2010
05.27

Tonight I had the distinct pleasure of watching the incomparable Diana Ross perform at the Chicago Theater. She’s enjoyed a long and celebrated solo career, but will perhaps be best remembered as one of The Supremes, arguably one of the finest (and most famous) female singing groups in American history. Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballard were Motown’s biggest act and sang some of that eras most famous songs, including “Stop! In the Name of Love” and “Where Did Our Love Go.”

The Supremes were wonderful, yet Diana Ross was, and still is, sublime.

The show started behind a white curtain through which we could see vivid colors from a screen and the outlines of several people. They turned out to be a large band composed of brass (saxophones, trombone, and trumpet), strings (violins, cellos), two pianos, drum set, guitars, and three backup singers. I was surprised to see such a full stage, but I realized I wasn’t really sure what I was expecting. In addition to occasionally psychedelic displays (Diana Ross went solo in 1970, after all), the video screen showed nearly continuous footage of Ross in her earlier years as a solo act and with The Supremes. In this way, I felt Ross not only gracefully acknowledged her advanced age but gave the younger members of the audience a chance to see candid footage of the performer she used to be.

The diva appeared in a bright, lime green frilly wrap that when shed revealed a shimmering, silver dress that sparkled wonderfully in the stage lights. I didn’t recognize the song she opened with it, and indeed I felt that for much of the show the bands music overpowered her vocals. It didn’t help that I was up in the lower balcony, but that still should not have been as issue.

But when her voice was heard clearly, it was magnificent. The sound can perhaps best be described as mellifluous; sweet and clear with a sort of feathery touch that is distinctively hers. The energy in her vocals was matched by the spirit with which she glided, twirled, and shook on the stage. The woman is sixty-six years old and can still shimmy. Marvelous.

The music was nearly continuous for the next hour, with Ross singing classic hits and some sultry, bluesy tunes that prompted catcalls and shouts from the audience, along with the requisite declarations of love. The well-known pop songs really got the crowd excited and singing and clapping along. And dancing. Oh the dancing (again, she went solo in 1970). There was a group of nine middle-older aged women in the two rows directly in front of me. They were really, really excited to be at the show and had apparently rehearsed dances for “Stop!” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough (To Keep Me Away From You).” I was alternately amused and annoyed by them, but had to appreciate their enthusiasm.

Another fun aspect of the show were the multiple outfits Ross changed into. Those changes served as the only breaks in the music aside from the encore. She went from silver–> red–> dazzling blue–>pink–>almost-blinding gold–> light green. Most of the dresses had those fantastic wraps to accompany them. I think they’re a required element of a diva’s attire.

At the end Ross was a gracious performer. She introduced her entire band by name and declared her love for the audience and appreciation of our enthusiasm (she “was watching us as we were watching her”).  She even curtsied (and giggled afterward) at the end of one song which charmed me immensely. In short, diva Diana put on one incredible performance.

It’s a show I won’t soon forget.

The Set List (in no particular order, and to the best of my memory):

It’s My House

Stop! In the Name of Love

Endless Love

Mirror, Mirror

I’m Coming Out

Upside Down

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

Love Hangover

Touch Me in the Morning

The Boss

Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To)

Ease On Down the Road (from “The Wiz”, and originally a duet with Michael Jackson)

Take Me Higher

Don’t Explain

Tenderness

More Today Than Yesterday

Can’t Hurry Love

I Will Survive

Fine and Mellow

Reflections

Love Child

Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)

2010
05.16

New Camera!

Well, technically it’s a rather old camera that is newly in my possession. Some years back, shortly before our epic road trip of 2007, my friend Naman Shah bought a Nikon D70 DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera. It’ s a fine piece of work and he used it to take fantastic pictures of our trip and subsequent trips/experiences.  Just last week I bought it off him since  I want to become a better photographer and he was offering the camera + accessories for a steal. Turns out, I also just got a refund/stimulus check from the government which ended paying for the camera almost entirely (except $20 to ship). And that was after I agreed to buy it!

Enough back story. Here are some shots I’ve taken so far. I feel as though the indoor ones are too dark. Any suggestions on how to overcome that?

2010
05.12

Jhumpa Lahiri

This past Monday I had the distinct pleasure of attending a reading, interview, and book signing by one of my favorite modern authors and literary idols, Jhumpa Lahiri. I became an immediate fan of Lahiri after my dad handed me a copy of her Pulitzer Prize-winning debut work Interpreter of Maladies. Interpreter is a collection of short stories about various Bengalis, from both America and Bengal, that explores interpersonal relationships and how those bonds may coalesce and break under different stresses. I cannot adequately sum up a whole collection in one sentence, but if there is one common theme among the stories it is Lahiri’s exquisite attention to detail and ability to evoke sympathy with characters known for only 20 pages.

At the end of my biomedical sciences cluster retreat, I met up with Polly, a friend of mine who’s an MBA student at Kellogg, and Vineet, a friend of her ‘s from NU who’s working on a PhD in Finance. The bus ride to campus was more eventful than I would have liked (who throws up from too much alcohol at 6:45 p.m.??), we made to the International House in enough time to grab some good seats. The house was packed, even more than when David Plouffe (Obama’s campaign manager) came to give a talk.

The evening started with a resident Indian poet reading a poem about Lahiri, followed by Lahiri reading from her latest collection of short stories, Unaccustomed Earth. She spoke in a clear, calm voice with little inflection for the different characters. Following the reading there was interview with a book critic from WBEZ. Most of the Q&A was pretty standard stuff (what the was inspiration behind story X, how did you come up with X symbol, etc), though some of Lahiri’s answers really stood out.

One comment in particular I absolutely loved: “Fiction is a lie that reveals truth.” This comment was part of a larger conversation about the nature of fiction in today’s society. Lahiri made an interesting point about the way online/social media has blurred the line between memoir and fiction in the sense that people nowadays (and really, since the Romantic era of Wordsworth and the like) assume anything written from the first-person perspective must be autobiographical in at least some way. She elaborated later that just because nearly all of her major characters are Bengali does not mean that she feels obliged in any way to tell Bengali or Bengali-American stories. The Namesake, her only novel thus far and her sophomore work,  resonates very strongly with me and my siblings precisely because we too are first-generation Indian-Americans whose parents grew up in India and had to adjust to life in America. Some parts of that story feel almost autobiographical to us, or at least to me, in a way that is both disconcerting (did our parents really sacrifice so much?) and heartening (thank goodness I’m not the only one who feels this way). Lahiri tells those stories simply because that is the world she knows best, just like most of the stories take place in or near Cambridge, Massachusetts (she was born in London and her parents moved to America when she was very young) and Calcutta (where some of her family lives). Same reason nearly all of Stephen King’s stories take place in Maine.

I was also struck by a response she gave to a question concerning the symbolic nature of a father starting a garden in his estranged daughter’s home (from UE). Lahiri replied, to the surprise of much of the audience, that the father gardens because a friend who read an early draft told her that he needed something to do while visiting his daughter. She initially thought he would just play with the grandson, but then decided that was too passive and gardening was more interesting and natural. Sometimes symbols arise out of narrative necessity, just like sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Another neat story involved the titling of IofM and how that story came to be written.  There is a large Russian community near where Lahiri used to live in Cambridge and one day she ran into an Armenian who was fluent in Russian. Because of his fluency, he worked as an interpreter in a doctor’s office to help the non-English-speaking Russian patients. As she was heading home, the phrase “interpreter of maladies” just popped into her head. She wrote it down on a scrap piece of paper and paid more or less attention to it over the following months. Gradually, the idea for the story formed and had not only the title to the story but collection as well.

And finally the book signing. I had three books to sign, one of mine, one of my roommate’s (Neha’s), and one from a friend at school. Since I would have felt awkward handing her all three, Polly and Vineet kindly agreed to pretend the books were theirs. We were lucky to jump in near the front quarter of the line (it stretched out the door and around) and got all three signed. Vineet had the distinction of having probably the longest conversation anyone had with Lahiri when the page he initially opened to have her sign already had her signature on it! I didn’t realize this when I gave the book to him (who would get a book signed twice??). She was confused, he was a bit flummoxed, and I felt awful. I just met this great guy and within two hours I manage to embarrass him in front of Jhumpa Lahiri. Not a good start…..but it made for a great laugh on the way home :) .

Some neat links: a reading from Unaccustomed Earth, an interview with WBEZ about Interpreter, and some articles about Lahiri in TIME, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic.

2010
05.04

Still with me? Excellent. Now for the last two flaws in Dan Brown’s writing: #4, fake suspense, and #5, excessive descriptions.

#4. Since most of Dan Brown’s novels take play in a short amount of time (alluded to in the earlier post). suspense is challenging to build. To me, the best forms of suspense occur not between scenes but within them. For example, near the end of the movie “Signs,” Shyamalan does a masterful job of creating suspense in a very short time frame. In the scene, the Hess family has survived a night of attack from the aliens and sends Merrill (played by Joaquin Phoenix), up the basement stairs to investigate. It’s daytime, so there are no shadows or dark corners to play with. Instead, Shyamalan has Phoenix climb the stairs and leave the frame for maybe five seconds, all the while holding the camera in the same place. The suspense is terrible in those seconds, because the audience doesn’t know who, or what, will re-enter the frame. No sound, just movement.

Dan Brown does not even attempt such subtlety. Here’s a particularly egregious example of “fake suspense”:

“Katherine took a deep breath, calming her mind. ‘I’m not sure how to explain this, but earlier today, I heard an unusual story…’

[two blank lines, indicating change in paragraph but not scene]

Trish Dunne didn’t know what story Katherine Solomon had heard, but clearly it had her on edge. Her boss’s usually calm gray eyes looked anxious, and she had tucked her hair behind her ears three times since entering the room– a nervous ‘tell,’ as Trish called it.”

First of all, he’s stating the obvious. Of course Dunne doesn’t know the story because the previous line indicates Katherine hasn’t told it yet. This set up might work if there was a change of scene and thus the reader is left in some suspense as to what the strange story is. In fact, Dan Brown spends the rest of the page trying to build up the story and ends up with nothing more than filler dialog.

Secondly, there is no need to keep repeating Katherine’s last name, since there is only one Katherine in the entire book and the reader is not likely to suddenly forget her last name from one page to the next. Also, calling a nervous tic a “tell” is hardly original on the part of Dunne. It’s a common phrase and it’s simply false to claim the character made it up. It would have been nice had Dan Brown invented some slang for her, making a programming reference or something. Unfortunately, he’s far too lazy a writer for that. Too bad.

Finally, #5. Before I launch into more invective, please understand that I acknowledge the desire to describe a character, especially one newly introduced, in enough detail such that the reader can form a realistic mental image of the person. It is as though many authors try to ensure reader is “seeing” the same person the author is. I think this is a fundamentally flawed goal. Imagination is one of the few treasures the written word has managed to keep from moving pictures. Authors have the right to give some outline to character appearance, yes, but the reader should have the freedom to fill in the rest. If I want to see exactly what an author thinks a character should look like, I’ll read a picture book.

Here’s an example:

“Director Inoue Sato was a fearsome specimen–a bristly tempest of a woman who stood a mere four feet ten inches. She was bone thin, with jagged features and a dermatological condition known as vitiligo which gave her complexion the mottled look of coarse granite blotched with lichen. Her rumpled blue pantsuit hung on her emaciated frame like a loose sack, the open-necked blouse doing nothing to hide the scar across her neck. It had been noted by her coworkers that Sato’s only acquiescence to physical vanity appeared to be that of plucking her substantial mustache.”

I believe that the best way to describe someone for the first time is to point out what you would notice about someone you just met at a party. These are the features that stand out most:

1) Clothing (clean/dirty, neat/messy, colorful/drab),

2) Head+facial characteristics (eye color, especially striking colors, obvious makeup for women, facial hair for men, hair color and style),

3) Body type (fat/skinny, muscular/flabby, breast/chest size, short/tall)

In addition, something intangible like temperament shouldn’t be revealed as a description but through actions. Here’s how I would describe the director: “Director Inoue Sato was a fearsome specimen. Standing just shy of five feet, her bone thin frame was made all the more striking by her rumpled, loose-fitting pantsuit. The dark suit highlighted her pale skin mottled with vitiligo and a terrible scar was visible on her neck.”

I took 96 words down to 47 and left out only two details: the director’s temperament and mustache. The first, as mentioned, should be revealed through actions and the second is completely unnecessary. What I’m trying to say is that character descriptions should arise as organically as possible. People who show up perfectly packaged just aren’t as interesting as those you get to know over time, even it’s only within the space of 24 hours.

At this point I think I’ve given Dan Brown far more text than he deserves, but writing this rant has also given me a way to express my own thoughts on the art of writing. I am by no means an expert, but as an aspiring writer I simply want to express what it is I admire in writers and how I would emulate, or improve upon, them in my own work.

2010
04.27

On the bio page of his latest book, The Lost Symbol (2009), Dan Brown (or his publisher) states: “Dan Brown is the author of The Da Vinci Code, one of the most widely read novels of all time…”

I have a problem with this statement. Not only do I doubt the veracity of the claim (the novel was published in 2003…which means in just six years it has been read by more people than novels hundreds of years older), but I find the implication of the claim worrying.

Dan Brown is a terrible writer.

There, I said it. The greatest faults I find in Dan Brown’s writing are: 1) characterization, 2) repetition, 3) repetition, 4) fake suspense,  5) overly descriptive scenes.

Let’s start with #1. A Dan Brown novel is not allowed to have more than one wholly female character. If there are two main female characters, one must be mannish/totally unfeminine. In The Lost Symbol, our female protagonist is Katherine Solomon. Here’s an early description of her:

“Despite her brother’s occasional prodding, and no shortage of suitors, Katherine had never married [she's in her 40s in the novel]. Science had become her life partner, and her work had proven more fulfilling and exciting than any man could ever hope to be. Katherine had no regrets.” (p. 22)

No regrets, of course, until she meets Robert Langdon, Dan Brown’s admitted Indiana Jones wannabe. Right from the start, we are given a simplistic and unrealistic portrait of a woman who is supposed to be a beautiful, brilliant billionaire. Dan Brown writes as though a woman in her position could have no desire for love or physical intimacy, or any of the other trappings of a deep and committed relationship. As a woman (and a lifelong scientist), I find this profoundly annoying, and insulting.

Robert Langdon is the most amazing college professor…ever. In an early classroom scene, Langdon lectures his class about the symbols found around Washington, DC. Here are some passages illustrating how the students respond:

“Langdon smiled. ‘As if the drinking age here stops any of you?’ Everyone laughed.”

“Langdon made a show of considering it ["it" being an explanation about cornerstones] and then shook his head, toying with them. ‘Sorry, I can’t do that. Some of you are only freshmen. I’m afraid it might blow your minds.’ ‘Tell us!’ everyone shouted.”

Considering the lecture hall is described as so large Langdon must literally shout to make himself heard, using the word “everyone” repeatedly is not only lazy but absolutely unrealistic (the last time I heard hundreds of college students actually shout in unison was at a basketball game, not in a lecture hall). Am I nitpicking? Perhaps. But lazy authors just frustrate me.

#2 and #3. Dan Brown likes to repeat details of profound symbols hidden in famous places. First in Paris (The Da Vinci Code), then in Rome (Angels and Demons), and now in DC. Since each of his novels takes place in a rather short time span (less than a day, certainly shorter than one week), his characters tend to act in a limited area and thus visit/encounter certain locations or objects multiple times.  As such, a repeated description of those objects is not only unnecessary, it wastes space and is even distracting, not to mention profoundly annoying. Imagine I wrote a story of my typical work day. Writing like Dan Brown would mean describing the model and size of my monitor every time I sat down at my computer, which I do about a dozen times a day. Once you read it twice, you really don’t need to read it again. Unless you have the attention span of a 6-year old who’s never read a book.

I give you the most egregious example of repetition and condescension in the entire novel:

“Katherine continued down the hall to the data-storage room. As always, the two redundant holographic backup units hummed safely within their temperature-controlled vault…Holographic data-storage devices, unlike their refrigerator-size ancestors, looked more like sleek stereo components, each perched atop a columnar pedestal.

Both of her lab’s holographic drives were synchronized and identical–serving as redundant backups to safeguard identical copies of her work.”

I think I face-palmed when I read this. Apparently Dan Brown was afraid I would get distracted by the total awesomeness of holographic drives from one paragraph to the next that he decided I needed to be reminded what purpose they serve. In five consecutive sentences (I’ve omitted one here), Dan Brown uses “holographic” three times, “redundant” twice (redundantly), “backup” twice (in case you lose the first one in Langdon’s dreamy eyes and deep voice), and even “identical” twice (copied identically…oh wait, that’s redundant…backup!) This is the writing of a grade-school child, not a professional novelist.

This post is clearly (incredibly!) and  suddenly becoming a thriller…..but you must go to the next post to see the end!


2010
04.24

From a very young age I’ve had an abiding interest in science. In elementary school, I longed to own a chemistry set so that I could mix up the chemicals and watch them change colors or, ideally, explode. My parents bought us a microscope that we used to inspect both the provided specimens (like bees carefully preserved) and things we found around the house, like food and hair.

But one instrument I still yearn for is a telescope. I believe few things can evoke such unmitigated wonder in people like the truly extraterrestrial.  My friend Eddie at Northwestern was kind enough to bring his pretty serious telescope (below) along with him on our camping trip.

Eddie’s a really smart guy and has taught himself a lot about astronomy and working telescopes, such that in just minutes he was able to point the scope at the sky and show me this:

What you’re looking at is Jupiter, the big bright spot, and the tiny spots around it are the four Galilean moons of Io, Ganymede, Callisto, and Europa. Almost exactly 400 years ago, Galileo Galilei was perhaps the first human being in history to see the moons of another planet. What was revolutionary (and heretical) then is commonplace now, but this image still gave me chills. It is another planet with moons. Extraterrestrial. Magnificent. (Note: The image is very blurry because of my shaking my pocket-sized digital camera and the fact that the planet seems to move quickly through the lens because of its (relatively) small size.)

The stars, galaxies, nebulae out there in space cannot be subjected to human dominion and to this day even defy full understanding. We can anthropomorphize creatures but how do you relate to a galaxy? We can dub this stellar image the Horsehead Nebula while knowing it is no mere creature but a furnace of creation. This image itself was not really possible without a very special instrument: Hubble.

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the operational start of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). As the first telescope in Earth’s orbit, and thus free of atmospheric interference, Hubble could see further and clearer than any telescope ever built. Despite some initial hiccups with a faulty mirror that almost doomed the entire mission, Hubble has expanded and enlightened man’s view of the universe more than any other instrument in history. I could go on and on why I think this telescope is amazing, but since the accomplishments of this telescope are best told through pictures rather than words, I’ll leave you with some of my favorite images.

M16 (Eagle Nebula), also known as the "Pillars of Creation"

Perhaps Hubble’s most famous image of the Eagle Nebula, taken in 1995.

The earliest view we have of the Universe

Taken in December 2009, Hubble scientists revisited the area of the sky observed in the first “Deep Field” image. The faintest galaxies visible here are thought to be nearly 13 billion years old!

Not all Hubble tributes this week have been serious. Jimmy Fallon did a nice segment on his show.

Happy birthday Hubble, and I can’t wait for many more years of incredible images!!

2009
10.26

Although I am aware I have a limited readership and thus have not felt compelled to blog much recently (or since July, in fact), Saket’s urging reminded me that blogging is not just for others but for myself as well. In this computer age where handwritten journals are fast becoming extinct, we must record our autobiographies electronically.

I am pleased to report my life is somewhat less than dull though not incredibly thrilling. As such, I have been quite busy in the months since I last posted. After successfully defending my thesis proposal, I have: attended my first ever professional sports game to watch the White Sox beat the Yankees, attended a U2 concert, moved our lab to a new and gorgeous building, danced bhangra with DJ Rekha, toured the Chicago Botanical Gardens and North American Baha’i Temple, went camping with friends, and had my parents and grandmother visit me in Chicago.

A brief word on each of these activities:

White Sox v. Yankees: My PI, Ken Onel, had to leave last minute to New York to visit family and thus gave his family’s tickets for the 31 July game to me, Kate, Tim, and Justin. Kate and Tim are my labmates and Justin is/was (not sure right now…) Tim’s boyfriend and a delightful fella. The game was fun and I certainly learned a thing about baseball. The seats were great and I managed to take some decent video. Thankfully, the Sox won!

White Sox v. Yankees

U2 concert: My awesome roommate, Neha, is a huge U2 fan and purchased two tickets to their concert at Soldier Field months in advance.  Unfortunately for her, her family planned a trip to Paris/Scotland the same week of the concert, and she sold her ticket to me. Lucky me! Our mutual friend Katie Hekman had the second ticket, and thus I got to watch an amazing show with an amazing person. The set list was mostly foreign to me save classics such as “Walk On,” “Beautiful Day,” though the show was certainly enjoyable. U2 really knows how to play to a large audience, and I can hardly imagine them in a venue less than a stadium seating ~61,000.

Me and Katie at the U2 concert

KCBD: The Knapp Center for Biomedical Discovery and my lab’s new home at the UoC. Gorgeous though flawed, yet certainly an improvement over our previous dwelling in a forgotten wing of the hospital. We have plenty of bench space and really, really rolly (apparently not a real word, wtf?) chairs. Who could ask for more?

KCBD

Bhangra with Rekha: DJ Rekha is a Desi spinner who started the “Basement Bhangra” movement in New York. She masterfully blends traditional Punjabi bhangra music with rap/hip-hop that moves people of all skin tones. Thanks again to Neha, and a connection with her friend and amazing bhangra dancer Gobind Singh, I got to actually hang out with her before the show and was given “VIP” treatment for the night. Balle balle!

DJ Rekha

DJ RekhaMe, Gobind Singh, and Simran

Me, Gobind Singh, and Simran

Gardens and Baha’i: Neha, Michelle (a friend I now have who knows Neha via MIT and Kevin via NU!), and I drove up to the Chicago Botanical Gardens and stopped by Devon Ave and the Baha’i temple on the way. Megna (another friend at NU), biked to the Gardens from Evanston and joined us there. I’ve been meaning to visit both places since coming to Chicago and managed to get two in one day! It was a very pleasant afternoon spent with friends and flora. We were hungry on the way back and Michelle drove us to Sticky Rice, her favorite Thai place in Chicago. It was easily the best Thai I’ve had in Chicago too, and not just because I was really hungry!Baha'i Temple of North America

Gardens

Camping at Rock Cut State Park: Went with Kevin and NU friends. Rock Cut is about 2 hours west of Chicago and so we left on Friday late afternoon and reached our campsite by evening. Unfortunately, all the non-electric sites were taken so we ended up with electricity…but no electronics (save a kettle). We hiked, canoed, made s’mores, and viewed Jupiter and its four largest moons thanks to Eddie! It was awesome!Camping

Jupiter+moons

‘Rents and grand’rent visit: What to do with free almost-expired AA tickets? Fly to Chicago! Mom, dad, and my Ba (grandma) came for a four day visit to the Windy City. We met a friend of my uncle’s from India who currently resides in Milwaukee. We also visited the Adler Planetarium, Buckingham Fountain at Grant Park, Navy Pier, and the Signature Lounge at the John Hancock building.Ba and Mom

Family at SigLoungeMore to come, stay tuned!

2009
08.04

Sapana Vora, PhD Candidate

Only July 7th, 2009, I successfully defended my thesis proposal and became a PhD candidate in Cancer Biology at the University of Chicago. The process was both informative and a little nerve wracking, and I’m glad it’s over. My committee is smart, thoughtful, and truly engaged with my project and I am grateful to have them all signed on until the bitter end. Unlike at my prelim, I was able to amicably banter with my adviser and another prof and truly felt at ease the whole while, even when they asked me questions I couldn’t answer. We did find the gaps in my knowledge and I have vowed to fill them to overflowing before my SRP (student research presentation) next February and certainly before my next committee meeting sometime next summer.

So what’s my thesis project? In short, a case-control genome-wide association study of genetic susceptibility for the development of therapy-related acute myeloid leukemia (t-AML). What it basically means is that I’m going to genotype the germline DNA (what you’re born with) of patients who are treated (more or less) the same way for the same primary cancer and see what’s different between the people who develop t-AML (cases) and those who do not (controls). In terms of genetics, I’m primarily interested in SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) and CNVs (copy number variants) found across the genome (genome-wide). It’s the differences we’re interested in, because they could potentially serve as markers or beacons representing susceptibilities to developing t-AML, a secondary, treatment-related cancer.

For those not familiar with the whole PhD process, it typically goes something like this:
Year 1: Take classes and rotate through labs (usually 10-weeks apiece).
Interim: Take some preliminary/qualifying exam to test knowledge and confirm student is ready to continue in the program. Join a lab for the thesis project.
Year 2: Take any remaining classes and fulfill TA requirements.
Interim: Assemble thesis committee (adviser+ at least 3 other profs, at least two of which are within one’s department). Successfully write + present = defend thesis proposal.
Years 3-?: Conduct thesis research. Fulfill any class/TA requirements remaining. Meet with thesis committee at least once a year. Attend conferences, meetings, etc.
The End: Successfully write + present = defend thesis. Send copies to the five people who will ever read it. Graduate and put “Dr” in front of name. Figure out what to do with rest of life.

I am currently in the second “interim” stage. Now, all I need are my cases, controls, and data before I can move on. You know, small things.

2009
08.04

California Dreamin’

[The last time I posted was June 9th. This is rather sad. I vow from here on out to post at least once a week, hopefully on interesting things going on in my life and barring any dearth of such news, at least interesting thoughts going on in my head.]

The past two months have been rather exciting though anxious at times. First the trip to California. On June 11th I flew out to California to celebrate Saket’s graduation from Stanford. The flight was horribly delayed and I joined my family hours late, only to arrive exhausted to some terrible news. My Dad’s mother’s health had taken a turn for the worse and our greatest fears rapidly darted to the front of our minds. We promptly canceled our weekend at Yosemite (quite a shame, since my dad loves Ansel Adams’ photography and longed to see the subjects in person) and started searching for the earliest flight to India. Unfortunately, my dad didn’t have his passport with him (something I’ve made a personal point to always have with me when I travel, just in case…) so trip planning was slightly complicated. Our friends and neighbors, the Shahs, were a tremendous help in packing Dad’s things and getting him to and from the airport as quickly as possible. We really owe them. He left on the 12th, just a day before Saket graduated.

The graduation ceremony was fun, though the sun was a bit intense (the tan lines have only just fully faded). We got to meet a lot of Saket’s friends, tour the gorgeous campus, and enjoy a performance by the (in) famous Stanford band (tree included). Pictures are up on facebook.

The next couple of days were spent in the City. We toured the Marin Headlands with had incredible views of the Bay. We visited the fabled Berkeley campus where Greek architecture is the style of choice and meeting places and cafes just scream *liberal*. Just walk along the streets bordering campus and you’ll inhale more than fresh, left-slanting air. We also ate at this great little Thai restaurant and basked in the glory that is Thai iced tea (half tea, half half-and-half, and half sugar).

We also had 2.5 days schedule for Lake Tahoe and it was a splendid trip. We had heard much tell of the lake but never got around to seeing it, despite our many trips to the Great Bear Republic. Though the skies threatened rain the first afternoon, they promptly cleared for the next two days and we were showered with glorious weather. We took a few hikes, took lots of pictures of the lake, visited a Scandinavian castle, ate some of the best pizza I’ve ever had, found a delightful Thai restaurant with approximately 8,000 vegetarian choices, and in general enjoyed ourselves.

While I was busy having fun, a rather serious deadline was bothering me. My thesis proposal was scheduled for June 26th which mean the written part needed to be done by the 19th at the latest. I “worked” on it on and off but was starting to panic that I wouldn’t get it done in time (poor vacation scheduling, eh?). Viewing the highly enjoyable Star Trek reboot with the sibs pushed the deadline further back but not forgotten. Sachi and Mom were scheduled to leave the next day (the 19th) and I was determined to just finish it all in one day. Then I got the email.

The stepmother of one of my committee members had passed away. Tim’s, my friend and labmate, thesis proposal was scheduled for the 22nd and had to promptly be rescheduled. We decided it was best that he take my spot (since we share the same committee and the room was already booked) and that I reschedule to a later date. My new date ended up being July 7th, which meant I just received an 11 day extension. While my heart broke for my professor, part of me couldn’t help rejoicing at the turn of events. Not quite schadenfreude, but too close for comfort.

With a deadline suddenly lifted, I found myself free to actually enjoy the last couple of days I had with my brother in California. We still worked in a student center for most of the 19th, though more or less relaxed the rest of the time. We played Smash Brothers with Nader until 3 a.m., toured the campus art museum (famous for its Rodin sculptures), attended a lovely BBQ with the people from DripTech (we got cool shirts too), attended an amazing farmer’s market, and of course got more froyo (frozen yogurt for the uninitiated). I was sad to leave Cali but am seriously considering finding a post-doc out there someday….

2009
06.09

Hate always starting with the Calibri font package in PowerPoint 2007? Wish you could go back to Arial or Times New Roman? Then look no further than this post! Just follow the simple instructions below to set your own default presentation theme or design a new one:

In order to change the default font for PowerPoint 2007, we have to create a base
template and save it in default templates folder. Please follow the steps mentioned
below to create and save a base template and see if that will meet your
requirements.

1. Start PowerPoint 2007.
2. Select View tab ; then select Slide Master
3. On the Slide Master (Slide Master: the slide that stores information about the design template applied, including font styles, placeholder sizes and positions, background design, and color schemes.), make the changes that you want to be
reflected in every new presentation. You have to make the changes to each slide of the slide master.
4. Then click Close Master View.
5. Click Office Button and then click Save As > Other formats
6. Pick PowerPoint Template from the Save As Type list box
7. Save the template as Blank.potx. PowerPoint will automatically chooses the folder as %Appdata%\Microsoft\Templates, so accept the default location. The default location would be \Documents and Settings\\Application Data\Microsoft\Templates.
9. Close the file and start a new presentation to verify the font.
For your testing, attached a sample Blank.potx file based on your requirement.

(Courtesy of: Office Deployment Support Team Blog at http://blogs.technet.com/odsupport/archive/2009/04/24/how-to-deploy-specific-fonts-in-office-2007.aspx)