Wednesday, February 10

Places to visit in New Jersey or within driving distance of it

I have lived in New Jersey for a few years now and I've really enjoyed exploring this state. I've been everywhere from outlet shopping, to cute towns, and to ski areas and I wanted to compile a list of my favorite parts of this state. Most of these are day trips, but some can quite easily be overnight trips. I'm not someone who likes to drive a lot so all these places are actually within driving distance from Piscataway, NJ. The list is in no particular order.
  • New Hope, PA, Lambertville, NJ
New Hope and Lambertville are on opposite sides of the Delaware river in Pennsylvania and New Jersey respectively. These towns are beautiful, cute, with antique shops, and fun dining. New Hope's main street has quite a few restaurants, some of which overlook the main street. So you can sit at Havana's, a bar on the main street, sip a beer, relax and watch people parade their Harley's and old restored cars. New Hope Winery is close by too if you're up for some wine tasting. It also has a historic steam engine train station that you can wander through the county in. New Hope is more lively, while Lambertville is the quieter of the two towns. It has a bunch of antique shops, a nice ice cream place called Bucks, and a supposedly fantastic restaurant with a great view of the river, the Lambertville Station Restaurant. I always wanted to eat there, but we couldn't ever find it! I know where it is now though, and I'll just have to wait till this summer to try it. I've been to both these towns a bunch of times, and it's always been fun.
  • Cape May, NJ
Cape May is by far, the nicest Jersey shore town in my opinion. It is without the riffraff that accompanies some of the northern shore towns, and far removed from the ugliness of Atlantic City. It has a fun boardwalk, great restaurants, and a cool ferry to Delaware, though I haven't been on that yet. Another attraction is the yearly Cape May Wine Festival.
  • Clinton, NJ
Clinton has a cute downtown, a historic red sawmill, an awesome bridge on main street, and a restaurant with a beautiful view of all of the above, the Old River House Restaurant. I would recommend going next door to the Balic of Clinton to taste some wines, buying what you like, and uncorking them at the Old River House.
  • East Stroudsburg, PA
My latest discovery and I don't think I'll ever get tired of it. This town is fantastic. It has a population of about 10,000 and about 20 pubs. Yuengling is brewed nearby and you can find $1.00 draughts. That's right. I said $1.00. I recommend Tony's pizzeria for dinner, and Maritas Cantina for the after party.
  • Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park
I found this park by accident while driving home with my parents one day. This is a park that goes along a bunch of canals in the area. Although we just walked part of it, one can kayak down the water or use the bike pathways as well. It was scenic, peaceful, and a good place to relax and go for a walk... if you're in to that kind of thing.
  • Shawnee Mountain, Campgaw Mountain
Both these ski areas are about an hour from me, and both have their pros and cons. Shawnee is bigger, with more trails, but is usually very crowded. Campgaw is a tiny hill, but it is devoid of crowds usually. Shawnee offers student discounts as well.
  • Somerville, NJ
Somerville, NJ reminds me of Wellesley, MA for some reason which I can't pinpoint. Unfortunately I have only visited this town once, but it looks cute, very walkable and seems fun. The reason I am recommending it, is because its got an amazing fondue restaurant, the Melting Pot. You have to try it!
  • Keansburg, NJ
My fiance and I wandered over here by mistake, as we were driving to Atlantic City, and we got hungry. But Keansburg is kind of fun, in a trashy sort of way! It's a quiet beach town, with an amusement park. There are no nice restaurants, as far as we could see, but plenty of seaside type eats. Watch out for the fried food stalls though. They were frying pretty much everything under the sun. Fried snickers, fried bananas, fried you-name-it!
  • Sandy Hook, NJ
This is a Jersey Shore town without the crowds and the bars. It has a bunch of seafood restaurants, and a deserted military base, with lighthouses. It's really close by, and if I'm in the mood for the beach, which is rare, this is where I go!

  • Fall drive through Frenchtown
This was really fun this past fall. My fiance and I drove through Frenchtown, avoiding the major roads. We wanted to see fall colors and this was a great place in Jersey to see them. We also visited the famous, and one and only covered bridge in New Jersey, the Green Sergeant's Covered Bridge. However, seeing this bridge was definitely very anti climatic, but cool in a weird way. I would recommend the Sergeantsville Inn for lunch. Great food!

Friday, June 26

Banning the burqa is not the solution, but it's a start

French President Sarkozy recently reignited the debate over the burqa or the veil that some Muslim women wear. He said that the
...burqa is not a religious sign. It is a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement. It will not be welcome on the territory of the French Republic.
I disagree with the French president...but only with the second part of this quote. But first, let me preface my argument with my own thoughts on the the burqa, also spelled as burka and may be referred to as the hijab or the chador as well. (In this post, I am referring only to the complete head to toe burqa, with perhaps a slit or netting for the eyes. In this outfit, the face is not visible. The headscarf is something very different, and is what some women in my family back home in Pakistan wear.)

I believe that the burqa really is a construct of a misogynistic and feudal society. And there is no doubting the fact that Islamic societies have suppressed the rights of women for as long as one can remember. The cause of this evil (and it really is evil...) is not Islam, however, because Islam was meant to be the cure. In its purest form, Islamic teachings do make valiant efforts to raise the status of women, but these teachings have fallen to deaf ears. The real reason in my opinion, is illiteracy, and the fact that Islam spread like wildfire through lands that were already pagan, uneducated, and heavily misogynistic. Islam was meant to heal these ancient feudal lands of this backbreaking curse on women, but has instead become associated with women's rights violations. But that is the past, yet today things have not changed much. Therefore, in this day and age, Islamic leaders and followers deserve the blame for the imbalance of power between the sexes.

Moreover, I don't see how the burqa helps a woman as I believe it disconnects her from society at large, especially Western society. And it is unfortunate that it is mostly Western leadership that is denouncing the veil. Jack Straw, the former British foreign Minister once wrote that, "wearing the full veil was bound to make better, positive relations between the two communities more difficult". This careful statement is completely true, and besides the obvious community aspects, the head to toe covering must be unbearably uncomfortable. I can not fathom how a woman enjoys wearing something completely covering her up and is barely able to walk. It's also a safety issue. I've seen women driving with their faces covered, and its obvious to see that their peripheral vision is limited. That's just as dangerous as driving with your eyes closed.

However, even after all this, I believe it is the right of any woman to decide whether she wants to wear a burqa or not. We must recognize the fact that not all women wear the veil on their own free will. Let's not be naive here. There is immense pressure on women to wear the veil, especially if her community at large wears it. In fact most women don't even have the choice to NOT wear the veil. In these situations, both the Islamic leadership and the country in question, must provide avenues for discussion, and safety for the woman who decides against the burqa. If women choose not to wear the veil, then they should be allowed to do so, with adequate protection from their community and country. I believe the President Sarkozy should communicate with Muslim leadership in his country and convey such a point. Banning the veil outright, and imposing his belief system on another person is just plain wrong, to quote my brother.

Muslims (mostly men) around the world have been incensed with the French president's stance. They all believe that Muslim women must have the right to choose to wear the burqa. That's no problem. But these same Muslims must realize that they must provide their women with the right to NOT choose to wear the burqa as well. And that's really where the problem stems. President Sarkozy recognizes that Muslims societies are not willing to give up this stranglehold on women and what they wear. Wearing the burqa has become such an integral part of Muslim societies that people don't realize that its not an Islamic practice in the first place. And even if some sects believe that it is a integral practice, then they must allow their women the choose to wear it or not. And it is these women that must be protected. The issue isn't Jack Straw or President Sarkozy being racists against Islam, but the problem is that Islamic societies are unwilling to change and unwilling to remove the sexist policies of their uneducated, pagan past.

Wednesday, June 10

New 'words' in the English language are stupid

So the Global Language Monitor just announced that the number of words in the English language exceeded 1 million this morning at 10:22am. Since it's 11am right now, most people would incorrectly deduce that I was awaiting this event with bated breath. Well, actually the millionth word was added according to Stratford-on Avon Time so I'm about 5 hours behind and slightly less of a loser.

Anyway, I think some of the new words are ridiculous. The millionth word is actually 'web 2.0' meaning "
The next generation of web products and services, coming soon to a browser near you". Firstly, isn't that a word and a number? And secondly do we really need to add such a silly word to our vocabulary.

The stupidity doesn't end here. Some of the words that lost out by not becoming the millionth word are:
Jai Ho!, N00b, Slumdog, Cloud Computing, Carbon Neutral, Slow Food, Octomom etc.

You get the idea. Some of these words are slang, some are movie titles, and some are words in an another language. Now of course I understand that many words like veranda, chutney, kama sutra, actually originate in foreign languages, but that process took decades. In fact, a large majority of native English speakers know these words and use them in every day language. I obviously don't agree that the majority should know the word before it is officially incorporated (and by no means is the Global Language Monitor official), but there needs to be a lower limit as well. Where a certain proportion of the population needs to understand the meaning. After all, the only thing "Jai ho!" has going for it, is a Pussycat Dolls remix.

I'm not alone in finding this silly. According to their website, a number of linguists disagree with putting a number on words in a language...
Linguists believe that there is no way to count words, since the nature of what a word is, itself, is in dispute. Hence you cannot count what you cannot define. More so, even attempting to take a measure of the language is to be condemned.
Well, I'm certainly no linguist or expert in the matter, but I'm interested to see what my friends in linguistics think about this...


Thursday, June 4

Protein folding and docking on the Playstation

Folding@home, as most people in the field would know, is the massively distributed protein folding simulation. As far as I remember, users around the globe can download a screen saver and contribute their idle computer processors to aid explicit (and recently implicit) solvent simulations of proteins folding and/or misfolding. Understanding this process is therapeutically important, as I have pointed out in an earlier post.Recently, a friend of mine mentioned that people had begun using Playstation consoles as a more than adequate substitute for expensive, and cumbersome nodes which are commonly used in computer clusters. The reason for this is that modern games require such heavy graphics and processor power, that the Playstations are computationally very efficient. Moreover, due to their popularity, the cost of a single Playstation is quite cheap, and the technology is very well developed. It makes sense that scientists involved in biological simulations have caught on. Folding@home and Sony have recently got together, making even idle Playstations useful.

It's not just protein folding, but the powerful playstations can be used for other computationally demanding assignments such as ligand docking. I just read that Simbiosys has released a version of their docking software for the PS3.

To lower the cost and power consumption typically associated with compound-library-screening programs, SimBioSys has also released eHiTS Lightning. This package combines the 2009 eHiTS software with IBM's Cell/B.E. chip multiprocessor, found in the Sony PlayStation 3, to achieve a 10-fold increase in computational speed. The PlayStation 3 hardware (shown) replaces some of the expensive computer infrastructure required for virtual screening programs, opening up computer-aided drug design to smaller companies previously unable to afford it.
Pretty damn cool!