Wednesday, May 31, 2006

At least it's better than the Republican party...

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Roger Clemens comes out of retirement for the 3rd time

Well, among the worst-kept secrets in recent years is officially true: The Astros have signed Roger Clemens, who is coming out of retirement for the 3rd time. For a while, there was some doubt which team would sign him, but the Astros were the leaders from the beginning. As mentioned in the article, the circumstances which led him to come out of two previous brief retirements (which had overlapped only with parts of offseasons!) haven't changed. While there may have been some doubt as to which team Clemens would choose---personally, I think it would have been really cool if he'd chosen to have a last hurrah with the Red Sox!---my comment about the proverbial secret was whether he'd come back at all. I'd have been surprised if he didn't return in the middle of the year. (His retirement did overlap with part of the season this time.) Clemens is one of the most incredible pitchers ever---he's the best of this generation and is on the short-short list for best Major League pitcher of all time. Welcome back, Roger! It will be great seeing you pitch a few more times.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

"I met a girl called 'Lola.'"

On Friday, Lemming and I saw Kinky Boots. As he pointed out, why is it that he and I are seeing a movie about a transvestite (or whatever Lola called himself in the movie) on a Friday night? By the way, ever since the Kinks sang about it (and so many things have referred to it, including a subsquent Kinks song called "Destroyer"), Lola has become the perfect name for a transvestite. My mind always goes in that direction when I hear that name. (Well, "Lucille" can occasionally do that too, but that's because of former Major League pitcher Dave Stewart.)

Kinky Boots is one of those films that is "inspired" by a real-life event, which in this case seems to just mean a store by that name that manufactures germane attire. I'm not sure if the link to reality goes any farther than that. The film is good, though not great. (It's worth seeing. It just isn't anything special.) It has some comedic moments (including a few good lines), but it has more drama than comedy. The film's music was really cool. ("I want to be evil!" I think I might not be 100% accurate with this quote.)

In the flick, a young guy inherits his father's failing (thought not known to be failing just yet) shoe manufacturing plant (his father loved shoes), which prevent he and his fiancé from moving to London. The guy finds out that the plant is failing and, inspired by an accidental trip to see "Lola" perform (in which Lola complains about his footware), he decides that this can be his niche. He recruits Lola to design the kinky boots (the place is accorded the adjective of "sexy" because Lola works there) and things go from there. Lola's fiancé ("There's a little... chill in the air... isn't there?") isn't happy to be back in Northampton and is eventually replaced by a love interest, whose future role as a love interest was revealed well before the fiancé was out of the picture. (The film wasn't particularly subtle.) After some trials and tribulations, the film eventually has a happy ending.

Anyway, it was good but not great. There are some upcoming artsy flicks (like the one with Garrison Keiller) that should be really awesome. Mmmm... small-budget independent films. (Well, I like the big budget films too, but there's room for this stuff in my heart as well.)

Caltech Medical Device Forum - June 22, 2006

That was the straight line. You provide the joke.

Monday, May 29, 2006

X-Men: Maybe the penultimate stand?

I have a few movies on which I've been meaning to blog, so I'll get these out of the way today. (I'm doing this one as I'm finishing a numerical simulation, which may finally put an end to the surgery... Then again, I just saw the results of that and I still need to do a bit more tweaking---damnit! Now I'm going to be stuck here for a while longer.)

Yesterday afternoon, I took a temporary respite from pain (although I was already stressing about a newer project) to watch X-Men: The Last Stand and to play some board games with the gang.

X-Men was very cool, although there is certainly a substantial 'more of the same' aspect to it. I can't really say whether I liked it better or worse than its two prequels, but I enjoyed it a great deal and it was definitely the right type of movie given recent events. Something mindless and fun was definitely what the psychiatrist ordered. Also, Juggernaut was awesome, and his chase scene with Kitty (Shadowcat, but I don't think they actually mentioned this in the movie...IMDB mentions it) in which she goes repeatedly through walls and that he breaks through them was the highlight of the movie for me.

Now, there are some things in the movie that lead one to believe very strongly that this won't actually be the last stand. This naturally, assumes that the movie makes enough money, which doesn't look like it's going to be any sort of problem.

First, this based on a comic book and people come back from apparent death all the time. If you don't want to see spoilers, you should stop read right now.

OK, so here are some spoilers related to things to be dealt with for sequels that retain characters:

1. Professor Xavier's body was apparently obliterated by Jean Gray. However, much earlier in the movie (as (Mike)^2 pointed out), he explicitly discussed possible means to put someone's mind into an inactive body, so he can get "resurrected" that way.

2. Cyclops supposedly dies, but we never actually see him die, so obviously there's a way for him to come back.

3. Jean Gray dies (again), but it's apparently inevitable that she'll find a way to come back. (I remember Lorian mentioned this always happens in the comic books, but this isn't the first time she died in the movies and it may not be the last.)

4. Magneto loses his powers (supposedly permanently), but he's just starting to get them back at the very end of the film. This is easy to reconcile, though. Scientists were just wrong about the "cure" for mutation (or 'mutantism', as it were) being "permanent" and it's just less permanent than they thought it would be. Things like that happen in real life all the time.

This hits the right chord.

Tim looked up this Penny Arcade strip because my day Thursday put me in the right mood to appreciate it. I don't normally like Penny Arcade, but this particular strip is definitely appropriate/appreciated at the moment. (My delayed viewing is because their website was down for a while---at least whenever I tried to view it.)

This morning, I had to do some extra emergency numerics, as my collaborator asked me to try something else in the hopes that the numerical surgery will result in only one amputated arm and not both. I think after some effort (and not being able to watch most of the Dodger game or having chilled out at Peet's yet today), I am close to getting what we need here. I was going to work on something else today (that will hopefully see some accomplishments soon), but that's just going to have to wait another day.

Now I just need to find my credit card, my Caltech id card (the most recent things I've lost...), and the way to make my will save against cute girls (and, in particular, the targeted hold persons and silences they cast on me as free actions). Oh, and I also need a tenure-track job and to take over the world today. ("What are we going to do today?")

Saturday, May 27, 2006

U.S. Senators propose 'open access' law for research papers

This is actually from a couple weeks ago, but I am only getting around to posting it now.

The article is here.

According to the article,

The Federal Research Public Access Act - introduced by senators John Cornyn, a Texan Republican, and Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat - would require all federal departments and agencies that invest $100m (£54m) or more in research to demand that articles be put online within six months of publication in a subscription journal.

Maybe some distinction between for-profit (I'm looking at you, Elsevier!) and non-profit publishers should be made, but in general I think this is a very good idea. The article briefly alludes to supposed problems this would cause researchers, although I never really saw any coherent statement of them. Journals are no longer used to disseminate research results---we have the arXiv for that---but rather are now there to put final stamps of approval on research. (I know many people who would gladly see all research journals wiped from the face of the earth. I disagree with that, as the final stamp of approval is important not only to have an extra check on the results but also for practical reasons [jobs, promotion, tenure, etc.].)

Certain publishers---Elsevier is frequently cited here (I know several people who refuse to publish in their journals)---have very annoying policies. Their journals are prohibitively expensive for many, etc.

Song discovery: "Cherry Lips" by Garbage

This song, which is awesome, comes from the album BeautifulGarbage. Until around couple months ago, I had only heard a remixed version of the song, which is decent but not great. The original version, on the other hand, is extremely good. I've been playing it a lot during the last week or so. (There was a delay between the acquisition and this level of appreciation.)

You can listen to a sample at Amazon's page concerning this album, which has a somewhat more eclectic style than Garbage's other albums.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Caltech names Inspector Clouseau as its new President

Just now (I just got back from the official announcement), Caltech named Jean-Lou Chameau, provost and former Dean of Engineering at Georgia Tech (I was the one person in the audience who applauded loudly when he said he wasn't from South Georgia), as its new president. I see that Caltech is big on Georgia Tech expatriots these days. I asked one of my former colleagues if he knows the guy (I never met him), so I'll let you know if he tells me anything interesting if/when he responds to my e-mail.

Anyway, our new Pres has Peter Sellers' version of a French accent down pat (which probably means mostly that Sellers did a good job, but it was uncanny). I suppose that just has to do with the region of France from whence he came (and the accent Sellers was trying to imitate). The guy is trained as an engineer, and I think that's a good move for Tech. Also, there are a number of similarities between the academic foci of Caltech and Georgia Tech (despite huge differences in the particulars), so somebody from a fellow engineering/science institution rather than some ridiculous place like Harvard (he says with disdain) is probably a good move. I suspect that one of the big reasons that led to his selection is that Georgia Tech is extremely well known for its production of minority (especially African-American) scientists and engineers. However, one needs to keep Georgia demographics in mind in terms of such reputations.

For those keeping track of temporal data, my mood is slightly better this morning, although I still am not in great shape. I have got a couple of the issues with the paper working enough that we can weaken some of our conclusions rather than, say, withdrawing the paper, but we'll see how far I can push the numerics. I'm not sure if I should be bothered more by the situation with the paper or with the missed opportunity. It was a really good opportunity and I asked for a pinch hitter. (I owe it to myself to at least strike out swinging. I shouldn't accept less than that.)

Thursday, May 25, 2006

2007 movie preview: Balls of Fury

My mood still sucks major ass, but I do have something more positive (or at least amusing) to report in this entry.

I took a need respite by going to ping pong tonight. Yes: I skipped lunch, two seminars (including one I really wanted to see), and even reading of some sort (whether for pleasure or for work) at Peet's (though I did walk there and sit there with coffee and pastry for 15-20 minutes and listened to the classical music they were playing, just to get away from work for a little while) because of the work situation, but ping pong I would not skip. (That said, my heart really wasn't in it today. It's spending quality time in the pit of my stomach at the moment.)

The coach, Wei Wang, had been out of town for a few weeks (or at least out of class), and I gather she wasn't around last week either. I hadn't realized it before, but it turns out the reason she was gone is that she was serving as a consultant during the filming of Balls of Fury, which apparently involves some sort of combination of ping pong and kung fu. (It's probably modeled in part after flicks like Kung Fu Hustle, but it's not the same person doing it.) This is something I would see for novelty anyway, but now I'm definitely going to see it---not that I think it will be good, but I need to see the ping pong scene, in which actors like Maggie Q and Christopher Walken (starring as "Fang" ... ugh, although I want to see Walken try to play an Asian guy or at least an "Asian" one) swing furiously at CG ping pong balls. That's real ping pong balls for them. Wei was there to hopefully give their strokes some semblance of reality and to say "ping" and "pong" when they should swing to get the timing right. Now, Wei is an excellent teacher, but I'm not convinced they'll look so great (and Wei's comments support this as well, as she was there when they filmed those parts).

Olympic team member, Caltech coach, and now movie consultant... that's definitely not bad.

(I did progress a little farther with numerics fixing, but we're definitely going to have to weaken our conclusions a bit, and I'm still not quite far enough for minimum acceptability.)

On that note...

OK, so I have skipped lunch, one talk I sorted of wanted to see, and one talk I really wanted to see (that I briefly forgot about it during my emergency numerics and which I only remembered about 15-20 minutes after it started).

About 20 minutes ago, I decided to take a break and go to the Red Door. Partly, I wanted a crepe because they're pretty good and I hadn't had any food all day. More than that, I wanted a break (needed a break, really) and the numerics could run a bit while I was eating anyway. It also occurred to me that there was the chance (however minor, which it admittedly was) that the girl I mentioned (see entry below) would be there, although I didn't think seriously that that would happen. But, just in case, I figured I should have something to say and be prepared to apologize for the apparent mood I seemed to be in and not coming across my best as a result. (Not that that is something that would be good to mention---I'm just indicating what was going through my mind.)

I enter the Red Door and the girl is actually in line in front of me (surprisingly!). (Simultaneous thought: This is my chance and I'm scared shitless.) I start steeling myself to try to say something -- still unsure whether I actually will but at least in the hope that maybe I will put something on the table (however small) -- and then while I'm trying to muster courage, somebody she knows comes and starts talking to her (though I was impressed that she specifically complimented his Roscoe's shirt) and I immediately chicken out. Failure! (Again.)

(And my emergency numerics still aren't working, although I am now rerunning the old code to make sure the current version of Matlab isn't changing anything. I have an idea here, but my previous ones haven't quite worked yet, so we'll see.)

An old Russian proverb (or something like that)

One of my Russian friends from Caltech once brought this up at dinner. (I'll skip the name of the person because aspects of the context will become obvious, so I won't be naming names publically for this example.) He mentioned that an old Russian proverb went along the lines of 'Unlucky in life, lucky in love.' I got the impression that the gist was that when things are going really poorly in certain respects (say, academic respects---this guy mentioned how his extensions had run out long ago) that that is when one finds love. (Given that I only heard an English approximation, there are plenty of levels at which inaccuracies can occur.)

OK, so today has been absolutely horrible.

I was "finishing" up a page proof for an accepted article only to discover increasingly large errors. When my collaborator found something this morning, it looked like it would lead to redoing some numerics, but there didn't seem to be any reason to expect that the plots would look much different, so I figured I would suck up the annoyance, redo the plots, and then we'd be done. In redoing this, I went over the entire code again and noticed a fundamental error in this code (fuck!), so that those plots (and this aspect of the numerical conclusions) in the paper were wrong and there was no reason to expect anything similar. I'd be annoyed enough (potentially very annoyed) if this were at another stage of the process, but we have the damn page proofs! My headache is increasing because in the process of doing numerical experiments, I have found that the new version of Matlab I recently downloaded has an extraordinarily annoying bug so that if I try to plot in real time, it constantly forces Matlab to be the front window, so that I can't, for example, type things in pine if I want to see how the simulation is going while I run things. This is making the whole process last longer at each step of attempting to fix things and also prevents me from multitasking as easily as I'm accustomed (my laptop is at home, although I believe that's going to change tomorrow...).

Even worse, the problem was avoidable. First, I could have noticed this during any of the other numerous times I went through the code. Second, it turns out there was one time that I did notice it (while the paper was in the hands of referees, at which point I was annoyed we had submitted the paper before I caught the bug) and I had made a note to myself to fix it when the report came back (I should have fixed it on the spot and noted that I had done that) because I was in the middle of something else (I can't say what now). The report came back many months later because there was a long delay with the referees on this particular paper and by that time, I had (naturally but annoyingly) forgotten about this and then I didn't notice it when it was time to deal with their comments. While dealing with this, I found another error in the code (of a very different type, but still annoying) that I had not noticed before on any previous occasion, so I actually need to rerun all four of my numerical simulations and not just two of them. I think that two of them will come out roughly the same as before (just scaled differently, which is fine), but the original two I needed to change and at this point they're spewing garbage, which means we'll probably end up removing them. (I'm going to switch to angry music mode very, very soon. I should have had the playlist ready...)

OK, so in sum I have egg all over my face; I feel both embarrassed and depressed (I had to tell my collaborator that I'm a complete dumbass, though I didn't use those exact words); the errors were avoidable and my fault. This has been one of those days that makes me wonder why I bother with all this shit. At the moment, I am in a very deep local minimum of my happiness landscape (although at least nobody is preventing me from peeing). This sucks.

Let's see... I know some of my students have been known to show up here on occasion, so maybe I should say that you shouldn't let this discourage you from having a career in science. No really. I'm serious. The lesson here is that profs (and other professional scientists) still fuck up big time ("I'm on my way! I'm making it!") and it's not just something restricted to Caltech (or other) undergraduates. ("I'm a human beeeeeeeeeing!") Now that you think I'm completely crazy...

Oh, and I should probably bring myself back to the start of this rant. So, I'm kind of hoping this proverb comes true, and I actually do have a specific person in mind (whose name I don't know, so I would actually have to find out about things like personality for the proverb to work at all in this case), although I'm having a bit of a problem with all those silence and hold person spells that keep getting cast on me (and whose saves I keep failing). [I should mention, though, that today's excuse is better than usual. I was in the middle of a meeting outside Red Door with a collaborator on a different paper whose referee reports we just got back yesterday which started about 5 minutes after I first became aware this morning that the shit had hit the fan. If I had any sort of cojones, I'd have stopped the meeting then and there and gone up and said 'hello,' but then given that the meeting was actually important, the barrier (which is very high for me anyway) was even higher than usual.]

Did I mention that I'm having a bad day?

Reinterpretations of famous artwork

Go here.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

All Around the World

It occurred to me recently that I know people from a lot of countries (naturally, it's because I'm an academic) and I was wondering precisely how many. I have an alphabetical list of countries in front of me.

In writing this list, I'm only going to define a first-degree connection as including people I've met and for whom I can identify what country they're from. (I'm sure I'd be able to add a couple from situations where I happen not to know or where I've forgotten. For example, there are some countries from which I believe I know someone, but I can't remember who it was. I haven't counted any of these. Actually, this is definitely true because I can get some countries down to being someone in a subset of N particular people I know, but it's not fair to list if I can't figure out who it was. I think I may easily be missing 10 countries from my faulty memory. I'm also missing a few because I can't remember the particular eastern European country of origin for several people.) People from relevant countries who are now dead can be legally listed.

Your job is to fill in countries from people you know that are missing from this list.

Anyway, here goes:

1. Albania
2. Argentina (my father, for one)
3. Armenia
4. Australia
5. Bangladesh
6. Belgium
7. Bosnia
8. Canada
9. Chile
10. China
11. Colombia
12. Costa Rica
13. Czechoslovakia (and related)
14. Denmark
15. Egpyt
16. El Salvador
17. Germany
18. Greece
19. Haiti
20. Hungry
21. Iceland
22. India
23. Iran (about 60% of the students from my high school)
24. Ireland
25. Israel
26. Italy
27. Japan
28. Korea
29. Malaysia
30. Mexico
31. Netherlands
32. New Zealand
33. Pakistan
34. Paraguay
34. Peru
35. Philippines
36. Poland
37. Portugal
38. Puerto Rico (they list this here despite their relation to us)
39. Romania
40. Russia
41. Singapore
42. Spain
43. Sweden
44. Switzerland
45. Taiwan
46. Thailand
47. Trinidad & Tobago
48. Turkey
49. United Kingdom
50. United States

If I used a stronger degree-one definition (such as 'am friends with'), then I probably would go down into the 30s (and possibly into the 20s), but I wanted to make this independent of how easily one forms friendships.

A little bit more Danish stuff

Here are a couple things that I may have not mentioned yet:

1. The population of the entire country consists of roughly 5 million people.

2. Basically everybody in Copenhagen speaks English. (I think I did mention that.) I think I only spoke to 4 people who didn't speak extremely good English, and two of them were cab drivers. I was told that this dates back to World War II, although I'm not clear on how/why this arose. It's apparently related to the size of the population, as their small size was cited as part of the reasoning.

3. There are tons and tons of bakeries in Copenhagen and good bread is plentiful (all the meals include plentiful fresh bread that go far beyond butter repositories). I didn't actually try the specialized bakeries, as I instead went for the baked goods at coffee places, but they smelled really good.

4. On the second night there, one of the locals who I know took my roommate and I to dinner at a local Italian place where they make their own pasta. The menu was only in Danish and Italian, so I thankfully remembered correctly (well, I wasn't sure, but it was confirmed when my meal came) that bolognese pasta nets me meat sauce. That was possibly the best pasta I've ever had, and I had a huge plate of it for the equivalent of $5 (including the massive sales tax).

5. The sales tax is a whopping 25% (because of all the social services). Food was a bit on the expensive side (with notable exceptions) even without this, but the higher prices across the board were quite noticeable.

6. The unfortunate shower setup my hotel had is apparently a very common one in Denmark. That's too bad, as I found it very annoying.

7. While overwhelmingly blond, Denmark is slightly less overwhelmingly blond than I thought it would be.

8. I found several good coffee places---4 different ones, where 1 of them really means several locations of the same franchise (but it's a franchise with high-quality stuff). It was unexpectedly easy to get iced espresso drinks. (That proved difficult in both England and Australia. Cambridge suffered from a dearth of good coffee and the Australian coffee places just didn't have ice machines.) I didn't see a single Starbucks during my visit (not even in the Copenhagen airport), but I did have coffee and a burger at a place called Pussy Galore's Flying Circus. (I mentioned this in the comments earlier.)

I should be able to find my way back there in a few years, as there has been prior discussion of a couple week invited from Niels Bohr Institute. It's hard to say if/when that will happen, but it would be nice to stay there for a while when I'm actually awake.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

More Danish stuff

Actually, I'm going to include some conference stuff too.

Egalitarianism: I neglected to point out this before, but take a look at the front page of the conference website. Notice that it places me on equal footing with people like Sir Michael Berry and Sir Roger Penrose and (far more important) when it came to all of us sitting around in the lecture all, all of us essentially were on equal footing. While far from every scientist does this, nearly all of them treat me as their equal (and this includes people with arbirtrary ranks in bigshot). This is one of the main things I love about being a scientist---being able to go to a conference with such a distinguished group of people and be treated as their equal is simply incredible. (I know the grad student-advisor relationship and similar stuff does involve some hierarchical structure, but that notwithstanding, for the most part things are so much different in science than in most walks of life and the corporate world comes particularly to mind.) During the main part of the conference, this was also highlighted by the fact that everybody gave a 30 minute talk (i.e., no longer invited talks) There were four public lectures given by four of the lumanaries, and that was the only part of the conference where certain credentials were used.

On a similar note: A nice vignette was Michael Berry introducing himself to a small child (of maybe seven years) as Michael and asking him for help in demonstrating something during his public lecture and having a conversation with the kid to convince him that his role wouldn't be hard (the child asked about this and was dubious about the difficulty involved). The child had no idea who he was talking to (which puts him ahead of the game of adults, in many respects!), and Berry gave absolutely no indication of it either. This, along with the corset comment, demonstrated once again how awesome he is. (It's very healthy to see scientists acting like humans...)

Intimidation of the room: On the other hand, two of the group pictures hung on the wall were quite intimidating. They were taken in the same room we were using and showed that the seats in which we were sitting were occupied at the same time by people like Bohr (obviously), Landau, etc. etc.---the list goes on and on; it was basically a who's who without a dud in the list. And then I was thinking about the fact that I was one of the people sitting there now (back when then was now).

Public lecture: Saturday, after three days of technical talks, we had four public lectures. They were given by Roger Penrose, Michael Berry, Mitchell Feigenbaum, and Theo Geisel. Berry's talk was awesome. I don't like Penrose's speaking style very much, though I know he's popular on the circuit. Geisel and Feigenbaum had occasional difficulties with the concept of "public" lecture for lay (i.e., non-scientific) audiences. I somehow doubt that any of them were familiar with the term "symplectic" that Feigenbaum used (Hamiltonian systems have symplectic structures).

Cultural program: After the public lectures, there was a private celebration of my collaborator's 60th birthday (the conference was in honor of this), and I was invited to this because I am part of the inner circle in this case. This started with a cultural program (well, that was technically after the champagne that I didn't drink and some really awesome homemade cake in which I did partake) that included short presentations from a documentary film-maker he knows as well as a theatre person, a designer, another documentarian (the wife of a scientist; we never saw her stuff because of computer problems), and a performance by a jazz band that included the son of a former Georgia Tech secretary (she's from Denmark; was brought along to Atlanta with my collaborator, and then moved back to Copenhagen after I had been at GT for about a year). The more upbeat songs sounded pretty cool, although I couldn't understand the lyrics. (Apparently, the lyrics were funny because the people who know Danish were laughing a lot. Anyway, at least I will forevermore be able to say that I've seen a Danish jazz band perform live.)

Then was dinner, which included many of the expected toasts (in addition to some of the quick roasting that occurred at the conference dinner two nights before). Dessert was tiramisu, which is always appreciated. There was a children's table chosen non-randomly and the main table was also presumably non-random. Every other table was chosen randomly, as far as I can tell. The three of us who were young basically sat in the same spot. The people around me were mostly non-scientists, and ended up mainly talking to the girlfriend/wife/fiance (I'm not sure which, because she used both the terms 'boyfriend' and 'mother-in-law') of the jazz band's drummer. Couples were mostly split at different tables, which was a bit odd. I left after dinner/toasting because it was past 11pm, I had a 30 minute walk to get to the hotel, and I had to get up early the next morning for my flight. Disco and dancing were scheduled for after dinner and I wanted to see certain people show their moves, but I was exhausted and really needed to get back to avoid turning into a pumpkin (and I did indeed make it back before midnight). The first set of pictures that have been sent didn't have anything showing any particular moves (and only a couple pictures of the dancing), but maybe others will show more interesting stuff.

I will have more Danish stuff in a later entry, but this is more than enough text for now.

Monday, May 22, 2006

D & D scheduling for weekend of 5/26

I took a look at Doug's e-mailed schedule and it looks like he'll be around this weekend, so it would be very cool to do some gaming while Doug is still with us.

The only thing that will cut into my weekend is softball practice (unless I've forgotten something) on Saturday. (I'm not sure exactly what time it will be. I believe it's in flux at the moment.) Hence, I should available all day on Sunday and after some time (say, in the evening) on Saturday. I am also available on Friday night.

Anyway, let me know your plans and desires (your gaming desires---leave other desires out of this).

Sunday, May 21, 2006

I'm baaaaaaaaaack...

I just got back to my apartment a few minutes ago. I'll blog some more about my trip to Copenhagen starting tomorrow, but in the meantime I have just one comment: Braaaaaaaaaaaaaaains...

Thursday, May 18, 2006


Check out this article from The Boston Globe.

The article, titled "Humans, Chimps May Have Bred After Split," begins as follows:

Boston scientists released a provocative report yesterday that challenges the timeline of human evolution and suggests that human ancestors bred with chimpanzee ancestors long after they had initially separated into two species.

Later in the article, there is the following:

Pilbeam helped discover an early human ancestor known as Toumai, which walked on two legs and is thought to have lived in present-day Chad 6.5 million to 7.4 million years ago. The new report, published in today's issue of the journal Nature, estimates that final break between the human and chimpanzee species did not come until 6.3 million years ago at the earliest, and probably less than 5.4 million years ago.

This contradiction could be resolved, Reich said, if early creatures like Toumai then interbred with chimpanzee ancestors, leaving a population of hybrids that developed into today's humans.

Now, it is far from clear that this is actually what happened (some issues are raised in the articles), but the possibility is extremely intriguing, and I have a warm, fuzzy feeling in my heart just knowing how certain people's stomachs are churning now. I am extremely happy that this possibility has been raised, and very much I look forward to future research exploring this possibility!


Tonight, I witnessed the most "impressive" display of crackpottery that I have ever seen in my life.

First, some background: There's a guy who hangs out at NBI who is apparently a former professor of a prominent visitor of whom I've never heard who came to visit the place when this guy came. He is known among several people, including the person being honored by this conference (though people seemed loath to mention the crackpot's name---I'm guessing he used to do real work that may well have also been good real work). He had been asking asinine questions during most of the talks, and I realized pretty quickly he was a nutcase when he brought up the same thing (that was sufficiently specific for me to think this) in two talks on wildly different topics. He also did the usual name-dropping of huge names in a historical context (questions along the lines of 'Why don't you use the original view of [fill in subject] by [fill in several famous names] instead of the way you're doing it.' --- this is not an exact quote, but it has the gist of several of the guy's questions) In one incident, which was admittedly amusing (even though I feel bad for the person involved), he actually got into a shouting match with the wife of the person being honored in the "discussion" following a talk. But this was not what achieved the record...

What achieved the record is as follows: Tonight was the conference dinner, and there was some toasting and a tad bit of roasting of the honoree/birthday boy. This guy shows up in the middle of dinner, hands out sheets with new lyrics to "God Bless America" (well, those aren't the original lyrics either, but I don't remember the precise name of the original tune from England) and a title of "God Bless Cvitanovic'." The lyrics included references to several of today's talks, and are really, really horrible (kind of like my current D & D character, except this is real life). In fact, they were impressivly horrible. He then lead us in song (most people were actually were willing to sing; I giggled and requested a gong from the people at my table) in one of the largest collective 'wtf' moments I have ever seen. I certainly appreciate this sentiment, and that's why people sang along, but this was just so utterly ridiculous.

Well, the birthday boy can now say that somebody has written and sung a ballad in his honor, and there aren't many people nowadays who can do that.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Tomorrow = Today

I saw from Gazebo's post that Ditch Day 2006 is today.

I saw a bunch of germane searches that hit my website today, so I figured it was so even before I saw Gazebo's post---not to mention the fact that Tomorrow has been in the air for a while.

Unfortunately, I am not in town to walk around and sample the stacks. My first three years at Tech, I worked on one stack as a participant and during my senior year, I did my stack and was zoned and off campus the whole day. I was looking forward to potentially having my first chance ever to just walk around and see what was up, but unfortunately Tomorrow didn't occur last week. Hopefully, I'll actually be in town during Ditch Day next year, as that is likely to be my last chance in a very long time to do the desired sampling. (As Cub fans often say, "Wait 'til next year!")

P.S. When will Then be Now?

An intuitive explanation of uncertainty principles

In his talk today on diabolical points (which arise as conical intersections in, for example, crossings of atomic energy levels), Sir Michael Berry had reason to briefly give an intuition explanation of uncertainity. The physical problem in question had to do with a situation in which approximating a wave by a ray (that is, doing semiclassics) does not let one address a certain phenomen in optics. A ray is infinitely thin, and for the phenomenon in question, it is essential to consider the oscillations and spread of the wave. One has an uncertainty principle in terms of measuring angular spread versus another quantity (which may have been amplitude). To help us understand things intuitively, Berry told us about how his mother was a dresser and that at the time women wore coarsets. He then proceeded with an uncertainty principle involving "squeezing." I was extremely amused, although I won't be giving this example in any quantum mechanics courses I teach.

Other stuff:

I had a picture of me taken in front of a Freemason lodge (where the Masons run free just like the buffalo).

My plane from Atlanta was delayed for an hour. The Delta people assured us that the plane had "no physical problems," so I can only assume that it's problems were emotional.

My mind is telling me that there is one more thing I forgot to mention, but it's not occurring to me now, so I'll blog about it later if it comes to mind.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

First impressions/thoughts of Copenhagen

Here are some impressions and thoughts that I've had so far in my brief exploration of Copenhagen. These aren't precisely in chronological order, and some of them cover more extended periods of time than others.

1. Nine hour time differences suck. And I really need sleep right now.

2. I wonder if the Dodgers won their game. I also wonder how my fantasy players did. (I just checked that we won. Awesome!)

3. There is a really cool pastel-colored movie theatre of which I need to take a picture when it's not as cold or rainy outside.

4. The first song I heard here (playing in the hotel lobby) is Laura Branigan's "Self Control." I approve! Every song I've heard here---both at the hotel and at a restaurant (maybe it was the same channel)---seems to be of the adult contemporary variety, and every song I've heard so far is in English (and something I either identified immediately or vaguely recognized).

5. The women in this city get a major thumbs up. It may even be better than Montreal in this respect, and that's saying a lot. (The population of the airplane suggested this might be so, and my wanderings to absorb the atmosphere confirmed it). I should get a job here.

5a. The bartender at the place we ate seemed to appreciate my sense of humor. ("I'm on my way to getting myself killed on my first day here. This will be my fastest time ever." I can't remember the precise wording, but that was the gist of one of my comments.)

6. There is a record store that has used records. I wonder if they have a copy of one or both of the Baltimora albums?

7. It's raining, so it's a good thing I remembered to bring an umbrella, but it's not raining that hard, so I'll just use it later. (Through inertia, I then ended up being completely soaked when I walked into that restaurant. "I'm already xx wet, so why bother using the umbrella now." Briilliant.)

8. There are a lot of bakeries here, and some of them smell really good! Hmmmm... bakeries.

9. The doors to the rooms in this hotel are at a weird angle.

10. This room is smaller than my Caltech door room, and they gave us an extra bed that's just taking up space we could really use. We need to use lots of swap operations to get our suitcases under the beds and for anybody to get inside the bathroom.

11. The shower stall in the bathroom consists of a cylindrical curtain right in the center of the bathroom. WTF?

12. Oooh! There's free wireless in the lobby!

13. Dr. Phil is showing on the tv in the lobby. The horror, the horror!

14. The hotel has floors 0, 00, and -1.

In sum, my general impression so far is that the city is really cool but the hotel room sucks ass.

Monday, May 15, 2006

What happens in Copenhagen stays in Copenhagen

Later this morning, I'll have to wake up to get picked up to go to the airport for my 10:00 am flight that will get me to Copenhagen (after a brief layover in Atlanta).

The main reason I am going is to attend the 60th birthday conference for one of my collaborators (Predrag Cvitanovic').

A 60-year retrospective of Predrag (to which the conference web page links) can be found here. You'll notice that recent years include two of my April Fools Day pranks (which both had Predrag as the target). This includes the fake recruitment flyer for the program he runs at Georgia Tech and the Pulitzer Prize I awarded him (in fiction!) for his omnipresently-updated book on quantum chaos. (The web version keeps getting updated, and the book has been accepted to be in print for many years now and many actually show up in bookstores one of these years.)

I will be giving a 30 minute talk at this workshop as well as a 1 hour talk for an atomic physics group at Niels Bohr Institute (where the workshop is being held) on 5/17. This is the first day of the conference, which should bode well for actually having time to have some fun.

If anybody has been to Copenhagen and has some advice for where to look around, please let me know.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

"There once was a man named Oedipus Rex..."

So, today is Mother's Day. The historical origin of the U.S. version of the holiday is reasonably interesting, so take a look at that part of the wikipedia entry.

Happy birthday to Ben Williamson!

Today (5/14) is Ben Williamson's birthday. Once upong a time, he was a 14-year-old freshman at Caltech. He was also the youngest freshman at Caltech for two years in a row. (That was a very impressive feat.) As a so-called "superfrosh," both 5-frosh tables and 5-upperclassmen tables were in trouble, because the waiters always classified him by convenience.

Even less possible than before

Along with Lemming, Zifnab, and (Mike)^2, I saw MI: III tonight. Contrary to popular belief, this has nothing to do with modulational instabilities but instead pertains to impossible missions.

Let me summarize: This is an action movie. There were lots of explosions. Explosions are good for you. Go see the movie.

Anyway, the movie was fun. It's no V for Vendetta, but I wasn't expecting it to be of that caliber, and I was pleased by what I saw. It's well worth seeing.

Does anybody remember which character was "Ms. Kari?" I overlapped with the person playing that character for three years in high school. (I still haven't figured out for sure whether this is somebody I actually knew in high school, but the name itself is definitely familiar from my memories beyond seeing credits in movies and tv shows.)

Friday, May 12, 2006

Unit conversion

I had a great performance during a meeting today in which I showed how incredibly rusty my unit conversion skills are... Yuck. You know that feeling of "I used to be able to do that!" as one is put on the spot and flubs things? That's what I had today. It's a great way to make a positive impression. (I also showed my equally impressive inability to add and subtract exponents when multiplying powers of ten. I am awesome!) I've been concentrating on symbols for too many years... I can't do the easy stuff anymore.

Anyway, I was looking up the wikipedia entry for Joule just to refresh a couple things in my mind. Among the conversion factors (a list of what a joule is approximately equal to), I found the following statement:

1/100th of the energy a person can get by drinking a single droplet of beer

There is has got to be a good Phys 103 (Order-of-Magnitude physics) question in there somewhere. Maybe something along the lines of "How many joules does it take to get Jing drunk?"

That was just off the top of my head. I'm sure you people can think of much better questions.

I appreciate this headline.

The headline for this article, in which Dontrelle Willis has another really poor outing, starts with "D-Train in vain." (Willis' nickname is D-Train.) I need to go. I think I hear London calling...

Thursday, May 11, 2006

What Tim said...

Tim recently blogged about songs by Jonathan Coulton.

I agree with him that the song "Code Monkey" is cool, and I can certainly relate to some aspects of it, although most likely not as much as Tim. (Substitute some math stuff for the CS stuff and some iced lattes for the snack foods mentioned therein, and things started getting really apt... especially lately.)

I'd also like to point out the song "Mandelbrot Set," which contains the irresistable line, "You're one badass fucking fractal." as part of the chorus.

I still need to check out the other one Tim mentioned and (to appease my narcissism) the song with "Mason" in the title. I have some time before ping pong starts tonight...

Blender's top/bottom song lists

Earlier today, The Techer Formerly Known as Gazebo (OK, he's still occasionally known as that) blogged about Blender's list of Top 500 Songs Since You Were Born (referring to people from our era, although I think they really mean their top 500 since I was 3) and their 50 worst songs ever.

I'll comment on Gazebo's specific comments on his blog in a minute, but the top 500 list is unsurprisingly arbitrary. Sometimes they pick just the right song from canonical artists (or at least one of the N reasonable songs to choose), but they often seem to just pull stuff out of their asses, being unable to decide whether they should take deep album cuts or songs with mainstream success... and some of the choices are truly inexplicable. (As Gazebo mentions, I naturally am not expecting my obscure favorites to be on the list.) Some of the background descriptions on the songs were amusing/interesting to read.

Here are a few things Blender got right for their top 500 list:

Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" absolutely should have a lofty place on this list.

"Like a Prayer" is a perfectly reasonable choice as Madonna's top song on the list.

So should "White Lines," although I consider the song to actually be rather annoying. I would like to hear Duran Duran's cover of this, however.

On the subject of the Durans, the choice of "Hungry Like The Wolf" as their top song is reasonable and the placement of "Ordinary World" somewhere on this list is also reasonable. ("Ordinary World" was their comeback song, and it's as absolutely beautiful ballad. It's one of my favorites.)

"Middle of the Road" is a perfectly reasonable choice as the top song by The Pretenders.

"West End Girls" is an absolute must as the top song by the Pet Shop Boys. It's not my favorite song by them (or even close to it), but it is the definitive song by that group, so it deserves the spot it got. (Being Boring was the other Pet Shop Boys' song that made the list. While it is awesome, I would not have chosen this one over, say, "Opportunities," among other songs.)

"Just Can't Get Enough" is a perfectly reasonable choice for Depeche Mode's top song. (Again, it's not close to their best song, but this is justifiable.)

"Losing My Religion" is the song that always comes to mind when I think of R.E.M., although again it's not one of my favorites by the group.

"True Faith" is the correct New Order song to list first. (I do agree with Gazebo's comment, however, because of the choice of other New Order songs.) It was the success of this song (it was the single that came from the "Substance" compilation) that brought increased attention to some of their older 80s work (including Blue Monday and Bizarre Love Triangle) in the first place.

Company B's "Fascinated" certainly belongs on the list somewhere. The entry in Blender discusses this in the context of the kind of Latin/new-wavy brand of music called "freestyle." (There are actually several so-called freestyle bands who have made some truly awesome songs. In particular, several songs by Exposé -- especially "Point of No Return" -- and Sweet Sensation's cover of "Love Child" come to mind. These songs are much better than "Fascinated" in my opinion, but they owe a large debt to it.) "Fascinated" is a cool song, and we (or at least I) enjoyed listening to it on the way to Coachella.

"Nothing Compares to U" absolutely should be Sinéad O' Connor's top song on the list (though again she has better songs). Among her least likely songs is her cover of "Don't Cry For Me Argentina."

George Michael's "Freedom" belongs on the list, though I don't like the song that much.

Lisa Loeb's "Stay" has the honor of being the only #1 hit by a then-unsigned arist. (Again, she has much better songs, but this one is historically significant.)

Alanis Morrissette's "You Oughta' Know" (yet another song I don't like that most definitely deserves its spot) was never released as a single but made #1 on the strength of its airplay (and Blender forgot to mention this in their description).

Human League's "Don't You Want Me" is one of the definitive new wave songs and has been one of my personal favorites for a long, long time.

I'll let Lemming and Gazebo comment about Blur's "Girls and Boys." Let's just say it has some personal meaning for them.

"If You Leave" is the correct song by OMD to put here. It is awesome, but they have several better ones. My personal favorite is "Pandora's Box" and I remembering Lemming really likes "Walking on the Milky Way" (which I agree is a sublime song).

They properly put "U Can't Touch This" in the top list rather than the bottom one. "Macarena" is correctly placed here, too, although the version that is entirely in Spanish is the right version rather than the remixed one that became a hit.

Props to Stacey Q.'s "Two of Hearts" (which premiered in an episode of "Facts of Life" --- I remember this episode; that just shows how old I am) is a worthwhile inclusion and Tone-Loc's "Wild Thing" is essential.

"Careless Whisper" is annoying, but it does belong here. Too bad Blender thought George Michael recorded it as a single rather than when he was still part of Wham!

"Born in the USA" is the correct Bruce Springsteen song to top his entries and "Call Me" is a reasonable choice for Blondie (although I tend to think of "Heart of Glass" first).

"I Ran (So Far Away)" by A Flock of Seagulls definitely belongs.

"Rock the Casbah" is the appropriate choice by The Clash and "You Spin Me 'Round" by Dead or Alive obviously had to be included.

I highly suggest you listen to The Jim Carroll Band's "People Who Died." It's hilarious.

I appreciate the inclusion of Aimee Mann's "Save Me," although I wouldn't have argued if it weren't there. (This song contains among the best lyrics from an excellent songwriter.)

In a familiar refrain, the Thompson Twins' "Hold Me Now" is their definitive song but not their best. The same goes for "Every Breadth You Take" by the Police.

"Games Without Frontiers" (an awesome song!) is a reasonable choice for Peter Gabriel, although he's known more for several other songs. (To me, "Sledgehammer" is the one that makes more sense to have a place on the list, though the song they chose is one I like better.)

Soft Cell's "Tainted Love" naturally belongs here.

"I Touch Myself" by the Divnyls' has to be here, and it has a special place in Lloyd House lore---for several reasons (just ask Lemming or Bob Barker).

"Voices Carry" is the definitive song from 'Til Tuesday from back when Aimee Mann had a girl-mullet.

"Whip It" has a deserved spot on the list (although it's waaaaaay too low). It's among my all-time favorites.

Yaz's "Sitation" is also one of my favorite songs ever.

Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill" launched (or was at least one of the early songs in) the new wave + haunting female voice genre.

I really appreciate the fact that LaTour's "People Are Still Having Sex" was given a place on the list. There are both censored and uncensored versions of this song, and neither has any cuss words. (The version the radio stations played at first has the line "This AIDS thing's not working." Once the song unexpectedly started having some success, this was quickly changed to "The safe thing's not working." Lame.)

Here are song things Blender got wrong in their top 500 list:

After "Like a Prayer," the particular choices of Madonna songs are extremely odd. Where are "Like a Virgin" and "Material Girl?"

There's no way that any song besides "Once in a Lifetime" (which did make the list) should be the top song by Talking Heads. This is their definitive song (one could argue about "Psycho Killer," but that was recorded too early for this list), one of the definitine new wave songs by anybody, and is often considered their most influential song. "Crosseyed and Painless," my ass.

Why is "The Humpty Dance" on this list instead of on the worst list? I admit it's amusing, but it still shouldn't be here.

If they're going to include a song by The Jam, it should be "A Town Called Malice."

The top song by The Replacements makes no sense.

New Order: I indicated that "True Faith" is the right choice for their top song. It's reasonable to put "Love Vigilantes" on the list (what's the name of the upcoming French Revolution movie that I think used this song in the trailer?), but "Temptation" doesn't belong here, and it should definitely not be listed instead of "Blue Monday," "Bizarre Love Triangle," "Regret", "Round and Round," etc.

If they must put a Cher song, "Believe" was not the one to use. That song is annoying.

"Building a Mystery" by Sarah McLachlan is a good song, but "Possession" is the one that always comes to mind when i think of her, and my favorite song of hers (by far) is "Into The Fire."

"Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" isn't the right Tom Petty song to have as his top selection. "Free Fallin'" (which I don't like that much) is correctly on the list and could have been #1, although something like "Last Dance With Mary Jane" or "I Won't Back Down" would also have been sensible.

Tears for Fears: How can they choose "Head Over Heels" over "Everybody Wants to Rule the World?" Hmph.

Sade's "Smooth Operator" should be in the list of the 50 worst songs ever. I simply hate it. Sade is annoying as all fuck.

"Time After Time" is a very good song, but I just can't excuse choosing this over "Girls Just Wanna' Have Fun."

"Roam" is my favorite song by the B-52s, but it's not their definitive song---either "Love Shack" or "Rocjk Lobster" would have been more appropriate.

I don't understand how they could pick the t.A.T.u. version of "All the Things She Said" instead of the original version by Simple Minds.

Where is "Enjoy the Silence?" Where is "One Night in Bangkok?" Where is "Take on Me?" Etc, etc.

Where the fuck is "Tarzan Boy?"

In terms of their choices of the worst songs ever, most songs are either ones where I agree it should be on the list or I object passionately to its place on this list. Unlike Gazebo, I like "We Built This City" quite a lot, but I disagree even more strongly with the place of Corey Hart's "Sunglasses at Night" on this list. (That is an awesome song, and they incorrectly label Hart as a one-hit wonder. Do your research, people! He's not even close to a one-hit wonder.)

The following are songs that I really like that these people mistakenly put on the list: "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da," “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That),” “The Sounds of Silence,” “We Didn’t Start the Fire” (shame on them for putting this here!),“Cotton Eye Joe,” “Shiny Happy People,” “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm,” “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” (dissing Deep Blue Something, who most people don't even remember, for this awesome song is just rude), “Superman,” “Sunglasses At Night,” “Broken Wings,” “The Heart Of Rock & Roll”, "Everybody Have Fun Tonight” (putting this as the 3rd worst song ever is sacrilege!), and “We Built This City.” (There are a few other songs I like, though not as much as these, they were also mistakenly branded as among the worst songs ever.)

Then there are the songs that do belong here: "My Heart Will Go On" (the real reason the Titanic sank, according to an Airband skit), “Hangin’ Tough” (I remember my female classmates going gaga over New Kids, and I hated that group so bloody much...), “I Wanna Sex You Up,” “Rico Suave” (why is this only #37? this song is bloody awful), “I’ll Be Missing You” (and they adulerated a very good song!), “Two Princes” (I know there are those who disagree with me here, but the Spin Doctors suck ass IMO), “What’s Up?,” “Ice Ice Baby” (this makes me wonder: why were there no songs by Queen in the top 500? Have they never heard "Another One Bites the Dust?" Criminal!). Some of the songs I don't recognize may also be aweful.

Song that should have been in the bottom 50: The Flying Lizard's version of "Money." Horrible, just horrible.

OK, so I spent way too long on this...

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


For the past few weeks, I've been catching reruns of the show Arli$$ on ESPN Classic. I knew about this show ever since it premiered on HBO in 1996, but I never really had the chance to watch it because I didn't have HBO (although ESPN did occasionally show some amusing snippets from time to time). I've really enjoyed having the chance to watch several of these episodes, although it's unfortunate that the swears get blanked out (it would be funnier if they included the bleeping noises). The series has the rating TV-MA 17.

Robert Wuhl (the pitching coach from Bull Durham) stars as superagent Arliss Michaels ("I represent atheletes. These are my stories.") Every episode has several professional atheletes (as well as coaches, etc) among its guest stars, although the main focus tends to be on fictional athletes. One of the co-stars is Michael Boatman, who played the gay guy on Spin City.

The show is very funny (though it would be nice to hear the cusses as they were intended). There was one episode, however, that caused me some problems because they played The Ride three times. (Based on the context, I'm pretty sure they had Apocalypse Now in mind.) They didn't go all the way through, but each occurrence lasted on the order of a minute, and each occurrence included the beginning of the song, which is the part that really gets my heart going. Normally, I have been on the inflicting end, but it nevertheless has a noticeable effect on me when I haven't braced myself. (The first of the three was thus obviously the most damaging one, and they don't know what kind of anguish they caused with the triple whammy.)


Courtesy Lemming, here is an amusing meta-blog entry.

I havenot gotten as far as he has (I'm "losing" 570-25), although I might eventually take a look at more of this. One of these years, I might have enough time to do so...

I definitely recommend at least starting it because it is pretty funny.

"Communism was just a red herring."

I just got back from Jorian's place, where we had a rousing showing of the film Clue. I really like the line in the title, and it's amusing how it (among other lines) is used in a slightly different manner in the three endings. (It was fun to see which parts reappeared in the different endings and how their context changed.)

The film has a great cast and is a great film. Tim Curry is the "butler" (or butler, depending on the ending). He is perhaps best known for his role in the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and he also had a minor hit in the early 80s with "I Do the Rock." (It's a really cool song.) Another musical connection is Jane Weidlan, a member of the Go Go's who has a brief role in the movie as the singing telegram lady. (If you're familiar with the Go Go's, Weidlan is the one with the slightly squeaky voice. She also tends to be the most playful member of the band during concerts, and that was definitely true for the concert of theirs that I attended. If you're not familiar with the Go Go's, then I recommend you start with the songs "Head Over Heels" and "This Town." Those aren't their most famous songs, but they are my favorites by that group.)

It's quite cool how faithfully and successfully the board game was turned into a movie. Some people making films based in video games could definitely learn a few lessons here. The IMDB site does point how a ton of continuity flubs, however, although none of it bothered me (and I can't say that I particularly noticed them).

Also, there are other games that could make cool movies, although I think it might be unfortunate to see too many of them. "Life" might make a cool movie, and I'm sure a movie based on "Hungry Hungry Hippos" could compete successfully with Snakes on a Plane.

Finally, I should mention in this entry that one of Lloyd's movies had alternate endings with Clue as the specific motivator. (In fact, that's how I first heard of the film.) In that movie, which was filmed the summer between my junior and senior years, the directors spent too much time trying to develop too many characters, which is absolutely not the point of a Lloyd movie. However, if you see the full two-hour version, you'll see Jim Melnyck mindwipe me (a la Men in Black, although he is trying to be Austin Powers) three different times. (You see one of them in each of the three versions.) There's also an extra scene at the end in which I am telling Ben Williamson how 'nothing ever happens around here' with a beard that is much longer than what was in the film earlier (there were several weeks involved). I had postponed shaving for continuity purposes until after that scene ended, and Jaideep Singh '00 was disappointed that I did. He exclaimed that before I shaved, "[I] looked Amish!" and "[I] could scare small children!" (And I do have to admit that the quality of scaring small children is a favorable one...)

Monday, May 08, 2006

D & D scheduling for weekend of 5/12

I should be available both days, although I have a preference for Sunday.

I am considering going to the IST picnic on Saturday, although given that I'll already be exhausted from the morning's softball practice, it does seem eminently skippable.

I will be gone the weekend of 5/19, although I suppose with the visitors, there won't be a game that weekend anyway. I come back Sunday night 5/21, and I hope to be able to hang out with the visitors who are still in town on Monday 5/22.

Mathematics Imagery

The American Mathematical Society has just started a website devoted to mathematical imagery. Their selection is sparse at the moment, but it will presumably be expanded significantly.

Art School Confidential

On Saturday, I saw Art School Confidential with Lemming and (Mike)^2.

It started off in a very promising manner, with several side gags and some amusing comments, but by the time it got into the plot, there was nary an amusing moment to be seen. Instead, there was a long run of blah with main characters who I didn't find to be particularly interesting living in a plot (with murder and art) of that was predictable. Overall, the movie was ok to decent but after an excellent trailer and a promising beginning, I left the theatre feeling disappointed.

Here are some highlights:

Some of the beginning gags/jokes and the montage (of the lead trying many forms of art) were rather amusing. For example, I liked the discussion of the "role" of each of the students and I can recall some similar discussions I've had in real life. Also, the scene in which the actual murderer (although I guess the film never explicitly states that he is) is railing about the fact that humans should all just die while one can faintly hear the theme song to "The Facts of Life" (a rather saccharine 80s sitcom) from his tv in the background (his watching of this show was interrupted by his guests) is absolutely priceless. It's the addition of this particular theme song that makes it so.

Anyway, the movie has pieces that are very good, but it never came together, and there is a loooooooong stretch from somewhere in the early middle to almost the very end of the film that is annoying. My recommendation is that if you ever know somebody who has the DVD, just watch a few scenes and ignore the rest.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Casino Night

Once the Capitol Steps performance was over, I sidled over to Lloyd Houe for my first Casino Night in 8 years.

I played some craps and Texas Hold 'Em and broke my tradition of 4 years of bankruptcy (only three of those count because I made one final ridiculous bet in year four to uphold the tradition) by actually finishing with more "money" when I started, which I proceeded to leave behind when I flew the coop (because I didn't care about any of the prizes).

I know a few of the current Lloydies (including Alex Sheive, but also people from the current era), although one or two of them weren't there and I only actually talked to one of the ones I know. I do recognize others from walking around campus, though I've never actually met them. A couple alums/exes were them---including Lemming, (Mike)^2, and Dave Antonio. I didn't recognize any of the older people (presumably faculty and their significant others) that I saw, but I imagine some of the names of the ones there would be familiar to me.

The coolest part was the jazz band (of which Dave Antonio is a part) playing in the background. They were very, very good. I expected something good, but they seemed really top notch to me. Apparently, this is what Dave Antonio does as his main gig nowadays. I had some desserts, so I ended up giving myself a sort of reverse dinner last night.

Anyway, while it's obviously not the same as going when I was a student (and knew everybody and was surrounded by friends), but it was still cool. It would have been really cool if more of the local alums from my era showed up (though I obviously didn't expect it even though enough of us are local for this to happen) and if all of us went out after "gambling" to go and shoot the breeze for the first time in a long time.

"In case of an emergency..."

The Capitol Steps, who perform at Caltech every year (or just about every year) are a group of former Congressional staffers (well, most of them are former staffers) who proceed to skewer politicians (especially easy targets) with their satire. I have seen them live twice: once as a student and once last night.

The funniest part occurred right at the beginning: "There are exits in the back of the room. In case of an emergency, stay in your seats and wait for FEMA to arrive."

Other highlights included the two sequences of Lirty Dies (that is, sport sheeches filled with spoonerisms) and the rousing version of "Stayin' Alive" in the guise of four old Supreme Court justices.

They also played one or two of their old favorites (well, a couple of these were modified to include more recent events), including their Rolling Stones bit (which actually is not one of their better skits, but it's still among their better-known ones).

I highly recommend you see them when you get a chance. (I especially recommend them to Gazebo.)

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Is anybody up for some soldering?

I noticed during the last couple days (especially last night) that my computer thought it was on battery power even when it was plugged in. I was wondering what was going on, and then I got my answer while setting up my presentation when I noticed the series of rather large, intimidating sparks spewing out of the cord. That's just a bit of a fire hazard... I assume it can be fixed by soldering, although I figured I should use some of my academic-expense money to get a new cord in the meantime. (Now that I know what was causing it, there's no way I can use that without it being fixed, and I can't just not use my laptop for a little while.)

Anyway, I'm theoretically-minded, so if anybody wants to (or is at least willing to) help out with this, let me know.

Some t-shirts by Offworld Designs is advertising some t-shirts by Offworld Designs.

Some of the ones they're showing are highly amusing---I like the 1337 eye chart (this one is awesome!) and several of the Cthulhu shirts (Cthulhu with an iPod, the Brokeback Mountain Cthulhu, etc.). The "Clerics" (instead of Clerks) one is pretty funny too.

There's also an amusing necromancy t-shirt that's currently the top seller (see the upper-right corner if you're viewing this entry not horribly long after I posted it; this blog entry won't give the shirts I've mentioned in the distant future).

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Klein Four Group

In a post today, Lemming reminds me of The Klein Four Group, an a capella group of grad students at Northwestern's mathematics department. I agree with him that "Finite Simple Group (of order 2)" is extremely amusing, as it contains tons and tons of cool/horrible mathematics puns. (I especially appreciate, among other things, the references to wedge products and tensors.) One of the people in the group was an undergrad in the math department at Georgia Tech, and I remember word about the group being passed along among that crowd a while back.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

New members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

You can find the list here. Among the new members are several prominent mathematicians and physicists (including long-time coauthors Harold Widom and Craig Tracy), some actors (like Alan Alda), and a couple former presidents (Clinton, Bush I).

Under the assumption that former presidents are pretty much eventually going to be enshrined automatically, do you think there is some sort of minimum literacy that can be used to disqualify W?

What happens at Coachella stays at Coachella

Tim and Travis already gave their takes on Coachella, so let me add some of my words to the mix. You can find Gazebo's best of list here, although I beg to differ on the 'best synth' band (nobody beats DM on that, in my mind).

First, I should point out that I've never gone to any music festivals before, and part of my reason for going was to experience this whole thing. (The fact that Depeche Mode was playing was key. I'm a bit of a fanatic, as anybody who has noticed the occasional spikes of DM-related entries should know. They're my favorite musical artist by a very large margin.)

I am exhausted from lack of sleep, and when pictures get posted, you'll notice that every picture that includes me (to my knowledge) has me sprawled out on the floor in some manner. Also, my throat is stilling burning from all the shit that was smoked in my vicinity. Physically, that being around that stuff just makes me feel awful, and I really wish it were possible to have a festival like this without it. I think my body is far less tolerant of stuff like that than most. During the Tool concert (the last act on day two), I had multiple very unpleasant retching and coughing spasms (and this was not caused by their music, which is awful).

OK, so here are some of my impressions and moments, although I don't remember all the band names or anything:

Day 1

On getting out of the car, among the first thing I noticed was the horse smell and that one of the cars near us in the traffic-jam stretch run of the drive up was parked near us. (This was not the van full of women that seemed to be checking us out on the way up. Sadly, I never even got more than a one-second glance at that car because I was oblivious until it was too late.)

Getting in was very easy for me. I opened up my small backpack in advance (security appreciates this, I think). The guy started to look through my backpack, saw my math journal, and then just said I could go in because at that point it was clear that I was completely harmless. (Go me!)

I heard some bands in the earlly afternoon while waiting for certain bands that were playing at night. Nothing really created a big impression on me in either direction.

I made it a point to go see Ladytron, because their synth-goth style appeals to me. (Most of my favorites bands are synth, so I'm always very happy to find a new one.) While I like some of their songs quites a bit (especially Beauty*2, which they didn't play, and Destroy Everything You Touch, which they didn't play until after I was gone), I found their show to be on the disappointing side. The songs sounded good, but based on where we were in the tent, I couldn't make out many of the words and different songs sounded too similar too each other without having good enough acoustics to pick out further details. (When listening to their album tracks, I do not find their songs to be too similar to each other.) We left the tent because the drugs were killing our ability to breathe (or at least, the ability of Tim and I to breathe). we were going to stay just outside the tent to continue listening (in the hopes of hearing the two songs above, at least for me), but it was necessary to fulfill a prior commitment to meet up at a certain time, so the end of the performance had to be sacrificed.

We went over to see Franz Ferdinand, who I was curious to hear because I had seen critics compare them to New Order (a band I really like). I was not impressed. The comparison was assinine, and the people with me were wondering why a critic would suggest that anyway. I found the comment I had in mind (which was the editorial review of Waiting for the Siren's Call on, which actually states the weaker statement that FF was influenced by New Order (although I couldn't tell based on my listening). At some point, I was really tired and I sprawled on the ground for a bit and almost fell asleep. (I would have except people shifting forward or backward occasionally bumped me.)

After that was Depeche Mode, which is the band I paid my money to see. I saw them in November, and the play list was thankfully a bit difference---sadly, Strangelove, It's No Good, and People are People were still no-shows. They played a nice extended version of World in My Eyes, but the highlight of their show was a stripped-down version of "Shake the Disease," which to my understanding they don't play live all that often anymore. (They have many better-known songs that typically get played, although "In Your Room" and "Photographic" very surprisingly showed up in Saturday's concert.) Anyway, "Shake the Diesase" is a canonical DM song that is extremely dark but musically upbeat. It is definitely one of their better songs and (in particular) one with which I identify very, very much. (I have thought occasionally about which songs would go on my life's soundtrack, in which I am selecting tracks based on appropriateness rather than sheer awesomeness, though there is certainly some correlation involved.) "Shake the Disease" holds a prominent place on that soundtrack, and actually might be the only DM song on that soundtrack (I need to sort this out more thoroughly at some point). Anyway, the version DM played at Coachella was a stripped-down version (with Martin Gore singing it on his own and the synthesizer basically being used just as a piano) that turned the entire upbeat song into a ballad. I like the original version better, but hearing this song played in this manner was simply wonderful and was the song I enjoyed the most at the show. This was the first song in the encore, by the way.

During DM, Cat (a postdoc from applied math) was totally jamming after having previously stood stoically the entire day. I knew he was a DM fanatic just like me, but I don't show my fanaticism with dancing gyrations the way he did. I tend to not be demonstrative with my body motions. Also, we had a running conversation for each song in which we were naming them based on the first note. (Remember the show "Name that Tune?")

After DM, we walked over to see some of Daft Punk. It sounded pretty cool and I recognized some of it at some level.

Day 2

Getting in was comparably easy to day 1. This time, the security guy did ask me to open a second section of my bag (the first day, they checked a small part of the first of three sections). They never even got to the math journal in the first section because this time they stopped at the D & D novel. In the second section, they saw the unlabeled top part of headache medicine (but didn't bother to check it) and waved me in. (I kept all of the dozens and dozens of pens that I have in my backpack because unlike Gazebo, I exude innocence).

I had gotten a bit dehydrated on the first day, so I decided to buy frozen strawberry lemonade at the beginning this time while Travis was buying a t-shirt. (I heard a cover of Alphaville's "Forever Young" during this time, though I only caught it starting from the middle. The group playing it didn't use the requisite emotion of that song, but I appreciated it nonetheless. I went with Travis and his friend Julianne to see Mates of State for a little while. (At this point, my wonderful straight-faced 'blood smoothie' comment from the drive up that day became just slightly more apt than I would have liked because the strawberry lemonade made the part of my mouth that was already sore from Day 1's frozen strawberry lemonade bleed just a bit.) They were ok, but when Tim came, I decided his plan of walking around to see what was up was a better one. I had enjoyed doing that the day before, and Coachella is a great place to people watch (although it's not as good as Dragon*Con, in part because most of the women at Coachella weren't wearing fairy wings). As Gazebo points out, there are also a lot of amusing t-shirts.

After chilling a bit, we found one of the shade tents where we could hear one of the bands a bit (and we later could hear some Hassidic reggae, which was amusing. We crashed for a good hour and a half, and I know that I lost conciousness for at least a short while. There is a nice picture of the two of us sprawled on the ground. (Actually, I'm pretty sure I am sprawled on the ground in some fashion or another in every picture that includes me.)

Just before the chilling, Tim and I stayed for a couple songs in a tent in which a supposedly famous DJ was spinning. I was drawn to it by a new wavy song, and there was lots of shade there. The song after that wasn't so good, so we left. While we were there, the girl in front of me was apparently surreptitiously reading my t-shirt ("Thank God I'm an Atheist"), which IMO was one of the best ironic shirts at Coachella. I never got to see her face and I only found out about this a while later after Tim told me. Sometimes it's too bad that I my perceptive abilities are so small and that I don't notice these things. Another time, I did catch a couple girls commenting on my shirt, but I was preoccupied trying to find the pimp hat (more on that later) and I kept my focus. (It's worth remarking, by the way, that most of the few times I've actually randomly met girls are because they were intrigued by the shirt I was wearing and they went up to me to ask me about it.)

Then we went to Bloc Party, during which I sat and absorbed and didn't do much else. It was fine but not my thing.

After that, we say the first few songs of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The first song sounded cool but the other three I hear were kind of blah. One thing for which I will give this band a lot of credit, however, is for the tremendous energy they showed. The lead singer and drummer were smiling the whole time, and it was clear that they enjoyed what they were doing. (In stark contrast, it wasn't clear to me that Ladytron wanted to be there. Maybe they were just doing their goth thing, but I would have rather seen more emotion in them live setting.) This is something that I very much appreciated, even though the music wasn't really my thing for the most part. I was partially loathe to leave because I exchanged a look with some girl (or at least that's what it may have seemed to be), but the promise of preferable music beckoned. (I need to do something about my priorities. I keep taking the wrong fork in the road...)

We moved on to Seu Jorge at that point. I listened to some of their stuff (which sounded pretty cool, but sadly didn't include any of the Bowie covers from The Life Aquatic) before making the mistake of going to the Madonna tent. I like Madonna's music a lot, but she gets the lameness award for the two days. She was over 20 minutes late and only played 6 songs before finishing a bit early. Lame! The songs she deigned to perform were good (and she did a good job when she bothered to do a job at all), although 4/6 were from the current album. I wish I had stayed for the rest of Seu Jorge. She did do well when she performed, but other artists were playing for the allotted time or even longer. Other artists made up for any delays at the beginning of their set. And other arists didn't wait until the crowd reaction was sufficiently to their tastes before they decided it was worth going on stage---they were delayed for legitimate reasons. (For example, Tool got delayed for technical reasons, and they made up for the delay with going past the scheduled ending time with more of their crappy music. At least they fulfilled their part of the bargain!)

After Madonna, we met up at the Tesla Coil for Massive Attack. I missed some small number of songs at the beginning, but I enjoyed what I did hear.

Then there was the 15-20 minute (which became longer because of the delay) for Tool, who suck ass as musicians. Five of us completely sprawled on the ground during the break, and we blocked a ton of people behind us from being able to pass us. Major coolness points for us! There are pictures of our barricade, which should get posted at some point. Tim's comment about us sitting before it became cool was classy, and I amused some people with my limbo stick comment as some people did actually attempt to hurdle over us.

When the band started, the lead singer displayed a wonderfully witty sense of humor, and I found myself waiting for the end of each song to hear more of his snarky remarks. Sadly, after a couple songs, he stopped talking. I mostly sat down during Tool, but I kept having to shift around to let people move through. I tried standing, but by this point all the shit being smoked was making me dreadfully sick and it smelled much worse when I was standing up. By the way, at some point, the small bit of room we had got increased because of a handicapped person that needed to go through. (A while later, I made a couple insensitive but amusing comments about getting more space this way. As Tim mentioned, I'm a sweetheart.)

OK, so here are some of my concert awards:

Best performance (group): Depeche Mode (I'm so biased here, but I'm giving the award out anyway)

Best peformance (song): Depeche Mode, "Shake the Disease" (and it's worth noting that they played multiple album songs I like better)

Best dancer after a long period of being stoic: Cat

Lameness award: Madonna

Unfortunate acoustics award: Ladytron (not their fault; we were in a bad spot in the tent; I'll have to see them again to hear what it should sound like)

Most energetic (and who obviously love what they're doing): The Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Saved me from sunburn: A Mexican hat. Thanks, Tim! Our group looked spiffy in our Mexican/cowboy hats and the Pimp Hat.

Best way to get past security: The issue of the Notices of the American Mathematical Society that I had in my backpack.

Biggest hero (see also Tim's awards): Clearly, The Pimp Hat has to win this award. As Tim will indubitably explain in further detail in his blog, this orange-black-white-yellow (did I add/subtract colors?) monstrosity served as a landmark not only for us to find each other but also for other concert-goers to find each other. (The gist of one conversation went along these lines: Here: There's this guy here wearing an orange striped hat that you can't miss; We're near him. There: I see it. I'm coming right over.)

I'll add some more awards later as things occur to me. Also, I'm sure I forgot stuff, some some more things will probably show up later in the comments.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The mediocrity continues...

After each of the first 13 games, the Dodgers were within one game of .500. Then they lost their 14th game and were 2 games under .500. Ever since then, the Dodgers have been with one game of being 1 game under .500. The Dodgers lost yesterday, when they played their 25th game of the season, and are now 12-13, guaranteeing that the present "medrocrity streak" will be at least as long as the first one, with only the single-game dislocation in between. This is an extremely impressive run of mediocrity. At least we're consistent...

Earlier than expected release of Twilight Princess? (+ "Revolution" -> "Wii") sent me an e-mail to indicate that The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is going to be released on May 15th. I checked the status of my preorder from (from last July!), which indicates an expected release to be roughly September 1st. I also looked at Gamespot and did some brief googling, and everything source still lists a Q3 2006 release. I also checked Nintendo's website, and I couldn't find any indication of when the game is coming out. Does anybody know what's going on here? I'll be very pleasantly surprised by a 5/15 release, but I'm skeptical that that's actually going to happen.

Also, the Revolution's official name is apparently going to be "Wii." That's lame. I still plan to buy the system, but I can already see the bevy of "Wheeeeeeeeeeeee!" jokes with which we'll be inflicted.

D & D scheduling for weekend of 5/5

Anybody up for some RPGing on Saturday or Sunday?

Friday is out for me this week, although my understanding is that Friday is generally unworkable anyway.

Joe: Is there a possibility of Fun With Dwarves?