Monthly Archives: November 2007

Roll the Dice to See if I’m Rocking Out

As others have noted, Rockband isn’t truly meant to be played alone. When you’re doing a solo singing tour, it can be a bit of a chore. And singing karaoke isn’t quite as fun without the social awkwardness. So you will be pleased to know that my new band “Nonisothermal Domination” has started their world tour and may soon be coming to a city near you.

Rockband becomes something different when you have two or three friends over playing with you. The experience feels like a simplified role playing game. You and your party members are assuming the roles of musicians. It has classes (drums, mic, guitar, and bass), levels/dungeons (gigs), experience points and gold (fans/stars and cash), inventory management (purchasing outfits and changing your character’s appearance), NPCs (managers and roadies), death/rebirth (failure and being saved), and even special abilities that are slightly different for the different classes (overdrive modes). When I play Rockband alone, I feel like I’m sitting at home reading the D&D Player Character guide to learn the mechanics, rather than playing the actual game with friends. Having people in the room with me makes it feel like we’re going on an adventure together.

Besides the somewhat stretched analogy to a game from my past, Rockband is just really fun an intuitive. Not to mention that I laugh out loud whenever I see someone play the drums. After Bads played at my house yesterday, he told me that it was an “ultimate gaming moment” when he saw the first drum fill section of his first song and knew what to do without anyone explaining it. I completely agree.

Of course, if anyone in the band hears about this D&D to Rockband analogy, they’ll probably kick me out and stick the paparazzi on me, so let’s keep this between us.


Posted by on November 30, 2007 in Entertainment


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Neale Donald Walsch put up a nice Thanksgiving post suggesting that we should use this holiday to be thankful for what is going to happen rather than what has happened. I’m a sucker for positive psychology, so I have decided to declare here what I will be thankful for over the next twelve months:

  • My mother’s health (a cancer survivor)
  • My brother’s recovery (a republican)
  • A consistent running schedule over the winter
  • Rockband
  • The foresight to maintain my health, and the resilience to come back quickly when I am sick
  • The Teeth in the Darkness, and the Talons in the Night
  • Two publications in scientific journals
  • Patience with anger, peace with hostility
  • The eloquence to explain my opinions to others, and the self-confidence to agree to disagree
  • Sticktoitivness in all my endeavors (particularly in my research, my running, and my XBOX 360 achievements)
  • The dark nectar
  • A judicious and thoughtful choice of allies
  • Refreshing sleep and quick awakenings
  • My friends and my fathers

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving.

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Posted by on November 26, 2007 in Garbage In, Garbage Out


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Hill Work is Hard Work

The final race of the XC season took place Sunday. It was a gorgeous 8K at a local community college. I knew ahead of time that this would be a tough one. Since I injured my ankle earlier this season, I haven’t done a single run longer than 4.5 miles. An 8K is just under 5 miles, so I was under-prepared by definition.To my surprise and despair, it was not the distance that wrecked me so much as the humongous hill in the 4th mile of the course. I’ve been selectively avoiding hills all season, since that’s the one activity that still messes with my achilles. Luckily none of the previous XC races held significant hills, and my lack of hill training didn’t affect me too much. Sunday my luck ran out.

Since this was the championship race, I did not have the luxury of running with my most evenly-matched demographics, the masters and veteran men, who were split into a separate race. For this reason, the pack thinned quite early. Still, I felt strong in the 3rd mile, and even passed three people. Once we reached the huge hill in the 4th mile, I attacked it and managed to pass two more. But once I hit the first plateau I was destroyed. I wrote recently about angels and demons that speak to us while we race. There was none of that when I got to the top of this hill. Both the angels and demons were all dead, and all my mind could do was process the pain I felt. If you’ve ever struggled up a hill in an XC race you probably know what I mean – hills hurt in a different way from the rest of the race, and it’s scary if you’re not used to it. I spent the next half-mile chugging gradually uphill at a barely perceptible pace Finally at the 4-mile marker I seemed to remember “Oh – I’m in a race!” and pick it up until I reached the finish. I put on a strong kick and finished happily.

Since I had so much time off this season I’m going to turn instantly to training for indoors. I’m trying to commit to running consistently this winter, and that starts with a consistent basis built through the rest of 2007.

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Posted by on November 20, 2007 in No Easy Days


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Beowulf Would Have Done Well In Sparta

Beowulf was entertaining, and I think I benefited from never having read the original, since that prevented me from being disgusted by any liberties Hollywood may have taken with the plot.  I did not, however, know ahead of time that the movie is animated (in the style of Polar Express), and that caught me off guard (does this count as a spoiler?).

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Posted by on November 19, 2007 in Entertainment



Blog wth Confidence

Today is the anniversary of my first post at Halfawake, which reminds me that it’s currently Confidence Week. My loudest shirts are all lined up and I’m preparing to tell a bunch of people off (in a kind, well-adjusted way, of course). Should be fun.

I’ve been thinking about why I started this blog, and where it’s going. If I remember, the original motivation was to practice getting my thoughts out. I try to follow the life advice of my friend Bads – “strike while the iron is hot”. If I see something or think about something that’s important to me, I record it here, and that helps me file it away mentally rather than throwing it into my cerebral incinerator. I don’t necessarily expect to get feedback about my posts, but the feedback I have received, both on the blog and in private emails, has been excellent. In the end I guess I’m just trying to engage a different part of my brain… The part that doesn’t constantly think about algorithms for solving non-smooth systems of differential equations.

I’m glad that this hasn’t become another failed project left by the side of the road, and I hope to keep it going for another year.

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Posted by on November 18, 2007 in Garbage In, Garbage Out


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There was a mini puzzle embedded in my post from yesterday.

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Posted by on November 13, 2007 in Entertainment



T.otally E.xcellent A.ctivity

My weekend was busy with the college puzzle challenge (cpc). Each year I do a couple puzzle hunts and it gets more fun each time. To tell the truth, I’m not that great at solving puzzles. At least it’s a chance to goof off for a day with some friends. Looking at puzzles all day does give me a headache sometimes. Good thing I brought plenty of advil to the challenge!

Every now and then I see a strong analogy between puzzling and research. A puzzle presents a question, to which you want to find an answer. Research works the same way. Maybe you know what the question being asked is, and maybe you don’t. All you can do is propose a hypothesis and do some tests to see if you’re right. In the end, you get some answer, and hopefully it makes sense in the context of the question you asked. Now and then the questions and answers come easily, but usually not.

Could I be over analyzing the analogy here? Hopefully I’m not duping myself into believing an elaborate string of mistruths. A good researcher needs to know the difference between correlation and causation. Right now I’m just going to consider whether my research can inform my puzzle solving, and vice versa.


Posted by on November 12, 2007 in Entertainment


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Racing Focus

This weekend I ran a 6K race on a course that I had raced approximately 1-year ago. When I ran it last fall, I was going through some rough times, having recently broken up with my girlfriend of six years, and was generally preoccupied with desperate thoughts. I have been known to complain about not being able to focus in races anymore, but back then I had abandoned all hope of being able to concentrate on anything. I literally couldn’t even focus while tying my own shoelaces.

But I’ve healed quite a bit since then, and this time my head was mostly in the game.


At the start I went out very slowly to protect my weak ankle (nothing like going out dead last in a race that includes competitors over twice as old as you). After the initial sprint I keyed off one of the veteran runners on our team – an impressively fast man we refer to as “Coach” – who was running about 100 meters ahead of me. Coach was wearing a fluorescent yellow long sleeve t-shirt, which helped me catch up with him just over 1/2 mile into the race. Again playing it safe, I decided to just hang with him for once rather than powering past him for a mile only to be passed in a humiliating way later on.

Coach is a consistent runner, and running consistently hard felt uncomfortable to me. I imagined for a moment that I was the comic book hero Spawn, and could summon the chains of the underworld to anchor me to my enemies. From then on I was attached to Coach by steel bonds, and I didn’t separate from him for another two miles.

When you run a race, there are constantly angels and devils whispering into your ears. The angels say “you can do it! pain is temporary, glory is forever!“, while the devils simultaneously whisper “the pain is too much! nobody will know if you slow down.” I listened to them both at various points in the race, but with half a mile left to go I was listening to the devils, who were saying “if you slow down now, then that man in black ahead of you won’t be close enough to catch at the end, and you won’t have to work as hard.

Because I tend to run races near people who are significantly older than me, I usually don’t get passed in the last quarter mile. In Sunday’s race, Coach passed me with about 600 meters to go, right after I had succumbed to the sweet advice of the racing devils and let the man in black get away from me. Something woke up in me then, and the voices of both the angels and the devils were gone. I put on a short spurt to catch coach and hang on his tail.

Coming down the final stretch I knew it was just me and Coach — I had judged from the cheering that our closest competitors were 30 meters back. With 300 meters left I was ready to drop the hammer and tear though the grass between me and the finish like an out-of-control tractor. But something strange happened. The world got quiet, and I decided to just finish with Coach. I had a Zen moment where the refractory bit of glory gained by burning down the final stretch was replaced with the satisfaction of running a smart, hard race with one of my teammates.

Maybe the devils were speaking to me then too, telling me that there was no need to work hard to pass my own teammate, but I think that I learned something important about racing, patience, and teamwork this weekend. I ran the 6K course 12 seconds faster this year, and that’s after taking four weeks off from running to heal my ankle.

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Posted by on November 6, 2007 in No Easy Days


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The Savage Times

This post contains spoilers from Season 7 of Smallville.

I’m almost caught up in Smallville now, and I just got to the episode where Dean Cain guest stars as Curtis Knox, M.D. About two-thirds through the episode, it’s revealed that Knox is an immortal, and has been alive for centuries. Once again I am grateful for the time I spent watching JLTAS, because otherwise I would not have recognized that Knox was a version of Vandal Savage. These random tie-ins with the comic are what keep the show interesting for me now, because it’s otherwise time for the 30-year-old Welling to put on his red tights and end the series.

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Posted by on November 5, 2007 in Entertainment