Shiny Metal Tiger

Experiences in Baltimore, MD

Archive for February 2010

Spartan vs Ninja

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Now that things are starting to settle in a little, I’m starting to take care of less critical but rather important aspects of my life here. My computer is ordered and should arrive early March, and I’m starting to think about getting some furniture. I closed my old Citibank accounts (which were crap) and got one with TD Bank ( which is great so far). Then there’s the challenge of food, as alluded to in a previous post. In this regard I’m gradually getting over the ‘American Wonders of Grease and Sugar’-mania, and resuming a more balanced diet. Which isn’t to say that I won’t indulge in some,                                                                                                               or

every now and again, but I’m also seeking out my vegetables (surprising how quickly you start missing those), craving oatmeal, yoghurt and fish, checking nutritional contents, increasing fiber intake…

Closely related to this is exercise. I generally have to work out in some way to avoid feeling like crap in the long run, so having lost access to the workout room at the dorm, I need to find something else over here. Back home I used to run for cardio, and then resistance training for strength. The latter is easily possible here, either with some simple weights or in a gym; the former… not so much. I don’t even want to walk around Baltimore without direction, much less run where I’m not as aware of my sorroundings. As an alternative to running, I’ve decided to try out a jump rope. Got a cheap one at Walmart and had my first session today. Very hard to get a good rhythm; I could manage maybe 10-20 swings while running in place, or single swing jumps, but not quite double unders. Also very hard physically, much harder than running for the same amount of time. I wonder why I never tried this before, maybe just because it’s a less directly applicable skill than running.

Anyway, I can’t jump rope exclusively, so I need to supplement with something else. Here I have basically two options: I can start doing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu again, which I left off due to time constraints when I was finishing up my master’s thesis.  I always like doing martial arts/self defense, and BJJ has been the most fun so far; There’s a club that isn’t too far away, and seems to be at a high level, but there are disadvantages as well, which I will get to. The other option is to do pure fitness training, where I can join the gym right at the NIA and/or do a variety of bodyweight exercises, for which I’ve found some awesome books by Ross Enamait. I’ll list the advantages for each option.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu:

  • Self-defense. Might save my ass at some point, and will make me feel better about that the rest of the time.
  • Social. Involves other people.
  • Pushed to progress. Sparring against real opponents under direction of a coach is more motivating.
  • Regular classes. Having set training times with people expecting me will help me stick to it.
  • Could go on the resume. Well, if I win any competitions. But pure fitness definitely won’t.

Pure fitness:

  • Cheaper. 500$ for 6 months of BJJ vs 120$ at the gym, or even less with bodyweight.
  • More convenient. The gym is AT work, where I spend most of the day. Body weight at home (and maybe work).
  • Freedom to schedule. While classes help you stick to it, independence is useful when doing experiments etc.
  • Greater improvements in strength and endurance. In all likelihood, due to greater focus.
  • Work out anywhere. With a good knowledge of bodyweight routines I’ll never be gymless.

So, what do people think about this? I could make a poll, but I’d really rather have meaningful comments than just a simple answer, so I won’t. Just for fun, here are a couple of links on the topic:


Written by Martin

2010/02/24 at 00:26

Posted in Uncategorized

Destruction Derby

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Yesterday I went to watch the Charm City Rollergirls with some people from the lab, for the first bout of the season.

For everyone who doesn’t live in Baltimore, the CCRGs is the local rollerderby league, Charm City being one of Bmore’s nicknames. The local league consists of six teams who face off against each other during the local season, and join forces for interleague games (against other cities’ allstar teams).  As is evident from the poster, yesterday saw the Mobtown Mods taking on Speed Regime, and the Night Terrors challenging defending champions, the Junkyard Dolls.

The basics of rollerderby are simple, though the gameplay is surprisingly tactical. The bout takes place on a flat skating ring, and consists of two 30 minute periods, each divided into any number of jams. In each jam, a maximum of five players from each team skate around the ring in the counterclockwise direction. One player on each team is a jammer, whose role is to pass opposing players while skating around the ring. The jammers start behind the main pack of players, and each time they pass an opponent after clearing the pack once, their team gets a point. Points are not given if they are out of bounds while passing, fall down or commit a foul. Meanwhile, the remaining players attempt push or knock down opposing players to allow their own jammer to get through, while simultaneously trying to stop and/or smash the opposing jammer. Each jam lasts two minutes, or until the leading jammer ends it by clapping her hips.

You’ll note the consistent use of ‘her’ to describe the players; most rollerderby is all-female, and there’s a heavy punk atmosphere around it. The players assume various aliases that are typically wordplays, e.g. Ali Kaida or Mya Bloody Valentine, and the whole thing just has a great vibe. The second match of the day was absolutely fantastic, very close and cranked way up to 11. I’ll see if I can find a way to upload some video footage. In the end my team (Night Terrors) eked out a win, despite a very impressive performance by Doll jammers Flo Shizzle and (I think) Killer Kitten.

All in all, an action-packed night, and a good one so far. But a lot more action was yet to come.

After the rollerderby everyone headed back to our place for a rendez-vous before heading on to Fell’s Point for some drinks. I was riding with four others, giving directions as we tried to find parking. We were driving on Bank, did a full stop at the sign before pulling onto Washington, and yet halfway through the intersection we see a bright light approaching rapidly from the right. I remember registering that we were about to be in a crash, and either putting my head down or arms up (can’t remember), and then the silvery car slammed into us at around 35 mph. A few seconds of smashing into things later, and we’re at a stop.

“Is everybody ok?”

We were. I busted up my nose a bit, and the girl in the front passenger seat got some nasty bruises on her right side, but nobody was seriously hurt. Our driver has skillfully avoided a lightpost and a parked car, and we ended up in a pile of snow (so the snowstorm was a blessing after all; if not for the snow we would have hit the corner of a building. The couple in the other car weren’t hurt either, though as the picture below shows, their car was in a pretty bad state.

Ours is the red car. Front passenger door completely smashed, but their Nissan got it worse.

Not too long afterwards the firetruck came and disconnected the battery for safety. The police took a lot longer, and when we called 911 we got an “all operators busy”. Not too comforting for the future. But they got there in the end, took our details and towed away the cars. Fortunately we were close to home, so everyone went to our place, where we calmed down with pizza and chocolate. At around three Pete drove the others home.

Written by Martin

2010/02/21 at 19:22

Posted in Uncategorized

Can I eat it?

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As I mentioned in the last (real) post, work is picking up now. This means that we’re typically in the lab until around 8pm, which poses a challenge in terms of making dinner.

I was actually looking forward to cooking again, now that I moved out of the dorm. Especially here in the US, where I have a much wider range of ingredients available. But obviously this hinges on having time to cook. So far we’ve been getting by using one of several methods:

  1. Takeout. Good variety, a little expensive if done frequently, usually somewhat unhealthy.
  2. Restaurant. Nice, but somewhat expensive, and includes the hassle of going out.
  3. One person leaves early and cooks. Good option, when it’s an option.
  4. Cook a huge portion and eat it for 2-3 days. Works, but mostly for pasta and stews. Usually combined with option 3 or a weekend, since you need to cook in the first place.

This situation isn’t too bad, but it does limit the options a bit. Salads sometimes get neglected simply because the ingredients aren’t as versatile and have lower shelf-life. Plus meal times are pretty irregular, leading to frequent bouts of hunger in between (and consequently temptation by vending machines and other sources of sugary snacks). Lunch is usually had at the Johns Hopkins Hospital cafeteria, which has a good selection (soups, sandwiches, salad-bar, pizza and 1-2 hot meals) but again tends to be high on calories. Onion rings and fries are surprisingly adept at sneaking into any meal. All in all, I can tell that I’m eating a bit too much these days.

Once I get into a routine, it should be easier to plan meals. Will probably make lunches for myself at least some of the time, just for the element of control. Maybe get a really big pot, cook enormous portions and freeze things, so that we always have several meals in a semi-ready frozen state (our fridge/freezer is American size, fortunately). And a better understanding and supply of available ingredients should help spice up the menu. On the bright side, having three people who actually like to cook means that I get exposed to dishes I probably wouldn’t have made myself, even if the same ingredients are used.

How do I get fed, but not fat?

I’ll keep you posted on the food situation as I go along.

Written by Martin

2010/02/19 at 18:17

Posted in Food, Uncategorized


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Sitting in el coqui business center, a little Mexican shop with FedEx dropoff. I’m waiting for FedEx to pick up my package because the owner wouldn’t give me a receipt for having received it. He seems like a very nice guy, but I want to be absolutely sure I’m covered with HP.
Good thing I have my phone for amusement.

Written by Martin

2010/02/19 at 17:43

Posted in Uncategorized


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Last week was disrupted by snow, and this Monday was President’s Day, but now I’m finally starting to have work to do. Yesterday morning I took a shuttle down to the National Institutes of Health Headquarters in Bethesda, in order to get registered as an NIH worker. Their campus is gargantuan, as evident from the photo below. Of course you’d expect that, with a 2010 budget of thirty-one billion dollars (that’s close to a third of the Danish state budget).

NIH Headquarters in Bethesda

There were  a lot of security checks just to get in there, and it took a lot of time because it seems that my immigration papers were marked wrong when I entered the US. So now I have to go down to Baltimore Washington International Airport to have that fixed, because I can move on to getting a social security number and then my driver’s license.

On the bright side, the 1.5 hour ride each way was in a free shuttle provided by the NIH. Basically a guy in an SUV, much nicer than having to get there myself. After I got back I talked to my Administrative Officer, Project Coordinator, Johns Hopkins Security Officer and the NIH Badging Unit. Follow that up with a bunch of online training courses last night (don’t go on Facebook from NIH computers, always tell the NIH about potentially patentable findings, encrypt all personal identifiable information you take out of NIH computers…) plus more interviews today, and I’m definitely getting places. I now have my Johns Hopkins ID badge, and my NIH badge is being made. I completed all the training courses, so I should get an NIH login and email before too long, and in a little while I’m going to my J-1 Exchange Visitor Orientation. By next week I may even be allowed in the lab.

Written by Martin

2010/02/17 at 12:32

Posted in Uncategorized

Shiny Metal Tiger

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Here we are then, the 27th year of the 78th sexagenary cycle. Roughly corresponding to 2010 in the occidental  calendar, this year has the Yang form Metal heavenly stem sitting on the Tiger Earthly Branch. And it is going to be an awesome year.

To my understanding, traditional Chinese astrology has this as a tumultuous year, because the Yang Metal heavenly stem clashes with the Yang Wood fixed element of Tiger. A five year period starting Jan 20th 2010 is dominated by the Wood and Fire elements, so the result is a strong flow of qi from Wood through Fire to Metal. This provide strong energy to anything associated with the Metal element, including warfare, technology and finance, so those areas are supposed to see a lot of action. In retrospect, the last Yang Metal Tiger year was 1950, which saw (among other things): the release of L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics book, paving the way for the birth of Scientology; The first use of a plastic card for payment (Diner’s Club); acceptance of evolution as a non-heretical hypothesis by the Catholic church and of course rampant fear of communism.

So that’s what is supposed to happen. But through successive enterprises of daring and ingenuity, I intend to seize my wyrd from the oppressive regime of astrology and send it on a path straight to awesomeness. Last night we went to a dinner for the Taiwanese Association of America, celebrating the Spring Festival. A Taiwanese guy in our lab was one of the arrangers, and arranged for our participation. Nice affair, with a buffet, dancing, music, games for the children and a lottery going on throughout. In particular, there was an opera singer present who gave a fantastic performance.

Today we drove up to Pennsylvania for a whole day of skiing. While the mountain wasn’t really on par with Europe or Colorado for length and variety of slopes, it wasn’t bad at all. We got there early afternoon, and skied until they closed at 22. Lots of speed, lots of falling, lots of good times. Lots of cold too, since I didn’t have proper clothes for the occasion. I also had my first drive-through dinner, at Dunkin’ Donuts… not something I’d like to repeat anytime soon. I’ll upload a picture when possible.

Written by Martin

2010/02/14 at 23:19

Posted in Uncategorized

I hate FedEx

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So, yesterday I ended up waiting for FedEx from eight in the morning until two in the afternoon, at which point I had to go to the lab for a meeting. To rub it in, I see the FedEx van come while I’m waiting for the bus, but at that point I really need to get to work, so even running back home isn’t an option. Besides, it’s no big deal, I figure. Either they’ll come tomorrow to drop it off, or I’ll have to pick it up somewhere tonight or tomorrow.

Not true. When I get back home in the evening, there’s no note from the FedEx guy who attempted delivery. So I call them up, and after 15 minutes on hold and carefully explaining that, yes, estimated delivery is next week, but I can see on the tracking page that they tried to deliver it today, I find out which warehouse my package is located at. Unfortunately, the warehouse is closed on Saturdays, so they will attempt another delivery Tuesday. Now, I’ll be in Bethesda at the main NIH campus on Tuesday, so is there anywhere I could pick up the package instead? Unfortunately, this warehouse doesn’t allow pickups. Could I have it dropped off at a local FedEx office for pickup? Unfortunately, the shipper hasn’t specified that option. I can, however, presign online and have FedEx drop it at my doorstep, but somehow I don’t think it’s a good idea to leave a cardboard box that says HP ENVY on it on the street in front of the house, at the mercy of the weather and passers-by.

So, my best option appears to be to hope the delivery Tuesday is late in the day so that I might get home in time, and otherwise take a whole day off to catch the next one. How is it that the various postal services somehow fail to realize that most people have jobs, and can’t loaf around the house all day waiting for a package? They’re already registering my package as residential contra business, so why not take the quantum leap in sensibility and deliver residential packages in the evening? I realize that the cost would be higher, but in my uninformed opinion, it would not be a big difference. And for heaven’s sake, it would make the world a better place. Honestly, it’d be the biggest customer service revolution since online banking. Until that day, we’ll just have to resign ourselves to lots of wasted time and delays whenever we’re waiting for an important package. That’s what I’m doing at least, and honestly working around my lack of computer is much more pleasant than trying to make the delivery happen.

Oh, by the way, that bus I was waiting for never came, so after 45 minutes I had to take a cab to work.

Written by Martin

2010/02/13 at 11:23

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