Thursday, November 30, 2006

"By string theory standards, evolution is completely understood."

This line was uttered today by speaker Daniel Fisher at the very beginning of today's physics colloquium.

My wikipedia lineage

I just found yet another of my advisors/mentors on wikipedia, so I've got quite the lineage going. (Hopefully I can make them proud.) Thus far, my mentors with wikipedia pages include the following people:

Leonid Bunimovich, my official postdoc advisor at Georgia Tech (math department)

Predrag Cvitanovic, my unofficial postdoc advisor at Georgia Tech (physics department)

Michael Lacey, the PI of the VIGRE grant in Georgia Tech's math department (he wrote my recommendation letters that addressed teaching)

Richard Liboff, my Ph.D. advisor at Cornell

Jerry Marsden, my first SURF advisor at Caltech (and author of numerous recommendation letters for me back in the day)

Steve Strogatz, a member of my Ph.D. committee (representing my minor in Theoretical & Applied Mechanics)

Mentioned as a famous alum of the University of Cambridge's Theory of Condensed Matter group is Mike Cross, my postdoc advisor at Caltech. (His being mentioned in this manner suggests he probably will get his own page eventually.)

Lots of wikipedia pages also refer to John Guckenheimer (a member of my Ph.D. committee, representing my minor in Math), who is also likely to have his own page eventually. (I'm not sure if my final committee member, Greg Ezra, will end up with a wikipedia page.)

Gerald Whitham, my original faculty advisor at Caltech, probably deserves a page.

If one wants to generalize and consider mathematical genealogy, my grand-advisor Harold Grad (one of the fathers of kinetic theory) doesn't have a page but deserves one, his advisor was Richard Courant, and at that point one just keeps finding ultra-famous people as one looks at the advising history.

By the way, have I mentioned that mathematicians tend to be obsessed with academic genealogy? And that many of us have OCD?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Citation sales curves

I just read the abstract for a paper that discusses 'citation sales curves' as a way of measuring the impact of scientists. I'm not necessarily convinced, but the idea is interesting. Here is the abstract:

Paper: physics/0611284
Date: Wed, 29 Nov 2006 08:24:27 GMT (119kb)

Title: Using time dependent citation rates (sales curves) for comparing
scientific impacts
Authors: Werner Marx, Hermann Schier, Ole Krogh Andersen
Comments: 9 pages, 3 figures, 1 table
Subj-class: Physics and Society
As a simple means for comparing and - if possible - predicting scientific impacts of different researchers working in the same field, we suggest comparing their "sales curves". A sales curve is the number of citations of the researcher's papers per year, the citation rate, considered as a function of time. As examples, we present the citation histories of 10 older well-cited
scientists working in the same field. The sales curve is found to be highly individual, that is, there is a large variation between different scientists' sales curves. For each well-cited scientist, however, the sales curve is steadily increasing as long as he is young and active, and its slope, the citation acceleration, contains the essential information about his impact. The slope averaged over the time of activity of the scientist is roughly independent of time and is a fairly age-independent measure of his scientific impact. In physics and chemistry, well-cited active scientists have time-averaged citation accelerations at the order of 10 citations per year^2 or more. The normal citation acceleration is an order of magnitude smaller. We also show the sales curves for three large research institutes whose sizes have been fairly constant over the last 35 years. These sales curves are quite linear and have slopes at the order of 1 citation per scientist per year^2.
\\ ( , 119kb)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Dragonlance movie!!!!!!!!!

Courtesy Ben Williamson, I have just received the awesome news that there is going to be a movie based on Dragons of Autumn Twilight, the first book in the Dragonlance chronicles. (Presumably, the other two books in the Chronicles will follow.) I am so there! By the way, the movie will be animated. It's supposed to come out at some point in 2007. I am so stoked! This is incredible news!

By the way, if there were going to be a live action Dragonlance film, Angelina Jolie should play Kitiara.

Some of the voice acting talent is pretty reasonable: Kiefer Sutherland as Raistlin, Lucy Lawless as Goldmoon. I've never heard of many of the other people (though a couple are a bit familiar), but that's fine. I'm really looking forward to this!

Things to do in lab

People do plenty of strange things when they're bored in lab... you know, like boiling their husband in a vat of acid. Sheesh. I think I better stay away from biologists.

(This link is courtesy Ben Williamson.)

Dunwich Horror expansion to Arkham Horror

Apparently, this is already out. It's described here.

The aspect of the expansion that most intrigues me are the Injury and Madness decks from which one can draw instead of losing half one's items should distaster befall one's health or sanity.

Presumably, if we play with this expansion, we'll never again have to worry about a game of Munchkin lasting almost as long as an Arkham Horror game (as we observed last night). A game of Munchkin approach 2 hours (it probably clocked at 1:40-1:45 or so) was a truly impressive feat---especially the 45 minute end-game scenario (during which I kept promising that we'd be done soon, because I really thought we would be!) in which 3 of us had reached level 8 or higher and people were screwing each other [over] left and right in very interesting ways (or, as we say in the 'hood, "from all angles")!

On the other hand, the Curse of the Dark Pharaoh expansion card deck doesn't seem that appealing. Some of the cards in it are also purported to be extremely deadly (including---so I'm told---one or more entailing one-on-one battles with Elder Gods).

Monday, November 27, 2006

Life is like a toilet...

Take heed not to get flushed.

With that out of the way, let me continue treading water with my backlog of movie reviews.

On November 3rd (!), I saw Flushed Away, a product of the mastermind behind Chicken Run and Wallace & Gromit (though I guess I am in the minority in thinking Wallace & Gromit as ok but nothing special...Chicken Run was also good but not great) along with computational power to supplement his usual modus operandi. (There are going to be some plot spoilers below, but the plot is extremely generic and given the type of film, its main parts are exactly what you'd expect.)

I thoroughly enjoyed Flushed Away and wholeheartedly recommend it to everybody. It's the story of a pampered rat who lives in the lap of luxury with a rich London family. However, there are no other rats and he's actually very lonely. The movie starts off with a bang with a joke that none of the kids in the audience truly got but which I appreciated greatly. The family goes on vacation and we see the main rat ("Roddy", voiced by Hugh Jackman, who is quite the busy actor lately) suddenly party with lots of inanimate objects to the tune of Billy Idol's "Dancing With Myself." The kids just thought he was having fun partying while the humans were gone, but if you know this song at all, there's more to it than that.

Anyway, the rat gets flushed down the toilet and ends up hanging out with a feisty, red-headed sewer rat/pirate ("Rita", voiced by Kate Winslet), with whom he naturally ultimately falls in love even while they argue viciously the entire movie. Roddy also learns about family and truly realizes what he's missing when he meets Rita's destitute but large and very loving family.

OK, so the plot is generic---but the execution is awesome and that's what really makes the film. The writing, visuals, and occasionally even music (see above) are funny throughout the flick. There are a bunch of references and excellent lines, and very brief cookies like a cockroach in a nook reading Kafka and a book on a shelf with the title "A Brief History of Slime" appeal to the adults in the audience. (OK, maybe a lot of the adults in the audience don't actually catch these references---but I do and I really appreciated them.)

This film has rats, so I'm sure that will influence some people to see this. But there are things for the rest of you, too. For example, Jean Reno voices a French ninja-frog in the film.

In sum, go see the film!

Tales from the ArXiv: Balls in a vibrated box

The following abstract just got posted:

Paper: cond-mat/0611613
Date: Thu, 23 Nov 2006 14:10:34 GMT (333kb)

Title: Coherent behavior of balls in a vibrated box
Authors: Yves Garrabos (ICMCB), Pierre Evesque (LMSSM), Fabien Palencia
(ICMCB), Carole Lecoutre-Chabot (ICMCB), Daniel Beysens (SBT, PMMH)
Proxy: ccsd hal-00115836
Subj-class: Statistical Mechanics
We report observations on very low density limit of one and two balls, vibrated in a box, showing a coherent behavior along a direction parallel to the vibration. This ball behavior causes a significant reduction of the phase space dimension of this billiard-like system. We believe this is because the lowest dissipation process along a non-ergodic orbit eliminates ball rotation and freezes transverse velocity fluctuations. From a two-ball experiment performed under low-gravity conditions, we introduce a "laser-like" ball system as a prototype of a new dynamical model for very low density granular matter at nonequilibrium steady state.
\\ ( , 333kb)

This requires no further comment. The title of the article (and some of the abstract text) speaks for itself.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


I was having dinner with a friend at Gordon Biersch last night and I overheard a person at the table next to me specifically ask the waiter if he could have regular fries instead of garlic fries. A second person at their table proceeded to do the same thing. Sacrilege! That was a flagrant violation of the 11th commandment: Thou shalt not take thy garlic fries in vain.

(I need to figure out how to add a carriage return before the labels. I may need to change my template to fix this.)

WTF department: Wikipedia's "Notability guidlines"

Now, you might be wondering why I am flagging this post with a WTF.

Well, take a look at the page for Wikipedia's notability guidelines.

In particular, take a look at the chart on the right of the page that conatins specific categories for which wikipedia has published notability guidelines. One of them is pornographic actors. Hence, WTF.

20 years of "Ferman"

November 8th marked the 20th anniversary of the day I bought "Ferman", my favorite stuffed animal. It occurred to me today that although I had planned this blog entry several months ago, I became distracted about various things when November came and completely forgot about it.

Most of my childhood was rather unpleasant (to put it mildly), but my menagerie was one of the positive highlights. Not that anybody around me back in the day ever understood or appreciated this (it was/is just another of my numerous flaws, as far as they're concerned), but my stuffed animals provided an essential way for me to escape from all the crap going on at home and they remain extremely important to me.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Erdos-Bacon numbers

I suppose this was inevitable.

I just noticed a wikipedia entry for Erdos-Bacon numbers, which is defined as the sum of one's Erdos and Bacon numbers.

Ah, mathematicians and their generalizations...

Anyway, I need to add to my goals to make my Erdos-Bacon number finite. My Erdos number has been verified to be at most 4. Mathscinet now has a tool that allows one to compute one's Erdos number using papers that are in their database. (Of course, one can have a shorter path via papers that aren't listed.) This path is as follows:

I published a paper (multiple papers, actually) with Boris Malomed, who published a paper with Yehuda Band, who published a paper with Peter Salamon, who published a paper with Paul Erdos. (Today was the first time I had checked. The last time I checked, which was before this automated database was available and just before my first paper with Boris was officially published, the shortest path about which I knew had length 5.)

Also, starting with this entry, I have switched over to Blogger Beta.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Casino Royale

Continuing my alleviation of my movie review backlog (but not in any reasonable order), I'll now discuss Casino Royale, which Lemming recently reviewed. The original version of the film is supposed to have been a debacle, but check out the star power---among its stars were Peter Sellers, Woody Allen, and Orson Welles! (There are also some other recognizable names.) This version of the film, on the other hand, was extremely good.

The film serves as a sort of 'reset' to the Bond universe. Besides having a new actor playing Bond (more on that later), we travel back to a point (set in 2006, so not traveling back along only one dimension) in which Bond hasn't yet been promoted to 007 status. (The film starts at the final events resulting in his promotion to 007 status.) Thus, James Bond spends a good chunk of the film (and for some of these things, most or all of the film) grittier, less refined, driving a rented Ford rather than an Aston Martin, not so great at keeping his cool under pressure, and not giving a damn whether his martinis are shaken or stirred. Yes, even the last one---in fact, especially the last one. If you want to sum up what this film means to the Bond franchise, the fact that he doesn't give a damn about his martinis does the best job of quickly convey that we've gone back to his roots.

One of the things I mentioned is that Bond is grittier. In fact, the entire film is grittier, and I expect the next couple Bond films will remain this way. The new Bond, Daniel Craig, fits this image. I do think he makes a good Bond, but he's a major step down from Pierce Brosnan in my book, and I'm sorry but he just doesn't look like Bond to me. He did very well with the repartee, but I still can't picture him as James Bond. He does fit the image shift, but while I enjoyed the film immensely, I have a general preference in my film tastes for less grittiness.

Anyway, the repartee between Bond and the main lust interest (Vesper Lynd) was excellent---especially in their early conversations when she couldn't stand him. (I could use the term "love interest," but that term just doesn't feel right for a James Bond film.) It was great to see such a persistent foil to Bond in one of the Bond girls! M was there, but Moneypenny was nowhere to be found (that doesn't bother me). Q wasn't there either, which is unfortunate, because I always enjoyed the scenes with Q.

There was a chase scene just after Bond becomes a 007 that was fantastic, and the pace of the film was excellent---events transpired at just the right pace.

Anyway, the film was really good, but my own preference (which I expect is in the minority) would be for the franchise to go back to being less gritty. In short, the film was extremely good but not fantastic. (Granted, very few films are.)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Justin Morneau wins AL MVP

Justin Morneau of the Twins won the AL MVP.

That was the wrong choice. He had an excellent season, but he wasn't even the MVP of his own team.

Frank Thomas finishing 4th is also preposterous. He had an excellent season as well, but many of the people who garnered less MVP support than he did were much better and actually play a position in the field. (A DH has to surpass the hitting stats of a decent fielder to have a season that's just as good.)

Stranger Than Fiction

I saw Stranger Than Fiction on November 11th, and I was very impressed. The movie was extremely good and is on my short list for best films of the year. It's definitely not #1, but it's very high up there.

The best comparison I can give for the style of this film is The Truman Show, which is a VERY high compliment in my book. In fact, the comparisons run deeper---this film does for Will Ferrell for The Truman Show did for Jim Carrey. Farrell played his role completely seriously; none of his shtick was there at all. And what to you know: he actually has a ton of talent when he bothers to use it. I was extremely impressed! Hell, even Queen Latifah was good in her role.

Anyway, in Stranger Than Fiction, Farrell plays an IRS agent who happens to double (accidently, of course) as a character in someone's novel. Strange things start happening when Farrell starts hearing voiceovers, and there are a couple of very Simlish moments. (Once, there was even a thought bubble!) Also noteworthy is that Farrell plays the kind of shy analytically-minded person that hits close to home. And, in general, I am a major sucker for well-done films with shy protagonists who spend the film trying to conquer those demons. (By the way, I absolutely loved the voice-over comment about his chance of making an ass of himself as a "ratio" [though he really meant 'function'] of the time he spent talking to a certain girl. (Emma Thompson was the narrator, and she executed the dry British wit perfectly, enhancing several scenes immensely.) One time, he gave a girl (who owned a bakery) a gift of "flours." Yes, I spelled that correctly. And the execution was brilliant: "I brought you flours." Oh, that was awesome!

The analytical mind of Ferrell's character was puncuated with the use of mathematical surnames (Hilbert and Mittag-Leffler) that were purposely chosen. (Before I saw the film, I noted the comment in the LA Weekly about the choice of names, and the article in question never even mentioned Mittag-Leffler.)

Anyway, this film may not be receiving the hype of some others, but it's fantastic! I recommend it highly! (The new Bond film is really good too! [I'll review this in a day or two]... Borat, not so much.)

Civ IV arrived in the mail today, bringing with it familiar feelings and addiction.

In the absence of companionship, one can spend more time with one's Wii. And in the absence of a Wii (because I have not yet been able to procure one and I am unwilling to spend tons of money or tons of time in the process), one can have a few more turns. (I'll also get some more work done, but now is definitely a good time for me to get Civ IV and I finally have a computer at home that can handle it. I wasn't going to install it on my office computer... I know what this series of games can do.)

Anyway, I stopped for tonight because I'm eager to read a chapter or two of a book with which I'm almost done. I also want to blog about a movie that I recently saw. (I think there are something like 5 movies I still want to review, and I'm pretty sure I have more Oxford stuff about which I want to blog---though my memory is starting to get hazy about specifics I may have wanted to mention. Maybe they'll come back to me.)

I used shuffle settings in my first Civ IV game, and I believe there may only be two civilizations. I finished exploring my island and there aren't too many other good places to found a city, so I'm quickly advancing my naval capabilities so I can go take over other continents.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Headline: Dodgers make asinine free-agent signing

First of all, it's a crime that "asinine" is spelled with only one "s".

More to the point, the Dodgers have (pending a physical) signed free agent Juan Pierre to a five year contract worth roughly $45 million. Juan Pierre has one skill: he can run. The problem is that his batting averages are a bit misleading because his on base percentages have never been high, and he has less pop in his bat than just about anybody in the Major Leagues. (The former problem is the more acute one by far.) Basically, Pierre is a #8 or #9 hitter who has consistently been misacast as a lead-off hitter. The other problem is that Pierre isn't actually a good fielder---he just outruns his mistakes.

This is a bad, bad move on our part. I hope Pierre fails his physical because it looks like that's the only we way can get out of this.

To quote Darth Vader, "Nooooooooooooooooo!"

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Tales from the arXiv: the most useless sentence ever

Here's a paper that just got posted on the arXiv:

\Paper: cond-mat/0611448
Date: Fri, 17 Nov 2006 02:18:52 GMT (7kb)

Title: Statistical properties of the quantum anharmonic oscillator
Authors: Maciej M. Duras
Comments: 9 pages; presented as talk on the conference "Polymorphism in
Condensed Matter International workshop"; November 13th, 2006 - Novemer 17th,
2006; Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems, Dresden,
Germany (2006)
Subj-class: Statistical Mechanics
\ The random matrix ensembles (RME) of Hamiltonian matrices, e.g. Gaussian
random matrix ensembles (GRME) and Ginibre random matrix ensembles (Ginibre
RME), are applicable to following quantum statistical systems: nuclear systems,
molecular systems, condensed phase systems, disordered systems, and
two-dimensional electron systems (Wigner-Dyson electrostatic analogy). A family
of quantum anharmonic oscillators is studied and the numerical investigation of
their eigenenergies is presented. The statistical properties of the calculated
eigenenergies are compared with the theoretical predictions inferred from the
random matrix theory. Conclusions are derived.
\\ ( , 7kb)

Check out the last sentence of the abstract. I'm what you might call "impressed."

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Movies on a plane

I've got plenty of movies to discuss here, so let's start with the stuff I saw on the airplanes to and from England. (This has the advantage of eating into my Oxford backlog as well.)

On the flight to England, the entertainment setup in the plane was awesome---there were several movies/shows that interested me and we could start any of them at any point we wanted. (There was a lot of music as well.) Yeah! I could have done the same with my portable DVD player, but I decided to take advantage of what was on the plane that I didn't have.

I still spent a while just listening to my iPod to chill out. In terms of visuals, the plane had four episodes of "Arrested Development." Based on the very positive recommendations, I watched those. One of them was the series premier and the others were from various seasons. Verdict: I approve! Now I'm going to have to catch up on this along with everybody else...

I was thinking of watching a few episodes of the US version of "The Office" but decided I'd do so on the way back. (Sadly, this was not an option.)

I was deciding between several movies and decided on New Police Story, which I enjoyed quite a bit. It's Jackie Chan kicking ass with subtitles. Old school and yet from 2004.

I also played a game of tetris but because of my lack of sleep, general trouble with flying, and the unintuitive controls, I only got to 16th level.

On the way back, we still had a bunch of different channels, but there were fewer choices than before and now we had to synchronize with starting and stopping times.

The movie I watched was Pretty Persuasion, a black comedy which might actually be the most cynical film I've ever seen. Hell, this was even a little bit too cynical for my tastes, and that's very hard to do. I did enjoy the movie, and it's just shy of very good, but Election is a far better movie that follows similar lines. One thing the movie did extremely was the foreshadowing in the very first scene. The particular choices of lines at that point become very important later, though it takes most of the film to realize it. By the way, the lead character is a royal bitch, and none of the other characters were particularly likeable either. In fact, I don't think there was a single likeable character in the entire film.

I may have also seen a few tv episodes when I was on the voyage home, but I can't remember any at the moment. I played a game of Tetris and only got to 17th level. I also played a game of chess, but unfortunately this was the same chess program that I tried on my flight to Australia and its level of play was pathetically low. The damn thing would make a move and then retreat on the very next move, which is such a waste that anybody who knows what they're doing at all can beat the crap out of the computer (or "nail it against a fence," as we say back in the 'hood).

Friday, November 17, 2006

Trailer for Balls of Fury

Here is the trailer for Balls of Fury, which is slated to come out in the second quarter of 2007.

This is the movie for which Caltech ping pong coach Wei Wang served as an expert instructor. (Actually, she apparently did this previously for Friends, which I didn't know until today.) She did her Christopher Walken (the main evil guy in the film) impression today, based on what he did when he showed up to the club where she teaches in Santa Monica.

As you can see from the trailer, the film looks quite campy. (It makes me think of the trailer for Dodgeball, which I never actually saw even though there are a couple things from it I like to cite.) It certainly has the potential to be awful, but I'm going to see it anyway. By the way, the nun in the trailer is Wei. (They used computer imagery to change the face.) She's also apparently in some music video that goes with this (as the nun), so I'll have to look out for that as well.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Caltech's burgeoning condensed matter theory group

To go along with our recent (almost-)doubling in size, the burgeoning Caltech condensed matter theory group has a brand new web page.

Until this fall, it was almost unfair to think of us as a group, but now we actually have a group meeting and everything. Of course, the group meeting conflicts with the applied math seminar, so I think I've only gone to it once. But we have one nonetheless...

By the way, I am the token applied mathematician in the group.

Quote of the Day

This one comes from Frank Wilczek in his "Reference Frame" in the November 2006 issue of Physics Today:

"Children, Aristotle, the authors of the Bible, and the designers of Super Mario Brothers, among many others, imagine such worlds for us (in some cases, while mistakenly thinking they are describing our world)."

By the way, "such worlds" refers to "worlds where behavior is governed by something other than elegant mathematical laws."

Research group name

I am going to be revamping my professional webpage when I move to Oxford this fall, and that got me thinking about names for my research group (because now I'll want a group web page as part of the professional page).

I came up with a really awesome one: Oxford Chaotic Dynamics (OCD) Group

I'm willing to listen to suggestions, but I would be absolutely shocked if anybody comes up with one that I like better.

Another of those axes

I just got back from seeing a movie, which can join my backlog of movies to review.

Before the ads started, I overheard a conversation that included a part that really pissed me off. The people behind me were referring to another conversation going on in the theatre in which two young Chinese women were speaking to each other in Chinese. These two guys commented to each other---and they were very easy for everybody to hear given that there were a total of something like 8 people in the audience---were that they [the women] were in America so that they should speak English. What the Hell? They were talking to each other! They can speak whatever fucking language they want to each other! Sheesh. They can always speak in English when they need to talk to somebody who doesn't know their native tongue.

In graduate school, two of my housemates were Thai and, in fact, for the majority of the time I was in grad school, Thai was the primary language spoken in my apartment, followed by Japanese/Chinese (which one depended on the year because it depended on the identity of the roommate), followed by English. While this wasn't the ideal situation for me, I can certainly understand why somebody who has to speak in a non-native practically all the time will have a desire to speak in their native tongue as part of relaxing. (I would sometimes practice my Spanish with Hispanic friends in grad school, but when I was tired or stressed out, I was most definitely not in the mood to be doing that.) This unfortunately did have the effect that I felt left out---I couldn't enter conversations (though they were really surprised a couple times when I figured things out based on context and briefly did anyway!) and ultimately we almost never talked to each other (well, one of them was an asshole and I almost never talked to him; the other guy was a nice guy, so when the first one moved out, things got a lot better)---but their choices were extremely understandable ones and I can certainly see myself making the same choice given the same circumstances.

Attitudes like that is why the rest of the world hates us. And, for the most part, they're bloody justified!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Caltech introduces 'floating holidays'

Really, I'm completely serious about this.

Here is the first sentence in the e-mail just spammed to all of the Caltech community by President Jean-Lou Chameau:

After consulting with faculty and staff leadership, I have decided that in addition to Caltech's regular year-end holiday schedule, for 2006 we will also consider Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, December 27, 28, and 29, as special floating holidays.

I'm sure Chameau realizes that there's only one way to celebrate a floating holiday---which is, naturally, by floating someone.

Of course, I'll be on campus those days doing work, as usual.

More baseball awards

Tigers manager Jim Leyland and former Marlins manager Joe Girardi were named the managers of the year today. (It's awesome that Girardi got the award even though he was fired two days after the season ended!) Yesterday, Brandon Webb won the NL Cy Young and my pick (Trevor Hoffman) finished second in the voting. So, I am thus far 3/4 with my one miss finishing in second.

APS website has been revamped

The American Physical Society's website has been revamped. It's about bloody time!

Some Tommy Lasorda rants

I'm totally digging having a better computer...

Anywhere, here is a Tommy Lasorda rant that I hadn't heard in a while in which he is discussing a reporter known as "The Nose." (Tommy has had some wonderful blow-ups...)

Here's his rant abour Joe Lefevbre and Kurt Bevaqua which was referenced in Bull Durham.

In searching quickly, I can't find the full version of Tommy's opinion of Dave Kingman's performance online. (I can find the 1:26 version, but there is a very funny line that is not in that version.)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Introducing... Vecna

I couldn't come up with anything better, so my new MacBook Pro is now basking in the glow of a new-forged synonym (does anybody catch the reference here?) and is now called "Vecna." I've been progressively moving closer to lichdom anyway, so it's actually rather appropriate. As Justin points out, the built-in camera is the Eye of Vecna. The bluetooth controller that comes with the machine (I've been wanting one of those for a while!) is the Hand of Vecna (sort of). I can also buy a Mouse of Vecna if I want. Plus, I already have a phylactery.

In running through my harddrive names, I forgot a very important one. The one that Caltech paid for me to have in my office is called Arkham and the admin is known as Cthulhu.

Random 10 (starting over edition)

Well, there's this nice laptop-shaped box that arrived in my office today, so it looks like this will be the last random 10 with this computer as my primary computer (and presumably my last one ever on this computer, though I will be keeping it as a back-up). I'll need a ride home to transfer it tomorrow, but that should be easy enough to procure. I'll also need to start over in more unfortunate manners (hence the lousy mood and the major feelings of melancholy and nostalgia), but that's life. Let's see what type of fortune iTunes gives me:

1. The Covering: The Smithereens, "A Girl Like You"
2. The Crossing: Pet Shop Boys, "What Have I Done To Deserve This? (Extended Mix)"
3. The Crown: Bobby Brown, "My Prerogative"
4. The Root: Enya & Clannad, "Robin Hood"
5. The Past: World Party, "Way Down Now"
6. The Future: Dar Williams, "Alleluia"
7. The Questioner: some random Klezmer music (unknown title and artist)
8. The House: Siouxsie & The Banshees, "Hall of Mirrors"
9. The Inside: Camouflage, "Suspiscious Love"
10. The Outcome: Celtic Woman, "The Flower of Magherally"

Here is the key to interpreting the above.

Well, (1) is certainly close to right on the money. (2) is pretty damn appropriate, too. (I should say, though, that the fact that I really like 80s music helps a lot in getting something appropriate for many of these.) I'm not quite sure how to intepret (3), but I don't think it's wholly inappropriate either. (4) makes no sense. I'm not so sure about (5) either. I guess (6) is saying that I'm going to find religion. Not bloody likely. (7) is indicating that I am questioning things using Jewish folk music. Not exactly. I have to say that (8) is just plain harsh. Ouch! I really hope not! (9) isn't so apt at the moment. Maybe I'd have something to say about (10) if I actually knew what the song was about. Unfortunately, I am not as familiar with it as with most of the other songs.

As for song quality, (1) wins hands down.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Old friends

My friends are collectively the most important thing in my life. I spend a lot of time thinking about academics (papers, jobs, etc), gaming of various sorts, reading, creative writing, music, and (especially) baseball, but I know where my priorities really lie.

So, I would first like to send out a wave of appreciation for your loyalty. A friend is always a friend for life, as far as I'm concerned.

Yesterday, I had the chance to spend some time with Mou Li '00 (and her husband) for the first time in over 3.5 years. (I last saw Mou during my semester in Berkeley.) She looks exactly the same and said the same thing about me, so I guess we were both happy. :)

Mou was originally a Lloydie but defected to Page. (Some people make strange choices sometimes.) Some of you might remember her as the person who convinced me to allow myself to be showered on my birthday senior year. (This is the one time I participated in showering.) You can find that picture here. Here is the description [well, I fixed a couple minor grammatical typos that I just noticed] I wrote on my website for this picture many years ago (after the part where I describe showering in general):

As an undergrad, I didn't particpate in showering wars. I had a birthday mini-party my senior year. I didn't intend to be showered that day, but my will broke down. (Mou walked into Upper Crotch exclaiming, "Shower Mason!" and my will broke down. It was all her fault.) That was the one time I participated in showering wars. This picture was taken in Tropic Alley, where I fought better than expected. I grabbed onto the fire doors and was almost able to close them. (Unbeknownst to us, there was somebody in one of the shower stalls in the bathroom, so we repeated the whole thing in Purple Alley. I didn't do as well. I tried to help myself by biting a couch, but that didn't prove very useful.) Showering me are Mou, Louis, Mark Tilford (who lived in Kaos Alley {of which I was UCC} and decided he wanted to help shower me), and Tim. Watching me being showered (pictured) are Travis, Joe (with a camera, so there's probably another picture of this somewhere), and Steve Van Hooser. Also watching (and taking this picture) is Jit Kee Chin. Also at my small birthday bash was Megan Linnehan, although I don't think she was there for the showering.

The shirt I was wearing was a gift from Matt Sullivan, who was studying for and then taking a midterm at the time. (Not that I should toot my own horn, but after we had cake, I went outside the room where Matt was likely taking his exam -- I had suggested that room as a good one -- and did some reading for CDS 241a there while I waited for him to finish. I wanted to show moral support and get him some ice cream cake when he was done. I think I went to bed multiple hours later than I really wanted to that night, especially after we returned to see graphs about "Person A" and "Person B" that Travis had drawn on the Upper Crotch whiteboard. Was there a "Person C" as well?)

This picture is one of my favorite pictures from Tech because so many of my best friends are in it (and another was taking it). My roommate was playing video games in our dorm room instead of joining in on the celebration, but you can't have everything. In looking at this picture now, I note that the hat Tim is wearing looks familiar (maybe I even wore it at Coachella) and I wonder if Joe has the picture he took because I never saw it.

And while I am roasting Mou (well, aside from the frosh bar-b-que back in the day...), let me tell one of my favorite stories about her. (Sorry! But it's just too funny...) Some of you have probably heard this one before. This was senior year, and I was walking through Page to bug Mou. The Page females apparently were going through a phase of getting their hair dyed, so Mou had some blond streaks in her hair. She asked me how it looked and I, of course, answered completely honestly and said she looked like a zebra. My reward was to be kicked (very similar to the reward I would get from her when I beat her at Mario Kart), except Mou is short and wasn't wearing any shoes, so her foot got me right in the knee and she hurt her foot slightly whereas I was completely unharmed.

Mou also uttered one of the best Housequotes ever, but I'll save that for offline comments because I've picked on her enough for now (and this is all old material anyway).

So, it was really great to see her yesterday! To say that was the highlight of my weekend would be an absolutely huge understatement. (Let's not wait 3.5 years next time!) I am also thinking that a Mou versus Jing grudge match shower war would make for quite an interesting contest. I couldn't really choose sides, except I might want to think about who would hurt me less if she lost. Mou has probably mellowed out from motherhood whereas I'm not sure if Jing will ever mellow out, so maybe it would be safest for me if Jing won? For my own safety, I definitely won't be the referee.

If you like this book, you might hate this one...

Courtesy Gazebo, I just found out about LibraryThing's UnSuggester. If you enter a book you have or have read, then (provided at least 75 people have listed it), you'll be given a list of books that you definitely shouldn't read because you'll probably hate them.

For example, if you like the Feynman Lectures on Physics (approximate title), then you shouldn't be reading anything by Stephen King.

Or if you like Oxford's new annotated bible, there are a number of fantasy/sci-fi authors you should avoid.

2006 MLB Rookies of the Year

I'm two for two in baseball award predictions so far, as Hanley Ramirez won the NL Rookie of the Year and Justin Verlander won the AL one. ESPN's article, which includes the vote tallies, is here.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Absolutely Fabulous

I saw the Pet Shop Boys in concert on Thursday. (If you don't know why the entry title goes with this, your homework is to do some googling.)

The concert, which was the last one on their US tour, was awesome! The Pet Shop Boys have always been one of my favorite bands, and I finally had a chance to see them in concert. Add in the fact that it helped take my mind off things (which is something I've needed the last few days) and that one of my problems got solved while I was at the concert (though I found out only upon my return) and that I had another idea for how to mostly solve another one during the concert (it would turn out to work as well) and Thursday was a good night (though there is still one other thing about which I'm gnawing at myself constantly).

There was no opening act. Instead, the Pet Shop Boys played slightly longer than they otherwise might have and had an intermission. They did a really good job with their special effects, which included a very brief glimpse of George Bush II on-screen during the song "I'm With Stupid" and a background with lots of tanks and stuff during "The Sodom and Gomorrah Show." These two songs are both on the new album, Fundamental, which goes back to the Pet Shop Boys' new wave roots more than most of their recent albums. I suppose I should have reviewed that album here at some point---in general, it's very good and has several very strong tracks (a couple in particular), but it doesn't really have any truly spectacular songs. Arguably the coolest song on the album is the "duet" with Elton John called "In Private." The Pet Shop Boys have done some pretty funky collaborative songs before (such as one with Liza Minelli), and this one is also special.

Anyway, back to the concert... There were a number of songs from the current album, a lot of really old songs, and a few "in between" ones as well. The two most notable absences, among songs one might expect them to perform (so deep album cuts that happen to be awesome don't count here, though there were obviously song of those I would have loved to hear), were "Being Boring" (I really wish they sang that) and "What Have I Done to Deserve This." The other mild disappointments were that the version of "Opportunities" they sang was somewhat abbreviated (it would have been nice if they included all the verses) and they sang a remix of "So Hard" which though cool was not as cool as the original. As they sometimes do, they changed the words to one or two songs slightly. ("Left To Our Own Devices" had some minute changes that come to mind.)

One of the things the Pet Shop Boys did exceptionally well was segue from one song to another and at a couple points, the riff to one song included parts of another song (or 3-4 in the case of the ending part of "Go West," which was very appropriately the last song of the show). These also tended to be songs that go well together (thankfully). Unsurprisingly, the biggest cheer was for "West End Girls," which was their first single---it originally came out in 1984 but it was the second version of the single, released at the end of 1985, that became their first and still biggest hit. (Actually, I like the original version of the single better because the pace is faster. My brother owned it on record, though it was lost years ago. I have yet to be able to find this version of the song online.) I agree the song is awesome, but it probably doesn't even rank in my top 10 list of Pet Shop Boys' songs because they have recorded so much good stuff. (For what it's worth, wikipedia claims that this song is the first UK #1 single that was rapped rather than sung.) The song that highlighted my evening was "It's a Sin." I love that song, and they performed it especially well on Thursday!

One last thing worth mentioning: At one point, somebody from the audience tossed something on-stage that appeared to be some sort of underwear. Once the current song was over, lead singer Neil Tennant picked it up, smiled, gave the audience a thumbs up in the general direction from whence the article of clothing was tossed, and handed it to somebody offstage. My point here is that unlike, say, Madonna, some artists actually roll with the punches instead of having hissyfits.


Well, let's keep to the subject of being offensive.

I have a bunch of movies (and one extremely awesome concert!) I've meant to discuss since I returned home and I'm actually not even done with my Oxford blogging, though I have recently been waylayed by other things, such as party changes in the House (and sort of in the Senate, as Justin reminded me) and my own little impersonation of John Kerry. (I guess I also figured out that a few people are actually reading my blog. I wonder about that sometimes, and I'm curious if that type of tripping is similar at some level to the insecurities I feel in my social interactions. A major difference is that my blog is also in large part for me---in that I gain a very nontrivial benefit just from forcing myself to write stuff down regularly---and wondering whether anybody has read my posts when I don't see a comment for a while is a lot less stressful than wondering if not getting a response to an e-mail or two means I've done something wrong without realizing it. I just wish this kind of stress wouldn't make me lose my appetite for days at a time.)

Before I get to the movie that I'll discuss in this post (which is actually the most recent one I've seen), I wanted to interject one more thing. I watched an episode of Star Trek: TNG tonight for the first time in quite a while. (I started by wanting something on tv while I ate in the hopes that I would eat more than a few mouthfuls. Sadly, that didn't work. By the way, this is one reason I try to grab others to go to dinner and especially do so in a "bursty" manner---if I feel a certain way, I need to have others sharing a meal with me to even get myself to eat. For some reason, though, I don't have this problem when it comes to consuming coffee.) This episode, which I may have seen years ago but didn't actually remember at all, is notable in that it's the one in which the Borg is first introduced (I suppose 'first introduced' is redundant). I was intrigued enough at the beginning to watch the whole thing and postpone reading the article on my plate until later in the evening. (I actually did some work tonight. I'm extremely "dedicated.")

Anyway, back to the movies...

When I first saw the trailer for Borat, I was intrigued. I figured the movie would either be really good or really bad, but it looked interesting and I wanted to see it. Then the movie came out and while the articles I read warned about one particular gross-out scene (and with good reason, I'll add!!!!), the reviews were positively glowing. The movie also got a very high score on IMDB and Lemming heard positive reviews from individuals. So I thought I was in for a satirical treat. I let my expectations get really high.

OK, so what happened? Well, some idea of what I'm about to write can be predicted easily enough by a combination of knowledge about me and the Borat wikipedia entry. (Lemming seemed to react in a similar manner to me but not as strongly.) Let me first say that there are times when the movie nails things right on the head the way I was expecting. In these moments, "Borat" (Sacha Baron Cohen) is just talking and getting other people to admit to very unpolitically correct beliefs---such as executing homosexuals, doing bad things to Jewish people, talking about the confederate flag as part of their "heritage", etc. Some of people's beliefs that are revealed (and we all know that they're there, but it's still rather different to see how little it takes for them to come to the surface and to see people talk matter-of-factly about such disgusting beliefs) really drive the social criticism home, and many of these partial scenes are done in a very humerous manner. (I really liked the one with Congressman Bob Barr, for instance. That was priceless!)

Now, most of the film was done with unwitting participants, so the major problem for me arose when "Borat" starts doing things that cause people damage. That's just not cool at all. In general, I'm really hard to offend in the sense that in the vector space of words and deeds, I have very few basis vectors along which I am offended. However, when somebody does an action that has a nonzero inner productive with one of these vectors, I get really offended almost immediately. (Or, if you want me to be less nerdy, I have very few buttons but when one of them is pushed, I have a tendency to go from "calm" [or whatever I possess that passes for calm] to berzerk almost immediately.) In one seen, "Borat" destroys the property in an antique shop. Most of the stuff in there might be complete garbage, but there was absolutely no need for this. And it doesn't even further the points about US attitudes that I thought he was trying to convey! It's acting like an ass for the sake of acting like and ass and causing problems for other people. In another scene, he is making a fool of himself on TV. In the movie, it may not have seemed horrible, but then I read on the wikipedia entry how the person who booked him got fired over that. This is doing serious damage to somebody's life, and that's just not acceptable! (That person has sued. Actually, I just read a few minutes ago that the frat boys have also sued, although that part didn't bother me.)

The aspect on which I believe Lemming and I differ is the scenes in which "Borat" and "Azamat" were, um, "enjoying" each other's company. I was just grossed out by that.

It may seem like I just totally trashed this movie. I don't think it's without value and when I left the theatre, I told Lemming that if I had to judge both the positive (there were some shining moments, as I mentioned) and negative (there were a lot of "anti-moments"). I wasn't in a great mood before I saw the movie and this is the type of movie that after seeing malicious acts against unwitting people in the name of entertainment actually put me in a worse mood than before I saw the movie. Also, as I find out more and more behind some aspects of the movie, the taste in my mouth just gets worse and worse. I was going through my mental list of friends briefly trying to think if there was anybody (not counting those who already saw the movie) who I think would actually enjoy the movie and not just be utterly pissed off by certain things in it, and nobody came to mind. (I was thinking at first that there might be a subset of people among my peeps for whom I could be confident that this would be a great movie and that I wouldn't have to "worry" about them getting offended by it. I couldn't think of a single person, and then I realized that I'm really glad that I couldn't think of a single such person among my friends.)

Let me summarize. The Aristocrats, considered by many to be utterly offensive, was brilliant! Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic, also considered by many to be extremely offensive, was brilliant! Borat, although it has several really great moments (maybe we should watch the 25 minute version?), really leaves a sour taste in my mouth because of other cirumstances behind the movie and it's really hard for "satire" (is it fair to call this satire?) to truly make me react that way. (I typically love satire---especially the extremely harsh variety.) The major difference between this and things other people find offensive: People were hurt.

Friday, November 10, 2006

"No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die."

This is the first line in the recent article in Caltech's Engineering & Science about work with which I'm involved. I have previously provided links to other publicity that we've seen as well as to the article itself, so I'll just mention that there is also a reference to Dr. Evil in the article and leave it at that.

Mea culpa

I just deleted a post. (Aside from accidental duplicates, I think this is the first time I've done this.)

So, in my usual lack of filtering way (because I really do almost always speak/write before I think), I made a joke which intended to have losers like me as the target. I believe that all I did in the process was piss off people who read the comment (at least one I know and one I don't), prove my point that I'm a loser, and give Lemming a good laugh (which I suppose is equivalent to the second point I just made).

After I got the first comment (the second arrived while I was answering the first), I reread the actual text of what I wrote and certainly saw other ways to read the comment than what I intended.

So, the best I can do is remove the post, apologize again, hope that my friends are all still my friends, and hope that people who I don't know who read that (and don't have all those other wonderful interactions with me upon which to draw) don't think I'm a complete waste of carbon.

The post was meant to be provocative---but what I wanted to do was discuss the abstract and why that guy was questioning "self-evident" things (his quotes because he was questioning them) that I do consider self-evident.

While I already know my abilities to see things through others' eyes are really poor, perhaps they are even poorer than I thought.

I'll be happy to provide further explanations (and copies of the comments people put on the post) in private discussion.

Democrats win the Senate too!

Fuck yeah!

Not that I'm a great fan of the Democrats, but this is the best political news in over a decade! Maybe now this country can start improving again for a change...

(Also, I solved one of my problems and have an idea that may provide a reasonable solution to a second one. I have found out that there is funding to extend my Caltech job through the end of September, so I no longer have to figure out what to do this summer. The fact that I have no travel money left isn't completely solvable. However, I already planned to attend one conference out of pocket, and I am seeing whether I can use my Oxford travel funds for the secone one---I would just have to wait a few more months before I'm reimbursed.)

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

News from the arXiv

Here is a paper that was recently revised:

Paper (*cross-listing*): quant-ph/0605021
replaced with revised version Wed, 8 Nov 2006 12:20:44 GMT (12kb)

Title: Monogamy inequality for distributed Gaussian entanglement
Authors: Tohya Hiroshima, Gerardo Adesso, and Fabrizio Illuminati
Comments: 4 pages, no figures. Several improvements, proof made more
transparent, conclusions enriched
Subj-class: Quantum Physics; Mathematical Physics; Statistical Mechanics;
\\ ( , 12kb)

First, I am rather curious what exactly constitutes "enriched" conclusions in a "monogamy inequality," especially when "distributed entanglement" is involved. Second, I totally dig the third author's last name. :)

In other news, I got an e-mail this evening indicating that I've already overspent my academic funds. This is bad news, because if this is accurate, I will need to pay for two conferences entirely on my own. D'oh! I wonder if I screwed up a calculation somewhere... I was thinking I would have to do one on my own and would have enough funds for almost all of the other one. Well, I can't get out of the earlier of these two, but I may end up having to bail on the second of these even though that is my most important conference. Damnit. Well, I just have to cross my fingers and hope that this is somebody else's error rather than mine... If I can't get Caltech to pay me this summer (my job expires in mid June, but I'll still be paying rent here for a while after that), I'm going to take a serious financial hit. I'll survive without a problem, but I will be losing a hefty sum from my bank account.

The hits just keep on coming

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld will be resigning today. (Thanks to Lemming for pointing me to this graphical depiction.)

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Democrats take the House!

Here's yet another thing to celebrate!

Wow, there's really been a lot of great news in my life during the past several weeks! (That doesn't stop me from feeling grumpy when I have the flu or when Matlab has a hissyfit, but this is an issue of major good news versus comparitively minor day-to-day annoyances.)

Here is what Gazebo writes about this victory.

New laptop...

(Attempt 2 on this post... Safari crashed on me in the middle of the last post and also crashed earlier today. Damnit.)

I just bought a specific new laptop today!

You know what that means? It's time to come up with a harddrive name! Any ideas?

The early lead is "Vecna" because my backup harddrive is already named "Phylactery." I think that's a decent choice, but I'd like to do better. Admittedly, it is better than my current one, called "Death From Above." Previous ones have included "Duende," "Phlegethon" (which I ironically forgot for a few minutes! If you don't see why it's ironic, look up Phlegethon right now), "Valykrie," and "Forgotten Realm." (I think that covers all the laptop harddrives. A couple of times, I had to replace harddrives that died, so I renamed things when that happened. I think "Duende" is the one that only lasted a few months [so the replacement was free], which is also kind of funny.) My current iPod is called "Chotchke" and my original one (which I still have, but the maximum battery life has decayed quite a bit) is called "Hoopak."

Anyway, let me know your ideas for harddrive names.

Here are the specs for my new preciousssssss:

MacBook Pro, 15-inch, 2.33GHz
2.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
2GB 667 DDR2 SDRAM - 2x1GB
160GB Serial ATA Drive @ 5400 rpm
SuperDrive 6x (DVD+R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)
MacBook Pro 15-inch Widescreen Display
Backlit Keyboard/Mac OS - U.S. English
Accessory Kit

I also bought AppleCare and a power adaptor for airplanes.

Does anybody know if Civ IV is out for the Mac? I need to get that asap...

Monday, November 06, 2006

If you die in the game, you die for real

Courtesy Lemming, here is an amusing picture.

While the depicted game is solitaire, it reminds me of a certain ridiculous comic strip that was produced by anti-D & D people. It depicted somebody who was ostracized by the rest of the people in her party (in real life) because her character died, and at least in some versions, her suicide was also involved. Actually, the strip is funny because of its sheer absurdity even though its producers were being serious. Of course, the first clue that it's completely unrealistic is that the depicted campaign has two female players... (Let me know if you find such a campaign, however, because I want to join it.)

On another note, I briefly caught the following on the news: Apparently, some dumbass got arrested this week in a short chain of events that started when during a game of Truth or Dare, he was asked about the stupidest thing he had ever done, and he answered that he had shot someone. Brilliant. Maybe now that's the second stupidest thing he's ever done...

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Baseball awards: Here's who should win

NL MVP: Ryan Howard deserves by a hair over Albert Pujols (who would have deserved it if not for the DL time). Several others--including Miguel Cabrera, Matt Holliday, and Lance Berkman--also had outstanding seasons.

AL MVP: I'm going against the grain on this one and giving my vote to Jermaine Dye. I was going with Joe Mauer for most of the year, but he really tailed off at the end. I'd put Derek Jeter 2nd (though he's going to be the one to actually win the award), Mauer 3rd, Justin Morneau 4th, and David Ortiz 5th. Manny Ramirez, Travis Hafner, and Jim Thome had superb seasons but lost some time to injuries and got lowered just a notch for MVP considerations. Also, when will Grady Sizemore and Carlos Guillen get some love?

NL Cy Young: This race is wide open. Nobody even won 17 games. (In fact, nobody in the Majors won 20 games for the first time in a long time.) There are a bunch of starters with similar stats and none of them really stands out from the others; this includes Chris Carpenter, Roy Oswalt, and Brandom Webb. It is in such years that relievers get Cy Youngs, and I will go that route and vote for all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman. What will happen is that the starters will split lots of votes among themselves and Hoffman will get the Cy Young---kind of like that episode of "Different Strokes" in which Willis Jackson won a beauty contest in which all the other contestants were females because all the girls split the female vote and all the guys voted for Willis.

AL Cy Young: Johan Santana. And it isn't even close.

NL ROY: There was a very strong crop of rookies in the National League this year. With a late push (after a long midseason slump), I'm going for Hanley Ramirez of the Marlins. Honorable mentions (in no particular order): Josh Johnson (Marlins), Dan Uggla (Marlins), Ryan Zimmerman (Nationals), Prince Fielder (Brewers), and Josh Willingham (Marlins). (Notice that the Marlins have quite a core of young talent, and they also had other very successful rookies who I haven't mentioned here...)

AL ROY: I'm going to take Justin Verlander by a nose over Francisco Liriano, who pitched better but not close to as often. (Sadly, Liriano needs Tommy John surgery and will miss the entire 2007 season.) Jered Weaver also deserves an honorable mention.

NL Manager of the Year: Joe Girardi (Marlins), even though he got fired once the season ended.

AL Manager of the Year: Jim Leyland (Tigers).

Saturday, November 04, 2006

From the Somerville College website

Somerville College is where I'll be a Tutor in Oxford. They have housing for faculty, so the best thing for me will be to reside there at first (and make my life easier rather than trying to find an apartment while oversease). This is known as a "set." I don't know precisely what it has, but we'll see.

I'll write more about the College later (perhaps much later), but I was poking around their website trying to find a Somerville t-shirt and found something I wanted to mention now. (I saw a memorabilia shop in Oxford that sold t-shirts for the individual Colleges, but I was not about to buy one without first having an offer.) Their website advertises their bar (in-house bars are a major component of College life in the Oxbridge system), and I just love the following quote from the description: "Our Bar is also fantastically adorned with murals of the seven ‘deadly sins’." I approve!

I'll just go ahead and buy a regular Oxford t-shirt. That will nicely complement the "Magic Missles Kill People" t-shirt I purchased earlier today.

Sociology Experiment:

One of my friends is collaborating on a sociology experiment via the website, which is "a game of first impressions" in which one tries to see how well one can tell somebody's personality based on a picture. (I'm curious about how to "break the system" or at least provide null models using photoshopping, cartoon renderings, etc.) Apparently, the idea is to see gow visually perceptive people are with pictures. (Well, it's a particular type of perception.)

Here is the text of the e-mail I received:

"I'm collaborating on a sociology experiment, and would like to solicit your help. The purpose of the project is to see how much information people can extract about someone's personality just from a photo. We put up a website ( and are recruiting people to post their pictures. If you or anyone you know doesn't mind being on display, we would appreciate your help."

Friday, November 03, 2006

Hyperculture pie charts

Courtesy Lemming, here are some hyperculture pie charts. Long live Pac-Man! (I agree with Lemming that that one is the best one.)

Liveblogging: Devoci\'{o}n por las Mases (Tributo a Depeche Mode)

(Note that I am using latex notation for accent on the 'o' in the blog title.)

This album, a Spanish tribute album to Depeche Mode, was an impulse buy on Amazon when I was preordering a book that was released at the end of last month. (I made the order in July and only just got it now because of the book's release.) When Gazebo liveblogged an album review, I thought it would be cool if I liveblogged something as well, but I really wasn't sure what it should be. Then I remembered that I was going to get this album, so I decided this would be a good choice. (Sorry for not giving any advanced warning!)

I've preordered Loreena McKennitt's new album---her first studio album in almost 10 years!---though that one doesn't really make sense for a liveblog.

As usual, the track selection includes both obvious choices and surprising ones. However, first let me make a comment about the album cover. After the first song started, I noticed that the 'es' in 'mases' is cut off, which is not a particularly good sign.

Track 1: Begoña, Free Love. This song comes from the album Exciter, which has some good songs but is not one of DM's best (by a healthy margin). This song is a ballad and was a very odd choice. It was recorded live and in the beginning one can actually hear DM's "Personal Jesus" in the background. The background noise fades a bit, but one can still hear it throughout the song, which was sung in English. The singing (by females) was good (and it was amusing to hear the hispanic accents in the singing), so this isn't a total loss, but I'm not overly impressed.

Track 2: Deluxe, Everything Counts. This is much better! The song was stripped down, as the instruments are mostly just a piano or two. This song works very well as a ballad, though this too is in English.

Track 3: Australian Blonde, People are People. This was also in English and was really not very impressive. It's too bad, because the original is such a great song.

Track 4: Maga, Little 15. This was another odd cover choice, although this song is actually one of the best DM ballads out there. The cover is more upbeat than the original and has an additional Latin-style rythym in the background that actually works quite well. I'm digging this one, though the original is certainly better. (Of course, I'm more interested in hearing the songs that are actually in Spanish. I think three of them are, but I would have preferred the whole album to be in Spanish.)

Track 5: Viena #1, Sometimes. This DM ballad is another odd choice. That said, this song has also been sped up and I am digging the cover. Actually, I think I like this version better than the original (which is among the weaker DM songs out there). It works really well with a faster pace!

Track 6: Sexy Sadie, Blasphemous Rumors. The original is one of my favorite DM songs. The cover sounds good as well, though it pales in comparison to the original. I'm glad to have any cover of this song, but I really wish it were in Spanish! (Also, I like the band's name.)

Track 7: Luxury, Shake the Disease. Dude! Awesome! Female synth-pop cover of the song! (My immediate impression is that this is what a Ladytron version of "Shake the Disease" would sound like.) This is easily the best track so far! (This also reminds me---I need to find a copy of the stripped-down version of "Shake the Disease" that Depeche Mode sang at Coachella. They turned it into a ballad, and it was just really beautiful.) I approve! The ending is a little weird, though.

Track 8: Miños mutantes, "El Silencio" (Enjoy the Silence). Finally, a cover that's actually in Spanish! It's cool and it's much better than the cover of this song that Tori Amos did. However, it can't come close to DM's original, which is only on the short short list of my best songs of all time (it's not the only DM song on that list). Of course, if one is going to cover a DM song, this would be the canonical choice. The Spanish lyrics to the song definitely work very well, however, so I'm glad to have this. As far as my tastes go, I'd change the musical style somewhat.

Track 9: Simo, Walking in My Shoes. This song is from the Songs of Faith and Devotion album and is certainly a reasonable song to cover. It sounds reasonably faithful to the original, although it the style is a little "rougher." It's good, but it's nothing special.

Track 10: Digital 21, Never Let Me Down Again. It sounds good---much better than the Smashing Pumpkins' cover on the "official" DM tribute album. This is also an unsurprising choice of songs to cover. For some reason, the artists decided to adjust the lyrics to make them less subtle. "I'm having sex with my best friend" has replaced "I'm taking a ride with my best friend" on a number of occasions. Lame. As if it wasn't obvious already. The song still sounds good, but that's a flaw and this was never one of my favorite DM songs anyway. There also is a long riff in the song that starts out cool but gradually fades into annoying. I'm going to have to downgrade this to decent.

Track 11: Los Acusicas, "Tu \'{U}nico Dios" (Personal Jesus). This is another of the obvious songs to cover. Hmmm... the style is odd---it's very different from the original, the DM acoustic version, and the Johnny Cash version (the first two of which are awesome and the third of which is very good). They grunged it up. I was kind of hoping for an acoustic version in Spanish. I like it, but not a lot. I was hoping for more. At least it's in Spanish. Also, "Dios" means "God," not "Jesus" and the word used in the song is "Cristo" (aka, the correct word). Who wrote the track list? Also, the end of the song samples "Master and Servant," which provides a segueway to the next song but nothing else.

Track 12: I Kan, "Ama y Esclavo" (Master and Servant). Alright, this sounds really good! Here we have the second best track of the CD, which is also in a synth-pop style (notice the coindence... I *heart* synth-pop). Also, the main singer is female, which provides a nice contrast to the original (and apparently provides a bit of role-reversal). Dude, they just segued between a couple verses to the music from "Personal Jesus" but instead of sampling they played it themselves and it worked really well! Then they returned to the main theme. I approve! This is the second big win of the album.

Track 13: Dirty Princess, Pleasure Little Treasure. This is a strange choice. The format is odd, but it does sound pretty good. Specifically, the background music sounds very good, but the singing itself is detracting from it. Once they got into the verses, the singing started reminding me of "Money" by Flying Lizard (which is one of the worst songs of all time). Yuck. Well, the track isn't utterly hopeless but it definitely works better as a Ride chaser than for any other purpose.

Track 14: Alex Under, Monument. This is another strange choice. It was included on the "official" tribute album as well, but it's a really obscure old song by DM, so I'm not sure why this keeps getting included in these albums. I like the original and the tribute on the "official" tribute is actually even better, but I would (much!) rather have a cover of something like "Strangelove."

Track 15: Universal Circus, Just Can't Get Enough. This is another canonical choice and, in fact, the obvious choice for the last track. (DM has ended many concerts with this song.) Dude, this got turned into a Tex-Mex (but in English) campfire song! I'm amused... The accent on the singer is quite prevalent. This actually works really well. Now I'm thinking I want to hear the Seu Jorge covers of DM songs... This is a great way to end the album!

In sum, the album has a couple really awesome tracks (one in English and another in Spanish), one or two other very good ones, several other good ones, and a couple that are worse than that. I wasn't expecting a great album or anything, but I did want more than 3 of the songs to be in Spanish. I probably could have figured this out in advance, but still. I am happy I got the album, but maybe I'll eventually find some more Spanish covers.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

A picture that includes me to promote healthy living?

I wouldn't think so either, but apparently this picture from my days at Tech will be used for that. (Of course, it's because of the person in the foreground, which is Neema Jalali '99, rather than because of me (looking befuddled in the background).

The picture was sent to a staff member in math at GT, who forwarded the request to me. The student's request reads as follows:

>> Hi there,
>> I am currently doing an Computer course at school to promote healthy
>> living.
>> I have seen a picture on your website (link), can i use this picture in my
>> publications.
>> This will be in-house only and will be marked externally.
>> Is this ok?
>> Thanks in advance,
>> Aaron

I'm really moving up in the world. :) I wonder if this kid would be disappointed to find out how long ago that picture was taken.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

John Kerry becomes a punchline

We interrupt this Oxford blogging for something more political.

I'm a little late to the game---I only just found out about Kerry's blundered joke at dinner tonight.

So, here are my comments:

First, Kerry should not need to apologize to the public or the troops for what he said. Assuming it was truly a slip (which I am inclined to believe), then it's fine that he chose to apologize, but other people demanding an apology is ridiculous. Also, the version of the statement he actually made is true. One is more lilely to end up in a war zone if one is not educated than if one is. People may not like to hear that, but there is a positive correlation. (There are admittedly people who choose to go.) It really drives me batty how people just automatically piss on anybody who tells them something they don't want to hear. Forget whether it's true; you just aren't allowed to say things people don't want to hear.

Second, it really annoys me (though it's unsurprising) that the Republicans have used this to divert attention away from real issues. Well, I took only two licks to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, so that must mean that I'm cheating. Why don't we talk about that in our public campaigns?

Third, Kerry is being dumb politically or he doesn't care that he's hurting his party (or perhaps his own political aspirations). He knows that the politicians and the public are going to act this way, so although I have no problems with his words/actions (as others do), it seems to me that he ought to realize how people will react and that he's not helping his cause as a result of that reality.

The Good Ship Soliton

I'm still having jet lag issues (and need to get up early tomorrow for my talk in Claremont), but let me briefly eat into the Oxford blogging backlog. Today's story is about solitons. Here is (almost) what I wrote as part of an e-mail to my collaborators.

As I mentioned, I was walking along the River Thames with a friend on Saturday. I noticed a boat that was docked and it was called "Soliton". (!!!) I took a couple pictures with my camera, but it's not a digital camera, so I won't know for a while if it comes out. (My friend has a digital camera, so I should have asked for some help.) This will make a great slide for talks (assuming one of the pictures is remotely reasonable)! I was really excited when I saw this, and it also gave me a chance to explain some of my research interests briefly and to tell the canonical story. Although it wasn't the same body of water as the original (though it's not too far off), it should be noted that the Thames is extremely thin around Oxford, so the conditions could very well be right for solitons.

Let me add some stuff here:

One of my collaborators has already requested a copy of a picture.

I could possibly use one of the pictures in the expository article I'm currently (still) writing with Bambi Hu, Dave Campbell, and Norm Zabusky (the co-inventor of the term 'soliton'). I really ought to have gone digital for this...

The body of water in which the "original" soliton was observed is the Union Canal in Edinburgh.

Solitons and 'solitary waves' aren't quite the same, though in the physics literature the normal practice is to use the terms interchangeably. (I do this as well, although in talks I just indicate I'll be doing so. Sometimes the distinction is important and other times it isn't, but it's good to just state at the beginning of a seminar that there is a difference but not for the purposes of that talk.)