Monday, December 28, 2009

three words to describe 2009: an analysis

I was looking at Richard Wiseman's* blog, and noticed these two posts where he asked male and female commenters to post three words that describe 2009 for them.  I'm sure he's going to do some kind of analysis on it eventually, but because I am supposed to be writing a paper, I couldn't resist downloading the posts and checking out the differences.  I haven't run my grep-awk-uniq-count magic on it yet, but it's interesting that right off the bat the women-post mentions "stress" 26 times while the man-post mentions it 7 times.

Men's post:  If you are male, read this!

Women's post: If you are female, read this!

*Note: It is not really clear to me who this guy is.

Edit:  I calculated word frequencies.  I made a half-assed attempt to get rid of non-applicable text in the page.  This is probably inaccurate but gives a general gist.


15 love
13 stressful
11 sad
11 hope
11 fun
10 stress
10 new
10 busy
9 change
8 growth
8 frustrating
8 friends
7 challenging
6 work
6 sex
6 life
6 fast
6 family


31 change
18 love
15 hope
11 work
11 fun
8 happy
7 science
6 unemployed
6 stress
6 friends
6 death
5 travel
5 success
5 struggle
5 obama
5 climate
5 busy
4 words
4 twitter

Edit 2: I should so be working instead of mucking around with this.

Edit 3: Comments were broken on my blog? Thanks niniane for telling me!  Should be all fixed.  Comment away.

Edit 4:  Dude.  At least I called tolower() in my half-assed attempt to clean things up.  The original author's generated word clouds.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


I am supposed to be working on my master's thesis proposal. So of course instead, I am reading twitter (among other completely wasteful things), and in addition to seeing rumors that Google might buy Yelp, I saw that Groupon was valued at 250 million dollars.

Um, holy crap.  This company is a year old!  And apparently they are making money hand over fist!  This is brilliant in so many ways.  First, it plays off people's irrational desire to buy something just because it's a deal.  Then, it works on our instinct to grab something because it's expiring soon.  Finally, it takes advantage of our laziness, because what percentage of people actually go redeem the thing they pre-bought?  And does Groupon get to keep that money if they don't go redeem the coupon?  Cause I have a page sitting on my desk that's supposed to get me a year long pass to the Brattle ($30 for a $104 value!) which has been sitting here for over a month.  And will definitely be sitting here for at least another 3 weeks.  If I were them I would play like the airplanes and oversell a deal a little in anticipation that some people will never go redeem it.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

music i've been listening to over and over

This Matt and Kim song

This Fischerspooner song

It is really weirdly 67 degrees in Cambridge right now. 2 days ago it was in the 30s.

Edit: Embedded objects disappeared? Replaced with Grooveshark links.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

organizing background research

I've been fuddling around with Zotero and a basic .bib file, but I think I found something more awesome:  Mendeley.  I found it looking for a PDF annotator, and it looks fantastic!  I'll update later after I've used it a while.  It even syncs with Zotero and can watch a folder for new PDFs.

Monday, October 26, 2009

the importance of urban design

Today I was walking down Vassar St. and Mass Ave and I was struck for the zillionth time how ugly the MIT campus is. My parents were visiting this past weekend, and they thought MIT was very impressive, but that Harvard was much more beautiful. Not only do many buildings have that this-was-trendy-in-the-70s architectural aesthetic going on (mine, of course, excluded), the campus is very badly laid out. I associate college campuses with cute cafes, a wide variety of cheap international food, hippie stores selling nag champa and tie-dye that couldn't survive anywhere else, and lots of culture. MIT has one crappy diner that no one goes to (maybe cause it closes at 4 PM) and a gay dance bar*. Seriously. That's it. These are the businesses in the center of campus. Oh, aside from the parking lot and Bank of America ATM.

I don't understand how this happened! Is this because they moved to Cambridge in 1916? It takes 93 years and counting to develop a proper urban landscape? We have over 10,000 students. 1,000 faculty. There are countless biotech firms in the area. Don't you think we could support a cafe closer than Central Square? Berkeley has Euclid and Telegraph (among others, I'm sure). Harvard has the entire square, even Dartmouth had a lot of great stuff in Hanover (I actually miss Dirt Cowboy Cafe and Rosey's was a great place to hide away).

I'm not really sure what to do about this, since I'm not about to get into the cafe business. But if you are, and you are thinking about opening something new, put it near MIT! I feel like a late-night source of caffeine would be totally packed. Better yet, a cafe that turns into a bar at night, European-style. Raze the BoA ATM. My last-ditch hope is that Clover ends up closer to campus. I think they are amazing and their truck is a really great addition to the area -- food that is healthy, organic, tasty, and fun.

* i have no issues with gay dance bars. I have a lot of issues with crappy diners serving boring food.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Crazy with Cuteness

Something is wrong with me today.

Also, yesterday my mom and dad were fasting for Karva Chauth. Only the woman is supposed to fast, for the well being of her husband, but whatever. My dad was doing it out of solidarity. In the afternoon we had the following chat conversation:

dad: u have no concern for your starving parents!!!!!!!!!
3:58 PM me: what
of course i do
how are you
4:01 PM hello did you faint
how are you
4:05 PM dad: We just did puja and had cup of tea since 5am.No water,food till 8.30pm.
what time moon is visible?
me: i don't know
you'll have to go outside and look
4:08 PM dad: It is visible around 8.30pm.
4:13 PM dad: guinea pig?
me: piggy pig

Saturday, September 26, 2009

long time no blog

but this picture landed in my inbox from Unicon Investment Solutions.

Let's celebrate the victory of good over evil, with great joy and enthusiasm. Everybody now.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

conversation about our father

Megan: dad said "both of you were bff, and now again bff"
me: where did he learn that word.
Megan: i do not know
i was gonna ask YOU
me: we need to put parental controls on the tv

Monday, June 29, 2009

tweet tweet

If you don't use twitter, you won't care about this post. FYI.

I wrote a little python commandline script to tell me followers I've gained and lost. The gained part twitter already implements (you can get emailed or just visit your follower page; new followers are at the top) but it doesn't give me a way of seeing who has stopped following me, and I got curious when I saw the numbers fluctuate a lot. I have been meaning to hook this up as a cron job to email me once a day; that way one could theoretically track if certain tweets are making people unsubscribe :) I need to install some mail server thing on my machine though.

This was a tiny little twitter-related project to poke at the API when i was sick, not something i did because i'm really crazy about who is following me (i realize you probably don't believe that). If anyone knows how to adjust the code so that I don't constantly run into the 100 requests/hour limit, please let me know. Oh, and I did not pay attention to performance, robustness, or portability when writing this so don't make fun of me.

If you want to use it, download the script, make a subfolder called "gold" and run

python gen neha

to generate a gold file of who is following neha, and

python diff neha

to see followers neha has gained/lost since the last time you ran it. After the initial gen you will not need to run it again unless you want to fastforward a lot.

Update: Added error checking and it continues if a twitter id returned as a follower is bogus (which happens, interestingly enough)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

harsh but true


People -- particularly if they're under 40 -- have news priorities other than those of the editors of The New York Times or producers of the "NBC Nightly News." A new tablet from Apple -- or last night's episode of "Gossip Girl" or the adventures of the hipster grifter -- is a bigger deal than the latest petty scandal in Albany. You think that's a damning indictment of modern society and a recipe for idiocracy? Fine. Start a nonprofit to cover all the local-government news you think a healthy society needs. But don't expect advertisers -- or commercially-minded publishers or readers, for that matter -- to share your interests.

- Nick Denton, interview on Advertising Age

Friday, April 10, 2009

SIM cards in Germany

I am doing this out of the goodness of my heart. And also because I enjoy complaining about it but people have stopped listening to me.

So, you're going to Germany. Great! Oh but you're worried about not having a mobile phone? No problem! SIM cards are easy to purchase and you can probably google around and figure out how to unlock your phone. Unless you have Sprint or Verizon, in which case go hide under a rock until you feel ready to join the rest of the modern world on GSM. Do not just "use" your regular US phone abroad (it will probably work), unless 1) you are very rich and 2) looking at ridiculous bills doesn't give you a splitting headache. If you're fine with that, then go right ahead.

If you hate actually talking, then clearly a phone is not enough and you also need a data plan. I recommend Setup is a little tricky though, as all instructions and messages and the entire website are in German.

You can purchase a SIM card at places that sell ePlus once you're in Germany, which is nice. It's about 20 euros, but that comes with 20 euros of credit. The shop keeper can set it up for you, but he will need an address in Germany for the form.

Once set up, you basically just need the first PIN to activate the SIM card and be able to make calls. You can turn off the need to enter it over and over in your phone. At the time of this post, had 1 GB of data in a month for 9.90 euros, a pretty good deal. I even used it to tether to my laptop and I didn't use anywhere near the whole GB in two weeks. You order it by calling 1155, and following the menus: press 8, press 1, press 2, and then (THIS IS IMPORTANT) pressing 1 again to confirm. Do not use data until you receive TWO text messages (the first will come immediately and say that you ordered it, the second will come within 2 hours and say that it's ready).

To enable data, set up a new APN. APN, username eplus password eplus. Especially if you are using the G1 (google phone), DO NOT DO THIS UNTIL YOU GET THE SECOND TEXT MESSAGE. Otherwise your stupid phone will churn through your credit eating data while it downloads a whole new android operating system. Sigh.

Notice that I haven't told you how to reload your credit. At the time of this posting, they wouldn't take credit cards with an American address. I managed to convince them to do it once but I still had to call customer service number (which costs like 0,30 euro per minute) every time I wanted to recharge, and my friend couldn't do it at all. If you have a credit card attached to a German address, you can do all of this through the website. Run it through google translate.

Good luck and have a great time in Germany!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

hallo von deutschland

Smaller pictures this time in an effort to save some of my limited 1 GB of bandwidth provided by! They have no English customer service and couldn't aufladen my guthaben (recharge my credit) over the web, but that's a whole other post.

In case you didn't know, I'm in Berlin! One of my favorite cities. I lived here for 3 months in 2001, and it's been cool to come back and see how things have changed in eight years. I still wish it were warmer.

A delicious way to start the day. Schokolade Croissant and a Kaffee at Cafe Impala.

Our neighborhood is fantastic! we rented an apartment near Nollendorfplatz, in Schöneberg. It's gorgeous and I never want to leave.

A bit of the Berlin wall at Checkpoint Charlie. The history of Berlin is absolutely fascinating; one of the things I love about this city is the confluence of old and new:

The Jewish Museum. An amazing piece of architecture by Daniel Liebeskind, and a must if you're visiting. I have never seen architecture so aptly represent pain and darkness:

The main hall at Hamburger Bahnhof, a contemporary art museum. It had a seriously amazing exhibit titled "Murder of Crows", which was a soundscape. 98 speakers and 30 minutes. It was incredible. We all loved it and I listened to a lot of it multiple times.

Tschuß for now!

Sunday, March 8, 2009


More cooking I've been up to. I had some bananas that turned brown, but I vaguely remembered that's the best for banana bread! I found an amazing recipe that involved cinnamon, chocolate chips, and candied ginger. oh yes. i am going to devour the remaining candied ginger soon.

Doesn't it look delicious? Check out the chocolate!

Crap. I have to get rid of this before I eat all of it.
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Thursday, March 5, 2009

research dilemmas

I'm blocked.

Most of the people in my group are furiously trying to finish a paper for SOSP, and I'm off on my own thinking about web security.

It's not that I don't think this is an important problem -- I truly believe that the security model in today's browsers is a patchwork of brokenness, and could perhaps benefit from being rethought from the ground up. However every time I try to do that I end up meandering off into nothingness, or reading a blog. And it doesn't help that it seems like the problems are getting solved as I meander -- the Gazelle browser, from Microsoft, seems like a step in the right direction.

Also, I'm taking two classes this semester, Natural Language Processing and UI Design, which seem to be taking up increasing amounts of time. And of course there's my other job. It's so much easier to hack on Native Client than try to come up with a viable research project. By the way, we're having a security contest. If you're interested in security, or just interested in that sort of mechanism for validating your self-worth, go try to find some bugs!

I'm thinking of switching. To multicore, which the rest of PDOS seems to be working on, or something scalable-webapp related. I'm not sure how this research thing is supposed to work -- are you supposed to keep beating your head against a wall until something happens, or is it sometimes appropriate to give up and move on? How do you tell? Thoughts are appreciated.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

learn to share, or, we all forgot kindergarten

I went to Pecha Kucha Boston last night, which is totally awesome. I highly recommend finding/starting one in your city. It's 20 slides X 20 seconds, so if something is boring, fear not, it will be over soon! Plus it's fun to watch the speaker get flustered cause their slides are blipping along. Yay emax for organizing!

Anyway, there was one talk that I haven't been able to get out of my head. Robin Chase from GoLoco gave a talk about sharing. What is totally awesome is that by just trying to find her name right now, I found out she was the former CEO of Zipcar! Her talk totally mentioned them and now I know she really knows what she's talking about.

Anyway, she believes that sharing is integral to sustainability. And I totally agree with her. I don't own a toolkit, so I usually borrow my roommate's hammer when I want to hang a photo. It's annoying to go find him every time I need his hammer, but it would be more annoying to buy one. What I realized is that we probably don't even need a hammer per house -- we could survive with a hammer per 4 houses or a hammer per block. How often are you using your hammer? Would it kill you to have to wait a couple of hours for one? How much stuff could you get rid of if you knew you could borrow it, no problem, from a neighbor?

Our culture has way too much stuff -- everything is all about getting your own, new things. That "new car smell". Old mattresses have bedbugs. I want a new computer so I know there's nothing wrong with it. Thrift stores are gross. Ew, eating food out of a dumpster is disgusting (sometimes, it's not!)

We don't need all this new stuff! There's so much out there to reuse. The problem is figuring out a way to share, and to distribute ownership responsibilities fairly. My car is sitting in SF right now, unused. Why should I ship it to Boston when there are already so many cars here, and I don't even need one all the time? I've been using Zipcar, but it's kind of pricey, and not good for regular, short trips. I would like to let other people use my car in SF, but dealing with the insurance is a hassle. And what happens if something breaks? How do we figure out who should pay for repairs? Similar problems pop up with me leveraging other people's cars in Boston. I get that slimey feeling asking to borrow someone's car.

The other day I was walking down 6th street in Cambridge, freezing, and I found myself wishing I could hitchhike a ride with one of the people driving down the street past me (warm and snug in their cars), to MIT. Maybe I could set up a regular arrangement -- they drop me off at MIT (3 minute drive, 18 minute cold freezing walk) and I could make them coffee. Or a bagel. I would totally bring someone a bagel every morning if they'd drive me to school (I make good coffee too).

Food for thought. I want to live in a community where we all have less stuff!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Too Many Mediums

I am having a problem with blogging vs. Twitter. I keep having all these little thoughts which I think to twitter, but then I realize I have too much to say, and I should do a blog post instead. Which I never do unless I am seriously procrastinating (as I am now). Also, I suspect way more people read my twitters than my blog.

I have decided the solution is to do more short blog posts, so I can capture more ideas and feel less pressure to write essays. Or maybe try Tumblr. I see the point of it now.

In other news, I woke up early this morning and set aside several hours to work on research in a coffee shop. So far I have successfully cleaned out my inbox, discovered Luis von Ahn's blog, email-debated to a granularity of 1 degree the appropriate setting for the heat in our apartment with my roommate, and read several New York Times articles.

I think I'm going to have to implement some advisor-moderated deadlines so I'm scared into doing work.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Chef Neha

Awesome Indian food I made with Becca, Nikhil, and Zoe. We made Paneer Makhni, Delicious Spicy Chickpeas, and Raita. A feast! Indian food is so hard! I had no idea! You have to buy and measure about a million spices. My mom makes it look so easy.

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Productivity Porn

Hi, my name is Neha, and I'm an addict.

I'm obsessed with productivity and organization. I have been reading Lifehacker since it started. I tried GTD. I own a moleskine. I love todo lists, gadgets to put my todo lists places, and methods for integrating my todo lists with all walks of life.

I probably do spend too much time playing with productivity methods and software, but I've learned to treat that as fun-time as opposed to work-time. Accepting the fact that reorganizing all the stuff I had to do was not work helped a lot. It's just my hobby! It makes me happy.

So here's a brief (hopefully) post on what's working for me right now.

0. My Restrictions

I work on several computers. I have tried a few different services for syncing folders on the file system, but none of them have been awesome. Also, I end up using 4 different notebooks, and none really has all my information in it. I hate carrying around a heavy bag, and I'm a girl so sometimes I just don't have room for a notepad. Thus, I must keep most of my life online so its always accessible.

I have an iPhone which I love, but I also believe that paper is a very necessary part of life, and I will never solely use a Palm/iPhone/Blackberry for entering information. It blows. I believe these gadgets are mainly for read-only access to your information anywhere.

1. Task Management: Remember the Milk

I love this little company. They created a cute, flexible task manager and they had things like keyboard shortcuts before anybody had keyboard shortcuts. They integrated with GMail and Google Calendar. They supported Google Gears. They're awesome people, and they keep developing and improving a great product. The reason I love this is because of keyboard shortcuts (kill the mouse!) and its integration with GMail, which is basically where I live. It's easy to create tasks from emails and see your tasks in GMail, and they offer you a bazillion ways to customize your lists, create persistent smart searches, tag, annotate, etc.

I have the following lists:

  • Repeating/Deferred Where my repeated tasks go, like paying rent or moving money from my bank account to Vanguard. I will forget to pay rent without this!
  • Someday Where I keep crazy long term things like learning a musical instrument.
  • All Tasks By Date A smart list of every single task, prioritized first by priority and second by date due. Tasks without due dates are at the end. I usually always look at this list, but lately it's gotten so long I've created the following two:
  • Home tag:house OR tag:errands OR location:home. House stuff, like laundry or hanging curtains.
  • Work (tag:hmk OR tag:work) AND (dueWithin:"3 days" OR dueBefore:today). All my work (homework, google, etc) that's pressing.
I can happily add GMail email urls or regular ones to the list, and I can check this on my phone. I'm just starting to use tagging and location (I only use extra features when I need them -- I like to start simple first) and it's helpful to only see the tasks I can do in a certain place.

2. Thinking

I like to scrawl in regular sized college-rule spiral notebooks with a gel pen. This helps me think. Never underestimate the clarity that comes from writing things down! One of my math teachers in high school said that the bigger you write, the better you think. It changed me -- before that I tried to solve problems by writing small within the lines. Now I use the back of discarded printouts. Never feel like you have to type things into a computer (only one way of input!) or just keep everything in your head. I have several notebooks in different places for this, because I find that I usually don't even need to refer back to what I've written, and don't. Sometime I scrawl rough schedules for the day or todo lists, which I transfer back.

3. Brain Dump/Research

Two kinds of research: MIT research and personal research.

I generally use paper, directories/text files, emacs, and git for MIT research. I've started trying out Zotero, but I'm not sure how to use it yet. I keep a big stack of papers on my desk and I carry a few at a time in a usually unsuccessful attempt to get myself to read them. I hate reading on a computer screen. One of my classes is trying to get us to use this in-house online note-taking tool, but I find it cumbersome. However, it's an amazing job considering it was built by a single grad student!

For personal research (like buying stuff or organizing vacations) I tend to use Microsoft OneNote. I had to buy it, and it's only on one machine which runs Windows, but it's just so darn useful for capturing web information. It would probably be even better if I used Outlook (yuck). I've tried EverNote but it's not the same. I was using Google Notebook for a while till it died.

4. Scheduling Time

Google Calendar is my life. One of my classes has a GCal feed, and I love that they did that. I put all events in Google Calendar, hard or not. My only issue is that I have two -- one for work and one for personal/school use. I can't just share the work one with my personal calendar, which is annoying, so I often end up duplicating events to my personal calendar if they are important, since while in school I rarely look at my work calendar. My dad uses Google Calendar too so I can see when he's in town for visiting.

I have got all these calendars 2-way syncing to my iPhone, which is fantastic (much nicer than the web interface). I used to use NuevaSync. There are many options.

5. Browser

I use both Firefox and Chrome. Chrome is faster but only Firefox works with my MIT certificates and has useful extensions. I look forward to this being fixed with Chrome!

Given that I use several different browsers, I use Foxmarks to keep my bookmarks in sync (I don't do this with Chrome, obviously). I've tried to use things like delicious a million times but I just never end up going back to look at the things I've tagged. I keep a toolbar of shortcuts in all my Firefoxes and bookmark sites that I want to check out later -- I still have the problem of looking at things I've bookmarked, so if the page is involved with something I want to do I usually add it as a task in RTM. Also, my open Chrome/Firefox windows tend to be a list of tabs representings things I want to look at/do. I've tried to get better about closing tabs if I already have tasks associated with them (like homework for a class -- I end up leaving my class tabs open) because they add mental anxiety. This is all about learning to trust your system.

6. Classes

I have a notebook per class, and usually I'm very good about taking notes. Everything for a class goes into that notebook, except rough drafts of problem sets (too much paper). I don't usually go back and read them, but the act of taking the notes in class forces me to listen and helps me learn. Most of my other class stuff is online -- I have backed up directories for each class which store problem sets and assignments. I use LaTex for problem sets, but I solve problems on paper first. I don't keep the paper.

My biggest unsolved problem is unifying my computer usage outside of Firefox. I have cygwin installed on my windows laptop, which is ok, and I can ssh into my MIT machines, but it's hard to know where to install programs (like NLTK, which I need for one of my classes). What I have now works ok but isn't perfect.

There you go! I hope that this was useful to someone and wasn't just me procrastinating another hour with my productivity hobby. I might do a follow-up post on workflow that's more GMail focused.

Update on research: I spent this afternoon procrastinating by really setting up bibtex. I use latex for all paper writing, and a bunch of people i know here just keep a giant bibtex file of everything they've ever read, using the annote field to hold notes. I have a simple latex file that then generates the bibliography with notes.

I can't really slice and dice it, but i think i can order it in different ways using \bibliographystyle in latex, and i can emacs search it. Cal Newport also has an idea using Excel.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

i'm a mutant!

I had my 4 wisdom teeth taken out, but a 5th one has grown in. I'm getting it out on Wednesday. My friend Eugene Wu drew this awesome picture:

I'm scary.