Category Archives: Life

Good service from Delta

Usually, when folks talk about airlines and flights, the topic is one of these:
* being delayed and its consequences (flight was cancelled, missed connection, stuck on the ground pre-takeoff)
* ticket prices (expensive fares or secret special deals)
* uncomfortable seats (and dreams of flying in business or first class)
* fees/surcharges (esp. with low cost carriers)
* bad food

It always seems that people rarely have good things to say about air travel experiences. But here is one good experience.

Recently, I flew on an overseas KLM-ticketed Delta-operated flight, and upon retrieving my bag at the baggage claim, I found a handle broken off. This was disappointing. Immediately, I went to Delta’s baggage service counter and pointed out the broken handle.

The bag already had a broken latch from another flight on another airline, which I noticed too late, plus the extending/retracting rollaway handle was worn and prone to jamming (hey, it’s probably worn from flying 100k miles). Otherwise, the bag was in nice shape, having no stains, rips, holes, tears, or abrasions. Still, I was going to report this damage immediately and see what sort of recompense was possible. I did see a sign at the counter disclaiming responsibility for any damage to retractable handles, but on this flight, the damage was a handle that had pulled and ripped away from one of its attachment points.

The nice lady at the counter said that she could go find me a replacement bag, or give me a credit voucher to spend on a future flight. I declined, saying that what I really wanted was a bag of a similar size with similar features without a broken handle. She said she would look around. A few minutes later, she returned and said that she could have my bag sent in for repair, but it would take a few weeks. I winced, but honestly, I just want a fixed bag. So she did some electronic paperwork, and as she filled out the forms, I asked whether I could get the other damage fixed, how I would request that and how I would pay. She went beyond and just offered to add it to the repair request. I smiled, and she added the broken latch. As for the retracting handle, I was just going to leave that alone, since the airline explicitly disclaimed responsibility for those. She gave me a large plastic bag and a shipping airbill, and said it might take a few weeks to get it back, and I told her I would manage somehow.

Anyway, two weeks later, here I am, and my returned bag is in great shape with everything fixed, including the retracting part that wasn’t specified. The contracted luggage service company, Rynn’s Luggage and More, seems to have gone beyond the requested repairs, and I’m thankful to them, as well as Delta, who chose a great luggage service company, and the nice baggage counter lady who was helpful and efficient.

This was a good airline experience that impressed a guy who always snickers when hearing the “sit back and relax” announcement from the pilot while sitting in economy seats, which don’t really allow anything that can be credibly called “sitting back”.

Being yourself

Good blog post fitting-in (or not) in high school.

“That’s why you don’t have any friends”

Honestly, I gotta say that, having gone to brand-name universities and working with people who many consider the best in their disciplines, I’ve found that the most successful, the most brilliant, the people who are admired by everyone–nearly all of them were thought ‘weird’ growing up. They spent less energy trying to fit in, and more time being themselves and doing what they thought was best.

Anyway, read the story. It’s good.

Word of the day: sexagesimal

I didn’t know sexagesimal was a word until today.  Indeed, I think that most spell checkers will flag it as a misspelling.  Yet it is real.  And you can probably guess what it means: base-60 numeric.

It didn’t occur to me that anyone would formalize it as a number system, but apparently it did to the Babylonians and Sumerians.

Apparently it’s common in astronomy.

Infinite Summer

Infinite Summer is now underway, and I’m pleased to see that a book I’m reading has spawned its own internet book club for the duration of this summer.

Infinite Jest is a book about a many things.  It’s an epic saga.  It’s really, really long.  It’s by the late David Foster Wallace whose Consider the Lobster essay (commissioned by Gourmet magazine, hailed by PETA in their fight against lobster consumption) I found enlightening, well-written, and plain fun.  His writing is clever and engaging, and his mixing of SAT words with colloquialisms should feel gratifying to all who ever had vocabulary flash cards.
I’m told that Infinite Jest has been read by everyone in UCI‘s English department.

In my case, I’ve not finished the book, though I’m around page 850 or so.  That’s about September in the Infinite Summer syllabus, which allows about 75 pages per week, not including footnotes.  You should know that some of the footnotes are short-story length.  Some footnotes have their own footnotes.

Many of the book’s ideas are literally ridiculous. Yet it treats a number of serious themes on life and humanity, so I usually end up feeling more human after reading its pages.

So, in summary, I think the book is great, and the whole Infinite Summer idea is great too (you will be part of a big effort with a bunch of other people, happening right now).   If you’re interested, check out his lobster essay first, because that’s article-length, rather than Bible-length.

An article about the costs of US healthcare

It’s easy to bash the American healthcare system and point out instances where it’s lacking.  To me, it seems to be more about billing systems than medicine.  A friend told me about his experience in France, where he, as a foreigner, was seen and treated by a doctor at his hotel, and upon trying to pay was dismissed: “You Americans, always wanting to pay for things.”  Yeah, they pay high taxes and don’t typically have single family homes, cars or enormous flatscreen TVs.  They also seem to generally believe in their government.  Whereas Americans like to euphemise imperfection as “good enough for government purposes.”

Anyway, if you care about the balance of costs versus quality of care, you should check out this article in the New Yorker about how a small town in Texas has one of the highest healthcare costs per person.  I found it a well-written article that’s chock-full of helpful tidbits for your next healthcare debate at a bar, cocktail party, cafe, or late-night dorm room philosophizing session.
Here’s one tidbit from the article:  “In 2006, Medicare spent fifteen thousand dollars per enrollee here, almost twice the national average. The income per capita is twelve thousand dollars.”

Another: ” Two economists working at Dartmouth, Katherine Baicker and Amitabh Chandra, found that the more money Medicare spent per person in a given state the lower that state’s quality ranking tended to be.”

The costs of running

A little more than two years ago, I started running regularly for general fitness.  What I didn’t expect was the enormous feeling of achievement as I got tangibly better, running distances that I never thought I’d be able to (and actually getting to the point where they weren’t a big deal). Speed was never really a goal of mine, but lately I’ve been happy with my weekly distances, so maybe it’s time to build some speed.

But first, here’s something I didn’t expect.  Running actually costs money.  I run in public places, so there’s no real admission fee or stuff like that, but I do need shoes if I want to stay uninjured.  Running shoes are pretty pricey, usually costing between $70-110.  Add the fact that runners need a particular type of running shoe (just being a generic running shoe is not enough!), and that differences between brands and models within brands are as significant as fit (which is more important for running than for casual or dress shoes).  In business, they call this an extremely high cost of switching.  And running shoes almost never go on sale, and their prices seem only a little less fixed than game consoles.

So why does this matter?  Shoes wear out.  I’m running roughly 20 miles a week and shoes should be replaced every 300-400 miles.  Do the math.  This works out to more than a thousand miles a year, and therefore 2-3 pairs of shoes a year, so between $140-330 a year.  I guess that might be cheap compared to some sports, but it’s more than what I expected for a sport where “all you need are shoes.”

I wouldn’t give it up though.  I feel more alert and energetic than I did in my 20s.  It’s a great stress reliever.  I’m a little dependent on it, though.  If I stop for more than a week, my joints are achy and I get stressed out more easily.  I worry more.

Oh, and I should point out that registration for races is not cheap either.  A 5K or 10K might cost $30-40, but the longer ones cost!  The Disneyland Half Marathon was $100.  I couldn’t justify it.

My race results: Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose Half Marathon

7773 • Daniel • Irvine CA • M-30 • Half Marathon •
Gun: 7:59:36 AM 5k 10K 10Mile Finish
Chip: 8:02:07 AM 28:06 59:22 1:37:55 2:19:09
Race Pace: 9:03 9:34 9:48 10:37

Perhaps I’ll tell more later.

Webs, the kind made by spiders

I’ve just spent the last hour (most of it, anyway), watching a spider weave a web. If you haven’t watched a spider spin a web, I highly recommend it whenever you have the opportunity.

I was walking home this quiet evening, when I happened upon a rather large spider. By ‘large’, I mean a spider with the abdomen about the size of a piece of Skittles or an M&M. Its legs could probably span the width of two quarters side-by-side. Anyway, I was walking by, and it had just put down a few basic support threads spanning a bush and a tree about two feet away. This was the first time, as far as I could remember, that I had seen a spider actually weaving a web. I thought to myself, “Self, you’ve never seen a web woven before, and this big spider is about to weave one right before your eyes. Why don’t you stop and have a look– you’ve got nothing particularly urgent to do tonight.” So I did.

Watching a spider weave a web is one of the more fascinating things you’ll ever see. As you watch this feat of biology, physics, and, well, nature, you will no doubt observe things that are practically hidden from you when you see the finished product. Here’s what I noticed.

Scaffolding: Though I didn’t see the very beginning of the web, I came early enough to see the spider attach most of its main support threads between the tree trunk, its branch, and the nearby shrub. What was interesting was that a lot of structure is put in place before the center of the web was chosen. This support framing consisted solely of long segments, sometimes bolstered by double or triple threading. When it was done, it began the next stage by marking the center.

Centering: The spider marked the center by emitting a few large globs of web-material. I don’t know if it came out of its spinnerets or if it puked them out, but it sure looked like it puked. One instant, it was attaching another support line somewhere in the web, and the next instant, there was a few army-ant-sized globs hanging on the web. I would later discover that this was the new center of the web. Now that the center was chosen, it could now add radial segments.

Radials: The spider deposited its first radials rather sparsely, apparently to lay out some structural support. Only after there was roughly even support all around did it begin filling in. After the first set of radials, it would fill in the gaps with about 12 degree spacing– I counted about 30 radial threads from the center at the end. Once these radials were done, it never laid down any more of them. It proceeded to the spiraling.

First spiral thread set: The spider proceeded to add spiral segments around its center, easily referenced by the army-ant-sized globs. Ring spacing began around 2mm, and would grow gradually, until they were about 3cm apart, about 10 inches or so from the center. Once they got too far apart, the spider stopped, and began filling in the outside.
Support arcs: I suppose there’s a technical term for what it built next, but it laid out arcs at the top and bottom of the outer edge of the web, several inches from the boundaries of the spiral it had just made. The top and bottom each got three or four arcs, spaced about 1cm apart, spanning several radials.

Outside spiral fill: After these supports were put in, the spider began filling in the web in a spiral fashion, beginning with the outside arcs. Spacing was about 7-10mm between rings. This is the final stage (before I began typing this) of the web construction.

Resting: Every now and then, the spider seemed to pause for a several seconds, apparently to rest.

Attaching threads: The spider paused for about half a second to make attachments after each segment. The long, framing threads took a lot longer to attach– perhaps three or four seconds. I now understand why spiders have eight legs. When spinning threads, the spider uses two rear legs from one side to guide and push the thread to the attachment point. Why two? It hands thread from one to the other. And with two legs on a side not supporting weight or providing stability, it assuredly needs another two on that side. It’s attaching a really thin thread coming out of its butt and attaching it to a precise point on another really thin thread, so a lot of stability is required. I never once saw it slip or stumble.
Thread spinning observations: Usually the spider added threads by releasing silk while crawling along an existing thread. It was interesting to watch when it didn’t. In those cases, it would let itself drop slowly, releasing its silk, until it landed on the horizontal segment it somehow knew was there.
Gravity: After finishing, the web’s spiral rings looked really quite evenly spaced. The slightly wider spacing at the top hints at a different story during construction. I was surprised to find that after beginning what I called ‘support arcs’, the additional weight ruined the nice inner spiral, which looked increasingly ruined as more spirals were filled in from the outside-in. Not to worry– the spider re-tightened the innermost spiral rings afterwards.

Final dimensions: The spiral web portion was roughly three feet in diameter. Yes, that means that if you walk into it, it will wrap around your head completely with room to spare. This spider should get some mighty fine eatin’ tonight.

Anyway… you should really have a look if you’ve never seen a spider spin a web right in front of you. A book, DVD, wikipedia entry, or youtube video will just not cut it. It’s a different experience when you can walk around it, put your face as close as you dare, squint to see its impossibly thin threads in the light, and watch the web undulate as the occasional breeze (or breath) blows by (you’ll notice that its rigidity increases with support threads and decreases with sticky threads that catch the wind).

Epilogue: Actually, the spider’s completely finished now.  It’s resting in the very center of the spiral, and the globs of stuff that marked the center are now completely gone.  Overall ring spacing is about 1cm near the top, and 3-4mm at the center and sides, and maybe 3mm at the bottom. Verily, I marvel.

Math for pill poppers

I’ve always felt that mathematics is a useful tool in everyone’s daily life. Here is an example.

Recently, I was prescribed some medicine, and it was to be taken twice daily: once in the morning, and once before bed. However, I made a couple mistakes. The first morning, I took twice the dosage in the morning. And, in the evening I dutifully took another dosage, but made the same error and took a double dosage again. I realized my hapless error just as I downed the requisite glass of water. So what was I to do. Clearly, the drug was now above the prescribed concentration in my bloodstream, so should I continue the normal schedule the next morning?

We can use math to figure this out. Most drugs taken in orally can be considered to have a “half-life” in your bloodstream. Yes, this is the same concept of half-life in radioactivity. Basically, your body gets rid of stuff from your bloodstream at a constant rate, given the current concentration of the ‘stuff’ in your blood. This is modeled in math as an exponential decay function. To illustrate, have a look at these equations.

The simplest form is (1), which illustrates the basic shape of the drug concentration. We add a step function (2), which allows us to make just the part after the dose is administered, along with a t0 time offset parameter to give a more accurate shape in (3). (4) adds a half-life parameter, which is scaled away from the irrational e to become (5). This is the concentration resulting from a single dose, over all time, parameterized by dose administration (6). While you are taking the medicine (t=0 to t=t_finish), we can represent your idealized concentration as (7). The summation variable i gets incremented by 0.5 each time, which flies in the face of normal convention. Sorry about that. The code farther down is correct.
All simple, right? Let’s plot things. I used Mathematica to generate these plots. Equation (6) becomes:

dose equation
Note that in this function, x is time (in days), and t is the time offset. I threw the equation together before thinking about how best to represent things for others… Sorry…. The 1.3333 factor is the the half-life constant. The half-life for my medicine was roughly 18 hours, which is 0.75 days, which is roughly 1.3333 (close enough for my (government’s) purposes).
And then we can plot our ideal concentration.

dose, ideal

This is how the concentration would look like if I took the medicine exactly as directed. We can see that the concentration is roughly periodic after about two days of accumulation. But! I messed up, remember? How can I adjust my next doses to return to the ideal case?

dose, adjusted

You can see that at t=0, my medicine concentration is twice the ideal(conc = 2), since I took twice the dosage. Accordingly, the second dose, which was also twice too large, boosted my concentration to about 3.25. In this scenario, I skipped the third dosage (second day, morning), to bring my concentration roughly the same as the ideal case at t=1.5 . So there you go.

The bottom line is that I should skip the third dose if I take two double-doses on the first day. Yay! Isn’t math fun? This amount of math is no more than what a high-school graduate should have, and probably less than what an overachieving middle schooler could do.
I’ll be sure to post other examples math in real life when I get the gumption. Have a nice day!

The 2007 Firecracker 10K

This is my first post in a long, long, time, so you’re probably expecting a long, interesting post…

But, basically, I’m just posting about my new interest in running, and specifically, about my very first 10K ever in my life.

(For your reference, the race webpage. )

It was on a cloudy, rainy (for southern California, anyway) morning that I arose from my bed at 6am to drive to Chinatown to participate in my very first 10K. I had only heard about the race on the previous Monday, stumbling upon it as I missed the Redondo Beach Super Bowl 10K that I had planned after having a ball at my first timed 5K at the OC Marathon a few weeks prior. That night I asked myself, could I do it? It might be a stretch, but I could give it a shot. And so I told myself that if I really thought I could do it, I’d better check by running tomorrow morning. So on Tuesday, I ran 5.6 miles, and it felt pretty good. I had no illusions of speed or such, and so I timed myself at 1:10, which is about a 12 minute mile pace. So I told myself: Self, you’re probably good to go, but you’re gonna take 1:15 to finish and the 2.7 miles of uphill may be challenging. So… there. I made plans to go (but didn’t register online due to the silly 3 dollar surcharge), buying myself an actual running shirt and actual running shorts at Target. I told myself that I could finally start considering myself a runner, though a beginner, and kind of out-of-shape.
Anyway, on the day of the race, it was certainly rainy, just as forecast, and though it wasn’t really cold in an absolute sense, it was cold to be in a short-sleeve shirt and shorts, with a breezy light rain ensuring adequate dampness. I shot the breeze a little with some other mildly-shivering runners, who explained that the course was pretty rough and full of bumps and cracks, and that you wanted to stay in the middle to avoid mud and sand and twisted ankles. Confirming this, the race announcer warned of potholes recently formed from the rain, and cautioned us all to stay safe and have fun.

Luckily, the rain stopped about 5 minutes before the actual start time, and I really couldn’t have asked for better conditions. The air was crisp and cool, and I was treated to beautiful views of downtown Los Angeles and Dodger stadium at the top of the Elysian Hills, about halfway through the course. I settled into a group of people at my pace after about the two mile point. By that time, everyone slower had yielded to walking and everyone faster was, well, faster than my conservative uphill pace. I met a few people… a veteran-sounding runner who briefed me on the views I should expect, a couple who would exchange some friendly trash-talking and rivalry between each other, a couple of boys who couldn’t have been more than 10 years old, a bride-to-be running with a wedding veil, with (I can only guess) her future bridesmaids, and some nice woman who kept my pace nearly the entire run (she was probably faster than me, but probably hampered by an ipod and clothing too-warm…I lost track of her in the last mile). During the last stretch, I happened upon a older woman (age 60, from the results) who sprinted with me towards the finish line.
It felt great to finish, and I seemed to have a ton of leftover energy. I think the clock read 1:04:36 when I passed the line, but the results show me at 1:04:10.

Race Results

You’ll find me in the race results with my name misspelled as “KANIEL” at a 10:21 mile pace. Honestly, I don’t know how I or the scantron could’ve messed up, but maybe that’s what I get for registering late. If you ran in this race and are looking for people to run with drop me a line (especially if you have a similar pace).
So there you have it. Ever since getting my magic running shoes (a gift, which seem to have nullified my historic knee pain from running), running’s been satisfying and fun. Maybe a marathon isn’t as out of reach as I thought (perhaps next year?).
(By the way, I continue to be inspired every time I think of the elderly lady (at least 70, probably at least 80) who jogged for at least the first two miles of the last 5K I did. The kid who wanted to run 200 miles for charity but ended up running 124 miles? I think he’s on another level.)