The NPR Effect

Ann Arbor is full of cheapskates like myself who listen to NPR either constantly or more than necessary. As a result, in such liberal, college-town communities there is a rather strong NPR Effect. Say, you are driving around and some author is talking about his latest book. It is an interesting book and you would like to read it but,
a) You are too cheap to buy books, or
b) You have no money to buy more books, or
c) You have no space to store more books,
then the best course of action is get it from the library. BUT, if you are a couple of days late in placing a 'hold' on the book then all I can say is, "Good Luck!". I had to wait for 4 months to get Dennett's book. I have already waited 2 months for Michael Pollan's latest book - The Omnivore's Dilemma(I was 83/110 at one point). A large part of the blame rest on NPR's shoulders for this delayed gratification. Reading books from the library can be edifying in more ways than one.

Advice from Langston Hughes

For me, birthdays and New Year's Day are the days on which to pay heed to utterly common and unoriginal pieces of advice. This time: Read more poetry. Why? Last night, I discovered this gem by Langston Hughes and realized how the poem provides an answer in an oblique way:


Folks, I'm telling you,
Birthing is hard
And Dying is mean
So get yourself
Some loving in between.

- Langston Hughes

100 Things To Do Before You Die - Vol. 2

Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans
- John Lennon

Last year I made a List of 100 Things To do Before you Die. Actually, there aren't a 100 things on the list. It is easy to come up with a sexy, catchy title like that, but it's much harder to actually do these things. Over the past year, I have earnestly tried to get to some of the items on the list and it takes a lot more planning, effort and persistence than I initially thought. Mere enthusiasm can take you only so far. Many of the items on the 100 List will take a year each to complete.

One of the things that I have really wanted to do is to complete a marathon. So last year, after finishing the Dexter-Ann Arbor half-marathon I started preparing for the Chicago marathon. My enthusiasm did get better of me. A running style might not matter much for short runs but when you run for more than hour, couple of days a week an improper technique can really hurt you. Mine wasn't right and I had hang up my running shoes and bury marathon hopes late in August. This older and wiser I shall try again.

Among other items, I thought that going through the AFI's Top 100 Movies of All Time would be easy. I checked this morning and I still have 25 movies left and I see how the Pareto principle applies - the last few i.e. older and more obscure movies are going to be difficult to track down. While seeing a movie is an investment of only 2-3 hours, a book takes lot more time but then books are more rewarding. I look at the Guardian reading list and I know that it will probably take a couple of years to complete.

While John Lennon might be right and life is short, having a list has made my life more interesting and I know it will be without any regret.

The Great Liberator

Want to run in the winter? There aren't many options. You can run outside but unless you really enjoy soaking in sweat underneath wollens you have to get special(read:expensive) winter gear. Even then there is always the risk of slipping on the ice. So the sensible and the cheap have no choice but to remain confined to the gym. In the gym the only choices you have are:
1) Run lap after lap around the track till it drives you crazy, or
2) pound the treadmill in a small room till you get soaked with sweat and die of boredom (You can contemplate on the backside of the person on the machine in front of you, but I have yet to come across one that can sustain my attention for > .25 of an hour).

So, I generally prefer the former. In any case, it is settled that running inside is rather boring. But come spring and there are the great outdoors. Just to be outside can be so liberating. The fresh air, the constantly changing scenery, the path along the river, the sound of the twigs on the trail getting crushed. What would I not give to be able to do this all year long?

For me, running outside can also be problematic. I am not sure if I have a serious running addiction, but I do know that I have a measurement fixation. Sometimes I wonder, if I run simply to collect more stats - mileage, average pace, pace for each mile, last lap time, etc. The treadmill might be boring but it's wonderful for anyone who loves exercise stats. Some stats don't make much sense but when they show up on the screen you can't help thinking - Was I burning more calories last mile? What's the elevation?

You can't have everything - scenery and stats if you are not rich enough to buy a Garmin device . In comparison, the simplistic digital watch can only tell you the total time but not how fast or how much. There is an option to run on a marked trial if you really want stats for pace per mile, distance etc., but running on the same trail day after day is like repeating the gym story once again.

That problem has been recently solved. To run, all you now need is a good pair of shoes and the - Google Pedometer. Liberation at last! I can now run wherever I want and still be able to compute most of the stats quite reliably. Of course, this webpage is extremely useful for bikers and walkers too. You might also want to use it to settle long-standing debates with people that your choice of route IS the shortest distance from Point A to Point B. The interface is a bit clunky but freedom always comes at a price.


It's spring and suddenly it feels that Ann Arbor has got a lot more people. It's the first time you get to see some of your neighbours. There is an outdoor BBQ party somewhere on my street on any given day of the week. Though it still gets a little cold in the evenings, people here want to will it away by pretending it's summer. While there is a tendency to guzzle a little more beer and have more junk food in the form of hot-dogs and burgers, there is also a tendency to bike, run and generally be outside more. Why not? Ann Arbor is at its prettiest during these few weeks. Flowers are in blossom, the tulips and other perennials are in bloom. But it rained quite a bit these past few weeks and the rain has taken the blossoms with it. Sad!

Pitt Stop - I

You can't be a grad student and claim to have never spent a wonderful spring evening in lab hunched in front of a computer eating ramen noodles. With conference deadlines looming that's how it goes. The dirty secret is that you do research not to advance science but merely go to new places. In many ways, you don't get much vacation (that you spend entire days in lab surfing the net is besides the point) - conferences ARE your vacations. If you have not got much sleep in the preceeding weeks don't count on getting any during the conference week. The day is for the talks and poster sessions and the nights till the wee hours of the morning are simply for hanging out and schmoozing. Of course, staying awake till 4 am working on a poster feels rather unfair but staying awake till 4 am in the local watering-hole feels great!

This time we ensured we were well-prepared (as well prepared as two Boy Scouts could be) to make sure that this 'vacation' would be a great one. Tim and I hired a station-wagon and packed it with two bikes, a guitar (with a Johnny Cash song-book), a digital camera, a 24-pack of beer, maps, an I-pod, two laptops and books to read in case the speakers were boring. We really felt that we were all set for the weekend workshop/conference in Pittsburgh. Yeah, we almost forgot the poster-tube. It's happened before!
We turned on the radio and On the Road Again was playing. Cool! This was going to be some trip. Thanks to the crazy rain - we were still in Ann Arbor stuck on US 23 S a few minutes into the song. It's a real dampener to embark on a road trip and find yourself 'just a little' south of town 45 minutes later. I look forward to road trips for another reason. It has become a personal rule to eat fast-food on the highway. Why? I don't eat it otherwise and I think that eating it a couple of times a year is good for the soul. Tim advised against ordering the triple-whopper with cheese since it has 2000 calories. Jeez!

Garbage In Garbage Out: How can somebody not enter the destination address correctly? Somehow, I always manage to do it. Of course, we followed the directions meticulously and we found ourselves in Pittsburgh, but downtown Pittsburgh staring into the main office of the Mellon corporation. It was raining and late at night. We had no clue where the hotel was. Tim took a random right and then went straight on led by me saying, "This seems like a good general direction". A few minutes later, we found ourselves miraculously on the very road that the hotel is located - Forbes Avenue. I told Tim, "Dude, what you worried about?" in case he had doubts about the natural GPS that I purport to have in my head.

The first thing I do in a hotel room the moment I check in is look for the remote. I don't have cable so the hotel is where I indulge in one of the top 5 favorite activities of males around the world - channel surfing. It is so empowering to have absolute control. It's great to live a posh lifestyle for a few days. All your meals are cooked for you, the pillows are super-soft and someone ELSE makes your bed! A few bowls of ramen now and then go a long way.

Save Our Blogs Redux

Many moons ago, I posted about this. I repeat myself.

At some point you might want to save the pearls that you cast before swine. The last thing you want is to wake up one morning and find that the blogging service has hijacked your blog and now demands a huge ransom. I am not that paranoid about doing that now that it is owned by Google.Inc but still it is nice to have your blogs. To avoid the pain of doing CTRL+C and CTRL+V over and over again, I wrote a little Perl script to achieve this objective. Hopefully, it will help you and fulfill my long-harbored-but-never-expressed, deep altruistic feelings.

Update: What was I thinking?

I wrote the script more than a year ago and it recently occurred to me that I had replaced one pain with another. Since installing PERL and run it can be a pain for most people, I created a stand-alone executable (for Windows only) of the script. Now you have to simply run the sob.exe program.

Modifications and added functionality to the original script are more than welcome, since right now it has rather limited support.
Save your blog script and .exe