Friday, March 31, 2006

Today's fortune

"Family relationships will improve with time."

Thursday, March 30, 2006

That's deep man.

Here is the title and abstract of a paper just posted on the arxiv:

Title: About the impossibility of quantifying the knowledge and of establishing consequently its correlation with money
Authors: Jose Carlos Bermejo-Barrera
Comments: 24 pages, 1 figure
Subj-class: Physics and Society
\ This article shows how the Universities and higher education and research institutions obey more and more to criteria of profitability and effectiveness, following the example of the industry. The Universities and the academic communities are the main producers of knowledge, which is not quantifiable and, therefore, cannot find an equivalent in money, which is quantifiable. Many scientists intend to establish a connection between knowledge and money, using for that a set of criteria of evaluation. Being useless these criteria, the scientists resort to a system of honour, but the science is essentially normal knowledge.
\\ ( , 75kb)

I would especially like to point out the following sentence: The Universities and the academic communities are the main producers of knowledge, which is not quantifiable and, therefore, cannot find an equivalent in money, which is quantifiable.

So, on that note, have I got a proof for you...

Claim: Women are Evil

Proof: It is evident that women cost time and money. For simplicity, let's assume that women are linearly proportional to both time and money. (Admittedly, it is true that some women cost more than others. The proof can be generalized to work in such situations, so I'll take the liberty of ignoring them---the cases, not the women.) It is an old proverb that time is money, so we know that women are proportional to the square of money. Well, it's another old proverb that money is the root of all evil, so this gives us that women are proportional to all evil. This becomes an equality by considering equivalence classes (it's like saying two eigenvectors are equivalent if they differ only by a nonzero constant). Therefore, women are evil. QEFD

Recent Caltech alum (from my class) gets an article in Nature

Well, I think that Caltech alums get articles in Nature all the time, but it isn't usually somebody from my graduating class.

I found this out via a Cornell press release, which I received via e-mail.

The headline is, "Cassini spacecraft finds evidence of football-field sized moonlets in
Saturn's A ring". As stated in the press release,

A continuum of particle sizes lends strong support to the theory that Saturn's rings were formed when another object fragmented close to the planet, breaking into pieces which were then captured by Saturn's gravitational pull.

The lead author on the article is Matt Tiscareno '98, who at least a couple of you know. He is currently a "research associate" (which I assume means some sort of postdoc) at Cornell. The PI on the project was Joe Burns, whose celestial mechanics course I took many moons ago (excuse the pun).

The Rites of Spring

This evening is when I truly feel that baseball is imminent?

Why is that? Simple: Spring training has advanced to the point where Vin Scully is now announcing the games again. I am at work because I'll be going to ping pong a little later (so I am listening online rather than watching on tv), but Vin Scully's golden voice is announcing the Dodgers' exhibition game against the Mariners. Baseball is most definitely in the air, and I am loving it!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

SimonFest: A Workshop for Barry Simon's 60th birthday

This week, Caltech has been hosting SimonFest in honor of Barry Simon's 60th birthday.

Tonight we had the conference dinner, which included a roast with several amusing anecdotes. (There are a number of anecdotes on the conference website as well.) Gary Lorden was one of the people who said some words. He highlighted two major vignettes from Simon's Caltech career---one of these was the whole experience teaching the new math 1a in fall 1996 when the core was changed. I was a TA for that course and Wren was was a student in it. (Wren: I assume you didn't skip math 1; I don't actually remember any incidents involving you. I'm only going by your class year.) Of course, several of the things that Lorden said were familiar to me, as I know that class wrought some pain on the students and on the TAs. I spent _waaaaay_ more time in my TA duties that term than is normal and the inaugural term of the half-calculus [Barry Simon-style] and half-probability core caused a non-trivial amount of grief. (I hasten to add, however, that while Simon is not the optimal choice to teach core courses---as several of you know quite well---he is extremely good for graduate-level courses. I had him for math 110a and felt that he did an extremely good job.) The story that I told for the conference web page relates to that. (Gazebo: The story was not the one about a certain Simpson's Rule proof, a "tradition" that began for that particular class.)

Here's an amusing story from tonight: There was a prof from University of Arizona sitting next to me at my table. He looked at my name tag and said something along the lines of, "I've encountered your name before. Did you apply for a job at University of Arizona?" Ummm, yeah.... (Maybe that means my application was good enough for them to look seriously at it...) Anyway, I was amused.

One thing I've learned throughout my still-brief applied math career (with some overlap in mathematical physics) is just how huge a name Simon is in mathematical physics. (These galas can, in principle, be done for any scientist but they are far more often done for people with big names. Does anybody happen to know why age 60 seems to be the traditional age to do this [at least in math and physics]? I've never gotten a good answer to this. I know about the whole idea of having been around long enough, but why is it usually 60 versus some other age at which one has been around enough?) While I knew about Nobel Laureates and the huge reknown of a few other people while I was at Tech, only later did I realize that a bloody enormous fraction of Tech professors seem to have been recognized at an astoudingly high level (or ultimately will be, in the case of the younger ones). Simon has over 300 research articles, another close to 50 review articles, and 14 research monographs. This kind of output is almost unheard of for a mathematician! (In other fields, the paper volume gets measured quite differently.) I am more prolific (in pace; obviously not in volume) than most applied math sorts (who are already much more prolific than most pure math and mathematical physics sorts!), and I'm on a pace to get something like 150-200 research papers (and no books) if my publication rate remains constant and I have a comprably long career. And we're talking about someone who has numerous extremely influential papers. (I should note that I know very well that my place in the world does not include approaching that kind of combination of volume and far-reaching mathematical influence.)

Much of this stuff going on at this conference revolves around spectral theory (literally, the study of eigenvalues---although the original name, and most of the applications, comes from how they arise in physics [especially quantum mechanics]). In fact, there are some problems I am studying (and some I am just starting to think about) that could use some insights from experts in spectral theory, so I'm hoping to pick some people's brains at this conference. (I haven't managed to do that yet, but I have a couple meetings tomorrow.)

That's about it for my thoughts right now.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

"The great state of Vermont will not apologize for its cheese."

That line, uttered by William H. Macy, is one of the myriad great lines in the excellent movie Thank You For Smoking, which I recommend highly! (That line appeared in the trailer, but there are also a ton of great moments not in the trailer. It was a truly excellent movie.) I'd have to think about whether or not I would rank this higher than V for Vendetta. Both movies are superb, but they're very different and it isn't easy to definitely say which I like better at this point. We'll see what I think about this at the end of the year when I am ranking my films. Certainly, these are the top two from this year.

The lead character, Nick Naylor, is the chief lobbyist for Big Tobacco. Wacky hijinks and awesome satire ensue! I really like biting political and social sature and witticisms and this flick has a bevy of both. Go see it! William H. Macy, playing the senator going after Big Tobacco, was his usual awesome self in the film. I loved his diatribe about "Cancer Boy" not being pathetic enough!

Another awesome line: "Rock on Kennedy!" (in response to Nick Naylor telling his friends in the "Merchants of Death" that he doesn't need any bodyguards). The guy who uttered that was the gun lobbyist, who had a ton of great lines.

Another quote I like: Nick Naylor: "Michael Jordan plays ball. Charlie Manson kills people. I talk."

Here's another: "Jeff has a thing for Asian shit." (casual comment from an assistant of a Hollywood agent as he is showing Nick and his son around on the way to the big wig's office)

And a non sequitar bit of trivia: Keira Knightley turned 21 today.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

8th Grade Finals: 1895 edition

Click on this link to see a sample 8th grade final exam given in Kansas in 1895. My first reaction is that there had to have been a ton of memorization involved. (For example, take a look at some of the questions under "orthography".)

Friday, March 24, 2006

Britannica vs Wikipedia: Fight!

There was an article in Nature on 12/15 arguing that Wikipedia was just as accurate as Britannica. Here is an article about Britannica's 20-page retort, which includes a demand that article be retracted.

Here is an interesting tidbit from the newspaper article:

The article, which has since been updated, differed from the normal practice in that it was "an expert-led investigation carried out by Nature" rather than a paper written by scientists and submitted to the journal for peer review. It also came out at a time Wikipedia was under criticism for high-profile errors in some entries.

Nature concluded such errors appear to be the exception rather than the rule.

Now, Nature is only partly a research journal. It's also partly a magazine, and their primary goal is to sell issues rather than to produce science. I hadn't realized that this was a Nature investigation rather than a more traditional scientific study. Given that such an article would sell magazines, I think we need to see the extensive article in Social Networks or a similar reputable journal.

My own intuition is that wikipedia entries should asymptotically achieve comparable accuracy, but it's not at all clear how fast this convergence occurs.

Any thoughts?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

2006 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees

Here I am at my office, writing this entry in the gaps between 5 or so minute numerical simulations that I remember taking much, much longer back in the day in grad school. I am redoing figures for a paper at the request of the publisher (not a referee) so that they're higher quality. This is part of the page proof from Hell, because not only am I spending a lot of time fixing the figures but there are also things in the text that neither my student nor me nor the referee caught that I saw while reading the page proof. I was like "Oh fuck!" At least I caught this before the paper's in print. (Because the figures my student had given me were too large, this is also one of my few papers not on the arxiv.) Stuff like this is my worst nightmare (or would be if already actually in print). The referee rubber-stamped the paper, and getting some comments is always better. It gives a chance to not only make the requested improvements but also to take a look at things and find bugs made difficult by the coma-inducement of proofreading many times in a relatively short period of time. Now, of course, I am doing this at the pageproof level, which means that because of the magnitude of changes, I will need to go through a second round of proofing. The graphics were made by a since-graduated student, and at this point, I basically need to do this myself.

Many of the journals (this one especially) yell about the possible delay in publication and expenses that an extra round of proofing costs. (I think this cover letter is left over from olden days just a bit. Hell, this journal lists a couple people on their editorial-board masthead who have been dead about five years! [It might actually be 4, but I am not making this up and there are no nontrivial exaggerations here.]) I apologized profusely to the publisher because this will still cause extra work on their part (although nowhere near the extra work on my part).

This whole thing is one of the many stressful things on my plate at the moment. Another thing only got added yesterday (a non-academic thing). A new pile of shit keeps hitting the fan for me in one way or another every week, and I think I'm now at close to 10 weeks in a row on this. (And many, or perhaps most, of the old ones aren't resolved yet.) I really can't take this...

Anyway, that was the rant that had nothing to do with the entry I intended to write.

So, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inducted some new members recently. They are Black Sabbath, Blondie, Miles Davis, and Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Sex Pistols.

Here are some brief comments:

Black Sabbath: I'd like to take this moment to recall the game Six Degrees of Black Sabbath. (I've never actually played and don't know enough to be any good at it.)

Blondie: This is the only selection among this year's inductess that's part of my paradigm. Blondie is one of those bands from the punk-new wave transition era. They were extremely influential, especially when it comes to females who rock. Their lead singer Debby Harry is now over 60! [Well, over 60---not over 60! :) ]

Lynyrd Skynyrd: Play "Freebird"! :P

Sex Pistols: They were very influential and consequently highly deserve their selection, but I think their music completely sucks. (That said, numerous bands that I really like count the Sex Pistols among their primary influences.) I do like some of their song titles, however. ("Anarchy in the UK", anyone?)

Dynamics and Manipulation of Matter-Wave Solitons in Optical Superlattices

I am posting this entry a little belatedly (which I'm starting as I listen to the end of the song "Earth Girls Are Easy").

About a month ago, one of my papers was posted in one of the late March issues of Physics Letters A. (The corrected proof was posted online in early December, it was officially published last month, and only around now are we reaching the official date of the issue.)

This paper, called Dynamics and Manipulation of Matter-Wave Solitons in Optical Superlattices concerns fast (nonadiabatic) and slow (adiabatic) adjust of a superlattice potential to controllably move solitary waves around in a Bose-Einstein condensate. A superlattice potential can be modeled as a sum of two or more trig functions -- two in this case and the experimentally achieved case -- and experimentalists have a lot of control over the amplitudes, wave numbers, and relative phases of the different components (cosines) in the potential. One of the messages of this paper is that because of the extra length scale in a superlattice potential as compared to a regular lattice potential, one has a lot more flexibility. Soliton manipulation is one aspect of this. This business is motivated in part by quantum computing considerations (and in part by the desire to study cool nonlinear phenomena), and an experimental scion of the superlattice experiment from NIST (which is an eggshell potential: a regular optical lattice x a double well) has very recently been proposed as a possible way to get a 2-qbit computer.

My coauthors on this paper are Panos Kevrekidis, Ricardo Carretero-González, and Dmitri Frantzeskakis.

Here is the abstract:

We study the existence and stability of bright, dark, and gap matter-wave solitons in optical superlattices. Then, using these properties, we show that (time-dependent) “dynamical superlattices” can be used to controllably place, guide, and manipulate these solitons. In particular, we use numerical experiments to displace solitons by turning on a secondary lattice structure, transfer solitons from one location to another by shifting one superlattice substructure relative to the other, and implement solitonic “path-following”, in which a matter wave follows the time-dependent lattice substructure into oscillatory motion.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Pulp Fiction (belated)

Fresh in my mind because of Gazebo's 90s movies thread, I have corrected a couple oversights this week by watching Men in Black on Sunday and Pulp Fiction last night.

MIB was decent, but nothing special. I liked the second one better, but that's likely because those jokes were new for me in the second rather than in this one, which is when they were supposed to be new.

Pulp Fiction, on the other hand, was very good. However, does not go into my list of top 90s films. Very good? Definitely! Excellent? Almost but not quite. That's obviously not a knock against it, but I know that a good number of people put this movie very high on their all-time lists.

The part I liked the best was the intertwining of the stories. It reminded me of Sin City a bit in that respect, although properly it would be the other way around had I seen them in the right order. Starting with a vignette that occurs in the middle of the film chronologically was a nice touch. Of course, this movie is filled with tons of excellent lines. I have heard many of them before on numerous occasions---similar to the case of Bull Durham but not quite as often (because I would hear Bull Durham lines when watching and listening to baseball games). There is a local place, by the way, that has a $5 milkshake, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if they borrowed the title from the movie.

Several years ago, my mother rented Pulp Fiction because of the acclaim it was getting. She was horrified by the film and her attitude was that its acclaim is an indication of our society going in wrong directions. (I am phrasing the last part vaguely because I don't remember the statement precisely and I don't want to accidently exaggerate how extreme the statement was.) I say: bollocks! (Although it does make sense that the film would be more popular in a culture that has become desensitized to violence. But I call "bollocks" on stronger statements of moral downfall or anything like that.) As with Kill Bill, this film is artistically violent. (Althought the scene with the gimp overdid things, in my opinion.)

Monday, March 20, 2006

Hornets --> A Cat?

Today at lunch, an orange cat (that Lemming recognizes) was hanging out with me at lunch. It briefly tried to climb me and whined until I gave it some food. It's tag lists it as a Caltech cat named "Velcro". I don't know whose cat it is or if it's a general on-campus cat. After it accepted my leftover food (which consisted mostly of gravy at that point), I decided I had the authority to rename it "Phonon", which will be especially apt if it adopts the condensed matter group. (Lemming mentioned that Phonon hangs out outside of Chandler, but I didn't recognize this cat.)

In other news, the wheels are now officially in motion for my April Fool's Day prank (I found a necessary accomplice who is "inside"). Be afraid; be very afraid... (and stay tuned...) You might be hearing about this one... (and I'll tell you, if nothing else).

Sunday, March 19, 2006

A for Awesome

I saw V for Vendetta last night. It's awesome. Go see it!

Currently, it's my top movie of 2006. (I'm not counting Bull Durham, which I recently saw for the first time, but only movies currently out in theatres that I also saw in 2006. Otherwise, Bull Durham would get this trophy.)

I haven't read the original source material (and, in fact, the author of that took his name off the flick's credits because of differences in artistic vision) and the movie is heavily into the post-9/11 frenzy. Supposedly, it's more heavily into such things than the original, but many such aspects were already there. (The original apparently had a much larger emphasis on the love story.) Hugo Weaving is excellently cast, and some of his (occasionally borrowed) poetry was really cool. I loved when he first was talking to Evie and did his alliterative 'V' bit. That was so awesome!

The Guy Fawkes theme was pretty cool too, although I'm pretty dubious (to say the least) about blowing up the parliament building being a symbole of rebirth of the society (or that so many people would go along with something like that). The movie was quite heavy-handed in its message, but I read about that coming in. They stressed the "former" United States and its second civil war quite a bit. (I was amused by the British pundit's statement about paying back the colonies for what they did a few hundred years ago. This amused me. As we discussed in this blog a few months ago, some Brits apparently do still view the US as the spoiled little children who rebelled, at least at some level.)

Also, V's home was really sweet. I want some of those toys!

Throughout the movie, I was extremely amused by the fact that the High Chancellor looks like Carver Mead (who has a fairly extensive wikipedia page, by the way).

On a completely separate note, I was at Border's today and I saw a book which included a script + pictures of Mirrormask. In an introductory part of the book, the authors were discussing how the Henson people specifically set out to make a new Labyrinth-style movie. (I need to see Labyrinth again. I know I keep mentioning this, but I haven't seen it since it first came out, I really enjoyed it, my memory of it is rather hazy, and I want to refresh it.) Also, I saw Amber and Iron, the new book in the main Dragonlance novel line, which was supposed to come out last August but had (I thought) been delayed until August 2006 or later. Apparently, it was released in February, and I was quite pleased to have seen it unexpectedly when I was in the check-out line. Another new Dragonlance book by Weis and Hickman will be released in July. The excerpt in the book I bought included old favorites like Tasslehoff, so I'm not sure what this book is going to be. It is supposed to be the first in a trilogy, and I'm very intrigued. I also bought a Phillip K. Dick short story collection. I haven't read any of his stuff before, but I've seen at least one movie (and know of at least three others, one of which I will be seeing this summer when it comes out) based on his works. Border's had a number of his short story collections (and several novels). I wasn't sure which one to buy, so I got the 'Phillip K. Dick Reader', which had the ones based on at least three movies and seemed like a good one with which to start.

'Defend Science' petition

You can find this here. I am tempted to circulate this by e-mail, but maybe the professional societies will end up doing so. I think that putting it on various blogs (Gazebo?) might be a good way to go.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Book Banning Nonsense

I saw a blurb about the top 10 banned books of 2005. They include some very familiar titles and authors. For more details and this list and other lists of who has been challenged and/or banned in recent years, see this part of the American Libraries Association website.

Given the current climate, I am wondering when The Mechanical Universe will be joining this list, especially given that David Goodstein also has a book about certain natural resources.

Evil will always triumph because Good is dumb!

I just fielded a call (a wrong number) at my office from song young boy who was asking if "Melissa" was there. I told him he had the wrong number, missing an excellent opportunity to completely destroy his life. Melissa doesn't want to ever see you again, you punk!

I was trying to relax (and read for pleasure) at Peet's this morning and every bloody person who sat near me had one or more really small kids who, naturally, couldn't sit still. God-fucking damnit! I'm already extremely stressed out, so you can imagine who tightly-strung things like that will make me. I can't do anything about it, although I did tell one of the kids sternly not to touch my stuff after she started to put her hand in my backpack. Second-hand toddlers can really piss me off sometimes.

I'm getting a few small work errands done, and that's calming me down more than my attemps to read the Death Gate Cycle did.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Former host of "Press Your Luck" finds a Whammy

You may not realize this yet, but this title is in extremely poor taste. Yet, I could not resist, so here it is.

When people from my era were children, dinosaurs roamed the earth (but that's another story). When we were sick and stayed home from school, we would stay at home and watch daytime game shows like Press Your Luck. This was one of my favorite gameshows because of the presence of the Whammy, a character one could get instead of dollar values on a sort of slot machine who would banrukpt anyway contestant who got him amidst extremely amusing animations with accompanying sounds. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, you owe it to yourself to catch a rerun of the show on the Gameshow Channel.)

OK, so a few days ago, Peter Tamarken (the host of this show) and his wife were tragically killed when their plane crashed. (They were on this plane as part of a volunteering program, so this wasn't anything like a stunt where death happens to be a pricey stupidity tax.) That's why the title of this entry is in bad taste.

What I had forgotten (or possibly never realized; I think I just forgot it) is that Tamarken is a fellow Beverly High alum (call of 1960). In fact, his three children are also Beverly High alums. Two of them overlapped with me, although I don't know if I knew/know them. (I do know people who have those first names, but I don't know if it's them.)

Anyway, my title isn't meant to belittle what happened, and I do feel sort of bad for using it (but I can't resist, as I mentioned).

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A few extra tidbits

I forgot to mention this earlier: I had to spend longer than usual in the line to check my luggage. Why? Well, some brilliant person put in backwards the tape that prints the luggage tags. Now, that's easy enough to do, but they didn't notice for over 20 minutes (as the line got progressively longer) and then some of us were sent over to the lovely machine in question to check in. Then we had to get the luggage stuff manually because after already haven checked in, it wouldn't let us deal with luggage automatically anymore. Bastards!

One of the Cornell people last night was also a Lloydie (one year above me) who transferred after sophomore year. I also talked to Matt Sullivan at his poster and ran into one other Scurve from the class of 98. I know there's at least one Darb around, but there seems to be a slight overpopulation here.

My collaborator's baby was born at 11:05 pm on 3/13. I told him he should have made his wife hold on for another hour.

I have some non-March Meeting stuff to post, but I'll do that later. One of them involves Whammies and is in very poor taste. :)

Nonlinear Imagery and other things

Our poster has been declared one of the winners of the 2006 APS Gallery of Nonlinear Images. An associated one-page publication will appear in the journal Chaos later this year. As far as exposure of my work is concerned, this is HUGE. (In 2005, the nonlinear gallery was the most downloaded stuff from this journal, so a lot of people in my community are going to become aware of this work. The poster was on Congress, by the way.)

Last night was the Cornell reception. Afterwards, I went out to dinner with some Cornell people from the recent past (people I know) and present (people I met last night). I would definitely like to hang out more with one of the people I met.

Also, I've been better than usual this conference about being social. I'm still horrible at meeting people, but I've been doing reasonably well at dinners with people I didn't previously know. (I'm actually capable of making charisma checks. I need to roll high, but I am capable of it.)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Happy Pi Day!

Today is Pi Day!

There are some pretty famous people who were born on this day. :)

It would be really cool, however, to be born at 3:14 on Pi Day...

Monday, March 13, 2006

Sign Error in \Delta T

What happened? (Or, more precisely, wtf!?!?)

When I left LA, the low at night was in the mid 30s, and the previous high (or maybe highs) were in the 40s. (For LA in mid March, this seems like just about the coldest I've experienced in over 20 years worth of data points.) I fly to Baltimore and it's much, much warmer! Now, I'm going outside in a t-shirt, and it's not so bad to do that even at night. In the convention center, it's another 15-20 degrees warmer. (Somebody has got to turn on the air con in here. It's ridiculous!)

Unsurprisingly, my flight included tons of March Meeting people, including (at least) two others from my building (including my neighbor, Jim Eisenstein) and very likely other Techers.

By the way, the TSA people apparently loved my poster on Congress (especially the part about the Select Committee on Homeland Security). :)

Sunday, March 12, 2006

March Meeting Madness

AKA: What happens at the March Meeting stays at the March Meeting.

In a few hours, I am going to need to wake up early in the morning to be picked up at 5:45 am by Super Shuttle for my morning flight to the APS March Meeting in Baltimore. This will be my third trip to Maryland in three months. I am supposed to arrive around 4:30 pm, and then I'll get my butt over to the hotel, get my registration stuff, and hopefully find some of my friends and go eat dinner with them.

I am going to be giving a short talk on Congressional networks and I also have a poster entered for the competition for the GSNP (Group on Statistical and Nonlinear Physics) Gallery of Images. I am speaking in a focus session on social networks and, in fact, complex networks is very well represented at this conference. I'm hoping that between the talk and the poster (and the fact that I will be letting these people know that our data is available upon request) that I'll get a bunch of people interested in my stuff.

There will be a number of Techers at the conference---including Gazebo, Jing Xu '98, Robert Chen '98 (a pair of Scurves), Matt Reese '01, Matt Sullivan '00, and some others whose names and faces I recognize but who I never knew very well. I am bringing both 1000 Blank White Cards and Apples to Apples with me, so hopefully some heated gaming will ensue.

Obviously, a number of other people I know will also be there. One of my collaborators was named an APS Fellow this year. I may have actually nominated him, but I can't remember whether or not I did. Some other collaborators will be there, and there are some work-related discussions in the works. Cornell always has a big group of current people and alums at this meeting (they have a large, prominent condensed matter group), and for at least the past several years, there has been a Cornell reception (with good food). The opening reception should have some good food as well.

The exhibitor's hall at this conference also tends to be extensive.

In general, the March Meeting has a lot of stuff to offer, but it's rather huge, and one does tend to find oneself drowning in things.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Word 'o the Day

Continuing with the theme from the last thread, the word of the day (at least according to for Saturday March 11, 2006 is crapulence, which is defined as follows:

crapulous \KRAP-yuh-lus\, adjective:
1. Suffering the effects of, or derived from, or suggestive of gross intemperance, especially in drinking; as, a crapulous stomach.
2. Marked by gross intemperance, especially in drinking; as, a crapulous old reprobate.

These were the dregs of their celebratory party: the half-filled glasses, the cold beans and herring, the shouts and smells of the crapulous strangers hemming them in on every side, the dead rinsed-out April night and the rain drooling down the windows.
-- T. Coraghessan Boyle, Riven Rock

The crapulous life which her future successor led.
-- Lord Brougham, Historical Sketches of Statesmen in the Time of George III

The new money was spent in so much riotous living, and from end to end there settled on the country a mood of fretful, crapulous irritation.
-- Stephen McKenna, Sonia

May I humbly suggest that tomorrow's word of the day be craptacular? (I am guessing that this eventually may find its way into the dictionary, but it might be a while longer.)

Finally, here's another use of today's word of the day: Lemming felt craptacular last Sunday and hence wants to see Night Watch again.

Quote o' the Day

This comes from part of a response to a letter to EGM: "Vampire games are for Depeche Mode fans and 43-year-old loners."

Comment: Mmmmm... vampires.

(P.S. I did not write the letter in question.)

Friday, March 10, 2006

Donut Burger

I just read an article on about a donut burger that will be sold starting this year in a particular minor league stadium. This sounds utterly nasty.

As the story's lead says, however, Homer Simpson would be pleased. (And no, it's not the Albuquerque Isostopes who are doing this.)

Death Gate Cycling

I've been enjoying books from the Death Gate Cycle (by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman) lately. In fact, I've been really enjoying them.

I had been meaning to read them for several years when I bought the first two books when I was living in Atlanta. I'm glad I bought the first two books rather than just the first, because Vol 1 was ok but not all that great. However, Vol 2 was awesome and really got me into the story. After a brief break for Amy Tan and Bob Salvatore novels, I quickly gobbled up Vols 3 and 4, and I just started the 5th volume today.

Vol III saw the protagonist Haplo visit Abarrach, the world of stone. He saw lots of dead people and the creation of some really nasty undead called Lazar, who are planning all sorts of nastiness (like making the other Sundered Realms similarly under the control of the dead).

Vol IV saw Haplo visit Chelestra, the world of water. This is where some Sartan (including the Council) were hibernating. The head of the council, Samah, is a royal dick, by the way. I guess he's supposed to be lawful good (in the sense of a paladin with a 10-foot pole up his ass), but he seems like LN to me (if one wants to use those labels). I would say that Haplo is either LN or NN, and that Alfred (the "bumbling" Sartan) is NG.

Haplo thought that he lost himself in III, but he realized in IV that he was actually beginning to find himself. The fact that he started with answers to everything and ended with questions about everything indicates that. (That's the same thing in science. After the best research, one typically has many more questions than one did before. A couple things typically get answered, but in the process, many more questions were revealed.)

As we start Vol 5, Haplo is poised to escape his house arrest (in a room in Samah's house) as the magic-nullifying water rises and cancels out (temporarily) some Sartan runic magic. The writing style seems to have changed a bit with this volume, and some things suddenly have been given names. The Lord of the Nexus all of a sudden has a name. (I don't remember him being referred to by name in prior volumes.) The Sartan's land mass all of a sudden has a name as well. The dolphins' dialogue is being simulated now rather than just described. In the beginning of the book, several facts were stated in more precise fashion than than were in volume 4. (For instance, in Vol 4, they discuss Alfred's reaction to what's in the books Samah didn't want him to read without stating precisely what it was. In the beginning of volume 5, in the summaries written by Haplo of what happened on the previous four worlds, the authors decided to be more explicit. One thing I had been hoping in Vol 4 was an appendix excerpting some of what Alfred read in the library.)

Anyway, this is enough of a description for now. I'll write another entry after I finish Vol 5 or something.

(By the way, this isn't the only cyclist team I'm on---I'm also one of the members of the extended quantum chaos cyclist team, where the "cycles" in question technically refer to cycle [i.e.,periodic orbit] expansions to study dynamics. I am extended part of the team by virtue of having contributed to the online book to which I am linking. In recognition of this book, I awarded its lead author a Pulitzer Prize in perhaps my best ever April Fools Day prank. He claims to be prouder of this prize than his just-garnered APS Fellowship.)

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Sound of Music

Today I saw a performance of The Sound of Music at a small theatre in Glendale. Obviously, I've heard of both the musical and the movie, but I hadn't actually seen either before. In fact, I also knew a decent amount about the musical (both songs and subject matter), and it was nice to fill in another of my cultural gaps. Also, it worked very well in an intimate setting. (Music sounds quite different from Silence, by the way. And I have seen the theatrical version of The Graduate, though not the film.)

Anyway, this musical is about how the famous Von Trapp family found music, although there are also some very serious undertones, especially in the second act. (Hint: The musical takes place in Austria in the late 1930s. And Godwin's Law doesn't apply here, because in this case it's actually relevant.)

Also worth mentioning (and I knew this as well beforehand) is that I knew many of the songs from the musical even without having seen it before. They are quite famous, after all, and I think I am far from the only one who encountered this famous version of "Do Re Mi" in elementary school. (That's probably where I first encountered it, although it wasn't until many years later that I knew where it was from.) "The Lonely Goatherd", the title track, and "My Favorite Things" were other songs I've heard a lot (especially the last of these). I've even heard a couple of the other songs once or twice before, so I've covered a decent chunk of this stuff before without having had the precise context of where they occur in the story.

Anyway, it was a good time. And I even did some curve fitting today.


Here is a recent article on the fast-disappearing bonobo, known as the "hippie chimp" from the tendency to make love, not war (they resolve squabbles through sex rather than violence).

However, their meat appears to be tasty to the Congolese, so they are disappearing rapidly. It is estimated that there are as few of 5000 of them left, about 2000 of whom are currently enrolled at UC Berkeley.

There are some amusing tidbits in the article (take a look at the quote at the end), and this may perhaps explain some of the odd graphics in the old arcade game Congo Bongo (which was basically a cheap, vastly inferior imitation of Donkey Kong).

By the way, I hope somebody catches the reference in the title, because I'm very proud of it.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Roid Ragin'

Excerpts from an upcoming book (to be published March 27th) detail Barry Bonds' performance-enhancing drug regimen from 1998 onward. Here is ESPN's article on the topic.

Well, the evidence keeps mounting that Bonds did all sorts of shit. One should note first that he had Hall-of-Fame numbers before he did any of that stuff. It should also be noted (and reporters tend to conveniently ignore this fact) that during these times that he is believed to have done stuff (and very likely did do stuff), it was legal for Major League players to use steroids. Not that it was considered a good idea, but in that case it's stupidity rather than both stupidity and cheating. Doing a hindsight witchhunt on somebody isn't particularly fair, and I think a lot of people have been doing that.

Of course, this may have led to some perjury in court (regarding his knowledge of the performance enhancers), so we'll see how that plays out.

Monday, March 06, 2006

RIP Kirby Puckett (1960-2006)

I just finished reading the ESPN story reporting that former Minnesota Twin and Hall-of-Fame baseball player Kirby Puckett has died. This is a sad, sad day. I tend to be bothered somewhat when baseball players, actors, whatever that I like have died, but this one is bothering me far more than most. (I am actually shedding some tears on this one, and I don't cry very often.) I think a lot of it has to do that this is somebody I watched during his entire career as opposed to just on the tail end of it (and maybe my own mortality has something to do with this). Maybe my current stress level is contributing a bit to my reaction and maybe the fact that Kirby was just 44 (but apparently morbidly obese) also contributes a bit.

I saw the reports last night about his stroke (and being in critical condition) and could see the writing on the wall. Writing this particular blog entry occurred to me, and I wish the journalist in me had shut up. (Why does that bloody thought inevitably come to my mind so quickly? I guess a lot of us have some morbid fascination with obituaries that doesn't seem entirely healthy. I remember once during my frosh year when the only on-campus murder in Caltech's history occurred. I was a Tech Editor, and I couldn't help the thought that we had a legitimate front page story that week.)

I have included a link to Puckett's Hall-of-Fame statistics so you can see just how good a player he was. His career was cut short by glaucoma (probably also related to his weight issues), but just look at the seasonal average (and individual seasons) rather than the counting stats.

I really ought to have been writing this 20 or more years from now rather than today. It's a shame.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Like Mage, only Russian

Tonight, I saw Night Watch with (Mike)^2 and Tim's body.

********Note: There are some spoilers here.**********

It is a very good film, and I recommend it highly. (I think Tim, in particular, wants to see it again.) The movie, based on a book, is slated as the first of a trilogy, and the similarities to The Matrix don't stop there. (The lead character bore a passing visual resemblance to Neo when he was wearing his sunglasses everywhere, and another of the characters bore a visual resemblance to Trinity in her black outfit and sunglasses.)

The IMDB entry doesn't explain all that much, but thankfully the wikipedia entry discusses things in greater depth. The film comes out of Russia and is apparently the first big-budget sci-films from Russia (Mmmm... Russian violence) and was the highest-grossing Russian release ever.

I don't want to spoil too much here, but as far as a modern-day fantasy/sci-far thriller goes, there are clear similarities to Mage. There is something called the "The Gloom" which reminded me a bit of the ethereal plane in D & D, but there was more to it that they only vaguely explained later on in the film. The wikipedia entry discusses this and also highlights some big differences between the book and the film.

There were unfortunately a couple really cheesy moments in the film---the lights going on in the city after a certain person came to peace with herself come immediately to me. (Both (Mike)^2 and I did our versions of groaning aloud at this point. Tim's reaction was pretty much the same here as during the rest of the movie.)

Best (translated) line of the film: "Who's the vampire?" (uttered in a "Who's the girl?" kind of way)

To reiterate past entries: Mmmm... vampires.

Oscar wrap-up

The Oscars were announced today. A few weeks ago, I offered some fearless predictions for who would win, and now is the time to revisit them.

Best Picture: Crash (Me: Brokeback Mountain)

Best Actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman (Me: Hoffman)

Best Actress: Reese Witherspoon (Me: Witherspoon)

Best Supporting Actor: George Clooney (Me: Jake Gyllenhaal)

Best Supporting Actress: Rachel Weisz (Me: Frances McDormand)

Best Director: Ang Lee (Me: George Clooney)

Best Original Screenplay: Crash (Me: The Squid and the Whale)

Best Adapted Screenplay: Brokeback Mountain (Me: Capote)

Best Cinematography: Memoirs of a Geisha (Me: Geisha)

Best Editing: Crash (Me: Walk the Line)

Best Art Direction: Memoirs of a Geisha (Me: Geisha)

Best Costume Design: Memoirs of a Geisha (Me: Pride and Prejudice)

Best Original Score: Brokeback Mountain (Me: Memoirs of a Geisha)

Best Original Song: "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" from Hustle & Flow (Me: "Pimp")

Best Makeup: Narnia (Me: Narnia)

Best Sound: King Kong (Me: Walk the Line)

Best Sound Editing: King Kong (Me: War of the Worlds)

Best Visual Effects: King Kong (Me: King Kong)

Best Animated Film: Wallace & Gromit (Me: Howl's Moving Castle)

Best Foreign Language: Tsotsi (Me: Paradise Now)

Best Documentary: Marche de l'empereur, La (Me: Enron); however, when I quickly looked at the names when offering my predictions, I mistakenly hadn't caught that this was March of the Penguins. It's my bad, but I would have predicted that had I not been dense when looking through the nominee list.

Best Short Documentary: A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin (Me: God Sleeps in Rwanda)

Best Short Cartoon: The Moon and the Son (Me: Badgered)

Best Short Live-Action Film: Six Shooter (Me: Six Shooter)

OK, so I didn't do very well with my predictions. There were 24 predictions, and I nailed it 8 times. There were 5 nominees in most categories and 3 and 4 in a couple categories, so my success rate basically can't be distinguished from random guessing. (Much of the stuff above was random guessing, but if I bothered to check, I bet my success rate for those was comparable to that for the "non-random" ones.)

OK, so I'm not much of an Oscar pundit.

Spring baseball

Spring training games have begun, so I get to look at box scores again!

I ordered MLBaudio for this year, but I haven't gotten it to work yet. (They adjusted things a bit, and I don't have the browser/plug-in combination going yet and I also haven't had time to devote much of an effort to deal with it.) Their online instructions are a couple years out-of-date, they haven't answered my e-mail query to customer service, and both attempts to call customer service have resulted in their hanging up on me before I could even finish describing the problem. I did make a breakthrough this evening when I downloaded some Windows Media thing that goes with Quicktime. I couldn't try it on a live game because none were on, but I connect to something via an archive game. (It sounded like static, which very well could have been there in the first part of the broadcast, as opposed to just getting an error and not being able to connect to anything.) The key will be tomorrow when I try to connect to a live game. If this works, then I won't have to deal with the customer service people.

The other baseball thing going on besides Spring Training games (and my attempt to figure out my sleeper picks for my fantasy team) is the World Baseball Classic, which to be honest I don't have that interesting except for watching specific players. The first couple games were on ESPN Deportes, which I don't get as part of my cable package. Starting at 11pm tonight, they've shown some stuff on ESPN2. I decided I'd keep the games on for a couple innings and have it in the background. This did give me the chance to watch an at-bat by Ichiro, which I always appreciate. I want to watch some games with teams like the Dominican Republic, because then we're practically getting all-star teams. Until the regular season starts, that will provide some nice diversions, although I hope those games don't start at 1am like the present Japan-Korea one.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Unexpected good news

I have been embittered by many things over the years and I learned early on to be cynical. There is written evidence dating back to when I was 8 years old, and things really go back to a series of events from 1981 to 1982 that poisoned me forever. (Yes, there are reasons behind some of my behavior beyond being dropped, and you know you can't come out like me without having had a fucked-up childhood.)

One effect of all this general shittiness, however, is to give me a more acute appreciation of the finer things in life---like good friends, good music, the game of baseball, and Fruit-Roll Ups. Yes, that's right---Fruit Roll-Ups! There is just something about the combination of edible plastic and red dye #3 that I can't resist. It's wonderful stuff! It really is. (It's not as good as 140 proof chocolate or big slabs of scrumptious meat, but the right flavors of it are awesome nonethless.)

Anyway, I was at Safeway today and I accidently noticed that they have Fruit Roll-Ups. I hadn't encountered them in 4 years, and before one specific time in 2002, I hadn't seen them in around 8 or so years at that time.

I can be easily pleased sometimes. Mmmm... plastic. (By the way, I'm pretty sure there really was red dye #3 in the vintage variety.)

D & D non-scheduling for weekend of 3/10

The timing hasn't worked out for gaming lately, so I'm going to suspend the scheduling blog entries for now. (They don't seem to be helping very much at the moment.) I'll restart them when the gaming restarts. (Just let me know that you'd like me to start posting these entries again. That can be as early as 3/10 -- in which case, it would cancel out this entry.)

I still plan on running my one-shot, so once my own life clears up (and at the rate things are going, we're looking at a lower bound of close to two months and likely longer). When I am ready to do that, I'll post that here and see who is interested in playing.

I want my current work/stress spike to stop! I was doing work at 1:30 am last "night". I'm not supposed to have to that anymore (especially on Friday nights)! Man, this sucks.

Harkening Back to my Undergrad Days

The last couple days have included some harkening back to my days as an undergrad. For one thing, a fellow alum from the class of 98 (Jing) was staying with me for a couple days, although I see fellow alums on campus routinely, so that by itself isn't really harkening back.

Here is stuff that actually does harken back to my undergraduacy:

1. Waking up Jing with The Ride on Thursday morning. It was 7:50 (the requested time) rather than 7 and it wasn't quite finals' week, but once she requested that I give her a wake-up call, I knew which song it has to be. No showering attempts were made. (I mercifully turned off The Ride after it was recognized, although I actually should have left it on.)

2. I counted Justin today. He is, after all, one Flem. (He wore is Fleming shirt to the CPA social hour.) Historically, when I've counted up to one Flem, it's been Julius because I knew he wouldn't do anything. In a striking similarity to gully dwarves, I've never actually tried to get beyond one. (A particular card for 1000 blank white cards needs to be brought back into play, however...)

3. I was working tonight until 1:30 am. Granted, I had some breaks, but I should be beyond this now. This is the reason you're getting this blog entry rather than one on the Death Gate Cycle, which I will again punt. (I might have skipped entirely, but I've been a little bad about blogging lately. Thankfully, there's been a popular post to keep people busy.)