Saturday, September 30, 2006

Conference Report

I finally have a chance to report from the conference.

First, it seems the 'bait-and-switch' situation with the paper seems that reality was strongly encouraging of a paper rather than requiring one. This isn't a huge change, but I definitely misinterpreted the wording in an e-mail about this. Of course, I've now gone through a huge amount of effort, though I will need to shorten my paper substantially to stay within the strict limit (which has thankfully been changed from 5 pages, 12 point to 6 pages, 10 point). I think my paper is something like 10.5 pages, 10 point. My current plans are to keep the longer version on my website and cite that paper at appropriate points during the shorter paper, which will be both on my website and in the conference proceedings. I'm not sure what to get rid of in general, but I can make some of the details web-only. Despite my confusion, I'm happy that I wrote the paper because it forced me to focus my thoughts on these issues, and I expect this will help during some facets of my job interviews. (It's unfortunate I fell further behind on other things as a result, but that's the way it goes.)

I mentioned the NSA in a brief hint regarding some of the contents of this entry. This workshop was sponsored by both the American Mathematical Society (AMS) and the NSA. The NSA sponsors a lot of the mathematics REUs in the country and has a huge vested interest in producing more people trained in mathematics, as this group is the primary talent pool from which they recruit. Hence, they benefit from more mathematics Ph.D.s, Masters, and Bachelors. There is no required internship or anything else potentially insidious; it is merely a long-term and very sensible and intelligent investment on their part.

A couple of my friends attended this conference, which was helpful in keeping me in conversations. (During dinner the first night, one of them made me join his table because otherwise it looked like there was going to be a Table Of Shame. "That's what friends are for.") In fact, between those two, one of the co-organizers of the conference (who left Cornell's Center for Applied Math about a couple weeks before I arrived), and me, we had four alums of the graduate program I was in. There was also a Cornell math alum who overlapped with us who I had met during graduate school, but we never really knew each other and we don't talk to each other when we attend the same conference. The conference organizer in question turned out to be the person who translated one of the AMS Mathematical Moments about my stuff into Spanish. (This was the one about celestial mechanics that cited my expository article as the reference.) In turn, she didn't know that I was the one who wrote that article. The Mathematical Moments from 2005 and earlier (including this one) were displayed at the small AMS booth as free glossy sheets. (I took a copy of the Spanish translation so that I could have a glossy version of it.) Two Moments---including the English version of this one---were mounted on cardboard to attract people to the handouts, so I got to bring my friends over and show them my handiwork. The 2006 one on Congress wasn't there (because there aren't yet any glossy printouts of the 2006 moments; there are 8 every year, and the complete set must be done first), so my other one wasn't at the display. Still, this is yet another reason for me to look forward to the January meeting in New Orleans, because then I'll have two of these promptly displayed at a much larger meeting where my primary purpose in going is for employment purposes. Basically, tons of people will be stopping by that booth and a reasonable subset of them will be seeing pointers to my work. (If I get a cardboard mock-up again, then the subset will be really high!) Moreover, I'm going to be giving a talk about the Congress work and 1-2 other talks (one is pending a decision on acceptance versus rejection, so we'll see about the third talk), so my name should be pretty visible at the meeting. While this publicity isn't as close to as wide as the CNN, Washington Post, etc stuff I've gotten before, it happens to be far more relevant to my job prospects because of how much more prominent it is among mathematicians (especially at that meeting).

Besides friends, there were also a lot of colleagues here who I know. Plus, there were a couple people I had met before (for example, from a short interview at the Joint Math Meetings 2 years ago that didn't lead to a campus invite; actually, in that case I was pretty sure it was the same person and I ended up being correct) but not realized until later in the meeting. (Naturally, they remembered me because I'm just awesome that way.) I met a couple people with whom I had corresponded and (though it was not my purpose in attending the meeting) got a chance to talk to some very relevant people for the current job search. There aren't too many faculty from Ph.D.-granting institutions at a conference like this, but those who are there are far less busy than they are at a research conference---it's a different group of people whose time is in the most demand at this sort of conference---and we share an obvious common interest in mentoring by virtue of being at this conference. So while fewer of these people are here, it is in many senses easier to get a given person's attention.

I also got the chance to meet a few people from teaching schools, including one person with whom I had exchanged e-mails (about my upcoming math colloquium at the Claremont Colleges). (By the way, I got an e-mail that my colloquium invite at UCLA officially came through, so that's my big chance to impress them and hopefully encourage them to interview me officially.)

I was a scribe for one of the sessions. (I had been asked to do this just before the conference.) I narrowly got out of a bait-and-switch, and the only reason I did was that somebody else specifically wanted to write the article encompassing the theme of our session. I'm still going to read their draft and give comments, but I am very happy for somebody else to be doing the work! (And two people really wanted to write it, so I was very pleased to be asked if they could do it instead.)

For Thursday night's dinner, I was at a table which 5 of us in total, so we were about 50 % seating capacity, so the conversation was perhaps not as lively as it might have been. It wasn't bad, but it was just subdued. Some of the desserts were awesome! Mini chocolate mousse cups... Yum!

Friday night's dinner was the interesting one. The precursor was the four of us from CAM and a professor at Tulane (who the others knew but I hadn't yet met before though I knew who he was and recognized him by face; he's an APPLIED mathematician like me) hanging out between the end of the last session of the day and the beginning of dinner. We were in the hotel bar---I still owe this guy about $2.50 for my Shirley Temple; I didn't have any cash with me---and were just shooting the breeze. When he spoke, this guy had made fun of a previous speaker in an absolutely wonderful manner (there had been a bit of a self-congratulatory pure >> applied math mindset behind one of his comments in the talk that rubbed some of us the wrong way), which we then kept referencing in an increasingly meta- way through that conversation, dinner, and beyond. People kept bring up contributions of size epsilon, and this culminated later in the evening when somebody was discussing his size-epsilon contribution and I then assured him (in complete deadpan, of course) that it was actually size sqrt(epsilon). This comment (which occurred at the hotel bar after dinner) was the second version of the joke I had used last night, but it was far better than the first version.

OK, so the five of us started a table, and we were joined by a few other people, including the professor from William & Mary who I met at the Atlanta conference two years ago and one of the high-ranking NSA math people who was attending the conference. We clearly established ourselves as the fun table that evening. (This entire dinner conversation was really fun. I felt really comfortable, although it started because critical mass had been achieved from the beginning. Critical mass is so important for me.) We were shooting the breeze in general, and at some point the topic turned briefly to politics. I made a couple of comments before I could stop myself, and in fact I was worse than usual in terms of the frequency of my tactless comments. I was thinking about the conversation on Gazebo's blog about fleeing the country because of the current political climate (the fact we no longer have habeus corpus, etc), so I was bringing up leaving the country to move to places that are better, more democratic, more tolerant of people with my beliefs, etc. Then I realized that the high-ranking NSA person was sitting next to me, although this person is a mathematician so it was technically ok. Nevertheless, I don't think this wasn't my best move and I now can say for the rest of my life that I (facetiously) discussed my possible need to flee the country with a high-ranking NSA official. How cool is that as a line on my resume of brilliant comments?!?

The asperger's/autism conversation occurred shortly after my string of tactless remarks (specifically, after I said that I was in rare form that night and those who know me well and already knew how blunt I can be agreed with me), and the NSA person quickly figured out that I probably had that a bit and from that point basically proceeded to good-naturedly pick on me for the rest of the dinner. Once this started, my friends from graduate school brought up the fact that they always made sure to keep prospective graduate students away from me so that I wouldn't scare them from going to Cornell. (I already knew that this had been done because of my blunt honesty.) I did, however, defend myself vehemently on a particular aspect of it---my goal when talking to prospectives is not to recruit them to my school but rather to give them any relevant information I could provide in order for them to make the most informed decision possible regardless of whether or not that meant attending Cornell. I'm not a recruiting monkey; the most valuable service by far that I can offer prospective students is to be honest with them and (to name specific examples things I said) if that means giving the names of professors in their research area in another school that accepted them (to make sure they talked to them when they visited that school) and saying not only what I liked about Cornell but also what I didn't like (including if I thought a particular person wasn't a good advisor) than so be it. These people shouldn't go to a place and be surprised---I was given the argument that they can find out after they decide to matriculate---they have the right to know this kind of information before they make a decision if it's in my power to provide them such information (obviously, with the understanding that it's just my opinion and that I'm speaking only for myself). It was a lighthearted conversation and all in good fun, but I stated very explicitly that I refused to apologize for my actions. I stand by them and I would do the same thing again. (That said, I also understand why the people in the program collectively tried to keep the prospectives away from me. Except they didn't bother keeping Melvin Leok '00 away from me when he visited once they found out he had known me four 4 years because they figured he already knew what he was getting into by talking to me.) Anyway, this is coming out as a rant, but I just want it to be an explanation. It was a fun conversation (including this part).

Also, our table had been laughing so hard all night and obviously having a lot of fun that a couple others a large subset of us knew came to the table and joined us. We stayed something like an hour or more after all the food had been cleared and then a few of us went back to the bar to shoot the breeze some more. One person (who had not been with us at dinner) joined us and actually remarked how tactful I was after one specific comment of mine. The rest of us were extremely amused by this. We ended up staying until we got kicked out because the hotel people needed to lock up. I was already extremely sleep-deprived when I started the day, but I nevertheless went to bed at 1 am despite needing to get up at 7am this morning. (You can image how tired I am right now, and yet tonight I am staying up late doing some work, reading lots of baseball, reading blogs, and blogging. I will crash soon, though; my present energetic state is a very artificial one.)

I continued my tactful presence this morning. There was one session in which an audience member raised a point with which I completely disagreed---he basically said that math grad students have to deal with things like quals and grad students in the experimental sciences have much less stress because they don't. What!?!?! How did this guy get that idea? They're just tested on different subjects. Hello? McFly? Anybody home? While in line for lunch after the session, the CAM alum who helped organize the conference said she expected me to comment at that point (because I always stress that I view math as just another science rather than something separate from the rest, as most mathematicians would have us believe) and was very surprised that I didn't. My response was that I didn't because it wasn't that guy's main point and I didn't want to sidetrack the conversation. (OK, so now you're thinking that I'm capable of showing restraint. Stay tuned...) I then said that she was absolutely correct that I felt the guy was completely full of crap. (I definitely used the term "full of crap;" the 'completely' may not have been there.) We were in line for lunch, so lots of others heard this (i.e., it's not like we were sitting around the bar), and then after a minute I noticed the guy who made that comment was not too far away. I'm guessing that he heard me, though I don't actually know. (It's a good thing he's not at a school where I want to get a job.)

One last thing (unless I remember something else later)... the hotel's background music was pretty cool much of the time. They were playing mostly world music, including some klezmer music (which constitutes a lot of what my parents listen to because it's traditional music from the old country, so I heard that stuff a lot while growing up; some of it is very catchy) and a metric ton of bossa nova. This included pseudo bossa-nova cover of Hotel Calfornia, though I had a hankering for the version by the Gypsy Kings. It also included some songs by bands that have been heavily influenced by world music; in particular, I caught two songs by The Talking Heads. The whole bossa nova thing got me thinking that I would be curious to hear a version of Monster Mash by Bossa Nova Frankenstein, should such a band or person ever exist.

OK, time to move on to a final couple baseball articles and then sleep. My flight tomorrow is something like noon, so I will have to set my alarm for tomorrow morning.

Would you believe that I am "not more than 2" standard deviations from the norm?

Here are my EQ (empathizer quotient) and SQ (systemizer quotient) scores:

Here are your EQ SQ results:

EQ: 24

SQ: 85

The important factor to consider is not your absolute score, but the difference between the two.
This indicates whether you have more natural ability as an Empathizer or a Systemizer. If your
scores are about the same for your EQ and SQ, then you have well balanced empathizing-systemizing

In conclusion, it seems that I am tactless and anal. Oh wait...

Here is Gazebo's discussion of the topic. At least I only seemed to end up two standard deviations from the norm according to this metric rather than the ten of which I was once accused (and which I constantly cite as a badge of honor). You know, I think I got a whole standard deviation closer to the norm just because I can't read maps or follow directions. (They seemed to ignore the fact that mathematicians tend to be anal about certain things but entirely sloppy about others and that these two things shouldn't be projected to quantities of an opposite sign on a single axis.)

Dodgers clinch playoff spot!

The Dodgers won today and clinched a spot in the playoffs! Woo-hoo! Let's try to win a playoff series this time. :) If we do, it would mark our first postseason series victory since 1988, when we won the World Series. Of course, this has had its upside---my research and coursework productivity during October has been higher than it otherwise would have been had the Dodgers gone far into the postseason. (In 1988, none of those things mattered, considering I was still in elementary school at the time.)

I would still rather have the Dodgers finish first in the NL West, so we'll see if that happens tomorrow...

Also, a little later, I'll blog about some conference stuff. I've been really busy and haven't been able to deal with e-mails as promptly as I'd like, and my reading of box scores has also been delayed longer than usual. :) Things like reading articles, responding to non-urgent e-mails, getting some work done, and blogging have been delayed even longer.

Stay tuned, because you're going to get to read about one of my more "awesome" moments, by which I mean some politically incorrect comments at dinner with an NSA person sitting next to me. (And my comments were both political and politically incorrect. Go me! My filters work really well.)

Thursday, September 28, 2006

What happens in Rosemont stays in Rosemont

I know what you're thinking.

You thought I was going to Chicago and here I am writing about Rosemont. Well, I am flying to O'Hare for a conference on mentoring undergraduates, and the hotel where this occurs is a few minutes from the airport and is technically in Rosemont. Sadly, I am leaving much better weather back here in LA, although I should not need to wear more than one jacket at a time.

I have an early flight, so we'll see how much my 4.5 hours of sleep gets me. (I more or less feel like crap at the moment.) There are a few people at the conference I know, including a couple friends, so hopefully that will help me do a better job of meeting the others. (This is a small workshop.) I have already been advised that I one of them dinner or coffee from a previous conference, so that's already a good sign.

Unfortunately, I will be missing this week's ping pong class, but we all have to make sacrifices sometimes...

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Social Network of Contemporary Popular Musicians

Fresh from the arxiv...

Here is the info:

The Social Network of Contemporary Popular Musicians
Authors: Juyong Park, Oscar Celma, Markus Koppenberger, Pedro Cano, Javier M. Buldú
Comments: 7 pages, 2 figures
Subj-class: Physics and Society

In this paper we analyze two social network datasets of contemporary musicians constructed from (AMG), a music and artists' information database: one is the collaboration network in which two musicians are connected if they have performed in or produced an album together, and the other is the similarity network in which they are connected if they where musically similar according to music experts. We find that, while both networks exhibit typical features of social networks such as high transitivity, several key network features, such as degree as well as betweenness distributions suggest fundamental differences in music collaborations and music similarity networks are created.

You can get the article here.

Now that this article has been written, maybe we can use network theory to define a pretentiousness scale of somebody's musical taste. It can be kind of like the H-index, and I'm confident the information it provides will be comparably useful for tenure cases.

(A point of reference for the last comment: As soon as the H-index paper was posted on the arXiv, the head of Georgia Tech's physics department immediately computed its value for all the faculty and discussed it with them. I heard about this and gagged.)

Monday, September 25, 2006

Living in the 80s

Well, naturally that's a great way to describe me.

I went with my brother and my mother to the Hollywood Bowl on Saturday night to see three 80s bands perform. I'm surprised my mother wanted to go because she had never heard of any of the bands, but I suppose she figured that was one of the events that would make it more likely that I'd actually be willing to deal with her. (Nobody will ever accuse me of not calling things as I see them.) My sister was apparently originally going to go as well but decided not to. There was a question of what to do with the extra ticket, so apparently my mother saw someone who might have needed one more ticket, struck up a conversation with that person, and then rescinded the opportunity after finding out that that person was only willing to take the ticket for free rather than pay for it. (This is what I think happened. Thankfully, I wasn't in on the conversation and was instead standing like an idiot in front of security because none of the tickets were actually in my possession. Anyway, this is what I would call "classy." I'm mentioning this in case you were wondering where I got all my charm. I'm actually one of the most charismatic members of my immediate family. We're really a great bunch.)

Adventures while entering the venue notwithstanding (the only thing I can really do is shake my head and wonder for the N billionth time if I was adopted and just never told about it), I had a fun time at the concert.

There were three 80s bands: ABC, Psychadelic Furs, and Human League. I went because of The Human League, the creators of one of my favorite songs of all time ("Don't You Want Me"), two other awesome songs (the especially incredible "Tell Me When" and the merely awesome "Human"), and several other good songs. The evening's hostess was Jane Weidlan from The Go Go's, who some of you may also recognize as the telegram singer from the movie Clue (especially after I pointed it out to at least some subset of you on both Friday and Saturday). Actually, Weidlan is extremely charismatic; her repartee with Belinda Carlisle (with constant snide remarks exchanged back and forth during the entire concert!) when I saw the Go Go's in Atlanta was highly amusing.

ABC has two songs I like a lot, but they're a little more laid back than the other two groups. (Yes, they're actually more laid back than Psych Furs.) Their other songs are pleasant but mostly blah. (I recognize them, like a couple of them a little bit, and the band did a good job performing them, but they don't really do it for me.) My brother enjoyed this group's performance the best, but he was only familiar with something like 5 songs from the whole evening and I decided to go specifically because of Human League.

Psych Furs have a few songs I like, but I'm not huge fans of any of them. Unfortunately, the acoustics made it hard to make out their lyrics at all, so while I like their studio work better than ABC's, I enjoyed ABC's performance more on Saturday. (However, the songs which are saxophone heavy were very nice, as the saxophones sounded sweet.)

When Human League came on the stage, it looked like that had beamed down. I wish I had a camera with me, because the lead singer had a huge (much too big for him) overcoat and sunglasses (and under that he was actually dressed in a suit, whereas the other bands dressed far more casually) and sun glasses and the two female singers were in full matrix mode. It was also great when the lead singer stated that he was truly honored to be on the same stage where Bugs Bunny had performed. I approve! Hearing "Don't You Want Me" performed live for the first time ever was the highlight of my evening, although Human League's in general gave me synth-pop awesomeness! They sounded really good live, so I am very happy that I went to this concert.

In between the bands, we had to put up with some very painful karaoke performed by 15000 people, each in their own key. The first break actually included the culmination of KBIG 104's Karaoke contest by two individuals on stage and a judging by the audience bas on applause. (There were a number of people booing very loudly near where I was sitting.) The first song was "We Got the Beat," which they should have just let Weidlan judge. It's a Go Go's song, after all. The second was "I Love Rock & Roll." Both were completely butchered, and the hammy "performances" by the contestants were pukeworthy. The second break included an attempt to get the audience to sing karaoke, which didn't work at all until a "special guest" from Bow Wow Wow (who was highlighted because her group will be performing in LA soon) performed Karaoke to her own song. (They pointed her out and tried to get the audience to do it on their own, but eventually they convinced her to help out.) I was amused and she did sing it quite well (no surprise), but what they could have done is have some nice inter-group performances that also included Weidlan and her. (When I saw Sting and Annie Lennox in concert, they performed a couple duets, and something along those lines would have been much better than the fruitless attempt at karaoke. Actually, silence would have been preferable to the karaoke. I would have, er, enjoyed it.)

OK, so the night wasn't perfect but it was fun, and The Human League was awesome! Synth pop forever!

She Blinded Me With Sleep

On Friday, Lemming, three others, and I saw The Science of Sleep, which had been the film I had been anticipating the most ever since I first saw the trailer. (When I saw this trailer, I remember both Lemming and I having the immediate reaction of 'I am so there' for this movie. Maybe we saw this trailer during A Scanner Darkly? I was trying to figure out what the film was, because we first saw the trailer at the Paseo and it would certainly make sense if it was during a flick that was also showing in both Laemmle and major theatres.)

While I don't particularly like the title of the film, the movie itself is an work of art. I have seen a number of absolutely wonderful new films in 2006 (and that's ignoring things like Adaptation that I saw on DVD but should have seen long ago), and this film is on the short short list of the best ones of the year. I'm not sure how I'll ultimately rank these films, but I think my ranking now is already different from when I first saw them. (They all wowed me when I saw them, but some of them left impressions that feel more indelible than the others, and I need to consider this when I try to order them. Really, it's better to say that they wowed me on different axes.)

The Science of Sleep blurs the reality between reality and dreams, and I have a major soft spot for such things. There is an additional component of meta- via "Stephane-TV" which reminds me a bit of my always feeling like my life has a soundtrack. (I have looks that are perfect for radio, so it kind of makes sense that I only experience the audio version of this.) For example, I sometimes get the experience of a song coming to my iPod that just somehow feels right for that moment. I may or may not have realized it before the song started playing, but it just seemed right and even if the song was a sad one, that knowledge alone made me feel better even despite problems in my life. (Naturally, in cases where I realize in advance which songs sets the right mood, I go and play it. For example, my canonical angry song when I've totally fucked up something is What's the Frequency, Kenneth? in part because the song just sounds so angry. There also is a story behind this that could encompass an entire blog entry --- not one of my finer moments, I assure you --- but I'm already getting sidetracked more than I intended.)

OK, so besides the meta- aspect and the (far more important for me in this particular case) blurriness of reality, I can identify with the protagonist, which I pretty much realized would be the case from the trailer. (I also realize the blurriness and the meta- from the trailer.) He is having trouble talking to a girl and doing some stupid things as a result that aren't helping his case. The confusion of what's a dream and what's reality are also contributing to these problems. His way of doing stupid things doesn't resemble mind, which take the form of different neuroses from the ones he exhibited. (I must have dropped my confidence somewhere. Now where was that? OK, great. And how about my ability to speak coherently. Among other things, when I'm infatuated and interacting with said person, my mannerisms start resembling Woody Allen's on-camera persona --- well, except that the girls in question are actually my age --- which is far more amusing to watch than to experience.) Anyway, I can certainly relate to it and empathy with the main character helps. It also helps when both this person and the object of his affections are creative.

Oh, another thing that was awesome was the intertwining of French and English---especially when the protagonist would speak pidgin French and the English subtitles at the bottom of the screen would reflect it! Awesome!

A related piece of awesomeness was that the film had a lot of witty one-liners. I love that stuff, and comments that are simultaneously clever and pithy make my day. Here is one of the best exchanges in the film:

Stephane: It's like touching your penis with your left hand.
Stéphanie: I don't have a penis.
Stephane: But you have a left hand.

Any phrases I hear about people's left hands will never mean be the same as they were before Friday night...

Here's the wikipedia entry. The details are still extremely sparse as I write this, but I am eagerly anticipating reading this later so I can better understand a few more things I saw on Friday.

In sum, blurring dreams with reality + wittiness + empathy with protagonist + meta- = big win.

Go see this movie!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Maybe I shouldn't have read this article?

I was reading an article in the AMS Notices about applying for postdoc and professor jobs just in case it gave me any new ideas. (The people writing this are faculty at universities, so they've been on both sides of things and could say something useful.) One thing would have been had I not heard it as part of a dinner conversation I was having with a professor from Harvey Mudd. (Namely, while some research schools may not look at the cover letter too closely [though some of them probably do], for liberal arts and other teaching schools, it is exceptionally important and needs to include a discussion of why you are a good match for them. My lesson there was that I needed to spend more time on my cover letters this year. Somebody who recently got offered a tenure-track job by Caltech's physics department -- I should check if he accepted -- had also recently given me similar advice.)

OK, so why am I suggesting that maybe I shouldn't have read this article? Well, it's actually pretty simple. In the acknowledgements section, the authors write, Portions of this article were adapted from "Questions I Don't Know the Answer To" by one of the authors. That's bloody great.

New all-time saves champion

Trevor Hoffman of the Padres saved his 479th career game today, breaking Lee Smith's Major League record. Hoffman will become one of the rare relief pitchers to make it to the Hall of Fame.

It's rare in general, but the reason I am making this comment is that the bar has thus far been extremely high for relievers because not all saves are created equal and there isn't an equivalent of 3000 hits, 300 wins, or 500 homeruns. In fact, only a couple pure relief pitchers are in the Hall and even most of the saves leaders -- including Lee Smith -- aren't ever going to make it. The other active reliever who will ultimately be enshrined in Cooperstown is Mariano Rivera, who will also end up surpassing Hoffman's save total before he retires.

Now that I'm done congratulating Hoffman, there is some seriously bad news to go with it. The fact he got a save means that the Padres won. The Phillies also won. Thus, even though Nomaaaaaaah hit a walk-off grand slam today, the Dodgers remain 1.5 games behind the Padres in the West and .5 games behind the Phillies in the Wild Card. Both the Padres and Phillies have been playing well, so we need to get our butts in gear. We have 6 games left, and we can't depend on our two competitors to fumble.

Friday, September 22, 2006

I hope mine comes with a Deck of Many Things

Courtesy Lemming, here is a link that allows you to buy your very own bag of holding and accrue an immediate +20 to geekiness.

If I'm really lucky, maybe it will also include something to help me with charisma checks. I'll be ok, as long as I keep it away from my portable hole. (Hmmm... the following thought just occurred to me. Remember the Bugs Bunny episode with the instant hole? Do you think watching that might become a problem.)

Of course, I like my current bag---which nicely says 'chaos' on it in both English and Chinese (I verified the latter to make sure it actually says that, but I suppose it could be like that Far Side strip with Kimosabe). I am my own niche market. :) (But that's better than being my own grandpa.)

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Log-Log Plots, Power Laws, and Pirates

"What rolls downhill..."

I didn't blog about International Talk Like a Pirate Day, but at least I can have a belated entry that involves piracy.

Gazebo recently blogged about a study concerning the number of 'r's that appear in pirate exclamations (based in google hits). The study thankfully advises caution in intrepreting power laws from log-log plots (amen!), but their data made things like there was a power law with an exponent of -4.

I had four immediate reactions (with (2)--(4) highly correlated):

1. I was amused. (I also thought about a certain graph on the FSM webpage...)

2. I thought that this was about as worthy of being published in Physical Review Letters as some of their prior articles claiming power laws in various contexts (more on this later).

3. I thought of Barabasi and his overblown powerlaws in his work on the Web as a network.

4. I immediately had the urge to rant about power laws.

(1) is straightforward, so let's move on. I'll just move straight to (4). The connection with (2) will come into play a bit, but I'll probably not get into (3) here.

I have given variants of this rant on numerous occasions, because there are some scientists out there (including several who study networks) who feel for some reason that log-log plots and power laws are surrogates for actual science.

It is true that power laws show up a lot. Their appearance is not a surprise at this stage (this used to be different, but people now understand that heavy-tailed phenomena occur a lot), but lots of people (especially in physics, as far as I can tell) their appearance is the final conclusion of a paper when it is really a step along the way (or even almost the first step in the case of analyzing, say, a real-world graph). I'm not being entirely fair because I'm slamming the entire careers of some statistical physicists with this comment and there are some situations in which just finding a power law is useful, but there's also tons of bullshit that goes on.

OK, now let's suppose somebody is claiming a power law. People know that they can get a PRL by doing this, so they try to pull power laws out of their asses. To see a power law, one plots data using logarithmic axes so that a straight line over some range means "power-law" behavior. Now, one thing that is important is over what range this occurs. Unless this holds over a decent number of decades (powers of 10) of data, than it is meaningless to conclude that one has a power law. Those of us who took laboratory classes learned very early that to get straight lines in our data, we just took more logarithms until the lines looked straight. (It's kind of like drinking more alcohol until Rosanne Arnold suddenly looks hot, although this may not actually be mathematically possible, whereas making numerous curves look straight via logarithms most definitely is.) Even if you plotted Angelina Jolie using a log-log plot, she would look like a straight line!

A few years ago, there was a study of the average number of decades in "power laws" in papers reported in all the Physical Review journals (or maybe it was just PRL? I forget.), and the authors of this paper concluded it was something like 1.2. (I don't remember who wrote the paper, but either Mark Newman or Steve Strogatz brought this up when I audited Strogatz's complex systems course as a graduate student at Cornell.) That is not enough to conclude power law behavior, but it certainly didn't stop people.

There are many times that I have sat in the audience of a talk and seen someone claim a power law that I think is spurious because the number of decades of data over which the purported behavior is too small to justifuably make that claim. (Moreover, the claim doesn't actually help you with anything practical--such as renormalization--unless it holds over enough decades.) I remember one math grad student at Cornell even claimed a "power law" behavior over half a decade of data. He was a nice guy, but I ripped him apart for that. (Because he was discussing a bifurcation problem, there actually was something relevant in the functional relationship at a particular instant, but he was trying to infer something that could not even come close to being justified based on what he had.)


Spaceballs: The Animated Series

I saw a snippet about this a few months ago. Today, Lemming sent me some more information concerning Spaceballs: The Animated Series, which will be airing on G4 starting in 2007. One question: Is G4 part of the standard cable package? (I hope so...) A second question: When will then be now?

I don't know about you, but I keep my copy os Spaceballs: The Flamethrower with me at all times.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Instant Classic!

If the Dodgers win the NL West this year, history will be pointing to today's game as the turning point! (Go click on the link and scroll down to the scoring summary.)

The Dodgers, playing the first place Padres (who are .5 games ahead of them after having won 2 of 3 games in the series thus far) allowed four runs in the top of the first and I thought we were in deep trouble because Jake Peavy, a very good pitcher, was pitching for the Padres. The Dodgers scored 1 run in the first, 1 run in the second, and 2 runs in the third to tie the game. We had the bases loaded with nobody out in the 6th inning but couldn't score. We then allowed 2 runs in the 8th but answered with 1 in the bottom of the inning to make it 6-5 Padres entering the 9th. In the top of the 9th, we allowed three runs (even after a valiant play by Kenny Lofton to jump up and pull back a would-be homerun so that it was only a double) and everything seemed lost.

In the bottom of the 9th, the Padres brought in Jon Adkins because it wasn't a save situation. With nobody out, Jeff Kent hit a solo homerun. (I say without any expectation it would happen something along the lines of "All we need now are three more of those.") The next batter, J.D. Drew, also hits a homerun. (With some more excitement, I root for "two more of those!") However, all still seemed lost. The Padres brought in Trevor Hoffman, who currently ranks 2nd all-time in saves and is going to Cooperstown when his career is over. The next batter, Russell Martin, hits a homerun on the first pitch. (My "One more of those!!!!!" was extremely excited at this point.) Then, Marlon Anderson comes up and also hits a homerun on the first pitch! The score was now tied 9-9! Wow! Suddenly, everything seemed possible. We could win this game! We could get back into first place! Despite our recent poor play, we could get to the playoffs and miracles could happen---just like in 1988, the best baseball season ever!

OK, let's put the Dodgers' 9th inning in perspective. This is only the 4th time in Major League history that a team has had four consecutive batters hit homeruns! The other three times all occurred in the 1960s.

Of course, we still had to win the game. We didn't get any more runs in the 9th, so it was on to extra innings. We allowed a run in the 10th, so we were down 10-9 entering the 10th. Kenny Lofton made it to first base safely on a walk on a 3-2 count. Nomar came up next and on the 3-1 pitch, he hit a walk-off homerun to give us the 11-10 win! Awesome, awesome, awesome! First place, we are back!!!!!

Have any of you ever seen me grin ear-to-ear? I don't do that very often, but I did it tonight! And I'm still smiling very broadly now!

I'm feeling completely irrational.

Kind of like my buddy Pi.

Calculus resusctitation

One of my colleagues from Georgia Tech sent the following e-mail to the GT math department:


I just met with a high school senior who is considering
attending Georgia Tech next year.

He told me that this morning he had attended a
"Calculus Resuscitation Class."

I think I'm glad we're providing this service.

Weird Al's "White and Nerdy"

Courtesy Ben Williamson, here is the music video for Weird Al Yankovic's new song, which is called "White and Nerdy."

This video hits way too close to home, and it is bloody awesome! (Of course, it is awesome because it hits so close to him.)

I don't know if he's parodying a song (because I don't recognize it if he is), but I fit the bill on several of the things in the video. This includes the following: the flaming Pac-Man in the background of parts of the song, Schrodinger's equation in the background to many other parts, ping pong, Trivial Pursuit, Dungeons & Dragons (notice the dice), chess (to a lesser extent, because I'm not all that good), bowling (to a lesser extent). I think there were several other things as well, but I think I just got nailed by this video.

The comment about "shooting with the guys" with the bowling part of the video is especially key.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

On this day ten years ago...

On this day ten years ago, Dodger hurler Hideo Nomo pitched a no-hitter in Coors Field.

Before the Humidor, Coors Field was a ridiculous offensive ballpark, so Nomo's performance was remarkable. He was helped considerably, however, by the rainy weather that day.

Nomo's gem was among the most impressive games I've watched, and I have watched multiple perfect games (I even attended one in person!), many more no-hitters, an 18-strikeout performance by Ramon Martinez, etc. (Forget the box scores of all the great games that have occurred since I've been following the game and the ones I've heard on the radio; I'm thinking only of the ones I've actually watched.) The two best were obviously the perfect games that were pitched against us.

Friday, September 15, 2006

My character sheet

Here is yet another example of me using my free time wisely. (I believe that I get bonus points for doing this on a Friday night.)

Caltech's bookstore had a paperback book (that came out in 2005) which was basically one long geek purity test. (As Lemming pointed out, if you buy it instead of doing it online, you clearly have to lose points.)

I looked through it for a few minutes and it seemed to have a couple marginally amusing things. It also had some inexplicable things. For example, there was a bar graph showing hobbies in the order of increasing geekiness. That's not so unusual, but the big wtf here is that according to the author, "re-enacting historical battles" is a less geeky hobby than "reading sci-fi novels," which is in turn less geeky than "watching sci-fi television shows." Right. The only three above this last one were all various sorts of fanfiction and the top two involved some sort of eroticism. WTF?

In my brief glance through the book, I noticed one idea that is particularly fantastic: the geek character sheet. Unfortunately, the implementation was exceedingly poor. I'll endeavor to correct that here by offering up an abbreviated version of my character sheet. (I'll make judgement calls on my stats. Obviously, I can't expect full agreement from everyone.)

In thinking about my stats, it occurred to me a couple days ago that charisma is actually my third highest stat. Shit. If anybody says that min-maxing is not realistic, I hereby defy you! (Actually, my charisma is not as low as is popularly believed, though it's not great either. Kender tend to be fairly charismatic for fairly similar reasons. My problem is that I have to get over a major shyness potential energy barrier with new people before this can show.)

With further ado, here is my abbreviated character sheet:

Str: 6
Dex: 8
Con: 6
Int: 17
Wis: 14 (however, I have very special negative modifiers on sense motive and spot that apply only to me)
Cha: 10 (but with special negative modifers on diplomacy)

Alignment: NN (with lawful anal tendencies)

Diety: None

Armor type: sweat pants + ironic t-shirt (I have to be able to cast spells)

Character class: 6 math + 3 physics + 2 writer + 5 applied math (prestige class)

Fortitude: N/A ("Braiiiiiiiiiins...")
Will: contains a major positive stubbornness bonus
Reflex: Duran Duran

Favored weapons: pencils, Matlab

Magical items: +5 iPod, decanter of infinite latte, Phylactery (my back-up harddrive)

Special attacks: "full-frontal assault from behind", chaos shaping, attack darkness, Tarzan Boy

Special qualities: I'm adorable.

Spells: confusion, sleep, protection against students 15 ft radius, Bigby's interposing boot to the head, wallflower

Feats: publish article, iron will, weapon focus [Matlab], weapon specialization [Matlab], 80's child (specialty: music)

Main skills: lots of knowledge-based skills (nonlinear dynamics, etc.), journalism

Notable weaknesses (abridged): shy, tactless, unaware of surroundings, Caltech alum (but I repeat myself)

Money: none (see: character class)

OK, so I fudged a few items on my character sheet. It's my blog, damnit.

"I've fallen, and I can't get up!" (reprised)

During today's Dodger game (we won!), I saw a commercial for LifeAlert for the first time in something like 12-13 years. (This was one of those commercials that used to be popular during daytime tv, so when I stayed home from school, I would occasionally see this during game shows.)

The thing that amused me tonight is that at the end of the commercial, the on-screen text included "I've fallen, and I can't get up (R)." Dude, the company actually registered the quote(!), which is an example of a pre-Web meme. (OK, admittedly it makes sense that they registered the quote given how history played out, but I still find it amusing.) In fact, here is its wikipedia entry.

I remember when it came out fondly, because there were tons of references to it because it was unintentionally hilarious. (Jay Leno, in particular, referred to it over and over again.)

When boyband alums attack

Courtesy Gazebo, here is a liveblog of Justin Timberlake's new album. In a misguided attempt to cure his writer's block, he has gone through a lot of pain for us all so I encourage you to read his commentary.

This also begs the question: What would it make sense for me to liveblog? I haven't done that yet---typically because I am paying close attention to whatever it is that I'm doing and don't want to take myself away from it---but this seems like an amusing experiment. (Of course, given my stream-of-consciousness style, there is a sense in which I do a sort of delayed live-blogging.)

I don't get writer's block, but I am drawing blanks on this. Right now, my main thoughts are along the lines of live-blogging the fact that I am getting my ass kicked by an angry frog in puyo puyo (that is, when I am not at work and sending e-mails while I am supposed to be working). There must be millions of better ideas out there. Any suggestions?

This blog is not yet rated.

I just saw the film This Film is Not Yet Rated, a well-done mockumentary of the MPAA film rating board. The film is entertaining (it's good and almost---but not quite---very good) and extremely informative, and it seems pretty clear that there is going to be a substantial bit of fallout. It's very much worth seeing, and it does some nice quantification of stuff that isn't surprising. Nevertheless, the quantification is pretty useful, and that's why I forsee fallout. Also, by 'fallout,' I don't mean that the ratings system will be changed (nor do I mean particular computer games). Rather, I envision lawsuits... lots of lawsuits.

The part of the film I liked the best was the George Carlin-esque (and Wake-Up Crew-esque) montage of animated clip art as they consecutively describe the ratins from G to NC-17. Another amusing series of moments occurs with the whole meta- sequence of sending this film to the ratings board. (It was given NC-17, but the film is not actually using any rating. According to IMDB, it's been banned in Malaysia, but that's hardly a surprise.)

There were two really big flaws in the film, which lowered its quality a bit as far as entertainment is concerned. First, the film was too heavy-handed on several occasions. I agree wholeheartedly with its message, but this is one situation where a slightly smaller hammer would probably make things more effective. Second, the human-interest story about the fact that the private eyes the filmmaker hired to investigate the MPAA turning out to be lesbians merely hurt the signal-to-noise ratio. While the role of homosexuality in affecting ratings during which this vignette occurs is extremely relevant, the sexuality of the PIs basically has nothing to do with anything else in the film.

On the way home, I listened to "Discovery Channel" on my iPod, which is certainly appropriate for the film, which uncovers numerous lies from the MPAA. (I especially liked it when Jack Valenti's comments directly contradict facts cited from the MPAA website.) Unsurprisingly, it's the sexual content of films that ramps up the ratings rather than violence, but certain quotes and numerical facts (granted, approximate numbers such as "1 in 4" and other things at that level) make this point especially poignant. OK, I didn't write this paragraph pretty well. I was trying to segue into sex.

By the way, if you see the film, stay until the end of the credits. There is a cookie at the very end which is also very George Carlin-esque.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Real-life giant worms

Here is a story about some giant worms from real life.

I think the best way (by far) to sum up the article is with the following excerpt:

“This worm is the stuff that legends and fairy tales are made of,” worm supporter Steve Paulson declared. “What kid wouldn't want to play with a 3 foot-long, lily smelling, soft pink worm that spits?”

First, I am raising my hand as a kid who definitely would not want to be playing with such a creature.

Second, maybe we should all write a fairy tale together.

"Once upon a time, there was a worm. It smelled like a lily and so its friends called it "Flower" because Disney hadn't yet come along to steal the name. The end."

Oh wait, I need a moral to the fairy tale... OK, here goes: "Don't try to worm your way out of bad puns."

Measuring the quality of universities using ultimate frisbee

You don't believe me? Then take a look at this.

Bart Simpson on graduate students

You can see this 20 second clip here.

(This was passed along to me by Charles Lee '96.)

Monday, September 11, 2006

Terrorists on a Plane: 5 year anniversary

OK, so I couldn't resist the arguably tasteless title of this entry. There are reasons I'm not a politician, and my inability to resists comments like the above is one of them. (This is also a reason for my dearth of friends, but one can also look at it as a litmus tests. My friends all tend to be close ones.)

I was walking by some newspaper vending machines and, of course, many of the headlines address how things have changed in the last 5 years. I'm not planning to read these articles, but let me make a brief stab on what has changed.

This is our generation's Pearl Harbor, so I think it is extremely appropriate to think about these issues. The US had been lulled to sleep, and in principle this was supposed to be our wake up call. In some respects, it has been, but in others it hasn't.

Here are my thoughts at the moment. I'm not trying to be exhaustive.

1. My daily life is the same as it was before.: I am at a conference. I saw lots of talks about nonlinear waves. I have read and sent various e-mails. I have discussed potential collaborations) and gotten some e-mail work done. I have obsessed about various things that have absolutely nothing to do with terrorists, which means that at a very deep level I consider them more important than terrorists or at the very least I feel sufficiently comfortable to live my normal life. The former is in some sense because I wear the red robes. The well-being of my friends and me is much more important to me than the well-being of this country or random innocent people or anything else. This is what I value. (The country is very important, too. I'm just establishing an ordering.) The latter has both good and bad aspects---one should feel comfortable (for sanity, if nothing else) but not too comfortable.

2. Airport security in the US is more stringent than it used to be. My understanding is that we were lagging way behind others in this respect, so improving this is a good thing. (It still needs more improvement. I have had multiple TSA people tell me that I have nice eyes, which is of course what they're supposed to be paying attention to. I have also seen a TSA guy who was going through my bags by hand see my D & D rulebooks and---upon seeing them---discuss that stuff with me while he was going through the rest of the search procedure. So I've gotten through searches faster with both math journals and D & D books. Go me! Clearly, that gives me a considerable amount of nerd cred.)

3. We are fighting an extremely deluded "war on terror." This is perhaps best elucidated here. (I think this version may be slightly different than the one I have on my shirt.)

4. Our President is a fucking idiot. So are most of the rest of our leaders. Some things never change.

5. The U.S. has traded a vacuum for helium. Before we thought they couldn't touch us. Now we're just light-headed. "Splended isolationism" has gone the way of the dinosaurs, and imperialism ought to as well.

OK, so I'm sure there's much more I could write considering what has stayed the same and what hasn't, but this is what's coming to mind this second. My attempt at this entry has just been to write what's occurring to me at the moment. (In fact, I'm sure I missed tons of extremely important points.)

So, while I briefly pause to think about what happened to mark (not commemorate) the anniversary, I think that somehow maintaining a balancing of living a "normal" life (or at least whatever I have that amounts to it) and occasion pausing to recall important events I experienced in some level (and I remember very well what and how I was feeling that day) is the right way of going about things. And for me, that includes making comments that others might consider tasteless. (That is who I am and I'm not going to sacrifice that just because a subject might be considered taboo.) I will admit, however, to worrying just a little bit when Tim of all people seemed to blanched at my intention of being somewhat tasteless with this particular entry.

This about sums it up

Lemming pointed me to the following comic strip, which is filled with tons of truth (and is extremely funny).

Saturday, September 09, 2006

A philosophical deconstruction of one of my articles

I should go to bed now, but I have to post this first. It's just too "awesome."

I was doing a brief googling to see what would come up and I found a philosophical deconstruction (from February 2002) of an article Richard Liboff (my Ph.D. advisor) and I wrote for laypeople about quantum chaos. I'm not making this up. Somebody has actually bothered to do this.

Basic response: Hello? Anyone home? The point of loose language and analogies is that the article is meant to convey some difficult ideas to people from whom only a very limited background can be expected. Obviously, there are a ton of approximations and literary devices involved.

Herewith I include some comments to a few of his comments:

Disclaimer: I do not know a whole terrible lot about the intricacies of either chaos theory or quantum mechanics, let alone the combination of the two, this is more a philosophical thing than a scientific one, I know I get a lot of things wrong (on both sides)

Comment: No shit.

We cannot (rationally) justify the claim that the birth of chaos theory provides evidence for the future `commingling' of that theory with quantum mechanics. It does, however, provide a nice segue for the authors into a historical summary of the birth of chaos theory. Rather than an argument, it is a literary device (like exaggeration, alliteration, etc.) that aids both the achievement of the authors' goal (describing quantum chaos) and making the text itself more fluid.

Comment: Damn straight it's a literary device. That's why we describe the article as "expository." You know, as opposed to one submitted to a "research" journal. Oh wait, did I fuck up philosophically with this comment too?

Putting aside the theory of language acquisition proposed here, we see that Feyerabend believes that the form of our investigation is just as important as the content or result of it. Thus, we cannot understand an argument separately from the language it is phrased in, language that often contains suggestive (propagandistic) phrases. In other words what you say is often inseparable from how you say it Analogies to real world objects are also used by Porter/Liboff. For example: "A buckyball has a soccer-ball shape..." (Porter 536); "Nanotubes can also vibrate like a plucked guitar string..." (Porter 537); and, "Such a plot represents a series of snapshots of the system under investigation" (Porter 534). These analogies appear to be used simply to enhance the more abstract qualities of the quantum-chaotic world the authors are describing, and make them more understandable. But, it seems there is more going on here. If we view the article in the Feyerabendian sense that I have been developing above, the choice of metaphor can also affect the readers' conception of the `ideas' that the authors are attempting to put across.

Comment: You got me. I was really trying to brainwash people with that one.

In particular, the `snapshot' analogy seems suggestive to me. What the authors describe as `snapshots' are Poincaré sections taken from higher-than-three dimensional systems. In effect, two-dimensional plots that are, by a mathematical process, abstracted from `multi-dimensional masses.' These are possibly some of the most theoretical objects ever created yet the authors describe them as `snapshots'. Obviously there are qualities of the Poincaré section that lend it to the comparison: both a snapshot and a Poincaré section are thought to be reports of a particular time and space. But, other aspects of the comparison may (hopefully, for the Porter/Liboff) lead the reader into accepting highly theoretical concepts as real objects, more so than they would have without the analogy. Obviously the creation of a photographic snapshot is itself based on theory, but it is one that we use (and accept) in everyday life, one that we accept without reservations. Not only that, but the real-life snapshot (as opposed to the Poincaré section snapshot) represents things which we already accept as existing in the real world. In comparing the Poincaré section to a snapshot, the authors attempt to further solidify the reality of the objects that the section represents. Rather than seeing the n-dimensional objects of the Poincaré section as abstract objects, we are now more suggested to picture them as objects like our vacation slides, or wedding photos.

Comment: Please forgive me for trying to make abstract objects more understandable by using analogies.

As the author of this philosophical essay (which I admit to not having read fully because all I really wanted to do was provide the link and some snide remarks to a few of his comments) provides some conclusions, it's fitting that I also provide one: WTF?

'Hot or Not?' for Networks

Chris Wiggins just e-mailed me about this, and I feel compelled to link to Rate my Network here before posting it in the 'cool links' section of Netwiki.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Animated baseball races (since 1901)

Go to to see any of the Major League Baseball races since 1901 in animated form. Naturally, I immediately decided to look at the National League West from 1988. :)

One more thing I learned

Seattle has hornets.

What I've learned while in Seattle (so far)

This is also a partial list subject to the finiteness of my memory. In the spirit of the present conference, think of it as taking a finite-dimensional truncation of an infinite-dimensional Hill matrix. :)

I should have brought my camera. There is some really pretty scenery that begs to have its photo taken (and I wouldn't even have to pay any money to do it).

Seattle is very liberal and reminds me of Portland (very open recreational drug use, "hip", lots of young people, etc.) I had heard this before (except for the Portland comparison), but it's different seeing it by oneself.

Seattle seems to have a pretty large Asian population.

There are lots of coffee places here. (Again, I knew about this before.) There is also a spiffy bubble tea place with nice places to sit and read. (Their espresso machine was off last night and seems to be a day-only thing, but my green apple shake [hold the tapioca] was really good.)

September is the best time of year to visit Seattle. Starting in a month or so, it will apparently be dark and gloomy for several months. I was quite glad to get away from Pasadena's current weather, although my understanding is that it was slated to have let up by now.

We spent most of the three days of the workshop looking at the properties of eigenvalues in the complex plane. The workshop is on stability so I knew this was going to happen, but enough is about enough! I've had it with these motherfucking eigenvalues on this motherfucking plane!

Thus far, one speaker has referenced SoaP, although it had nothing to do with the comment above. (He was referring to a piece of in-progress Matlab software of his called "Stablab" and he was mentioning he had to keep the name because of all the jokes that have come out of it.) Nimble dodge!

"Uniform convergence is for school-girls!" (A U Dub grad student was mentioning how somebody asked a famous applied mathematician -- Jerry Kevorkian -- teaching one of his classes about whether a series he had written down converged uniformly. Kevorkian turned around and said this in New York-ese. I am getting hazy---it might have been 'uniform continuity,' but uniform convergence makes more sense because the context this should be is with asymptotic series, which are often extremely useful even though they diverge wildly. Pure mathematicians can't stand it when APPLIED mathematicians do that stuff without also looking at error bounds and convergence issues, and Kevorkian is definitely one of the APPLIED folks. (The attitude, which I support, is to do whatever it takes to solve the scientific problem even if that means that rigor has to be sacrified. I am very glad that other people who like to fill in these details are around because it certainly has been known to find errors in more 'formal' [by which mathematicians mean informal or, more precisely, 'not completely rigorous'...] methods, but that's not my bag, baby.)

The bathroom on the 2nd floor of the "European-style hotel" (aka, dorm) at which I'm staying has an awesome-looking moth living in it.

People are better at remembering me than I am at remembering them. (OK, this was a reminder rather than something new.) This include professors to whom it is useful for me to kiss up.

I am considered useful by some people: Two people (both postdocs) were informed prior to the conference by professors not attending the conference that I would be here and at least one of them implied that I was a useful person to whom to talk. (Hah! I fooled him!) I had definitely met one of them before and may have met the other before. (In the last case, I remember a paper the guy wrote but it was long and looked intimidating to read. He is speaking in the session I'm chairing, so this will give me a good chance to pick his brain further and save myself some work as concerns learning about his paper, which looked exceptionally interesting based on a quick glance.)

One of the U Dub grad students has the shirt with Vader and his Death-Star foliage. (I think his other shirts may also have been purchased from the same web site because the style seemed right.)

One of my collaborators, when asked by his postdoc (not one of the other two) how he should write a research and teaching statement, answered that he should go look at mine. Again, I'm honored, but I haven't exactly parlayed these into a tenure-track job. (Then again, I have parlayed them into several good interviews, which I may or may not have blown---one can ace them and still not get the job because there are loads of factors involved---so maybe that is the part of my job quest that might be worth using as a model.)

I have been advised to remove the link from my main website to my blog during interview season so that the people interviewing me don't see it when they google me; this is probably because blogging makes me evil.

Facebook can actually be useful. Today (well, early this morning, but I was asleep at the time) I received a friend request from a friend (from Page, actually) I hadn't heard from in something like 4-5 years. Awesome! (She's class of '00, so some of you might have met her. She dropped by occasionally during the first term of my senior year because she was also taking the genetics course I was in.) She's still in the LA area, so I'll try to get her to come to a gaming night (though I don't actually know if she games).

I have a couple things to which I can look forward when I get back in town. Well, I'm cheating here because I knew this before I left.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

What happens in Seattle stays in Seattle

In a couple hours, SuperShuttle will be picking me up to take me to the airport for my trip to Seattle, where I will be attending a workshop on nonlinear waves followed by a conference on nonlinear waves. Both events are on the University of Washington campus and are being organized by the nonlinear waves group in the applied math department. The workshop is a lot smaller, so that may be especially useful when it comes to kissing up to people (I mean "networking").

I've only been in Washington one other time in my life --- for one hour in summer 1987. It was raining horribly, my family and I drove up from Oregon (we had a three-week driving trip up the California coast and into Oregon; this is the only big trip we've ever taken as a family) visited a relative or family friend (I can't remember which), and drove right back.

In addition to the science, I am very much looking forward to finally experiencing Seattle. I've heard so many good things about it, and I am also told that about now is when they typically get their best weather of the year. I looked up the current forecast, and it looks like I'll be escaping the miserable weather here (though it's supposed to cool down in a couple days) and have highs in the low to mid 70s and lows in the mid to high 50s. Awesome!

On Saturday night, I'll be seeing a Mariners game. We have seats in left field. (I tried to get right field seats but was unable to do so. Now that Ichiro is playing centerfield, it looks like it didn't matter so much.) I will be seeing Kin Chan '98 for the first time in almost 7.5 years. (Kin was one of the usual bastards, but he had dropped his membership in Lloyd, so a couple of you met him briefly, but that's about it.)

I know two other people my age who live in Seattle. (Well, I'm sure I know more but don't realize the others.) One of them is Eggplant '98, although that knowledge dates back to May 2003. I didn't bother looking her up. The other is a friend I met at a conference in January 2002; we got along really well and decided we were friends, although I haven't seen her since then. Unfortunately (well, for me---she wins), she'll be in Paris until the last couple days of my trip. She gave me her cell phone number, but I'll be surprised if this works out. She did give me good advice about how to get downtown from the university area and avoid traffic. (Apparently, the bus system there is good.)

It looks like Puyo Pop Fever will not have arrived before I leave. (I came to the office this morning because I needed to fax something, but I'll be going back to my apartment shortly.) I must learn patience (for that and other things). Naturally, the correct response is, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. Patience. How long will that take?"

'Crocodile Hunter' killed by stringray

Yesterday, 'Crocodile Hunter' Steve Irwin 44 died after he was stung by a stingray. His last act was pulling the barb out of his body. He was being videotaped for a television show at the time.

"Dangling tensor indices"

An paper just posted to the arXiv (which I think may be crackpot but am not entirely sure) has an abstract that briefly mentions "group-theoretical annihilation of dangling tensor indices."

That sounds like it would really hurt.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

'Game Over'

The animation below (from an html script copied from will get you to an absolutely awesome video showing recreations of some classic video game moments using food and clay. (However, I can't do this without a Comic Book Guy moment: The special items are stationary in the original Pac-Man. Actually, I also noticed other inaccuracies, but I'll stick to pointing out this one.) Enjoy!

Fresh from LA Weekly's advertisement page

This one appears in the Sept. 1-7 issue's "Give Back" section:

Casting Call for Scary People Sad and lonely? Go to where real singles meet: the dark, infinite confines of the FrightFair Scream Park. Amateurs welcome to try out for a spot in the Haunted House. (...) [Nothing else worth noting]

Ummm, right. And just what are we supposed to be giving back? Our blood?

Saturday, September 02, 2006

10 songs

It's been a while, but here are the ten special songs that iTunes selected for me. If you are so inclined, feel free to tell my fortune based on them. (I might do a fortune one in a couple weeks or so, but first I must be patient.)

1. Sqirrel Nut Zippers, "Meant To Be"
2. Club Nouveau, "Lean On Me"
3. B Movie, "Nowhere Girl (Extended Version)"
4. Crash Test Dummies, "Swimming In Your Ocean"
5. The Alarm, "Strength"
6. Green Day, "Basket Case"
7. Pet Shop Boys, "Hit Music"
8. Suzanne Vega, "Penitent"
9. Laura Branigan, "Show Me Heaven"
10. Tanita Tikaram, "World Outside Your Window"

OK, I'm going to go back to reading I, Strahd: The War Against Azalin, which is extremely well-written. (Actually, at some point, I will be writing an entry about the first book in the Dragonlance "Lost Chronicles" series. However, it won't be today.

Friday, September 01, 2006


As I discussed in an earlier entry, Randall Simon will forever be known for SausageGate. Check out the headline of this article. The lead-in on ESPN's baseball front page currently reads, "Sausages beware: Randall Simon back in majors."

Randall Simon is known for one other thing; John Rocker purportedly called him a "Fat Monkey." When this was brought up by the media, Rocker said it was a term of endearment. In response, Simon said that if Rocker ever called him that, he'd kick his ass. (Rocker had some anger management issues. "I feel pretty, and witty, and wise.")

"A puzzling announcement"

That was the title of an e-mail I just received from Steve Ginzburg, who just got his crossword puzzle published in USA Today.

Steve writes: "It's not the greatest puzzle I've ever created, but it is my first
publication reaching a nation-wide audience."