the third sip, I realized that black coffee is delicious!

Sadly, black coffee is only delicious when brewed properly, and with good beans... the Student Center on my campus simply doesn't seem to be capable of such things. Even so, I was stubborn enough to drink their bilge-water coffee black for a year, because that's what a Man™ drinks, right?.

As the weather turned colder in the fall of last year, my teammate Will (whose fondness for girly drinks is well documented) started taking me on "coffee shop rides" to Starbuckses and Dunken Donuti across Central Jersey. While we were happy enough to sit leisurely in our thermal tights and shiny shoes, one can only spend so much time off the bike before the ride becomes a coffee outing with an unnecessarily long commute. Emulating Will, whose experience with such things far exceeded my own, I drowned my poor Hazlenut blend with cream, but only to cool it down to make it more rapidly consumable.

While the mid-ride coffee breaks were all selected for their high-quality brews, I was still stuck with Student Center sludge every morning. Having learned that it is okay to mask a coffee with cream and sugar, though, I've been doing so every time - and every time, I wince a little as I pour in the bland, boring cream. It just doesn't seem right.

Fortunately (for my tastebuds, not my wallet), Jenks has shown me that there is another caffeine source, and this one might not break my spirit as much as milked-down coffee. Jenks, who measures his weather in Centigrade and his velocity in kilometers, is well-versed in the Euro lifestyle, including the ever-exotic cappuccino.

For the first time in my life, I had a cappuccino on Sunday, at the Small World in Princeton. Wearing my thermal tights and my shiny shoes, and sitting leisurely in the company of some of my best friends, I experimented with this ever-so-metro beverage.

I'm hooked.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

This Week at the Bar

It has been a crazy week at the Harvest Moon, my bar of choice in the Rutgers area. There are no pictures for me to post, nor should I be awake at this late hour with a ride scheduled for early tomorrow morning. However, I can't sleep, and I'm enthralled by the goings-on of the past few days.

Normally, I am thoroughly opposed to posting about my bar-related adventures, beyond the superficial "we went to ____ and drank ____", or the typical "at Karaoke night, I sang ____ and it was amazing". Who am I, though, to deprive you of these anecdotes? It just doesn't seem fair.

"Make new friends,
but keep the old.
One is silver
and the other gold."

Words to live by, people. Wise words indeed. Now, I'm not sure if the new friends are the gold, or if they are silver, and I am correspondingly confused about the old friends. It is clear, however, that friends are comparable to precious metals, which is presumably a good thing.

So on Thursday, I was making new friends. In this particular case, they were of the female persuasion. Because I am, as you know, made of 100% pure Grade-A awesome, I was telling a story about just how awesome I am. This story involved my meeting earlier that day, where I went to a hospital and tested a rehabilitative device on a hemiparetic patient. It worked, and she could use her hand, and it was amazing. A good story, especially the way I tell it.

Skeptical Jerkface, as I choose to name her, looked at me skeptically (I perceived her skepticism by the expression on her jerkface). She responded, "What, did you get that from Catch Me If You Can? The whole 'pretend to be a doctor to get the girl' thing?". I turned to her friend and said "is she always this cranky?" because how else could I respond?

Tonight was also unusual. I went to Harvest Moon with Jenks and Heidi, and we had a great time. Heidi got hit on by a girl, which was weird (and by 'weird', I mean hot). Jenks and I made some more friends. Two of them were especially glad to meet us... not just because we are two wild and crazy guys.

It seems that these girls had made the mistake of accepting a drink from Greg, the creepy older guy, which apparently constituted an implicit contract to engage in sexual relations with Greg. It also seemed that Greg didn't particularly care which of our new friends satisfied this contractual obligation, so long as justice was served. Poor form, Greg, poor form.

Greg got mad when Jenks and I talked to his drink-recipients. He was appeased slightly when I discussed the finer points of beer and microbrews with him, but his mood waxed irate when Jenks and I danced with the nice young ladies. Meanwhile, they were saying to us something along the lines of "thank you, he's so creepy, please saves us, etc."

It is worth mentioning that Jenks and I had no option but to save them. After all, I am a Phi Psi from CWRU - known, if nothing else, as "gentlemen" - and Jenks is a SAE from Davidson - SAEs being "true gentlemen", which is somewhat silly but not important at this juncture.

Things were going well until Jenks and Heidi went home. It is very tough to play defense 1 on 1 in any sport, let alone Bar Socialization (arguably the toughest, most physical, most cut-throat of all sports). When Greg grabbed my arm and expressed his displeasure at my behavior - at this point, I was dancing with both girls simultaneously - it occurred to me that he has 4 inches of height and about 100 lbs advantage over me.

Tonight's story ends rather anticlimactically. No punches were thrown, and no skinny cyclists were injured in the creation of this blog. Greg was left looking sad and frustrated, and I walked out of the bar with a new friend on each arm.

And if you're wondering how the rest of the night went, well, I'm sitting in front of my computer, posting to the blog, aren't I?

Anyway, I ride in 7 hours. A great deal of caffeine will be consumed.

I just thought you should know that I'm the hottest shit since John Stamos.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

PreRace Music

Sunday was the Westwood Velo cyclocross race. I went hard. Pictures are available in my race report on the Rutgers Blog, which you should read.

I made the mistake of being driven by my good friend Jay #1. Now, Jay has driven me to dozens of races over the past couple of years. In fact, I usually prefer his chauffeuring over that of any other teammate, which is based as much on his taste in music as it is in his ability to drive like a person with a functioning survival instinct.

On Sunday, though, it was a mistake to drive with Jay, kind of like it's a mistake to blow a snot-rocket in a tail-wind... it seems like a good enough idea, until you try it and realize what a mess you're in.

In this case, the mess was NPR. Unlike the invigorating combination of Beastie Boys and Beck to which his passengers are usually treated, Jay subjected Will P and myself to NPR.

I want to get pumped up on the way to a race. I want to get angry. I want to want to tear your legs off. I DO NOT want to hear about Ron Paul's fundraising activities.

Being a creature of habit (some might even say [or have, in fact, said] that I'm boring), it is important to me that everything is just-so. I'll obsess over the tightness of my velcro-strapped shoes, and I'll never feel loosey-goosey when sprinting out of a corner. I treat safety pins and paper numbers like fine china, and ... well, I guess this doesn't actually do much (although the officials made a big deal about my spectacular pin job on FroJoe before his race).

Over the years, my prerace playlist has been further and further honed, such that now I am on the razor's edge when I exit my car, spandex-clad and ready to roll. Here's what gets me going:

En route to the race:
I listen to a CD stolen shamelessly from my friend Liz. It consists mostly of Muse and
Cloud Cult (better version here).
Mellow enough to sing along, frantic enough to get me all up in a tizzy.

While pinning the numbers to my jersey:
The Sunshine Will is a band that no longer exists. Their music is very loud, so much so that when listening their basement-kegger performances, I could feel my liver doing the lambada. The lyrics, while inconsequential for my purposes, include the imminently appropriate
"see you at the racetrack
see you in hell"
The music makes me want to make peoples' legs hurt.

On the way home:
The post-race endorphin rush is not to be taken lightly. You can't just pop in a James Blunt CD (nor should you ever want to) and drive home - the "must destroy everyone" mindset has flooded your brain by this point, and you will suffer a nasty case of withdrawal.

That's why I listen to Fugazi. The wonderful Mrs. MegA sent me a CD chock full o' Fugazi, and I listen to it after every race. Rhythmic and forceful, it weans the listener off of the over-aggressive race mentality without ever being boring or lame. Thanks, Meg!

Words cannot describe how much I love cyclocross. Vive le autumn!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

in case you were wondering, here are the recently-defined variables

(repeat of last semester) = 0
isempty(find(Thursday == celebration)) = 0

so yes,
(Don learns new language by midnight) = true

and for those keeping score, toc = 9 hours

All that remains to be defined is (time in bed).

Oh my, but it has been a good day.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

a little code for you this evening

if (Don learns new language by midnight) == true
     (time in bed) = acceptable - (n<<1);
     (repeat of last semester) = false;
     Thursday = celebration + karaoke;
     tonight = all-nighter;
     Thursday = failure + karaoke;
     while Don == gradstudent
          Don = boned

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Attempted Philanthropy

I'm pretty sure I'm going to hell. At least, that would appear to be the case from a purely probabilistic standpoint. I don't take communion, I am addicted to caffeine, and I can't even remember the last time I sacrificed livestock at the beginning of the month. And those are just the mainstream religions whose laws I regularly flaunt.

So, yeah. Pretty much screwed. If there's a hell, I'm probably going to it.

If, however, St. Peter decides where to send me not based on something silly (like whether or not I believe in St. Peter), but based on whether I'm a good person, then I stand a fighting chance.

This raises a whole new question... am I a good person? Assuming, for the moment, that I'm not, it's safe to say that I've got a lot of work to do if I'm going to escape eternal damnation.

When I was an undergrad, I was pretty active in my fraternity's philanthropic activites. There are some good memories that just doesn't work in this blog post. Ask me sometime about the haunted house. It's a cute story.

In grad school, though, I haven't had much motivation or time for community service. It's one thing to volunteer when Chad is running through the halls in the morning, waking everyone up with pots and pans and screaming, so that we can go together to work at a soup kitchen or whatever. It's another to hunt down your own opportunities.

When my friend Shirley organized a team to do a walk for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, I was like "Sweet!" Not because I particularly care about either Leukemia or Lymphoma, mind you; at least not any more or less than other cancers, viruses, or assorted diseases that have Societies. I was excited because here was a chance to do some good!

I missed that warm, fuzzy feeling, the natural high from doing something unselfish. My graduate research will (hopefully) benefit humanity, but sitting in front of my computer and dreaming of a dissertation feels pretty selfish. Bike racing is fun, but undeniably selfish. Karaoke, while a vital part of my audience's otherwise-empty existence, is about as selfish as I can be short of robbing banks. I'm a firm believer in the great joy of serving others, and I've missed that joy.

Temptation, my friends, is an ugly ugly thing. I could've raised money - the team raised over $1000, mostly due to Shirley's hard work - but instead I emptied the 8 dollars in my wallet into the registration envelope and called it even.

Brief aside: After years of bike racing, it is weird to stand in the registration line at a big tent and not be asked "Race and last name? Do you have your license?". I even caught myself looking for safety pins, but I managed not to scrum for position at the start of the walk.

When I could've been interacting with Leukemia and/or Lymphoma survivors, I was making a new friend.

While other walkers were paying attention to the opening ceremonies, I was posing with other Biomedical Engineers.

During a particularly heart-wrenching survivor's speech, I was encouraging Heidi get her face painted.

When the parade passed Heidi's van, I faked a cramp and snuck away. (I DNFed a walk. Worst athlete ever)

So, okay. I didn't exactly score as many brownie points as I could've. But let's look at this with a more positive spin: I donated money to a good cause, I showed my support for patients and researchers alike, I walked a couple of hundred yards, and I made friends with a toddler. Oh, and I got a balloon.

More Karaoke Etiquette

There are a few different commonly-accepted ways to hold your microphone.

The most obvious choice is to use your hand. This allows for the most flexibility.

You can sing somewhat normally... can encourage audience participation...

...or you can totally commit to rocking out.

You can also use the microphone stands. While they limit your mobility, they allow more functionality.

You can gesture fondly at Milky Manchester...

...or you can air guitar (oh god, we're so damn white!)

However, it is always, always inappropriate to hold the microphone with your mouth.

Blueshirt guy, you made an ass of yourself, creeped out the ladies, and terrorized the germophobes. Please never come back.

Friday, October 05, 2007


There will be no blog post today. I have material, and I have time. However, Will and Mark have set the bar too damn high today.

I will say no more. Just read their posts:

I am twice the man you are and then some. Plus infinity.
The 2007 Cyclocross Fashion Show, or, Mr. Blackwell Goes to Cross Vegas

I'll be back tomorrow, with some pictures and videos and anecdotes and cleverness.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Cream Sherry, la secunda parte

continued from la primera parte...

While shopping for necessities like bread and ice cream, Will and Aaron stumbled across Romate Cream Sherry. They had been drawn to its shiny golden wrapping, which held their attention by shining like a shiny beacon. Excited as schoolgirls, they were downright giddy when they got back to the apartment.

Their delight quickly waned when Aaron opened the bottle. The Sherry didn't smell bad, per se, but it certainly didn't smell "right". It just wasn't what we were expecting.

A quick taste revealed that the Sherry was in fact disgusting, and possibly cursed. We vowed never to drink it again. Aaron put it in the kitchen fridge, thus decreasing the average Deliciousness Index of the fridge so low that the taste-ometer broke.

You may be wondering, "why in the hell would they put the foul beverage in the fridge, instead of the garbage (or the recycling bin, hippies)?" Good f'in question. It haunts me to this day, as does the aftertaste of the Sherry.

Fast forward to last Saturday.

When we returned from New Brunswick, Heidi was the sober driver. I was a bit buzzed, because when I'm interacting with new people, I subconsciously sip with high frequency, and I spent most of the night with drinks in hand. Besides, Heidi was the designated driver!

Will was as close to drunk as he'd ever been, and he was quick to announce this fact in a combination of pride and fascination. Perhaps to demonstrate how uninhibited and wild he'd become in this inebriated state, he said "I'm as close to drunk as I've ever been" and took the Cream Sherry from the fridge.

I laughed a nervous laugh, sure that Will couldn't muster the masochism needed to revisit the Sherry tasting of a few weeks prior. I was wrong.

So we passed the bottle back and forth, challenging each other to take longer and longer sips. The sips became swigs, and the swigs became chugs. Our insides were on fire.

Each person's reaction was different. Heidi was the most controlled, and her poker-face was belied by the goosebumps she got with each sip.

Will was pretty good at stalling. For example, rather than take his turn, he tested the portability of Romate Cream Sherry.
Why in a world anyone would want to take the Sherry on a trail ride is beyond me, but it certainly did fit nicely in my Unit. Maybe next year at Granogue...

The reason Will was so reluctant to imbibe the Sherry was that it had a particularly strong effect on him. Even drunk, he was so repulsed by the burning taste that he had to resort to a chaser after each drink. For lack of a better or more convenient chaser, he used something unconventional:

As for me, I had a whole-body reaction. Every muscle on the front of my body contracted in unison, as if flinching from a punch to the stomach. This violent convulsion racked me after each sip, but still I soldiered on. At least I was able to amuse Heidi and Will!
And just in case you are wondering, yes, Will and I had our shirts off. Yes, Heidi kept her shirt on. No, the donning and doffing of our shirts has no correlation to Heidi or any other house guest. Yes, we have two coffee makers.

It's hard to describe the taste of the Cream Sherry. Will, being blunt as a bowling pin, named it "Satan's Urine". I prefer to be more illustrative and far wordier, though, so I considered how exactly to explain what the Sherry reminded me of.

Imagine a large log in the woods. Now imagine rolling that log over to examine the wet, moldy, rotted underside. Now imagine scraping off that rottenness and putting it in a blender with some wine and some battery acid. Blend on "High" for 30 seconds, then refrigerate.

In the end, there was only one way for me to dull the Sherry's aftertaste.
So if you are shopping in a supermarket or liquor store and stumble across a gilded bottle of Romate's Cream Sherry, take my advice: run away. Run away, screaming bloody murder, and don't look back.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Thursay thru Saturday: A Photographic Review

This week was great... too great. There were so many good stories, so many triumphs and adventures and anecdotal evidences of awesomeness, that it is impossible to keep up as a text-based blogger. Still, the memories must be preserved for posterity, because the possibility that we might forget this week is simply unacceptable.

I'll try my best to make do with clever captioning.

Thursday Night: Karaoke Night. Enough said.

Karaoke Night hit unprecedented,
near-dangerous levels of entertainment.
Will, Stacey, and Aaron bust a move.

As per usual, Jenks left everything out on the field
for Video Killed the Radio Star.

I, too, did my best to provide my eager audience
with the excitement they so crave.
It was a successful endeavor.

When Stacey and Heidi took the mike for Genie in a Bottle,
Will did an interpretive dance, as would any heterosexual man.

Friday night: Carbo-loading has never been so easy. Heidi prepared a meal for all of Saturday's racers, with enough pasta to feed a small army... which we are.

The camera couldn't capture all of the attendees,
nor could it demonstrate how delicious the dinner was.

Saturday: The team rolled out of Highland Park at 6:30am, getting to Elmer, NJ in plenty of time to prepare for a smackdown of epic proportions at the Hillbilly Hustle cyclocross race. In the C's, Todd won his first race ever in his first ever 'cross race, and the men of Rutgers put on an impressive display of go-fastitude.

The B racers went wild on the sidelines, then did our own thing later that day; Mark got an impressive 7th, with Jenks moving up into 11th after a slow start and a bunch of crashes. I was happy with my race, let's leave it at that.

A month without racing has deprived me of my ability
to wake up before 6am. I was grumpy.
(I realize that you train at 5am everyday, and I don't care)

DK, on the other hand, had as much
savoir-faire and derring-do as ever.

Todd (left) clears the barriers on the first lap.
This is the last time he would be in not-first.

What a fantastic predicament... Too many great stories, and not enough days in the week to blog them all.