USGP Day 1 Race Report

•November 17, 2009 • Leave a Comment

The most enjoyable thing about my first season of cross (so far) has been the license to “start over” with cycling.  I make stupid turns sometimes.  I stutter step on my remounts. I do things that would otherwise end your chances in an A race.  Instead of getting dropped from the break in a road race because my lactic threshold was 2% less than I needed, I get to learn new things and try them out live.  I’m a kid again, learning from every race.

In the past few weeks I’ve taken a lot of good-natured ribbing about being a sandbagger.  Somebody even cracked a joke at my expense during a long muddy running section in yesterday’s race. I didn’t catch the whole thing (too busy dying), but it went something like “Hey Rutgers” and “A rider” and “you must be feeling better than I do.”  We shared a little laugh.  I’m not usually recognized in races.  In cycling, you are always one upgrade away from anonymity.

Where was I? That’s right. Sandbagger? Ha, watch this.

You see, you are never too old/experienced/fast (not that I have any of these in spades) to do something stupid.  I did something stupid before Saturday.  I put a new chain on my bike Friday night.  In ten years of racing, I’ve always followed the advice to leave the bike alone before a race.  I’m not sure why I thought this time was any different.  I suppose experience can make you brash.  I danced with the devil and lived to tell about it.

Having fun. I promise.

Saturday morning, Jason and I register and start to preride the sopping wet course. It is quickly appararent that my bike will not work.  New chain + old cassette + old chainring = no gears.  None.  My bike was unridable.   I scurry to neutral support, who are not too happy to have a C rider bringing a dead-on-arrival bike to them at 7:30 in the morning while they are still setting up.  There isn’t much time. I politely convice the mechanic that I have a chance in the race, that I need to start, that I’m worth getting the hands dirty.   He straightens my derailler hanger. He tunes the shifter.  Nothing.  I beg for a fancy SRAM pit bike.  The mechanics finally give and s-l-o-w-l-y get a bike for me, swap the pedals, and adjust the seat.  Last call for men’s C sounds out over the loudspeakers.  My heart rate is pegged as I nervously wait for a working bike. With about 2 minutes to spare, I sprint to the start line on an unfamiliar Specialized tri-cross with Zipp 404s, Mud II tires at about 40 PSI, SRAM shifting, and lots of other quircks I’m not used to.  I feel naked. I deserve it.

Jason and I take our crappy callup postions behind 80 or so of the 106 racers.  The whistle blows and I go beserk, trying to gain as many spots as possible before we leave the road and hit the mud.  The road is wet and slippery.  I swerve around people like a rabid banshee.  I would never act like this in a road race.  CX has turned me into a monster.

I spend the rest of the 30 minute race working past the people in the mud.  I’m pretty good in the slow, watery spots because I get to cheat with my roadie power.  The bike feels okay, but the front brake is off center and rubbing loudly against the carbon rims.  I reach down at least ten times during the race to try to undo the cable.  No dice.  I sound like a belt grinder as I approach people.  I have to dig extra deep to shed a Princeton rider who has stuck to my wheel for too long.

Last lap.  The would-be winner of the race has flatted and comes out of the pit right next to me.  I play him by leading through the last 1/4 of the course, but intentionally let him come by me in the final turns, by taking a wide, silly line.  We get on the finishing road and I feign surrender by hanging off his back wheel and acting tired.  He takes the bait and opens his sprint from the front.  It’s a delicious draft.  I slingshot off to pass him on the left, ending up in third place.  Score one for the roadie.

I’m in no rush to upgrade to the world of Bs and pit bikes and brakes with names like “spooky”.  I’m still dumb enough to swap a chain the night before a race, and for every Watt I have on my competitors, I lose an equal amount in the turns.  I’m learning to embrace the mud (but only the slushy kind, not the peanut buttery kind).  I’m having a blast and getting better by the race.  I even get to piggyback off of the good cyclocross name that others have established at Rutgers.  Maybe in a few more races It’ll start to look like I know what I’m doing.  Until then, my toothless facade will continue to haunt the dreams of hairy-legged beginner racers everywhere.

Denmother Mark is going to flog me for not having a Rutgers R showing. In my defense, they didn't even post the results before calling to the stage.



•November 10, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Hello! I had to stop posting for a while there to make good on my “85% fewer updates” badge in the header.  Amazingly, several hundred of you still visit this blog every day.  I’m not sure if that is good in a loyalty sense, or bad in the “the only people that read this are bots” sense.

Times, they are a changing here at wcuk.  I’ve been neck deep in my research and waist deep in cyclocross.  The denizens of Harvest Moon had our final evening of karaoke with DJ Milky Manchester last week.  I’ll write more on this sad passing in a future post.  Don is on the fast track to a thesis defense (1 month! I guess I finally have a deadline for a tribute post).  I still owe Mike an IWJIFOASTTSY post too.  I may even have a few more IWJIFOASTTSYs to write beyond these two. Don’t ask for a time line; I don’t have one.

I’m enjoying the change of pace that cyclocross has brought in to my life.  There’s a post on this in the pipeline too. I managed to win my first race in ten years of bicycle racing.  It wasn’t a raod race, and it wasn’t the A (or B) category, but damned if it wasn’t refreshing after a season of bad crashes and short luck.  It meant a great deal to me to do it in front of my teammates, especially Don, Charlie, Mike, and Mark.  They’ve pressured this stubborn mule to ride cross for three years.  I have no better way to thank them than to ride like it’s going out of style and cheer for them to do the same.

That’s all for now.  For those who are in to such things, we’re on twitter:


F is for fake. And fail.

•September 30, 2009 • Leave a Comment

There is a post-doc column in the prestigious journal Nature.  It’s meant to give a short opinion of the practical side of being a student in science.  You know what it gives me? The gaggies.  To quantify the extent to which I dislike these cheesy blurbs of group think, I decided to deconstruct one.  This jambalaya wouldn’t earn passing marks in my middle school English class, but it’s apparently just fake enough to pass muster in a leading scientific journal.

Lab trips foster collegiality

Every summer the members of our lab spend a weekend at a state park, and our most recent annual outing was to Niagara Falls, where we camped, hiked and enjoyed the scenery. I was captivated by the thunderous roar and sprays of mist emanating from the falls.

Really? Captivated?  The honeydew smell of the sweet mist was all my soul needed to quench the eternal void of lost love in my aching heart.  Only 7th grade honor students–the kind who try too hard in their writing–string together such overspent prose.  Thunderous roar.  Emanating mist.  My turn!  How about “churning stomach juices.”

I always look forward to the lab outing because it is guaranteed to be fun — as it was this summer.

No. Just no.  It’s not guaranteed to be fun.  Why would you even say this?  How about everyone in your party drinks water from a Giardia-infested stream?  3 days of rain and near hypothermia?  Endless re-tellings of that Bunsen burner story?   How about polling scientists and seeing just how many agree that a weekend in the Adirondacks with coworkers is “guaranteed to be fun”?

But these outings are more than just fun excursions. They also build collegiality among our lab members. This is important because cooperation and effective communication can help the lab to run more smoothly and more efficiently.

Cooperation is important? Woah, slow down Socrates.  For those that missed it the first time around, “cooperation and effective communication can help the lab to run more smoothly and more efficiently.”  My English teacher would have X’d out that entire section with red ink and included an insulting work like “trite” or “trivial” or “no shit, see me after class.”make_it_happen

During summer outings, lab members work together to set up tents, build a campfire and cook meals. We exchange confidences during long hikes. The value in building these interactions is reflected in the operations of the lab, as co-workers must similarly depend on each other for reagents, interpreting results and troubleshooting.

♫ You’re wearing that ugly old baggy t-shirt from that team building exercise you did for your old work. And it’s never looked better on you. Oh, team building exercise ’99. ♫

In a different lab, I once watched two graduate students troubleshooting related molecular-biology protocols. One eventually discovered that a labile buffer had gone bad. However, he selfishly opted to keep the knowledge to himself, leaving his fellow student to flounder for weeks.

Verily, this would never had happened if the two had soul gazed over smores and mosquito bites.  The kind of person that knowingly inflicts weeks of lost time on a colleague is what we call a jerk.  A jerk is not made whole by a day at Six Flags or a Paintball outing with the lab.  I am an Eagle Scout.  I spent over 100 weekends in the the woods with jerks of various flavors.  I would know.

A lack of collegiality can have a serious impact on lab members. Consequently, in the near future when I look for another job, collegiality is a factor I will consider. I have witnessed at first hand its value in the workplace.

This is when I take a pause and ask, “what did I just learn”?  Teamwork is good.  Getting along is good. It is important to get along. In the future, I will look for a job where we can all get along.  These are all profound points, but perhaps not the author’s main message.  If I may summarize:

The road to guaranteed fun is paved with forced time in enclosed spaces doing pre-planned activities (egg on a spoon race, preferably) which nobody really wants to do, but which everybody does, owing to the lack of a better activity which all parties find, at minimum, passably tolerable.

Nature wouldn’t publish my version of the story, oddly enough.

To be the best (at arson?)

•September 24, 2009 • 2 Comments

Some guy from the internet on the topic of science education:

I wholeheartedly believe [Cambridge] is the best science university in the world. Universities in America are all about tests and straight knowledge they don’t properly teach you to critically think unlike universities like Cambridge which are amazing for this knowledge as well but also teach you to critically think. That said it is interesting to note that the only ranking systems I’ve seen that put Harvard above Cambridge have been published in the US

Ohh snap America.  You just got Nard-dogged. I think there’s a new official motto buried in there. Cambridge: amazing for this knowledge as well but also teach you to critically think. Can anyone give me the Latin for this?


If I may make a literal translation:

I wholeheartedly believe Cambridge is the best science university in the world, despite the sophomoric idiocy it takes to assert some universal ranking on a school. The thousands of Universities in America, comprising millions of disparate departments and millions of sub disciplines and with hundreds of years of tradition and Nobel Prize winners and industry-leading technological advances, are all about tests and straight knowledge [OMIT PERIOD] they don’t properly teach you to critically think [OMIT COMMA] unlike universities like Cambridge [OMIT COMMA] which are amazing for this knowledge as well [OMIT COMMA] but also teach you to critically think.  That said [OMIT COMMA] it is interesting to note that the only ranking systems I’ve seen that put Harvard above Cambridge have been published in the US.  Also, Asians are good at math and white people cannot jump as high as black people.

I just can’t stand people who generalize like this.  I can’t stand it even more when it’s couched in atrocious grammar.  Ooohh, Caltech is better than MIT. Harvard is better than Yale.  Cornell is better than Bucknell.  Err, I take it back; that last one is empirically true.  Fancy shools are fancy because they admit fancy people who have to become even fancier to compete with the other fancy people.  The rest is the 10% (maybe less) of education that is rate limited by access to resources/funds/minds/etc.

Asinine Asininity

•September 15, 2009 • 3 Comments

I just want to go on the record as the first to predict a hit pop song from a duet between Kanye and Taylor Swift.  It will probably be out before 2010.

I would wager a not-small sum of money on it.

If pushed for details, I predict it will be a predominately country motif with spoken monologues from Kanye, part of which will be an apology wrapped in some vague message about being positive.

It will be a widely accepted as a “good guy” move from Kanye and Taylor will be praised for her range and ability to incorporate “hip-hop” themes.

There is a 65% chance of autotune.

I will be gagging.

You heard it here first.

Publish Less, Perish More

•September 9, 2009 • 6 Comments

Scientific publishing is broken. Most published research findings are false (spare the ironic citation joke, please).  What to do? Stimulus money is needed, that much is sure.  We must form committees! Establish a National Council for the Validity of Published Research.  Let’s get some NASA-level bureaucracy up in this piece.  We need protocols and fact checking and procedures and theorem checking widgets!  I’ll spearhead this beast.  Pay me $420,000 a year of public tax money, please.

I have a better idea.

Publish. Less.

The pressure to grow one’s scholarly phallus is too large for most to ignore.  We must publish or perish.  Grants don’t get funded unless we splatter our names across journals and conferences the world over.  Grad students don’t graduate.  Post docs don’t get jobs.  Assistants and adjuncts don’t get tenure.  Your CV is fewer than 5 pages?  You must be stupid.  Join more vacuous clubs, dues-hungry societies, and enter more regional poster conferences.  Get back to us when you’ve padded that sucker out to 10 pages.

What if we did a little more thinking and a little less sharing?  What if a publication was thoroughly peer reviewed?  But there’s no time for this, right? Everyone is too busy, right?  There’s the rub.  We’d have the time to check our research if we stop shotgunning our whims at every conference with two legs and a skimpy dress.  Suddenly, we’d see the ridiculous page limit requirements relax.  We’d no longer have to fit complex talks into 12.225 minutes.  Most importantly, we might start to understand what the hell other people are talking about.  Fancy that, a presentation outside your narrow niche that you can follow?

Let me list just one more.  I shudder to write this, but maybe, just maybe, we’d see some effort put into how to present an idea rather than how to lose the audience with a crappy power point and exorbitant formulæ.

Blasphemy.  Deny this man a job.  He stands for idleness and ivory-tower introspection.  Science is about progress and speed and lasers and intellectually one-upping our peers.

I don’t propose to have a great plan to fix this systematic lunacy.  Like many system-wide problems, it’s likely the change must come from the individual level.  Some scientists have a publication list so long it would be humanly impossible for them to give even a cursory summary of each paper.  This needs to end.  “Paper factory” labs are not homes to prolific scientists; they are homes to prolific publishers.  The two terms are less synonymous than most scientists would like to think.

The solution to this problem is heartbreakingly simple.  Science needs to slow down.  Without the pressure to put out short blurb papers every 2 weeks, we might get thorough, lengthy, reproducible publications.  Isn’t this what publication is about?  What do we gain from a 4 inch thick tome of ten trillion conference abstracts?  It’s a whole lot of people saying things that a whole bunch of other people are too busy to verify.  This gets accepted by grant committees and employers and deans as the sign of productivity.  It’s high time for said parties to reevaluate this metric.

How many rivers we had to cross, before we found our way

•September 3, 2009 • 2 Comments