## Saturday, December 31, 2005

### New Year's Resolution (as determined by iTunes)

OK, so I am writing this now because I'll be back in my hood (by which I mean Beverly Hills) tomorrow evening for a friend's party and I want to write this before the new year.

For 2004, in my first ever New Year's Resolution, I resolved to be less neurotic. I did pretty well for about a month and then I failed miserably. Hence, I repeated that resolution for 2005 and it looks like I'm going to succeed this time. I only have one more day to blow it, so I think I'm pretty much home free... I wasn't sure what to resolve this year (getting a job or other things obviously doesn't count), so I decided to let my iPod (or rather iTunes, as I'm already in front of my computer) do it for me. Here are the 10 songs that will determine my New Year's Resolution for the year 2006:

1. The Ghost in You (Pschadelic Furs)
3. Too Late Marlene (Duran Duran)
4. The One Thing (INXS)
5. Popcorn (Kraftwerk)
6. Boys 'R A Drug (Julie Brown)
7. All For You (Sister Hazel)
8. From Ay To Bee (Camouflage)
9. So The Story Goes (Erasure)
10. Allurance (Delerium)

Unfortunately, I have no clue what resolution this might be implying. The first two might suggest that I don't have any amorous relations with dead people, but everything else seems much less intuitive. Any ideas? Or any iPod- or iTunes-based resolutions you'd like to share?

### 2005: The Year in Movies

Now I should mention my favorite films of the year. I've been pretty thorough about having entries about the movies I've seen, so I won't do too much recapping here.

My top film of the year goes to Serenity with an honorable mention for Kung Fu Hustle. A special mention goes to Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic, but I can't put it in the same rankings as movies of a more traditional format because it really is a slightly souped-up stand-up routine. Still, these are the two that I enjoyed the most, and I'll mention them separately because of their very different formats.

Also on my list for great films this year (not in any order except that I am looking at a chronological list to help jog my memory) are Thumbsucker, Mirrormask, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Sin City (which I unfortunately saw on home video rather than in the theatre), Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Batman Begins, The Transporter 2, Fantastic Four, The Aristocrats (a hilarious documentary), Bad News Bears, Corpse Bride, Domino, Pride and Prejudice (which was much better than I thought it would be), Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and Aeon Flux (which barely makes this list).

Films that are also worth mentioning but are below the others (in varying degrees---I have a wide range of opinions among the films on this list; I liked them all at least a little bit, but some much more than others) include King Kong (perhaps the best film on this particular list), Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Star Wars: Episode III, War of the Worlds, The Legend of Zorro (which barely makes even this list), Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Sisterhood of the Travling Pants, Jarhead, Good Night, and Good Luck, Wedding Crashers (which barely makes even this list; I wasn't expecting much and that saves it a bit in this year-end review), 2046, Narnia, Howl's Moving Castle (which almost makes the above list), and Proof.

The film The Constant Gardner was notably bad. One of my friends unfortunately convinced me to see it. Shopgirl and Broken Flowers were decent films but were not as good as I thought they'd be, so they need to be listed among my disappointments.

I saw a lot of films this year... despite the big list above (or maybe because of it), I bet I'm even forgetting a few.

In looking at wikipedia's entry on 2005 films, I browsed through their list of notable deaths. Bob Denver, best known for his role as Gilligan, died on September 2nd. I hadn't caught that.

### Memoirs of a Geisha

I just got back from seeing Memoirs of a Geisha with some of the gang. It was a good film, and I really ought to read the book. Two people have told me how wonderful the book is, although one of them refuses to see the movie because she apparently hates Ziyi Zhang passionately. (When I visited her in Cambridge, Mass and mentioned this movie, she ranted for several minutes about Ziyi. For the rest of the weekend, she would renew this rant without provocation. Nobody else was even bringing her up.) Ziyi's English certainly seems much better than before, though she had few enough lines that it's hard to say how well she knows English now. I do think the movie loses a bit by having the main actresses have accents that obviously aren't Japanese when they speak English. Also, it seemed like Michelle Yeoh was doing the voice-over for Chiyo's retelling of her story (am I confused on this? It was Yeoh, right?), which is a little bit odd when she is playing a different role in the film.

The film's score was very nice and set the mood extremely well. The costumes were also superb. I found the brief cat fight between Gong Li and Ziyi Zhang (is this the first movie where the credits have her surname second?) to be distracting in this film, although in other settings that would be appreciated. Wow, Gong Li actually turns 40 on 12/31. I would never have guessed that she's that old. She's going to be in the film version of Miami Vice coming out next year. I remember her from the movie 2046, but I've heard of a her for a while and I don't think I've seen any of the other flicks that IMDB lists for her.

The film was a bit slow at times and some of the lines were corny. Also, I don't understand why Chiyo would say she's surprised the Chairman remembered her. For one thing, he ended the drinking game in the pool when she brought up the incident from her childhood. For another, he mentioned that he remembered her blue eyes when she debuted as a geisha. This line really should not have been in the film or at least it needs to have been delivered in a remotely believable manner.

Anyway, the film definitely gets a thumbs up, but it's not flawless by any means.

## Friday, December 30, 2005

### 2005: The Year in Books

I was going to call it the "Year in Literature" but given what I often read, that's not necessarily the most accurate terminology to use. :)

The volume of my reading is sadly limited by the fact that I am a really slow reader. I'd read more if I had fewer limitations in this respect.

As always, I read tons of baseball stuff---including articles on espn.com and the 2005 edition of The Scouting Notebook. The scouting reports collected therein are very nice for keeping up with who is currently doing what. I also read lots of stuff pertaining to Caltech legends for the book that I am writing. I believe a couple articles have been posted verbatim as trailers somewhere on Caltech's website. I should go check, although the expressed desire was for topical ones, so I suspect that some Rose Bowl stuff and perhaps the article about the Lloyd Christmass tree are there.

In terms of novels, I'll mention one thing from December 2004---I reread the original Hitchhiker's Guide (for the first time since 1987), which I obviously enjoyed tremendously. I also reread The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, which I also enjoyed tremendously. I'll reread the later books in the series in a while, but I have several things before them in my queue at the moment. I also read a couple stories by Lovecraft (I'm gradually going through a a collection of his year-by-year) as well as a couple by Harlan Ellison (same deal). I finally read the second book in Weis and Hickman's Deathgate Cycle, and that book stands as the one I enjoyed most this year. I liked the first book in the series, which I read a couple years ago, but I didn't rush to read the second because I didn't get completely into it. However, once I am done with my current book (Amy Tan's new novel, which is unfortunately not as good as her other ones), I plan to go back to this series and concentrate on that for a while.

I think I read some other D & D novels as well, but they aren't coming to mind right now. I did read some rulebook type stuff (from hardbounds and from Dungeon magazine), but I'm sure there were some other novels too. As always, once I change institutions, what I read late in 04 and what I read early in 05 tends to mix together.

I was going to read the new Margaret Weis book (Amber and Ashes) in the main Dragonlance series, but it's release date of August 2005 first slipped to December 2005 and now seems to have fallen all the way to November 2006. Interestingly, it was going to be a hardcover book and now it's destined to premier as a paperback. I'm not really sure what's going on here, and I'm not convinced this book will actually be around in November 2006.

Well, that's it for this one. I'll post my 2005 movies and special New Year's resolution entry in the near future.

### 2005: The Year in Gaming

Well, I actually mean video games, but I'll mention a couple board games. I didn't play too new many games this year (although I sampled more than usual simply from having fellow gamers around), so I'll make due with the best of my limited selection.

I kept on chugging with the tabletop RPGing and having the chance to play with friends again since I've been back as Tech has been wonderful. (I had a good DM at Georgia Tech, but I wasn't playing with anybody with whom I'd hang out outside the campaign, so the present situation in which I do exactly that is obviously far more enjoyable for me.)

For board (and card) games, I like Arkham Horror a great deal and had fun with World of Warcraft as well (although I do feel like people who also play the MMORPG have more to enjoy from it than those of us who don't). I tried Munchkin for the first time and I look forward to playing that again. Remember, you can't attack the Gazebo. :) (I guess in the game you can't run away from it, but who needs accuracy "in these days of crisis and universal brouhaha".) I also played Dwarven Dig, which was pretty cool, and the Lord of the Rings game, which was so-so. I also played The Chicago Way with Travis, Jolene, and (Mike)^2 after Jorian's wedding and while that game had a couple good elements, it was also broken in several respects. In particular, their cheet sheet for looking stuff up (which was pretty much constantly necessary to remember which regions corresponded to which crime bosses) was absolutely unusable, and that definitely hindered things. Also, whoever designed the game is color-blind. I'm interested in trying Orcs at the Gates at some point, and I'm sure there are others too but I mention this one just because I know someone who has it. :)

For video games, my highlight of the year is Zelda: Minish Cap. It's extremely fun. (Did I technically buy it late in 2004? I can't remember at the moment...) Civ IV would get a lot more votes if I had played it more. The Mac version should come out around January or February, so I'll discuss it more in my 2006 gaming round-up. Katamari Damacy wins the award for best game created while on all sorts of shit (not to mention best warp zone---the train tracks are key). I have had some fun with Mario Baseball as well (especially with beaning the Piantas, because I love it when they become indignant), but it's multiplayer options are sadly lacking for a Mario spin-off game. I played Lumines as well, but while it's good game, I never really got into it the way everybody else seemed to. For multiplayer fun, the recent experience with Mario Soccer (not the official title) has been great: 4 players on the same team for the computer is really fun. We're urgently telling each other to pass and shoot just like in a real soccer game, and stuff like that is the hallmark of a great computer experience. Just watch out for the pink Hammer Bros. They're slow, but they might beat you up with their purses if they can catch you.

I played a couple games of Guitar Hero. I am not so good at it, but my second game was much better than my first, so if I can keep my hands from getting damaged from playing that, there is some promise there. I like Donkey Konga for multiplayer, although for music games I do better playing it one evening and putting it down for a while because of the general danger of overplaying songs. They need to be in my paradigm for me to want to do that, and each of these games has only a few songs that are part of my paradigm. I tried Mario Tennis as well, but I think I need to try the single-player game. I haven't really decided exactly what I think of it. I have tried playing some Eternal Darkness, but I need to play that more and put it in the 2006 round-up.

I'm sure I played some others, but they aren't coming to mind this second, so I'll leave things with the above.

### Hmmm... it looks like the big 3-0 will occur in Maryland

Flights to the Maryland area have apparently become my thing lately. I will be going to Bethesda next week for a conference Dynamics Days that is being organized this year by University of Maryland's chaos group. (Which university organizes it changes every year, but the Maryland group does it pretty frequently and they always send a big group of people to the meeting.) I'm also going to Baltimore in late March for the APS March Meeting, and now I'll also be going to interview in the physics department at the University of Maryland in College Park for their theoretical nonlinear dynamics position. I'll be visiting campus on 2/9 and 2/10, so my job interview talk on 2/9 will be the last seminar I give in my 20s. This is the type of e-mail I really like to read when I wake up in the morning (where morning = 12:15 pm today; it's a good thing today is an Institute holiday). Anyway, this particular job is one of my top choices among the advertisements I've seen this year---it's very close to the top. Maryland's chaos group (and nonlinear dynamics is my field...they call their group the "chaos group" although 'chaos' really refers to a type of dynamics that can occur) is on the short list of the best in the world, NIST is nearby (and NIST has a large, promiment BEC group), and Washington DC is a 5-minute metro ride away (with the metro about a 5 minute walk from the physics building, if I am remembering correctly...maybe it's 10 minutes, but that doesn't change anything). Another thing that's really cool about Maryland (based on prior knowledge) is that there is a lot of interaction between the dynamics people in physics, math, and other departments. Academically, they are almost an ideal fit for me, so I was very pleased with this piece of news. I will be very happy if this works out. Now, my understanding is that the university as a whole doesn't have the broad-based strength of some others (at least by reputation; I don't know about reality here), but my area is among their major strengths and that is a big source of my interest in them. Their dynamics group is really awesome.

The other thing this means is that my 30th birthday celebration will have to occur either right before or right after. My flight back to town will be on Saturday 2/11, so I am tentatively going to think about Sunday 2/12 as a viable possibility.

### 2005: The Year in Plays/Musicals

I didn't see very many plays and musicals this year and I've talked about some of them previously here, so I'll just mention a couple highlights. Purlie at the Pasadena Playhouse was fun to watch. Also, I saw some stuff (in both big and small venues) in Atlanta during the past few years that were memorable. I am already forgetting which stuff I saw during which years, so the stuff I'm about to mention may technically be from 2004. Anyway, the production of Into the Woods by Georgia Tech's theatre troupe was extremely enjoyable (and actually had a couple of my research students in it), and I would like to see a professional version of this musical at some point. (This is a truly awesome musical that very much appeals to my wicked sense of humor.) At the Fox Theatre, I saw Little Shop of Horrors, which was first a movie, then a musical, then another movie (with Steve Martin as the dentist!), and now once again a musical. The thing is that I've seen the 1986 film a couple times and the current musical is basically exactly the same thing, except with worse actors. I enjoyed it and it reminded me that some of the songs in it are really good, but I had seen it all before. The final number was really cheesy, but I guess they wouldn't have forgiven themselves if the people Audrey II ate didn't get a chance to sing in the finale. The "musical" (a ballet, really) based on Billy Joel's music was disappointing (and the guy singing all the songs butchered "We Didn't Start the Fire"!), so I'd recommend you see Mamma Mia! instead. (Mamma Mia!, based on the music of the Swedish supergroup ABBA, is awesome, with really great reinterpretations of most of their best songs. It's been around for a while. I think I saw it in 2002.) Another cool show was a the play version of The Graduate, and I really ought to see the movie at some point. Still, as far as the best of this year is concerned, Into The Woods is the clear winner because of its tude (even though I might have seen it in 2004).

### King Kong

I saw King Kong today. It was a good movie (bordering on very good) and not having the starring ape show up for a while actually works quite well the way the film was done. The opening juxtaposing Vaudeville and New York City's poor was done extremely well and sets the tone of the 1930s very nicely (although Ann Darrow's later entertainment of Kong using part of her Vaudeville routine was very cheesy). Jack Black (whose real last name is Schwarz, which means black) played the male lead. His character was really slimy and one is left with the thought that we was more of a monster than Kong. The film brought this point home with a sledgehammer, and I think it could have used more subtelty here. I think I'd rather be left wondering which of the two is more of a monster rather than having the decision handed to me on a platter. A couple of his double entendres were amusing but gratuitous---there's one, for example, about his touching his twenty-eight foot ape. I don't think it's the fault of the actor, but his character annoyed me on several occasions.

Of course, in many respects, this movie was a love story. It's just that the guy involved was a giant ape. Kong's facial expressions were cool and there were a few times when he was yelling at Ann that he really seemed like the fat husband yelling at his wife to get him a beer. This was highly amusing. Also, he went to great lengths to protect his woman---fighting ravenous dinosaurs (the fight with Kong vs three dinos was especially cool) and climbing to the top of the Empire State building (and you can't have a Kong remake without that). I was waiting for him to start rolling barrels and for Jack Driscoll to jump over them as he climbed the building, but that part of the film was evidently cut. (Jack would have made it to the top earlier, but he was using his hammer for a while.)

Some minor gripes: The death scene at the end didn't really do it for me and the gratuitous funky eyes of the Skull Islanders could have been left out.

Anyway, it was a good film and is well worth seeing.

As a final note, let me mention that when King Kong faced off against Godzilla, I was rooting for the latter because I like dinosaurs (and creatures somewhat resembling them) more than I like apes. However, for the film remakes, the big ape wins far and away against the raptorized Godzilla.

## Wednesday, December 28, 2005

### Swashbuckling tales of greed, deception, and quantum data (not to mention wenches)

This is another entry that I have been meaning to write for a while.

First, I saw Fair Maid of the West: Parts I & II at the Furious Theatre on the balcony of the Pasadena Playhouse the day before I left for bloody England. I was going to see it the day before but (alas) my zombification delayed things for a day.

Anyway, this play was a liberal adaptation of two plays (written 30 years apart) written by Thomas Heywood circa 1600 and 1630. The main changes in the play was the addition of lots of extra pirates and sword fights. These fights were ok, but they weren't spectacular and, in general, I consider the play to be decent but not great. There were some amusing moments and these small, quaint venues can be pretty cool for watching plays. (A couple of the ones I saw in Atlanta were at such venues, and there can be a certain charm about them.) One of the major supporting actors wasn't present and his understudy did a lousy job with an overdone, horribly fake Scottish accent (which was the wrong accent anyway!). The others had reasonable (yet fake, of course) English or generic European accents that worked much better in this setting than the understudy's Groundskeeper Willy. (Pretty soon, I began cringing whenever this guy had lines.)

Now for the quantum data part...

One of my collaborators at Georgia Tech apparently saw some reference to pirates in something I wrote (maybe my blog) and sent me notice of the following (apparently real) seminar:

Speaker: Jonathan Walgate

Title: Quantum Buried Treasure. A swashbuckling tale of greed, deception,
and quantum data hiding on the high seas.

Date+Time: 4.00pm, Wednesday 14th December 2005

Place: 4th Floor Seminar Room of Perimeter Institute

Abstract: When we hide or encrypt information, it's probably because that
information is valuable. I present a novel approach to quantum data hiding
based this assumption. An entangled treasure map marks the spot where a
hoard of doubloons is buried, but the sailors sharing this map want all
the treasure for themselves! How should they study their map using LOCC?
This simple scenario yields a surprisingly rich and counterintuitive game
theoretic structure. A maximally entangled map performs no better than a
separable one, leaving the treasure completely exposed. But non-maximally
entangled maps can hide the information almost perfectly. Warning:
contains pirates.

Before finishing this entry, by the way, I consider it necessary to point out that the Perimeter Institute is in Waterloo (Canada, but still...).

## Tuesday, December 27, 2005

### The Chronicles of Narnia

Amidst my ranting in an earlier entry, I forgot to mention which movie I ultimately saw---it was The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, which I'll now discuss in this entry.

The movie was good but not great. The fantasy creatures and talking animals were cool and well-done (and I have an inclination to like such things anyway), and many of the landscapes were gorgeous. The tale was a bit heavy-handed in its message, as expected from the book, but Disney's touch seems to have lightened that at least a bit. (They turned The Hunchback of Notre Dame into a tale with a happy ending, so I think they can lighten anything.) I was originally going to see it on a day other than Christmas because of the potential heavy-handedness for which I am never in the mood on that day, but I figured the fact that Disney was involved would help in this respect. I decided that I would just put everything into a D & D context and consider those analogs---the Lion had a contingency spell precast, and Father Christmas gave Lucy (the young girl) a damn fine cure light wounds potion (each drop of which was actually like one potion!), etc. Maybe it was really cure serious wounds or something, but there were a lot of doses in that flask!

Lucy comes across as the wisest of the characters (by far), and I am told that is the way it was in the book. (I only read the book as a child, and right now I am thinking that I might have only read part of it rather than the whole thing. It's possible I knew the basics of the rest of the story because of somebody else's book report or something. I don't remember anymore.) All the older kids have issues of some sort, and the saying about the wisdom of youth is around for a reason. I certainly appreciate the relative lack of pretense in most youngsters even as they annoy me tremendously in other respects.

Tilda Swinton was well-cast as the White Witch. In general, I think she's very good at playing creepy characters (see Gabriel in Constantine), and perhaps it's partly because she typically comes across as vaguely adrogynous. (She did a very good job in Thumbsucker, by the way.) In taking a look at her IMDB bio, it also seems that she has a long history of playing such roles on screen.

### 2005: The Year in Music

OK, it's time to start with the media. Since I'm probably not done with movies for the year (and have another one that I saw that I still need to discuss) and I still need to discuss a play and a couple books, I'll start with music. I'm going to combine albums and songs and not do a specific ranking (except for #1 album).

Depeche Mode's Playing the Angel is a clear winner for the top spot (shock!). The tracks "Precious" and "A Pain That I'm Used To" are truly stupendous and the song Lillian is also very nice (but I will only include the first two in the "official" list because I did indicate I'd restrict myself to two Depeche Mode songs). The B side "Newborn" sounds really good as well, but I've only listened to it once and want to hear it more before ranking it.

Another key song is Röyksopp's "What Else is There?", which I can credit Laemmle theatre's pre-movie music for my discovery. It reminds me of Delerium's "Silence" and Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill", which is high praise indeed. The album it's on, The Understanding, had some other decent songs as well, but the drop-off from it's best song to the others is huge.

New Order's Waiting for the Siren's Call joints Playing the Angel as one of my awesome albums from 2005, with several superb tracks, including "Morning Night and Day" (my favorite track) and "Dracula's Castle".

The new Echo & the Bunnymen album Siberia is a solid effort, but I haven't decided if I think any of the songs stand out among the others. I need to listen to it more.

The new Enya album, Amarantine, has a couple standouts, but I don't remember which ones they are yet. (You can tell when I've downloaded something and just put it in the regular playlist after playing it through a couple times because I can't yet identify the titles of the songs I like the best.) There's also another Enya song that's new for me (but not actually new) that I really like.

Madonna's new album, Confessions on a Dance Floor has a disco flavor and includes lots of ripping from older songs. A few of the songs sound very nice---especially "Hung Up", which rips from "Gimme Gimme Gimme", one of my favorite ABBA songs.

Alison Moyet's Voice has a couple nice songs. In contrast to her older stuff (like when she was part of Yaz), this is 'easy listening', but a couple of the songs (they may be covers) are really catchy. I've also rediscovered my enjoyment of a couple more of Moyet's songs from her solo career.

Garbage's Bleed Like Me has some good songs, especially "It's All Over But the Crying".

I've heard some songs from Greenday's American Idiot from 2004 (I didn't hear any of them until this year) and enjoyed those as well, although I don't have any one in particular crying out as one I want to mention explicitly.

I have been meaning to listen to the new Shakira album, but I haven't gotten around to doing so yet. I've heard it has more pop and less of the Latin music influence, which is unfortunate because it's the latter that I have really enjoyed in her music. I've also been meaning to listen to Cyndi Lauper's new acoustic album. (I think it's mostly live versions of her stuff with help from various guest stars.) Have I ever mentioned how awesome she is? She has a lot of really great songs.

In a special category for stuff I discovered in 2004 is the 2002 album My Fault by the group Métisse, who are from Ireland if I am remembering correctly. The songs "Boom Boom Ba" (which originally appeared in a well-known movie) and "Sousoundé" are especially awesome.

Other older songs I've discovered in 05 and 04 are "Slender Frame" by A-Ha, as well as a bunch of their 90s songs. Their 90s stuff takes a much darker tone than their superb 80s work, which included "Take On Me", "The Sun Always Shines on TV", and "The Living Daylights" (yes, A-Ha performed a Bond theme---it has the worst Bond, but the best Bond theme song this side of "A View to a Kill"). In the last couple years, I've also rediscovered several songs by The Church (including "Reptile" and "Metropolis").

Other songs I've discovered recently include Angelo Venuto's version of "Sweet Caroline", "1000 Mirrors" by Asian Dub Foundation (with vocals by Sinead O'Connor), DHT's cover of Roxette's "Listen to Your Heart" (especially the trance/techno version), and Slinkee Minx's cover of Belinda Carlise's "Summer Rain" (which may in turn be a cover---I need to check this).

I rediscovered, among other songs, "Don't Pass Me Over" by the BoDeans, "This Town" by The GoGo's, "The Lady Don't Mind" by Talking Heads, the "Oompa Loompa Songs" from the old-school Willy Wonka movie, and some album tracks by Men Without Hats and have gained even more appreciation for "Romeo and Juliet" by Dire Straits.

One of funky song mixtures I've discovered this year is "Intergalactic Tarzan Boy", which juxtaposes exactly the songs you think it does. I've also been enjoying a couple techno remixes of classical songs.

On a more lighthearted note, 2005 was also the year that I discovered the awesomeness that is MC Hawking. Who's down with entropy?

Finally, a couple days ago I discovered the song "The Internet is for Porn" from the musical Avenue Q (from 2003). It is simply awe-inspiring. "Just grab your dick and double-click."

## Monday, December 26, 2005

### Happy Hanukkah + rant

Today is the first day of Hanukkah and I was lazy and didn't buy my electric menorah that I was planning to light just to keep track of the days. (Not that it actually matters, but I might as well have pretty lights in my apartment for something with which I am connected ethnically, even if not religously.) In the title for this entry, don't forget to pronounce both H's as rolling H's. If you don't get a soar throat from reading the title aloud, then you're not pronouncing it correctly.

Also, happy late Festivus. In addition to an electric menorah, I should buy the requisite aluminum pole to properly celebrate Festivus next year.

The dinner was at a decent place in Old Pas I had never eaten before. I can't remember the name at the moment but it's near the corner of Raymond and Union. Next time I go, though, I'm going to order the Peking Duck two days in advance (now that I know they have that).

My father also asked me why I had a blog, although I think he was just curious. His precise wording might make it seem like he was asking in a manner in which he had decided in advance that it was a ridiculous thing to do, but I don't believe that's how the question was meant. I believe it was meant in the usual academic 'Why are you doing this?' manner which is blunt but which wants to know the merits of (in the scientific case) the approach being taken. The tone was really the same thing I get from my colleagues all the time and might only give a negative impression if one didn't realize this simply because of my father's somewhat neanderthal approach to communication in general. Oh, and apparently my sister reads the blog occasionally, so I'll send out a wave to her in case she's reading this. Maybe that wine rant did get back to my family after all, but it's not like I'd ever write anything here if I weren't willing for it to get back to them. There isn't anything in here I wouldn't be willing to tell them directly. They may not like what I have to say, but that's hardly different from their reactions to what I actually do say to their face.

I'm going to go try to smooth the chip on my shoulder now. :)

### Gaming during New Year's weekend?

Here's my deal.

I am attending a friend's party in Beverly Hills on 12/31 and I am returning at some point on 1/1. I would be up for some sort of gaming either when I get back or on 12/30. I leave town on 1/2---so 12/30 (evening only), 1/1 (after I get back), and 1/2 are the good days for me. Any day except for 1/1, I can potentially host stuff at my place.

It seems like it might be hard to do an RPG unless somebody else can get something ready. I was thinking about making something before I got sick, but then my productivity went way down after I got sick and at this point I can't commit to setting up an adventure. (If I can be especially productive in the next couple days, it will become possible, but don't count on it.) I propose scheduling one day at my place for board and video games, and then we can do other stuff as the mood arises during the weekend.

Also, are people up for Memoirs of a Geisha tonight? (Tim, did you want us to wait for you on this one?) I really want to see that, and I resisted the urge to see it last night.

## Sunday, December 25, 2005

### Movie and Chinese food

On Christmas day, it's an old Jewish tradition to see a movie and go out to dinner to eat Chinese food, so that's what I'll be doing "tomorrow" (really, later today). I suspect this actually originated from a Woody Allen film. Does anybody have any idea which one?

I'm not sure what movie I'll see yet, but on principle I can't see Narnia on Christmas. I really want to see the movie, but I need to see something non-religious tomorrow. I really want to see Memoirs of a Geisha, but I discussed the idea of seeing that on Monday with Lorian and Joe, so it looks like it won't be that one either. That likely leaves King Kong, although I should see if anything new started playing this weekend.

The other thing about this tradition is that it's become a way for Jewish people to meet fellow singles who are MOTs. (MOT = Member of the Tribe. Yes, this acronym is actually in common use, although I didn't know it until a couple years ago. It is used independent of what one actually believes, because I think the religious stuff from my own heritage is full of just as much crap as the Christmas bullshit. It's just that it's my ancestors' crap as opposed to somebody else's, so I find secular value in certain aspects of it.) Not that I'm actually going to try to meet anybody. I never do. I have occasionally met fellow Tech postdocs and some students, and the only other people I've met since I returned to Pasadena are the people who work at Peet's (in a very loose sense of "meet") and a random 18-year-old at Peet's. (Clearly, she needs a 2nd-edition haste spell cast on her. That could have solved some problems.)

Now I need sleep...

### My first Christmas present + a holiday e-mail from Louis Wang

I made a very short remark in one of Gazebo's posts (an open post?) about never having received a Christmas gift. It was actually a very small part of something else I wrote, but Jolene picked it up something like 10 messages later and Jorian picked it up. I was expecting some sort of mail bomb or something else equally vial (maybe that will come on Tuesday? I think there's still no mail on Monday---obviously in celebration of Hanukkah!), but I am happy to report that I received Super Mario Strikers instead. We played that 4-player for a while, and unlike Mario Superstar Baseball, it has a lot of 4-player options. (The baseball game was cool, but there was only one way to play 4-player, and that causes a big drop-off. Not to mention the fact that the baserunning is messed up, the batting is a bit tough, and they even got at least one rule wrong. I'm not sure how many people would notice the rule violation, but I follow baseball religiously and it caused a rally-killing triple-play, which annoyed me greatly.)

The soccer that we played took on a sort of rugby feel as we punched the opponents into electric fences (where they screamed in pain at their shocks) and otherwise pushed them aside. The players would gloat after goals, and some of them were the Nintendo version of provocative---this was evident with, among others, Daisy and Peach, and OneMike's reaction to this was, to use an apt word, disturbing. He worries me sometimes. Also disturbing were the pink shells/outfits the Hammer Bros had when they were on Peach's team (including the hearts on the front of the shells). Peach + gay Hammer Bros was certainly a strange team. Oh, and I can't finish post with the comment that the Birdos were apparently wearing bondage outfits. Nintendo is going on some strange directions here. Personally, I really like the horried screams when Peach, Wario, and others hit an electric fence after someone smashes them into it. But I have no latent violent tendencies (some might use the word 'overt').

Anyway, the game is cool. I owe Jorian a gift, so they're going to have to settle for a late Hanukkah gift. My family is Jewish. Ergo, it's a Hanukkah gift if it's for a non-birthday December holiday. If someone like Lemming has an idea of what I can get that isn't already owned, purchased, or in the works, a private message towards that end would be much appreciated.

I also got a holiday e-mail from Louis Wang (originally from my class; in Lloyd). He mention that his wife is expecting a kid, so he should be testing his off-beat child-rearing philosophies (from old messages on The Usual Bastards e-mail list) soon enough. Actually, most of us thought he didn't believe precisely what he was saying and the odd stuff may not be relevant for several years, but I wonder if he'll try some of the things that were discussed? (For those who don't know, my group in Lloyd was called The Usual Bastards. There's a bit of a story behind the name, which didn't come into play until after we left Tech. I'll go through that another time. It's mostly Vincent Lin's fault, but Kin Chan and I get an assist, and the name stuck among ourselves despite the fact that it's kind of silly. The others contained therein are Vito Dai, Nelson Escobar, Varun Tansuwan, and Ben Williamson. Unfortunately, most of us have drifted apart to a large degree, and I keep more in touch with some than with others. I'll talk to Vito sometimes, for example, and we always had more in common because of the academic stuff, the chess, etc. I talk to Ben a lot because we're both misanthropes. I talk to Brian Limketkai, too, because of pool and academic stuff although he was never on that e-mail list. The whole drifting apart in this particular case saddens me more than most other things [and there's a specific occurrence related to this that I don't feel comfortable posting on a webpage where anybody can read it], but I think some of us were friends more through connections with a third party. There's nothing wrong with that, but then when you're apart, sometimes that increases the inertia for keeping things up. It's too bad. I think I actually thought we could stay together in spirit as a group in a lifetime sort of friendship thing and I was wrong.)

On a completely different note, my iPod over the course of three days has gone from a 12 hour battery to a 6 hour battery to a 4 hour battery. A slow decay is expected, but this is not good. I'm hoping I can do a reset or something, but I'm not going to look up the online faqs today.

## Saturday, December 24, 2005

### RIP Richard Pryor (1940-2005)

When I was on the bus from London to Cambridge (on the morning of 12/11 in England), I heard that Richard Pryor had died (on 12/10). I meant to have an entry on this earlier, but I had tons of entries on other things, so this had to wait.

OK, so why is Richard Pryor part of my paradigm? I remember him most vividly in Brewster's Millions (which had the inimitable John Candy racquetball scene at or near the beginning of the movie), although that film was good rather than great. (It also had the unforgettable mantra of "10 million, 10 million, 10 million dollars! 10 million, 10 million, 10 million dollars!" followed by a very pained scream by Pryor. I especially enjoyed See no Evil, Hear no Evil, which was one of Pryor's last movies and which was done in conjunction with Gene Wilder (as were a few other films). Pryor's obituary in the NY Times indicated he could barely say his lines when recording that film, but I was 13 years old when I saw it and didn't notice. I really enjoyed that film back in the day, although it's hard to say whether it has aged as gracefully as has Spaceballs. It's also worth noting that the Wilder/Pryor pair was one of the long-standing buddy teams in Hollywood and my understanding is that that helped pioneer the modern era buddy flick.

Pryor co-wrote Blazing Saddles with Mel Brooks and that alone is sufficient to make him part of my paradigm. He also wrote for Sanford and Son and was one of the early comics with a very racy stand-up routine (where he was a contemporary of Pat Morita, among others). In this respect, he was especially pioneering. He pushed the envelope a great deal in terms of what entertainers (and especially comics) could get away with, and given where my own sense of humor often goes, this is something I appreciate a great deal.

## Thursday, December 22, 2005

### The Internet is for Porn

You can see this---WoW-style---from break.com at the following link.

Apparently, the guy who started this site went to the same high school I did, but long after I left.

### RIP Richard E. Smalley (1943-2005)

In Science and Nature this week, you'll find retrospectives on Richard Smalley, who shared the 1996 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his co-discovery of the buckyball. Buckyballs are cool (both in general and scientifically), so I wanted to pay my respects to Smalley as well.

### Aeon Flux and IMDB's 05/06 starmeter

I saw Aeon Flux with the gang on Monday. It had one of those high standard deviation sequels, so I wasn't sure if I'd like it or if it would fall flat on its face. As it turns out, I enjoyed it quite a bit, although there was some of the expected cheesy dialogue. (A big chunk of it was concentrated into one scene that I was urging to hurry up and end---the one with the Trevor Goodchild discussing love surviving the cloning process. Ugh.) Frances McDormand seemed slightly disturbing in her role, and I still can't see her in a movie without thinking of Fargo (you betcha').

The flick won't be winning any Oscars but it's really fun and highly recommended. Did any of you ever see the MTV cartoon series of it from 1995? I never did, so I'm curious if somebody here has an opinion on it.

While on IMDB, I noticed the starmeter they just posted. Actually, it seems to list mostly starlets, although that's not particularly surprising. They gave Keanu Reeves the props he deserves for Thumbsucker ("Call your power animal.") and reminded me that not just one but two sequels to Pirates of the Carribean are in the works. Aaaarrrrrr!

The Dodgers have been very active lately, so I've gotten into baseball mode just a bit here. Today, we signed starting pitcher Brett Tomko to a two-year deal. Tomko is a solid pitcher, but he's the number four starter type and the Dodgers current big gap is the lack of an ace starter. Granted, to get one off of the free agent market this year would cost $50 million and that's just for somebody with the potential to be an ace starter rather than somebody with the full track record of being one. (I'm referring to A. J. Burnett, who is enormously talented but also inconsistent and injury prone thus far.) I think we might be well-served to package someone like Jayson Werth with a top prospect or two to get another starting pitcher. I'd love to get Barry Zito, but at this point it's pretty doubtful that the A's are still interested in trading him. The Dodgers farm system is on the short list as the strongest in baseball at the moment, so we definitely have the people to make this happen. Last year was painful (although it was helped by an inordinate number of injuries), but things are looking very promising these days for those who bleed Dodger blue. Maybe the Flying Spaghetti Monster is the long-rumored Great Dodger in the Sky that Tommy Lasorda always mentioned back in the day? ## Wednesday, December 21, 2005 ### Misleading stats The Angels just traded Steve Finley to the Giants for Edgardo Alfonso. (This is a good move for the Angels.) In their story on this trade, ESPN writes that Finley "is the only active player with 300 doubles, 100 triples and 200 homers." Yeah, that's because he's the only active player with 100 triples (Kenny Lofton is next with 98), so you can add anything else there and get a true statement. Finley is also the only active player with 100 or more career triples and at least 1 career walk. Come on. I've seen people do this before when Finley has been traded or signed as a free agent and it cheapens things. Finley has had a very fine career, and there's no reason to pad things. Rephrasing the above to indicate that Finley has achieved the above would have been much better, but the only "only" should be placed with the triples, which has really become a lost art (with only a few players getting a decent number of triples year after year) in the modern game with the ever-smaller ballparks. ### Applestoreblogging That sounds like a disease, doesn't it? I don't actually have anything seriously wrong with my computer. One of my keycaps split in two, so I just am here to replace it. Of course, the way the store is organized, I need to wait in line for customer support in the hope that I can get a quick free replacement rather than have to pay an overpriced sum to get a new set of keycaps. Fortunately, they have wireless. (Also, I timed my arrival here pretty well.) On the way here, I saw a license plate that read "MJORTOM" (or maybe it was MAJRTOM, but the I think the first one is correct). Reaction: I approve! Next stop after here will be Equator Cafe (where I am going to get a Speedball), although I'm tempted to get meat at Goucho Grill first. Mmmmm....pretentious espresso bars. Yum. Postscript: The Apple Store's wireless was flaky, so I am finishing this entry at Equator (which, by the way, is a very cool place for those of you who have never been here; you enter it from the alley called Mill's Place; it's right next to WokCano). I noticed a sign behind the counter that I hadn't caught before: "If the music is too loud, go to Starbucks." Excellent! They have several other funky signs here as well, like the one where you get can extra balls for what I suppose is bubble tea (I can only read the 'extra balls' and price part of the menu from this part of the place). Then again, Equator's supposedly free wifi isn't being nice to me and is insisting I pay through whatever service is providing this, so I could always just finish this at home. It's not as cool, but at least you get a nice temporal progression and I have a spiffy new 'return' keycap on my computer. I got to be first in line about 5 minutes before my scheduled time and then there was only one person behind the counter for a while and he spent some of his time hitting on the person next to me, so I got helped almost 30 minutes after my appointment even though things had been promising. I put my time to good use, though, as I read some stuff on espn.com and then worked on a talk for a January conference because maybe I'll have my slides prepared in advance for a change. (In the past couple years, I have developed a bad habit of writing my talks predominantly at the meetings where I am presenting them.) While reading a quantum information theory paper, I vaguely noticed what I think was my officemate (unless I am seriously mistaken) with five or six women. However, he seemed to be going for quantity rather than quality... ### Flying Spaghetti Monster hat This link is courtesy Brian Limketkai '98. You can find pictures and a "recipe" here. I was touched by his noodly appendage and you can be too! ### A victory for rational thought I just saw the news that the judge in Pennsylvania rejected the teaching of Intelligent Design, because (as stated in the article) it is a religious viewpoint that advances "a particular version of Christianity." Reaction: Amen! :) This was the first legal case (of likely many) to test the merits of ID, so I am quite pleased with the result. And Judge John E. Jones III's ruling was a sweeping victory and not just a narrow one. He's my new hero among Republicans. Here's what The Washington Post had to say about this. ## Tuesday, December 20, 2005 ### Lloyd Christmas tree: 2005 edition I meant to post this before (and the Gazebo beat me to it), but let me mention this belatedly. I noticed this during finals week and I guess it was put up the Friday right before then. I already knew that this has been done every year in Lloyd since fall 1994 when the frosh class I was in started the tradition (the original idea belongs to Wes Salzillo and Jim Glore). At one level, it's not as cool for current frosh because they are expected to do it. At another level, it's very cool for members of my class because we started this tradition and it's still going very strong. I wonder if many of the lights being used are the same ones as those back in the day? (Interestingly, I saw the almost final version of the magazine cover that I'm getting and the portion of the plot that will be on the cover looks very Christmassy (is that with one 's' or two?) with its color scheme. The whole plot is supposed to be shown as a sidebar in the magazine/journal. I'll post details when it comes out in February.) There will be a story on the origins of the Lloyd Christmas tree in Legends III. That was basically the #1 request among Lloydies of my era, and I would probably had several people lined up to kill me if that hadn't made the book. Hence, it's in the book, so put your weapons down. :) It looks like a couple New Years-themed "trailers" from our book may be showing up on the Caltech website next week, and I wonder if the Lloyd X-mas tree story will be included among those. ### Dodgers sign Kenny Lofton The Dodgers just signed aging center-fielder Kenny Lofton to a one-year contract in a continuing string of moves that I support. (This is the Dodgers longest such streak in a while.) Lofton still can get on base at a reasonable clip, so I think getting him for one year is a good move despite his age. While the Dodgers overpaid for Furcal, we only signed him to a three-year deal and Nomaaaah and Lofton were given one-year contracts, so we're not likely to be saddled with any huge albatrosses. (Just ask the Blue Jays about BJ Ryan and AJ Burnett in a couple years. Those two are fine pitchers, but they are not worth anything close to the contracts the Jays gave them.) The Dodgers signing of Bill Mueller for a couple years was also a reasonable move. ### Unstirring your coffee (more viscous fluids, actually) Here is an article in the New York Times about unstirring viscous liquids. Actually, while coffee is used as an analogy, it's not close to viscous enough to match what's been done. The researchers including nonlinear dynamics and fluid mechanics Jerry Gollub as well as physicists who would probably be considered more traditional. (Gollub overlaps enough with my community that he's one of us. He does a bunch of pattern formation and other such things.) Anyway, the researchers took two concentric cylinders filled with very viscous stuff (and particles with the same density so that they floated in the liquid) and turned one of them and turned it back. They apparently found a sharp transition in terms of when they could recover their initial configuration and when they couldn't. I'll say it can be expressed analytically as a phase transition, but I didn't check if there's a model that actually puts it in that framework. I'm sure somebody will put such a model forth soon enough if it hasn't happened yet. Of course, this is a nonequilibrium phenomenon, and going right to bifurcations in the usual pattern formation perspective would be more useful than just a phase transition model. The article was shorter than I would have liked---it feels like it stops abruptly and could have used more detail---and the title of the article is exceptionally bad for what's actually contained therein. ## Monday, December 19, 2005 ### How to eat sushi (wtf department) Charles Lee '96 passed along this video concerning the proper way to eat sushi. I assume Lemming can watch this without fear of death. The video is a bit long (around 8 min), but the deadpan style is pretty amusing on a few occasions. Anyway, the major reaction to the video is wtf. ## Sunday, December 18, 2005 ### D & D scheduling for weekend of 12/23 I am available for any time during the weekend. Who is even going to be in town? Do we default to board games? I guess the first thing is to find out who will be around at all. For those people, when are you available? Monday is fine for gaming too since that's an official holiday. I should get myself an electric menorah because I'm in the mood to play along and light the appropriate candles. ### Monkeys Shock the BCS (again) The BCS can't seem to get the monkeys off of it's back. In particular, there was recently an opinion piece in the Washington Post that discusses some work in which I've been involved (with Thomas Callaghan and Peter Mucha; Thomas was the one who did the real work; Peter and I were advisors on tje project) about using random walkers (on the graph defined by the college football schedule) to rank football teams. The short version is that our random walkers, which we playfully dubbed "monkeys", do just as well as the BCS. The Washington Post article proposes the idea of replaces the experts with monkeys, which is actually kind of reminiscent about how things were jokingly phrased when we first came up with the monkey analogy (which is actually my fault, because I would come up with comments asking whether monkeys can do as well as the experts). I mentioned this project in an earlier blog entry, but I'm reiterating it because of the Washington Post gig. Our 2005 rankings our available on the official project website, from which our papers can also be downloaded. We've now taken to using the less snide and more accurate term 'random walkers' in our presentations, although the monkeys still get mentioned now and again for fun, especially as we can't exactly escape them at this point. (The official webpage was originally called "Monkeys Shock the BCS" and you know I am the one who wanted to allude to Peter Gabriel.) There were rumors floating around (which might have just been somebody being nice to us; I only heard this third-hand) that our system was actually considered by the Powers That Be to be added to the official BCS system but that the use of the term 'random monkeys' hurt our chances---hence the change to random walkers. Of course, with the article in the Washington Post, all such chances are probably dead and buried. But maybe we'll get used in the Congressional hearings? That would be pretty cool... ### Nomaaaaah is a Dodger! The Dodgers have signed Nomar Garciaparra to a one-year contract. Nomar, who will play first base for us, has been injury-plagued in recent seasons, but he still can perform well when he's healthy. Now, while Nomar can't be trusted to remain healthy, this is one of those moves that has a very high upside. Because we only signed him to a one-year contract, there also isn't a huge risk involved, so I am very pleased with this move. This could provide a very nice offensive boost. On another note, I am listening for the first time to the B-side (called "Newborn") from Depeche Mode's single of a "A Pain That I'm Used To", which just got released in the UK and will soon be released in The States. This song is very cool, and I'm always happy to have more new DM songs. ## Saturday, December 17, 2005 ### Which House are you in: Harry Potter edition I received by e-mail a Harry Potter hat-sorting quiz to determine House. Neither of these quizzes is great, but since both put me in the same place (Ravenclaw), I decided I'd go ahead and post them anyway. Given some of the questions, this destination may be a reasonably common one for Techers [except, perhaps, for PageBoys, who I think may have a certain other destination in mind... :) I don't actually believe that, but I like making the comment anyway, and I'm not subject to Rotation Rules at the moment.]. Quiz 1 Quiz 2 ### Wallace and Gromit (and upcoming film plans) I saw Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit on the way back from England. It was good but not great. I liked Chicken Run better. There were some nice references in this flick---for example, the King Kong moment and the two howling incidents were greatly appreciated. I noticed a corny Harry Potter reference, and after having spent a week in England, I definitely appreciated the general format of the street layout in this film more than I would have before. There were some nice double entendres in the film, and the 'may contain nuts' joke on the box of cheese was absolutely beautiful. I wonder if I would have liked it better had I seen it in the theatre and when I wasn't really tired and feeling crappy? I was going to see Sky High in the plane as well, but I messed up my synchronization with the film's start. There are a number of films in the theatre that I want to see that have come out in the past couple weeks. I'll hopefully start dealing with these on Monday. For example, anybody for Aeon Flux? ## Friday, December 16, 2005 ### Hitting the pubs and a few more thoughts I made my way over to the Eagle last night. The fish & chips are indeed excellent, although there's actually one place in the world in which I've had better fish & chips. Not that anybody reading this should care about my ranking, but the relevant point is that the place in question is in Santa Monica, CA, so that we should all go there. It's called Ye Olde King's Head, and it's a traditional British pub (modulo the way smoking and ordering works in the US, but you get the idea). On the way there, I noticed a coffee place (that I tried today; it actually can make iced drinks; hooray!) as well as a cafe'/dessert place that's open until 10pm (i.e., something along the lines of what I was trying to find on Monday night). The Eagle has a sign on its front indicating its role in the whole Watson/Crick thing (they apparently went there to drink and discuss their work; very cool!), and I suspect that my current postdoc advisor (Michael Cross) went there as well, given that his College (Corpus Christi) from his undergrad days is right next to this pub (with maybe one other restaurant in between). Apparently, he showed some people his old dorm room at some point during this semester's program. The other pub I visited was The Castle Inn, although I didn't eat anything, so I didn't get much out of it. (I don't drink, so I have to have another reason to go. The way things worked, seating was an issue, so I also didn't really get a chance to sit around and talk to the people with whom I went.) The pub social atmosphere is certainly pretty cool, but the smoking sucks ass. I really don't like it when my clothes reak of smoke when I leave the place and when I'm around smoking too much I start to feel sick. (That is, not only do I dislike smoking because it smells bad, but it goes beyond my tastes in that I am "visibly" affected.) It's such a shame. I guess I would just have to learn to live with it if I lived here or (more likely) visited here for 6 months to a year as part of some program. (Given the existence of the Isaac Newton Institute, the latter situation is fairly likely to happen at some point in my life.) Another thought that has nothing to do with this but that I forgot to mention. This comes from a brief conversation on Sunday and I unfortunately don't remember the wording as well as I did before. I also won't say who said this but the quote is basically along the following lines: "Creatism is not a theory because you can't test it. Neither is string theory, really, for the same reason, in fact, but at least the latter becomes a theory asymptotically as time ---> infinity." ## Wednesday, December 14, 2005 ### Like death pebbles, only larger On Monday, I was walking between buildings in the Isaac Newton Institute (well, the second building is technically a different mathematical center) and I stepped on some stone walkways and slipped slightly as I was walking. These stones are much larger than the death pebbles and less slippery, but I can see how much of a hazard they might be when slightly wet. Death pebbles (and variants thereof) may look cool, but they have this name for a reason. (Actually, I remember Tilford once slipped on the death pebbles, and the result verified their well-deserved name.) ### Soaking up the atmosphere There are a couple aspects of this. One is simply walking through the old streets to just see what's up. I had a chance to do this mostly in my Monday evening wanderings, during which I could better appreciate the cool atmosphere and learn how difficult it can be to navigate streets that aren't arrayed via the x- and y-axes and whose names change at almost every intersection. (Of course, I really wish there were more coffee and dessert places, especially ones open late. That's a part of my daily life that I really like---just to sit down in a cafe and read or even do work.) Walking through St. John's College also revealed very cool architecture. I haven't gone into any of the other Colleges yet, but we have our conference banquet in Trinity Hall tonight, so at least I'll get to add one more. (We have no breaks during the day unless one skips talks, so I won't be walking through the other Colleges on this trip.) The other aspect is the incredibly long, rich tradition of applied mathematics at Cambridge. Just to say I was here where so many of the pioneering studies in the foundations of my own discipline were made is awesome. There is an extent to which one can get this at some of the best US universities, but here the difference is not just in the brightness of the achievements but also in the sheer quantity and breadth of them over a very long time (and of course, the really old school ones). The applied mathematicians lised on the Cambridge website are Newton, Clerk Maxwell, Babbage, Stokes, Larmor, Rayleigh, Eddington, Dirac, GI Taylor, Sir Harold Jeffreys Sir James Lighthill, and Stephen Hawking. That's really an incredible list of names. And unlike in the US system, England is full of departments of applied mathematics and theoretical physics (and others similarly titled) reflecting the concomitant nature of research in these areas that people of my academic stripe stress. ## Tuesday, December 13, 2005 ### Incidents from my sleep-deprived first day For one thing, I thought I saw a glimpse of Stonehenge through the fog as the bus was driving from London to Cambridge. I didn't get a chance to look this up so I mentioned this to somebody and I was told that couldn't be right. It did, however, look like a mini version of that (through the fog), so one question is what I saw there. There were talks on the first day in commemoration of a well-known pattern formation person who died in March. Most of these talks included personal reminiscences and had some cool historical stuff, and the fact that some of the content was lighter helped me given my lack of sleep, long day of travel, and continued suffering from the flu. (This is a really bad combination, by the way.) Several of the people at that (and at the rest of the conference) know me, and one or two who I only met once or twice actually remember me [beyond the looks familiar stage], which is good. We went into town for lunch before the first talk and I knew I wouldn't be late because the first speaker was among those going. There was another really big name and two other prominent researchers who are still reasonably young [maybe early-mid 40s] and me. (As usual, there's a which name doesn't belong joke in here somewhere.) We walked through St. John's college to get to St. John's Street on the other side. (Strictly speaking, non-members aren't allowed to enter through the back as we did, but it's the fastest way to get to the central part of town and all the gates are unlocked during the day.) We chose to go left (it seemed to have more restaurants) and went to the first place we found, which was a sandwich/pastry/coffee place. They have a very cool way of doing sandwiches (choose what you want on it every step of the way) and good prices. The people working at the place at that point were two girls who I think were Scandinavian of some sort based on the accents. My ordering was quite incoherent because of my state, and my brief attempt to explain what an iced capuccino was didn't work (I expected an issue here because of my experiences in Australia), so I ending up getting the hot version (though it was decent). (If I weren't so tired and didn't want to keep others waiting, I probably would have tried further.) I ended up being the brunt of good-natured ribbing by the girl helping me as a result of all this (there was a brief threat of adding tons of sugar packets to my capuccino, but I got my requested number of two---I had visions of old iced "teas" that had more half & half than tea), which was highly unexpected after she had dealt with the others pretty coldly. I think it's sometimes good to be the young person amidst all the geezers. There's some sort of relativism involved. For now, the story ends there, but I still have a couple days to go to the place again. ### Dwarves of England This is perhaps the song Warren Zevon would have written if he didn't like lyncanthropes so much. (If you don't know this reference, there is some music to which you really need to listen...) I'm actually talking about two specific people, although the impression I have based on things I've read and heard in the past is that this is a well-propagated stereotype of some of the blue collar folk here (i.e, no claims of actual knowledge---just that I had heard about this). Also, I have only noticed it in these two people and not in others, so it could easily just be because they're old and bitter. Anyway, take your dwarf stereotype and that's what these two people seemed to be like---all gruff and ornery and stuff. The bus driver screamed at an old customer "Do you think I'm psychic?!?" regarding a confusion about ticket prices, which are lower for people who are older. (The women's mannerisms---especially the way she phrased her queries---were admittedly annoying, but I don't think they came close to the scream-in-the-customer's face level.) The guy also complained about possibly having to go home late as a result of the delay of maybe like 1--2 minutes that she caused. The other dwarf is one of the porters where I#m staying. I am in Wolfson Court, which is a low-quality dorm (with low-quality food, low-quality plumbing and heating, etc.) near the Isaac Newton Institute just to the west of the St. John's College rugby field (which is just to the west of the College). There are some cool architectural features of the dorm, including the switching between inside and outside within the confines of the building. This leads to lots of extra doors between different areas in addition to the metric ton of fire doors that are present. Many of these doors---especially the ones between inside parts and outside parts---get locked at night. Anyway, there are call buttons on them to reach the porter in case one gets locked out of where one wants to go. One issue that I didn't realize was that some of the doors are sticky, so that some effort can be required to open them (although I only noticed this on Sunday, so something had to have gotten changed since then). The first time I couldn't open one of those doors, I was thinking that it was because the door was locked---I put a reasonable ammount of effort and it didn't seem to do anything. I thus called the porter. First, he wasn't in his office, so I waiteda couple minutes and called again. His answer was to yell at me to just jiggle the door and it would work. It was the right solution, but it's not like I was supposed to know in advance that the door needed that. Apparently, he expected that I did have to know. He must have been annoyed that I interrupted his Solitaire game on Windows, because every time I went by the office, that's what he seemed to be doing. (i.e., not only do I think my question was reasonable but chances are good that I didn't actually interrupt other work) As usual, this post was longer than I wanted, but there you have it. The dwarves we know and love seem to exist in the form of some (or at least two) old, crotchedly, British men. ## Monday, December 12, 2005 ### Getting to Cambridge Let's start with the marathon trip. I stupidly got an early flight, so I set my alarm at 3:45 am and started my day then. All the other Supershuttle people were Techers (one technically didn't have to be but probably was) of some form or another---not a particular surprise for the morning after finals. LAX (or at least the American Airlines terminal) had long waits and I couldn't print out my own tickets because of the international component of the flight, so the longer line was my destination. I flew to Boston, where I had a 3.5 hour layover for my next flight. In principle, I could have tried to find a later LA flight to Boston when choosing flights initially, but I'm guessing this was somehow cheaper. (I don't remember at this point.) Of course, the extra time gave me a chance to eat solid food (which I had done sparingly for 3-4 days) and to recharge my iPod. (Normally, the recharging wouldn't be necessary and I also brought my old iPod as a back-up for the long journey just in case.) I read a little bit, hacked out a few more lungs (real life once again imitating D & D, damnit) and am now almost done with Promise of the Witch-King. The movie they showed on the first flight was A Shot in the Dark, which is the 2nd Pink Panther film. However, I own it and had seen it relatively recently (maybe 1.5 years ago) and wasn't in the mood for it. Definitely a solid choice, but it didn't work under the circumstance. I was also going to check out some Depeche Mode videos on computer, but the download that made things work a little bit hadn't finished the job. I was going to ask Lemming for help on that, but then I got really sick and this was one of the things that had to go by the wayside for the present. Anyway, I listened to a lot of music during my travels. On the second flight, I was asked to change seats because the guy next to me was so large that he was creating a fire hazard in the aisle. I moved to an aisle seat. I normally prefer window ones, but aisle definitely beats window + second-hand obesity. The second flight had an in-seat TV, but the interesting movies are all for the way back. (I'll be seeing Wallacwe and Gromit, which I inadvertently missed [or maybe it's still playing], as well as Sky High, which isn't too exciting but which seems interesting and got a lot of praise.) Most of the movies were Christmas movies because, you know, people actually want to see Elf again. There exist Christmas movies I want to see (like The Ice Harvest, which I probably need to do soon), but the ones they were showing weren't among that list. And why is it that just because it's December, that for the entire month about 2/3 of the music stations and movies on the airplane have to be Christmas music/movies? I understand having a dedicated Christmas channel, but this is ridiculous. Somebody must like this, but I haven't met too many people who do. As we were landing, we had a spectacular view of a HUGE fire (while it was still dark outside, so while I don't want to be callous, this thing looked amazingly cool as a result) that apparently arose from some sort of explosion in an oil warehouse. In looking out the window, one could see an enormous ball (well, not quite ball-shaped) of red orange contrasting sharply against the dark background and amidst must smaller dots from various lights. I suspect this explosion/fire may have made the US news because it looked like something of a pretty large magnitude. (Note: I recognize the seriousness of disasters like this and certainly don't root for them, but I also have to be honest with myself and not ignore the fact that it still looked extremely cool from the airplane. As a postscript, on looking at google news, this apparently is not just in the news but a historically large fire.) The bus from London to Cambridge was a shorter ride than it was supposed to be because there weren't that many people on it and nobody needed any of the intermediate stops. It was still over 1.5 hours, but I was really feeling crappy and grateful to be done a bit early. The bus driver was one of two dwarfs (by personality, not by stature) I met yesterday, and I'll have a separate entry on this phenomenon later. During the bus ride, I heard that Richard Pryor had died. I plan to have an entry on that after all the Cambridge stuff. The bus arrived at the bus station in Cambridge, and then I took a cab to Wolfson Court. The nearby campus is St. John's College (for Gazebo's benefit, as he'll know where I am in the city). I'll have some more later. I need to mention stuff about the living facilities and an incident at a coffee/sandwhich shop. I arrived at Heathrow and then took a bus to Cambridge. ### D & D scheduling for weekend of 12/16 Hellow from England---in fact from the Gordron and Betty Moore Library in the Isaac Newton Institute of Mathematical Sciences. Considering that my current job is also from the Moore Foundation, has anything really changed? (Actually, this keyboard has a slightly annoying layout at the peripherhy, so I am fighting typos much more than usual.) Anyway, my return flight is on 12/17 and while I will be back in Pasadena on Saturday 12/17 due to the magic of time zone changes, I will also not be able to play on 12/17 because I'll feel like total crap. I'm not convinced I'll be that great on 12/18, but I'll be up for trying to play that day. I think the main thing to read into this is that while Sunday 12/18 is the day I can play, if others can't make it that day, then it's also ok to NPC me and play on Friday or Saturday. Finally, my internet access is daytime-only, so my response time for the thread may sometimes me suboptimal. ## Saturday, December 10, 2005 ### What happens in Cambridge stays in Cambridge (UK edition) I am up obscenely early (pain!) for a flight to Boston, followed by a 3.5 hour layover at Logan, a flight to London-Heathrow, and a roughly 3-hour bus ride to Cambridge, where I'll be staying in Wolfson Court for a pattern formation conference. This is my first trip to jolly old (bloody) England and, in fact, to any part of Europe. ## Friday, December 09, 2005 ### Amusing fake response to referee report From the Gazebo's blog comes this amusing but fake response to a series of referee reports. Naturally, I have plenty of my own refereeing stories, mostly from the author's perspective (like when they complained about our not ever mentioning something, to which our response was on the order of 'see equation (1); this is what the whole paper is about'---in this example, all the referee's comments suggested he/she never read the paper, so we added a couple new calculations to the paper rather than resubmit the same thing and specifically requested a different referee and explained why we felt the referee wasn't in good faith; the editor agreed with us, by the way) but with one from the referee's perspective. The one time I refereed something with incident, the authors decided to completely ignore my comments and yell at me and indicate how I obviously knew nothing about [fill in a couple things]. In making those arguments however, they made multiple serious mistakes in their "explanations" in their cover letter of why I was wrong, so I included some very specific page numbers (including in one of the main book sources they were citing) in my second response to help them see the light. Thankfully, the paper ended up in PRB rather than PRL, and I can likely be "blamed" for that. ### Botched fort save My character in Joe's game had already suffered through a disastrous series of botched saves on Sunday---3 in one minute (apparently, Lucky Boy refers to bad luck because it was right after we got food from there); I believe 2 were on my search checks and 1 was on a reflex save for a trap I found after previously just failing the search save. (This did wonders for both my character's Con and his confidence, let me tell you.) Of course, to make things more realistic, apparently I was also supposed to experience a reduced Con and Str in real life. I had been sick with the flu since Saturday but I had been getting better until I suddenly woke up in the middle of the night on Wed-Thurs (really, some time early Thurs morning) in cold sweats with uncontrollable shakes. (Other, equally unpleasant and more graphic, details will remain unmentioned in the interest of anybody reading this.) It was one of those things that made me know that I wasn't going to do any work yesterday. I usually try to get some work done even when I'm sick, although my productivity this week had already been notably lower for this very reason. I did go to campus briefly to print some stuff out (I don't have a printer at home), but it was a struggle to walk to campus, and thankfully the condensed matter secretary very kindly gave me a ride home in the middle of the work day because of how poorly I was doing. (Before I got around to printing, I lay sprawled on my office floor for an hour. I would have done this on the couches in the building's reception area, but public sleeping in Sloan Annex seems a bit less acceptable than public sleeping in Lloyd.) Once I got home, I basically slept (or at least lay in bed) until this morning, with very slight breaks to try to get some stuff down (hooray for apple juice!). I did check e-mail a couple times but I didn't even go on espn yesterday to check for baseball trades until like 8pm or something. I would estimate that my Con and Str yesterday were both around 2 (not more than 2!), and as Lemming mentioned, the way ability damage heals that should make me back to normal in 2-3 days. That's a bit of an exaggeration (because I think my modifier is actually only a -1 for each; or perhaps a -2 with a value of 7), but I nevertheless appreciated the comment. Anyway, yesterday was not the most enjoyable day of my life. People who didn't see me yesterday were telling me how bad I look today. Those who saw me yesterday told me today that I looked much better today. Oh, and for what it's worth, I made all my reflex saves over the last couple days, thus avoiding the need to clean certain parts of my house. ## Wednesday, December 07, 2005 ### A busy baseball offseason Baseball's Winter Meetings are currently in progress. This offseason (and especially these last few days!) has been the busiest one in terms of trade volume in recent memory. A big chunk of the reason is that the free agent class is one of the weakest in recent memory. (This has also led to seriously inflated prices and contract lengths for the few reasonable names out there. For a few notable examples, take a look at how much money Rafael Furcal, BJ Ryan, and AJ Burnett received. The contracts the good free agent pitchers have gotten harken back to the what Darren Dreifort and Chan Ho Park got back in the day in contracts that the teams who signed them came to regret deeply.) Other things seem to have fallen into place as well. One of the things we've seen is an entire revamping of the NL East. The Marlins have been completely gutted, the Braves have experienced several personnel changes in recent days, and the Mets are much stronger than they were before. (Florida did get some good young players, though, so in 2-3 years, they may be really good if things turn out well.) The Nationals just made a blockbuster deal (getting Alfonso Soriano from Texas, assuming everybody passes their physicals), but I actually think it's a bad trade for them. In the AL East, The Blue Jays have strengthened themselves a lot, although I still think they'll eventually regret some of the contracts they've given out. All this trade talk is really exciting, as the Winter Meetings had mostly been free agent singing sprees in recent years, and trade speculation represents a higher level of fun than free agent speculation. It's also distracted me from work a bit this week, but so has the flu. ### Navier-Stokes in 3D It's not exactly the Nature Trail to Hell (also in 3D), but this is pretty important mathematically. Today I saw a talk from Yakov Sinai, one of the preeminent living mathematicians in dynamical systems and mathematical physics, on his work on blow-up of solutions to the Navier-Stokes equations in three-dimensional Euclidean space. A sufficiently complete solution (actually phrased as "substantial progress" on the official website) to existence and uniqueness of Navier-Stokes in 3D is worth$1 million from the Clay Mathematics Institute, as this is one of the millenimum prize problems.

Here is what is written on the website:

"Waves follow our boat as we meander across the lake, and turbulent air currents follow our flight in a modern jet. Mathematicians and physicists believe that an explanation for and the prediction of both the breeze and the turbulence can be found through an understanding of solutions to the Navier-Stokes equations. Although these equations were written down in the 19th Century, our understanding of them remains minimal. The challenge is to make substantial progress toward a mathematical theory which will unlock the secrets hidden in the Navier-Stokes equations."

The Navier-Stokes equations are partial differential equations describing fluids*, and its existence/uniqueness issues become much more difficult in 3D than in 2D. (The 2D version of this millenium problem is solved, although that's not to say there aren't still tons of things to learn about the 2D system... This basically results from there being an inequality in the 2D case whose validity doesn't carry over to 3D.). The prize can be awarded either for an existence/uniqueness theorem or for a result about lack of existence/uniqueness. (For the precise description of the problem, go here. Today's speaker was discussing solutions that blow up (become infinite) in finite time. If I read him correctly, he seems to think he's on the right track for the millenium problem prize, although that's quite a grandiose claim if that's what he actually meant. Given all the stuff he's accomplished in his career (and the fact that he's now in his early 70s), it certainly is reasonable for him to tackle such a problem. It's not like he has to work on shorter-term projects, so he might as well go for the gold. Understanding these issues would aid in the understanding of turbulent dynamics, although putting on my applied hat, we need to know the dynamics of the solutions and not just their blow-up properties. (The prize is for a pure math problem, but engineers using the Navier-Stokes equations to study turbulence are going to be interested in much different things.)

Also, my postdoc advisor at Georgia Tech (Leonid Bunimovich) was a Ph.D. student of Sinai's. (These are the two main people with mathematical billiards named after them.)

* For a typical fluid mechanics problems, one will start with Navier-Stokes and then go to a simpler equation appropriate in the regime of interest and then one will study the "simpler" equation, which usually itself isn't so simple. Also, there are studies of fluids from a statistical mechanics perspective, etc. Anyway, I'm not a fluid mechanist, and I'm not trying to be precise about things here.

## Tuesday, December 06, 2005

### New Dodger manager (finally)

The Dodgers have named former Red Sox manager Grady Little to be their new skipper. Personally, I would rather have kept Jim Tracy, but I think this is a reasonable choice. I'm not ecstatic about it, but at least the Dodgers didn't give me another reason to rant and rave. (Ranting and raving has been the order of the last couple days. I haven't been having much fun lately.)

### A day at home (and 'waking up in Dental Wonderland')

There's going to be a lot of ranting here. Whenever I visit my parents' house, I always come away really pissed off (usually for multiple reasons). I need to learn my lesson and not go there anymore. It never really was my home the first time around, and it's especially not my home now. (There's a small part at the end after all the ranting.)

\begin{rant}

I slept at my parents' house last night for the first time since October 2004 to add to the convenience of seeing our family dentist this morning. (I thankfully didn't have any cavities---it's not like I have many teeth left that don't already have fillings!---and I last had a check-up a year and a half ago. I normally have check-ups every 6 months and was aware that I had skipped one. I hadn't realized I had actually skipped two, but thankfully I didn't screw myself over as a result. One of my friends recently had his first check-up in five years, and it looks like the inside of his mouth really is a Dental Wonderland, especially when the dentist gets to cash the check he's going to receive...)