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.