musings on music and life

July 23, 2012

Working out

Filed under: Philosophy — Tags: , — sankirnam @ 9:50 am

It’s been about a year since I started working out seriously. Oddly enough, I didn’t start from any desire to “get big” or super ripped or whatever. Around this time last year, I was in a real rut; my research was going nowhere, and I was really depressed with the direction that my life was going relative to my peers. I was having a “quarter-life” crisis, if you will, and I felt like I had no control over my own destiny. It was also around this time last year that I discovered the “manosphere” – a series of blogs dedicated to topics such as men’s rights, “pickup”, and male self-empowerment, among others. Chief among the blogs is The Chateau, which I still follow. While the Chateau may seem rather misogynistic, there are pearls of wisdom in there, and reading that blog inspired me to get off my ass and regain control of my life. One of the things  that is under my control is how I look, and apart from dressing snappily, a good physique helps to augment one’s appearance. Exercise also helps regulate serotonin levels, helping one’s mood and alleviating depression. The major reason why I started working out, however, was upon learning that strength training can boost testosterone levels. While the effects of testosterone on men are still not fully understood (my friend was ridiculing me recently for thinking it was the “manliness midichlorian”), it is still safe to assume that testosterone aids in motivation to score, which can also manifest in achievement in other areas of life. For those who don’t get it, to put it simply: Men do what they do solely to impress women! Dave Chappelle explains it extremely well:

As far as the exercise itself is concerned, my gains haven’t been as big as some of my peers (I still can’t bench my bodyweight yet), but seeing improvement and muscle growth gives a good feeling. Another thing that motivates me is the desire to become as muscular as possible and put an end to the popular myth that “vegetarians are weak”. With good quality whey protein concentrate now widely available and (relatively) inexpensive, it is possible to supplement one’s diet and have a vegetarian protein intake that others would normally get from consuming large amounts of animal protein. Of course, for musculature to become visible, one needs to shed bodyfat, and for most people (including me), that is more challenging than putting on muscle.

UPDATE: Donald J. Cram (1987 Nobel Prize in chemistry) talks about Creativity. This was another thing that motivated me to start exercising: “10. I have been continuously in need of violent exercise over the years to keep my brain in a refreshed state – to be able to maintain perspective, to keep my mind flexible, and to generate optimism. Good science is great for the mind, but sometimes very hard on the back. Writing a textbook and eighteen research papers in a two-year period was something I did in the late 1950’s. My payment for this labor was a great sense of accomplishment, a sore back, and a resolve to mix a good dose of regular exercise with my work. This I have done ever since. Surfing, skiing and tennis have been my sports, coupled with daily stretching and conditioning exercises. A strong, active body is the foundation for all other activities. There is no substitute for good health. “We were bred to move, and move we must.” I can think of no worse advice than that of a famous president of the University of Chicago who said “whenever he felt like exercising, he went to bed!”


July 19, 2012

Sports update

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — sankirnam @ 12:14 pm

A lot of stuff has happened since the last time I talked about sports… much to my chagrin, the Heat won the 2012 NBA Finals and LeBron got his first ring. Whether he can keep it up and get his “8 championships” like he so famously boasted about a couple of years ago remains to be seen. Steve Nash has joined the Lakers, filling the gaping hole that they have had at the PG position. He’s also looking to get a championship, and with Kobe getting old, the Lakers want to get one more championship before he has to retire, and this looks like the best shot. For the sake of the Lakers, and as a Lakers fan, I sincerely hope this works out. I’m still disappointed that we couldn’t get CP3 (thanks to NBA commissioner David Stern killing the trade at the last second), but getting Steve Nash isn’t half bad.

I was expecting Djoko to win the French Open since he seemed to be on an unstoppable winning streak since getting that new trainer last year and going on a gluten-free diet, but Nadal beat him, proving his absolute dominance on clay. Djoko winning the French Open would have also earned him a career slam in one year, which is something nobody has been able to do; alas, it remains that way today. Federer also won another major at Wimbledon. While he is still very good, he is also getting old, and is not at the same form that he was at when at his peak. I’m curious to see how long he can maintain this winning streak; was Wimbledon his last hurrah? We’ll have to see…

In other news, Caltech has been hit with athletic sanctions! This is simply too funny.

While I have the utmost respect for Caltech as an academic institution, I am astounded that they could find their way into this mess. As far as I know, sports are basically unheard of at Caltech, and the fact that they could get slapped with athletic sanctions at all is just too hilarious. Read the article to find out exactly how they earned these laurels, I won’t spoil it for you.

Bring on the Olympics! With those going on, and my boss being out of town, lab productivity is going to be at an all-time low (I’m not complaining).

July 15, 2012

Sangeetha Kalanidhi 2012

Filed under: Carnatic Music — sankirnam @ 8:55 am

I just heard through the grapevine that the Madras Music Academy has designated Shri. Trichur V. Ramachandran as the Sangeetha Kalanidhi awardee for 2012. The award will formally be given to him at the Music Academy Sadas on January 1, 2013, after he has presided over the conference and concerts in December.

For those who don’t know, the Sangeetha Kalanidhi is like the Nobel Prize in Carnatic Music. It’s the most sought-after award for Carnatic musicians, more so than even the Padma awards (from the Indian national government). It is only awarded once a year, like the Nobel Prize, and just like the Nobel Prize, it is also not awarded posthumously. Thus, the list of vidwans who never recieved the Sangeetha Kalanidhi title is just as famous as those who have received it! Examples of vidwans who never recieved the Sangeetha Kalanidhi title include: Palani Subramania PillaiC. S. MurugabhoopathyG. Harisankar, Thanjavur Upendran, Thanjavur S. Kalyanaraman, V. Nagarajan, Ramnad Krishnan, M. D. Ramanathan, and S. Balachander (veena) among others. Just like any major award, there is always a degree of politics surrounding it. I have been to the Sadas several times to see the awarding ceremony and hear speeches by the various artists, and it is always an interesting and enlightening experience.

Trichur V. Ramachandran is one of the prime and few direct disciples of G. N. Balasubramaniam still alive today. I’ll talk about G. N. Balasubramaniam (or GNB as he was called) in a later post, since I used to be absolutely obsessed with his music in the past. Trichur Ramachandran cultivated his voice to sound like his guru’s and for those ardent fans of GNB, hearing him is like a taking a nostalgia trip. I’ve heard several live performances of his; these are always fun because he maintains the duritha kala (fast tempo) that was characteristic of GNB. Thus, the mrudangam vidwan needs to have a lot of energy to keep up with him. The best performances of his that I have heard were obviously in the presence of such vidwans, including Umayalpuram Sivaraman and Trichy Sankaran.

This December music season should be very interesting…

July 10, 2012

On the chemistry job market

Filed under: Chemistry Jobs — Tags: , — sankirnam @ 3:36 pm

There was a good article in the Washington Post recently about the dysfunctional chemistry job market. One of the issues that has been a lot on my mind lately is what do next after graduation, and with options dwindling, it seems that I may have to settle for an alternative career, one that is not necessarily related to synthetic organic chemistry.

A lot of people are under the impression that any degree “STEM” (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) related must have good employability; this results from people only thinking of Technology and Engineering when thinking of STEM subjects. Computer scientists, electrical engineers, and other engineers will always be in demand, as their training is directed more towards applied skills and the demands of industry. Science, on the other hand, has always been out of step with the needs and demands of industry. This is simply a result of the stochastic nature of research; one cannot predict when useful results will be obtained, and even then, what may be uninteresting today may have enormous value decades down the line. Plus, training scientists takes a lot of time. When I made the decision to study organic chemistry almost 8-9 years ago, the job market was reasonably good and Big Pharma had not yet begun the crazy downsizing of the past decade (over 300,000 chemists have been laid off in the US). Now, when I am thinking about entering the job market, the demand for chemists has dwindled. One just cannot predict what the economy will be like several years down the line, which is why I always tell people education is a big risk. It’s not a good idea to abandon a job for the sake of education, because these days there is no guarantee that you may be able to find employment after graduation.

The educational system for science (and chemistry in particular) in the US is particularly screwed up. As I mentioned in an earlier post, typical chemistry labs are staffed by numerous graduate students and postdoctoral scientists working for a professor. The research and results generated by the students and postdoc benefit the professor and earn him greater prestige and awards, while the students who actually generate the results are typically left in the lurch. Professors continually recruit and admit waves of students year after year into chemistry programs with nary a thought as to what their future employment prospects will be like. Postdoctoral studies, which were supposed to be a short stint, have extended to 5+ years in a lot of cases! Due to the overadmission of students into graduate chemistry programs and the overproduction of chemistry PhDs, the postdoc has become a new limbo of sorts, where scientists carry out extremely difficult research (beyond the PhD level) while also trying desperately to find employment either in tenure-track academic positions or in industry. In my opinion, one way to remedy this situation would be for universities to cut back on graduate admissions, and have labs primarily staffed by postdocs or scientists. It should become possible for postdoctoral scientsts to apply for permanent scientist positions at academic labs, and the pay for postdocs should increase (from approx. 30k per annum to 85-90k per annum). Of course, this may never happen in the near future, with the powers that be desiring to keep the cost of conducting scientific research as low as possible (it is better to have a lab with 4-5 clueless graduate students at <20k per year vs. having 1 experienced scientist at 90k, since more work can potentially get done).

Change to the system will be slow and can only occur through changing governmental policies, which can only be brought about by increased public awareness of the situation, which is what the Washington Post article attempts to do.

On the other hand, it can be said that “you get what you pay for”, since most chemists receive a free ride on government subsidies that flood the market with low paid chemistry professionals. Compare the situation to medical school, where people have to get good grades, study hard for the MCAT, and also pay (the barriers for entry to other professional schools such as medical, law, etc. are thus much higher). PhD admissions tend to be much, much less competitive, especially since the top students from undergraduate classes these days no longer choose to go into research. They choose to go where the money and jobs are – and that is not in science!

Obama and other politicians keep talking about a “shortage of scientists” in the US. This is nothing but garbage. We have a surplus of scientists – what we have is a lack of well-paying, stable jobs in science. Once we bring stability and well-paying jobs back to this country, public perception will change, and kids will also get more interested in science, since there will be money in it!

UPDATE: 2 more links for those interested in this topic.

1: Prof. Katz on why you shouldn’t become a scientist:

2: A thriving Reddit discussion on the WaPo article

July 4, 2012

Another concert review!

Filed under: Carnatic Music — sankirnam @ 3:36 pm

A review of sorts of the concert I performed with Dr. Prapancham Sitaram was published in the magazine Samudhra:


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