Monday, December 27, 2010

Technorati verification

Apparently technorati takes blog claims seriously. Like insurance agents wanting to make sure the fire wasn't a self-caused arson, they want to make sure I am indeed the author of this blog. I was directed to post this unique code in a post and publish it.


Happy technorati?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

UG Sports - 6: Punday football edition

Freshly back from a weekend trip to Northern California, I am all ready and excited to do a roundup of sorts of today's ever-important football games.

  • Freshly back from a concussion, Packers superman Aaron Rodgers put up mighty fine numbers to send the Giants packing home (except a snowstorm forced them to spend an extra night in the town). Eli Manning now leads the league in total interceptions - a giant problem indeed. Somewhat incredulously, the Giants can still make the playoffs and salvage their ship from sinking in the bay if they win next week and a few others thing happen.

  • Although the New York Jets crash landed today and had to bear a tough loss to Chicago, they easily flew into the playoffs because the Redskins beat the Jaguars. I guess the Jets have a "foot" in the door after all. 

  • With Peyton efficiently manning the reins, the Colts galloped to a victory over the Oakland, which was obviously not prepared to withstand the raid.

  • Meanwhile in the garbage dump NFC West, San Francisco was rammed against the wall by Sam Bradford and company and was eliminated from playoff contention. Their coach Mike Singletary was singled out by the top brass for dismissal as well. 

Some other stuff happened as well (e.g. Brady threw a gazillion passes w/o an interception; his hair joined the fray by throwing a few passes as well.)but I am all punned out for now. Lame. 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happy Immaculate Reception Day

The Pittsburgh Steelers are playing the Carolina "worse than the Bills" Panthers as I write this. Let's take this opportunity to talk about a really memorable playoff game involving the Steelers that took place exactly 38 years ago.

The Steelers played Oakland Raiders in the AFC divisional playoff game.
With only 22 seconds left on the clock, Oakland was leading 7-6. Pittsburgh was at its wit's ends, 4th and 10 on its own 40. In desperation, QB Terry Bradshaw threw the ball to RB Francis Fuqua, but before he could catch it he collided with Raiders' Tatum. The ball deflected due to this collision, and that was it...except not really. Out of nowhere, Pittsburgh RB Franco Harris caught the ball and ran for a touchdown, winning Pittsburgh the game. With that "immaculate reception" (the name is obviously a play on the Catholic dogma of Immaculate Conception), Harris made a place for himself in the hearts of Steelers fans (and on the most wanted list of Raiders fans).

Like any play, this one was enormously controversial. Did the ball touch the ground before Harris picked it up? Did it bounce off Fuqua only? 

Harris is really really important to the city of Pittsburgh, because there is a statue of him making the catch in Pittsburgh airport, right next to a statue of noted founding father George Washington.

When I visited Pittsburgh in September, I took a picture of that statue:

Harris: grinning all the way to the endzone

Here's a youtube clip of that play:

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

(Not)On the road - 9: The Homefront - You. See. El. A

Last installment of the series
Part 7(Harvard, Boston) is here and part 8(WashU, St. Louis) is here.

So as you can see from the title, not really a on the road post. Well technically, I was on the road. For 12 minutes, which is about the time it takes to walk from my apartment to the admissions office at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. That's quite a mouthful. You'd think a guy donating hundreds of millions of dollars to have the naming rights to a medical school would be kind enough to call it by something short and sweet. Like Dreamworks school of medicine.

The medical school, for those not in the know, is located in one of the nicest parts of Los Angeles in an area called Westwood. The famed beaches of Santa Monica and Malibu are not very far, which in LA parlance could mean anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours. Bel-Air hugs one part of the larger UCLA campus, and Beverly Hills is a stone's throw away (if you are Michael Vick). Pretty safe neighborhood and unless you do something incredibly stupid, you can walk around freely even at odd hours of the night. I have done it, with no problems (the waking around, not the doing something stupid, obviously). If you are into that sort of thing, you can spot multiple celebrities from multiple fields. A lot of my friends brag about seeing the Chicago Bulls or Adam Sandler in the gym playing basketball.

Now it is no secret that the med school building is nowhere as fancy as some of the others across the country. It is located in some cramped corridors of the ancient Center for Health Sciences building, sharing space with the dental school. To compensate for this, the spanking new Ronald Reagen UCLA medical center opened up just across the street a couple of years ago.

This much, I knew. What I didn't know was the med school has a first-class top-notch A-grade student lounge that looks like a boring arboretum from the outside. This swank piece of work boasts multiple flat screen TVs, a Wii console and ping-pong tables. Our tour guides touted its exclusivity and its opulence quite a bit during the tour. The library is equipped with an exclusive study lounge as well. The school has the added benefit of being surrounded by multiple research buildings. Keep your friends close, your research closer - as the famous saying goes.

All in all, a damn fine med school.

Anyway, that's the end of the on the road posts. Hope you (and I mean my one and a half readers) enjoyed them. As the looney tunes used to say: That's all folks!

On the Road - 8: Wasssss(h)up!

Second of the final three installments in the series 

Part 7 (Harvard, Boston) is here and part 9 (UCLA) is here.

St. Louis doesn't get much to boast about these days. The city used to be a glamorous, busy hub back in the day, even hosting a World's Fair and the olympics in 1904. But that was then. Nowadays, it is in the news for the wrong reasons, like for being named the most dangerous city in America.

Which is really a shame, because St. Louis is a nice idyllic midwestern city. Absolutely would not mind living here. Plus it has the gateway arch. Can your city boast a giant arch that leads into Illinois? St. Louis is home to Washington University, whose undergrad campus is right next to Forest Park, that is 50% larger than Central park. Take that New Yawk! Someone from my interview group raised the crime question and our gracious tour guides told us that was because the numbers were skewed by East St. Louis, which is actually in Illinois. Oh right, let Illinois take all the blame.

The university and the med school are located in an area called Central West End, which is, by all accounts, a typical college community. The public transportation is pretty easy to use (LA, I am glaring at you yet again) and I had a swell time visiting the city. But I bet y'all (my one and  half readers) want me to skip to the fun part where I visited the arch, right?

Well here you go. Most people don't know you can actually go all the way to the top of the arch and gaze out at the city skyline or, if you so choose, look imperiously over Illinois on the other side. The top is all closed up (obviously) and the windows are tiny, but it is definitely worth the view.

The gateway arch: facing Illinois since 19

They like to tell you exactly how high off the ground you are

St. Louis: standing tall
Now if only the Rams had a better season this year...But one must not be greedy, right?

On the Road - 7: Har-Har(vard) in Bahstun

Due to a proper lack of time last month, I have decided to publish three final installments of the On the Road series today. All the trips I describe here were made in the month of November.

Post #8 (St. Louis) is here and post#9 (UCLA) is here.

I arrived in Boston (or should I say Bahstun?) on a chilly Monday night. I jostled my way through the crowded Logan airport (Hey Boston, mind expanding the restrooms a bit? The lines were Disneyland long, man) to begin the first of three legs of the public transportation-assisted journey that would take me to my gracious host's house. You see, a family friend, who is a first year dental student at Hah-vahd, was kind enough to put me up for the night. All hopes of getting a glimpse of the Charles river ("Charlie") were destroyed, however, when the Silver line bus got a massive influx of people. Thirty five minutes later, I was all aboard the Green line subway, en route to the Red line subway. Which reminds me: why are all these subway and bus lines always named after boring colors? How about the Cyan line? Or the Fuschia line?

My friend lives right across the street from the Medical-dental-public health-pharmacy-Harvard hospitals megasupercampus, so I didn't have to worry about waking up early the next morning and scrambling to get there.

Before  my trip, an acquaintance of mine, a resident physician in SoCal (whom I had run into after a long time on the morning of my flight) had told me to savor my interview and take lots of pics because the main admissions building looks like the White House. And boy was he right. Even the damp morning air couldn't put a damper on it (zing wordplay!):

Clearly, Harvard likes to protect its lawns

At the risk of sounding pedantic, let me describe the area a little bit: the medical school is located (along with a host of other professional schools) in an area of Boston called Longwood. Two major Harvard teaching hospitals are adjacent to the med school (BIDMC and Brigham and Women's), as is the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. If Longwood were a solution, it would be a supersaturated one. Security is pretty tight around here. Every building has a guard at the entrance and it is impossible to get past them without having valid IDs.

The Biomedical library, located right behind the main building, is a pure nerd haven. They had an ongoing display on the life and times of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., famous intellectual from the mid-19th century. (His son was more famous then him for, among other things, supposedly telling an incognito Abraham Lincoln to "duck, stupid" at a charged Civil-war battlefield and for becoming a supreme court justice).

They even had a portrait depicting the first surgery under ether (a crude anesthetic used in the late 19th century):

Quite surprisingly, a few in the audience look positively bored

The crown jewel was this exhibit of Phineas Gage's skull. Gage was a railroad worker who suffered a truly bizarre injury when a steel rod pierced his frontal lobe and came out the other end. Miraculously, he survived, but his personality altered irrevocably.

Phineas Gage's skull: educating Neurosci 101 undergrads for generations
It was only later that I noted a tiny sign at the top left that said: "No pictures." Oops. Sorry Harvard.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Stuck on a problem you can't solve? Try the Feynman algorithm

All of us, at some point or another, have found ourselves stuck while working on a difficult (or not-so difficult) problem. We all have different methods of coping with us. Some of us wallow in self-pity and despair; others bang their heads against the wall. Yet others go drown themselves in beer and Guinness.

Well people, fear not. Cast away your untrained, untested crude methods because I have here a sure-fire approach to problem-solving, patented and endorsed by none other than legendary physicist Richard Feynman .

Dick Feynman was an absolute beast at physics, but it is reputation outside of physics that made him into the larger-than-life figure he is today. Feynman defied the stereotype of the boring, awkward physics professor and exuded charisma and unbeatable energy. He played the bongo drums, enthusiastically took part in student plays at Caltech, cracked safes during the Manhattan project in Los Alamos, and drove around in a van with Feynman diagrams scrawled all over it. Oh and he won the Nobel prize in physics. Pretty damn good, I'd say.

Anyway, here is the time-tested Feynman algorithm you should all use whenever you need help. Just three easy steps:

 1. Write down the problem. Very critical step. If you don't know the problem, how the hell are you going to know what to solve, right?
2. Think really hard. And I mean really really hard.
3. Write down the solution. Voila! You are done! Not too shabby.

Now there used to be a variation of this algorithm that went like this:

1. Write down the problem.

2. Let Dick Feynman solve it.

3. Copy the solution.

Unfortunately since Feyman passed away in 1988, we can't use this anymore.

[The tongue-in-cheek Feynman algorithm was described by fellow Caltech physicist Murray Gell-Mann , a legend and a Nobel laureate in his own right. The Gell-Mann - Feynman rivalry during the 1960's riveted the physics community. It was like the Jersey Shore of their time.]

Here is an example of shenanigans Feynman was known for:

Friday, December 10, 2010

Post-finals euphoria music

Hokey so...finally done with finals (sorry that's the best I can come up with right now). Ten quarters done, two precious ones to go. On my way back from the classroom today, I had his spontaneous urge to start humming AC/DC's Girls got rhythm . Naturally the first I did when I got to my apartment was to flip open my laptop, head straight to youtube and play it.

He starts off so imperiously here too: "I've been around the world..." and that gives the song an irreverent, cocky tone throughout (which, I have no doubt, is precisely what Messrs. Young and Co. had in mind).  Really infectious riff here. And the screeching, rather than being obnoxious, just adds to the magnificent aura of this song. Cheers:

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Sayonara, goodbye and so long

What has two thumbs and just got out of the last o-chem final of its life? This guy! The last organic chemistry class/lab/instructional yada yada of my life. Done. No more. Clearly, a very poignant moment. So poignant, in fact, that I am going to take a break (no literally, I will make a line break here) to symbolize this sublime moment.

Although I like organic chemistry (a lot), I think O-chem labs are a complete waste of time, effort and talent. They are very shoddy, shabby and hilariously dumbed down. Dichloromethane? Oh no no no undergrads you can't use that! DMSO? Too expensive to let klutzy undergrads handle it!

As a result, we don't end up learning anything useful (as opposed to just the o-chem class where there is some good theory to learn). It becomes a chore to do lab reports and I can't even describe how absurd it is to "reference"  your professor's own course reader when writing up a post-lab. We are obviously writing Nature caliber reports here, right?

Our professor was actually a very nice guy (which made the class oh-so slightly tolerable) and was pretty generous in holding office hours, review sessions, and so on. But that's not enough to overcome the mind-numbing drudgery of decoding noisy IR spectra and hustling in line to get to the reactant first. A freakin' rat race in lab every week!

It's not like this is a sour-grapes type post because I am actually pretty good at o-chem and really enjoyed my normal o-chem classes. I am merely allergic to mindless labor that is not going to lead anywhere anytime soon, and writing endless pre-lab reports comes under this category. If this wasn't a requirement for medical school, I would never have taken an o-chem lab. Would I have taken an o-chem class? Yes. It is a lot like calculus and I love me some calculus on a fine day...

Monday, December 6, 2010

That's quite a 'hand'ful

Ever wonder what it is to be a hand model? Worry no more. America's top hand model is here to tell it all:

Quite a "hypnotic" video, eh? I am surprised it got to see the light of the day (har har).

Of course, we Seinfeld fans know exactly what being a hand model entails, don't we? George "Perpetual failure" Constanza's tragically short-lived career is testament to that.

Whacky statistics

It's finals week here so my roommate and I are finding creative ways to deal with the humdrum of studying for exams. Now he is taking a statistics class this quarter, which surprisingly gave him some great ammo for some lame jokes (if you haven't figured it out yet, I am a sucker for lame jokes).

We (mostly he) put our talents to good use and came up with some very outrageous statistical predictions: (Just a fair bit of warning: using these will likely lead to you instantly flunking out of Stats):
  • People who wear sweaters are more likely to fall sick. How so? Well, think about it: when do people wear sweaters the most? Winter. And when do they fall sick the most? Winter. Aha!

  • People who hire lawyers are more likely to go to jail. 

  • People who fly are more likely to get medical school interviews.

  • People who read are more likely to read.

Oh and get ready for the "Game of the century" of the season as the Jets and Patriots clash tonight. 

Friday, December 3, 2010

My winter break project: start a facebook meme

So apparently I am the last person in the whole universe (or the multitude of universes, if Stephen Hawking's theory of multiverses is to be believed) to find out that facebookers are changing their profile pictures to cartoon characters to relieve childhood memories and support the fight against child violence.

Now don't get me wrong. I am wholly against child violence (I mean we all are, right?). But how the hell does copying and pasting this status (and changing your profile picture) help fight against child violence?

Is facebook donating a dollar every time a user changes his/her profile picture to a charity? Are the users joining volunteer shelters? No and no. So the posting of new profile pictures is nothing but a clever meme (not unlike the cryptic breast cancer awareness status updates that crowded facebook a few months ago).

Again, I have nothing against synchronized changes in profile pictures. I actually kinda like looking at some of these cartoon characters because they do indeed remind me of my childhood. But associating it with a cause of some sorts is a cheap shot. It trivializes the cause it is supposedly fighting for.

Take the profile picture change as what it is : a clever meme. Don't try to dilute serious causes by coupling them with superficial events.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Conan is insufferable

I flew JetBlue on my flight back from Boston (I will put up an On the Road post later). This was my first time flying with them, and after that sensational flight attendant from badassville I was curious about what to expect. Let me say JetBlue is great. I not only landed at LAX 25 minutes early, but also got to enjoy free satellite TV on-board.

Saw a few episodes of the Office (which, to my surprise, actually looked better than Season 4, when I abandoned the then-awkward show), the Nanny and a few minutes of Letterman, Leno, and (alas) Conan.

I never understood all the unjustified hoop-la surrounding the golden child Conan. In the whole Leno-Conan-NBC fiasco, everybody coddled him as if he were the lost son of Zeus. Give me a break. The man is staggeringly unfunny. And yet - against my better judgment - I was tempted to check out his new show on TBS.

BIG FREAKING MISTAKE. Horrible, horrible skits. I did not chuckle even once. One word: insufferable. Actually, two words: still insufferable.

Hey Conan, I am gonna find a lawyer to file an Eighth Amendment lawsuit. Cruel, cruel punishment, man.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Economist is so damn funny

If you don't know much about the Economist magazine, it is quite possibly the best source of detailed analysis of major events around the globe. Each issue is densely packed with in-depth articles on a wide-variety of topics.

Basically, it is like Time magazine on horse testosterone.

But of course, it is published from Britain so it has a distinctively British flavour to it. And I am not even talking about the perfunctory differences in spelling and diction. I am talking about some full-blown peculiarities:

Each letter to the editor hilariously begins with  "SIR-". Now I wonder, do readers write like this, or are the editors diligently adding the greeting? Hmm, it would be funny if someone said "SIR - I hated your article on the instability of Nigeria."

What bowled me over, though, was their absolutely snarky and dry captions. Take a look at this one:

No way to cement a relationship

This is taken from their most recent issue (October 30), and the article discusses a fairly boring takeover bid of a construction company in Germany. Look at the caption though!! Get it?

Here is another one: (from an article about France's pension reform)

Bet he wasn't worried about his pension

Just incredible that this stodgy, staid magazine serious enough to append SIRs to the letters to the editor sneaks in little nuggets of humor (or should I say humour). Seriously, who comes up with these things? Do they hire a bloke whose sole job is to churn out sarcastic one-liners to match the article? That would be a pretty cool job IMO.

Those monocle-wearing, tea-sipping, cricket-playing Brits are masters of subtlety, aren't they?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Celeb look alike?

Is it just me or does Jon Hamm look a lot like our newly minted Speaker of the House John "Orange" Boehner?

[Image courtesy: and]

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Facebook friendship pages do more good than harm

Unless you have been living in a cave or have been hibernating, you know by know that uber-network Facebook introduced a new feature called friendship page. Since it is possible that you may have been living in a cave, I will grudgingly describe what this feature is.

It allows users to track their friendship back in time by collecting all wall posts, comments, pictures they shared with their friends in one convenient spot. For example, say I want to explore how Citizen Lafayette and I got started. I would go to his profile page, and click on "Citizen and you". This will take me to a page with a picture of both of us (facebook chooses this picture) that supposedly symbolizes our friendship. On this page, I can see all our wall-to-wall, pictures we are tagged in together, events we have attended together, and status comments we have made on each others' profiles.

Pretty nifty, right? I think so. I like it especially because I met a lot of my close friends in my freshman year. So it is very exciting (and a bit cringe-inducing, to be honest) to go back in time and see some of the very initial posts we made to get to know each other better.

Of course, this can also make facebook stalking a lot lot easier (and perhaps also give it official approval) because now you can track the friendships of other people. Curious how Sally ended up with a guy like Bill? Click away and you will know how klutzy Bill wooed Sally!

But I am a pretty utilitarian guy, and facebook friendship clearly adds more good to the society than bad. And for that, I am proud to affix the OFFICIAL UG SEAL OF APPROVAL on facebook friendship pages. From now on, we will sporadically approve products/concepts we clearly like.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Up in the air, down on the ground - a veteran sure and proud

A while ago, I saw the 2009 film Up in the Air, starring suavemeister George Clooney. It was your typical Clooney film, meaning it was slightly quirky, used a lot of close shots of his improbably perfect stubble, and exploited his prodigious talents in making mundane dialogue somehow seem interesting.

The movie has an interesting plot. Basically, Clooney plays this high-flying executive whose only job is to "consolidate" badly performing firms. If you haven't figures it out yet, it's just a nicer way of saying his job is to fire people. See, the company he works for specializes in this sort of thing (a repo agency for firms, if you will) so anytime a firm is not doing so hot, it will hire Clooney and Co. to come clean up. Clooney is your seasoned veteran: he has a gazillion frequent flyer miles (towards the end of the movie, he gets a special gold-plated card by American Airlines for becoming one of the very few people to accumulate ten million miles), and an equal number of club cards, credit cards, hotel discount cards and so on. Long story short, he has a change of heart, one predictably disastrous love affair, and decides to change his life for good.

The reason I brought up this movie is that lately I have been feeling like a veteran too. I may not have the same number of frequent flier miles that Clooney does, but I have certainly done more than a fair share of flying. Medical school interview sure have familiarized me with a LOT of airports that I would otherwise never have gone to. Since all of my interviews usually end around 4 pm in the afternoon, I end up taking the late evening flight back to LAX. That means I get to my apartment by 11 (on a good day) or midnight (on a mas o menos day).

And let me tell you something: no matter how much I hate the ridiculously long lines, no matter how irritated I get at the byzantine security procedures (I am severely glaring at you American for moronically counting my garment bag as a "third carry-on" bag), I definitely breath a nice, long sigh of joy and relief when I get down the escalator and see the giant pic of our esteemed mayor giving a wholesome grin. Damn it feels good to be back each and every time.

To round this off, here are some interesting tidbits from today:

  • God I had this kid patient once and he had severe foot odor. He had sweaty feet! - overheard at Northwestern med school. 
  •  My faculty interviewer was roommates with noted neurosurgeon Keith Black at the University of Michigan med school. He also partied hard with Magic Johnson when Magic was at Michigan State. Best quote from him: "We needled Keith a lot when he appeared on cover of Time." Medical celebrities!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

On the the Road - 6: On top of the world

Quick post: I am in Chicago again, for another medical school interview - Northwestern(Citizen Lafayette has this theory that there is a collective midwestern conspiracy to lure me here because a majority of my interviews here have been in the area haha).

Staying with a medical student host. He graduated from UCLA, so I picked him solely on that criterion. He lives with two other roommates in an extremely posh high-rise (when I say high, I mean it. This place has 40 floors.) apartment complex. They live on the 36th floor and the view here is absolutely magnificent. Northwestern medical school is in the nicest part of the city, right by the Navy pier and practically right across from the lake.

I love Chicago and the culture here. Now if only it was a bit warmer this time of the year...

Just for gits and shiggles, read this statement:

I am the being which is in such a way that in its being its being is in question

That zinger brought to you by French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, perhaps the only person in history with enough cojones to decline the Nobel Prize.

Happy rollerskates

Today I was having dinner at Chipotle with two friends and this mother and her little son sat down on the table next to us. The boy was probably around 4-5 years old, and he had extremely adorable unruly curly hair. His mother bought him some foodstuff, but he was barely even looking as she noisily opened the brown paper bag full of textured, processed nacho chips.

That's because he was staring intently at a colorful box sitting in front of him. It was adorned with tantalizing pictures of a giant, loopy race track, and it depicted sleek, modernistic cars zipping through the impossible curves of the structure. He tilted his head a little bit and gazed at it in infinite wonder. Irresistible. He looked at his mother, who delicately opened the box as he held on to the edges, perhaps afraid it would crumble.

Out it came - bright yellow pieces of plastic, four tiny cars with microfeatures carved on them. He was smiling now. She assembled the thing, pieces satisfactorily clicking into place. And the 5-year old boy had his first grand prix, right in Westwood in the middle of a bustling restaurant.

But the main reason I wrote this is the toy reminded me, all of a sudden, of this very similar penguin roller coaster I used to own as a kid. Basically, there were these little penguins on tiny wheels that would climb on a motorized escalator, and once at the top they would roll down on a bunch of loops.

(To my incredible surprise, I googled "penguin roller coaster toy" and this amazing video popped up. It shows how this great toy worked)

That little boy made my evening.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Don Draper takes a detour through Sesame Street

Since there are no more episodes of Mad Men left to review (season 5 will presumably return in summer 2011. I say presumably because AMC has not officially renewed it for the 5th season, although Weiner's contract does stipulate another year), enjoy this spoof courtesy of your friendly denizens of Sesame Street:

Couple things I want to mention:

  • Are kids these days so advanced they understand SAT level words like sycophant? 

  • The whole thing seems more for the benefit of adults who are at least aware of what Mad Men is. I can't imagine a 6 year old knowing this is a parody of a TV show.

  • As one commenter on Youtube points out, "Mad, Sad, Glad" would have been better.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Why I love rainy days

It's been raining off and on in LA for the last 10 days or so (it's pretty much the same in Riverside). The days are mostly overcast and it gets very chilly by 6 pm. Goodbye summer dresses, hello hoodies and sweatshirts and (I say this with a lot of distaste) uggs.

People don't realize LA can be like this. They are used to the Los Angeles so deftly exploited and marketed by movies and TV shows and postcards. Sun, rum and fun, eh?

Most don't like this weather. Too dreary and miserable, they say.

I love it.

It rains a lot of India and I remember the fresh smell of the earth, the vibrant green of the leaves and the perfectly spherical drops of rain water slithering down window panes right after a spell of healthy rain. The rain here is a bit different, of course. More reserved and moody, I feel. The clouds seem to hold back: when it rains, it drips. And yet I find this rain irresistible. Rainy days make me contemplative. There is something profound about the gray hue of the sky - like a Beethoven piano sonata or a Hemingway short story.

The soft pitter-patter of rain drops on polyester umbrellas, the slish-slosh of shoes in micropuddles, the slick shiny sheen of the roads - what is there not to love? Absolutely divine.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Do NOT feed the construction workers?

So there is a lot of construction going on around the campus for the past few months. The powers that be decided to demolish our perfectly fine bombshelter (actually it's just a food court designed like a bombshelter. Tour guides and orientation counselors fool gullible freshmen with apocryphal stories about how it doubled as a bombshelter in WW2) and replace with an environmentally friendly student center. This student center is going to feature a rooftop garden (ooh! very fancy of them), and the same restaurants as before.

Anyway, that's just background. Since there is a lot of construction, there are also a lot of warning signs posted around the chain-link fences covering the area. One of them caught my eye:

Should have added "Don't feed the workers" as well

Several things that bother me about this:

  • No foul language: Really?! Have you ever set foot on a college campus? They reek of foul language.
  • No contacts with students: I can hear the perky tour guides saying in stage whisper: "No touching or provoking or eye contact with construction workers." What is this, a freaking zoo? They are not prisoners, you know. 
  • No music: Looks like someone got rejected from Julliard and took it way too personally...

And finally on a completely unrelated note: I enjoyed the Wayne-a-rooni. Way to go Wayne.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Squirrelus Bruinus: here, there, everywhere

I have nothing against animals. I am quite happy to live alongside them in perpetual peace and harmony. They nibble and scurry around in their own little worlds; I do the same in mine. Unlike some people, however, I do not melt like a BaskinRobbins cone in 90 degree heat the moment a furry being (or something resembling one) appears in my field of vision. I am mildly fond of dogs, see cats as furry, devious creatures, and have no use for spheroids like hamsters. I am no animal hater. Just a trifle ho-hum about their beady eyes and soft, warm fur.

I used to think of squirrels in the same abstract terms, until I came to the horrible realization that they are giant, marauding anarchists. 

If you have been around UCLA in any capacity during the last few years, you know exactly what I am talking about. These squirrels are freakishly brazen. They are not intimidated by human presence in the slightest. In fact, many of them systematically gang up on an unsuspecting freshman quietly enjoying his greasy pizza, causing him to flee in alarm. Then these thuggish balls of fur gleefully dismantle the giant slab of cheese and pepperoni. I strongly suspect UCLA is their natural habitat now. I wouldn't be surprised to see, twenty years from now, an enterprising graduate student study these squirrels as a research project.

Now just to make sure you folks don't think I am joking, I am posting a picture I took today of a squirrelus bruinus boldly bouncing around the Court of Sciences. Today was a rainy day too, but that clearly didn't faze this tough guy. Plus, posting this picture also allows me to flaunt the amazing abilities of my brand new iphone.
Aggressively nonchalant

Ice cream, pizza, bread, naan - you name it, they eat it. I have seen these wily creatures tenaciously drag 56%-eaten slices of pizza out of trash cans. That must be at least a month's worth of food. The campus authorities seem to have noticed these problems as well. Food courts now have ominous signs forbidding students to feed these squirrels because (and I am quoting now) "this is not their natural food." If only you had a chance to see these posers gorging on an ice-cream cone at 1 pm on Bruin Walk.

Even pigeons don't like these fellows! Citizen Lafayette and I had the rare privilege of seeing a pigeon chase a particularly obstinate squirrel around the coffee house for over 20 minutes.

These anarchists will not sleep in peace (or more accurately, crack nuts in peace) until they succeed in destroying every semblance of order in our society. There is a specter of anarchy haunting UCLA today. And we must unite!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Goodbye to a great mathematician

A couple days ago, I read that famous mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot passed away. If you are not a math nerd or a math hobbyist, you probably have never heard of him before. If you are, however, interested in the fascinating aspects of weird geometries and crazy sequences, you probably worship the man. He is credited with inventing fractal geometry, a branch of mathematics that deals with fractals. I will try my best to go briefly over them, but forgive me if I am not able to clearly explain the idea.

In my precalculus class in high school, there were some forbidden (i.e. chapters we were not going to cover in the class) chapters at the back of the book. One day, I flipped through some of them just out of curiosity. I felt a lot like Harry Potter stealthily walking around the forbidden forest. One of these forbidden chapters talked about something called fractals. This intrigued me a lot. I knew what fractions were (thanks to my third grade math teacher), but what kind of  a beast was this fractal?

I talked to my math teacher and he was nice enough to let me borrow a DVD on fractals. Fractals are, roughly put, geometrical entities that have infinite complexity at all levels of magnification. No matter how far you zoom into the object, you will keep unraveling more and more layers of complexity. The coastline of Britain is often used as an example of this. From the sky, it looks more or less uniform, but as you get closer and closer to it, you begin to see all the jagged edges, coves, etc. They also have a property called self-similarity, which basically means that small sections of a fractal share shape and other features with the fractal as a whole.This video illustrates both of these properties: (it shows the Mandelbrot set, named in honor of the man.)

Fractal geometry has been successfully used to calculate Cloud dynamics, formation of galaxy clusters and predict market fluctuations. Combined with cutting-edge computer technology, fractals have also been used to create stunning visual effects in movies.

Goodbye sir, and thank you for inspiring and captivating us.

Mad Men season finale: There are no fresh starts! O rly?

Compared to the hyperactive Season 3 finale, where a large contingent of rebels left SC en masse to start the new SCDP, this season finale was a bit underwhelming. I mentioned before that I thought this season's theme was change and specifically how Don makes a genuine effort to bring productive changes in his life. This episode sort of represented the culmination of that theme.

Henry Francis tells Betty, "There are no fresh starts!" But we viewers know better, don't we? We know Don Draper is the sultan of fresh starts. And once again, he proves this right. After spending months as a grovelling, sleazy drunkard, Don is back at the top. An impulsive proposal brought him to the summit. Although I have to say that I thoroughly disliked the Don-Megan marriage. Seemed an awfully close imitation of the Roger-Jane marriage from Season 2. We know Don is impulsive, but this was way over-the-top, even by Don Draper standards. He is just mesmerized by Megan's motherliness and I think he is amazed at how different she is from Betty (see the milkshake scene. Betty would have created a huge ruckus, whereas Megan handled it very coolly and efficiently).Will this marriage survive? Will Megan be relegated to a 38 second scene next season as Jane was? No. Yes. Draper's impulses make him a bad stable spouse. He is no Henry Francis.

Meanwhile, things are going incredibly south for Betty. Despite being free from Don and his shenanigans for a while now, Betty finds it hard to find peace and happiness. Her character didn't get to do much this season, and I think this is the writers' fault. At some point, Weiner and the honchos (meant to be said in the same rhythm as Alvin and the chipmunks) must have decided, "This is it for Betty. We developed her quite a bit over Seasons 1 and 2, now lets just throw her overboard." I found that contrived meeting with Don at the end (where Betty pretended she came back to pick up a box she had forgotten) incredibly sad and pathetic. This is something we would have expected early Season 4 era Don to do. But in this touching scene, Don appeared confident; Betty desperate.

Apart from Don, no other person has evolved so much as Peggy has over the past four seasons. Season 4 Peggy is suave, imposing, creative and most of all, full of possibilities: a mini Don Draper. Someone commented over at Alan Sepinwall's site (an incredible place to discuss the show, BTW: that Peggy's story is almost as fascinating as Don's. If Weiner et al. had focused the show on Peggy, it would be just as absorbing and complex. In this episode, she rescues the firm from ruin singlehandedly by landing the Topaz account. It was great to see her pitch idea after idea to the Topaz folks. Loved the bonding moment with Joan over Draper's ill-advised marriage as well.

Finally, Joan. Turns out she didn't get an abortion after all! I think this represents a fundamental shift in her outlook. She is really hoping to settle down in her life.

Some misc. things:
  • I still don't care for the Sally-Glen subplot. Yawn
  • Greg in Vietnam! 
  • Harry Crane's metamorphosis from a naive fruit loop into a sleazy womanizer. Terrible.
So that's it for now. I guess I will be back doing these next year.
Here is my ranking for the four seasons: 1, 3, 4, 2.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Review of Mad Men: Dawn Drapah's vigah!

To my extremely loyal Mad Men reader/fan base (currently numbering 1): I am sorry I am lagging behind in my reviews of the show. I have to watch the show via alternate means (euphemism for the internet) and with school in session, I don't get as much time to ponder over each episode as I would like to.

With that in mind, I will keep this short.

This was the penultimate episode of Season 4, and I think it was one of the strongest episodes of this season (right after the Don/Peggy duet). After a few lackluster episodes in the recent weeks, this was a mighty relief.

I am now convinced the main theme of Season 4 is change. Specifically, Don's quest to make significant changes in his life. And so it was ironic when Midge (a refreshing blast from the past, I might add) says, "You haven't changed, Don." How little she knows...

Don's full-page ad in the New York Times (a pretty gutsy albeit selfish move) shows a marked change in his outlook. Earlier in the season, he chewed Peggy out for orchestrating a catfight in a grocery store to attract sales for Ham. Now, as Peggy so adroitly reminds him, he does the exact same thing. His partners accuse him of trying to garner undue attention and humiliate/insult them, and I think I partially agree. By signing his name on the ad, Don pretty much makes a bold statement that he IS the agency.

His interaction with Midge also illustrates how much he has changed. Whereas a circa Season 2 Don would have gladly jumped in bed with her, Season 4 Don knows how disastrous that can be, and genuinely tries to stay away from her. Throughout the season, we have seen Don ask people to restrict him (e.g.: he tells Megan to make him stop at three drinks) and it's nice to see that he is finally paying due respect to self-control and discipline.

Even though the Betty-Sally-creepy Glen (who BTW is creator Matt Weiner's son. Talk about typecasting your own son) storyline did not appeal to me in the slightest, I liked this episode overall.

Finally, this was a episode full of many little memorable moments:

  • Don-Pete "bro" nod after Pete finds out Don bailed him out
  • Peggy and the rest of the minions desperately to eavesdrop on the partners
  • The absolutely hilarious Robert Kennedy prank call (and the inspiration for this post's title)
  • "Mr. Crane! OUT!"
Can't wait for the season finale. 

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Make way for the freakmobile

If you live and drive around Los Angeles, you know the drivers here are crazy. On a given day, you will hear on average three honks, ten ear-shattering screeches and five-and-half Justin Bieber songs during a block-long stretch.

Just the other day, my friend got rear-ended on the relatively sedate streets of Westwood. It was night time, and thankfully traffic was light. No one got hurt and her car got a few scratches. The offender actually seemed quite eager to placate. He repeatedly assured her that he was a nice guy and that he never got into crashes like this (yeah, who goes around bragging about their crash exploits anyway?). They went through the routine accident protocol: exchange insurance info, phone numbers, took pictures etc. So far so good, right? Left. My friend told me today he is not returning her messages, nor is his insurance information correct. Oy vey. It's an absolute jungle out there.

Ok so that was all background info. Brace yourselves for a shocking piece of news. Our beloved benevolent behemoth Google is involved in a giant conspiracy to keep roads in Southern California in a perpetual state of anarchy!

At least that's what I gleaned from this article:
Google is testing cars that drive themselves .

Can you believe it? Sure we have phones that dial themselves (ever hear the phrases "butt dialing" or "pocket dialing"?) and contraptions that dry our hands for us. Or internet sites that foist musical choices onto us (hint: one of them starts with a P and rhymes with "andora"). But cars that drive themselves? Too much, Google, too much. The 405 is a hellhole as it is; we don't need freakmobiles to rack up those sig alerts.

Driving is one thing we Angelenos (not my choice of moniker - I prefer Angelicans) derive much of our sense of self-worth from. Taking that away is like giving a set of dentures to a doberman.

Oh and Stanford: better not cut it this close next time. As for UCLA, it was good till it lasted, wasn't it?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The new aristocracy

Sorry I was AWL for a while there (Away With Leave - it is my blog after all and I don't need leave to leave. Zing!). It was a busy week for me, but things are settling down for now.

Yes folks, it is that time of the year again. A bunch of dignified, boring looking people in black robes will huddle up in an elegant closed room and debate...wait, that's the supreme court. Sorry let me try again. A bunch of dignified, boring looking people will huddle up in an elegant closed room in Sweden (motto: not Norway) to decide the winners of the Nobel prize.

Alfred "dynamite" Nobel bequeathed an enormous sum of money to reward hard-working scientists after he felt enormous remorse at having invented dynamite. So every year the committee sits down and awards prizes in five categories: Physiology or Medicine, Physics, Chemistry, Literature, and Peace. The Nobel prize in economics is a very slight misnomer because it was never specified in Nobel's original will, but was established later by another Swedish dude in memory of Alfred Nobel.

Being a nerd entitles me to obsess over the history and peculiarities of the Nobel prize, and I have proudly done so over the years. Let me share a few today.

  • Like Herbert Hoover's reputation, the Nobel pot has appreciated in value. It is worth some $1.5 million today. Or, roughly what Charlie Sheen makes per episode of Two and a Half Men.
  • Unlike the Oscars (see: Ledger, Heath), the Nobel is never awarded posthumously. As my friend (and roommate) JPA recently said, "Two rules to win a Nobel: Say something controversial and Don't die."
  • The prize cannot be split between more than three people, but the rules of splitting are weird. Some times, one person gets half of the prize money while other two get a quarter of it. A little insulting.

For some (not us), the Nobel is a family affair.

  • William Bragg and Lawrence Bragg are the only father-son duo to share a Nobel Prize. They won in 1915 for their work on X-Ray crystallography. Only 25 at the time, L. Bragg is also the youngest to win the prize. 
  • Niels Bohr, that colossus of early 20th century physics won the prize in 1922. His son Aage matched the old man by winning it in 1975 for his work on refining the model of the nucleus.
  • Arthur Kornberg won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1959 for discovering DNA Polymerase I. His son Roger won the Chemistry one in 2006 for solving the crystal structure of RNA Polymerase.
All of that pales in comparison to the mercurial Curie family. This superfamily produced three Nobels in all:
  • Marie Curie shared the Physics Nobel in 1903 with her husband Pierre for their work on radiation. She won the 1911 prize in Chemistry for discovering Radium and Polonium. 
  • Pierre and Marie must have done a great job raising their kids because their daughter Irene shared the Nobel in Chemistry with her husband Frederic in 1935 for their work on artificial radioactivity.
ABC take note: this is the real No Ordinary Family.

Winning one Nobel is hard. Winning two is near impossible. And yet there have been several two-peats:

  • Linus Pauling: Pauling virtually created modern chemistry by working on a quantum mechanical model of molecular bond formation and was rightfully awarded the Chemistry prize in 1954. His Peace Nobel (for his work on nuclear nonproliferation) was a bit dubious, in my opinion. Then again, Peace prizes have always been marred by bizarre political overtones. (see: Kissinger, Henry for bringing "lasting peace in Vietnam" and Obama, Barack)
  • As noted above, Marie Curie won it twice.
  • Frederick Sanger: Sanger is the Kobe Bryant of Chemistry. He won it twice, in 1958 and 1980, for his work on protein synthesis and DNA sequencing, respectively.
  • John Bardeen: The Jimmy Neutron, if you will. Bardeen won the Physics prize twice: Transistors (1956), and Superconductivity (1972). Thank him for your ipods and 5 TB harddrives and iFancyMacs.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Yabba Dabba Doo

September 30, 1960 was a groundbreaking day in animated television history.

On this day, the Flinstones premiered on ABC and in many ways, revamped the television landscape. Yeah those were the good old days when networks didn't have to resort to gimmicky ad campaigns (I am looking at you "The Event" with a misplaced E!) or outrageous plot devices ("Lost").

Flintstones was created by legendary creative duo William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, the wizards behind such beloved and memorable characters like Tom & Jerry, Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, Johnny Quest, Smurfs, Jetsons, Yogi Bear and so on and on and on.

The show made history right from the beginning. It was the first TV show ever to show a married couple (Fred and Wilma) in bed together. It was also the first animated series to be nominated for a primetime comedy Emmy. Not until 2009 (when Family Guy was nominated for a comedy Emmy) was another animated show nominated in a non-animation category.

The tremendous success of Flintstones inspired Hanna-Barbera to create the Jetsons. Whereas Flintstones was set in the stone age, the Jetsons was set in a highly futuristic age, an era replete with fashionable personalized space-cars, robotic maids and escalator-equipped houses.

The formula employed by the Flintstones was hardly unique. It was your typical suburban family tale with its typical suburban problems. What made it unique was its clever incorporation of themes that made it appealing to viewers of all ages. On the one hand, you have these episodes where Fred is forced to make difficult choices, his obligatory personal angel and demon goading him in opposite directions. Clearly, these scenarios were written to appeal to kids- to make them more moral and principled. On the other hand, the show touched upon issues like jealousy and workplace blues, which appealed to the adult crowd as well. Betty and Barney are often jealous of Fred and Wilma, and Fred often has to swallow the proverbial bitter pill when ordered to something unsavory by his boss at the Bedrock Quarry. Of course, it was always a pleasure to see Bam-Bam. And those feet-propelled cars. Great stuff. And who can forget poor Fred, locked out of his own house by his devilish cat (BTW, yet another proof that cats are devious engines of mischief).

Happily, Flintstones' charm still lingers on. I mean here I am, writing about a TV show I grew up watching on the Cartoon Network. Despite being a product of the 60's, it still resonates with us. Shows like Full House, Modern Family and Everybody Loves Raymond took many elements from the Flintstones. Walk into your neighborhood grocery store and you will find Pebbles cereal. The show even led to a full-fledged movie starring oft-married Elizabeth Taylor among others.

It's nice to see Google paying a homage to this wonderful wonderful show via its doodle .

So on September 30, wherever you are, whatever you happen to be drinking (wine, beer, champagne, rye, water, kool-aid, blood - just kidding about the last part), take time to raise your glass, chalice, cup, bottle, jar, pitcher or skull in honor of a show that truly exemplifies the concept of genius.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Plumbing issues

It is never a good sign when the maintenance honchos walk into your bathroom, look at the clogged bathtub and immediately call for help, because the problem "is too serious". Apparently, this is a system-wide problem and some "main line" is clogged up.

Currently, our sink has been thoroughly dismantled and the bathroom resembles a war zone. Burly guys in combat shoes are walking in and out with very fancy plumbing equipment. Remarkably, some of the equipment is similar to the instruments used in medicine. There was this clog-removal tool that worked and looked very much like a clot-removal device used by neurologists to treat stroke patients. The basic concept is the same: there is a retractable shaft (catheter in the case of medical tool) with a coil attached at the front. If sufficient force is applied via the shaft (or catheter), the coil can dislodge the clog (or clot), clearing the obstruction, thus allowing for a smooth flow of water (or blood). Pretty impressive.

If my roommate or I bump into you folks tomorrow in a distinctly shower-deprived state, you know what to blame.

On the Road - 5: Niceville

If Nashville were to play the role of superspy James Bond, it would perhaps itself like this: "Name's ville. Niceville." And order drinks thus: "One martini. Shaken, not stirred. Please."

People often say the south is a completely different place - almost like its own country. It doesn't take long to notice the difference. Nashvilleans are outrageously polite. So polite they almost me feel guilty.

Am I being nice enough? Is my smile wide enough? 2 millimeters more, perhaps?

I got a lot of honeys and sweethearts from elderly female cashiers and clerks. And it was 94 degrees outside! Nothing seems to faze these bubbling cauldrons of joy.

With a population of about 650,000 (1.5 million if you count the surrounding areas), Nashiville is the second biggest city in Tennessee. It enjoys prominence owing to its status as the state's capital as well as its reputation of brewing country music superstars. Music city, USA, as Nashville is often called, is home to the country music hall of fame, and boasts having an entire area devoted to recording studios. Nashville makes it obvious that it takes music seriously. Get this: the airport features a live band! The musicians kept playing merrily as amused travelers (like this blogger) walked by.

LA: meet your country music counterpart.

Nashville is also home to Opryland, the largest non-casino hotel. And here I thought the frat across the street from my apartment owned that dubious record. Speaking of dubious, the Tennessee Titans and NHL non-powerhouse Predators play in Nashville as well.

Vanderbilt University is the major research university in the city. How do we know it is important? Why of course because it has been called the "Harvard of the south". I wonder how the fine folks at Harvard would feel if their institution was called the "Vanderbilt of New England."

Vanderbilt, or Vandy, was founded by legendary shipping and railroad mogul Cornelius Vanderbilt in March 1873. Good ol' Cornelius was born in a solidly Dutch family in New York and worked his way (the good ol' American way) to become an immensely rich and influential figure in the country's history. He operated steam ferries around the New York area, eventually branching out to ocean lines as well. His shipping prowess earned him the nickname "Commodore." Beginning in the 1850's, he began investing in railroads, adding considerable amount of wealth to his already large fortune. When the civil war erupted, he donated his flagship Vanderbilt to the Union navy.

Think this is all boring history? Well, here is something interesting: fashion empress Gloria Vanderbilt is one of his descendants, and so is CNN News honcho Anderson Cooper (Gloria V's son). Tycoonery seems to run in the family.

Vanderbilt University takes its historical roots seriously. A giant statue of the Commodore greets visitors at the front entrance. Even the school's mascot is called the Commodore. No Falcons or Wildcats for these folks.

The Commodore, standing tall and proud

The campus extremely scenic, full of lush lawns, intriguing modernist sculptures and quaint 19th century styled academic halls. Walking around the campus felt like walking in a cherry orchard (zing! Chekhov reference). Definitely the most scenic campus I have visited.

Various sculptures seen around the campus
The VUMC (Vanderbilt University Medical Center) is quite extensive and has a VA, a Children's Hospital and a host of research buildings. You know the Children's Hospital is good because they have a giant, intricately designed model train set for kids (and their parents) to play with.

For the kids and the kid within you

 Lastly, the student newspaper is called the Hustler. Yeah you read that right. No banal names like Herald or Tribune for these Commodores. Vandy's finest get their news from the Hustler. Pretty badass. The hustling commodores. (name coined by my friend RPN)

I certainly loved Nashville a lot. It's cheap (many students choose to buy condos) and despite being a big city, it is mercifully free from the accompanying traffic troubles. Although I didn't get a chance to taste it, I can always train myself to like grits.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Mad Men - "Hands and Knees" : Men down

I will be honest here. Didn't like this episode that much. I hate it when shows like Mad Men resort to the pregnancy plot device. It was sort of OK when they did that with Peggy in Season 1/Season 2, but to do it again with Joan?! I expected better from the creative gurus on this one.

I didn't have enough time to do a post on last week's episode, but I enjoyed that episode a lot. For a show set in the 60's, Mad Men has been very coy about tackling the social and political upheaval of the times directly (with a few exceptions. See: Nixon v. Kennedy, JFK assassination, and Liston v. Ali fight). So it was refreshing to see last week's episode tackle civil rights issue and women's rights issue as well. All three of the strongest female characters on the show (Peggy, Joan and Dr. Miller) realize they are missing something in their lives (either due to personal choices or society's restrictions) towards the end of the episode. Honorable mention goes to Sally, who tries valiantly to escape her mother's house to stay with her father. Like the grown-up trio, she too realizes at the end that she can't always get what she wants (zing! I worked in a Rolling Stones reference). Miss Blankenship's death provided the same black humor that the lawnmower incident did in Season 3.

With that out of the way, on to Sunday's episode. Seems like this was the male version of last week's episode. Don, Lane, Roger and Pete all end up devastated when they are confronted with terrible situations. Don goes into uber-panic mode when he realizes he inadvertently applied for a security clearance from the DoD when his firm chose to work with North American Aviation. He is a deserter from the Korean War, a man who stole a dead lieutenant's identity so he has solid reasons to be afraid of the government finding out about his sordid past.

Roger finds out from a callous Lee Jr. that Lucky Strike, the client that keeps SCDP afloat, has decided to pull out. Both men inherited their respective businesses, and seems like both are gettint irrelevant now. Roger also has to deal with the shocking news that he got Joan pregnant when they went out for dinner.

A side note here: like the Peggy pregnancy plot line, Weiner was coy with one also. We see Joan at the abortion clinic, but we never actually see her going in or coming out with an abortion.

Lane Pryce. Oh Lane, I feel for thee. A fully grown-up man like him getting brutally whacked on the forehead by his father's mean-looking walking cane and being forced to call his father "sir" - very very poignant. Sure he made a mess of things in the U S of A, but for him to bow down (literally) to his father's orders was just a shocker. I guess that explains his obsequiousness from Season 3.

In many ways, Pete Campbell acted as the adult in this episode, which is something of a rarity for this character. He handled the Don issue quite effectively and went as far as to take the whole blame of ditching NAA on himself. His rant about how dishonest people leave everyone around them in tatters was pretty impressive as well.

But like I said, didn't enjoy this that much. Too disjointed, lumpy and out-of-character moments in this episode. The creative cabal rushed us through very many pivotal moments in one single episode (Joan is pregnant! SCDP is on the brink of ruin! Don may be outed! Lane is heading back! Don and Faye might break up now!). The Season 3 finale rushed us through many developments as well, but that one was crafted masterfully. This one reeked of clumsiness.

Some random things I liked:
  • Sally's reaction when she found out Don was taking her to see the Beatles!
  • Don's "You're not a real doctor" to Faye (who has a PhD) in the middle of his panic attack when she tried to help
  • Betty not being portrayed the monster, for once
  • Roger's fury unleashed

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The grand to-do list

I have been doing a lot of thinking lately (you should try it too - it's good for your health). I dusted off the cobwebs, oiled the creaky rusty brain and put it to work. And I realized that despite being in LA for the last three years, there are quite a few things I haven't had a chance to do. I have one more year before I graduate and leave the bubble, so here is a list of things I would like to do/accomplish before the year is over.

If I was Jay Leno (or David Letterman, pick your poison), now would be the time for the terrible in-house band to play some dramatic music and do a drum roll.

1. Get into a medical school. If that doesn't work out, the next best thing is getting a PhD in Computer Science.

2. Visit the USC campus. Everyone makes such a big deal out of the crosstown rivalry and I have never once visited the Trojan campus. Would be nice to do that.

3. Visit the Hollywood sign. You know the sign that every movie and TV show set in LA tries to get panoramic shots of? Yeah apparently you can hike up to that.

4. Attend a concert at Hollywood bowl. I have been to the LA Opera (cheap student tickets and an alert friend), but haven't been to the Bowl yet. It's quite expensive from what I've heard, but so is regret.

5. Spot a celebrity. Almost four years and one-and-a-half sightings (James Franco in Starbucks, Magic Johnson from across the street. Couple friends tried getting his attention, but he ignored them and drove away). Not enough, obviously. People reported seeing entities like Adam Sandler, Rajon Rondo, and a string of E and F-listers. I will make this happen this year, even if it means staking someone out and making them get a restraining order (I am looking at you Kim Kardashian. Nah just joking)

6. Publish a short story. Yeah it sucks that no one reads the pages and pages of stuff I write. But this year I am seriously going to try and get something published in the Westwind (the college literary magazine). Maybe I too will get discovered a la Justin "Look at my bangs" Bieber. 

Short list, but I am not too demanding.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

On the Road - 4: Pittsburgh (Putting the 'It's' in It's Happening)

Pittsburgh, PA: The erstwhile steel capital of America. Andrew Carnegie's backlot, his sandbox. But that was then. When most people (including me) think of Pittsburgh today, they probably think it is a dump - a dying old steel town that outlived its usefulness, and is past its prime.

Imagine my shock when I looked outside my tiny AmericanEagle airplane (3 seats a row, a plane so tiny even reasonably tall people have to crouch to walk through the aisle), I saw thick plumes of lush green trees, a neat and dazzling array of skyscrapers surrounded by spectacular bridges over wide rivers. No surprise, then, that Pittsburgh was named the most livable city in America .

Pittsburgh, PA. []
The city of bridges has experienced a rebirth, and it is all the bit better for it. Everyone I talked to was immensely proud of Pitt's beauty and acted playfully offended when I expressed my surprise at finding the city so pleasant.

I stayed in a neighborhood called ShadySide, about 2 miles from University of Pittsburgh (which is located in an area called Oakland), in a nice little hotel called ShadySide Inn (a converted apartment building, where 50's era radiators are anachronistically juxtaposed next to flat screen TVs). The hotel is so nice that the manager mails signed thank-you notes to guests.

I took it as another mark of the city's confidence that it chooses to call one of its swankiest locales Shadyside.

Oakland is a very vibrant area, owing to the presence of two major research universities: University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. The two campuses are so enmeshed that buildings from both campuses are often located right next to each other. To avoid confusing freshmen, they label each building's name with the name of the school.

U Pitt, because of its medical school and its associated medical center, is a more forceful presence. Like in Ann Arbor, where Mich dominated the city, UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center) pretty much dominates the area. UPMC operates about 25 hospitals in and around Pittsburgh, making it the largest health system in the United States. Last year, the system generated about $8 billion in revenues, which gives you a sense of the extent of its multifaceted operations.

U Pitt is also, by far, the older of the two institutions. It was founded in 1787, when none of us were alive.

University of Pittsburgh: founded before you, your mother, your grandmother and your great-grandmother were alive

You can tell U Pitt values education by the fact that they have a humongous Cathedral of learning (I can hear Citizen Lafayette salivating at this factoid) right in the middle of campus. Magnificent and imposing at 535 feet, the cathedral is the fourth-largest educational building in the world, as my friend Wikipedia informs me (second, if you go by the tour guides at Pitt School of Medicine). The building is open 24/7, and its 42 floors house many classrooms and a quiet study room. I took a peek inside and the architecture is just so intricate and awe-inspiring.
The Cathedral of learning: bigger than ANYTHING on your college campus

People here were tactful enough not to mention the harsh winters (last winter's snowstorms virtually crippled the whole city. People reportedly skied down the hilly streets around the Med school.) Regardless, Pittsburgh is a very beautiful city.

Spread the word. Correct the misconception. Squash the rumors.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Benedict on Faith and Reason

I often drone on and on (ask my roommates!) about how there is no dichotomy between faith and reason. At least, not from the Catholic end. Pope Benedict XVI says it much better than I ever could in his speech at Westminster. I encourage everyone to read the full text and watch the video (Part 1, starts at 2:42, and Part 2). Here is the central thrust:
The central question at issue, then, is this: where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found? The Catholic tradition maintains that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to reason, prescinding from the content of revelation.
According to this understanding, the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms, as if they could not be known by non-believers – still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion – but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

On the Road - 3: Comrade Bazarov's day(s) off

I decided to combine my Chicago outings into one post.
My cousins here graciously took me out to the city on Saturday and kept me well-fed throughout the day. They even pretended to be tourists and took me to the "touristy" places. I had been to Chicago before (about 8 years ago) so it was nice to visit the city again and refresh my memory.

The first place we visited was the Giant Bean. There is nothing much I can say about it except that it is a bean and it is giant. My friend from Northwestern University informed me today that the structure's official name is the Cloud Gate. But no one calls it that. So we will call it the Giant Bean as well. Situated in the middle of the Millennium Park, the Giant Bean has a very shiny mirror-like metallic surface that reflects the city's famous skyline, providing excellent photo-ops for tourists. Wikipedia tells me the architect Anish Kapoor was inspired by the characteristic liquid shine of Mercury. My friend told me the reflective nature of the Giant Bean caused some considerable controversy a couple of years ago, when the designers of many Chicago skyscrapers filed a lawsuit alleging their copyrights were being violated when tourists snapped pictures of the city's skyline in the Giant Bean and freely distributed these snapshots online. Thankfully common sense prevailed, and a judge threw the case out.

The Giant Bean in its full glory [image:]

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Mad Men 'The Summer Man': A cliche-fest

"He's a handsome two-bit gangster like you" - Dr. Faye Miller describing her dad to Don Draper.

I don't have much time (and it's kind of late here in Pittsburgh), so I will keep this review of tonight's Mad Men short.

After last week's episode, where the writing and acting were phenomenal, this one was a huge letdown for me. Riddled with cliches and non sequiturs, this one didn't seem to go anywhere. And I understand that with shows like Mad Men not every episode will advance the plot (if Mad Men can be said to have a plot in the conventional sense) significantly, but this one was just were gauzy and detached, floating somewhere in the ether, much like that episode where Don visited California in the previous season and hung out with a bunch of weird wealthy Europeans.

It seems that Don has finally decided to change. He stays away from the usual morning drink, resists taking Dr. Miller to his apartment after that date (and what a date it was, with the elaborate game both of them played - Dr. Miller strongly hinting her dad is connected to the Mafia somehow and cleverly sequestering Don's coat), and finally reminds himself to play the responsible father.

But the diary writing? Blah. Don's diary is full of cheesy one-liners. "I should've finished high school." Is this the creative genius Don Draper behind such legendary ad campaigns as Glo-Coat and Kodak? Even James Patterson writes better than that. Heck, even Roger's supposed memoir (horribly titled Sterling Gold) sounds better than this tripe.

The Peggy-Joan subplot didn't really work for me either. I know the show was trying to touch on the serious problem of workplace sexual harassment, but Mad Men has been a bit heavy-handed from the beginning, and I thought they handled this clumsily by making this a Peggy-Joan turf war.

To end a cliche-infested episode, the writers used another cliche: Aesop's well-known fable about the contest between the wind and sun about who can get a man to take off his coat sooner.

Some cool things I liked in this episode:
  • Very nice use of The Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" in the beginning!
  • Joan reprimands the troublemakers (who are making a terrible ruckus by banging the vending machine) by asking them to call the customer service line to get help from adults. Pete Campbell chooses that exact moment to poke his head in to investigate the source of all the noise, which is very ironic. Much has been said (on Mad Men analysis blogs) about Pete Campbell's child-like psyche.
  • "Go S**t in the ocean!" - such a piercing insult.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

On the Road - 2: The case of the missing H

Come gather around people for another exciting travelogue. I spent 2 days in Ann "Where is the H" Arbor, Michigan and am now back in Chicago.

Yes I know Ann Arbor is not a harbor and nor is it near a large body of water. Still, it's unsettling to find a city with a name like that. Wikipedia has some interesting theories about this. One theory states that the city, founded in 1824, is named after founder John Allen's wife Ann. Apparently, Ann was fond of grape trees and since the word arbor means tree, the city was christened Ann's Arbor, later shortened to Ann Arbor.
Ann Arbor, MI. [courtesy of]

Ann Arbor, located about 20 miles west of Detroit, is a pleasant little city. The first thing you notice is people in Michigan seem to be living in the future! Three full hours in the future, in fact. Very intimidating for someone traveling from the west coast. Once you get used to that, the next thing that jumps out at you is the astronomical number of dead raccoons. In a span of five minutes, I counted about 8 dead raccoons strewn around on the side of the roads, their innards exposed to the open. Sorry if that is a bit graphic, but it was quite jarring to see these very dead raccoons on the roads.

In Michigan, they have something called an "unpaved road", a curious artifact for someone used to eight-lane freeways clogged up with endless stream of cars. A lot of trees (gotta live up to the name, ya know?) in and around the city - living in LA makes one forget what trees look like.

The weather was pleasant for both days I was there and people there seemed excited for fall. "Believe it or not, we get all four seasons here, unlike you Californians", quipped one person I talked to. The same wit (when someone asked about the severity of the winters said) sneered, "There is no such thing as too cold, only weak people. Get a coat and pair of gloves and get used to it."

The University of Michigan (who incidentally beat bitter rival Notre Dame in a very tense and exciting football game today) is the single biggest entity in Ann Arbor and occupies several hundred acres of property throughout the city in the form of hospitals, research buildings, and an assortment of school buildings. You can see their distinctive yellow block M everywhere.

What else? Well, Ann Arbor is sister cities with places like Dakar (Senegal), Hikone (Japan) and Peterborough (Canadia). Ann Arbor is also the headquarters of Borders. But most importantly, more than half of the population of Ann Arbor is single. The city was named one of the most livable places in America by Yahoo! and Forbes.

With its natural beauty, quiet streets, neat neighborhoods and invigorating weather, I can see why. A good trip into the upper midwest. Nice to get away from the west coast.

If I get time tomorrow, I will do a post about my day in Chicago (my cousins graciously showed me around and fed me good food). Oh and I hear someone named Snooki is in some trouble. With a (nick)name like that, I am not surprised.