Antisociology

Antimeme

Posted in Uncategorized by antisociology on January 31, 2009

Following in the footsteps of The Everyday Athlete, here is my response to the 25 things Facebook meme that is going around.

  1. My right limbs are both about a centimeter longer than my left limbs
  2. I’d rather have a few really excellent choices than lots of mediocre ones
  3. My favorite bicycle component is the crankset, particularly the driveside arm and spider
  4. I take most of my notes with a ~50 year old Parker Super-21
  5. A very good friend in college nicknamed me “Eeyore”
  6. In second-grade, I got the “Do I have to?!” award
  7. I dislike covering myself in sheets and much prefer rolling myself up in blankets…like a burrito
  8. I like girls who are sweet, but not naive
  9. I have my keyboard layout set to Dvorak
  10. Frozen blueberries are my favorite treat in the summertime
  11. In junior high concert orchestra, I played second violin, first seat
  12. In high school, I really really wanted to be a graphic or industrial designer. I took up basic photography to have material for my design work.
  13. I never took more than college calculus. I am constantly teaching myself new stuff when I read technical papers.
  14. I do not like rap or hip-hop music
  15. I dislike wearing shoes
  16. It has been five years since I last put brush to canvas
  17. It has been two nights since I had my last alcoholic drink
  18. For a long time, my favorite book was “Cat’s Eye” by Margaret Atwood.
  19. I want to learn to play the banjo
  20. I like shirts with french cuffs
  21. I usually feel a little nauseous when I wake up in the morning
  22. In high school, I would sleep after dinner, then get up in the middle of the night to do my homework, and then go back to sleep again. This annoyed my parents to no end, and is probably the genesis of my poor sleep hygiene.
  23. When I worked in Michigan, I would often go to Ann Arbor on Friday nights and get a reuben, fries, and coffee at my favorite deli. I would then go see a movie or browse the Border’s around the corner.
  24. I liked the early seasons of “The Gilmore Girls”
  25. I am terrible at explaining things
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Pod People

Posted in habits by antisociology on January 25, 2009

A few months ago, I took the plunge and joined the smartphone bandwagon by purchasing an iPhone. Really, the decision came down to the great applications, fantastic UI, and the way it integrates with things that I already use. I never really used the iPod functionality until recently.

I actually had the very first iPod. I had some disposable income at the time, and it just seemed really cool and beautiful. Until then, I hadn’t really brought my music with me. Afterwards…I didn’t really bring my music with me. Recently, though, I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts.

I’ve found that it makes my commute go by faster. The depth of the podcasts that are out there also seem to have increased. Or, rather, I should say, there’s more NPR and PRI programming out there in podcast form. Here are my favorites:

RadioLab, in particular, is a fantastic show about curiosity. The hosts examine various topics (memory, stress, love), through the lens of science. This is not science reporting, though. There are copious anecdotes and discussions about the way people experience the world. There’s also a lot of discussion about the history of ideas. I suspect that if we taught science this way, a lot more people would find science more accessible, more relevant, and less intimidating.

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Something that matters

Posted in Uncategorized by antisociology on January 19, 2009

A video interview with Tim O’Reilly on his statement “Work on something that matters” was recently posted to O’Reilly radar.  If you liked that, you might also check out his blog post which roughly outlines the idea.

 

I am a big fan of O’Reilly on this matter. So much of what we do seems focused on fueling a system which exists only for itself. While we may have needed huge centers of capital in order to create and get through the industrial age and the beginnings of the post-industrial/information era, the time may be right to start thinking about other models of commerce and society in which larger swaths of people are empowered to create.

New in the new year

Posted in Uncategorized by antisociology on January 18, 2009

On Friday, I was frustrated at work so I stopped by the bike shop to look around and ask some questions. It was my intention to try on a few shoes, pick up a lock for the new commuter bike, and some booties to replace my old clapped out ones. I ended up putting my name in for a new race team they’re forming (and a new pair of booties).

 

I guess now I know what I’ll be training for this year.

The pedaling cycle

Posted in cycling by antisociology on January 9, 2009

I found a really cool visualization of how muscles in the leg are used during the pedaling cycle.

A visualization of muscles used during the cycling pedal stroke
A visualization of muscles used during the cycling pedal stroke

Aloha, Konichiwa, 000101010101

Posted in meta by antisociology on January 9, 2009

I’ve started a new blog for posts on academic and technical topics. It’s called Electric Squid. I’m working on my first post, right now, on how I view social networks.

Road bike post #2: Grace and Pace – The Run/Ride Link

Posted in Uncategorized by antisociology on January 7, 2009

In a previous post, I talked a little about what makes a road bike efficient for a road cyclist. One of my claims is that a properly fit road bike, in some sense, balances the rider over the pedals, distributing weight between the butt, feet, and hands. I may have also talked a little about souplesse — a french term for the powerful and fluid pedal stroke of many top cyclists. In this post, I want to talk a little about developing an efficient and fluid pedal stroke, but also say something about the various ways people generate power and how cycling and running effort are related.

 

Someone just sent me a link to a great article on how to pedal a bike. Now, you’re probably looking at me funny. What’s there to know, right? You push down with one leg, then you push down with the other. While this will get the bike going, it won’t make the most of your fitness. To be efficient on the bike, you need to smoothly transition power from one leg to the other. The pedal stroke shouldn’t stop when the crankarm hits the 6 o’clock position. Rather, the power from that leg tails off while, at the same time, power from the other leg increases.

 

Now, developing such a pedal stroke does not come naturally. It takes a few months of riding mindfully and consciously, as well as some personal experiments, to program your brain to fire the right muscles at the right times, and relax other muscles at the right times. I have often found that hills are a great place to practice pedaling technique. I am a huge fan of efficiency, so when I first started cycling I tried a lot of different things to find an efficient pedal stroke. Hills helped because I wasn’t going so fast I had to pay a lot of attention, but also the payback from a good stroke was immediately apparent. Without that kind of feedback, it’s difficult to know what’s good and what’s not.

 

Runners are probably chuckling right now, smug in their belief that running is the most natural thing in the world. Here’s the thing. Just like you need to program your brain and legs to be efficient at cycling, you can also use the same general idea to be a more efficient runner. There’s a chapter in “Run Strong” (edited by Kevin Beck) on good running form. Again, a smooth transition from each phase of the running stride is the key. Remember, running is really nothing but a long series of controlled falls. When you push off, you put your center of gravity forward of your legs. This forces you to bring one leg forward to prevent you from falling. Being able to rapidly bring that foot forward, and then transition back to the push off phase let’s you increase your cadence.

 

Cadence. Isn’t that a cycling term. Yeah, it is. Here’s the thing. In running, all things being equal, there are three basic ways to go faster (we’ll set aside the longer bit for now). You can turn your legs over faster (run with a higher cadence), push off harder with your feet, or you can increase your stride length. Because we have physical limits, we have to trade these three techniques off if we want to maintain a constant effort level. A higher cadence requires a shorter stride. A more powerful push off may necessitate a lower cadence. Obviously, if we’re willing to expend more energy, then we don’t have to make these sorts of compromises. In distance running, however, we need to be mindful of how we mete out our energy.

 

This is why people are often advised to “shuffle” or increase their cadence. Shortening the stride, reducing the power expended at push off, and increasing cadence decreases load on the muscles and increases load on the cardiovascular system. This should, in theory, allow you to run longer before your muscles fail. Think of your body as being able to generate a certain fixed amount of power (force over time). The choice of running stride should reflect the demands of the activity you are doing. Just need a short burst of power that lasts a few seconds? Push off harder and stride longer. Need a constant, relatively low level of power for a long time? Shorten your stride, increase your cadence, and push off less forcefully.

 

Cyclists have this same notion of power (and can buy cool cyclocomputers that will measure the amount of power they are putting out). Like runners, there are three ways to go faster. Pedal faster, pedal harder, and pedal longer (pick a higher/harder gear). Like running, one typically has to trade off one for the other. Pedaling faster requires you to pick a lower gear and (generally) pedal lighter. Pedaling harder requires pedaling slower. Again, this is only true if you want to keep your work output constant.

 

Suppose you are riding up a hill. You can go up this hill by pedaling faster (with a lower gear and less pressure on the pedals), or you can up by pedaling harder (but more slowly), or you can increase your “stride length” (choosing a harder gear, pedaling more slowly). All three of these methods will get you to the top in the same amount of time, but the demands on your various muscular systems will be different. If you want to get up the hill faster, you have to expend more power. E.g., you can pedal faster while maintaining your gear and how hard you are pedaling. Just as in running, pedaling faster puts more load on your cardiovascular system, while pedaling “longer” or harder puts more load on your muscles.

 

It’s important to keep in mind that none of this assumes a breakdown or drastic change of the running or pedaling form. The goal is still smooth transitions between the various phases of the running stride or pedal stroke. The basic sequence of events is still the same, although some compensation will be required to keep the body in balance (e.g., swinging your arms faster or getting lower over the handlebars).

 

Hopefully I’ve given you something to think about. I encourage anyone who’s interested to go out and try some of these concepts. Go to Harlem hill and try running up it in various ways. Ride your bike and experiment with maintaining a given speed but use different gears and vary the amount of force you put on the pedals. It’s an enlightening experience. I know it was for me.

Good Riddance and Tally Ho!

Posted in Uncategorized by antisociology on January 2, 2009

I’m having a hard time deciding if 2008 was good or bad. So much happened, that I don’t think I could give it an overall grade and let it go at that. Let’s recap the major events:

 

  1. I came up with an idea for a company and started prototyping
  2. I got a full-time job at a tech startup here in NYC
  3. I applied for and was granted a two semester personal leave of absence from the university
  4. I finally got my own apartment in the city
  5. I kissed a girl for the first time ever
  6. Watched as half of my 401k and other savings evaporated
  7. Drama
  8. I took a salary cut (but got some extra options)

 

So, clearly, a bit of a rocky year. It could certainly have been worse. Some of my friends have lost their jobs. Others have had to take deeper salary cuts. Companies have folded. I still have a steady job doing something that I’m fairly interested in. For the time being, I’ll be able to take care of myself.

 

I’ve also had some good experiences. While I was working feverishly over last year’s winter break, trying to come up with prototypes and ideas for my own startup, I figured out that I really like building things — especially software. That isn’t to say that I think my training in Sociology has been a waste. On the contrary, it’s given me mental tools and models that I’ve found to be helpful in solving difficult problems. Still, while I am still profoundly interested in the kinds of problems I was working on, I never found the kind of satisfaction that I get from crafting a piece of software. It was a stroke of luck that I was able to find a company that sees value in both skills. For that, I am incredibly thankful.

 

I still dream of having my own concern and think that, at some point, I will strike out on my own with a friend or two to start my own company. I have some ideas that I think might be tractable and make a genuine contribution to people’s lives. People have been trying parts of these ideas, but I don’t think any of them have really tapped the essence of what I’d like to do. Some ninety percent of all startups fail (they don’t have a positive exit event), and mine probably will too, but I think I’ll have to at least try at some point. 

 

I’m not sure if I’ll return to Columbia to finish my degree. On the one hand, I’m not sure that a Sociology Ph.D. will help me all that much. It may even be a detriment, as some employers are wary of hiring Ph.D.s who they may perceive as being too expensive or too willing to jump ship for something better. It would be a different matter if my degree were in Computer Science or Statistics. Those are fields that bear directly on the sort of career path I envision myself taking.

 

I suppose there are still some questions in my mind about how I’d like my career to pan out. I think of myself as being an algorithms guy. I really like coming up with interesting ways of using data to solve problems. I’m not so interested in CRUD (create, read, update, delete) style apps. That’s not to say that they don’t have their place, I just don’t have a great interest in developing them unless there is some interesting algorithmic problem to solve. Algorithmic jobs (for lack of a better term) tend to exist in finance and research and development houses. I’m not at all interested in the finance industry, and I don’t have the CS Ph.D. that would get me into an R&D lab. I really do work in a very niche place. Hence, I think starting my own company may very well be the best direction for me once I finish at my current place. Of course, another option would be to try and get into a CS Ph.D. program.

 

Sometimes, it’s not so good to plan so far ahead, though. One runs the risk of losing sight of immediate goals and responsibilities. Right now, I’m committed to putting my company in a competitive technical position as well as resolving some of my own personal issues and deficits.

 

The easiest of these to take care of will be getting back into the habit of actively managing and monitoring my finances. When I started grad school, I fell out of this habit because I simply didn’t have anything left to manage after everything was paid for. Now there is something there, and I’d like to grow it. I’ve already got back into the habit of tracking stuff in a money management program. Now I need to figure out a way of systematically managing my accounts so that I don’t have to pay too much attention to them.

 

For those who’ve kept track of my own personal drama, I feel like I need to put myself out into the world. I know I have a habit of investing (if not acting on) a lot of emotional energy up front. I think that has, at times, led me to take flying leaps off interpersonal cliffs. It might do me some good to try casually dating more often. Even if this doesn’t lead to the sort of connection that I am craving right now, the experience may be good.

 

I don’t expect 2009 to be magical. In fact, I sort of expect it to be even tougher than 2008 in some ways. But, that shouldn’t keep me from growing. To me, how one arrives at a result is almost more important than the result itself.

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