Monday, June 29, 2009

Man Night

Burgers, beers, and cigars. It was the best kind of Saturday evening.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Minding Ps and Qs

If P, then Q... so if notP, then notQ?

Vaughters refused to directly confirm or deny the rumor of contract discussions with Contador, saying, "Our team policy is that we don’t discuss private negotiations before they are closed. We never have, and that’s going to be the case here. Whether we were or weren’t talking to Alberto, we’re not going to talk about it, period. All negotiations are confidential until finalized.” [my emphasis]
In Vaughters' defense, I don't think that was an accident.

JV's deft linguistic maneuvering reminds me of this:

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day Musing

I am who I am because of my Dad.

Address your critiques accordingly.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Don't Race

A brief aside, before I begin the post-proper: as much fun as it is to write cute "here's what I had for breakfast" posts, I'd much rather compose a commentary on the human condition. They're inevitably more controversial, more preachy, and more likely wrong... still, they're most representative of "25 Year Old Don", and so they're what I'll want to read 50 years from now.

I use "human condition" as a catch-all, and in such cases as the following, it is too broad a term. Maybe not all people act the way my prototype does, not everyone has the same primal compulsions. In my circle of friends, though - in fact, in all of my circles of friends - just about everyone fits a certain mold.

What mold? I shall explain by way of an anecdote:

One of the bike races for which I registered, paid, and showed up was the criterium at University of Delaware. However, I chose not to start the race. The course design was downright stupid, with a dangerous corner at the bottom of a fast descent. The race was delayed before I even started warming up because the Newark, DE area ran out of ambulances. That's how many brutal crashes there were in that corner.

Rather than reverse the direction of the race, as had been suggested by spectators, racers, and officials alike, the organizers chose to continue running their ridiculous shitshow in the wrong direction. Acknowledging the danger in the corner, though, they dispatched the head official to stand in the grass near the beginning of the corner.

My peers and I watched in dismay as one of the most respected figures in Northeastern cycling shouted, over and over, to slow down. Once every minute or two, the pack would come charging down the hill, and he would wave his arms and bellow "Easy, easy!" To no one's surprise, it had ABSOLUTELY NO EFFECT.

My prototype is a competitive person. He races his bicycle, and I do mean RACES. Not because it keeps him fit, not because he relishes the camaraderie of a like-minded pack, and certainly not because it justifies all the training miles. He races because you just can't win training rides. The competition is the end for which the remainder is all simply a means.

You can't tell a competitive person not to compete. Sure, with some discipline, my prototype can suppress his instincts, but even buried, they still lurk below the surface. That which drives him will not be snuffed out by shouting "slow down!".

Mark's Jenna, from what I know about her, is a lot like my prototype. She's a racy lady, the sort to chase people down rather than cruise through. That's how she kicked ass at Hibernia, as best as I can surmise. Not on fitness alone, but on competition.

Imagine her dismay to find that her next event, the More/Fitness Half-Marathon, had been neutered by race organizers (wordplay alert! this event was for women only). The unseasonal heat was cause enough for the powers-that-be to cancel the Marathon and turn the Half into a "fun run". The course would be the same length, but the clocks would be turned off. Competitors would not be Competitors, but Participants. In this way, the dangers of excessive heat would be mitigated, because nobody would be inclined to compete.

This rationale is so absurd as to offend. Even if the "Participants" had actually listened to instructions to treat the event as a Fun Run, even if they didn't have wristwatches with which to time themselves, they were surrounded by rabbits and chasers! Those among them who fit my prototype - many, if not most, presumably - would find competition at every step, and they would race.

A final example comes from the world of motorsports, in which I have taken a passing, passive interest. In late April, there was a terrible wreck at Talladega, in which a car going nearly 200 mph flipped upside down and flew toward the stands.

Here's the video, because I know you're curious...

The circumstances that led to this near-tragedy are somewhat unique to the world of NASCAR, and to this track in particular, but they're worth a brief review.

When engine technology raised speeds well above 200 mph at this superspeedway in the late 80s, NASCAR mandated a "restrictor plate", which limits the horsepower of cars and prioritizes drafting. Ed Hinton explains better from here:
Plate racing causes such tight packs of cars that multicar crashes are almost inevitable -- there were two such "big ones" Sunday, before Edwards' crash at the checkered flag.

The restrictions have opened a whole set of complex rules, such as forbidding passing below the yellow line at Talladega. When Brad Keselowski [09 in the above video] tried to pass Edwards at the checkered flag, and Edwards [99] moved down to block, Keselowski knew he would be penalized if he went below the yellow line.

So he chose to wreck Edwards instead. Which, believe it or not, is acceptable procedure in plate racing.
Having narrowly averted the unimaginable consequences of a 3000 lb car, shredded into 150mph shrapnel by steel fencing, decimating the capacity crowd at the Talladega track, NASCAR higher-ups immediately began proposing solutions.

The most frequent suggestion was to enforce penalties with more severity, as a disincentive for aggressive driving. It's a good suggestion, if penalties are applied with uniformity and predictability. Consistent administration of consequences has not always been a strong suit of any sport ever, because after all, the officials are human.

You've read this far in the post, so you know how I feel about the stricter-enforcement proposal. One of the most successful NASCAR drivers, Jimmie Johnson, put it best:
"Officials] can talk until they're blue in the face up there, but when we get in those cars we're going to race and try to get position. Regardless of the ass-chewing we get before we pull on the track, you're going to do what you have to do to win."

It's a lesson of which I've been increasingly aware in the past year, for a variety of reasons - in sports, in club administration, in teaching. Andy Kessler wrote in Forbes about the "inevitability of internet piracy". People will try to get the most of what's available to them, by whatever means they must. If there is any flexibility in a boundary, any opportunity to squeeze just a little more out of the rules, they will take it. You can't threaten water into one end of a basin, you can only expect it to fill its container.

That people will look for advantages is only a problem if you don't expect and accept it. It's not a bad thing... it's a human thing. Successful administration comes down to forethought - course design in racing, homework assignments in education, etc.

Of course, realizing this is not the same as implementing it. We'll see how I do when the time comes.



... is getting a bit tired of rain

... regrets paying money to see Year One

... wonders, in his spare time, how changing motorsports regulations might facilitate passing

... doesn't feel like a bike racer

... has written a 5200+ word review chapter on brain injury and rehabilitation

... is never moving to the Pacific northwest

... reminds Jay: remember 'Foo Fighters'

... enjoys watching triathlons on Universal Sports, but sometimes can't help but shout "somebody do SOMETHING!" during the bike

... isn't sure what breed of dog to get

... has been in a good mood, excepting a couple of blips, for months

... blogs more than Will

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Pomp and Circumstance

Your children are as precious as flowers, as unique as a snowflake. Your children look positively dashing in those mortarboard. Your children will all be president someday.

None of the above fact-ish statements justify graduation ceremonies. Sorry to rain on parents' parades, but there is just no reason for this big waste of everyone's life. The graduation thing has got to go.

I went to High School graduation, all festooned in my green grown (go Bears!). My parents were in the stands, as were my grandparents and brother. There were tears... but none from me, because it was graduation from f'ing high school.

I went to college graduation, this time in a black ensemble that, frankly, didn't really do justice to my figure (go Spartans!). My parents and grandparents and brother were in the stands, and there were tears, because it was graduation from f'ing college.

In both of these cases, there was something coming next. When I finished high school, I was months from starting college. When I finished college, I was weeks from starting grad school.

Graduation was a milestone, but only as much as the mile markers on the turnpike... the ones that are like 3"x6" and on the other side of the guard rail and that you never pay attention to unless you're bored and 342 miles from home... 341.9... 341.8...

You know what will be fantasic, and will maybe even move me to tears? The graduation from grad school (knock on wood, throw salt over the shoulder, cross your fingers, and spit thrice), when I walk down the aisle in the hallowed halls of the RAC wearing enough velvet to clothe four drag queens. Because this one will be the last one. Terminal degree, my friends, means terminus.

Here is where I need to clarify the misunderstanding: There should be a college graduation, just like there should be a high school graduation. It should be for people for whom it has meaning. Graduations should be for terminal degrees.

Getting a diploma from high school and joining the workforce is fine. Getting a bachelors and eschewing grad school in favor of a paycheck is totally understandable. Nobody's judging. It's just that graduating means something different when you're done than when you're en route to more school.

There absolutely should be a graduation ceremony for every level of education. The only students allowed to attend should be those students who are entering the workforce. Less time waiting to walk up the aisle, less traffic in the parking lot... and fewer shapeless nylon gowns gathering dust in our closets. Everybody wins!

It doesn't make sense to force parents to sit in the bleachers while their kids are forced to wait an hour just to walk on stage and shake hands with some administrator before getting a folder (often empty, by the way) and sitting back down. It deprives the final graduation ceremony of meaning.

The worst offenders, of course, are the preschool graduations. "Congratulations, you've made it to kindergarten! It took a lot of work, and you almost didn't make it, but we knew that you would buckle down and really earn that diploma! What a momentous accomplishment!"

Those things are utterly wasteful. And adorable.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


I spent 8 semesters in Cleveland. I root for the Indians, the Browns, the Cavs, and the Buckeyes. I look down my nose at The Flats, I am unphased by the lake effect, and I know better than wander east of 116th or west of 105th at night. I'll always be connected to Cleveland.

I've spent 8 semesters at Rutgers. In fact, having started work in my lab in the summer of '05, and continuing it now, I've spent considerably more time at Rutgers than at Case Western Reserve.

So why is it that I still feel new at Rutgers? As if I'm a visiting student, or finishing my first year. By the third year in Cleveland, I was one of the "old guys" in the fraternity, by the fourth I was dying to escape. I feel less of a connection to the University and the town than many of my undergrad friends express, certainly less than I felt at CWRU.

Possible reasons:
  • I was younger then. Youth made me impressionable, which malleability I have since outgrown.
  • I am from Central Jersey. As a true outsider in the heavily-Ohioan population at CWRU, I needed to adopt the city to fit in. Having grown up near Rutgers, I have no desire to adopt it - on the contrary, I've always been more than happy to express my disdain for the Dirty Jerz.
  • I'm a grad student now. Grad students aren't supposed to feel at home. A graduate student who feels too comfortable is less inclined to write his thesis. We're supposed to graduate, so that we may go forth and prosper. For seriously, I think it's in the orientation manual.
  • Full-blown certifiable insanity
Whatcha think?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

MCSS Photos

Two weeks ago, I went to the Motor Control Summer School. It was, in a word, supermegagood. As promised, here is a photodump, er, blog post.

Ava Jade, my backseat companion for the 6 hour drive.
She slept for 4 hours, and did a repetitive "yawn, then sleep again" cycle for a while towards the end.
I dare you to find something cuter

"Welcome to Summer School," says the organizer.
"Would you like a martini in a dixie cup?"

The unwritten rule was "work hard, play hard". The play, along with the evening "happy hour", included 4-hour free periods every afternoon. We hiked, we played basketball, and we failed miserably at taking a break from Motor Control discussions.

(l to r): Enoka, Latash, Feldman, and Scholz.
Using the honorific "he wrote the book" for these guys is not at all an exaggeration.

The attendees, minus a few, at the last happy hour of the weekend.
Samir cracked us all up with a last-second "say 'lambda!'"
Our nerdiness knows no bounds.

There was a bonfire. Jealous?

(l to r): Jang, Tony, Steve, Jeremy, Valentina, Nikita, Matt, Osmar, and Carol.
Long after the fire was down to embers, we were having a good time.

Remember before, when I challenged you to out-cute the picture of the baby?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Life Imitates Art, because I'm sad

When the Air France flight disappeared without warning, it was too big a tragedy to wrap my mind around. Two hundred twenty eight lives lost in an instant. It's not the worst recent tragedy, nor is it even the most recent tragedy, but it still hurts, in a "the bell tolls for thee" sense.

Defense mechanisms are pretty convenient. What's the point in succombing to melancholy when you can crack a joke? It's healthy!

In the case of the Air France crash, I realized that the story of airliner disappearing over the ocean was a bit familiar. Was the search-and-rescue operation looking in the right place, or had the plane's radio broken as it flew a thousand miles off course and landed on The Island? Were there 228 dead, or had a handful survived and were they currently running from smoke monsters and fighting polar bears and finding The Hatch?

It hurt less that way. But then they found sections of fuselage. And then they found bodies. So the real-life Lost speculation pretty much went out the window.

Hollywood may not have been entirely wrong, though. It seems that a woman who missed the flight, and thus avoided a watery grave, has died in a car crash. So, maybe it's not Lost. Maybe it's Final Destination?

Go go gadget defense-mechanism!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Juicebox Conundrum

I am an adult, or at least I think I am. My colleagues have children,
the IRS takes a hefty chunk out of every paycheck, and my hairline is
retreating like the French Army. Which feels pretty grown up to me.

Gone are the simple pleasures of childhood. I don't play in the mud
anymore, or spend frivolously on entertaining gadgets. Certainly I
would never watch cartoons or drink from juiceboxes.

Oh wait... I do all those things!

Juiceboxes are the trickiest to incorporate into my otherwise adult
lifestyle. Its not that I mind how it looks, for a grownup such as
myself to be using such an anachronistic drinking modality. Rather, it
is the serving size of a standard juicebox.

I have a man-sized stomach. Why do they not make a man-sized juicebox?

Playing the hand that cruel, cruel fate has dealt me, I make do with
what I have. More specifically, I use two or three juiceboxes to
quench my thirst.

Herein lies my conundrum: each juicebox comes with its own
individually-wrapped straw. While I only need one straw per sitting,
I find myself using each new box's straw.

Why? Why am I wasting time and energy unwrapping each new straw? Why
am I compelled every time?

Bring On the Fury

HPCX planning committee

This year's HPCX will be better than last year's HPCX, or any other HPCX before it.

This year's HPCX will be better than anything closer to your home that weekend.

This year's HPCX will change the way you look at cyclocross.

Honestly, I don't think I'm exaggerating. You need to be there. November 1st.

Save the date.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Dodged Bullet

Its easy to get confused en route to my house. The good people of
Highland Park named two streets with the same name; I live on Ave, but
Google Maps defaults to Lane. Its easy to end up on the wrong street,
on the wrong end of town.

A potential roommate - let's call him Brian - was going to check out
the apartment between 5 and 8 today. Just as I was leaving the house
to ride, Brian's wife (yes, wife; I wish I'd gotten more of that story
for you) called to ask if they could visit before 5. It caught me
off-guard, but I shortened my already-truncated ride to accommodate

A few minutes after 5, I called Brian, or rather his wife, to
facilitate their visit. That is, to ask where they were already. Her
response was chilly, "we drove by earlier, it was all apartment
complexes, Brian doesn't want to live there."

"Ah," say I, "I think you were on the wrong street. Common mistake"
and proceed to explain the urban planning snafu of Highland Park. "So
if you'd like, I can still show you the place."

"Hang on," she says, and then I hear, somewhat muffled:

"Do you want to go see the apartment?"
"not if it's in Highland Park, I don't"

Then she says into the phone, "okay, we're not coming, goodbye"

Two weeks ago, a lab in New York City posted to a listserve I read,
soliciting applications for a post-doc position. I want one of those,
and would love to work in Manhattan, so I sent a reply in which j
asked for details about the lab and its reararch. No reply.

Yesterday, they reposted the position.

It is my instinct to be put off by these incidents. I don't take it
personally, but the world is supposed to work a certain way, and when
it doesn't, I get frustrated. Brian's casual ambivalence annoyed me,
almost as much as it would have had I waited until 8 instead of
calling. The NYC lab's unresponsiveness, which I admit may have been a
rare oversight, shook my faith in the system just a bit.

Just when I start to get worked up over poor etiquette, when I imagine
that I bear the cross of a crumbling, selfish society, I catch myself.
Had Brian shown up, he might've wound up my asshole roommate. Had I
sent that lab my CV, I might be stuck as their unhappy, isolated
post-doc. How lucky am I, that events unfolded so frustratingly!