I have always thought that The Shawshank Redemption could be viewed an allegory for the journey to complete a PhD.  You chip away and chip away at your walls for years, doing little more than beating your head against the stone.  You need luck to be able to continue your project because you could easily have to begin from scratch.  The university is your prison; the lab your cell.  The warden is your supervisor; the guards your committee members.  Writing your thesis is solitary confinement.  Your committee is also well symbolized by the Sisters: sometimes you can fight them off; sometimes you can’t.  You may be lucky and have friends/labmates (like Red played by Morgan Freeman) that make your stay enjoyable as it can be.  

Once you’ve been away from the real world long enough, you start to find comfort in the walls that protect you from the outside world.  You become institutionalized like Brooks.  You are scared of the prospect of freedom, and try to find ways of extending your stay.  You realize that you do not know how to survive in the outside world.  However, inevitably the day will come when you will have an opportunity to swim through a tunnel of shit to emerge into freedom on the other side. 

You find your courage and make a dash for freedom.  When you finally make it to the warm sandy beaches of Mexico, you look back on your imprisonment as if it were a dream.  You wonder if you could have found a way to make your escape sooner.  You begin to see your experience for what it is: a surreal odyssey.  Like a war veteran, you realize that most people in the real world have no concept of what you’ve been through.  Likewise, you have no concept of what it’s like to sit on the beach and do absolutely nothing.  You have forgotten what it’s like not to be weighed down by the oppressiveness of prison life.

Satisfaction comes not from a piece of paper, but from knowing that you have been tested and you have survived.  The reward is the knowledge that you can do it, and nothing
more.  It is worth it.


Thesis Defense

You won’t hear from me for the next week because I should really be focusing on my upcoming doctoral exam instead of writing blog entries.  My thesis defense is scheduled for Monday, June 19, at 9:00 AM in room 203 of the Graduate Student Centre.  Writing my thesis in such a short period of time took so much energy that I have been slow to get back into the head space required to prepare for the exam, even though it has been 5 weeks since I submitted my thesis to FOGS for forwarding to my external examiner.  Instead of reading papers and studying fundamentals, I have been doing experiments and analyzing data.  I have also played a few rounds of Sunday golf.  Now I am down to only having a week to try and prepare myself for the culmination of six years of dogged perserverance.

Golf rage incident

Joel and I went golfing at UBC golf course Sunday night.  My round started well: I had pars on 3 of the first 5 holes.  Unfortunately the wheels fell off and I scored stick men (11) on a disastrous par 4, but that’s beside the point.  An event that had the potential to be even more disastrous than getting stick men happened on the 13th.  We were on the green.  I was watching Joel putt when I felt a ball whiz by my ear and thud into the green about a foot away from me.  The ball left a nice crater, and I was glad that it hadn’t hit me in the head.  The ball came from over a grove of trees between us and the tee-off box for hole #10.  It is common courtesy in golf to yell “fore!” when you hit an erratic shot.  We hadn’t heard anything. 

We finished the hole and as we were moving towards the next hole, Joel paused.  I knew right away that he was not going to let it go.  We saw an elderly man walking towards us through the trees.  I looked at Joel and said: “You’re not going to make a big deal, are you?”  Joel said: “Damn right I am.”  When the man got close, Joel started yelling at him.  “You, sir, almost killed my friend here.  It is unacceptable that you didn’t yell fore!”  The old man apologized for nearly hitting me, but seemed surprised that Joel was angry.  He asked “Why are you yelling?  I couldn’t see where it went.”  Joel got even angrier.  “It doesn’t matter that you didn’t see where it went.  You should still yell fore.  It is totally unacceptable that you didn’t yell fore.  And may I suggest that a player as erratic as yourself should not be playing on this golf course.”  This wasn’t fair.  Joel and I both had made some pretty damn erratic shots that same round.  The old man turned to me and apologized again.  At this point I was feeling sorry for him, so I told him it was alright.  I told Joel to let it go. 

I appreciate the inherent loyalty in Joel confronting a man who almost drilled me with a ball.  However, I would prefer not to have an angry confrontation on a beautiful Sunday evening.  I just don’t think continuing to berate the man after he has apologized serves any purpose.  I can’t change the fact that there was a near miss, but I can be grateful I wasn’t hit.  Maybe I’m a softy.  Joel thinks so.  Apparently I am
on my own from now on when someone hits a ball at me on the golf course.

Out of retirement

With the exception of a trip to Las Vegas to celebrate the New Year, I have not played poker in a casino for over a year.  There are a couple of reasons for my hiatus: first, I have been just too busy with my PhD work to devote time to poker; and second, when I do have some free time on the weekends, I would prefer being social than grinding it out at a $4-8 limit game making $12 an hour.  Frankly I find playing poker in a casino mind-numbingly boring.  The money is nice, and indeed when I did play regularly I was making enough to pay my rent and then some each month, but it takes discipline to force myself to play enough hours.  I find that I can only handle about 2 or 3 hours at a time before the boredom becomes too much and I have to leave.  Online poker is even more boring.  I haven’t played online poker since I went home for Christmas and had nothing else to do.  I can only stand about an hour of online poker at a time before I have to quit, even with the stimulation of playing 5 tables at once.  It’s too bad I find online poker so boring because when I was playing regularly (I played about 40,000 hands over the course of 8 months about 2 years ago) it was amazingly lucrative for me.  I was multi-tabling the micro limits ($1-2, $2-4, and $3-6) and had a win rate of 3 big bets per 100 hands.  In addition, I would regularly take advantage of deposit bonuses to further increase my earnings.  I was able to supplement my income nicely.

Recently I have come out of retirement for a few sessions at the RiverRock poker room.  The reason for my return is that I have friends interested in playing casino poker.  I thought I would take them to the Rock and have them play $2-4 limit Texas Hold’em to lose their casino poker virginities.  I wanted them to have a clearly defined strategy that would hopefully keep them from stupidly losing all their money.  I gave them a quick crash course on preflop play in the car on the way to the casino.  What is the most important advice for poker virgins?  Play TIGHT.  That way their money will last a long time despite their inexperience.  I also stressed the importance of position.

Here is my preflop advice for beginners:
In early position (first 3 seats after the big blind)
-raise/reraise with the premium hands: AA, KK, QQ, JJ, AK
-If it has not been raised, raise with AQ, AJs (s means suited; e.g. A<IMG src="/images/14229-13631/Club.gif”>J<IMG src="/images/14229-13631/Club.gif”>), KQ, TT
-Call with 99, 88, 77, and suited broadway cards (e.g. ATs, QJs, KJs, JTs)
-If it has been raised, fold unsuited broadway (AQ, AJ, KQ, KJ, QJ) call with AQs, AJs, KQs, TT, 99, 88, 77, and reraise with the premium hands

In middle and late position everything is the same except you can call suited connectors (e.g. 87s), suited Aces (e.g. A8s), and the small pocket pairs (22-66).

You can play loosely from the small blind in unraised pots (any two suited cards, any connector, any ace or king).

If you are in the big blind and someone raises, play as if you were in late position in an unraised pot.

That’s the strategy in a nutshell.  After watching my padawans in action, however, I would like to add a few more pointers:
– If you have limped in and somebody raises the pot behind you, it is almost always correct to call for one more bet (my padawans would routinely call one bet and then fold when it got raised.  I wanted to pull my hair out).
-Always know what the nuts are.  One of my padawans had the nut straight against two other non-nut straights and didn’t even put in a raise.  These are the situations you wait hours or days to materialize.  You have to take full advantage when the poker gods smile at you.  It is simply unacceptable not to put in a raise when you are last to act with the nuts on the river.
-If you have made it to the river and can’t decide whether you should call or fold, lean towards calling.  It is a catastrophic mistake to fold the best hand on the river because it costs you an entire pot whereas calling with a losing hand only costs one bet.  It takes a hell of a lot of incorrect calls to equate to even one incorrect fold.

My stats for the three sessions are as follows:
Session 1 (2 hours; $2-4): +$70
Session 2 (3 hours; $2-4): +$130
Session 3 (2 hours; $2-4): -$30 (I stupidly lost another $40 when I hit the craps table on the way out)
Session 4 (3 hours; $2-4): +$58

My padawans, with one exception, are in the black as well.

It’s Official

I have decided to stay with my original choice and go to the University of Toronto.  I realized that all the reasons that I chose the U of T over UBC in the first place still applied in my latest decision between the University of Calgary and the U of T.  The U of C’s three year program is nice, but what difference does a year make in the long-run?  I would rather have the summers to do research or travel.  There are a limited number of responsibility-free summers in a lifetime, and I intend to take full advantage of the few remaining.