Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year's Resolution (as determined by iTunes), Take 2

Let's start by revisititing the outcome of my new year's resolution from 2006. Sadly, since m resolution didn't make any sense, I don't have any particular outcomes to report either. Hence, let's see what iTunes has to say about my New Year's resolution for 2007:

1. Enya, "Amarantine"
2. Cheap Trick, "Surrender"
3. Blues Traveler, "But Anyway"
4. Los Lobos, "No Tengo Dinero"
5. Talking Heads, "Stay Up Late"
6. Tears For Fears, "Head Over Heels"
7. Delerium, "Aria"
8. Engima, "Cross of Changes"
9. Garbage, "It's All Over But The Crying"
10. Talk Talk, "Strike Up the Band"

This is a very solid group of songs. My favorite of the bunch is "Cross of Changes" but not by much. For what it's worth, song number (9) is by far the best song on Garbage's 2005 album.

Now, what does this stuff mean (besides the fact that I am a sucker for iTunes resolutions/fortunes...)? Here is the key. If I use this as a fortune, then it looks like (3) implies that the best thing I can do is to say 'fuck it' and just move on (which is often good advice). Song (10) seems to be implying that things might end with a rim shot. As usual, I really don't have much of a clue as to how to interpret this, but I am amused at the placement of some of the songs.

In the spirit of reality, perhaps I should resolve to become better at making new friends. Once I move in October, I'm really going to need to find some good people or else I'm going to be hanging out on my own way too often.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

2006: The Year in Movies

I am done seeing movies for the year, so here is my year-end wrap-up. (I'll do separate reviews of the most recent movies later.)

I liked going to movies anyway, but I really got into them when I was at Cornell because there was nothing else to do. (I also got more into theatre and classic rock while I was at Cornell, so I guess Ithaca did do me some good.)

I still haven't quite decided on a single best movie, but I'll see if trying to put the year's flicks in perspective helps me out with this. In contrast to Gazebo, this is because there were several fantastic films this year that I can distinguish clearly as being my favorites but which I have trouble ranking relative to each other. Hence, I have to disagree with Gazebo in that I feel there were several standout films in 2006. In my opinion, this year had more really awesome movies than any of the last several years (ever since I began going to movies this frequently). His movie of the year is Brick, which I didn't originally want to seem, but which his high praise has made me want to see.

I'll use wikipedia's film list to hopefully prevent me from forgetting any films, and then I'll try to hand out some awards at the end. It's possible some of the rankings below aren't entirely jiving with my initial reactions to a film or two, but sometimes opinions change upon reflection. Anyway, here are my films of 2006 separated into very broad categories (with order within a ranking not meaning anything):

Fantastic: Thank You for Smoking, V for Vendetta, A Prairie Home Companion, Stranger Than Fiction (wow... Will Farrell can act!), A Scanner Darkly, The Science of Sleep. (I considered putting Smoking and Vendetta on the list just below this one, so this gives me four finalists for film of the year)

Extremely good but not quite awesome: Cars, Pan's Labyrinth (I would consider putting these two on the next list because not much separates them from the top films in that list and in the case of Pan, some more reflection could change the order)

Very Good: Underworld: Evolution (barely makes this category, and I know I like this series more than most), Ice Age: The Meltdown, The Devil Wears Prada, Employee of the Month (which was much better than I thought it would be), Flushed Away (near the top of this list), Casino Royale (near the top of this list), District B13, Night Watch, Scoop (near the top of this list), Curse of the Golden Flower (my 4th foreign language film in a row at the time I saw it [today]!), 10 Items or Less

Good: Ultraviolet, Mission Impossible III, X-Men: The Last Stand, Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest, Little Miss Sunshine (good but not close to as good as most people seem to think), Fearless, The Prestige, Kinky Boots (part of this year's Lola sequence), Marilyn Hotchkiss' Ballroom Dancing and Charm School, This Film is Not Yet Rated, Take The Lead, The History Boys

Fair--OK to Decent--Pretty Good: The Pink Panther (decent), Art School Confidential (fair), Over the Hedge (OK), Clerks II (fair), Marie Antoinette (decent), Happy Feet (OK), For Your Consideration (pretty good), Factotum (fair), Find Me Guilty (pretty good), Tristam Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (fair), Volver (decent)

Not so good (aka, bad): Borat (ok, I know why I saw it but I wish I hadn't because things where people are harming other people really stick in my craw, despite the fact that some moments in the film were genuinely funny), Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World (or perhaps in this comedy... all the jokes were in the trailer!)

Snakes on a Plane: This movie is special and deserves its own ranking. I had a lot of fun with it, but it was absolutely essential that I saw this on opening night. So, under the circumstances that I saw it, I would rank the experience as very good. However, if I had seen this film by renting it and watching it at home on my own, then the experience would have suffered a lot and my opinion would be much lower. Accordingly, I hereby proclaim that SoaP is not just a film but also a film category. (Actually, I probably would have classified it as OK independent of everything else because I have a fondness for campiness, but the whole experience was a very important part of the film.)

OK, here are some awards:

Best film of 2006: I can't really decide, so I'm going to cop out and proclaim a four-way tie: A Scanner Darkly, The Science of Sleep, A Prairie Home Companion, and Stranger than Fiction. The second and 4th of these (and Adaptation, for that matter) have some characteristics in common, and all four of these films are considered so-called "independent" releases. (More and more of my favorite films have been going in that direction the past couple years, though I still really enjoy a good blockbuster.) Ask me again in a year, and we'll see if more time makes one of these stand out more than the others.

Best pre-2006 film that I finally saw: Adaptation. My runner-up is Rushmore.

Heaviest film: Pan's Labyrinth, and it isn't close. (In fact, this may be the heaviest film I have ever seen.) This is the first time I have ever been in a theatre where the audience cheered when the bad guy (and, oh, was this guy bad) was nailed. He really had it coming.

Most breasts: Curse of the Golden Flower (again, no other movie is even close)

Most deceptive trailer: United 93

Best stories (outside of the film): Tie between the United 93 trailer and the whole Night Watch experience.

Best animated film: A Scanner Darkly

Biggest disappointment: Borat

Best musical and/or play: I'll do this instead of writing a separate year-end summary. Anyway, the award goes to Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Well hung

The listed 'story highlights' on CNN's article about Saddam Hussein's execution are currently the following:

• NEW: Hussein refused to wear black hood
• NEW: Hussein told witness, "Don't be afraid"
• NEW: Bush praises Iraqis for giving fair trial
• Celebrations break out in Baghdad and Michigan

Not to make light of things, but I can't help being amused by the 4th highlight. It sounds like the punchline to a joke.

(Now I'll read the article and see if there's a good reason for their being celebrations in Michigan versus other places in the U.S. -- and perhaps have egg on my face for being insensitive, but we'll see what's in the article.)

Update: Apparently, Dearborn, Michigan has the largest "concentration" (although I think the article actually means raw population) of Iraqi-Americans in the United States. (I wouldn't have guessed that.) So, my comment was a bit insensitive, but I still think that headline is amusing, and I'm not going to lie to myself and pretend otherwise.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

2006: The Year in Gaming

Hmmm... I just updated the title of my reading year-end review to reflect the fact that it's for 2006 rather than 2005.

So, let's get to the gaming. I don't actually play a huge number of games, so this won't take took long. My Wii games will be discussed in my 2007 year-end review (and perhaps in individual reviews as well). I have Wii Zelda sitting on my table, but I don't currently have a way to play it at home.

Let's break this down by category:

RPGs: This has been on hiatus for a while, but I look forward to both campaigns and one-shots. I'm thinking of starting a Dragonlance campaign once I'm in Oxford, but first I will need to find people with whom to game. I still need to fully design and run a version of the Cheesegrinder. (Additionally, I am tempted to see if I can stay with a friend around labor day and then fly off to Atlanta and participate in DragonCon. Or I could go to a more local convention. But I haven't been to a Con since Labor Day 2004 and I want to go to one.)

Board (and card) games: Well, I spent a bunch of time playing old favorites and I also had a chance to try some new ones. 1000 Blank White Cards is nice quick fun -- maybe I can convince people at conferences to play that -- and You've Been Sentenced is also really good (though our rule modifications improved a couple aspects of the game quite nontrivially). The D & D board game is another new one from 06, and the card games I've tried (in 05 and 06) that others own are also going strong. (There's the Uno on crack and that bean game.) Ticket to Ride was very fun, though I have yet to play it correctly, so I'll reserve judgement on the correct way of playing the game. We played a block game at Jorian's on Newton's b-day that I enjoyed quite a bit, and I've tried some other new games as well over the past year. Oh, I should definitely mention Lemming's game with paper dice. I can't remember what it's called, but that's another standout. As for individual gaming "moment" of the year, that's got to be the marathon game of Munchkin with the end game scenario that lasted almost an hour (or about 50 minutes after I first promised we'd be done soon because the end game had started). That was an amazing achievement.

Video (and computer) games: There aren't too many to mention. (As I wrote, I have to reserve the Wii ones for next year.) Civ IV is providing the expected addiction, and New Super Mario Brothers (I really need to get back to this...) and Puyo Pop Fever ("Ribbit! Ribbit! Ribbit!") are also very cool. The AI in Puyo Pop Fever kicked the living crap out of all of us in multiplayer even though I think we adjusted the difficulty to maximize our benefit. That was a little ridiculous. The 6-player battle Tetris at Doug's graduation ceremony was extremely memorable, and I seriously need to buy Tetris so we can do some more multiplayer Tetris. Hell, even just with the few of us and no new people, I would still really like to do this because it was that damn fun. I tried a few other games, but none of them really did much for me. I wouldn't mind giving some of them more chances, however. (It's not like I played them for a long time.)

The 2007 outlook is obviously filled with Wii games, starting with Zelda. Additionally, I hope that Super Smash Brothers Brawl, currently slated for a Fall release, comes out before I leave Pasadena because I'd really like to play multiplayer with the gang in person. (I find in-person multiplayer to be much more enjoyable than multiplayer over the internet, even with the exact same people involved in each case. While I'll still have with Smash Bros with the latter situation, fewer bars will be increasing on my end of things.)


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

RIP Gerald Ford (1913-2006)

There have been some pretty major people dying in the last couple days. This one is former President Gerald Ford, who never actually ran on a national ticket. (He became Vice President after Spiro Agnew resigned and President after Tricky Dick Nixon resigned.) He was the United States' first unelected VP and was the longest-lived US president ever. He is perhaps remembered most for pardoning Nixon and being in office when we admitted defeat in Vietnam.

My understanding is that Ford was quite the scholar. (Among other things, didn't he do some university teaching after he left office? I can't find this in a quick glance at his wikipedia entry, but I vaguely remember hearing about something along these lines.)

Correction (pointed out by Justin): Ford never won a national ticket. He ran for re-election in 1976 and lost to Jimmy Carter (aka, Jima Carter ... aka, the Peanut Farmer). That was the only national ticket on which he ran, though he and Reagan did negotiate a bit about Ford possibly being Reagan's runningmate in 1980.

Who should make the baseball Hall of Fame in 2007?

The announcement of Major League Baseball's new Hall-of-Famers will occer on January 9th. You can go to this page to see which players are on the ballot.

I went through this in a bunch of detail last year (not including new people on the ballot, of course), so I'll be shorter about it this year.

Thus, without going into a ton of detail, here's what I think at the moment. As always, my opinions are subject to change without notice. :) In particular, I'm not going to look up what I wrote last year about borderline cases. For the purposes of what I am writing, 'borderline' cases includes things like 'probably' and 'probably not'.

Definitely deserves to make it: Bert Blyleven (who should have been elected years ago!), Tony Gwynn (duh), Tommy John (who also keeps getting gypped), Mark McGwire (I'm sick of the witch hunt ... whatever he did -- and I'm sure he did it -- it was legal in baseball at the time and everybody turned their heads on this; plus, he basically had the misfortune of being subpoenaed; lots of players and former players were simultaneously thinking 'I'm glad I'm not the one there'), Cal Ripken (duh)

Borderline cases: Harold Baines (no), Albert Belle (no, though if his career lasted a little longer than it would be different), Jose Canseco (no, though his career numbers are a lot better than most people think), Andre Dawson (no, though I'm often tempted to vote 'yes'), Steve Garvey (no), Rich Gossage (yes), Orel Hershiser (no if I vote with my mind, but yes with my heart), Don Mattingly (no, but the first baseman from before stats exploded are going to be getting more votes now), Jack Morris (no; check out the ERA -- I believe his would become the highest in the Hall by a large margin), Dale Murphy (no), Dave Parker (no, but I'm tempted to vote 'yes'), Jime Rice (yes), Lee Smith (no), Alan Trammell (yes; and when will he get the respect he deserves?)

Better buy a ticket if you want to get in: Dante Bichette, Bobby Bonilla, Scott Brosius, Jay Buhner (no matter what Cosmo Kramer says), Ken Caminiti, Dave Concepcion, Eric Davis (if it weren't for all the injuries...), Tony Fernandez, Wally Joyner, Paul O'Neill, Bret Saberhagen, Devon White, Bobby Witt

This year's Gary DiSarcina Memorial Worst-Player-on-the-Ballot Award goes to Scott Brosius, with honorable mention to Bobby Witt (the worst pitcher on the ballot).

Monday, December 25, 2006

RIP James Brown (1933-2006)

James Brown died this morning, apparently of a heart attack arising due to complications from pneumonia.

While I don't like too many of his songs per se (with a couple notable exceptions), his musical influence (including on lots of stuff I do like a lot) is undeniable.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

"Real" 1up Mushrooms

I was looking for clip-art of 1up shrooms for a talk I'll be giving at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in January and I encountered this awesome April Fool's prank from last year. Very nice!


That is the translation of the title of the movie Volver, which I saw a week and a half ago. ("Volver" means "to return," but it is being used as a gerund just as it would be if one were starting a sentence with it.

The movie, starring Penelope Cruz (as Raimunda) and people of whom I've never heard, was in Spanish. It has been receiving a lot of hype, though I found it to be merely pretty good. Knowing some Spanish (even with the large gaps I currently have in my knowledge) was helpful in picking up some of the nuances in the conversation. The literal point of all the dialogue was conveyed accurately in each case, but some of the translations were a little weird and connotations were adjusted on occasion.

In the movie, the mother of Raimunda and her sister Soledad (which I thought during the movie meant "sunshine" but which actually means "solitude," which makes a lot more sense for that character) returns even though she apparently died. Occasional funny moments ensue, but IMDB's listing of this flick as a comedy first and a drama second is extremely misleading.

Anyway, the film is decent, but it's not great and I definitely don't think it deserves the hype it has received. Interestingly, this film was among the choices I had on my flight to England for my interview at Oxford, so this apparently had already been released in (presumably) Europe a while before then (not that that's a surprise).

With this entry, I have caught up with my movie reviews for now (though I never reviewed the Reduced Shakespeare Company performance I saw a couple months ago). That will change very soon, as I'll definitely be seeing Curse of the Golden Flower this week and may also try to catch Charlotte's Web, depending on whether I get antsy. (Basically, if I get antsy and can't find others with whom to hang out, I'll probably go and watch that, too. Golden Flower is definitely planned as a group outing.)

Saturday, December 23, 2006

2006: The Year in Literature (and other reading)

Well, I'm going to define "literature" broadly for the purposes of this blog entry. I really mean the year in text.

I read a few more novels this year than usual for two reasons: (1) I'm not currently teaching and the time in the evening I might use to prepare lectures I can instead use for reading, baseball, games, or any of several other means of goofing off. (2) I gained at least a couple novels (and probably three) because a baseball book -- a rather comprehensive one filled with scouting reports-- I used to buy every year called The Scouting Notebook was not printed in 2006.

OK, so what did I read?

I finished off the Deathgate Cycle books by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman and had a lot of fun with most of those (though some were better than others).

I also read the third and final book (Road of the Patriarch) in R. A. Salvatore's "Sellswords" trilogy, which is set on Toril (Forgotten Realms) and follows the assassin Artemis Entreri and the drow mercenarcy Jarlaxle. (Jarlaxle is one of my favorite characters.) It's good that Salvatore has been moving away from writing about Drizzt all the time and has turned the spotlight on some of the other characters he's created (some of which are more interesting than Drizzt and definitely benefit from the development). One of the things I particularly liked with this trilogy is to focus on characters whose alignment isn't good.

I read the second book in the current trilogy in the main Dragonlance story arc. This book, called Amber & Iron, follows the character Mina, who was introduced in the "War of Souls" series (by Weis), and brings in some new characters. (There are occasional cameos by some of the other Dragonlance characters, though these aren't as interesting as many of the older ones about whom I read for years.) The third book in this trilogy should be coming out in February. Another book by Weis & Hickman, Dragons of the Dwarven Depths, is the first book in the "Lost Chronicles" trilogy and covers the main Dragonlance characters of old between the first two books in the original Chronicles. Reading about adventures between two known ones isn't the same as following a timeline without knowing where it will lead, but I really like the writing of Weis & Hickman, and I also enjoyed the chance to read about Tasselhoff, Raistlin, and company again. The next book in this series comes out in July.

I finished up the new Amy Tan book (called Saving Fish from Drowning) at the beginning of the year. I bought it towards the end of last year, and it was sadly a major disappointment. I typically buy her new books (other than children's books) without a thought, but after this disaster, I'm going to be more judicious about the next one and not trust her automatically.

I also ate into my backlog a bit, which includes several novels I bought dating back to when I was a student at Tech -- I don't use a queue or a stack when choosing my reading material; I'll read certain things that I buy immediately and others have to wait for me to get around to them. One of them, about Lord Soth's fall from grace, wasn't good, but I insist on finishing books that I start. I'm anal that way. (Among other things, I was annoyed how the Knights of Solamnia in the book were depicted just like stereotypical soldiers who like to drank, brag about their conquests, etc. The book also wasn't well written, which is a greater sin than the depiction that didn't feel faithful to the Dragonlance universe.) Another book from my backlog that I read was I, Strahd: The War Against Azalin, which is the sequel to I, Strahd: Memoirs of a Vampire, which I read many years ago. Both of these are by P. N. Elrod, known for her vampire stories outside of Ravenloft (which is where these two take place), and I enjoyed both of them. (I should have read the sequel earlier. I've owned it for 10 years.) I am currently reading another Ravenloft book from my backlog. (Recently, Wizards started reprinting some of these stories for the first time in many years, so I'm hoping some new Ravenloft stories will also be written.)

There might be a couple more novels I'm missing, but they're not coming to mind at the moment. In terms of short stories, I read some more in my Harlan Ellison collection and will be finishing that soon. (I bought it while at Cornell. When it comes to short stories, I'll typically read a few stories and then put the collection down for a while.) I recently finished my Lovecraft collection, which I also bought while in graduate school. I have gotten a couple hundred pages through a Philip K. Dick collection (The Philip K. Dick Reader), which I bought around the time A Scanner Darkly came out in the theatres. I had been meaning to read some of Dick for a while, and the release of the movie provided the impetus I needed. Thus far, some of the stories are mediocre, but I like others quite a lot. (A recent one that I read that I really enjoyed was involved a robot that advertises itself and one just has to buy it.) There might be a couple other things I read this year, but in some cases I'm not sure if I read it last year after I returned to Tech or this year. The time just kind of washes together.

For next year, I recently bought a copy of Dune (and its first sequel), so I think I'll finally get around to reading the first of those. Maybe I'll read the 2nd next year too. I also ordered a copy of The Annotated Chronicles, so that will give me a nice chance to revisit the original Dragonlance characters in a way that will job my memory and also provide some new stuff. I may also start one of the other Weis & Hickman series. (Besides Dragonlance and Deathgate Cycle, has anybody here read any of their other stuff?) Flatland has been part of my backlog for a while, and I want to reread the third Hitchhiker's Guide book as well. (I reread the first two a couple years ago after not having finished them off when I was much younger.) There are also other novels like Farenheit 451 that I've meant to read for a long time, so maybe I'll pick up some of those as well.

I own several d20 rulebooks that I have glanced through with varying levels of thoroughness, so maybe I'll read a couple of those. (Another reason I read more novels this year is that I didn't bother with any of those this year.) In particular, I'm thinking either the Cthulhu or Dragonlance books. (I'd like to run a Dragonlance campaign.) I won't be renewing my subscription to Dungeon, so I can do a bit of a time trade-off with those two things. Oh, so in terms of magazines, I spent some time going through my Dungeon issues but I didn't read those cover-to-cover. I also read Electronic Gaming Monthly and made some headway in my backlog of Caltech alumni publications and issues of American Scientist (which occasionally has articles I like, but some issues definitely have more than others --- so some of them taking considerably longer to finish than others). I also get Physics Today and Notices of the American Mathematical Society. Like American Scientist, there is a large variation in how long the issues will take me.

What else? I read numerous scientific journal articles (with refereeing, reading students' reports, and reading page proofs of my own articles being the most painful because of how carefully I have to read that stuff), lots of issues of The Tech, tons and tons of articles on (tons and tons of baseball articles but very few others), a particular couple of blogs most of us know, and lots of other random (or not-so-random) things on the Web (wikipedia entries and whatnot). Oh, I also finished the 2005 Beverly Hills High School alum publication (just a little late...) and am currently working on the 2006 one.

So, I read a lot. I wish I could read fast because sadly I can't. But the above really involves a huge amount of time when one reads as slowly as I do. I like reading, though it would be nice if I could concentrate better when I read and not be so slow. (I can be painfully slow at times.) I think even for a light novel, I'd say because of the focus problems that 20-30 pages an hour would be a typical pace for me, and if I'm stressed out, it can get even slower than that.

I'll have some more end-of-year reviews later. Well, I'll at least do one for movies. I might incorporate plays and musicals into that one too, as I probably didn't see enough plays and musicals to justify their own entry. I probably won't do one for my research, because it feels too much like stuff I have to do. (I'll need to be sending the CPI people a summary of the 2006 stuff in a month or two when they are filling out their progress reports for the people who pay them.) I might do one for games, though there also aren't that many I played this year. I could discuss nailing Princess Peach against a fence, because I didn't spend enough time doing this in 2005, so I continued that practice a bit into 2006.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Prestige

Here's another belated movie review.

I saw The Prestige on November 15th. It was a good movie but not a great one. I appreciated the whole Tesla deal (especially his Sound And Vision), but the movie isn't great even though it is rather polished. The ending was extremely good, though I feel a bit dumb for not actually guessing it in advance and being a little surprised.

By the way, if you want to see a picture of a mathematician with the stereotypical magician's face, go here. (I have several funny stories to tell about this guy. He's a prick and people like it when he's the brunt of jokes, so these stories get propagated.)

As it's been a while since I've seen the movie, I'm not sure what else I should point out except that the movie starts out when the two battling magicians are Young Dudes and progresses a decent bit toward their Golden Years even though their mentor doesn't seem to age at all.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Quasiperiodic Dynamics in Bose-Einstein Condensates

Here's another technical post...

This paper is a project dating back to my Georgia Tech days. We first submitted this for publication in June 2004 and ended up needing to submit it to another journal. (The referee for the first journal never actually rejected us, but we ended up deciding that we wouldn't be able to please him and that we should instead just submit the paper somewhere else.)

My coauthors here are all mathematicians who write almost all of their papers in theorem-proof style and this is my only true theorem-proof paper to date. (I have a couple other papers that have some small proofs, but this entire paper is in the theorem-proof style.) They are Shui-Nee Chow, Yingfei Yi, and Martijn van Noort. (Martijn has since left science to pursue other things).

This project arose because one Shui-Nee Chow noticed that the ordinary differential equations for BEC standing waves that I was studying were very similar to the forced one degree-of-freedom Hamiltonian systems he, Martin, and Yingfei were studying theoretically. They needed an example and I could use some theorems, so this became a classic you-put-your-theorems-in-my-BECs (Bose-Einstein condensates) situations. We worked together on this for a semester, submitted the paper initially when Martijn left Georgia Tech for another postdoc, and the rest is history.

Here is the abstract:

We employ KAM theory to rigorously investigate quasiperiodic dynamics in cigar-shaped Bose-Einstein condensates (BEC) in periodic lattices and superlattices. Toward this end, we apply a coherent structure ansatz to the Gross-Pitaevskii equation to obtain a parametrically forced Duffing equation describing the spatial dynamics of the condensate. For shallow-well, intermediate-well, and deep-well potentials, we find KAM tori and Aubry-Mather sets to prove that one obtains mostly quasiperiodic dynamics for condensate wave functions of sufficiently large amplitude, where the minimal amplitude depends on the experimentally adjustable BEC parameters. We show that this threshold scales with the square root of the inverse of the two-body scattering length, whereas the rotation number of tori above this threshold is proportional to the amplitude. As
a consequence, one obtains the same dynamical picture for lattices of all depths, as an increase in depth essentially affects only scaling in phase space. Our approach is applicable to periodic superlattices with an arbitrary number of rationally dependent wave numbers.

The work I had done before this paper (the papers on period-multiplied solutions I had written with Predrag Cvitanovic') concentrated on situations with small amplitude periodic potentials, and this one instead considered a different near-integrable situation.

One interesting thing to do to get an idea of the range my work can cover on the math--physics spectrum is to compare the phrasing of the abstracts in this paper and the other one about which I blogged below. If you want an even better idea, compare how things are phrased in the two papers. (This actually leaves a big part out of the "physics" spectrum, as I also have papers which concentrate completely on real data and others which have both real data and experiments---though I've never been the one who actually does any of the experiments. That said, I am starting to have serious thoughts of eventually having an applied math lab, as my phononic crystals collaborator at Caltech is an experimentalist but had a theorist as a Ph.D. advisor and although that theorist isn't in a math department, he's basically an applied mathematician. I know others who have done this without any experimental training, so I may well do this at some point. For BECs, it won't be possible, but for tabletop things like the chains of beads it is definitely feasible.)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Fractional-period excitations in continuum periodic systems

This paper just appeared in Physical Review A. My coauthors and I originally sent a shorter version of this paper to PRL. In the words of one of them, it kicked off the goalpost. One of the referees indicated to publish it 'as is' and the other asked for us to address some concerns. We attempted to do this; he/she thanked us for the obviously large amount of effort it took to do this. (This referee did his/her job. We doubted a couple of points at first, but he/she was right on every single point. I have to give credit where credit is due.) In our opinion, we satisfied everything, but the referee wasn't convinced and suggested we add more details in appendices to turn it into a PRA article. A new referee also suggested PRA because, in his/her view, no paper without any experiments should ever be published in PRL. WTF? (This person needs to check out the journal's masthead and quite a few of the past articles that have been published in it.)

We could have brought that up with the editors, but it probably would have been a long fight anyway (and the chance of success didn't seem that great because this would have involved at least one more review) because of the other referee, so we decided it wasn't worth the trouble. So, continuing the soccer terminology, after the goal post, instead of taking another shot at the goal, we got nailed against a fence and have a PRA instead of a PRL. (The original plan was to have the PRL and then submit an archival paper to a SIAM journal, but we instead just have a physicsy version of the archival paper in PRA.) I'm happy for the PRA, but there's a bit of an issue of what might have been. (To provide context, by the way, this was moved over from PRL to PRA before either of my two PRLs got accepted, so at the time we were dealing with this, this had been my best shot ever at getting a PRL. I.e., it matters much less now than it seemed to at the time.)

OK, so now that I've resuscitated a dead rant (braaaaaaaains...) that is no longer relevant (if it ever was overly relevant in the first place), let's acknowledge my coauthors and discuss the science a bit.

My main coauthors on this paper were Hector Nistazakis, Panos Kevrekidis, and Dimtri Frantzeskakis, who are all members of the Greek BEC mafia. Alex Nicolin was a theoretical consultant and a familiar person (Jit Kee Chin '01) was an experimental consultant. Some experiments were performed in an afternoon or two in the Ketterle lab, but they didn't work out and the equipment had to be used for experiments in the group's official agenda, so the project ended up only having theoretical and computational components. (We were hoping to try to observe our stuff experimentally, but it didn't work. It can work in theory, and I hope to see that happen someday.)

Here is the abstract:

We investigate the generation of fractional-period states in continuum periodic systems. As an example, we consider a Bose-Einstein condensate confined in an optical-lattice potential. We show that when the potential is turned on nonadiabatically, the system explores a number of transient states whose periodicity is a fraction of that of the lattice. We illustrate the origin of fractional-period states analytically by treating them as resonant states of a parametrically forced Duffing oscillator and discuss their transient nature and potential observability.

You'll notice that Bose-Einstein condensates (BECs) aren't actually mentioned in the title of the paper. (Note: I've provided a brief explanation of BECs in a prior post, so I'll just let you google that if interested.) The reason is that this is a very general phenomenon that can occur in continuum systems (modeled by partial differential equations) which also have some sort of periodicity in the a dependent variable that turns a continuous translational symmetry into a discrete one. BECs, which can be modeled by a nonlinear Schrödinger (NLS) equation known as the Gross-Pitaevskii (GP) equation, provided our focus example.

In the presence of a periodic potential (which is an optical lattice for BECs), a natural thing to do is to look for solutions of the same period (using Bloch theory, for example). For BECs, one can construct such solutions using either the GP equation or with a discrete model (such as the Bose-Hubbard model) in which the lattice lengthscale is imposed on the model via the discretization. One can also construct solutions whose periodicity is a multiple of the lattice period, which I did analytically using Hamiltonian perturbation theory (and KAM considerations) in previous papers. Alex saw these things numerically using a discrete NLS equation in a paper that came out at the same time. I think my eventual-PRE and his eventual-PRA may even have been posted on the arxiv on consecutive days. (We saw each other's papers and started talking to each other.)

About a year after my work was published, the Chu group at Stanford constructed period-doubled states experimentally. (His group was motivated by Alex's paper, as that came out of the Pethick-Smith BEC group, and my collaborator and I were completely unknown in the community, as we come instead from the nonlinear science community.) I was really excited when that paper was posted on the arXiv, especially given that when I spoked about my work at the 2004 March Meeting, there seemed to be some skepticism in the audience as to whether such states could actually be observed. (One of my big messages for that paper is that although Bloch theory gives canonical solutions whose lengthscale matches the one imposed by the lattice that from a dynamical systems perspective, other types of states were also natural even though people trained in atomic physics might not expect it.)

Fractional-period states can be constructed similarly. (I used multiple-scale perturbation theory for the analytics.) If one ignores the harmonic trap, one can construct them. With the harmonic trap, they arise as potentially long-lived transient solutions. (We studied the situation with the trap numerically and that without the trap both analytically and numerically.) A discrete NLS cannot possibly pick them up a priori because the lattice lengthscale is imposed in the modeling. It's not always clear when the GP is a better description and when the Bose-Hubbard model (or another discrete NLS equation) is a better description for the macroscopic dynamics of BECs, so it's really nice to show a solution that one can have and the other can't. Obviously, observing this stuff experimentally will really be nice, but I don't think it will be easy and most of the BEC labs have moved on to things like fermions, so we'll see if this ever comes to pass.

Quote of the Day

Well, this was really yesterday's quote of the day, but I was too busy doing numerical simulations of bead chains (damn boundary conditions... though at least I feel less stupid because I found out today it took 6 months for the UCSD people to get the particular boundary condition straight that's been confounding me --- it better take me much less than that amount of time), so I'm presenting it today.

This comes from Electronic Gaming Monthly's review of "Dead or Alive: Xtreme 2" and it wasn't exactly a glowing endorsement, though it amused me: "But once the novelty of a zero-gravity tit simulator wears off---which, for me, was about 30 seconds in---it all gets very unexciting." (Apparently, among the game's numerous problems are its extremely shaky physics.)

On the opposite page is a review of a game of which I had heard that sounds really cool: "Viva Piñata".

In the same issue, the new Zelda was lauded by multiple reviewers as the best Zelda ever. While I'm obviously going to reserve judgement on that, it makes me want a Wii even more. Sigh. (Of course, I have been getting some work done at night, so I guess this has been good for my productivity. Granted, some of this has been because a certain problem is bugging me, so I'm not sure if even Zelda would be able to counteract this serious a case of OCD. I have a new toy in Civ IV and it couldn't draw me away from the work that was getting under my skin.)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Best "power law" EVER!

If you ever want an example of the misuse and abuse of "power laws," then look no further.

For a good laugh, check out the beauty on the bottom of page 10 of this document, which was produced by a consulting group that I'm never going to hire.

There are 5 data points (count 'em), and they "fit" (though I hesitate to use the word for 5 data points) a sinusoid (in log-log coordinates) much better than a line segment.

If you ever find a better example of what not to do, let me know...

Garbage like this is what causes me to rant about power laws so often, even though they can be useful on occasion.

Monday, December 18, 2006

For Your Consideration

A bunch of us saw For Your Consideration on November 25th.

This movie was decent but not great, and the fact that I know a little Yiddish definitely helped me with some of the jokes. I enjoyed the film, but based on the trailer, I thought it would be better than it was.

The movie is about the making of a movie and the Oscar rumors surrounding some of its actors. The highlights of the film (by a hefty margin) are the various mockeries of interview and entertainment shows. ("You know what they say about blind prostitutes...? You really gotta hand it to them!") In the movie within the movie, which the financers within the movie thought needed to be changed a bit because of its "in-your-face Jewishness", the actors are a typical Jewish famly with thick Southern accents. This is, in fact, rather atypical, so I found this exchange to be amusing. (The whole thing with Yiddish words in thick Southern accents things also amused me, though the movie got that point across really early and spent too much time bludgeoning us with it.)

Anyway, the movie was pretty good but not great, and I would also recommend it more for Members of the Tribe than non-Members because there is something to be gained from being "in" on some of the in-jokes.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Will it blend?

Courtesy Gazebo, we get to see whether objects such as rakes or iPods will blend satisfactorily in the advertised blender. (Hint: The iPod blends.)

Saturday, December 16, 2006

"It's just one fucking thing after another."

I'm referring to history, of course, and a quote in The History Boys, which was a good movie based on a play I'd be interested in seeing. (The reviews of the movie I read reacted favorably to the movie, but also indicated that it was missing a certain pizazz that the play had.) The version of the quote in the trailer is slightly tamer, but that's to be expected.

I saw an underlying cynicism in the movie. It is about some high school students who are desperately trying to get int Oxford or Cambridge (though at some point in the movie that becomes just Oxford---one isn't actually allowed to apply to both for undergrad in the same year), and their principle really wants to send them there as well. In the movie, they took shots at other universities -- such as Bristol and Loughborough -- which have some very good faculty, at least in the mathematical and physical sciences. Well, they didn't so much take shots at them beyond painting them as just another of a large number of universities. Nevertheless, the movie definitely conveyed the attitude that anything less than Oxford and Cambridge isn't worth much in the UK, and my understanding is that that attitude is still quite prevalent and that this sort of elitism is apparently more acute there than it is here. Ask me in a couple years, and I'll let you know what I experience firsthand.

A major focus of the movie becomes how to get the students into Oxford, and the general piece of advice they were given is to take unusual slants on their essays so that they stand out. While that's certainly something that can be extremely good, for the people in the movie, the importance of getting in (for the students, their teachers, and the principal) unfortunately far outweighed that of academic integrity. In some cases (especially in one case), the students wrote essays taking perspectives with which they disagreed because if they just wrote a very good essay with correct facts that took a conventional point of view, then they would (Cthulhu forbid) end up going to a school like Bristol but never Oxford or Cambridge. ("Bristol welcomes you with open arms!") A review of the movie I read in LA Weekly discusses that the movie is about 'teaching to tests' (with facts, facts, and facts a la Dickens' Hard Times --- "Imagine? Never do that!" is one of the big quotes in that book) versus trying to get an education that involves thinking. However, the educational dynamicism in the students' essays wasn't about thinking but about arranging oneself to be the type of student Oxford or Cambridge wants.

(It reminds me of the people in high school whose motivation to become student body leaders or to do charity work was to pad their resumes. Obviously, many people do these things for better reasons, but a lot of them do it so they can get into a "better" college. I think anybody who knows me at all can guess what I think of that, and I pissed off a couple people once or twice in high school when stating this opinion after somebody admitted they were, say, running for a high school office for this reason. It's ok for something like that to be part of the equation, but it shouldn't be the primary reason.) So, it seems this was less a discussion of teaching to tests vs. real education than a discussion of teaching facts versus teaching the tricks one can use to maximize one's chances of getting into Oxford or Cambridge.

The movie is set in the early 80s (1983 or 1984), and included several songs from the era (such as Blue Monday) that I like a lot. There were also a number of good lines ("He loved words..."), which you can check out on the IMDB page. The movie isn't superb, but it's good and movies with 80s music and lots of witty comments appeal to some of my innermost desires.

By the way, history is also bunk, at least according to some people. (I can't remember who originally uttered this phrase, but it's one of the main things I remember from my 9th grade history class. It came up the first day, in which we discussed what history is. However, it's really just one fucking thing after another.)

Oh, and compound adjectives are absolutely key. They play an important role in the story. So does homeroticism (though that's not so clear from the trailer). In fact, these two concepts are occasionally coupled in the movie.

Anyway, the movie is worth seeing and it's occasionally thought-provoking with respect to high school education issues (though the bent definitely seems to be a cynical one).

Friday, December 15, 2006

Community Structure in the U.S. House of Representatives

My winning entry in the 2006 Nonlinear Science Gallery of Images was published today in Chaos. This appeared in poster form at the 2006 APS March Meeting. My coauthors are A. J. Friend (an undergraduate at Georgia Tech), Peter Mucha, and Mark Newman.

The Nonlinear Science Gallery, in its third year, was inspired by the Gallery of Fluid Mechanics, which has been around for quite a while. In each of the last two years, the stuff in the gallery constituted the most downloaded papers in Chaos, so besides the value of the short article itself (which is basically an extended abstract, so I'm not going to describe it here), this should do wonders for the exposure of this research project. (The project is already reasonably well-known, but every little bit helps.)

My collaborators and I are currently working on doing some revisions of our archival paper before we resubmit it. We are also working on a follow-up paper that uses the work of one of my SURF students as a basis. (Right now, he's doing a couple extra calculations to quantify his findings. A 0th draft of this paper currently exists, but I'm not sure when we're going to have something ready to submit for publication.)

Quotes of the Day

I came across some very cool quotes today.

This one is true on many levels: "Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten." (B. F. Skinner, New Scientist, May 21, 1964)

I love this statement: "I believe I made myself position quite clear in only a few words and with hardly any profanity." (Prof. E. J. McShane, in the middle of a letter to Prof. Ed Beagle, 11/22/1961)

I found the following quote via Focus, the MAA's newsletter (it appeared originally in a Slate article):

"With the new school year looming, I was increasingly worried I would never reach my goal. My daughter had already started on fractions and decimals, which were still as incomprehensible to me as Poincaré's conjecture. I discussed my distress with Shah, but she said doing the same problem multiple times was essential to mastering the material. I accept that this unshakable attachment to drills and repetition may be why the Japanese are better at math than Americans. But it may also be why the Japanese invented ritual seppuku."

Another online social network experiment

If you're interested, go to the WordTag website and use the codeword "hard bats". (Clearly, somebody has been injecting too many steroids.)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

This one goes out to all my Scurvy friends.

This is blog entry #666.

In celebration, I am going to light a pentagram on fire and summon a demon. Then I'm going to howl at the moon and participate in a druidic ceremony. Booyah!

Today's fortune

Strong and bitter words indicate a weak cause.

Prime Numbers Get Hitched

Here is an interesting article about the role of 42 in strengthening links between quantum mechanics and number theory (which is very closely related to certain aspects of quantum chaos, by the way).

Additionally, in the condensed matter theory group meeting on 12/4, the speaker a certain type of dynamical behavior in his problem that occurred for "n less than equal to 41" (where n is an integer), which caused a few of us to go in a certain direction.

In continuing the discussion of numbers, this is post number 664.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

It's a start.

Amazon just got a new shipment of Twilight Princess for the Wii, so I ordered it. Now I can stare longingly at the game while I wait for my chance to buy a Wii without having to pay a lot of money or get out of bed too early (or not go to bed at all). (Ironically, this time I'm staring longingly at something because I don't have a Wii.)

This does give me some hope that Amazon may get some new Wii systems soon, and I won't repeat the mistake of my job search making me get caught flat-footed when I have an opportunity for the truly important things in life (by which I mean pre-ordering a Wii).

Additionally, I still have enough Amazon gift certificates left to put a serious dent in the amount of money I'll be coughing up out of pocket.

Wanna' hear an annoying sound?

Then go to Bad Vibes, a website (with British government funding) that is hunting for the worst sound in the world.

Like the last entry, this one was also mentioned in the Web Watch section of the December 2006 issue of Physics Today.

"Using Visual Means To Challenge Stereotypes"

I saw a pointer in the December 2006 issue of Physics Today to a PDK poster project about female scientists. There are a series of posters -- some good, some tacky -- meant for a very good purpose, but the implementation is problematic. For one thing, they are rather expensive and the means for people like to teachers to acquire them for discounted prices seem to be down for the moment (which could unfortunately go a long way towards defeating the whole purpose). For another, the website is far less useful than it could be because the biographies of profiled people (which is presumably of direct interest and one of the main points of the whole endeavor) are not right next to the posters about their research. Anyway, the idea is excellent, but the implementation leaves a lot to be desired. This comes across as a commercial project (not to be cynical, but maybe that was the real intent of this whole thing?) rather than one whose purpose is to benefit society. I think there will be some benefit, but it seems to me that the retarded implementation is really going to kill it---which is a crying shame, because the idea is extremely good. You know, put these posters up in the hallways of high schools and in math, physics, and other departments to show current students what they have the chance to achieve if they work. However, from a practical point of view, I can't see this happening (especially at the high school level) with people already having to fight unmercifully to change their budgets. Because of the website, I could only occasionally figure out who was being profiled with a given poster, and in the case of the mathematicians, I've already heard of many of these people. (For many of them, one also sees just what is being studied and nothing about who did the studying!) In at least one case and presumably two (I assume the wavelet one is about Ingrid Daubechies because there's nobody else about whom it could be, but I couldn't read the small font in the thumbnail), I even know the person being profiled and I couldn't immediately tell without delving deeper into the web page, which most people are simply not going to have the patience to do (again, contributing to defeat the purpose). I did once send one of my students to talk to her (she was on the GT math faculty when I was there) because I felt it was necessary for my student to talk to a female faculty member because there are experiences that I felt needed to be discussed that there's no way I can understand first-hand.

In sum: Awesome idea but asinine implementation. This project could have had a major impact and it probably won't even be a blip on the radar screen as a result. Why aren't the professional science societies taking this where it should go? Some of the people who were profiled have high-ranking positions in those societies.

Monday, December 11, 2006

10 Items or Less

Continuing my work on my backlog of movies to review (which is a difficult endeavor considering that I am seeing new movies about as often as I'm reviewing them), it's now time to discuss 10 Items or Less, which is the most recent movie I've seen in a theatre. (We saw Clerks II at Jorian's place on Saturday. It was ok, but I wasn't impressed.)

If I could only use one word to describe this film, that word would be "charming."

I liked the film very much, although it doesn't make my short short list of best films of the year. I believe it did make this list for some of the people with me. Our group enjoyed the film immensely, though the others in the theatre (all 6-8 or so of them) didn't seem to like it close to as much as we did. This evening, someone else mentioned Lost in Translation as a film with some similarities, and that's a very fair comparison.

The trailer is a very good representation of the film. If you like it, you will like the film. Morgan Freeman and Paz Vega both give exceptional performances. [Freeman: "It's amazing!" Vega (sarcastically): "It's Target."] Freeman kind of plays himself, but he does so extremely well.

Also, one of the film's taglines gives an aphorism which contains a great deal of truth (not to be redundant or anything): "You Are Who You Meet." The film provides a very nice example of that, and there are several extremely funny moments. (Also, having a knowledge of Los Angeles helps one appreciate certain things in the movie, but it's not necessary.)

Finally, the reason I'm mentioning this film right now is that it's in very few theatres even in comparison to other artsy films and it seems like it's not going to be out very long. Consequently, I wanted to review it before it leaves theatres to encourage people to go see this movie. You might be reading this and thinking this movie isn't your bag (and for some people this will be true), but take a look at the trailer and trust it. Then go see the film.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

10 pounds of chocolate and other "impressive" things

The impressive things I want to mention here include two things from today and one from a while ago.

Let's start with the stuff from today.

When I was practicing furing the ping pong club's meeting today (which was surprisingly well-attended...I approve!), I injured myself in a truly impressive way. I was doing my patented sidespin serve and I was doing a particularly fast serve for this particular point. My left hand ended up on the right of my body, and I completely nailed it with my paddle during the follow-through of my serve. Ouch! My knees are also a bit sore from when I was diving for balls during play. (I actually am able to do that successfully on occasion---where "success" means that I get the ball in---but it's a bit painful to dive onto a wooden floor a few times in an hour.) Excuse the awful spelling, but today's pratice also included games between someone named Ja Chi (pronounced like the character from Happy Days and some else names Zha Zha (pronounced kind of like the first name of Ms. Gabor [Eva's sister]). Of course, neither of these two would have a clue about this if I told them, but at least I get to be amused.

The other cool thing from today occurred at Trader Joe's. They have a lot of awesome chocolates anyway, but they've been pulling out all the stops with some funky specials this holiday season. Today, they were selling 10 pound (!) chocolate bars. I was tempted to buy one just to use as a bludgeoning device. (It's not exactly 30,000 pounds of bananas or the largest ball of twine in Minnesota, but it's pretty cool nonetheless.)

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you might remember my mentioning the huge amount of frost in the Caltech condensed matter physics refrigerator. First, there wasn't any room to put anything in the freezer part. Then, one could barely open the that compartment and then not open it at all. Now, there is so much frost that it's seriously impinging on nearby parts of the refrigerator. If things keep progressing like this (which I assume won't happen because the outside parts won't be in a cold enough part of the frig), the frost will eventually hit the refrigerator door. Why do we even have this appliance?

Yet another "impressive" feat

All day, I had been wondering why my pants didn't seem to fit me properly today even though I had never had a problem with this pair before.

Then I decided to check a few minutes ago and I confirmed that, indeed, I had put them on backwards. I'm such a champ.

Modulational Instability in a Layered Kerr Medium: Theory and Experiment

My second PRL was just published a couple days ago.

My coauthors are experimentalists Martin Centurion, Ye Pu, and Demetri Psaltis from Caltech and theorists Panos Kevrekidis from University of Massachusetts at Amherst (one of my primary collaborators), and Dimitri Frantzeskakis of the University of Athens. (I was the main theorist on the paper and the second author overall.)

Here is the abstract:

We present the first experimental investigation of modulational instability in a layered Kerr medium. The particularly interesting and appealing feature of our configuration, consisting of alternating glass-air layers, is the piecewise-constant nature of the material properties, which allows a theoretical linear stability analysis leading to a Kronig-Penney equation whose forbidden bands correspond to the modulationally unstable regimes. We find very good quantitative agreement between theoretical, numerical, and experimental diagnostics of the modulational instability. Because of the periodicity in the evolution variable arising from the layered medium, there are multiple instability regions rather than just one as in a uniform medium.

On November 13th, we submitted an archival follow-up to this paper to an applied math journal. I don't expect we'll hear from them for a while, but I have 4 other papers currently in press, and a couple should actually show up in their final form soon. (I've done the proofs for three of these. One of them is available online but hasn't been assigned to an official print issue and probably won't be for a little while. The 4th of these, for which we don't yet have the page proofs, will have an interesting blog entry when it finally comes out.) There's a 5th paper that just got virtually accepted ("more or less"): the referees just asked for a very small number of cosmetic changes and wrote lots of various positive statements about the science. However, this isn't an official acceptance, so I can't count it as in press.

We are currently looking at following up the above research with studies of multi-bump solitons in layered Kerr media. (We also may put the glass slides at an angle because then one gets a linear-profile spatial inhomogeneity in the nonlinearity coefficient, which can lead to some cool dynamic effects.) The experiments are just starting, and we'll see if we find something interesting. (The experiments in which we hoped to look at dislocation dynamics didn't work.)

I have a newer project that is joint with an experimentalist. I'm still trying to get the code to work to simulate the system. This is the one where you have a chain of beads that one then strikes to examine wave propagation. (This is very much like the Newton's cradle classroom demonstration and, in fact, there is even one direct analog of it that definitely works but still needs a theoretical explanation for the mechanism.) This one is currently at the level of trying to get the code to work by comparing the output with that from previous code that was used in other papers.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Random music awards (2006: the year in music)

This entry will serve as my 2006 year in review for music because I simply won't be able to compete with the expansive review Gazebo can offer. (I can give a pretty thorough one for movies, however.)

Following Gazebo's lead, here are 10 miscellaneous music awards for 2006:

Best discovery of an old album: Garbage, Beautiful Garbage. This album has some songs which are absolutely fantastic: "Cherry Lips", "Androgyny", "Cup of Coffee". (I might still technically be missing one or two songs from this CD, so I should possibly go buy the damn thing.)

Best "duo" about homosexuality: Pet Shop Boys and Elton John, "In Private". (The Pet Shop Boys have shared this award multiple times before.)

Best song on a new Loreena McKennitt album: "Caravanserai" from An Ancient Muse. (I only just got this album, so my opinion is subject to change.)

Best cover [English]: Celtic Woman, "Orinoco Flow" (covering Enya). (Actually, this probably wins for best new song of the year.)

Best cover [Spanish]: L-Kan, "Ama y Esclavo" (covering "Master and Servant" by Depeche Mode). (This technically came out in 2004, but I first heard it this year.)

Best band dedicated to bossa nova covers of new wave and punk songs: Nouvelle Vague. (By the way, check out the play on words in the band's name, style, and choice of material to cover.) I downloaded a bunch of their stuff and while I haven't listened to all of it yet, let me particularly recommend their covers of "Love Will Tear Us Apart" and "Heart of Glass".

Madonna Memoral Award for most ornery musician (other than Madonna): The lead singer of Echo & the Bunnymen. Don't request him to sing "People are Strange".

Best proposed misuse of a song: Me, for the proposal to play "Freebird" at all Oxford graduation ceremonies.

Best song performed live: Depeche Mode, for their stripped-down rendition of "Shake the Disease"

Most appropriate concert for Hollywood: Pet Shop Boys, on their "Fundamental" tour. (The concert was also extremely good.)

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Moderately content feet

Given that others keep talking about this movie (and Gazebo has recently denied seeing it rather vehemently), it's about time I reviewed Happy Feet, which I saw on November 22nd.

First, I can't think of the title of this film without also thinking of the High Heels Mix of the song "Happy Feet" which appeared on the Baz Luhrman album called "Something for Everybody" (and was presumably in one of his musicals).

Second, it's important to remark that this movie is not attempting to ride the coattails of March of the Penguins. Indeed, it was conceived well before that before the latter movie and was quite extensively into its cycle before Penguins was released and became a big hit.

Unfortunately, the movie isn't that great. It's mildly pleasing, but I didn't like it even as close to as much as many others seem to have. I very much appreciated the Mr. Mister reference in the opening song (via the line "Take these broken wings" from a prospective mate for the penguin who would become the mother of the main bird, which was followed immediately by his being rejected), but Flushed Away was a much, much better movie. (As I've written, I enjoyed Flushed Away quite a bit.)

The music was sometimes catchy and I can certainly relate to the whole outcast bit, but Robin Williams piled on his schtick really high (not a good sign) for the two characters he played and many of the other actors piled things on a bit too much as well. (Robin Williams has a ton of talent, and he does a superb job when he plays it straight. However, when he's given certain roles, he lapses into a tendency to just go way overboard, and he can become really annoying when he does this. See also: Jim Carrey and Will Ferrell---though only with Stranger Than Fiction did I discover that Ferrell actually has a lot of talent.)

Anyway, the movie was ok but it wasn't great and I certainly don't see the charm that others seem to be finding. I'd recommend the film to the younger set, but it's no Ice Age or Flushed Away.

The Hat goes to England

Sorry for the very long delay with this post. (I just received the picture by e-mail tonight.)

Lemming has already told the main story of the hat. (It's a picture essay, but it does the trick rather nicely.)

Well, as it turns out, the hat really gets around (all the way to the UK, in fact). Here, it's depicted in Trinity College in Oxford. There's another picture of the hat in front of Oxford University Press, but that one was taken on my camera and will have to be scanned in (and, in all honesty, isn't particularly worth the trouble).

Now, the hat came out looking rather fine. I, on the other hand, will definitely have to work on becoming more photogenic. The expression on my face (and my body language in general) are "impressive" in this picture, to say the least. It looks like I'm ready to chill in my crib with my fellow gangstas. Lemming's suggestion (without having seen this picture) turned out to be rather prescient. The idea is to blur away my face to make this somewhat more in line with the other pictures of the hat and given my facial expression, I think that would be a tremendous improvement.

One thing definitely worth noting in the picture is the background, which looks really cool! (This also reminds me that I need to scan my picture of 'Soliton', as I need to put that in some of my seminar slides.)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Dodgers sign free agent Jason Schmidt

The Dodgers signed free agent Jason Schmidt to a three-year contract with the intent that he'll become the ace of our starting pitching staff. Unlike some of our other moves (signing Juan Pierre...ahem), I think this move is a very good one.

I wouldn't mind Barry Zito as well, though we'd probably have to offer Zito too many years to make me happy.

Update (just before midnight): The Dodgers have also signed Mike Lieberthal and Luis Gonzalez to one-year contracts. Lieberthal, a hometown boy, is going to be the backup catcher. He has spent his career as a starter, but those days are over. Gonzalez will start in left field and Andre Ethier will move over to right field. We only signed him for one year so this is ok, but I would have been keener to either start youngster Matt Kemp in left or trade for Manny Ramirez.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

"Let them eat cake," she said...

...just like Marie Antoinette.

Talk about a belated post. I saw Marie Antoinette in Oxford on Thursday October 26th, the day before my formal interview (in which I apparently did well) and the afternoon before the dinner, which didn't count towards the interview (much to my surprise, actually) but gave me an opportunity to learn stuff about the College and to demonstrate that I actually knew more about Somerville college's namesake than many (possibly even most, but I didn't verify that) of the people currently associated with the place. (It helps that Mary Somerville was an applied mathematician and that I was thus even more interested in who she was than I might have been, so I did my research.)

Anyway, I was exhausted that day because I hadn't slept at all the night before and I was feeling too tired to be in the mood to explore the city (it's a good thing I'll be able to do more of that later). I was also too tired to read part of the random matrix theory book for the class I audited this term, so I decided to see a movie I was planning to see anyway.

I suppose it's worthwhile to comment on the theatres in Oxford. They're a bit more expensive than mist theatres in the U.S.---I think my ticket cost along the lines of $12.50-$13---and the screen was around the same size or perhaps somewhat smaller than what we'd see in a Laemmle. Ah, the sacrifices I make for my work. :) (A couple days later, I noted an independent theatre near Oxford University Press, so I'll let you know about that theatre when I see something there.)

As for the movie, it was decent but not great. This is a Sofia Coppola movie, so it shouldn't surprise anyone that it moved rather slowly. Unfortunately, it did not have the charm of Lost in Translation, so it really dragged on at times. Moreover, "Love Vigilantes" was never actually used in the film even though it was featured in the first teaser. For shame! Some of the songs that actually were employed helped out the film for me, because I love the anachronism between the songs (many from the 80s) and the setting.

Jason Schwartzman was amusing as Louis XVI, although he's not who I would have cast. The jumble of accents really got on my nerves. Louis XVI was a Frenchman with an American accent, Marie Antoinette was an Austrian with an American accent, and the others in the court had various types of European accents. It was all so inconsistent. I think if different people had played Marie and Louie (i.e., people who had or could at least fake "European" accents), I wouldn't have noticed the rest of the incongruity so much because the centerpiece of would have been gone. As it was, however, I found this whole business very distracting. Finally, who Kirsten Dunst was a very poor choice, and she never visibly aged during the entire film despite the fact that it takes place over multiple decades. Ugh! There are any number of people who would have been better in this role: Keira Knightley, Kate Beckinsdale (an Oxonian, as it turns out, though she apparently didn't actually graduate), etc.

Anyway, the movie was entertaining and it is good, but it should have been great. A lot of potential was wasted.

(Now I only have 4 movies, 1 Reduced Shakespeare Company performance, a couple books, and a CD or two to review and I'll be all caught up with my reviews. Well, I don't review every book or CD I read the way I come close to doing with movies, but there are a couple I want to discuss.)

Monday, December 04, 2006

'Jumping the shark' in science

What I am about to discuss is actually a fairly obvious use, although I have never heard anyone else use 'jump the shark' in this context. When I tried it last week on one of my former students, I found I had to explain the term from the beginning. (He became very amused after the long preamble.)

Basically, the term 'jumping the shark' ought to be used for old scientists who used to study real stuff but either have gone bonkers and now study some combination of bullshit and minutiae. An example sentence might go as follows: "Yeah, I realize this guy won a Nobel prize, but he jumped the shark after he turned 50." Maybe the term is already used for scientists, but
it clearly needs to if it isn't already because it's just that cool.

By the way, there are several amusing things in the wikipedia entry, so I highly recommend reading that.

Scientific entropy

Who's down with entropy? (Yeah, you know me.)

I was brainstorming at Peet's this evening -- I was thinking quite productively, actually, because I also came up with an excellent idea for an expository article -- and I came up with a way of defining "entropy" for scientists. The formula is simple:

scientific entropy = log(arrogance/talent)

For other types of entropy, see wikipedia.

One could (and should), of course, incorporate things like reputation and things that cause such time-dependent phenomena (such as number of papers, citations, etc), but let's just keep it simple. The more talented you are, the more people will put up with your shit (i.e., the more arrogance you can exhibit).

As John von Neumann once said while talking to Claude Shannon, "Nobody knows what entropy really is, so in a debate you will always have the advantage."

Sunday, December 03, 2006

New board game

I was at Border's earlier this evening and I bought a new board game that I think will be very fun for warped people who enjoy Apples to Apples. It's called You've Been Sentenced, and I'm really looking forward to trying this one out. Locals: What evenings are good for games? I want to play this asap.

Also, I saw a copy of the Book of Erotic Fantasy and browsed through it briefly. It's pretty funny, though I don't particularly want it for game usage. When the book discusses the views of various alignments towards relationships, I just laughed the headline for chaotic evil: "Fuck you, fuck you, fuck all of you!" Some of the magic items, a few of which essentially reproduced the effects of Viagra at various strength levels, were also kind of amusing. (Better make your fort save... ;) )

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Press Release Mad Libs

I was reading a reprinted Caltech press release in Caltech News and it occurred to me that there's probably some skeleton document along the following lines that is used for most new press releases:

[School] Gets [fucking huge amount of money] from [acronym] to [verb] [scientific-sounding buzzword]

[Location]--[Organization] ([acronym]), a component of [another organization] ([acronym]), has awarded a [same fucking huge amount of money as above] grant for creation of a [name of research group] at [school].

According to [name of professor], the [name of benefactor] Professor of [subject] at [school] and principal investigator of the [time period] program, the goal will be to [verb] and [verb] every [scientific object] in [another scientific object]--that is, [terse definition of scientific object whose definition we learned in high school or earlier].

The work will be performed together with co-investigators [name of researcher] and [name of researcher] from the [department, division, or research group on campus], and [name of researcher], an assistant professor of [name of discipline] and [name of discipline].

"We will combine real-time analysis of [scientific thing] on a [size] scale with the ability to [verb] [plural noun] of interest," [name of principal investigator] says.

Initially, the research team will focus on [scientific noun that is much more specific than the one the team is getting money to study], which is ideal for this type of work because of [scientific thing] and its [another scientific thing].

"Our goal is to create [buzzword in single quotes]" [name of one of the other researchers] says. "This will be a computer model of [cheesy analogy] that transforms a/an [noun] into a/an [noun]."

"There will be an enormous payoff in new information about how [noun] works at the [scientific adjective] level," [name of principal investigator] adds.

The researchers will use new "[scientific buzzword]" imaging and [multi-word scientific adjective] tools invented by [name of investigator] and [name of investigator] and new [scientific adjective] methods being developed in the [name of investigator] lab to analyze [multi-word scientific noun] and [noun] in the [adjective] [plural noun]. They will digitize this [adjective] [noun] on a [adjective] scale by capturing [number] of time-lapse videos as the [plural noun] [verb].

Once the approach is worked out on [same test case as above], it will also be applied to the [slightly less trivial test case] to make a "[silly scientific buzzword]," because [adjective] [plural noun] [verb] in a fashion very similar to [what they are actually getting funding to study].

The [school] grant is part of a [large amount of money] grant portfolio awarded by the [original acronym] for funding interdisciplinary work in [scientific adjective] research. The [original acronym] is best known for spearheading the [multi-word scientific adjectve in capital letters] Project, which completely [verb; past tense] the [adjective] [noun] of [plural noun].

Now that the [noun] of the [noun] for [plural noun] and many other [plural noun] has been determined, the challenge ahead is to figure out how the [noun] [verb] during [noun] and [noun] which is the goal of the [yet another acronym] ([what this acronym stands for]) program.

"The [most recent acronym] program is vital to our efforts to apply innovative [adjective] tools and technologies to the study of [adjective] [name of discipline]," said [original acronym] Director [name]. "By fostering collaboration among researchers from many different disciplines, [original acronym] aims to encourage innovation and build a powerful new framework for exploring [adjective] [noun] and [noun]."

If you want to compare this to the original press release, go here.

And if you ever need to write your own press release, I suggest you start with the document here. With this in hand, you'll be well on your way to a career in public relations!

No longer nilpotent

Excuse me for stealing and mishandling a team from abstract algebra (though "nilpotent" does literally mean "powerless").

I came back home just after 5pm today and noticed while walking along Del Mar that there was a police car with flashing lights at the corner of Del Mar and El Molino. I turned out my block on El Molino and noticed that none of the street lights were on. I thought maybe it was a bit too early for them to go on, but then I also noticed that none of the lights in my apartment bullding were on and that, in fact, the power was down on the entire block. (Then I rushed right back to the office from whence I came because I needed to make a phone call.) After dinner (because I needed to find places other than home to be), I walked along Cordova and noticed that some places along Cordova near Lake (that would normally be open) also were without power. (For example, Hana Grill had their doors open but no lights.) There was a weird alternating between streets with power and those without. (Hudson didn't have power, Oak Knoll did, and the right side of El Molino did not. Lots of street lights (including those on both sides of my block of El Molino) were down, as were lots of traffic lights. (I hadn't noticed the traffic light thing before -- probably because of the flashing police car -- but of course that was why the police were there.) While walking back just before 8pm, the police were no longer there but manual stop signs had been placed on all the relevant streets. So I went to Coffee Bean and then to the office, from which I called home. (Basically, I'd know that power returned if my answering machine picked up because the phone with that needs to be plugged in to work.) Based on the timing of the clocks when I came back home, power returned at something like 9:40 pm or so. I don't know when I lost power originally, but 5 hours without power is pretty much the lower bound and there were at least several (non-contiguous) blocks without power. Hell, at about 6pm I called the Pasadena Dept of Water and Power, chose to 'report' a blackout (though I was really planning on asking for an ETA because I knew they knew about it), and was syphoned off to a message that indicated that service was temporarily out because everybody was out dealing with a major power outage.

One of the things I had thought about doing while home if this persisted was using a flashlight and reading. I decided not to in part because the same battery had been in the flashlight for a while and I didn't know how much juice was left (and partly because that's a pain in the ass in general). Ironically, the story I would have read is the H. P. Lovecraft story that I started reading this morning at Peet's. Certainly, that's one of the right authors to read in this situation.

Anyway, I'll be doing one more blog entry, finishing the story, and playing some Civ IV.

Quantum Hoops

Here's an interesting upcoming film. It's called Quantum Hoops, and it documents Caltech's 2006 men's basketball team. There will be screening of this on campus on the day of Interhouse's return.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Best sentence in a research article ever

OK, so I'm exaggerating, but the sentence is "awesome." (I can't disclose the identity of the paper because I'm reviewing it. It won't be published any time soon.)

Here is the sentence:

"We will use a useful method [8,9,11,33] to construct the general solution of Eq. (8)."

(To be fair, the authors do go on to give a couple sentences about the method even though they don't elaborate sufficiently. The sentence just sounds awesome when taken out of context. The real problems with the paper lie elsewhere.)