Saturday, May 30, 2009


So here's how it was: Three years ago, at my first Motor Control Summer School, I kept a journal. I documented my conversations and impressions, but also my ambitions and concerns. Foremost among these concerns was the fear that I do not have what it takes to make it in Motion Science. I wrote, for example:

"One thing that struck me is the high level of contention about control
schema...the discussions are heated, with well-supported arguments that are
simply above my head. The professors kept bringing up the difference in
philosophies; maybe someday I’ll have evaluations of philosophies?"

A legitimate question, hinting at a deep sense of self-doubt. Scary stuff.

Now, three years later, it turns out that yes, I do actually have evaluations of philosophies. Which is nice.

For years, even after poring over innumerate papers, parsing through their arguments sentence by sentence, still I have been left in confusion. Yesterday, sipping coffee with one of the big deals of Motion Science, we went over his brain-child, the Equilibrium Point Hypothesis. We talked about its applicability for different movements, about the attempts to refute it (unsuccessfully, he would contend), and about the empirical evidence that supports it. And I really, really got it.

I got how Equilibrium Point flows logically into Uncontrolled Manifold analysis. I could see how to apply this scheme to experimental evidence presented by other professors with alternate conclusions. It makes sense to me now, in a fundamental way.

Not everyone agrees with Equilibrium Point Hypothesis. That's okay (the professor I had coffee with would disagree). That leads to debate - sometimes heated, always loud - and debate forces better understanding, mental acrobatics, and the capacity for polemic. That can only be good.

So here's how it is. These days, I am known to race my bike, and to partake in Karaoke, and even to post on this here bliggity-blog. Not that it's all I do, but these are typical activities of mine that serve as a convenient gauge. Like you, I want to be at my awesomest, and so I measure myself by, well, everything. The most convenient, most frequent metrics include how fast I ride, or how well I sing, or how cleverly I write. It is no surprise, of course, that I am thoroughly mediocre at all three, which hurts just a bit.

It is rare indeed that I can measure myself as an academic. Especially in real-time, face to face interaction. Especially in terms of Motor Control.

This weekend is a long-awaited opportunity to gauge myself. How heartbroken I would be, were I to find that I am also mediocre at this, the focus of my, y'know, future. So far, my dear friends, results are... promising.

Happy happy happy Don.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Still not a post

I have been embarassingly delinquent as a blogger. And I will continue to be so, at least through the end of the weekend.

I had two big due dates on Wednesday, made all the more pressing because I was leaving on Thursday for the conference from which I am posting. Those projects - a long abstract for a conference and the resubmission of my journal article - were exhausting, especially for the writing part of my brain. I had no energy for blogging.

There are posts in the works, I promise. For real this time. Posts that will get you excited for cyclocross, posts that will make you go "awww, how cute!", and even posts that will make you say "wow. Don's a nerd. eww"

Just not yet.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Written for, and omitted from, an application for a post-doc position

I have spent years imagining the features of my ideal academic environment, just as little girls plan out the details of their distant-future weddings.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Diagnose this:

In the past 4 years, I have owned four pairs of Crankbrothers pedals. Two Eggbeaters, two Quattros. None of those pairs are still usable, because all four Left pedals are all loosey-goosey. Only one of the Right pedals is similarly worn. It is the Left pedals that are chattery, like the bearings are loose.

For what it's worth, I am a righty. However, I trackstand with my left foot forward, I start races with my left foot clipped in, and I unclip the right foot when I stop at a traffic light. I don't have a particular tendency to crash on one side over the other, but I have yet to crash horrifically - spectacularly, yes, but not horrifically.

Why are my left pedals dying?

My legs have felt poopy ever since Granogue. In part, I blame the latest pedal failure, because it bothered my left knee and definitely probably maybe changed the way I pedal. Mostly the problem is rooted in my inability to ride consistently.

Ben Swift, who's having a breakthrough race in Italy, said in an interview that he starts and ends each ride with five 30-sec sprints. Given my embarrassing lack of top-end speed, and especially given the "only crits ever" race scene in these parts, it seems like a good idea to add this to my utterly unstructed training regimen. After four training rides with this addition... my legs feel poopy. But that's been going on for weeks.

Yesterday, my legs felt poopy. For dinner, I tried a new (new to me) recipe: bacon-wrapped chicken. Today, my legs felt poopy. Clearly, bacon-wrapped chicken has, at the very least, no adverse effect on my riding.

No good experiment has a sample size of 1. Therefore, I will strive to have bacon-wrapped chicken as often as possible. For science.

(The secret is brown sugar)

Saturday, May 16, 2009


It's not that I don't have a moral compass. I do. Right is right and wrong is wrong, and ne'er the 'twain shall meet. It's just that... good is good, but bad can be great.

I'll stick to good, fine. But I'll do it as an alter ego. You see, your beloved NinjaDon is just actually a cover, distracting you from a prolific, notorious evil-doer.

It's not easy being a doer of evil. People tend to frown upon your life-choices. They look down their noses at your calamitous intent and judge you, harshly. Still, I am what I am.

I'll take Dr. Horrible over Captain Hammer any day. I'll pledge allegiance to The Mighty Monarch before Dr. Venture, too. Hell, I'll even back Gob before Michael.

This week, while watching the season finale of Lost, I drew apalled stares from my fellow viewers with three simple words: "I like Ben".

Lex Luthor always seemed more captivating a character than Superman. Maybe the darkness of the foil allows for more depth. (Coincidentally, I stopped watching Smallville during the first season, when a young Lex Luthor gave an also-young Clark Kent a fencing sword, then said "a good superhero needs a foil.") But cartoons and TV series can only go so far in life.

At last, my search for like-minded supervillains is complete. It has come to my attention that a Ruthless Organization is being organized... ruthlessly. I've signed up. Have you?

Saturday, May 09, 2009


This is me at my most hypocritical: I hate when people don't take responsibility for their mistakes.

I read an advice letter from that, based on the title, I expected to be about the economy. It was not. Here's a highlight:
Everybody just assumed that because I was book-smart, I would be life-smart, and nobody pressured me to plan out what I wanted to do with my life.

I've also been so sheltered that I can't give directions to my own home, nor do I keep track of how much money there is in my bank account. Basically, I haven't had to learn the ins and outs of daily independent living and it's driving me insane, because I am 25 AND I HAVE A HARVARD DEGREE! ...

I don't have to worry about paying the bills (my parents take care of it all) so there's no external motivation to get serious.
So this total failure is blaming everyone but himself for his shortcomings. Fine. He's from an Ivy League school up North... what more should we expect from him?

What if he wasn't a coddled, silver-spoon-fed creampuff? What if he was a battle-hardened national hero from the cobblestones of Belgium?
"I need help," he told "Someone should teach me to understand what happens when I drink too much."
For goodness' sake.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Word Problem

If I was to write a neuroscience exam question, it would look something like this:

It is known that a specific region of the forebrain is involved in making lists. Synaptic activity in that region occurs at up to 40 Hz. Transduction of list items from cognitive abstracts to audible sounds occurs at 1 Hz. The axonal time constants in Broca's area (hint: responsible for speech generation) are 0.14 sec^-1.

What is the highest number you can count to out loud in one minute?

How many people do you think would furiously write unit conversions and decay functions on the answer sheet? How many would stare at their wristwatches and time themselves counting?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Spanky Makes a Logician's Funny

did i see your name on the list for the expert singlespeed race? how'd it go?

that was my tax free donation to the race/cause. I won't begin racing until mid-June or so.
how come you weren't at Easterns?

'cause i was at granogue!

isn't that a tautology?

"why didn't you win?"
"because I lost."

"why weren't you at Easterns?"
"cause I was at granogue."

here's another:

"how did your race go?"
"i considered my entry fee a donation to the cause"