Saturday, April 29, 2006

Apparently, I'm memorable or something.

Although I had only been there once before last night, one of the hostesses at that Japanese bbq place remembered me immediately both by phone (when I called to change the number of people in my reservation, which I later changed back) and by sight. (I'm guessing the phone one was a recognizition of my name rather than my voice.)

Clearly, I made some sort of impression. I won't commit as to whether or not it was a good one.

I've certainly been immediately recognized by people working at places I frequent, but I don't have too many examples (and none are coming to mind) by places I had only been once before.

I'm sleepy and am well-prepared for a day of roasting in the sun in Coachella.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Former Dodger Steve Howe killed in truck crash

Former pitcher Steve Howe (who played for the Dodgers, among other teams) was killed this morning when his pickup truck rolled over in Coachella, California. (Not that I should be bringing up Coachella in this context at the moment...)

Steve Howe was a relief pitcher with a lot of talent (he won the Rookie of the Year award for the Dodgers in 1980 and had other successful seasons out of the 'pen), but he was far better known for his cocaine and alcohol problems. Howe was suspended numerous times and had a drug history as prolific as any rock star's.

The toxicology tests haven't yet been done (or at least their results haven't yet been reported), as of this writing. However, I am expecting certain things to be reported when this information is available.

Not to be callous, but I am not surprised at all at Steve Howe dying young. It's one of those things that anybody following his travails in the 1980s could have easily predicted.

I hope my cynicism is proven wrong and that there isn't anything else beyond the unfortunate truck accident.

Beans, beans: They're good for your heart...

Here is an excerpt from a recent article:

Experts Make Flatulence-Free Bean , BBC News, 04/25/06

Excerpt: Beans have a fearsome reputation for inducing flatulence A
method of creating super-nutritious but flatulence-free beans has been
developed by scientists. Beans are a cheap and key source of nutrition
especially in the developing world, but many people are thought to be put off
by anti-social side-effects. A Venezuelan team says fermenting beans with
certain friendly bacteria can cut the amount of wind-causing compounds, and
boost beans' nutritional value.

New members of the National Academy of Sciences

You can find the list here.

There are several familiar names in the list, but the one I want to point out is Eric ("Rick") Heller, a pioneer in the field of quantum chaos.

He may or may not remember me. I applied for a postdoc under him several years ago (one of the only applications I sent to an individual professor) and he was going to consider me, but then it turns out that he had spent three years of money in two years and told one of his graduate students at the last minute that he had to finish around six months earlier than planned. Any possibility of being hired was gone simply because there was not going to be any money to hire anyone at that point.

Godel's 100th anniversary: this time for real

The links are below. I meant to write this entry today. I'm a dumbass.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Youppi! (and other notable baseball mascots)

Youppi!, the great mascot formerly of the Montreal Expos came up at lunch today, so I am providing this link to it's wikipedia entry as a service to my loyal readers. Personally, I prefer the spelling that includes the explanation point.

According to wikipedia, Youppi! was the first mascot to be ejected from a Major League game (courtesy Tommy Lasorda, who is The Man!). This sounds vaguely familiar. Tommy also had an interesting relationship with my favorite mascot of all time, The Phillie Phanatic (you might have noticed a stuffed Phanatic in my apartment), who loved to torment Tommy whenever the Dodgers visited Philadelphia. (I can't overstate how funny it was to watch the Phanatic torment Lasorda. Tommy is even listed as The Phanatic's official rival by wikipedia!) I also like The San Diego Chicken (which is much better than the Padres' admittedly more appropriate current mascot, which is a friar). It's too bad The Chicken changed its name to "The Famous Chicken," but when it was touring ballparks across America, it wasn't exactly associated with San Diego anymore.

4/28/06: 100th anniversary of Kurt Godel's birth (even though he doesn't complete me)

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of mathematician Kurt Godel, who is best known for his two "incompleteness" theorems.

As written in wikipedia (I'm too lazy to go through the comemorative articles in the Notices of the AMS to check this), the First Incompleteness Theorem is stated as follows: For any consistent formal theory that proves basic arithmetical truths, it is possible to construct an arithmetical statement that is true 1 but not provable in the theory. That is, any consistent theory of a certain expressive strength is incomplete.

The Second Incompleteness Theorem can be stated as follows: For any formal theory T including basic arithmetical truths and also certain truths about formal provability, T includes a statement of its own consistency if and only if T is inconsistent.

There are a bunch of events (conferences and whatnot) in 2006 in honor of Godel. See this website for some information.

Note added after sleep: I was out of it. I meant to post this tomorrow. Anyway, 4/28 is the 100th anniversary of Godel and I lost my chance to initiate my post on the correct day. :(

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Dungeons & Dragons board game

I just bought the following Dungeons & Dragons board game.

It looks pretty cool. I'm very much looking forward to trying it.

I didn't buy any of the expansion packs, but I'll consider doing that later depending on what I think of the game.

I'm also going to by a Nintendo DS (+ New Super Mario Brothers) soon. New SMB comes out on 5/15, so it will be here waiting for me after I get back from Copenhagen.

Now I need to do some apartment-cleaning because I won't be in the mood to do this tomorrow after I come home from ping pong at 11:30.

I hate auto renewals was using automatic renewals for their audio and video services this year (I don't remember if they did this last year). They sent an e-mail earlier this year indicating that one should contact them explicitly if one did not want to renew something.

Because games from local teams (like the Dodgers) are blacked out and because I can get the Dodger games on cable tv around here with standard cable packages, I sent an e-mail indicating I did not want to renew the video package. (I did renew the audio package.) That would be fine, except I received my credit card bill today and apparently those fuckers charged me $100 for a renewal (which is a fair price if one wants the service...) despite my explicit instructions otherwise. Now I'm going to have to deal with their shitty customer service to get this fixed. Errrrr......

I hate these automatic renewals as a general principle. I'd rather just order the damn shit I want every year so that I know exactly what I'm getting and I don't see surprise charges on my credit card. This is why I don't automatically deduct bill payments from my bank account but instead opt to get an e-mail when the billis ready for me to go online to pay. I actively try to prevent things from going under the radar because without that e-mail (and snail mail, in some cases---though I'll log into the website and pay when I get that in my mail box), things like this can easily get lost amidst more important things, like the scientific problems about which I'm thinking.

Mike Piazza hits 400th career homerun

Former Dodger and future Hall-of-Famer Mike Piazza his his 400th career homerun today.

Also, here's an example of some wonderful language from former player and current announcer Steve ("Psycho") Lyons:
"George Foster averaged 50 homeruns for three years in a row." I know what he wanted to say, but the eloquence simply isn't there.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Depeche Mode to be featured in an upcoming Sims 2 add-on

Here's a quote from the bottom of wikipedia's entry on Depeche Mode:

Also in 2006, they have announced that their upcoming single release "Suffer Well" will also be sung in Simlish as it is featured on The Sims 2: Open for Business PC game soundtrack along with accompanying video (the group featured as Sims). Of course, the conventional video and single will be done in English. They join other 1980s stars, Kajagoogoo and Howard Jones in the PC game as musical contributors with their performances in Simlish.

Does anybody know if Open for Business is out yet? I want to take a look at DM as Sims...

The first three singles (and rumored choice for the 4th single) of the DM album "Playing the Angel" are 4 of the best 5 songs on the CD, so they are choosing their singles well (IMO).

"Close only counts in..."

Well, I have some bad news to report.

The grant proposal I submitted to the NSF on 11/1 for research on Bose-Einstein condensates was declined today. It is simultaneously extremely frustrating and a harbinger of good things to come. The reason is that I was thisclose to being funded. My proposal ranked 11/28 out of all the applied math proposals and was tagged with a 'fund if possible.' Unfortunately for me, there wasn't enough money to get down to proposal number 11, so I'll have to submit another BEC proposal next time the deadline comes around on the guitar (which is the first Tuesday in November for NSF applied math grants). I may well have been over the top except one of my referees was disappointed that I didn't have more math stuff for math's sake (you know, instead of the application that is my focus). This APPLIED math versus applied MATH is an old issue, and sadly the capital M's tend to control most of mathematics. (This has also reared its ugly head in my attempt to get a tenure-track job on several occasions...)

The thing that frustrates me the most is that if my job applications in the fall indicated that I had already successfully obtained a grant, that would have distinguished me quite sharply from practically everybody else in the applicant pool. It would have helped a lot, so coming close but not quite getting it really stings. (I could feel that acorn in my grasp. My preciousssssssss....) The hope, naturally, comes in the fact that I came very close this year -- much closer than the last two years -- so I almost there. I am spiraling in towards funding for my BEC research, so the chances of it happening next year or the year after are better than ever.

The current frustration is similar to my job interview at UC Davis in the 04/05 hiring season. Several of the faculty had me as their top choice, but it still didn't work out. (By the way, the Maryland one isn't yet officially out for this year, but it's almost May, so I have to operate on the assumption that it's dead. The reason it isn't entirely dead yet is that the Musical Chairs in physics departments are still going. It's still conceivable that I will find myself in a chair, even though it's not very likely at this point.)

And the Dodgers' manager is making dumb-ass moves! (We lost in the 14th inning today, and our best reliever was never in the game... It's crap like this that led the Red Sox to fire him a few years ago. Remember the whole escapade with how he used Pedro in the playoffs?)

Introducing... Tiamat

I have a new resident in my apartment, and her name is Tiamat (though she is technically a five-headed hydra rather than a dragon). I bought her heads today and I narrowly resisted the urge to get five different colors (the power in some of the breadth weapons would have been too low had I done this). I was thisclose to doing it anyway, but I decided on utility (in accord with the reason I bought her) versus coolness. All five heads are white (really, off white with a slight warm tinge) at the moment, so I suggest you cast the appropriate version of fire shield the next time you come here.

Comedy Sluggers (starring Josh Hime and others)

I apologize in advance for breaking the First Rule of Fight Club, but here goes:

Before our adventure at Johnny Rocket's (see below), a bunch of us went to see Josh perform at The Flight Club theatre in Hollywood. It's located in one of those canonical strip malls we see all over the place. The venue is small---small venues have a lot to offer when it comes to theatre, so this was good---although its seating topology and the location of its steps was a bit awkward. (I tripped a little bit, and that doesn't include any of the effects of my "milkshake.")

There were seven skits in total (one of which I believe is fairly well-known), and appropriate songs were played in between at least some of them. (It had been a while since I heard any part of the original version of "I Think I Love You," which was recorded by The Partridge Family. Personally, I like the version by Voice of the Beehive [a very, very, very underappreciated band---they were truly awesome!] much better... Hmmm...let me see if I can avoid further nested parentheses.) Josh had his hands full with the ladies (and occasionally men) a couple times. I mean this figuratively---not literally.

I found the Redneck skit to be annoying, but I enjoyed the rest of it. (There were some highly amusing moments.)

Maybe somebody wants to add further comments to provoke Josh?


I'm sure we've all seen shows, movies, and commercials in which a restaurant or store (or wherever) suddenly breaks into song and dance (which the people outside rush to join) and thought "This never happens in real life!" (or some variant thereof). Well, I found out on Saturday that this apparently does occasionally happen. (I had never seen anything like this before in my life.)

I was with Lanth, Zifnab, and Lemming at one of the locations of Johnny Rocket's in Hollywood after seeing Josh at Fight Club (I'll write that entry in a few minutes). People requested songs from their table, and when certain canonical songs (such as YMCA) showed up, one of the waiters went to the back room, raised the volume, and several of the employees did a routine.

The first of these, "Respect," was the best. First, our waitress was really jamming to the song and them several of the other workers joined her. We also noticed some customers inside the restaurant moving a bit in their seats and some bystanders outside the restaurant moving around a little bit. Then, all of a sudden, some people inside stood up and joined the employees AND (most amazingly) a few people from outside ran into the place to jam with the employees. I'm pretty sure there were more people dancing than sitting inside Johnny Rocket's. To see something like this in real life was really quite amusing/amazing.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Recorded "for [my] protection"

I got a spam call from a Southern Calfiornia (maybe it was LA county?) police and sheriff's organization. I extricated myself from the call before they officially asked me for money (which is what was coming very shortly), but they had a somewhat disturbing twist on a line one often hears in spam calls (and customer service messages) that I caught before I hung up. Instead of telling me that my call was going to be monitored for quality control or whatever, I was informed that my call would be monitored "for [my] protection."

Immediate thought: They just told me that (a) Big Brother is listening to me and (b) that that's a good thing.

Second thought: Is this the same type of "protection" that people in cities like Chicago and New York were offered back in the day?

Friday, April 21, 2006

New Pasadena Restaurant: Gyu-Kaku

I had dinner tonight at Gyu-Kaku, a Japanese BBQ that just opened up a location in Old Pas a couple weeks ago (it's right next to Buca). Brian Limeketkai and I saw this while we were trying to find a parking spot before figuring out where we would eat dinner. Although it's a bit on the expensive side, the food at this restaurant is fucking awesome.

Normally, reservations are needed for Friday night, but we managed to sneak by with just a 30 minute wait. (A pair who came about 10-15 minutes after we did were seated about 45 minutes after us.)

This is a yakiniku restaurant. There is a charcoal grill at the table, and one cooks one's meat there. Most of the dishes have 3.5 ounces of scrumptious meat (one can order non-meat dishes if one wants to, but let's ignore that without loss of generality), but a couple have 5 ounces, so one can draw a reasonable analogy to tapas here. I suppose the sharing doesn't really occur here, but there's no reason it can't.

Also, Lemming should be able to join us without dying. (There are very few anti-Tim menu items, and we should all be ordering proper meat dishes anyway.)

My stomach is very happy right now.

It reads just like an abstract for a scientific paper...

I'm glancing briefly through my spam folder in case something real got flagged and I noticed one message that includes paragraphs like the following:

"Now and then, a turkey sanitizes the fire hydrant near a turn signal. A fashionable abstraction completely recognizes a mastadon, or the grand piano toward a satellite secretly writes a love letter to a salad dressing from a razor blade. The flabby photon falls in love with the chestnut. Now and then, a grain of sand thoroughly sells a molten fundraiser to the bullfrog."

There are some other similar ones, but one is enough. Better be careful with those flabby photons...

Ugh. Maybe I should repudiate my Cornell connection?

I was looking through a PR e-mail from Cornell and it turns out that Ann Coulter '84 is an alumna. I either didn't know that or blocked it out.

OK, I'm not going to repudiate my affiliation over this, but I am ashamed that we share this association. :) Maybe all the bad weather affected her world view adversely...

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Contest: Create your own physics crossword puzzle

APS News is sponsoring a contest: They will provide the proverbial 15 minutes of fame and a "fabulous prize" for a winning crossword puzzle, which must have some sort of physics theme. They specifically do not want any equations in the puzzle. (One can get software to create crossword puzzles here.) Submissions should be e-mailed to

Past "fabulous prizes" that I have one from this publication are a 2005 Year of Physics t-shirt (for my winning haiku) and the book Physics in the 20th Century (for my algorithm describing how to find out how Einstein's field equation showed up in the movie The Triplets of Belleville, which is a very good movie that you should all see). It's possible I have flipped which prize went for which thing, but it makes no difference.

The submission deadline is September 1, 2006. I'll try to come up with an interesting submission. :)

Return of D & D scheduling (weekend of 4/21)

It seems like people's schedules have cleared up a bit now, so maybe we can do some RPGing soon.

Also, I hope to run my room-hack/Cheesegrinder one-shot in the near future (a couple of weeks looks likely; I think my work spike is finally over---famous last words, I know). I remember Justin expressed interest, so anybody else who is interested should let me know. Right now, it looks like it will be separate from our group's gaming, but if others want to play, it can alternatively occupy one of our gaming days.

In terms of this weekend, Saturday is taken by going to see Josh "perform" in front of an audience. :) I can play either on Friday night (which I recall may still be bad for some people) or Sunday. Is anybody else up for some gaming on Sunday?

SURFing in 2006

With two more bits of positive news today, all five of my prospective SURF students have now officially gotten their projects accepted. You gotta' love the inflitration of research at Caltech through undergraduate student advising... :)

Anyway, here are this summer's projects:

Kris Kazlowski: Periodic Orbits in Generalized Mushroom Billiards

Tom Mainiero: Quantization of a Free Particle Interacting Linearly with a Harmonic Oscillator

Austin Webb: A Computational Study of the Quantization of Billiards with Mixed Dynamics

Tatjana Wiese: Faraday Pattern Formation in Bose-Einstein Condensates

Yan Zhang: Community Finding in the Legislation Cosponsorship Network of the Members of Congress

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Snake in an office!

I just added to my office menagerie...

Why can't Caltech's Ec experiments be like this?

Here is a sort of "economics experiment" that was recently discussed in a blurb by Nature. It attempts to address the following question: Do sexy women help sell products that are totally unrelated to them? (The researchers' conclusion is an unqualified 'yes.')

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Old school: All time best baseball injuries

Here's an article from a couple years ago that reminded me about some of my all-time favorite baseball injuries. The best one belongs to former outfielder Glenallen Hill, who once needed to go on the Disabled List due to injuries sustained while defending himself against the spiders who attacked him during a nightmare. He became forevermore known as "Spiderman."

Surnacronyms: What do to with last names...

I found the following on an ESPN baseball chat (conducted by Rob Neyer, who is a very good baseball writer):

Rob Neyer: I just want to throw something in here . . . for a while (and maybe still today) Bill James was playing around with this toy, where you take the first letters of a player's last name and turn them into something else. For example, Left Outfielder, Not Good (Terence Long) and Brings Extensive Losing Log (Buddy Bell). A friend and I came up with Grew In Artificial Manner By Injection (Jason Giambi) and Works At Notching Groundouts (Chien-Ming Wang). Anyway, in this same vein, James Bulger just suggested that we change Clearly Identifiable Defensie Mistake (another Bill James invention) to Plain Error Not Acknowledged . . . or "PENA", in honor of Wily Mo Pena. (Now, back to your regularly scheduled programming...)

The one for Giambi is hilarious!

I want to come up with one for PORTER, but my mind isn't coming up with anything good and I should get back to work (after I finish reading the espn column, of course...).

Pedro Martinez wins 200th career game

Last night, Pedro Martinez won his 200th career game. Pedro is one of the truly outstanding pitchers of our generation, and a spot in Cooperstown is waiting for him.

We once traded him for Delino DeShields...groan. This was rightfully voted the worst trade in LA Dodgers history.

Monday, April 17, 2006

I get by with my wit, charm, and good looks...

OK, maybe just with my wit and charm.

Would you believe just with my wit?

I tried to work on the charm today---by going to see Maryln Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing and Charm School.

The movie actually started during the previews. Really. The last trailer started with an airplane with empty seats. Naturally, Lemming and assumed this was a trailer for Snakes on a Plane. I mean, what else could it be? So we were laughing while we were waiting for some sort of "punchline". There was one minor problem, though---there was no punchline. The joke was on us. This was a film about 9/11 and we were laughing hysterically throughout almost the whole trailer. I feel somewhat embarrassed but also somewhat amused. The other two people in the theatre who were watching the film probably will hate us forever, but we'll just have to live with that. Anyway, on to the film.

It was a good film, though again I wouldn't call it a great film. It was very bittersweet, as happy and sad portions were intermingling simultaneously---kind of like two people making love in a bakery and being all covered in dough when they're finished. The main protagonist was trying to get over his dead wife, and he found romance in the dancing class. A side story---which included the reason he first went to the dance class---was something that could have been a love story but for some poor choices taken along the way. (The ending of the film really drives this home, and the main character's conversation with the would-be female part of that story was the saddest part of the film and was rather well done. It was at least somewhat predictable, but it was still well done.)

There were also a few light-hearted moments. The description of a dance arising from Dominican slaves being stressed in that fashion to a black guy on his first day of the school (and then his being called on to demonstrate that) was priceless. Also, the non sequitar lines about magenta (referring to an earlier comment, but a non sequitar for when it was uttered) and the discounted trip to Europe were beautiful. (Actually, the scene in which the latter occurred---the dough scene---was amusing in general.)

This film is well worth seeing, and if you like bittersweet films, this is definitely one of those.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

After 13 games, still within 1 game of .500

Thus far this season, the Dodgers have been within 1 game of .500 after every one of their 13 games. I doubt this is anywhere close to a record, considering how many possible combinations lead to this result, but this is still pretty curious.

Winning streaks and losing streaks are a bit harder than such mediocrity streaks (only one combination is possible for a given streak of a given size), so I wonder what the record is for the longest one of these.

Oakland won 20 games in a row a few years ago and the 1988 Orioles lost the first 21 games of the season, so with all the ways of being within one game of .500, I'd expect the longest mediocrity streak to be above 20 games in a row.

I sent this question to ESPN's "Useless Info" expert Jayson Stark, so we'll see if it gets answered.

I hope we keep the streak intact tomorrow. I'd like us to get back to .500...

Topical d20 book

Following up on (or, more precisely, couple with) Gazebo's Easter blog entry (and Lemming's intended roadmap for the day), I am hereby catching up on something topical about which I meant to write a while back.

Namely, Justin e-mailed me a couple weeks ago to let me know about a new d20 book called Book of Erotic Fantasy, which includes 12 new prestige classes, "variant rules," and other things. He said there was a copy at Border's and I eventually got around to taking a look at their selection a couple weeks later. I was curious to see if there was anything interesting in there, but in the intervening time, somebody apparently decided to buy it (perhaps in preparation for Easter?). Here is another site with information about the book. Let the games begin!

By the way, did I mention that I sometimes hate children? There are some annoying ones that live in the apartment complex just south of mine. I was walking back home this afternoon to watch the Dodger game, and I was listening to my iPod and proceeding methodically partly because I tend to walk pretty fast just going from here to there (or there to here, as the case may be) and partly because I left the office later than I wanted and didn't want to miss any of the game (I only missed one pitch). These kids seem to find it amusing to try to get my attention when I am listening to my iPod. (If somebody is walking fast -- and presumably in a rush -- and listening to headphones, it's not exactly an invitation that they want to talk. Hints clearly need to be taken here...) Through my headphones, I can tell that they're saying 'Happy Easter.' That's nice, but this is not my holiday and I don't see why I should stop listening to music I want to hear to talk to 8-10 year olds to whom I don't want to talk (especially when I'm in a rush), so I just kept walking past. They then decided that they should start yelling that at me as I walk past them towards my apartment. (That's the only they did that was actually obnoxious, but it is something I find very annoying.) Don't their parents give them enough attention? I have the fucking right to ignore the neighborhood kids if I want!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

One of the best baseball plays you'll ever see!

This Web Gem is so good that deserves a post.

White Sox second baseman Tadahito Iguchi was in the middle of a dive and threw the ball while in the air and diving towards the dirt to get the runner (admittedly a very slow catcher) at first base. This was an absolutely incredible play!

Note: Let me know if there are issues with the link. I got it from the MLB web site, and they can be kind of bad sometimes about changing urls for, e.g., things that are no longer from the current day. This video shouldn't require any subscription, so there shouldn't be any problem there.

I wouldn't be surprised at all if this ends up as one of the best plays of the entire season.

(4/18/06 update: The direct link I attempted above doesn't work. I looked at's page that gives the archives of the White Sox's top plays. The play in question occurred on 4/15/06, and it strangely doesn't seem to be among those listed. Maybe a google search can find it.)

Quote of the day

"The death knight broke into a chill sweat, not an easy thing to do when one has no shivering flesh, palpitating heart, or clenching bowels." (Margaret Weis, Amber and Iron)

Friday, April 14, 2006

That's "impressive"

As I write this, the new movie Phat Girlz has an IMDB rating of 1.0 out of 10. While the fact that the movie likely sucks ass (and I'm not going to see it to verify it, because I have no doubt it sucks) is unsurprising given, e.g., its name, a 1.0/10 is still an impressively low score to get---low enough that I feel compelled to pass it along here.

Tommy Lasorda inducted into Pacific Coast League Hall of Fame

Former Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda, already a member of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, will be inducted into the Pacific Coast League (PCL) Hall of Fame. The PCL is one of the AAA leagues (the high level of minor league baseball).

Back in the day, I tried to get Tommy to be the commencement speaker for Caltech's class of 1998, but that sadly didn't come to pass. (However, it was very convenient for getting second and other top choices when people requested 'anybody but Tommy Lasorda' for their speaker requests...)

Speaking of Q*Bert and amusement...

I just saw a talk by AMO physicist Peter Zoller and he proposed a so-called "Q*Bert lattice" as a way of experimentally implementing honeycomb lattices. (This included a picture in the upper left corner, in which Q*Bert was depicted with his canonical comment box.) I'm highly amused!

Here's hoping that the Q*Bert lattice becomes important in AMO physics the way the "Sonic hedgehog" gene has become important in biology. I did a google search and people also speak of "Q*Bert cellular automata." It tooks indeed like this is the official term in the literature. I approve!

I'm awesome

I just borrowed an umbrella so that I could go to the Caltech bookstore to buy an umbrella. Unfortunately, they're sold out.

It's raining hard enough that I got somewhat wet in the process. The good news is that the grad student who shares my office isn't around today but one of his umbrellas is here. Clearly, we were meant for each other (the umbrella and me, that is).

AMO/Cond-Mat physics job rumor mill website

The site is here. I'm amused.

I checked the Maryland one. It only lists 3/4 candidates (of the >= 4 candidates, I should say).

It failed to list at least one person for Caltech.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

"Finishing" one's dissertation: text adventure edition

Justin Howell passed the following hilarious text adventure along to me. It seems oddly familiar. Cornell didn't have any grues, but had I been eaten by one, I think it would have saved me a lot of subsequent pain when I finished my dissertation. Also, the pile of books and attempts to read them are quite familiar. For that matter, several of the actions (like reading about baseball online) that resulted from commands to work on the dissertation also seem vaguely familiar. :)

Finally, you should also click on the April 13th continuation of the first text adventure. The idea of corporate grues is a bit scary...

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The History of Q*Bert

I had a reason to look this up today, so here are a couple cool links about Q*Bert.

First, the wikipedia entry has a good discussion. Notice the unsurprising Escher influence, and it's really not at surprising that somebody like me would really like this game.

Here's a nice link to the history of Q*Bert.

Q*Bert has always been among my favorite video game characters. Sadly, I never played Q*Bert 3 for the SNES. I should download an emulation of that at some point. Somewhere in my parents' home is my plastic Q*Bert piggybank...

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

I will follow

Last night, I followed some of my peeps and saw Take the Lead, which was a good but not great movie starring Antonio Banderas playing a version of Jaime A. Escalante. (The movie Stand and Deliver was based on the work of Escalante with inner-city kids in LA, which, by the way, includes one of my friends from graduate school.) Similar, the character Banderas played (Pierre Dulaine) was or is apparently a real person. Unlike Stand and Deliver (which I haven't seen but really ought to; I've heard first-hand just how inspirational he apparently was/is), I had not previously heard of the person in question. A movie that I have seen that comes to mind as having a similar theme is Mr. Holland's Opus, and there is a different one that goes along similar lines except with yuppie Ivy League punks (for the purposes of that snide remark, please ignore the fact that one of my degrees is from an Ivy League school).

Anyway, Banderas is charged with bringing confidence and respect through dancing to inner-city kids in New York (damn their Yankees caps!). I don't need any convincing that dancing and other arts can do this (of course, so can many other things). I am not qualified to judge the dancing (I'll let Lemming pipe and others with actual knowledge pipe in here if they want), although the threesome towards the end was quite amusing. There were some other amusing moments as well, but the movie wasn't anything special overall. My general impression is that it is a polished but unspectacular take on things that have been done before. (Presumably, there is an extra bonus involved for people actually into dancing, but none of that was the point for me.)

P.S. I hope somebody gets the reference in the title.

Running for your life using potential flow theory

The following paper was just posted on the arxiv:

\Paper: physics/0604094
Date: Tue, 11 Apr 2006 19:32:24 GMT (5kb)

Title: Increased Crowding during Escape Panic and Suitable Strategy for its
Authors: R. V. R. Pandya
Comments: 5 pages
Subj-class: Physics and Society
\ Under panicky situation, human have tendency to rush toward a particular
direction for escape. I show here that this tendency alone causes increase in
crowding and which could eventually trigger jamming that is not preferable.
Further, it is proposed that potential flow theory can be employed in finding
suitable strategy for escape.
\\ ( , 5kb)

I want to write an academic paper with an abstract with that kind of first sentence!

Monday, April 10, 2006

"Sometimes a cigar isn't just a cigar..."

You know, like the Fleming cannon, which was just stolen back this morning by a group of Techers consisting of 23 current students and 7 alums, according to the official press release. Does this mean that the PR people were counting Flems? Some showering may be necessary...

Also, Fleming has created an official website for this part of the prank. Wow, there is even some informally Flem-counting on this page. Of course, the numbers aren't specific, so I guess they don't have to shower themselves. (Or are Flems allowed to count other Flems?) There should also be some more info on the Caltech vs. MIT website at some point. (There is a small amount of info there right now.)

By the way, there is an amusing picture on the front of today's Tech. Part of it reminds me of the picture with Jim Murdoch and the Fleming cannon. Shudder! (And I was on the Tech team responsible for printing that atrocity...)

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Fernandomania: 25th Anniversary Edition

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the day that started Fernandomania: Dodger pitcher Fernando Valenzuela was a last-minute replacement for scheduled starter Jerry Reuss. Fernando, making his first Major League start, proceeded to pitch a five-hit shutout on his way to winning not only the National League Rookie of the Year but also the Cy Young Award. Fernando was an awesome pitcher for several years, and he was among my favorite players to watch when I was really young. Right now, he's helping out with the Dodgers' Spanish radio broadcasts.

On this date in 2001, Willie Stargell died from kidney problems at age 61. He could hit the ball really hard and far and has a very well-deserved spot in Cooperstown.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

One-particle and few-particle billiards

My paper, One-particle and few-particle billiards (joint with Steven Lansel and Leonid Bunimovich), was just published in the March 2006 issue of Chaos.

Here's the abstract:

We study the dynamics of one-particle and few-particle billiard systems in containers of various shapes. In few-particle systems, the particles collide elastically both against the boundary and against each other. In the one-particle case, we investigate the formation and destruction of resonance islands in generalized mushroom billiards, which are a recently discovered class of Hamiltonian systems with mixed regular-chaotic dynamics. In the few-particle case, we compare the dynamics in container geometries whose counterpart one-particle billiards are integrable, chaotic, and mixed. One of our findings is that two-, three-, and four-particle billiards confined to containers with integrable one-particle counterparts inherit some integrals of motion and exhibit a regular partition of phase space into ergodic components of positive measure. Therefore, the shape of a container matters not only for noninteracting particles but also for interacting particles.

Steven Lansel was one of my undergraduate research students at Georgia Tech. He's now in Stanford's Ph.D. program in EE. (Interestingly, I found out yesterday that one of the Tech writers went to high school with Lansel.) Steven is a very sharp guy and would have excelled at any undergrad school in the country.

Leonid Bunimovich is Mr. Billiard, or at least one of them (Yasha Sinai is the other one). A very important model in the field---the stadium billiard geometry, which is one of the two standard ones in experimental studies of billiard systems---is named after him.

I discussed billiards a bit before in my post about my expository article (with Lansel) on mushroom billiards. I've included a couple of the same wikipedia links that explain why billiard systems are very interesting objects to study (both mathematically and physically).

In the present article, we start off by looking at some generalizations of mushroom billiards, a system with mixed regular-chaotic dynamics in which one can control precisely which parts are regular and which are chaotic as well as the fraction of volume in phase space given by regular and chaotic components. This makes a more precise analysis possible here than for basically all other mixed dynamical systems, and obtaining a better understanding of mixed systems is extremely important--for example, one can use such systems to study transitions from one chaotic region to another as the system's parameters are varied (there are numerous studies of transition from order to chaos but very few from one chaotic regime to another, because it's typically very difficult to undertake such studies). Because one knows which regions are chaotic and which are not, this also provides a geometry in which mixed dynamics has increased experimental relevance---basically, the fact that one has large regular regions amidst chaotic seas rather than the very small islands of regular behavior that might get washed out in experimental situations. The "next frontier" (as it were) is to examine quantum mushroom billiards (and generalizations thereof) to achieve a better understanding of the quantization of mixed systems. (There is currently very little understanding of them.)

Perhaps the most important results on this paper concern few-particle billiards, in which the confined particles collide both against the confining walls and against each other. There are tons of papers on one-particle hard-ball gases (i.e., billiards) and many-particle hard-ball gases (thousands or millions for numerical studies and infinitely many for analytical work). In the latter case, one can invoke thermodynamics, some aspects of which (ergodicity) some (possibly most?) people suspected would actually already hold even with as few as two interacting particles. This paper uses numerical simulations to demonstrate that simply isn't true. While two-particle billiards are fully chaotic, there remain signatures of regular behavior in appropriate container shapes, so this whole "silent consensus" of arbitrarily stating that an interacting particle system has to be ergodic simply isn't always true. An important message, then, is that people can't just invoke ergodicity and ignore the shape of the container for interacting particles.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Quoting Ben Williamson...

Ben just wrote the following via IM: "I hereby proclaim you Honorary Asian, for excellence in the fields of Mathy stuff, Socializing with Asian Chicks, and Ping-Pong."

Clearly, I need to recapture some of the skills he thinks I may have once had. But I am amused by the comment nonetheless. :)

Thursday, April 06, 2006


I just saw this article, which gives the very, very painful news that Eric Gagne is going to have the same nerve-moving surgery he had last year and that there is no timetable for his return.

OK, so we won't be seeing Nomar for a while, Lofton started the year on the DL, and now we're probably without our closer for most of the year. Son of a bitch!

By the way, Gagne didn't pitch in games two and three of the season because he was serving a two-game suspension (presumably left over from last season; I forget). I hadn't realized this when we were at the game. I guess the Dodgers figured he might as well serve the suspension before they put him on the DL.

Also, two players (Olmedo Saenz and Jeff Kent) left yesterday's game, and Rafael Furcal, James Loney, and a third player (I forget whom) were hobbled by various things and probably were close to being taken out of yesterday's game due to injury.

We had way more than our share of injuries last year, and this year is already becoming ridiculous!

Photos from my student's wedding

I'm basically putting the website here so that I can have it written down somewhere.

Go read about the theft of the Fleming cannon. This is not the blog entry you're looking for.

"Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar"

The Fleming cannon has been found. MIT has it.

The campus bookstore is accepting donations for revenge (well, some proceeds from t-shirt sales are going to the prank MIT fund).

Twenty years ago, Harvey Mudd took the cannon. (The press release includes a link to the story behind that.)

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

My precioussssssss

I saw Ice Age: The Meltdown on Friday. It is an excellent movie, although it's not as good as V for Vendetta or Thank You for Smoking. (It's hard to measure up against those two films.)

As I've mentioned to several of you (probably on numerous occasions), the squirrel thingy ("Scratch") from Ice Age is the character on stage, screen, and tv with which I identify the most---and it's not even close! Scratch is always trying to get his acorn and sometimes gets ahold of it briefly (which, indeed, has led to several my preciousssssss moments in the two flicks---I love it how he reacts to anybody trying to steal his preciousssss; he suddenly knew some kung fu when the paranhas prevented him from keeping his acorn), but in general it's all rather futile and sisyfean. There's just something about the futile attempt to get acorns with which I identify mightly... The reviewer for LA Weekly felt that Scratch's schtick is the only bad part of the movie, but IMO that Schtick is the best part. I just identify with that character so much!

In looking at the credits of Ice Age 2, I realized for the first time that Seann William Scott is the voice of Scratch. Normally, he annoys the fuck out of me (in part because he plays Stifler way too often), but he does an extremely good job as Scratch. That character is by far my favorite in Ice Age, and apparently others like him as well, because his exposure was increased a lot in the sequel and he is featured on the posters. (Spoiler alert) Towards the end of the sequel, Scratch almost dies and is briefly in Heaven; he is about to otain a gigantic acorn---his Heaven is littered with tons of acorns, but he drops all the smaller ones and his eyes light up when he sees the giant acorn sparkling in the distance---when he is pulled back to life by Sid (via mouth-to-mouth resuscitation). Scratch wasn't appreciative, to say the least.

I also appreciated the Sammy Sosa reference in the film. Another thing I like about Ice Age is all the prehistoric (and fake prehistoric) creatures in it. I have a special fondness for prehistoric times (and was, in fact, a dinosaur fanatic when I was younger; my kindergarden teacher was impressed by the college-level books on dinosuars that I was occasionally reading---not that I understood a great percentage of it, but those books were meant as college-level textbooks.

There were references to a number of songs as well (although I could have managed without the R. Kelly reference). The "Food Glorious Food" rendition by the vultures was especially appreciated.

Oh, and the diety-worship and then sacrifice ["Worth a shot!"] and then re-worship of Sid by the minisloths was bloody brilliant. There was a sweet whack-a-mole reference with the possums as well.

Here's one of the good line exchanges (with a nod to Jerry McGuire, which is on my list of films to see):

Ellie: HEY!
[Ellie falls out of the tree]
Manfred: [incredulous] You really think she's the girl for me?
Sid: Sure. She's tons of fun, you're no fun. She completes you.

Something I didn't like: Queen Latifah's character in the movie annoyed me a bit. In fact, I am not so fond of her acting in general.

Anyway, I highly recommend this movie (the presence of Queen Latifah notwithstanding). And maybe, just maybe, Scratch will one day be able to keep his acorn. My preciousssssss...

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Nomaaaaaah likely headed to the DL

Without having appeared in any regular-season game for the Dodgers, it looks like Nomar Garciaparra is already heading to the disabled list. He joins starting center fielder Kenny Lofton on the DL. The Dodgers GM was also quoted as saying Nomar could be gone a while. Not that Nomar getting injured is any surprise whatsoever, but you might recall that last year the Dodgers were hobbled by injuries at a reasonably historic pace. This isn't exactly an auspiscious way to start things with our roster, although the Cubs are way ahead of us in this respect (Kerry Wood and Mark Prior are both on the DL... again).

Sunday, April 02, 2006

My Little Pony: The Role-Playing Game

Ben Williamson just passed this along to me. You can find the link here.

Be sure to check out the supremely frightening beholder at the bottom of the page...

Play ball!

The 2006 baseball season starts tonight with the now-canonical ESPN Sunday night game (this year between the White Sox and the Indians---a very good match-up!), a single game played on the first evening. Most of the rest of the teams will debut tomorrow.

Google Romance

Google Romance is Google's extremely amusing contribution to April Fool's Day this year. Why did they do this? Because love is just another search problem...

You can find a link their past efforts at their error page.

(In other news, I haven't yet gotten any comments about my Caltech news prank from Sheldon Glashow, who was forwarded the url where this appeared by a Boston University person professor to whom I sent it. I checked and Glashow did indeed win a Nobel Prize: He shared the one in 1979 with Steven Wienberg and Abdus Salam for the development of electroweak theory. I am still waiting for the nasty e-mails from particle physicists. I think the Nobel Laureates in that field should band together and publish a rebuttal of my work.)

Saturday, April 01, 2006

My contribution

My connections in Caltech's PR department pulled through, so you can take a look at this, which you can find on Caltech Today as part of its page 2 headlines.

"Evil will always triumph because Good is dumb."

So, I assume you can spot certain references (and I mean the ones for which a sledgehammer was not applied).