Thursday, April 29, 2010

Watashi no Tanjoubi

Today was a beautiful day. It was one of those days that reminds me why I love living in California. Bay Area weather is never the same two days in a row, and it's been raining in alternating spurts of 2-3 days. I guess it takes after bipolar Mother Earth ;)

But what this means is that on the good days, it's really really nice:

Look closely, you can even see the Golden Gate Bridge off in the distance. Okay, it's hard to tell in the picture, so here's a zoomed-in version of the center of that picture:
Hmm...the pixelation that happened because of my zoom-less phone camera actually looks kind of cool. Like a painting, almost.

I was baked a cake by one of the people in my lab. She's been making different kinds of cakes for her sister's (I think) wedding and testing them out on us. We, of course, have no complaints. This one, however, was a delicious birthday cake. Chocolate with an orange zest, topped with candied orange peels:

And to top it all off, I got a lovely little present from my roommate. Apparently she's been planning this since almost last year. Isn't he cute?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


So sorry, I have been really busy this week. Salsa Dance at Cal (formerly the Social Ballroom Club) is performing this Friday at some culture show. I'm doing both the traditional salsa and the hip-hop fusion salsa routines, so I've been at practice a lot.

It's been difficult, since I only really learned to salsa this semester, but oh so fun. I think I've gotten much better as a follower as well (or the guys in the class have become much better leaders).I was practicing with my partner today, and it looks pretty damn good. Though I do say so myself. Only one way to fix that: if you're in Berkeley, come by the Heller Lounge/Multicultural Center in the MLK Student Union Building at 7. You can watch and let me know just how good or bad we are.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

By Your (Solar) Powers Combined, I Am Captain Planet!

However much I may have loved the little monkey always riding on Ma-Ti's shoulder, I am not actually a muscular blue dude with green hair (though I guess I am weakened by pollution). Still, I agree with him.

Is using clean energy really that difficult? I mean, look:
Click to embiggen the image. Infographic taken from Pulse2, but originally made at the Land Art Generator.

See those tiny squares on the map? That's how much solar-panel-covered land would be necessary to provide power for our whole planet. Without pollution!

For people who are worried that this kind of thing would take away land we need for food because there is not enough food in the world and people are going hungry and how could you do this to them?!!, let me make four points.
  1. The amount of food is not really the problem. The problem really lies in the distribution (or lack thereof). 
  2. Take a good look at where those squares are located. The majority of the area appears to be located in deserts. There's plenty of non-arable and non-developable land ripe (despite not being fertile) for the laying out of solar panels.
  3. It's not like the photocollection has to be concentrated in those areas. Solar panels on everyone's roofs would probably do the trick too - this is just an infographic.
  4. Solar panels are only going to get better and better and converting light into electricity.
So there. No reason to vote for the retraction of California's Global Warming Solutions Act. Not that this was a political announcement or anything.
>.> <.<

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Icy Hot

A volcano under a glacier? That sounds like an oxymoron. Or maybe a Katy Perry song.

But it erupted in Iceland a week ago. I, not being one to watch the news and not knowing anyone  trying to travel from Europe, didn't hear about it until a couple of days ago.

If you want to see some breathtaking photographs of the volcano and sigh-inducing pictures of poor weary travelers stranded in airports, check these out.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Pearly Whites

I think I lost all my baby teeth by the time I was in middle school. Yet for years afterward I used to dream that my teeth were still falling out. And I had my permanent teeth now, so really, they were nightmares.

Last week, though, as I was taking the bus to salsa practice, I sat next to a large black man with a beautiful, friendly white smile who told me a story about teeth.

The day before, he had been on the bus when a lady nearby told him that he had really white teeth. He laughed at this, and replied that he was older than he looked and they were not real. Yet at the same time, they were his original teeth.

How could this be?

Four years earlier, when his teeth were strong and healthy, he'd gone to the dentist knowing that they would soon be the opposite, and asked the dentist to make a cast of his teeth. The dentist, surprised by this odd request, protested that they had never done that before. In the end, however, he acquiesced and carried out the procedure.

Time passed and my friendly stranger's white roses withered. He went back to the dentist and got his teeth back, almost literally. The cast made from his teeth was used to make perfectly fitting dentures that enabled him to keep his own original smile.

So moral of the story, dear readers: get your teeth cast in a mold for when you need dentures (and get a dental cleaning while you're at it).

And floss your teeth! It really does help prevent gum disease.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


I'm allergic to cheese. I'm not lactose intolerant, and milk and yogurt are completely fine, but cheese gives me the sniffles, the coughs, the watery eyes, and basically the symptoms of a cold minus the annoying feeling in my throat.

Some cheeses, like Provolone or Mozzarella (especially when it's fresh) are perfectly alright. I can eat them three meals a day (not that I do, though my roommate is wont to eat cheese straight off the wheel/out of the bag/etc.) and nothing will happen.

Then there's Parmesan and Cheddar. Oh god, cheddar. In middle school and high school, a handful of Goldfish or Cheez-Its (and I have small hands!) was enough to bring on the full-blown everybody-asking-if-I'm-sick list of symptoms. White cheddar was the absolute worst.

But guess what my favorite food was from childhood.


Guess what my favorite snack was.

Cheez-Its. Especially white cheddar.

It wasn't rebellion or my wanting them because I couldn't have them. On the contrary, I ate them by the pies and by the boxes, respectively, despite the consequences. And then I walked around with a permanent sniffle.

By the end of high school, I was mostly managing to avoid cheese, but it's much more difficult as a college student. At any rate, I can now manage a handful of white cheddar Cheez-its without the allergy, so maybe if I just keep holding out a little bit longer, they'll all be gone!

Wouldn't that be wonderful? Then I could eat Cheeseboard pizza all the time!
(Seriously though, their pizza is amazing. We had it for lunch during our lab meeting today and it inspired this whole post.)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Why Neuroscience?

I've talked about why I do science in general. Now I want to talk about why out of all the interesting, amazing, and groundbreaking fields out there, I chose neuroscience.

For me, neuroscience is the next frontier though we still have yet to foray further than a figurative few feet into space and the ocean's depths (believe it or not, that alliteration was accidental).

Get out there, do some learning about the nervous system! Grab the spinal cord by the (dorsal and ventral) horns!

I want to know what makes me me. I want to know why I think the way I do, whether others think the same way, how it came to be that humans are able to do all of these tasks that would be tough for a (current-day) computer in a snap.

Wait, humans are faster than computers? I must have that backwards, right? The majority of us may not be able to do math at the speed of electricity, but we perform computations on problems that would take hours just to input into a computer in a matter of seconds, or less. Where a computer has to work through all of the possibilities for a thousand little variables that may be affecting the situation, we can take one glance and intuit the solution.

As Jonah Lehrer posits in How We Decide, our feelings and emotions and instincts and hunches are not inferior to the careful, methodical calculations of computers; they are actually the product of massive parallel processing that takes place beneath your consciousness. The problem is knowing when something is off in that processing, when a variable is not right, when a thought from a nearby stream is interfering - when to trust your instinct, and when not to.

In order to know when to trust our gut, however, we must know how we think so we can keep a mental eye out for those mistakes.

That brings me back to the point I want to make. After looking at the world around us, we've finally turned our attention and our questions back to ourselves. And now we've got the tools to actually get some of those answers.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Phoenix Wright Quotes

The Ace Attorney game series for the DS featuring Phoenix Wright was originally released in Japan, but there are American versions of the games as well. I don't know about the Japanese versions, but in the ones I've played, the dialogue is utterly hilarious. It even makes use of quite a few pop culture references.

Here are some choice quotes from the first three games (courtesy of Wikiquote, especially for the earlier ones I haven't played in a while).

"What's wrong? Is something stuck to my face? Why yes! There's my eyes, and my nose, and my mouth." - Redd White

In reference to old lady security guard Wendy Oldbag:
"Old windbag sure has balls! Or... well, you know what I mean." - Maya Fey

"I spent a whole day looking for my dentures. They turned out to be in my mouth all along." - Judge

"Don't be foolish you foolish fool wearing the foolishly foolish clothes." - Franziska von Karma

After being (literally) whipped multiple times by Franziska:
"Not you too, Mia! With the whip… And the pain… And the oww…" - Phoenix

"Difficult-looking legal books stand in a formidable row. They mock me. I tried reading one, and it made my head hurt. When I closed it, it slipped out of my hand. Then my foot hurt too." - Phoenix

"Well, we know whose milkshake brings all the boys to the yard..." - Mia Fey

"Men are like colonies of bacteria. The more heat you apply, the faster they grow." - Godot

"Let us say the figurative Sir William will be dropping his panties before lunchtime." - Luke Atmey
If you don't know it, look that one up yourself ;)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Peanuts Redux

A short anecdote to go with the peanut story:

Peanuts had to be dried on the roof. The watchman would help carry bags of peanuts up via a ladder. My mom would then climb a nearby tree up to the roof and sit there in the shade, waving a stick to scare off thieving crows. That may not have been the wisest choice of chore, though, since she herself ate as many as the crows.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Dream A Little Dream

Why is NASA so important? It provides a dream for the progeny of a nation. It inspires, and catches and holds the scientific interest of the naturally curious - children. Including myself.

Well said, Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Tales of My Mother's Childhood - Peanuts

The house my mother's family moved to after living in the high school was again long and skinny. The man who owned it lived in the left half, while my mother lived on the right. He had an angadi, a little store, in the front section, flanked by two thin rooms. Where the store ended, the rooms widened, though the house was still split in two.

The man who owned the house ran a peanut business. He would buy from the farmers during the harvest, toss the peanuts into huge piles in his storeroom, and sell them for a much higher price during the off-season.

Large numbers of peanuts, of course, led to large numbers of mice. To reach the storeroom, they often dug through the walls on my mother's side of the house, and again through the partitioning wall. They scurried and squeaked, making their little mouse noises loud enough to provide a constant background soundtrack throughout the night.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Magnetic Poetry - The Profound

Until the creativity in the apartment has been revived (which usually tends to happen around finals time as we search for ways to procrastinate), this will be the last post in this series. I always save the best for last, whether they be long or short or smart or tart. There are certainly good ones in the other posts, but these, in addition to being the best, are also misfits that didn't really work under the other categories.

A desperate plea. I'm not sure whether it is asking for world peace or inner peace, but who wouldn't want either?

You have to open your mind to new experiences, or you will never grow from the person you are.
 This was my epic (by magnetic poetry standards) poem. I'm quite proud of it, though I found it puzzling that the word "would" was nowhere to be found.

And finally, a bit of advice: Become a person you can be proud of, regardless of how anyone else feels.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Rockjazz and the Meaning of TED (TEDxBerkeley 2010)

Eric Lewis was the closing performer at TEDxBerkeley 2010. He is a piano player, but he plays a style of music he has dubbed "rockjazz." He takes the improvisational aspect of jazz, the idea of building on the greats and making their music your own, but moves away from the 1930s and 40s. He plays with contemporary pop and rock music instead.

For us, he played his rendition of the Killers' "Mr. Brightside" (this video is from a different performance of the same song, but I'll link to ours when it's online):

This was followed by "Diary of Jane" by Breaking Benjamin, in which he took a stroll outside of the keys and began playing the strings of the piano itself.

The best part, however, was the finale. Previous speaker Ross Evans, who had talked about bringing together your passion and purpose to contribute to society, joined him on stage during a playthrough of Coldplay's "Clocks" with a rope and an impromptu set of tricks done to the music.

This is the meaning and purpose of TED. TED is where innovators come together and new ideas and actions emerge from the maelstrom of ideas and excitement whipping around the room. There is no, "You can't do that." It's like the first rule of improvisation - always say "Yes, and..." and go with the flow, because you never know what will come out of your interaction.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Crazy Thought - Maybe We're All Human (TEDxBerkeley 2010)

Have you heard of the TED lecture series? TED stands for technology, entertainment, design. TED conferences are full of innovative thinkers and doers, all the people who are changing or have the potential to transform the world not only for future generations but for our own.

Today, I got to be a TEDster. To be fair, it wasn't the original TED conference, but rather an independently organized event tied to the TED name - TEDxBerkeley. Yet it was still full of entrepreneurs and students and the people who are going to be coming up with game-changing ideas.

The first talk that really cut through to me was by Berkeley alum Amit Deutsch. He spoke very honestly and earnestly about his journey as an Israeli student through the various perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Having been born and raised in Israel, he had a direct connection with the country. His grandparents endured the Holocaust, his parents grew up throughout the majority of the conflict with Palestine, and he even lost an uncle in one of the wars. How could he help but think that he and Israel were the victims here? There was so much hatred, vitriol, and violence coming from the Palestinians. They trained their children to be suicide bombers. And how could they not see how Israelis were being hurt?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Tales of My Mother's Childhood - Mercury

When my mother was in 5th grade, she moved with her family to a village where her father was assigned as headmaster (principal) of the local high school. Now, this was a village, and houses were not constantly changing hands like they do in today's (more like yesterday's) market. When they arrived, there was no apartment or house waiting for them.

The office building of the high school was a donated/loaned Vaishya satram. It was a long, skinny building, consisting of a small kitchen, a large front room, and a smaller room in between. The entry side of the front room contained a desk and a few chairs for the headmaster and a few teachers. A row of saris strung behind this area created a wall separating the actual office from the area now used to house a family of 8.

When my grandparents and the 6 children moved in, there were two boxes in the back half of that room. One held the school library, and the other the laboratory.

While my grandfather bought and brought a large part of the library in that box, the laboratory was always owned by the school. It consisted of a balance, a couple of meters for measuring various physical properties (thermometer, an old densitometer, etc.), and a bottle of mercury.

My mother, being as curious as Pandora, immediately opened that box. She didn't loose multiple horrors upon the world, but she did find the shiny, silvery bottle. At the time, the dangers of mercury were not well known. So my mom, at the age of nine, played with it.

She tipped it up and down, marveling at the way it flowed. When she tired of that, she opened the bottle and accidentally spilled some on the ground. She tried to pick it up, but it broke apart into little balls and rolled away. Each ball she tried to pick up simply squished apart in her fingers, resulting in a multitude of smaller balls. Eventually she gave up and scooped them all together. This unfortunately meant that dirt from the floor joined the mercury. In a stroke of genius, she found a cleaning cloth. By rubbing the balls of mercury in the cloth, she could get rid of the dirt and keep the mercury!

She carefully put it back, but returned to play with it in secret when her father was busy and nobody was nearby. Within a couple months, though they found a portion of a house to rent. The library went with them, but the lab (luckily for her health!) stayed put.