Saturday, January 31, 2009

25 things...

I posted this on facebook, but decided to post it here as well. So enjoy 25 random facts about me...

1. I ate meat multiple times a day until I met my friend Amber and she lent me some books eight years ago.
2. The first complete sentence that I spoke was "I need new batteries" when I was 2.
3. My first vivid memory is from my third birthday when I thought to myself that when I'm twice as old as I am now, I'll be 6!
4. I was hijacked to Havana, Cuba in the early 80s with my mom when we were on our way to visit my uncle in Miami.
5. I love museums and my mom would take me to one on every school holiday when I was little. I once spent the better part of a day in the Louvre, however on another occasion spent about 5 minutes in the National Gallery with my friend Stacie (we had to catch a bus!).
6. I've traveled to ten countries in the past four years.
7. I've always been a recycler. I remember my mom holding me up when I was little to put the glass coke bottles into the recycling bins at the grocery store.
8. I had never heard of MIT until I met Woodie Flowers late in my sophomore year of high school. He suggested that I check the place out :)
9. While at MIT, I lived in a co-op where I cooked dinner for up to 30 people at once. I miss all of my old housemates a ton.
10. I never liked cooking much until I became vegan. Now it's one of the most enjoyable things that I do.
11. I've run two full marathons and a few halves. I'm trying to get into triathlons, but I'm a horrible swimmer.
12. I wrote my first computer program on the night of my 5th birthday in BASIC on my brand new C64.
13. In high school, I created our school's first website and put our school newspaper on the web. This was in 1996, and I wrote this fun java program to turn our newspaper into HTML. For this they gave me an office with a computer. It was fun to have friends visit and we kept Jen's soccer schedule on the whiteboard.
14. My favorite restaurant is Hakkasan in London which I don't get to go to very often. The one I frequent most is Thai Garden in Schaumburg where I eat almost once a week.
15. I'm an avid reader and love reading about almost any topic. Most of my reading is non-fiction, but I do enjoy fiction as well. There's just too much I want to learn first!
16. While most of my schooling was in engineering, most of my job involves ethnography and design. I don't see a contradiction in that at all, and see so many links between the arts and sciences every day.
17. Last year I watched a soccer game at Estadio Azteca from the broadcast booth.
18. I make lists. Lots of lists. Things to do, books to read, studies I want to plan, papers I want to write...
19. I try not to drive my car on weekends. This is hard in the winter, but living by the train helps.
20. I've been to Disney (World/Land/Paris/Tokyo) 17 times in my life. I'm only missing Hong Kong Disney which I hope to go to later this year!
21. I can't go to San Francisco without making a trip to Muir Woods. It's one of the most peaceful places on the planet.
22. My favorite places to run include the Chicago lakefront path, the Charles in Boston, and the Golden Gate Bridge. I guess I like running near water?
23. I strongly believe in helping young people love to learn. For the past three years, I've tutored at 826 Chicago and prior to that mentored a high school team in the FIRST Robotics Competition. If you're looking to volunteer, check both of them out! They are both national.
24. Amelie is my favorite movie. I spent a day in Paris going to all of the scenes in the movie (and noticing the extreme lack of photo booths in the metro!)
25. I miss the academic rigor of MIT. I'm definitely looking forward to getting out there this week to teach again!


Monday, January 26, 2009


Research (at least in the lab I work in) is cyclical. We strongly believe in commercializing our ideas, so we'll go through years of intense research and then years of development before moving on to the next big thing. For the past two years, I've been deep in the development side of things for two big projects. Which is nice, and it involves a totally different set of skills and functions that must be accomplished. And it's been great working on that side of things and seeing my work through to be at the point where millions of people can use it later this year. That's why I work where I do, and not in a university someplace.

But I must admit to being bored lately. Not bored because I have nothing to do (because certainly there's plenty to do!) but bored because I'm not able to work on things that are challenging or intellectually stimulating. Helping work out a business deal or port some software to one new platform after another just doesn't make my brain go whirring about with joy.

Today however, I made it down to our city offices to help a colleague there with some data analysis and just felt so wonderful! (another colleague stopped me later and asked why I was smiling so much!) The joy of having pages and pages of data and needing to make sense of it makes my head spin in a million directions at once. To find patterns and invent new ideas based on those findings is just so stimulating and something I've missed so much.

As I said, all research goes in cycles. And I already have some plans to start up another ethnographic-style study of my own. But in the mean time, it's nice to be able to help others with theirs :)


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

MoMo Chicago vs. MoMo Silicon Valley

Last night, I attended the new kickoff for Mobile Monday Chicago, which is a group of people in the mobile industry who get together once a month to talk about specific topics in the mobile space. This was the first event in the Chicago group and it was really interesting to me the sharp differences in the people who came vs. the people that come to MoMo in the valley.

I've been to a few of the events in san francisco, and they're all huge...hundreds of people, mostly from startups (but also established players like Nokia, Yahoo, Google, etc.). The Chicago group was quite different, and it reflects the sorts of businesses that are in Chicago. Chicago isn't a tech city. It's not the place for the next hot mobile startup or social website. It's home to big home-goods companies (Sears, Kraft, etc.) and lots of advertising firms. So for the most part, that's who showed up and the discussions were so different from anything in academia or the startup world out west.

This month, Tom Emmons from Sears presented the work that they've been doing in the mobile space. From 2D barcodes in store, to SMS contests, to a nice iPhone-friendly mobile web site that allows you to buy almost any item from your phone and pick it up in the store. It's definitely not the glamor apps of Loopt or Flickr or the latest mobile browser, but clearly the sort of app that will be immediately useful for a lot of people.

It will definitely be interesting to see how the Chicago Mobile Mondays evolve and the topics that people find interesting. Sadly, I think I feel much more at home in the ones out West or in Boston :)


Friday, January 16, 2009

Marathon Splits

In case it wasn't obvious where I lost my pace in the marathon, there's this handy graph produced by my nike+. That big dip is mile 20-21 which involved lots of sun, and a giant hill just after the mile 21 sign. Other than that though, fairly consistent pace, You can see a short drop after mile 13 as the sun was up a bit more at that time.

Official splits:
5 Mile 50:01
10 Mile 1:40:23
Half Split 2:12:52
20 Mile 3:34:49


Monday, January 12, 2009

A magical marathon...

As most of you know, yesterday I ran the Walt Disney World Marathon in FL. It was a wonderful day and even though it was a hot day for running those kinds of distances, I had a really great time!!

The day started early with a 3am wake up call from Mickey Mouse :) I was staying at the contemporary so that I could take the monorail to the start line and we had to be on board "no later than 4am." I figured that meant that there would be crazy lines, so wanted to get to the station by 3:40 or so in case I had to wait for a few trains to go by. I ended up getting there around 3:35 and there were only 3 other people waiting, so they let us all ride in front with the driver which is always fun! I don't think I've done that since high school and coming down for the FIRST robotics competition.

At Epcot, they guided us to the gear check tents and pre-race entertainment. It was over to the side where the FIRST stages used to be and had plenty of room for everyone. It was starting to get warm already, even at 4:15 am and was already hitting the 60s with very high humidity (90% or so). I checked everything (including the garbage bag I had brought to keep me warm if I needed it) and began the one mile walk from gear check to the start line.

I was in the "Blue" start which is the top 1/3 or so of the runners. We had a special starting course from everyone else and got to go around the World Showcase at Epcot while the "Red" start just went around the parking lot. They had us all get to the starting corrals about 45 minutes early, so there was a lot of standing around and stretching. They had some big video walls where they were interviewing some of running's elite before the race. Galloway was there running his 150-something marathon. That guy is insane!

The race started with fireworks which were launched surprisingly close to us in between the blue and red corrals and from a bridge right above me. It was a fun way to start a race, especially a race that starts an hour and a half before the sun rises.

The first 13 miles of the race were wonderful. Without the sun, I kept a great pace. There were some crowds to run through as some of the roads were fairly narrow, but overall the course was pretty wide, at times going down a 3 lane freeway. I saw my parents at mile 1, which was pretty unexpected since it's almost always impossible to spot people so early in a race.

Coming around Epcot at mile 2 was fun as all of the countries were lit up. I saw my parents again at mile 4 coming out of Epcot which was nice. Then it was off to the Magic Kingdom which was at mile 10. On the way there were a few unexpected hills, including one under the canal connecting the two lakes. I also saw my parents again at the Transportation and Ticket Center. Once at the Magic Kingdom, we ran in to the start of Main St, up through to Tomorrowland, around to Dumbo and then *THROUGH THE CASTLE* which was amazing! Then a quick run over to Splash Mountain and out a service road.

Mile 13 was still great and I was at 2:12 at the half which was ahead of my Chicago time at that point. But the sun was starting to get high enough and hot enough that I could tell that the second half would be hard. Luckily, the route to Animal Kingdom was mostly in the shade. At this point the aid stations were just about every mile which was nice. Mile 16 had wet (and cold) sponges which were greatly appreciated. I was hoping for more of these later as it got pretty hot!

Animal Kingdom was fun and they had all sorts of animals out along the side of the course. My friend Alison from MIT was at mile 17.5 cheering which was a lot of fun. I knew what was coming next and I needed all of the encouragement I could get!

So at 17.5 I was still feeling great. I was still pretty much on pace and was hoping for a really great finish. But from there until mile 22 we ran down an open freeway with no shade and lots of hills for the overpasses. Mile 21 was the craziest with a giant overpass on-ramp. There was a huge collective groan from all of the runners when we turned that corner and saw how bit it was! These miles were tough for me and I really slowed down a lot and took some extended walk breaks at the aid stations (and up that giant on-ramp!).

Mile 23 was the backlot at MGM and we got to run down the streets of New York which was fun and through the costume design shop. Then it was along the Boardwalk (which was also pretty hot) and into Epcot for the final 1.2. The heat was really getting to me at this point and I made a fairly slow entrance into the World Showcase. Only in the last 0.2 was I able to kick it up a little and make a somewhat respectable finish.

I ended with a time of 4:52, which given the conditions I'm happy with. If it just would have been a little more cloudy, or less humid, or cooler out, I could have done so much better. At the end of the race it was 80 with 85% humidity.

The finish area was well run with water, powerade, clif protein bars, and bananas. I made it from finish to gear pickup in less than 10 minutes. It was nice to be done and able to cool off a bit.

Overall, the race was a lot of fun and I highly recommend it. It's very different from running Chicago though as most of the course is through access roads with no spectators. It's not the 26.2 miles of rah-rah cheering that is Chicago, but still fun and awesome to run through all of the parks!

After the race I made it back to the hotel for a quick ice bath and shower and then it was off to the Magic Kingdom with Alison for an afternoon and evening of fun! I was feeling pretty good and was able to walk around and get into rides with little difficulty. However my feet had expanded quite a bit during the day and were hitting the front of my shoes which was a bit uncomfortable. But I made it through and we rode everything that we wanted to and saw a wonderful fireworks show. All very fun!

Registration is open for next year!


Wednesday, January 07, 2009


409...that's the number of miles I've run in training for the marathon. It's been a long year with lots of running in different cities and definitely different temperatures. I've run from 32 degrees up to 88 degrees and in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Florida, London, Birmingham UK, and NYC, Mexico City, and Boston.

It's just 3 1/2 days until the Disney Marathon now! I'm in the Blue start, so I get to run around the world at Epcot twice! I'm super excited!


Saturday, January 03, 2009

netflix on tivo

This week I decided that I'd play with the new netflix on tivo feature. I had only been subscribing at the 4.99 level (2 a month) but for $4 more, I could get unlimited video streaming to my TV. Seemed like a no brainer to me as they have a lot of TV series on there that I can now stream directly to my TV set.

Setting it up was pretty simple, you just put a code that's displayed on your screen into a netflix website and your queue shows up (at least the portion of it that supports streaming). I had always wanted to watch the TV show Heroes, so decided I'd start there. Picked the show/season, saw a list of episodes, picked the first one and off it went. HD-quality streaming started in about 5 seconds or so and there was never a hiccup.

I did run into a DRM/rights issue though. I got to episode 20 and it just wouldn't play. I had heard that Netflix was running into some licensing issues with streaming TV shows at the same time that networks had the rights to air it and I'm guessing that it was what I came across. The error messages were not so helpful ("This title is not available to be streamed at this time" or something like that). Anyway an hour or so later, all was working fine again.

I sort of fear the day when back catalogs of all shows are available for streaming. Just with the amount of time I spent watching Heroes this week, I can't imagine how much time I'd spend if I had every episode of any show available to go in 5 seconds. And I'm really not that much of a TV person.

Some disappointments from the netflix/tivo offering:

1) They force you to have 2 queues on Netflix now and for things you want to stream, you have to add them to a special "Instant Queue" even if they are on your main queue for you to see them on your tivo. To start, it was smart and created this list with everything in my main queue that was streamable. I don't see why it couldn't just keep doing this. I really don't want to have to maintain two queues.

2) The DRM issue mentioned above. Sometimes shows can't stream because of rights issues and as far as I know there's no way to know when a show will be unavailable.

3) You can't add shows to the queue or browse available titles from the TV. It's not so bad since I had my laptop nearby to add things, but it still would be nice if you could add related content (like the next season of a show) from the TV.

Things that were surprisingly good:

1) Instant start to streaming

2) Not forcing you to think of content as being on DVD's. Streaming TV shows in their web interface is still very DVD centric where you have to pick the disc and then jump to the appropriate chapter for the episode. The Tivo interface was just a list of episodes, like it should be!

3) Speed of navigation in the netflix "app" on the tivo. A lot of tivo apps are really really slow since they do most of their processing on a server. This app was lightning fast - seemed as fast at the rest of the Tivo UI. So they're definitely doing something special and that's greatly appreciated!