Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sometimes humor...

...transcends politics

Friday, February 20, 2009


There is a pretty fast turnover in residents in my apartment, usually about a year or two. People come, and people go, but their spices never leave. Who packs spices when they move? Nobody, that's who.

So my roommates and I have a lazy susan full of spices, none of which we bought. Luckily, we all have the same philosophy of cooking: Damn the recipes, full speed ahead. Adding flavor is as easy as hunting through the spice cabinet for something that sounds cool. As in, "Ooh, is that ginger in the back corner? That could work!"

We try not to think too much about how old the mystery spices are... 'cause spices don't go bad, do they?

Anyway, as a precursor to inventorying the contents of the spice rack, I took a quick glance. Here is what I found.

Why, oh why, would we ever need this much cinnamon?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The First Law

For generations, some wild-eyed scientists have scoffed at the
warnings of common sense. Knowing that the Laws of Thermodynamics
forbid perpetual motion, they still struggled, quite in vain, to
create such a device. If only, they reasoned, we could defy
Thermodynamics, we could power the whole world, eliminate poverty, end

Well, it seems that unbeknownst to the world, someone has finally
succeeded in flaunting those Universe-governing laws. Alas, they did
not use their discovery for good, but for the evilest evil. It seems,
dear reader, that they seek only to torture TAs.

Though I struggle mightily, adding homework after homework to the Done
pile, the damn To Grade pile never shrinks! "Conservation of Mass" my
tiny white ass!

Seriously, this is only a twice-per-month gig for me; I don't know how
you teachers do it. Respect.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Research Philosophy

It occurs to me that the following post will out me. Not just me, but my classmates as well. Hell, the majority of my field will be outed by this post. Sorry.

What with The Future looming on the horizon, I've spent a lot of time this week touching up the ol' Curriculum Vitae. What's more, I've put together a Research Objectives document, because the powers that be have required it. It's a task I took seriously; it introduces an audience to me as an aspiring professional, and equally as important, it forces into solidity the flurry of ideas swarming about my little brain.

At a conference a few summers back, I had the great honor of sharing a few rounds with some of the invited speakers. It was a momentous night within a truly formative weekend, and I'll never forget the parts of it that I remember. It was the psychologist from UConn who, in a particularly somber moment, advised that "in grad school, you learn how science works, it's someone else's idea... the post-doc is where you find your research niche, create your career trajectory".

And now, wondering about my trajectory, I realize that I am not a humanitarian.

Don't get me wrong, I am a humanitarian. Perhaps even a humanist. Mostly, though, I'm just not the altruist you might've thought me to be.

The best example is also the most recent. There's an amazing paper that deals with the Uncontrolled Manifold Hypothesis and preadolescent gait. Nobody's ever looked at UCM analysis of gait before, as far as the authors or I know. It's kind of groundbreaking, a foray into uncharted territory for a controversial hypothesis. As I've described it thus far, it's cool - and meaningful - enough to stand alone.

There's more to the article, though. Half of the subjects are children with Down Syndrome, and the hypothesis was that the motor control strategy of "Typical Development" children would differ from that of Down Syndrome kids in a way that could be measured by UCM analysis. (For those who are curious, it does)

Of course, UCM in Down Syndrome is very important research! The scientific community absolutely should be trying to help Downs kids, helping all impaired individuals. It is a noble endeavor we undertake when we repair dysfunction.

For me, though, the real headline is UCM. Its application to Down Syndrome is just window dressing.

This is a trend in my field. Once upon a time, we studied motor control for its own sake - blacksmiths and horses and dancers were observed doing what they do best, simply out of curiosity - and impaired subjects added another piece to the puzzle. For example, a lesion that severed the "touch" pathways led to a wealth of knowledge, because with it we could find the patterns to which the body defaults.

Maybe because of scarce funding, maybe because everyone fancies themselves a saint, or maybe just as a field-wide case of "keeping up with the Joneses", motor control research has evolved. Now, the labs that exclusively study healthy control are few and far between. Neurorehabilitation is sexy.

I realize that the house of cards that is my reputation has been set to crumbling. No longer can you have the illusion that I am in the business of Biomedical Engineering for the sake of curing disease or restoring function. With this confession goes my facade of magnanimity.

Know this, though: I am not the only one. Without mentioning him by name, I could tell you about a certain Biomedical Engineering grad student whose efforts in the fight against cancer are little more than a pretense to play with Data Mining and Pattern Recognition. He would likely be as inspired by a Netflix recommendation optimization as by epithelial histopatholgy discrimination.

I ask you, is there something wrong with that? Is he a worse person for it?

It's so odd. How many other fields are laden with the de facto requirement that their projects save the world? Imagine if a thesis about Sir Gawain also needed to discuss the use of the story to combat illiteracy. Preposterous!

If my passion needs to be a means to an end, if Rehabilitative Science progresses because I heart motor control, then so be it. Everybody wins.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The reason I was late to work this morning

I was almost to the lab, when I spotted this:

Coming soon to Rutgers Magazine... Rutgers University Cycling and Really Really Ridiculously Good Looking Team

The Scam

This is my first winter in housing where I am responsible for the gas
bill. In the past it was my parents, or the university, or even my
landlord that took care of gas. Now it's on me.

January, as you can imagine, brought with it a huge shock, as the
sub-freezing temperatures drove the gas bill sky-high. There was a
small panic in the apartment, and even split three ways, the utility
bill hurt.

Rational minds prevailed, and rather than abscond to Arizona, we
noticed that our electric bill had barely budged, even though our
electric heaters had been on all month. We resolved to lower the
themostat, crank the heaters to overdrive, and hope for a warm

Thankfully, this month has seen unseasonable warmth (tangible proof of
global warming, say the same people who called record-setting October
a fluke), and with our thermostat way down, we looked forward to a
smaller utility bill.

Imagine our shock when the bill arrived this weekend, even bigger than
the previous month's!

There was no panic this time, just dejection. Powerless in the face of
the Utility Gods, we felt woefully insignificant, depressingly
impotent. We were doomed to pay ri-damn-diculous bills, no matter how
diligently we shivered through the winter.

All was not lost, though. Determined to find some rational explanation
for my financial ruination, I looked at the detailed report... and
there it was, the clue in the report, the needle in the haystack. The
gas usage for this month's bill was an "estimate".

Surely this was the mistake. Surely The Man doesn't just pull a number
out of thin air when the Meter Reader can't read the meter (say that
five times fast!).

Long story short, it seems that that's exactly how it works. How
convenient for the gas company! How sharp!

So I called this morning, waited on hold for 20 minutes, and read the
meter to the operator.

Savings: ~100 dollars

I am the hero of my apartment, at least today.

The moral of the story, my dear chickadees, is simple. Don't take it
from The Man. Also, buy me a beer.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


We're all used to seeing handwritten signs in the hallways, informing passers-by of the status of discarded office supplies.
It is a rare treat to see such brilliance, the touch of neo-post-postmodernism in an otherwise-drab world, a timely nod to l'esprit d' sardonique. Art Nouveau meets scathing critique of 21st Century life. Irreverence embodied in an installation piece. In a word: genius.

Here's a better view.

The work was unsigned, so I cannot tell you the identity of its creator. It's certainly not me, though, probably.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Locker Room Etiquette

By accident, I forgot my swim bag at home yesterday. I'd left trunks
and a towel in the car, but I didn't have goggles or a lock.

This posed a new dilemma. Not the missing goggles, of course - I don't
mind aquajogging as a substitute for swimming. The question was, what
to do with my clothing while in the water? I chose to stuff them in a
bag and bring it all to the pool.

Every time I go to the gym, I hunt through the aisles for an open
locker. Nine times out of ten, a seemingly available cubby is actually
full, just missing a padlock.

People who leave clothes in lockers and don't bother to secure them
are infuriating. I suppose this counts as a "pet peeve".

Looking at the situation objectively, this shouldn't affect me at all.
Locked or not, occupied lockers are occupied, and there are no fewer
spaces available than if they were all visibly sealed. I have to open
lockers to ascertain their availability, and a glance would have
sufficed if everyone used locks, but that's trivial - I'm neither lazy
nor shy.

It's not even the cycle of dashed hopes ("an open locker? Damn") that
has me so frustrated. What it comes down to is me. It's not THEM, it's

What kills me isn't inconvenience, nor is it a sense of some great
wrong against me. It is the vivid image that I see, of myself
gleefully tossing clothes and shoes and wallets from unsecured
lockers, that is so aggravating.

It kills me because I'd never do it.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Lab Safety

If the foam on your earphones has worn through, the metal
underneath, a conductor, can contact your skin, also a conductor.
That's not too big a deal.

If you wipe the dust off a CRT monitor with your palm, a static
charge will build up on your skin. The excess charge will bleed into
the air over time.

If the foam on your earphones has worn through AND you wipe the dust
off a CRT monitor with your palm, the excess charge on your skin will
flow to ground. Ground, in this case, is the metal touching your ear.
This will result in a feeling not unlike a lightning bolt to the

It will not be pleasant.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

My Mistake

Most of my emails of the team are verbose. This one wasn't:
meet at brower
35 miles
easy (17-19mph) pace

it's gonna be stupid-cold...dress appropriately.

All the information they'd need, even the forecast, with none of the fluff. The pinnacle of clarity. Unfortunately, my rare proclivity for the concise went a little too far, and I left out a key line:
you must RSVP
Had no one RSVPed, I could've stayed indoors. Had anyone stated with certainty that they would be at the ride, I could've let them know in advance that I was bailing. My mistake was to allow the possibility that someone might be stuck at Brower, wondering how long to wait for me. I couldn't let that happen.

So there I was, standing at Brower, tears pouring down my cheeks from the cold. I'd been outdoors for six minutes, and already I was getting the tingling in my fingers and toes.

Two weeks ago, I rode a century with the team in weather that never got above 25 degrees. Today was only 10 degrees colder, but the wind was biting, and the multiple layers I wore did little to stave the chill. I only rode outdoors for an hour, but I was miserable, and hurting.

It's fun to throw around the phrase "stupid-cold", but today brought real meaning to what is usually an embellishment.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Obstacles in the Pool

As with most emails to the team, my swimming announcement was 25% informative, 75% unnecessary humor. It was in the spirit of the weekend's hard-earned lessons that I wrote:
please remember to wear your most up-to-date Rutgers Cycling swim trunks, and clean your goggles regularly. point out obstacles in the water, and above all else, try not to piss off the cars you may encounter while in the water.
Hardeeharhar. Little did I know how many obstacles there would be.

First, and most obnoxious of all, were the jackasses in lane 8. On a day when the pool was so full of swimmers that the deck was teeming with people "stretching" while waiting passively for a lane, these three were content to swim 50m, then hang on the wall and chat for minutes at a time. When I was ready to swim, I asked (politely, I swear!) them to move to the mini-pool, so that exercisers might exercise. They scoffed, and told me to buzz off, but they began swimming 100m at a time. I am Shiva, Destroyer of Worlds.

Luckily, I knew the lifeguard, and a little bit of friendly bs'ing resulted in the "deep end" by the diving boards being opened for us. A half-dozen people followed me, but that was okay, because the deep end is plenty wide, right?

If you spend enough time on the Triathlon web forums (fora, actually [beat you to it, Ben!]), you'll find that aggravating denizens of the pool are by no means rare. It shouldn't have surprised me to encounter them myself, and yet there I was, dodging arms and legs every lap.

There was Right Turn Man, whose inefficient flails frothed the water around him as he swam diagonally across the pool. I'm sure he intended to swim straight, but his imbalanced stroke took him from left side to right, lap after lap. If he ever swims a triathlon on the Jersey Shore, he will surely wind up in Maryland.

The Great Water Treader was a bear of a man, with tree trunks for arms and bigger tree trunks for legs. He was treading water just off my line, and I felt the wake of his swinging arms every lap. As he drifted toward me, I had to stop swimming for fear of a paw to the head. Treading water myself, I shared a few choice thoughts with them in my "I am calm but very very angry" tone. After that, I was safe from water treaders.

My favorite obstacle was the Little Lovebirds. Clearly Freshmen (don't ask me how I know. I've been at Universities for 8 years... I just know), they were hanging on the ladder and being all lovey dovey. By which I mean making out. Unfortunately, my line ended at the ladder, so I was in a bit of a bind. Thinking back to my High School years, when I spent years trying to improve my flipturns, I dug deep and undid all of my training. As inefficiently, awkwardly, and obnoxiously as possible, I splashed as much water as I could displace at the Lovebirds. And again on the next lap. After that, they were gone... it was almost disappointing.

It's fun to complain about the jerkwads, but you shouldn't get the impression that the workout was all bad. In fact, the highlight of my swim, aside from the Eau de Chlorine, was drafting. Molly is new to the cycling team, but she's a triathlete, which means she knows how to swim. She and I have been sharing a lane the past few Mondays, and we've developed a pretty good understanding. Having worked with her on drafting during Sunday's century, I hoped she wouldn't mind if I "sat in" in the water. As she cruised up and down the pool, I tucked into the slipstream at her hip, swinging further away near the wall for safety.

I'd never drafted while swimming before. It is even cooler than hiding from the wind on the bike. It's a truly unique experience that is hard to describe. Talking with Molly afterwards, it seems that the lead swimmer feels the drafting more than cyclists can, so I'm really grateful that she didn't mind my leeching off her speed.

This Monday recovery swim thing is working out really well. Obstacles and all.