Sunday, January 13, 2013

Cycling in New England: Cambridge, MA to Harvard, MA

     9:00 Saturday morning at the student center. How far are we going today? Nothing too ambitious, perhaps two or three hours. We are off into the foggy, unseasonably warm air, rolling away from the MIT campus, Cambridge, and the familiar world I call my second home.
     I first arrived on the east coast of Massachusetts almost exactly a year ago today. After the 12 hour, entrancing train ride from Buffalo and emerging into the frigid, slightly salty air of Kendall square, I found myself in a new world. Your world expands with experience: as you see more, it gains breadth, and as you attach new and precious memories to various locations it gains depth. A cube is a good analogy here; perhaps the best way to live one's life is to try to maximize the volume of your cube.
     I was shown my apartment and walked around the MIT campus, and things seemed great. While before, all I knew was the space inside the courtyard of the Kendall Mariott, my new world was bigger and better. It's laughable to someone who has spent any significant amount of time here (like my current self) that I was satisfied with this tiny pocket of such a great city, but, of course, everything is relative.
     Yesterday was another notable episode of personal world expansion. I went on the MIT Cycling Club group ride and found that New England has some truly beautiful countryside beyond the nice historic towns and suburbs outlining Boston. At Concord, Stephen, an MIT grad student, and I split off from the group in the pursuit of more miles and seeing even more of the beautiful countryside. We went to Harvard, MA and took the scenic route back. Harvard is a perfect little town filled with perfectly maintained New England mansions. There is a huge, impressive high school, a modernized general store that gives you the impression that it's been there as long as America, and smooth pavement throughout. In fact, for the quality of every mansion-lined road was immaculate - an impressive feat considering the winters here.
     I haven't properly ridden my bike since the provincial road race on August 15, 2010. What used to be the central purpose in my life remains only in the form of good memories, numbers on a results sheet, a garage full of bikes, and, I hope, slumbering legs that awaken with much less prodding than before. Memories are storied in funny ways; just as a sunset or a bear sighting can define a camping trip, my cycling career is defined by a few key memories. The first frigid pedalstrokes on an early January ride. Sprinting up Saylor's Hill with the St. Catharines club on a Tuesday night race. The invincible feeling you get when you pick up the pace and the breathing of the rider behind you goes from relaxed, to labored, to desperate, to silent. The warm glow that fills your body the afternoon after a hard race or group ride. These are the kinds of experiences that stay with you forever, and make all the work and pain seem worth it.
     If you were asked to record everything you know, it would clearly be impossible. Even if you were capable of committing such intangibles as your complex conception of love to paper, you simply can't systematically access your thoughts as one can scroll through the contents of a hard drive. A trigger is needed to sift the relevant information from the sands of your mind. All of these memories, and more, came rushing back after being buried by three years of relative inactivity punctuated by short, suffer-free bike rides. This was a tough ride for my soft legs, and for the middle 40 miles or so vocalized their discontent. However, with time they opened up again and they became the perpetual motion machines of the days of yore. 83 miles and 5 hours was plenty of time to reminisce about the old days of riding and racing, and I may have caught the bug once again. Once again, my brain craves to experience the exquisite neurochemicals and experiences produced by cycling as a plant craves water in a drought, and at this point I am happy to oblige. It's funny how often your interests align with those of your brain.
     I have matured both physically and mentally since the last time I raced. At 5' 10" and 160 pounds, I'd be satisfied if my physical growth was complete. With a brain so packed with wisdom and knowledge, I'd also be happy if I didn't learn anything else for the rest of my life (just kidding!). Equipped with these more capable tools, it will be exciting to see how fast I can get before the collegiate race series begins. All I can hope for is that my legs recall racing nearly as quickly as my memory. Time to give them some good prodding.

 P. S. This is the amazing Cambridge-Harvard-Cambridge route in question (thanks Stephen!):
 http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/?r=5329867

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Optogenetics: Setting Free-Will Free

     A new revolution in neuroscience is upon us. Presented herein is a new technique, known as optogenetics, that confers a high level of spatiotemporal control over specific cell populations within the brain (1). Two main techniques are traditionally employed to elucidate the structure and function of neural networks: histological brain sectioning and analysis and electrical microstimulation (2,3). While these enabled significant progress in neuroscience, the field still required more precise tools that exhibit featured single cell-scale stimulation and nanosecond temporal resolution. Optogenetics, pioneered by Ed Boyden and Karl Deisseroth in 2005 (1), elegantly and powerfully addresses this issue.
     Optogenetics began with a simple observation: certain photosynthetic cells in algae are only active in the presence of light. Further investigation revealed that a surface membrane protein, Channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2) was responsible for this behavior. In effect, cells expressing ChR2 'turn on' in the presence of light, and leave the cell in a dormant state in the dark. Fortunately, this discovery comes at a time when gene therapy techniques are well developed and understood; scientists currently have the ability to robustly transfer DNA into specific cell populations. Boyden et al. applied these techniques to cause specific neuronal cells to express ChR2 (as determined by the targeting antigens of the vector). His experiments were successful, and suddenly scientists could control cell populations with the brain with unprecedented specificity and temporal control.
     The brain is scientific enigma. Within the head currently peering into your monitor lies an endlessly complex and powerful yet extremely low-power computational device. Within this tangled web of connections between a hundred billion neurons lie the chemical and biological bases foundations for the secrets of of the human mind: the soul, the mysetery of addiction, the basis for neuropsychological disease, and so on. No longer is the brain simply a black box, where the inputs and outputs are entirely controlled by the omniscient forces of nature.
     Boyden et al. demonstrate this beautifully demonstrated in an experiment using optogenetics to modify dopamine production. Dopamine acts as a chemical reward for the brain, causing feelings of happiness and fulfillment when experiencing love, addictive drugs, and other neurochemically positive experiences. In this demonstration, dopamine-producing cells were modified with ChR2, and an optical input was installed in the mouse's brain. One would hypothesize that the willpower of the mouse is now controlled by the optical stimulation. To demonstrate this, the light was activated when the mouse swims on one half of a pool, and turned off when the mouse swims to the other half; tellingly, the mouse quickly showed a preference for the illuminating side of the pool. When one considers the underlying motivation behind free will, it is only takes a small leap to see how this test could be applied to humans. Of course, there are other important uses and therapies that will spring from this technology; further reading on this fascinating development is strongly encouraged.

References:
1. Boyden, E.S., Zhang, F., Bamberg, E., Nagel, G. & Deisseroth, K. Millisecond-timescale, genetically targeted optical control of neural activity. Nat. Neurosci. 8, 1263–1268 (2005).
2. Kandel, E.R., Spencer, W.A. & Brinley, F.J., Jr. Electrophysiology of hippocampal neurons. I. Sequential invation and synaptic organization.J. Neurophysiol 24, 225-242 (1961)
3. Salzman, C.D., Britten, K.H. & Newsome, W.T. Cortical microstimulation influences perceptual judgements of motion direction. Nature 346, 174-177 (1990).

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

MIT Rush Week 2012

 This is the culmination of this week; shown is this year's "class" of pledges for No. 6!

     When one compresses a year's worth of fun and a truckload of money into one row of the calendar, the resulting explosion is known around here as Rush week. I moved in last Saturday with the intention of repeating my relatively successful regime of posting here every day until things got boring, but this time it quickly became apparent that it would be sliding down the priority list.
     MIT has approximately 30 fraternities. For such a small school (1000 freshmen each year) this means that a huge percentage have the option to 'rush' a frat. Just as the youth are the future of the world, these freshmen are the future of the frats - and they are treated as an accordingly desirable commodity. High demand, low supply, and lots of money result in some fantastic events for free. Lobster and steak dinners and well done parties (international DJs, crazy themes, tons of people) are the name of the game. Even daily posting couldn't to each day/night justice. That said, it would be a shame not to have a record of at least the best moments.
     I moved in the first day of Rush, and after seeing my mom off for the 9 hour drive home I unpacked and went downstairs to find a traditional, Greek style lamb roast going on. This was the first event of the Number Six club, the co-ed fraternity that I am now pledging for and living in. There I met my roommate Chris, who's on exchange from Cambridge, UK and is a one of the most skillful socializers I have met; he always had something cooking and helped me squeeze as much from the week as possible. No. 6 is the coolest place in the world where everyone shares only two things in common: they are from somewhere far away and they are all willing to talk about anything you can imagine. The details of living here are a story for another time.
     As a short aside, it bears noting the situation here with regards to alcohol since it is so different from Canada. The school had some issues with initiation/hazing in the past and became a lot more serious about Rush week in particular. The whole week is dry, and there are even inspections of fridges in people's rooms. It is a widely respected policy, and we all got to experience the intriguing experience of being fully sober while dancing like madmen/madwomen at the biggest house parties of our lives. The look on people's faces from Northeastern et al. was of utter despair when they came expecting alcohol and getting jello shots and margeritas that contained nothing beyond sugar and dye. On the other hand, the converse is also true - that is, outside of rush week the whole school is pretty "chills" when it comes to alcohol, and has an attitude that is a bit more open minded than a 21-year-old drinking age.
     That night there were half a dozen parties, all of which had over 500 people "going" according to facebook. We focused on three on dorm row that were all adjacent to each other: PBE's roofdeck party with DJ Kapslap, the foam party, and the Neon party at Kappa Sigma. Though the roof deck looked like it was one for the record books (from the ground below), they filled up and we opted instead for the neon party. The line was entertained by a member kappa sig who also happened to be a professional juggler. I quickly discovered that everyone here has some usually hidden but always extraordinary talent. Upon finally gaining entry we found an old, grand house with a nightclub inside. Off to the right is a small sitting/bar area, and there is a lowered dancefloor complete with a good sound system and DJ, good demographics, and lasers. We met some good people, went a little crazy, and it was a good introduction to the scene. I became quite aware of my lacking fitness here, and my quads/calves/lower back developed an appropriate soreness in the morning.
     Not wanting the fun to end, we went and met some of Chris' new friends in Baker. There was in interesting smattering of freshmen all just as happy to be in the cacophony of rush week as I was. Some came all the way from Harvard, a result of MIT orientation week/rush being generally better. One of the joys of talking to people from MIT is that their modesty keeps them from easily divulging whatever great achievement brought them here. They hold their 'secret' like a nut in their core, and my goal is to crack it without being too forceful or too forward. The fruits revealed by this semantic 'nutcracking' are always prove to be interesting and are sometimes truly amazing. For example, there was a girl by the name of Gabby who had the fantastically painful choice of becoming a professional ballet dancer or going to MIT. In my biased opinion I think she made the right choice. 
     The next afternoon No. 6 went on their yearly trip to Walden pond. The ranger gave a well-received reminder of the lunacy of the safety-obsessed political bureaucracy down here; we weren't to swim due to an unfortunate combination of it being a weekend and we had over 20 people in our group. Despite this, it was a good chance to meet some more of the members and to go for a swim anyways; the water was fantastic and looked good enough to drink (something I decided to test with an unfortunate but predictable outcome).
     That night we had an agonizing decision to make: the foam party or the boat party. The foam party was predicted to be too foamy, while the boat party imparted a sense of unease associated with the inability to jump ship (no pun intended) in case it was unsatisfactory. We (Marion) decided on the boat party on the premise that even if the party wasn't so good, at least we were on a boat.
     A lower critical dancefloor concentration (LCDC) must be reached before it becomes "live". Because of safety regulations we were only at about half LCDC (while the neon party was about double) and therefore our normally wild dancing was rendered tame by the self-consciousness caused by dancing in relative isolation. I had one of the nicest conversations of my life with Marion, my neighbor from Paris who lives next door to me. As we looked off the front of the boat, first into the black horizon of the Atlantic and then at the dazzling skyline of Boston Harbour, I discovered an intriguing approach to life that was both very well thought out and very different from the characteristic "North American" lifestyle. All of this combined to make this perhaps the most memorable party of Rush week.
     The next day Chris and I went to Six Flags with PBE. The sad reality with the fickle rushers is that the turnout to events is proportional to its respective cost and ambitiousness. We arrived on time (with about 5 hours of sleep the night before) and made some friends and voiced our interest in the frat before we were off. The brothers at the house all drove us (in nice cars no less, there was a new Cooper S and even an older Audi A8) three hours away and bought us tickets and lunch. My status as a student doesn't exactly help my rushing prospects, so when Chris and I were asked if we were freshmen he would tell the truth and I would follow it with a nod and a succinct, "Same here." It came out about halfway up the drive that I was a complete random with almost no intention to Rush, at which point the atmosphere inside the car became palpably less amiable. We still had some good conversations, and indeed I could have rushed them if I really wanted to, so we all fortunately remained friends despite my deceit.
     With the availability of the 'Platinum' passes at the park I was reminded that in this country you can get anything if you are willing to pay; with this wristband you can simply skip to the front of any line in the park (!). Total cost for the group: nearly $3000. Sleep deprivation combined with the near-death sensation of roller coasters resulted in a unique feeling that was euphoric while on the ride but quite terrible after the fourth ride or so. To protest the chemical abuse my brain was experiencing, it simply chose to withhold my higher functions midway through the day, at which point I was forced to meditate on a park bench and wonder if I would ever think deep thoughts again. I left early to get back to Waterloo for dinner at the Cheesecake Factory with some of the other Waterloo co-ops and Ian the Co-op General, so I'm not sure if I really got their money's worth. However, by the end I had some good talks, got to chat with the lovely Claire (whose biography will someday inspire millions), and became sufficiently perturbed by the rides, so maybe I can't ask for more from an afternoon from Six Flags.
     Work began the next day (Tuesday), and thus my wild week of Rush came to a close. Later in the week there were a couple of great events, the first being an organized house-wide debate and the second being dessert in the North End at Cafe Vittoria. Much ink (pixel?) has already been spilled, so suffice it to say that both of these events served to cement the notion that debating and talking to people in No. 6 is perhaps the most interesting and rewarding intellectual experience one could ask for.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Barefoot Running: Flying for Free


I must apologize for the drought of posts since this term began. I am focusing on writing some articles for the Iron Warrior these days. Solution: cross post said articles here. 

From The Iron Warrior:
 
     The bottoms of my feet are a shocking spectacle. The once soft, pale flesh has become a thick, darkened hide, the product of being compressed between 150 pounds of meat and the myriad surfaces of the earth. Underneath the forefoot, the borders of old skin and newly formed callouses are the only monuments to the hard-won blisters from days gone by.

http://www.lacliniquedusport.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/barefoot-running3.jpg 
(Image credit: http://www.lacliniquedusport.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/barefoot-running3.jpg) 

     To those with the right blend of patience and apathy towards public appearances, barefoot running can bring great rewards. Many people wonder (and fewer actually ask), why would I do this to myself? Is this simply a manifestation of deep-seated masochistic tendencies, am I just being a hippie, or is this something that any rational human should do? The benefits are so numerous that I am of the belief that shod running is the truly irrational choice.
     One of the chief benefits is the strengthening of muscles that have not been worked since birth. Back, hip, knee and ankle problems can often be traced back to misalignment resulting from weak feet. It is easy and profitable to sell orthotic insoles, but these treat the symptoms and overlook the cause. Our feet aren’t rigid structures that will somehow regain an arch because it is forced into that shape on a daily basis. On the contrary, without the need to maintain any shape on its own, the foot can become even more lazy and weak. Barefoot running (and walking) will naturally strengthen the feet, and the cables suspending the arch will naturally thicken and contract. This leads to better posture, better form when running, and the elimination of many chronic pains.
     Another practical benefit is that barefoot running is the quickest and easiest way to correct any errors in running form that we all have. Running with shoes allows us to be lazy in this regard, because there seems to be no real consequence. When barefoot, you will not heel strike or land heavily simply because it hurts to do so. Within a few strides a mid-forefoot strike becomes necessary, and a lower impact, more fluid feeling stride is quickly adapted. Distance running is notorious for causing injuries, and it is not uncommon for serious runners to get injuries at least once per season. The barefoot stride results in less impact and thus less repetitive strain and injury.
     Though these benefits do contribute, the main reason that I barefoot run is the feeling. Your foot is host to one of the highest concentrations of nerves in the body. Each of the myriad surfaces one encounters has an electrifying message that can only be transmitted through bare feet. The moistness of the soft grass hours after a rainstorm, the coolness of the white painted stripes in a parking lot contrasting the hot asphalt surrounding it, and the unique texture of each surface across campus all communicate their typically ignored message in a cacophony of sensation. There is a blanket dulling our experience, unbeknownst to most people. In this case, ignorance is not bliss, and once the blanket is lifted you just feel more alive.
     It is true that it is not particularly normal to be barefoot outside of the comfort of one’s home. There are people with borderline foot-phobias, and others who think that bare feet are unsanitary and/or gross. Many treat shoes as a status symbol, and won’t go barefoot because it would have unfavorable associations (hobbits, kids, etc.). Everyone will deal with these in their own way, and the easiest thing to do is simply wear shoes and only go barefoot when running for exercise. This is even necessary during co-op for obvious reasons. When we are on campus, though, why should we care about any of these things? Let go of your biases and do what is obviously the most enjoyable and advantageous thing for your happiness and health. This isn’t high school, and we are at a stage where we shouldn’t let the desire to be normal and accepted override what we know is best for us. If this article convinces you that barefoot running and walking is best for you, then let your bare-footedness serve as a monument to living a rational life dictated by reason, and not what others think.
     At this stage, I hope your next thought is, “how do I begin?” Luckily there are a few simple rules that can be followed to ensure a safe progression to longer distances and faster times. Patience is key here, and there are no real shortcuts. These muscles have lay essentially dormant since birth, so it will take time to bring them up to comparable strength compared to the rest of your legs. Overtraining can lead to injury and stress fracture, so erring on the side of less is prudent; especially since muscle soreness cannot be felt fully until the next day.
     The number one rule for starting out is to let the condition of your skin dictate your mileage. You will need to start with a very small distance for the first couple of weeks, going no more than about half a kilometer. Resist the urge to go on grass, because pavement makes it easier to focus on improving your stride, and will toughen your skin more quickly. Once the bottoms of your feet start to feel sore, stop running and don’t go out again until they feel good again. Skin soreness/blistering is an external indicator that your whole foot has had enough and needs to recover. Don’t use Vibram Five Fingers or related ultra-minimal footwear until you can already run fully barefoot; without the feedback of skin soreness, it is easy to do too much too soon and injure your foot. Less than an hour a week is enough in these early stages. Simply listen to your body and progress slowly and consistently; after a few months you should be able to do five kilometers no problem.
     Once you get through these early stages, the feeling of having strong feet is simply amazing. Running becomes a joy, and with your now nearly impact-free stride it feels like you are floating down the road. I implore you to at least try to walk to class barefoot one day – I’m sure you will drink the Kool-Aid and join the barefoot revolution.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

How to get a good room in res

There is an excellent website called letters of note which has some fascinating correspondence from the glorious days of sluggish mail. In that spirit, I thought I would use my endless charm and wit to procure a first floor, larger room for the upcoming semester in residence.


Hello,

I will be coming to St. Jerome's for the Spring term and I understand I am to let you know of room and/or roommate requests. I have both, though not in that order. First, I wish the role of roommate to be filled by Aaron Botelho, as it has been for the previous three terms at SJ. We have a harmonious co-existence and this situation is advantageous for both parties.

Next, to bluntly request a room, I would like to petition for a first floor room. Although I have the same shallow desire as everyone else to inhabit a larger room than others, my true motives run much deeper. I am a committed musician, and I require the space to accommodate my full-size electronic piano. Furthermore, in Fall 2011 I worked out an agreement that it is possible to house my state-of-the-art, lightweight, carbon fiber, and exorbitantly expensive racing bicycle inside the room - an agreement that I have extended with my future don Mike Cimetta. The combined area required for these far exceeds the free space in a second floor room. We are happy to fulfill our duties as first floor residents, including but not limited to engaging those who walk by by heckling and/or meditating on philosophical discourse until early hours of the morning, blasting a selection of Baroque Organ music, South-London House, unknown animal noises, pop, psychedelic rock, prog, trance, and music of the russian revolution, between the hours of 22:00 and 23:00. I have lived on the first floor before; I know what I must do.

I endured the entire first year at St. Jerome's in a small room on the second floor. Without space for either of these key items, my soul withered and by the end I was a shell of a human. The shore of summer approaches quickly. As we careen through the night, I beseech you steer clear of the icebergs. If I don't get a first floor room, my ship is sunk, and I am hopelessly lost in the night. If, come morning, we find ourselves sinking our feet in the sandy shore of a first floor room, I will be forever in your debt.

Sincerely Yours,
Noah MacCallum

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Boston LXXXIX

     This is a photo of the inside of "Burden" auditorium at Harvard Business School. If you ever look around and find yourself lecturing here, know that you are doing something right. Randomly walking around, killing time before seeing the science editor for boingboing speak, my compatriot and I amused ourselves watching future 1%ers practice a self-written Broadway-style production.

     This was a truly excellent weekend. No. 6 had their second public party of the year, "Friday the 13th." At their last party I was became intoxicated by the music, the scale, and the anonymity of it all and spent most of the time burning calories on the dancefloor. This time, as a function of knowing more people and more used to the scene, I emphasized philosophical discourse with the various people that make MIT amazing. I really learned some things about the world and myself, and even got some quality calorie burning in as well afterwards Although there are noise laws that necessitate ending the party and kicking most people out at 1:00, with the right connections you can hide during the clearout and join the 'gathering of a few people with a bit of music' afterwards. This made for a late but much more content-heavy night; one that I shall never forget. Usually, the only downside to this is the low-quality sleep and grogginess the previous days. Looking ahead, my proposed plan to become a member for my next eight-months in Cambridge (coinciding with the school year after summer) looks promising. Work will be a delicious buffet, and I will get to come home to an even better dessert.
     On Saturday, I began by going into work. In most places, this would be considered exceptional, but there were people there who were out until 3:00 and woke up at 6:30 to get there for 8:00. It's always true that there is someone out there working harder than you, but this truth has greater effect when it's talking to you in person. In any case, it was a great success. My experiment of the day was ordering three things from Ikea by typing in random numbers, and hoping to end up with a complete, matching dining set. It somehow worked out, and I got some strange but nonetheless true results. It's a strange thrill when an experiment gives you a completely different result from your prediction. People can tell you that you're wrong, and you can argue. Scientific observations can tell you that you were wrong, and all you can do is be humbled and concede the truth.
     That night I saw Titanic for the first time. A fun fact: the very minute of the 100th anniversary passed during the showing - maybe the ship hit the iceberg at the exact same time. Being the second highest grossing film of all time, most have seen it. However, I had the unique pleasure of seeing it for the first time in its finest form, with a whole extra dimension; in theory, I experienced the maximal  impact possible from one of the biggest films of our time. I will say that I enjoyed it as purely a form of entertainment, but it bludgeons you over the head with its message so much that I found it annoying.
     13 Days in Cambridge left, cheers to tying up loose ends when the ropes are thicker than your torso.

P.S. Big congrats to Benjamin Perry for winning the Tour of Battenkill. I used to be able to drop this guy, and now he is the most feared Junior in North America.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Boston LXXXIV


     This was taken during my 90 minute walk from Davis Square up in Sommerville. In Waterloo a typical dirt path with some leafy trees would be sufficient conditions for a nice walk. New England exceeds expectations with flowers instead of leaves and cobblestones. Note: not all people in the image are real.

     Prior to moving here I had a sublet lined up in which I was planning to live for the duration of the spring. However, at the last second, after I had paid my security deposit, they backed out without any discernible reason. Luckily things always work out in the end, and I ultimately moved into a cheaper and more convenient spot. The only caveat here is that I had a $500 weight in the back of my mind since I got here.
     We finally decided on a suitable time and place to have the money returned to me. I knew I couldn't be late, lest I risk him say that he tried and no longer wants to give the money back. I don't have mafia connections or time for a lawyer etc., so the money would simply have disappeared. I got to the meeting place with 1 minute to spare, and in a crowd of people I somehow knew exactly who I was looking for. My money was calling out for it's true owner, drawing me ever closer.
     "Jake?" (Not his real name)
     "Are you Noah?"
     [I offer a handshake, it is interrupted:]
     "Can I see some ID?"
     [I show him my ID for work, my most imposing piece]
He then wordlessly hands me a cheque, and immediately turns and walks away. I quickly check the cheque to make sure I don't have to chase him down. It looks legit, so I let him go and reflect on how much this looks like some form of illicit dealing to passers-by. Our exchange was perhaps 15 seconds, a piece of paper was exchanged, and he walks away looking like nothing happened. I betray my innocence by standing there somewhat dumbfounded, reflecting on how it might have been living with this apparent misanthrope.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Boston LXXXI

     For all the haters and nonbelievers out there, here is Noam Chomsky in the flesh. He is giving a talk to the members and guests of the Number Six Club/Delta Psi, the best of the three frats I have been to so far. Big thanks to Deema for getting me in.

     Number Six is a co-ed frat mostly comprised of international students. The building, which is one of the oldest buildings on the MIT campus, is an awesome combination of old-world grandeur with high ceilings, chandeliers, wood floors, persian rugs, and a library with a grand piano, and new-world nightclub with a powerhouse sound system and plenty of lasers. They have only had one public party so far this term - I don't blame them for keeping it to themselves.
     Speaking of frats, walking home from work today (at midnight, like usual these days) entranced by The Forum podcast by the BBC, I began to feel vibrations in my gut. I looked up and Zeta Psi was having a public party. I had to show a student card (from anywhere) to get in this one, but entrance was free, coat check was free, and drinks were free (as with all frats). There is a sign in list at the front desk: Name, School. I'm always sure to write UWaterloo in big, underlined, obnoxious letters, because the greater your distance from home the harder your have to represent. This house is not nearly as nice as No. 6's, but it was still good for a smaller party. The Cambridge rule of no partying after 1:00 is tough to get used to, right when the dance floor heats up the lights go on. Internet ink is permanent so I shan't go into details beyond that.
    I have been working a lot lately. I am spending most of my time at the other lab at this point, so from 10:00 to 10:00 it's me, my iPod and the view of the Prudential Tower through my fourth floor window. Though the experiments take a long time, there are multiple hour long incubations during which I can eat, read papers, or line up meetings. In the next two weeks I will meet with my family I haven't seen in 15 years, three Harvard Postdocs, and possibly two MIT profs. I go so long during the day without talking it feels like the skill is diminishing. A solid chatroulette marathon should rectify the situation.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Boston LXXVIII


     This is the Boston Skyline as seen from the Cambridge side of the Main St. bridge. Since it's near MIT they have to show off their engineering chops by building a road over water rather than the simpler land-based substrate that most roadbuilders opt for.

     Last Friday I went to a pub to meet Cicely and some of her coworkers for dinner. They were all Harvard postdocs, and proved to be some of the most interesting people in the world. One was from the Netherlands and raced semi-pro there - this man had seen things, had done battle in an arena where the world's strongmen go to crush each other through sheer willpower. He had been to hell and back. I assume the Europeans I meet are cyclists and am correct at least 80% of the time. His flippant reply: 'I did some racing when I was younger'. We talked bikes in a way that I haven't since my St. Catharines Cycling Club days. Someday we shall go for a ride and I can be truly humbled. 
     I then moved on to another postdoc who it turned out was doing some research similar to mine. We talked about science, philosophy, politics, drinking, and some perhaps insane ideas about how to change the world. This was one of the greatest conversations I have ever witnessed, and even now it slightly excites me to recall the intellectual jousting that unfolded that night.

    I met the science editor at Boing-Boing this evening (at another pub) at Harvard and picked her brain to find out how to become a skillful writer. She said that there is no substitute to writing a lot, and keeping nothing sacred; even if you think it's the best thing ever written, don't be afraid to change or improve it. It is more important to keep cranking out the articles than to try and perfect every one. 
     Someday I shall start a blog specifically about science so I can hone those relevant skills, but for now consider my desire to post here reignited. Also, I would like to proffer my thanks to Mark Dano for generating some facebook hype. My hits increased 400% as a result!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Month Vacation


Apologies for the untampered and overexposed iPhone-sourced photo, but it's with Robert Langer so little else matters. Thanks to Rami for taking and sending me the photo.

I took a month vacation from blogging. This would indicate that I'm lazy, but this is not the case. You see, free time at the end of the day is a small vacation from working. Blogging is something I do in my free time, and therefore a lack of posts indicates a defecit of vacation. Ergo, I had more of an inverse-vacation - a working marathon, if you will. Last week there were three days of >14 hour shifts. In other news, in the last month I met both Robert Langer and Noam Chomsky. That's all for tonight, work tomorrow at 7, need sleep.