Thursday, April 30, 2009

Saved by Split-Treadmill Gait

I received an email informing me that I didn't get a travel grant. No trip to France for me. They even included the reason: not enough publications... I am not "proven" as a scientist.

My future hinges on my ability to prove myself. That is, the rest of my life is going to be grant applications and paper writing, trying to prove that I belong in academia. This morning started a dangerous spiral of certainty that I am not worthy, and that I am boned.

I'll spare you the details of my darker thoughts. Suffice it to say, they ranged from a desperately short list of companies that might hire me to a pathetic vision of Dr. Don the Burger Flipper.

You know me, though. My bad moods' lifespans are measured in hours, if not minutes. While ambling aimlessly through the student center, I came up with a post doc project for one of my potential labs, about which I've been ruminating for over a month... and it was a fantastic concept, if I may say so. Suddenly, the ideas came furiously, a brainstorm in the most literal sense, and my pen couldn't keep up. It seems that, despite a few doldrums of self-doubt, I may have a future in this science thing after all!

This afternoon, I went for a head-clearing ride in the Watchungs, alone with my thoughts. The first heavy raindrops, only hinting at whatever storm may come tonight, fell on the petals of suburban gardens and flowering trees. As the breeze swirled between the split levels, the humid air thickened with a floral perfume, a pleasantness that filled my nostrils. I was overcome with the sensation, rich and complete, and I smiled.

Life is good, baby.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Good Start

I woke up early today, but with nowhere to be until 4pm, I had plenty of time to do a morning routine that usually takes 20 minutes. Cartoons were watched, my bedroom was cleaned, the dishwasher was emptied, and still I had an excess of time.

Rather than make a quick bowl of oatmeal or cereal for breakfast, as is my habit, I opted to indulge my palate. Over the course of many minutes, I crafted the following masterpiece:
Cheddar Cheese Omelet
Cinnamon Raisin Toast with Cream Cheese
Glass of Orange Juice (plus Calcium)
Mug of Big Ring Americano

Here, enjoy it again:

My tummy is a happy tummy.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

You will get nothing and you will like it

It sucks that I haven't blogged in a while. It sucks because I love to write, and it sucks because, I would hope, you enjoy reading what I have to write.

Posts are coming. They are burning up inside me, screaming to be typed, and so they shall. We'll just have to be patient.

For one thing, I can't write many of them. Not so much "cannot as "will not". I'd write about why I'm not writing about them, but that would be both revealing and obnoxious. E.g.: the previous sentence.

Briefly, though, I can safely mention that I've been racing my bike a lot. As of February, though, I've promised myself to write about racing as little as possible. So, whoops.

Anyway, recently, I've been redistributing my time out of necessity. Instead of buying sandwiches from the nearby deli, I'm saving money and preparing my own meals, which chews up time. Instead of running data analysis in my lab, I've been grading in the student center, with no computer access. Instead of sitting in front of the computer in the afternoon, I've been playing guitar in my backyard.

Life, as it stands right now, is very good. We'll have to leave it at that for now.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Guest Post - El Gato's "Vuelta Ciclista del Uruguay" race report

In case you didn't know, the Kelly Benefit Strategies team just won the Vuelta Ciclista del Uruguay. Our freelance reporter, El Gato, wrote a summary of the 10-day race.

OK. We pretty much just wrote the book on how to win a South American stage race the hard way. We had the yellow for 8 of the possible 9 days. We only had 6 guys, and with yellow sitting [ed: not working hard], that's 5 guys riding. We won the first 4 stages so that they all hated us. The only Spanish I know is very insulting, and that made them hate us more. We were riding tempo [ed: as hard as can be sustained] ALL day every day, and getting attacked by groups of 8 to 12 riders from different teams that had banded together. Here is where you can use your math. 8 or more guys smashing it in the crosswind after you have been riding at the front with 5. Bunch blows to bits, get team back together, and ride really hard to bring them back. Reassemble on the front, and give them dirty looks. Repeat every 15k or so.
No respect for the Yellow. Leader whips out his [ed: slows to urinate], they attack. We go to feed, they attack. One of us get the picture.
When I said "south american monkey knife fight" I really meant it. Try for a moment to visualize monkeys with knives. Now imagine they are very agitated, and possibly rabid. Now, place a shiny object in the center(stage win, yellow jersey, pesos) Hell... while you are at it imagine they have been drinking red bull vodkas too.
I just cracked up because I have this awesome picture in my head now.
Good times
photo by Graham Watson
(plagiarized blatantly from wcuk)

Monday, April 13, 2009


I like music.

I don't know music, but I like it. You may know more and better bands than I, you may be better versed in music theory, and your talent with your voice/guitar/whatever may far exceed mine... in fact, you may even like music more than I do. The simple truth with which we will start this discourse is that I like music.

Music appreciation is an abstract thing, all qualitative and intangible, so I will take the liberty of narrowing our focus further. I like music, and when I really like music, I feel it.

Maybe more than most, maybe less - Relativism was never my forte - I get chills when I listen to a beautiful piece of music. You know that shiver down your spine, that deep down tingle that you can't quite explain? Like fingernails tracing lightly up the inside of your arm, or lips nuzzling where your collarbone meets your neck. That is how I feel music, when the music is good.

Take a moment to collect your thoughts. I'll wait.

It's nearly impossible to classify what type of music produces this sort of a response in me, for the same reason as it's unfair to ask "what's your favorite band?". I have gotten the chills from British blues-rock and from a six-year old's take on an old standard, from orchestras and a capella choirs. There's no guarantee that one genre will strike me in that way, nor is there any way to predict whether a different song by the same artist will have the same effect as an earlier piece.

That said, let's magnify again; that is, let's reduce the scope of this inquiry to better focus on the palpable. Duets, done properly, are extremely likely to give me the chills.

Not this Duets. Well, actually, why not? Listen to this, and enjoy.

Nice, right?

For me, it isn't so much that Huey and Gwyneth can sing - can't they, though? - but rather it's the way they sound in harmony. It's less about the vocal quality (sing the right pitches and I'm essentially satisfied) and more about the composition (what pitches are they singing?).

It turns out that there is a physiological reason for these sensations. (From here on out, I will rely heavily on Dan Levitin's book, This is Your Brain on Music). Your cerebellum, the most primitive part of your brain, coordinates your mesolimbic system, which releases opioids and dopamine into the blood [Levitin and Menon 2005]. Your cerebellum can get you high.

That explains the output of the wonderfully mysterious black box that is your brain. Now the question is, what is the stimulus that makes the cerebellum light up?

It seems that one of the cerebellum's functions is to be a timekeeper. Remember, this is a very primitive part of the brain, one we share with lower creatures, like rats and lizards and undergrads. Timekeeping is of evolutionary advantage - Levitin reminds us that the rat, hearing a constant rhythm on the earth above his burrow, can relax; when the rhythm changes, it may mean a predator is approaching, and the rat must prepare to freak out.

How does this translate to us higher beings? Not directly, yet considerably. Your cerebellum is active, and it coordinates the auditory and frontal cortices. For timekeeping, yes, but also for predicting and anticipating. Here, Levitin says it best:

"Music communicates to us emotionally through systematic violations of expectations. These violations can occur in any domain - the domain of pitch, timbre, contour, rhythm, tempo, and so on - but occur they must. Music is organized sound, but the organization has to involve some element of the unexpected or it is emotionally flat and robotic (173)."

This is noticeable in "Somewhere Over the Rainbow", even in a simple, unaccompanied performance by a child, as in the link above. The little girl's octave leap, from "Some" to "where", is essentially against the rules of Western music. It is jarring, at a subconscious level, because you are simply blindsided by the doubling of frequency between notes.

In the same way, duets play to your brain's predispositions. The melody may be somewhat set, but the harmony can play with your expectations, and it can do so different from one verse to the next. Your cerebellum will freak out (as our early ancestors would), and whoosh, neurotransmitters are released into your system. And you get the chills.

A Prairie Home Companion had a program the other night, which they called Pas De Deux, that kept me stuck in the car for nearly an hour. It was a duet competition. It was pretty. I got the chills a lot.

The following was my favorite song. I hope you enjoy.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Big Ring Coffee

My team is sponsored by 53x11 Coffee... which I tell you in the interest of full disclosure. Regardless of the fact that 53x11 Coffee hooks a bunch of college kids up with a sweet deal of much-needed coffee, regardless of the fact that you could support Rutgers Cycling financially simply buy buying your coffee from 53x11 Coffee, you should trust my claims as being entirely objective.

53x11 Coffee is delicious.

So far I've tried the Chain Breaker and Big Ring varieties, and I've been thrilled. Chain Breaker has more body to it, but Big Ring is by no means watered down. I highly recommend them both. Click it!

Anyway, it turns out there is a trick to making 53x11 Coffee. It seems that running pressurized water over roasted beans produces a discolored, watery beverage that is basically disgusting. You have to grind the beans first.

I think I need to have coffee just to be able to make my morning coffee.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Don on Vacation

It may come as no surprise whatsoever that I have work to do on vacation. "Relax," they say, "you're in Florida! You're with your family, and you haven't a care in the world"

Tell that to the giant stack of homeworks I had to grade!

As per our unilateral agreement, I will not be posting about the qualities of my students. It would be an ill-advised blog that lists the many, many adjectives that could describe the discipline, critical thinking, and self-reliance of my beloved students. So we won't be talking about their qualities. In public.

What I can talk about is their quantities. There are a lot of them. Dozens and dozens, and also dozens. 91 students means 91 homeworks (minus those who choose to accept the goose-egg, bless their hearts). Generally about three to five minutes per homework. Do the math, and cringe.

Yes, I am in Florida, and I brought the giant stack of homeworks with me. I may not be a PRO cyclist, but damned if I'm not a PRO academician. Which is probably better.

Gripe though I might (and did, and will) about the cruel injustice of grading while on vacation, there was one huge mitigating factor:

This is the view from my desk

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

All You Can Eat Sushi

My Facebook status tonight was:

All-You-Can-Eat Sushi? Challenge accepted.

(Aside: If I blog about my Facebook status, is that tantamount to Twittering? Tweeting? Someone please help me conjugate my social networking technology.)

So, I had sushi tonight. High-quality sushi, too; nothing but the best for your favorite ninja and his family. If there's anything better than high-quality sushi, though, it's high-quantity.

This was my third plate, before.

This was my third plate, after.
A ghost-town of clamshells and sashimi stains.

And then it was time for dessert.

Best of all, though, is that the good people at Kyojin (who will forever tremble at the sight of me, after the havoc I wreaked on their profit margins) venerated me, their uncontested conqueror. Before I had even scooped my second helping of rice pudding, they had unveiled a sushi named in my honor.
Hint: It wasn't the Unagi

Saturday, April 04, 2009


After seeing "Adventureland" - a smart, soulful comedy - on Friday, I overheard the following conversation in the men's room.

Philistine #1: Oh, hey man
Philistine #2: Yo, it's been a while
[blah blah blah]
P1: So what'd you see?
P2: Adventureland
P1: How was it?
P2: I thought it would be, like, stupid-funny, but instead it was just Juno in an amusement park
P1: Oh, that sucks, man.
P2: Right?
P1: That is ass in a glass

You can't make shit like this up.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Members Only, like the jacket

It's a new month, and here in the world of TheNinjaDon, that means it's time for some change. For the past few weeks, I've been composing new posts, collecting paradigm-shifting and/or hilarious youtube videos, and revamping the layout of this blog. That's why I haven't posted any new content, as you may have noticed.

Starting April 1st, the new content will be available to NinjaMembers on the all-access site. For a low monthly membership fee, you can be one of the many loyal fans of TheNinjaDon, with all the privileges that entails.

I look forward to your continued perusal of my little corner of the blogosphere, and to your generous contribution to my beer - er, Gatorade - fund.