Wednesday, November 30, 2005

What happens in Chapel Hill stays in Chapel Hill

I am in Chapel Hill, NC visiting a collaborator at UNC. We'll be working on the follow-up to our Congress paper and related stuff (like following up on my SURF student's Facebook network project).

Tomorrow, I'm going to have dinner with Steve Van Hooser (a fellow Lloydie from my class), who I haven't seen since we graduated. (I've lately been working on trying to see below I haven't seen in a while. I wonder if I can get my former roommate, who lives in Long Beach, to put his computer games down for a bit? I'm tempted to just show up on his doorstep, because I can't get him to respond to queries about getting together, but then that would be annoying if that trip didn't work out. There must be a workable strategy somewhere, although Vincent's mindset is quite different from most.) Steve is a neuroscience postdoc at Duke. Steve Shepherd '00 is a grad student in the same program, although I didn't know this latter Steve too well and I don't have any plans to see him.

I'm in the Best Western right now, which isn't horrible close to campus and has no open food places in walking distance. There doesn't seem to be great delivery opportunities outside the campus area (especially not now) either, so it looks like the 30 minute delay between landing in Chicago and arriving at the gate is going to force me to go the whole day without food. (I typically don't like eating in the mornings when I'm tired, so I only had an iced latte today. If I knew the Chicago thing was going to fail me like that... United still congratulated themselves on landing "on time", although the extra 30 minutes in the plane, during which multiple babies decided it was time to cry and they didn't want us using our electronic stuff, wasn't particularly pleasant.)

In sum, "Mason needs food badly."

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

2006 Baseball Hall-of-Fame ballot

The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot was released yesterday. Players have to have been retired for 5 years and then can stay on the ballot for 15 years if they reach a threshold number of votes (amounting to 5% of all ballots cast) in a given year (and don't get enough votes to be elected). Players (and managers and others) can be elected via the Veterans Committee if the conventional way (which applies only to players) doesn't work out, but it's pretty hard to get into the Hall that way these days.

A notable absence from this year's ballot is Pete Rose, still banned for life from baseball and thus ineligible to appear on the ballot. (The 'still' in the previous sentence suggests that there are means to lift the ban.) This counts as year 15 for Rose because of when he retired, so he may have to get in another way if he's ever reinstated. Anyway, as much as his deeds were bad, Rose was a Hall of Fame player and, in fact, an upper-echelon Hall of Famer and he belongs in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown, which are supposed to be about his in-game performance. There are plenty of people in the Hall who can be evicted on the same grounds that Rose isn't even allowed on the ballot. (He does get a number of write-ins every year, though not even remotely close to enough to get elected.) Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame (without question)!

OK, so let's deal with who is actually on the ballot. Here's my opinion (of who should and should not get in, not of who will and will not):

Hell no (we won't go): Dary DiSarcina, Alex Fernandez, Gary Gaetti, Ozzie Guillen, Gregg Jefferies, Willie McGee, Hal Morris, Walt Weiss

No: Rick Aguilera, Albert Belle, Will Clark, Dave Concepcion, Steve Garvey, John Wetteland, Dwight Gooden, Doug Jones, Don Mattingly, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, John Wetteland

Tough call but probably not: Andre Dawson, Orel Hershiser, Dave Parker, Lee Smith

Yes: Bert Blyleven, Rich Gossage, Tommy John, Jim Rice, Bruce Sutter, Alan Trammell

A few things here deserve comment. First, there is no excuse for Bert Blyleven not to have been elected in his first year of eligibility. He had an absolutely superb career and is better than tons of the starting pitchers already in the Hall. It's an absolute crime that he hasn't made it yet. Tommy John and Alan Trammell should be shoo-ins as well. Jim Rice barely makes it in my book and if you compare his stats to those of, e.g., Andre Dawson, Dave Parker, and Dale Murphy, there are certainly some arguments here. Murphy fell of the ledge towards the end of his career, which hurts him. He, Parker, and Dawson also had some OBP issues that hurt them in my book.

Now, Bruce Sutter (who was the closest non-electee from last year and very likely will make it this year) and Rich Gossage were two of the pioneering closers and should also be shoo-ins. I list them separately because there are a lot of closers with more saves who I would not elect, and this includes Lee Smith (the all-time leader in saves). The deal here is that the save is a very misleading statistic and not all saves are created equal. As the all-time save leaders become eligible for the Hall, this is one of the big issues facing the voters. Sutter and Gossage had outstanding careers, where some of the others did not. Lee Smith was merely very good, so he doesn't make the cut in my book even though he's the all-time leader. John Wetteland, Doug Jones, and Rick Aguilera were also merely very good. (Smith gets extra credit for longevity and counting stats.)

A lot of people think that Don Mattingly and Steve Garvey should make it. Mattingly's problem was that his career was cut short by back problems. At his peak, he did perform at Hall caliber, but he didn't sustain it. Garvey was very good rather than excellent. A lot of people also think Jack Morris should make it, but his 3.90 ERA would become the highest one in the Hall. Many of his wins came from run support rather than performance. His career was also very good, but I can't justify his presence in the Hall.

It pains me to say 'no' on Hershiser. There are actually a number of arguments for him and with his best years on the Dodgers, my heart wants to vote for him. However, my head puts him just below the threshold. Dwight Gooden had a good career, but with him, we're always going to imagine what might have been. He still won close to 200 games but that's far below what everybody though would be the case early in his career. Unfortunately, his best year in the majors came in 1985 when he was 21. He was truly amazing at his peak!

Albert Belle looked like he was heading to the Hall of Fame, but his career was shortened by injuries and I just don't think he has the longevity to justify it. His stats are great, but I think the early exit and presence in a hitter-happy era is going to kill his chances. (In comparing his stats to Will Clark and especially Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, et al, the average offensive output needs to be considered. Mattingly stands out in his own era, even though his totals don't look as gaudy as they should when one compares them to what we see now. Hitting 30 HR in a season used to be quite an impressive feat, and it's easy to forget that.)

For the 'hell no's, I should mention that they include some fine players, such as Gregg Jefferies (when he was healthy), Gary Gaetti, etc. Even Gary DiSarcina, probably one of the worst players to ever appear on the Hall-of-Fame ballot, had a couple decent seasons. (I believe one has to be around for 10 years to be eligible for the ballot.)

As far as who will get elected this year, my guess is Sutter and perhaps also Alan Trammell plus possible people via the Veterans Committee (though that's tough) and the yearly broadcaster and journalist. (The latter two are technically through a yearly award, so there's always one of each per year.)

Einstein paper unearthed

The Cornell University press release about this is here. As discussed therein, German scientists probably knew about the paper (which was in German) and have likely also translated it before. The particular German copy in question was found at Cornell, translated into English, and then posted on the arXiv. What this means, of course, is that Einstein has posted to the arXiv (with help, of course) after his death just like L. Ron Hubbard continues to write new chapters of Dianetics after his death. (This gives me hope that maybe I can get some PRLs after I die?)

The paper in question is about superconductivity. Here are the words of the press release:

"The paper contains nothing revolutionary from the point of view of today's researchers in superconductivity, but it is, Ashcroft said, "a totally charming paper," with significant insights for its time. Among other things, Ashcroft said, Einstein correctly predicted that a strong magnetic field would destroy superconductivity, something verified later by experiment."

(Natural, the Ashcroft in question is the famous one---well, famous within the solid state physics community.)

Monday, November 28, 2005

The Aerodynamics of Insect Flight

Here is a very cool article on the aerodynamics of insect flight, which was reporting the results (and associated background) of a new PNAS paper by Caltech professor Michael Dickinson and colleagues. Dickinson does very nice work, but he is unfortunately one of those experimentalists who seems to like to slam theorists at every opportunity. He did it in a seminar I saw him give, and he and his coauthors wrote the following in their paper:

"Since this time," the authors note, "bees have symbolized both the inadequacy of aerodynamic theory as applied to animals and the hubris with which theoreticians analyze the natural world."

Modern theoretical work on insect flight is predominantly computational in nature. (One faculty member at Cornell, Jane Wang, has done a lot of excellent work in this area. I first became aware of this problem at the job interview she gave at Cornell during my first year there.) In fact, the associated numerics are extremely difficult, which is one reason why there was confusion years ago about scientists predicting that insects can't fly. Models that don't model the wings as continua (and use rigid body dynamics instead) don't do the job here, so the problem of insect flight is much more difficult than that of airplane flight. This is an unsteady aerodynamics problem with a fluid (the air) coupled to deformable solids (the wings), and very intense computions (that challenge the current technology enormously---let alone what used to be available) are required to deal with it.

Anyway, this is one of the topics in fluid mechanics that I find really neat. I've never done any work in it and have many other things on my list so I can't say that I ever will, but this is definitely one where it's especially cool to keep abreast of how scientific understanding is developing.

New arXiv paper: Community structure of Rappers

I just saw the following paper about community structure among rappers. Here is the abstract:

Title: A Statistical Analysis of the Community Structure of a Weighted Collaboration Network Among Rappers
Authors: Reginald D. Smith
Comments: 8 pages, 1 figure
Subj-class: Physics and Society
\ The social network formed by the collaboration between rappers is studied
using standard statistical techniques for analyzing complex networks. In
addition, the community structure of the rap music community is analyzed using
a new method that uses weighted edges to determine which connections are most
important and revealing among all the communities. The results of this method
as well as possible reasons for the structure of the rap music community are
\\ ( , 274kb)

There are a couple of amusing things here. First, the article discusses the classification via traditional feuds (East Coast, West Coast, and all that), and it makes me smile to see this discussed in a "physics" paper. (Note: My own work on communities in Congress is also "physics" in the sense that the statistical physics community has adpoted network theory even though a lot of it isn't really physics per se. That said, physics is a state of mind rather than any specific collection of topics). Second, the author is from MIT's Sloan School of Management. This seems a bit of an odd data set for someone from a management school to study.

I didn't actually go through the paper to see if the science was good, and I wonder if any of this guy's methodology might be useful for the data sets I have.

Word to your mother.

D & D scheduling for weekend of 12/2

Now that we've all been tenderized a bit (con damage will do that to a bird...), it's time to schedule next weekend's session.

My timing is a bit restrictive this time (so if the only way for things to work is to play while I'm gone and NPC Clutu, then there's no problem on my end), as I am out of town from Wednesday morning until Saturday evening.

Sunday 12/4 is the only day that's uniformly good for me. I can, however, play a little bit Saturday night if absolutely necessary. (I'll probably feel like crap---I don't do well on flights---but I can eventually get myself to the game if absolutely necessary. We're supposed to touch down at 5:30, so incorporating luggage and Super Shuttle, I figure that 8pm or so is a reasonable estimate for me to actually arrive at the game.)

If we did a quickie during the week, I am available tonight and tomorrow (after about 8pm for tomorrow because I have something at the Ath ending at 7pm and will want to go home and change before any game we play).

Also, there is a matter of the play about pirates (at the Pasadena Playhouse) on Thursday 12/8 at 8pm. Tim and I are going, and I need to figure out how many other tickets to buy, so please let me know if you want to come that day and I'll go ahead and buy the appropriate number of tickets.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Pride and Prejudice (the movie version)

I saw the movie version of Pride and Prejudice a couple weeks ago, so this entry is a bit late. I saw this with a friend of mine, as this movie was not on the list of flicks I'd bother seeing on my own.

I read Pride and Prejudice several years ago as part of a Victorian English fiction class, and I found the novel to be well outside my paradigm. In fact, I am not a fan of Austen's writing in general, in large part because she focuses on things I detest, such as etiquette, manners, and good breeding. This book was, naturally, full of that garbage.

OK, then, so why was I open-minded about the movie? Mainly, I figured (correctly, as it turns out) that such stuff would be vastly diluted in the movie version. Stuff like is much harder to do on the screen, because the pages and pages of that stuff just gets whittled down naturally. Also, if I am going to see a chick flick (or something that has a good chance of being one), it might as well be based on a book (even if I don't think too highly of the book). I could also add 'and it might as well have Keira Knightley in it', but I agreed to see the film before I knew that.

As it turns out, the film was very good. There were a lot of humorous moments in the film version, so even if the book annoys you, definitely give the film a chance. (If you liked the book, then you should definitely see the film version because it manages to be a pretty faithful adaption without the heavihandedness that bothered me about the book.) Knightley's having an actual accent helps here, although the random giggling of her and her on-screen sisters---there was even one time that they looked at some random place off-screen and giggled at something unseen; I had absolutely no clue what was so funny to the characters---and it was interesting seeing her in this film given that the last role I saw her play was bounty-hunter Domino Harvey. That movie and this movie are practically polar opposites in style, although both characters do possess a sharp tongue (just with extremely different external trappings) and some related internal similarities.

For films based on Victorian fiction, the one that was superlative was Vanity Fair, which (1) was based on an awesome book with the cynical attitude I so love and (2) was cast almost perfectly.

(I also plan on writing an entry on Shopgirl soon, which I found to be decent but which didn't come close to meeting my expectations. More on that later.)

Friday, November 25, 2005

Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic

Sarah Silverman is officially awesome. Her "movie" Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic is really more of a souped-up stand-up skit, and it's really, really, really hilarious. Silverman's humor jives very much with my own sense of humor, which is why I wanted to see this film. However, it's definitely not for everybody; in particular, people who are easily offended (or who aren't into political incorrectness) should probably pass on this, although IMO that would be your loss. Subjects like rape, race, "little people", AIDS, the holocaust, and 9/11 show up repeatedly in the jokes (which can be a bit tasteless at times, much to my enjoyment), so consider yourself warned.

Anyway, the flick was bloody awesome! I was laughing the whole time. It's certainly not for the easily offended, but that's why I wanted to see it in the first place. I had seen a short preview for it (technically not a trailer, I think, because it was combined with the main feature) with The Aristocrats, which is also bloody hilarious. Silverman's performance in The Aristocrats was extremely good and coupling that with the preview, I knew that her "film" was a 'must see'. There are a ton of good lines in Jesus is Magic, as one would expect from the format. Several of the jokes are racial in nature, and I especially enjoyed several of the Jewish-themed ones because of my own heritage. (Of course, given her background, it's not surprising that she can do an excellent job delivering those jokes.) One that I especially liked was the following: "I was raped by a doctor... [pretty long pause] ... which is bittersweet for a Jewish girl." This line is fairly representative of her style of humor, which I appreciate greatly. Again, it's not for people who are remotely easily offended or who aren't into very caustic political incorrectness. (Subjects like rape, race, AIDS, the holocaust, and 9/11 show up repeatedly in the jokes, so consider yourself warned.)

Now, I would consider ranking this my top film of the year (and in terms of pure enjoyment, it's definitely on the short list), but it's not really a movie per se, so I don't think comparing it to movies consisting of actual stories is fair. A fair comparison: As much as I loved The Arisocrats, this flick was even better.

Some Silverman quotes from IMDB also convey her style of the humor very well:

"People are always introducing me as "Sarah Silverman, Jewish comedienne." I HATE that! I wish people would see me for who I really am- I'm white!"

[on the US-Iraq war of 2003:] "This is not the first time that Europe has been passive while a Jew-hating tyrant with a weird looking mustache killed the people by giving them gas. [Pause.] Obviously I'm talking about Chef Boyardee."

"Wax on, wax off." (RIP Pat Morita)

I just saw the headline about the death of Pat Morita who is most famous for his role of Mr. Miyagi in the Karate Kid movies. I've heard Morita had quite a foul mouth in his stand-up (and that he was bloody hilarous), which isn't surprising given that he and Redd Foxx were good buddies. (Morita guest-starred on severa; episodes of Sanford and Son, for example.) Many of the best quotes from the Karate Kid movies came from Morita.

As funny as he could be, Morita was an awful singer, as far as I can tell. In a spring training baseball game I attended in Palm Springs back in the day (circa 1988 or 1989, back when the Angels still trained in Palm Springs), Morita sang the national anthem. He was sincere in his attempt at the song (unlike some comedians...), but it was laughably bad.

You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant

Excepting Alice, of course.

OK, so here's what I did on Thanksgiving.

I got up. That's a good start.

I got coffee at Starbucks. (Peet's was closed today.) I read for pleasure around there (in the seats outside Peet's because there weren't any tables left in Starbucks) for a while.

I went to the office and got some work done.

I had an early dinner with my parents and siblings at Club 41 (or whatever it's called) on Delacey Street. The food was decent, but dealing with my family is exceptionally stressful. They started the dinner off talking about the "full-bodied" taste (what the fuck does that mean?) of the wine they were having. This lasted several minutes. I wish one of my friends were around, so that during that part of their conversation I could overtly ask them, "So, what new video games are you playing?" or something else my family would flagrantly not care about. Ugh. (At least this time, that was only a few minutes. I've been at dinners with them that had 20 minutes of wine bullshit and 30+ minutes of my OBGYN father giving details about his patients. And people wonder why I'm messed up? At least I can talk about reasonable topics, like D & D, New Order, and quantum mechanics.) Anyway, I'll spare further details, but I am nothing like these people and it goes far beyond how many times I was dropped as a child. I swear that one of these days I am going to search through my house and find the adoption papers (flagrantly ignoring a couple obvious physical resemblances)... Maybe it was that whole thing about being dropped? Clearly, it did something to my head. I'd like to be more patient with my family, but being with them makes me want to beat my head against a wall until it's a bloody pulp. (And patience is not one of my strong points, by any stretch of the imagination...)

After dinner, I went over to Joe and Lorian's to play the new Serenity RPG. In contrast to dealing with my family, this stuff reduces my stress and is greatly enjoyable.

Oh, and I listened to Alice's Restaurant (the 18 minute version) at work today, which is a moral inperative on Thanksgiving. Well, not the work part---but listening to this particular song, which is a song about Alice.

Berkeley Groks

A couple friends of mine from Caltech---Lloydie Charles ("Chuckles") Lee '96 and Pageboy Frank Ling '97---have been hosting a science-comedy radio show on Berkeley radio station KALX 90.7 for a few years. This show, called Berkeley Groks, has been picking up lots of steam, as it was featured among new Podcasts for at least one week (on the "cover" when one selects Podcasts in iTunes) and is now also broadcast on other radio stations. Here is also a recent Berkeley Science Review article about the show.

Frank and Chuckles are now able to get bigshots on the show, including Nobel Laureates and that punk-ass bitch Stephen Wolfram. In the early days, however, they occasionally had to settle for people like me. (Actually, I was on the very low end of their guests even then.) I guest-hosted once during my semester at Berkeley. That was really fun. I heard Charles' fake Scottish accent for the first time in several years---in Lloyd, he was known for that and for his Mask-inspired Airband performance of "Cuban Feet" (complete with green face paint), which you can find here. (That was one of the best Airband skits ever, though I was involved in a couple great ones my Junior and Senior years. My frosh one was really good too, and my sophomore one was decent.) Frank is known for being part of Lower Page and lived in the alley out of which I rotated (rooming with Jimmy Lin? Or was it Larry Chen?). There were some cool people in that alley.

By the way, this message is brought to you by PNAS, the official scientific journal of Berkeley Groks.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Advice for portable DVD players?

I want to get a portable DVD player with a long battery life to help ease my loneliness on long plane rides. (This will be my version of joining the proverbial Frequent Flyer Club.) My computer's battery life doesn't make it the most amenable thing in the world when it comes to watching movies on an airplane, and the portable DVD players I saw on CompUSA's website don't have great battery lives either. The best I saw with rechargeable batteries was 3.5 hours. Does anybody know of portable DVD players with better life? Some of the players used AA batteries. Does anybody know how long those typically last in such machines?

Ideally, I want to get this in time for my 12/10 flight to England, so if anybody has any knowledge to pass along, let me know. Or, if this should lead to, say, a Fry's trip, I'd be up for that as well.

I want to get a DVD camcorder as well, but the portable DVD player is a bit more, uh... "urgent" (so to speak).

Major baseball trades

Thus far, this offseason appears to be having some bigger trades than last year. (Plus it has the annual Manny Ramirez trade rumors. Who could ask for more?) The Marlins appear to be dismantling their team, having a tentative agreement with the Mets for Carlos Delgado and one with the Red Sox for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell. Trading Delgado I can understand, although it makes the Marlins' decision to sign him during the 04-05 season to be a rather odd one. If this trade is consumated, they'll get two excellent prospects in the deal (Mike Jacobs and Yusmeiro Petit), so this is very likely a good move, especially given that Jacobs is ready to play everyday in the majors now and Petit will be up this season (and perhaps even at the beginning of the season). The Beckett trade is a bit more questionable. While the Marlins are getting very good prospects in the deal, Beckett is a 25-year-old stuf starting pitcher. They should lock him up long-term instead. Assuming this trade becomes official (which just requires the players involved to pass physicals), the Red Sox will have improved themselves greatly. Mike Lowell was an albatross for the Marlins last year, but he's only 31 and should return to something closer to his career norms and Beckett is simply going to kick ass. The other trade pending physicals is that the Philloies are sending Jim Thome to the White Sox for Aaron Roward and thereby removing one of their contract albatrosses. With Ryan Howard's emergence at first base, this trade works perfectly for the Phillies, because they also get a useful center fielder in the process of getting rid of a bad contract. Now, Rowand isn't a great player, and Thome still has the ability to help the White Sox offense, so I can see this trade helping the White Sox as well. It all depends on whether Thome is healthy. The Phillies just didn't need two first basemen, so getting rid of the huge contract is quite a boon for them.

Depeche Mode concert: 11/21/05

The coolest thing about Monday's concert was being able to see my favorite musical artist (or collection thereof) live for the first time ever. I missed Depeche Mode the last time they were in LA and I missed lead singer Dave Gahan in Atlanta (although that wouldn't have been as cool as seeing the whole band anyway), so it was quite a treat for me to go. I barely was even able to get one ticket (I had wanted to get two), as the whole show (in the Staples Center) sold out twenty minutes after tickets went on sale. That indicates Depeche Mode's staying power (they've now been around, and very successful, for 25 years), as most of the groups in my paradigm can't come close to doing that.

The concert started out with the first track ("A Pain That I'm Used To") from the new CD. This was appropriate for the concert as well as the album. As the DM website writes, "Touring the Angel" is about "pain and suffering in various US cities". DM's songs are often very dark, and they've really been playing it up (seemingly more than usual) for the present album. "A Pain That I'm Use To", which is an awesome song, will be the second single on the CD. (I'm not at all surprised that this song is getting released as a single.) DM played a great version of the first single ("Precious") at the show as well as several other songs from the new album (including 2 of the other 3 really great tracks).

They also played a bunch of classics, although several songs were conspicuously absent. The biggest surprise in this respect was "People are People", which was DM's first big mainstream hit. (Admittedly, this song departs a bit from their usual style.) The absent song I most wanted to hear was "Strangelove", and I was also very disappointed that they didn't play "It's No Good". Of course, there are awesome songs that I knew wouldn't be played, such as "Only When I Lose Myself" and "But Not Tonight", because they were never prominent. It's just a bit of a let-down when some of their prominent awesome songs (that are among my favorites) don't get played. This is particularly true in the case of "Strangelove" because they played several other songs from the same album (Music for the Masses) that were far less successful and (IMO) way less cool.

Still, there was plenty of awesome stuff among what they did play. The first set ended with a really awesome extended version of "Enjoy the Silence" and the second set (that is, the first encore) ended with "Everything Counts", which DM has a history of using to end sets. (Actually, this was one of the awesome songs that I thought wouldn't get played, so this was quite a pleasant surprise. I suppose the song has shown a lot of popularity in this role.)

Anyway, I had a ton of fun (despite a few questionable song choices), and I look forward to seeing DM in concert again at some point. I even was able to make it back in time for the second last Gold Line route to Pasadena. (I thought the concert might run late enough for me to miss it and spend a few quality hours in Union Station. Either that or I could have gone to The Pantry to see if I could find some stray Scurves to take me home.)

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Upcoming math conference: the name game

I was looking through the speaker list of next January's Joint Mathematics Meeting to see (primarily) who I know among the attendees (because they'll help provide the fun parts of the conference) and (secondarily) speakers with familiar names who might be giving interesting talks.

However, sometimes a name stands out as really long or just bloody difficult to pronounce. In particular, I found the following name: "Hallgrimsdottir, Ingileif Bryndis". (I'm guessing this is a male based on the 'leif' part, but I don't know if that's how Nordic names work.) Sounds like the name of a half-orc barbarian (of the viking variety), doesn't? Actually, in a recent Salvatore book, a frost giantess had a last name with the suffix dottir and orcs played a big part in the book, too, so that's probably the main recent my mind is going in that direction. Anyway, this is one doozy of a name.

Harry Potter IV

Yesterday afternoon, I saw Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I enjoyed the movie very much, although I liked the previous ones better. Part of it is that I liked the (now dead) actor who used to play Dumbledore much better than the current one. (Apparently, the movie producers aren't high enough level to cast speak with dead, so their contract negotiations remain at an impasse.) Part of it is (probably most of it) has do to with the more-of-the-same syndrome. This is my fourth time through this world rather than the first.

In this film, we get to see a bit more teenage angst, as certain tensions become less subtle than before. (Not that they were overly subtle before, but they seem even less so now.) A cool thing about the first one is thinking that Snape might turn out to be the bad guy (you know, being all prepared for the really creepy guy to also be evil) but then having it be someone else. Now, of course, there is yet another instructor of defense against the dark arts who is causing problems in some way or another. Also, Harry Potter is getting a bit brattier in Vol IV. Gotta love hormones...

Anyway, despite things not being as new as they were before, the movie is still excellent and highly recommended. Once I finish all seven movies, I'm going to go back and read all seven books. For now, I'll work on my written backlog with other material.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

High school reunions

I meant to write about this almost a couple weeks ago.

My sister had her 10-year high school reunion around 11/5, and she enjoyed it (in part to her low expectations entering the game). I briefly entertained the thought of crashing it because there were a couple of my friends from her graduation year that I knew were planning to attend. However, I don't feel particularly comfortable infiltrating other people's parties (funny that), so seeing them got punted. (Actually, one of them is supposed to be around for Thanksgiving weekend, so that's good.)

My own 10-year reunion was held in October 2004, and I similarly had a lot of fun at it. A lot of the people I wanted to see didn't show up, but I still enjoyed it quite a bit. It seemed like everybody there was either a lawyer or a lesbian (and some were both), but I suppose that's what one is supposed to observe. One thing that was bloody hilarous was that just about all the Persians were almost completely bald, because back in the day, those guys bragged incessantly about how much hair they had. Not that I should laugh about this happening to other people, but I absolutely love irony. :) Some people seemed very inclined to show people how successful they were (or, in one case, how successful their spouse was). My general reaction to that kind of stuff was indifference, because I don't need to prove my success or lack thereof to anybody else, and besides rooting for my friends in general, I'm not going to judge anybody's worth by their level of career success. (Moreover, my career track is so different from those of my classmates that that alone distinguishes me from the crowd whether or not I do well with this career. I've never had any trouble being an interesting personl. Whether one means that in a good way or a bad way depends on the person you ask.) I like being different from everbody else---"ten standard deviations from the norm" and proud of it! (That comment was made by a Georgia Tech colleague about my personality, not about any career stuff.)

The other thing I noted was that the people who really wanted to talk to me at the reunion aren't necessarily the same people who wanted to talk to me in high school. Of course, this isn't surprising, but I didn't actually think about it before my reunion. It's certainly much hipper to be a nerd in his late 20s than a nerd in his late teens. Again, this isn't particularly surprising. (My advice: bring a slide rule to your reunions when the time comes.)

D & D scheduling: Thanksgiving weekend

Today's game was really fun, and I'm ready to continue stabbing gnolls with my rapier (after I get sleep, that is) and producing gratuitously bad poetry!

For Thanksgiving, I can't play during the day on Thursday but I am available at night. I am available the other three days. (I'll be hanging out on one day with a friend who is in town, but I think that can be maneuvered if gaming is set up early enough.)

Justin was indicating that the only possibility for him next weekend is Sunday, so is everybody able to play next Sunday?

(We also need to figure out when we're going to see the pirate play, which I believe is not showing during the "holiday" weekend.)

Thursday, November 17, 2005


Last night, I saw Jarhead with Tim. It's about the Gulf War and the disillusionment of the soldiers who went there (and, more generally, disillusionment among soldiers in any war), and it's gritty. The most common word in the movie is 'fuck', so Georgia Carlin would be proud. It had some amusing moments as well, and I should also mention that the song that plays during the beginning of the credits (which is the same one that plays during the trailer) fits this movie spectacularly. When I saw the trailer, I got the impression that the main soldier being followed would be one who started off as being gung ho for war but who later became disillusioned, but I found that his narration basically gave away the disillusionment at the beginning (not that that outcome was any surprise at all). They hammered this point on several occasions (so it's not exactly a subtle film, but I don't think it particularly needs to be one), especially at the end. This film is based on a book, though I don't know how closely it followed it. (Given the film's message, I assume it was reasonably faithful.)

The film has some anachronisms. One that I noticed that IMDB doesn't yet have listed involves the song O.P.P., the CD single for which came out in Sept. 1991, which is several months after the troops in the movie were singing along with it. (Another song or two to which the troops were listening in the movie may be similarly anachronistic.) This is a small thing (and not as bad as a couple of the other anachronisms), but I have to have my Comic Book Guy moments occasionally, you know? (As MC Hawking sings, "Who's down with entropy?")

Anyway, the movie was good, and I recommend it. However, it's kind of gritty and it doesn't have a happy ending. (Then again, that's no surprise and it's also not supposed to.)

Over the weekend, I'll try to get around to writing about Pride and Prejudice (the movie version) and Shopgirl, which I've also seen recently.

Dinosaur poo

Apparently, the way to get an article in Science is to conduct research on fossilized dinosaur shit. (Here, I consider it necessary to point out that Caltech's class of 2000 came very close to donating a sample of this stuff, called "coprolite", as its class gift. The class of 1998's very-quickly-aborted idea of a Predator statue for the Registrar's office was even better, although the class of '00 gets points for apparently coming very close to getting away with it. For a while, I thought it happened, but somebody in the know informed me it never quite worked out.)

Oh, and I am only facetiously making fun of the research article. There is absolutely nothing wrong with using poo to time-stamp things. I just don't want that job...

From the arXiv...

I noticed the following title among the papers with a revised version recently posted: "Unzipping an adsorbed polymer in a dirty or random environment".

My mind is in the gutter...

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Message in the Sky: the arXiv debate

The following paper, which responds to a previous abstract I mocked mildly, was just posted on the arXiv:

Title: The Real Message in the Sky
Authors: Douglas Scott and J.P. Zibin
Comments: Response to physics/0510102, 2 pages
Subj-class: Popular Physics
\ A recent paper by Hsu & Zee (physics/0510102) suggests that if a Creator
wanted to leave a message for us, and she wanted it to be decipherable to all
sentient beings, then she would place it on the most cosmic of all billboards,
the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) sky. Here we point out that the spherical
harmonic coefficients of the observed CMB anisotropies (or their squared
amplitudes at each multipole) depend on the location of the observer, in both
space and time. The amount of observer-independent information available in the
CMB is a small fraction of the total that any observer can measure. Hence a
lengthy message on the CMB sky is fundamentally no less observer-specific than
a communication hidden in this morning's tea-leaves. Nevertheless, the CMB sky
does encode a wealth of information about the structure of the cosmos and
possibly about the nature of physics at the highest energy levels. The Universe
has left us a message all on its own.
\\ ( , 5kb)

My entry about the previous paper in this series is here. I love the sarcastic comment in the current abstract about the tea leaves, but since the Gazebo has already given us the most likely solution to what the message is (with a nod to Douglas Adams, of course), I'm not sure how many more papers there will be on the subject.

A worrisome note is that the writers of that first article are very good, respected physicists. Does this mean we'll be seeing ID papers in PRL soon? Of course, we do already see self-organized criticality (SOC) papers in there, so maybe this wouldn't actually degrade PRL all that much... (Note: I am being slightly facetious about SOC. It does have some uses and gives some interesting thought experiments and toy calculations and even toy models, but some of its proponents do think it's worth far more than it is. Predrag Cvitanovic always has funny things to say about SOC; he calls it "self-organized triviality" even when [especially when, actually] its creators are in the same room.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Not that I should talk but...

Courtesy the Gazebo, here are some trendy haircuts advertised by some of the online crowd. (Take a look at the link. It's hilarious!) Well, to add myself to the mix (see my website for pics):

Hair-style: statistical self-similarity

Stylist: Benoit Mandelbrot

Super powers: mad quantum kaos skillz, ability to fail charisma and wisdom checks in a single bound

Alter ego: Porno Master

Known allies: They're all dead.

Marvel Superhero Alter-Ego: ???? (I don't follow comic books. Anybody want to help?)

(P.S. In answering, you should also add yourself to the mix.)

New Dodger General Manager

The Dodgers hired the Giants' assistant General Manager Ned Colletti to be their new GM. He beat out Dodger executive Kim Ng, who would have become the first female GM if she were hired. (By all accounts I've heard, Ng is supposed to be brilliant. She has been steadily rising through the baseball executive ranks for the past several years and will likely prove to have quite a pioneering career when all is said and done. It's actually pretty pioneering already, but the GM job has a much higher profile than other baseball executive jobs, so that is a key step.) Now, I don't know whether Colletti or Ng are moneyball GMs and I personally would have preferred that we keep DePodesta, who I think was great and who was fired after just under 2 years of his 5-year contract. That decision was asinine. (Of course, passing up on Theo Epstein given DePodesta's firing was also stupid.) Now we'll see who our new manager is...

In terms of baseball's awards, the writers really blew it on the Cy Youngs in both leagues. They got the AL MVP correct and chose one of the reasonable options (though not the one I would have picked) for the NL MVP. Andruw Jones nevertheless got far more votes than he should have gotten, but the writers still have difficulty with the concept of objective performance when they try to figure out who actually did the best.

'Roid Rage!

The Major League Players and owners hava a new, tougher steroid policy, which just needs official votes to become a done deal. (Basically, it was approved by informal polling and just needs a rubber stamp, which will presumably happen soon.) The current steroid era is our version of the 80s drug scandals that beset baseball.

By the way, I also want to stress that none of my research has benefited from the use of steroids.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Mini-Techer reunion

For an hour or so this evening, we had a mini-Techer reunion. I have been staying here with Jit Kee, and Pei and her twin sister (also Pei, so we really ought to have used the full first names) were around because Pei (the one who went to Caltech) is visiting Harvard Business School tomorrow. (Her plan is apparently to start business school somewhere next fall.) Jit Kee tried to get Sam Bench and Matt Reese to drive down and I tried to see if Matt Sullivan was in town, but those things didn't happen.

Saturday, November 12, 2005


Jit Kee reminded me of Demotivators, which are really funny. The Eiffel Tower one, of course, is familiar from Upper Crotch, and several of the others are even funnier. I was hoping that they'd have t-shirt versions of these, but the t-shirts they have don't have the panache of the posters.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Depeche Mode's Playing the Angel

My review of Depeche Mode's new album is long overdue.

DM has continued their recent trend of being more like synth-rock rather than synth-pop (i.e., they've gotten "harder" in recent years). The album is excellent---it's much better than Exciter (which was still very good) but does not achieve the awesome level of 1997's Ultra, which I overplayed to legendary proportions on the day it came out. (In fact, between Tropic and Inferno, there were four different people playing that album all day and they were all phase-shifted from each other. The idea for the phase-shifted multi-Tarzan Boy derived in part from this incident. Some people were just a bit annoyed with us, and it was amusing as all Hell.) It's also not as good as older albums such as Violator (but I just met her!) and Music for the Masses, but it's hard to top albums that contain all-time great songs like "Enjoy the Silence" and "Strangelove". (Actually, "Strangelove" is probably my favorite DM song of all time right now, and that's a very strong statement, given how much I love their music.)

I don't normally pay too much attention to track ordering, although DM did specifically utilized this (in very non-subtle manners) twice on Ultra. On Playing the Angel, I found the ordering particularly apt between tracks 2 and 3. The track that harkens back the most to vintage DM is #5, "Precious", which was the first single released. It reminds me a bit of "It's No Good" (by far the best song on Ultra). As a result, this is unsurprisingly my favorite song on the album. Track #1, "A Pain that I'm Used To" is another awesome song, and it sets the tone quite nicely. (This was the right choice to start the album.) DM is screaming its pain and negativity on this whole album, and that has been another reason I've always loved their stuff. My thoughts are often rather dark, and this group is especially good at expressing this. (They occasionally have positive songs, including some of my favorites, but they are certainly known for the negativity of some of the lyrics.) This also makes DM songs excellent fodder for All Depressing and Cynical Song Specials (especially the infamous Valentine's Day Edition!). The other part of this album that is very similar to their usual fare are the religious undertones in many of the songs. This is actually why tracks 2 and 3 go together so well. (Those two are also both very good songs.) Track #3, "Suffer Well", has the best quote of the album: "An angel led me when I was blind // I said take me back, I've changed my mind."

Anyway, I like this album very much and I've been attempting to overplay it to keep that damn Katamari theme out of my head.

Weekend in Boston

I'm up obscenely early so that Supershuttle can pick me up and take me to LAX for my flight to Boston. (I need to stop getting these morning flights. This is painful...) Hopefully, they won't bail on me this time.

I'm visiting one of my friends from Tech this weekend. I was going to use the title 'What happens in Boston stays in Boston', but I figured I might get larger, harder objects thrown at me as a result.

I need sleep...

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Dinner-guesting in Lloyd

Today I was a dinner guest in Lloyd House. It was fun talking to some of the current students. I had communicated with several of them by e-mail in writing up the story on the MIT prank for the Legends book, so matching some names to faces was perhaps the best part. (Additionally, one of my SURF students was a Lloydie, and Alex Sheive was supposedly hanging out in Lower Crotch this evening, as he has apparently been doing a lot lately. Some things never change...) My visit was timed with steak night, which is definitely a key thing to do. A couple of the details were different (and it was really just a couple of the details), but dinner was the same as it's always been.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

D & D scheduling: weekend of 11/18

When are people available the weekend of 11/18?

I am available all three days (Fri 11/18-- Sun 11/20) at any reasonable time---as in Friday evening or noon or later on Saturday and Sunday.

(By the way, when using the blog for such scheduling, each entry should specifically be for one specific week, so that everybody's info about a given week is in the same place.)

Note that Josh wanted a week's notice because of his job, so please post your availability soon.

The Brick Testament

The Brick Testament offers an amusing take on the bible using lego. It includes ratings for its stories so you know in advance which ones have nudity and violence.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Poincare' on science

I was reading the October 2005 article on Henri Poincare' (one of my scientific heroes) in the Notices of the American Mathematical Society. In it, they give the following excerpt of one of Poincare's speeches:

"Freedom is for Science what air is for animal; deprived of this freedom, it dies from suffocation, like a bird deprived of oxygen. And this freedom must be without limits, because, if one wants to impose limits, one gets a half-science only, and a half-science is no longer science, because it can be, and necessarily is, a false science. Thought must never be subordinated to any dogma, political party, passion, interest, preconceived idea, to anything indeed, except the facts themselves, because, for science, to be subordinated means to die."


(Kiss)^2 (Bang)^2

Last night, I saw Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which is a damn fine movie. It's part action and part dark comedy, and it definitely strikes the right mood for me with its horseshit attitude and multiple shots at contemporary actors. There are quite a few witty one-liners (though some of that humor will be lost on generations who don't know the actors they mention), and there are some really funny moments. I appreciated the twisted humor of this movie a great deal. (They ended the movie by apologizing to people from the Midwest for saying 'fuck' too many times.)

The movie has some thriller/detective stuff to it and is set mostly in LA. (It takes some obligatory shots at Los Angeles, which amount to very witty versions of stuff we've all heard before.) While watching the film, I had this feeling that the person (Michelle Monaghan) playing the lead female role was very familiar, but I couldn't figure out the source. It turns out that the reason she looked familiar was that she was a regular on Boston Public for half a season, which I watched faithfully (though probably shouldn't admit it) when it was on the air.

Anyway, I wouldn't recommend the movie to prudes, but if your sense of humor tends in the dark/twisted direction, than you'll like this movie a lot.

BCS = Been Caught Speeding

Wow. I just saw this post on the Gazebo's blog about Nobel Laureate (in physics) John Robert Schrieffer being sentenced to two years in prison for felony vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence. The AP story is here. Schrieffer is the 'S' from the BCS theory of superconductivity.

This brings up another point: The rules about old people driving should probably be far stricter than they currently are. Every person is different, but one's reaction time goes down sharply when one ages, and AARP fighting the more frequent and stringent testing of older people who want to drive is both myopic and dangerous.

A defeat for logical thinking

Brian Limketkai just passed along the following report of the 6-4 victory in Kansas in favor of Intelligent Design (pronounced "Creationism"). This was the expected outcome, but it's still deeply saddening.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Baseball awards (some announced; others coming soon)

I meant to post this before the first major awards were announced. Today, Philadelphia's Ryan Howard and Oakland's Huston Street were awarded the Rookie of the Year in the National and American Leagues, respectively. I agree with both of these selections, although Tadahito Iguchi, Robinson Cano, and Nick Swisher as well. I'll give an honorable plug for Jonny Gomes, who hit really well but wasn't up for the full season. Unlike the NL, though (see below), the AL had a lot of worthy contenders for top rookie. Anyway, Huston was both my pick and who I thought the writers would pick. In the NL, Howard only played in 88 games, but I would have chosen him regardless because there was really nobody else who deserved it. I thought the writers would pick Willy Tavares of the Astros because he played the full season, but he's got a bedeviling OPS of .666 and has really been an awful hitter all season. (His average looks reasonable, but OBP is really the right metric for getting on base, so at the end of the day is average is extremely misleading. He also has basically no power at all.) If he learns how to walk, he'll become a good player even without the power, but he needs to get on base far more than he currently does. By the way, Jeff Francoeur has a tremendous future, but he's also going to have to learn plate discipline.

For Cy Young, my NL pick is Roger Clemens, although Chris Carpenter will probably win. I have Carpenter second, Dontrelle Willis third, Andy Pettitte fourth, and Pedro Martinez fifth. Attention voters: It is in no way Clemens' fault that he got poor run support. The stats show definitively that he was the best pitcher in the NL this year! Carpenter barely edges out Willis for 2nd. Also, if you take a look at things like expected ERA, you'll notice that Pedro Martinez was exceptionally unlucky this year. Carpenter will likely win the award (because the voters like wins, which has a lot to do with how many runs your team score behind you) and Pedro will likely not even finish close to the top even though he should. By the way, I can see arguments for putting Pettitte as high as second, but Clemens deserves to win essentially any way one cuts this. Unfortunately, he'll probably end up coming in third.

For the AL Cy Young, it's probably going to be another situation in which the voters go with the guy with the most wins, so Bartolo Colon will likely get the award. However, this is another situation in which he clearly should not be the winner. The best American League starter this year (hands down!) has been Johan Santana. He didn't dominate the way he did in 2004, but still nobody was close to him. Also, one might note that his winning percentage is even very similar to Colon's, for those who insist on such things. (You shouldn't, because you should attempt to remove things that are due to what other people on the team did rather than what the pitcher himself actually did.) Now, one can also make a case for Yankee closer Mariano Rivera as the Cy Young award winner, but typically one doesn't pick a closer unless they have either a historic season (like Eric Gagne in 2003) or there isn't a worthy starter to pick. Here there is, so Santana is who I think should win the Cy Young.

For the NL MVP, it comes to Albert Pujols verus Derrek Lee. I would pick Lee, but these two guys are really close and I wouldn't have a problem with either of them winning. A lot of people are bringing up Andruw Jones, but that is such a joke. I wouldn't be surprised if the writers pick him, but I really hope they're smarter than that. He did have a great season, but the players who I think ought to finish ahead of Jones (who, e.g., is only 12th in the league in OPS with .922 compared to Pujol's 1.039 and Lee's 1.080 !) in the MVP voting include Lee, Pujols, Jason Bay (who is a tremendous player; why do most fans have no clue who he is? I know, it's because he's a Pirate), Miguel Cabrera, and possibly one or two others (like David Wright, who is also a tremendous player who is virtually unknown, and he even plays for the Mets).

For AL MVP, my choice is A-Rod, who I think will win. David Ortiz had an awesome year, but Alex Rodriguez's stats are a little bit better and he plays in the field. Players who deserve high spots on the ballot include (in no particular order) Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield, Travis Hafner, Vladimir Guerrero (aka, Vlad the Impaler), Mark Teixeira, Michael Young, and Paul Konerko. (By the way, Travis Hafner is another awesome player who is not well-known, and "guerrero" means 'warrior' in Spanish, so this is a great last name for a hitter of that caliber.) Brian Roberts deserves some props as well (actually, he probably deserves to finish ahead of Young, Konerko, and Sheffield), although he unsurprisingly tailed-off big time in the second half. (He was over his head in the first half.)

For Manager of the Year, Bobby Cox deserves the award in the NL (and will probably win it) and Ned Yost deserves serious consideration as well. Ozzie Guillen will probably win this award in the AL, but I'm not convinced he should win. I'm tempted to say Eric Wedge should win, but I'm not really sure. The Gold Gloves were announced last week and have been quite a farce for many years. There were some deserving winners, but the people who think Derek Jeter should get a gold glove need to stop smoking crack. (There were some other really poor choices, although none of them were like the one from a few years ago in which Rafael Palmeiro won a Gold Glove for his 30 or so games at first base even when he spent most of the year DHing. What the Hell?) The Comeback Player of the Year awards had a new format this year---they were sponsored by Viagre (which is amusing), the candidates in each league were set by midseason (so that Tony Clark, who should have won this award, got screwed by not being on the NL list), and the winners were actually announced a few days or so before the regular season was even over. That's a load of crap. Jason Giambi was the clear winner of the AL comeback award in my mind, but I bet he's on some sort of steroids again and people just don't know how to detect what he's using yet. (Not to be cynical or anything... but this is my blog, and I don't need any proof to say what I think. :) Anyway, I just wanted to mention that this is completely my cynical speculation.)

The opinions of the ESPN writers on who should win all these awards can be found here.

A whole bunch of stats can be found here.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Every Flavor Beans: Now with two extra flavors!

I was at the market with friends today and right at the check-out counter, I noticed small boxes of Harry Potter-inspired Every Flavor Beans (made by Jelly Belly, so they're jelly beans). On the box was a loud advertisement that these Every Flavor beans come with two extra flavors. Somehow, despite the fact that they had every flavor before, they now have two more than before. I think I got a few odd looks at the market when I was gleefully pointing this out, but I typically get some odd looks wherever I go, so I ignored them.

One of these two new flavors was bacon, so apparently Jelly Belly has figured out the solution for a puzzle that one of my cousins and I had previously considered: Namely, what combination of flavors can one use to get a meat-flavored jelly bean? (Naturally, we had nothing better to talk about the night before my cousin's sister's wedding. Actually, it might have been the night of the daytime wedding. It was one of those two nights.) I wonder whether the solution is unique? Only existence has been established.

Friday, November 04, 2005

The Legend of Zorro (contains spoilers)

I got back half an hour ago from seeing The Legend of Zorro, which is a fun and pretty good (but definitely not great) sequel to The Mask of Zorro, which I can't believe is already 7 years old. I enjoyed The Mask of Zorro much more than this sequel, although I like how they brough back Zorro's repartee with his horse. I don't remember this happening in the 1998 prequel, but this was a common feature of the original series of movies from back in the day. It was nice to have this back (or to have this, if I am remembering incorrectly that the 98 film didn't have it).

Now, Zorro was miraculously successful in saving most people in this film despite the fact that he wears a cape. (It's extremely dangerous for superheroes to wear capes.) Maybe that's because his enemies were monologuing so often?

While the movie was fun and I'm glad I saw it (and I was definitely in the mood for this sort of flick tonight), the plot was ridiculously corny---there was a conspiracy in which a rich French guy was importing/making soap to use to make nitroglycerine to send to the South to make a preemptive strike against the North so that he could plunge the US into self-imploding so that they wouldn't become more powerful than the 1000-year-old secret society of which he was secretly a member. Oh, and he was using a vineyard as a cover for this operation (probably because he's French). The US secret service of the time was also involved in the plot. Another thing is that I don't think a Zorro movie should have so many explosions. It kind of breaks the mood that I think a Zorro movie should have. I wanted more swashbuckling!

David Mamet's Romance

A couple days ago, I saw David Mamet's new play. I have bragged about his movie State and Main for years. (It's one of my favorite movies ever. It's bloody hilarious, and it's brand of harsh sarcasm is definitely my thing.) His new play was a farce rather than a satire, and while this play did have Mamet's signature witty one-liners (which is why I loved State and Main), the lower-brow stuff really ditracted from it at times. Mind you, the play was definitely good. But given what I have though of Mamet's previous work, I was hoping for something better. His play Boston Marriage, which I saw at a small lesbian venue in Atlanta (it was a small theatre that apparently specializes in works of that sort), was very funny. This performance (at the Mark Taper) had big names and the other didn't, but Boston Marriage had some seriously hilarious moments. (It's not as good as State and Main either, but very few things are.) I've heard that Heist and Wag the Dog are both excellent, and I am especially looking forward to seeing the latter.

Friends with kids

Here's a counterpoint to a recent entry.

I ran into Lloydies Mike Tice '97 and Frances Sui '98 (now married for a few years) on campus today, and they had their kid along. (Actually, I already knew they had a kid.) A month or so ago, I saw Keri Ryan '98 (and her husband and child) on campus. (Mike returned here as a postdoc. Keri was just visiting because of some wedding.) I know some other Techers from my era also have kids. (The best way to say this is that there are a couple of which I know definitively and I can extrapolate the numbers to some ballpark figure.)

Why in Hell does everybody have to pollute the world with children? (One child only gives a small contribution, but it really adds up pretty fast...) I suppose it would be ok if they were trying to take over the world (see the other entry) or had some other sort of active, aggressive agenda. But no---it's just this bullshit about starting a family. What is with that? It reeks of family values, and we've all seen what that's done to the country!

OK, so the real issue here is that these people having kids makes me feel older, but at least I can make up for that by keeping my maturity level at the adolescent stage. It's a moral necessity and probably kind of 1984ish in a way. :)

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Nats fleece the Padres

In a trade announced today, the Padres traded Brian Lawrence to the Nationals for Vinny Castilla. The Expos got rid of an albatross, actually received something of value (a back-of-the-rotation starter is has a history of staying healthy, which is reasonably uncommon among starting pitchers), and opened up a spot for uber-prospect Ryan Zimmerman. Meanwhile, the Padres traded a starter for a 38-year-old 3rd baseman when they could have gotten an equally good or better third baseman from the scrap heap. Castilla has had some success before (especially in Colorado!), but the rest of the NL West should be happy with this trade. (Go Dodgers!)

Gotta' love Berkeley statisticians...

Check out this t-shirt from Berkeley's stats department. Very nice! Norbert Wiener would be proud... (Some of the shirts from the other years are very cool too.)

So, how about a physics t-shirt with the lubrication approximation? (It could happen.)

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

I know I'm asking for it with this one...

I was talking to one of my friends just now and my name came up in a conversation he was having with a mutual friend last night. They apparently decided that I should go and donate sperm and that they would facilitate matters by signing up, etc. They added that it was important that I spread my seed and that this would be the most efficient way to do it. He was saying that if I spread enough seed that it could become like Thomas Jefferson's posse with all these people claiming to be his descendants via slaves he boinked. (Then with so many descendants, I would in theory be remembered in the history books---at least that's how his argument went.)

Well, it's nice to know I have friends with designs on my legacy and (implied) confidence in certain other things.

I don't think that I want to become one of the fathers of our country in this particular manner...

"Crowd Synchrony on the Millenium Bridge"

This article, written by a bunch of people I know (and one person I don't), just appeared in Nature. Perhaps the best way to describe it is with the abstract:

"Footbridges start to sway when packed with pedestrians falling into step with their vibrations.

Soon after the crowd streamed on to London's Millennium Bridge on the day it opened, the bridge started to sway from side to side: many pedestrians fell spontaneously into step with the bridge's vibrations, inadvertently amplifying them. Here we model this unexpected and now notorious phenomenon — which was not due to the bridge's innovative design as was first thought — by adapting ideas originally developed to describe the collective synchronization of biological oscillators such as neurons and fireflies. Our approach should help engineers to estimate the damping needed to stabilize other exceptionally crowded footbridges against synchronous lateral excitation by pedestrians."

In September 2004, Strogatz (who was on my Ph.D. thesis committee and who is the exceedingly rare applied mathematician with a large number of articles in Nature) visited me at Georgia Tech and gave a public lecture on synchronization. He showed the video of what happened with the Millenium Bridge, and it's really amazing to watch! (In many ways, it's even more amazing then the Tacoma Narrows video.)

As for the other authors, let me go through them one by one: Danny Abrams '00 was a Rudd and APh major. Presumably, several of you also know him. He overlapped with me at Cornell as well (arriving as a Ph.D. student in Theoretical & Applied Mechanics in Fall 2001).

I've met Bruno Eckhardt at a couple conferences (and when he visited Georgia Tech). I originally know his name from his work on quantum chaos. I applied for an NSF postdoc under Ed Ott (but it was rejected). He's part of Maryland's chaos group and is a really nice person. I've never met Allan McRobie.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

A very prestigious math journal :)

I just got a spam indicating that I should submit a paper to the Antarctica Journal of Mathematics, whose headquarters is apparently housed in India. Go figure.

I think that more than half the stuff in PRL probably should be published there instead. The penguins could probably use some lessons in how to earn a career in academia by bull-shitting.

Damnit, where did I put that boomstick?

Apparently, there is an ARMY OF DARKNESS role-playing game. (It's just as expensive as the Serenity role-playing game.)

Amusing quote

I saw the following quote in the current issue of APS News:

"I didn't realize that President Bush's faith-based initiatives have reached so far as Air Force research projects. None of the three forms of teleportation of large objects discussed in this report are anywhere near being practical in the forseeable future and (are) probably ultimately impractical, as a trained physicist can see by just plugging in a few numbers."

This was uttered by Victor J. Stenger, University of Hawaii (emeritus) about the Air Force study of teleportation and was quoted in the San Fransisco Chronicle on 8/29/05.

In the meantime, I think I am going to develop a theory of hornet teleportation... (I've already figured out how to get them into stable orbits, so it could happen.)

No blue flash this year...

On Hallow's Eve, I dressed up like a geek, and---after watching some Firefly (to continue catching up)---I headed over to campus to witness my first pumpkin drop since 1998. While I never found this to be that special, I went for old time's sake and it does make for a good trip down memory lane. (The Darb who tried playing The Ride at the end segment of the performance needs to be ponded, however.)

I saw one recent Lloyd alum there, although I didn't talk to him. While leaving, I thought I saw a Lloydie from the class of 1995 with a really young girl. It has been said several times over the years that while he gets older every year, his girlfriends don't. (Maybe that's enough for some of you to figure out who this is. I'll pass along the name privately if you want it. Some of you definitely have met him before.)