Saturday, March 31, 2007

Old people and cemetaries

Today we went to Dunedin to watch a spring training game between the Blue Jays and Reds.

On the way to the game, I noticed a couple of very amusing things:

1. We saw a retirement home across the street from a cemetary, so the children can set their parents up in one trip.

2. There was also a different place called Moss Feasters Mortuary. I approve! That made my day. Somebody seems to share certain aspects of my sense of humor...

Friday, March 30, 2007

Liveblogging: DFW airport

2:12 am (CDT): I am liveblogging from the Dallas-Fort Worth airport. The scene is really lively here. There are stranded people sleeping all over the place. Lanth is trying to sleep, but a Jessica Simpson infomercial is keeping her awake. Zifnab is working on a presentation, and I am catching up on e-mails, Legends book stuff, and baseball articles/box scores. My headache seems to have subsided, but I am starting to get hungry again. Those peanut M & Ms are looking mighty tempting.

3:15 am (CDT): To update events, people are still sprawled all over the place, sleeping the night away. I took a bunch of pictures of this stuff. Lorian has given up on trying to sleep, but one can walk all over the terminal and see lots of people who have crashed -- at least one of whom is snoring really loudly. I also noticed both iPod and motorola vending machines. Talk about expensive! I'll be sure to keep you posted to make sure you don't miss any of the action.

3:21 am (CDT): Breaking news: The people stranded in the airport are still sleeping.

3:24 am (CDT): Across from one of the myriad Starbucks kiosks in the terminal, another Starbucks kiosk is in the process of being built.

4:02 am (CDT): We're listening to the Gypsy Kings cover of "Hotel California". Don't fuck with the Jesus! (Oh yeah, and there's still rampant sleeping in the terminal.) I'm hoping that the nearby Auntie Anne's will open up in an hour so that I can get a cimmanon-sugar pretzel. I'm also pondering playing some Civ IV. I caught up on all three days' worth of baseball box scores that I hadn't had a chance to read the last few days.

4:11 am (CDT): Zifnab: "I am preening like a cat in the hopes of getting liveblogged." Actually, he looked more like a cockroach that was stuck on its back and twitching its legs. Then we talked about liveblogging and my new-mail sound arrived. It sounds like the dinner bell from Sims 2 (technically, the sound the oven makes when it's done cooking). This has lead to the line "You've got dinner!' whenever new messages arrive. Oh, and a couple of the people who were sleeping in the area seem to have gotten up.

4:18 am (CDT): I just paid my cable tv bill.

4:52 am (CDT): I am playing a Martika song on my computer. (Martika is awesome!) I heard someone in a Starbucks kiosk, so maybe they'll open soon and I can get some coffee. Also, I saw a bunch of TSA people sitting around, so I guess the security business will be open soon. Oh, and we reached the giggling stage a while ago. Plus, as you can see from Zifnab's post, I am uttering some very impressive comments.

5:02 am (CDT): I am now playing the 12 inch version of "Tarzan Boy" for the second time tonight. I forgot to mention that the Jessica Simpson infomercial (also with Puff Daddy and Vanessa Williams) is some thing about zits. We parked ourselves next to some sort of vending machine that sells acne products and has an infomercial on infinite repeat that goes with it. Lorian's reaction is that Jessica Simpson's voice is too shrill (or to quote a Stan Freberg skit, "It's too piercing.") and that Puff Daddy has a deep voice but what is he doing in this kind of informercial. Zifnab's reaction is that Puff Daddy's comment about guys being deprived because they don't have chat rooms to discuss beauty products is really amusing. By the way, Zifnab is now playing a German techno remix of "Rubber Ducky". I am highly amused!

5:24 am (CDT): We moved over from terminal C to terminal A in the hope of getting on the 6:40 am flight (where we are on standby). There were plenty of people sleeping in this terminal as well. (Shock!) Also, we figured out the rubrik for people who have slept over at the airport -- their red blankets give them away.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

What happens in Gainesville stays in Gainesville

Tomorrow morning, I am leaving for my first vacation longer than 2 days in more than 4 years. Zifnab, Lanth, and I are leaving tomorrow to visit Doug Elliott (and Ben Williamson, of course!) and Lemming will be joining us on Sunday. There will be baseball on Friday -- my first live spring training game since 1989! There will also be lots of gaming, and in particular I have an RPG itch I'm looking forward to scratching (and I don't mean the type one might get at DragonCon if one isn't careful).

I will be doing some work while I'm gone. I've got a book coming out and e-mails are flying back and forth about that constantly these days. I'll be getting page proofs for a Section IV of the book on Sunday, so I'll need to do that. I also have several work-related e-mails already in my inbox to which I haven't gotten yet. This includes some network-theory references I need to check out and some discussions on how to organize a paper I will be starting soon. Actually, on the academic side, I have two papers currently in progress and two more that are about to officially become in progress. There is a remote possibility that I'll be submitting four papers next month, but two in April and two in May is a bit more likely. I will shortly be getting official word of my students' 2007 SURF projects, so I'll write a post on that when the time comes. I also got a paper (1-epsilon)-accepted today and there are some very minor revisions we'll be doing asap. I also am supposed to receive page proofs for a recently-accepted paper any day now and I have two papers I'm supposed to review (and for which I will be sending my referee reports after I am supposed to).

So, I'll be getting some work done while I'm on vacation, though I expect to concentrate mostly on keeping up with e-mail so that I'm not too far behind on that when I get back. Plus, I have two days of spring training box scores on which I'm behind. But that's pleasure reading. :)

This is a well-deserved vacation, though it's coming at a time when I am busier than usual. Baseball's opening day is imminent (I might be able to finally listen to Vin Scully again tomorrow!), I need to optimize my fantasy team, I still haven't gotten around to blogging about the wedding I attended a few weeks ago, a physics talk I wanted to discuss briefly, the new TMNT movie, or the Caltech women's ping pong team (though at this point I will wait until after Nationals and I'll include what happens there).

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Maybe if this post is witty enough somebody will finally love me.

As many of you know, lots of e-mails have been flowing lately because of the impending release of my book, Legends of Caltech III: Techer in the Dark. (And I have sent very few "pleasure e-mails" as a result...)

I recently bought an XKCD shirt that says "Maybe if this t-shirt is witty enough somebody will finally love me." (or something very similar... I don't feel like looking it up) I wore that for the first time on Sunday night/Monday. On Tuesday, in an e-mail from one of our contributors, I received the comment, "Once again, thank you for your efforts - you've got my love!" Ironically, the guy who sent that never even saw my t-shirt.

I wore my other new XKCD shirt yesterday. This is the one that claims that I am not antisocial but just shy. Of course, one of my friends decided to make a comment about the shirt and inform me that I can be kind of antisocial. I tend to have very blunt friends, but that's kind of necessary when it comes to people being able to handle my tactlessness. (It's important to be compatible.)

Quote of the Day

This quote is technically one of which I was reminded yesterday. It was uttered by Andy Van Slyke way back in the day when he was an outfielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates:

"Who says there's an unemployment problem in this country?'' Andy Van Slyke, then a Pirates outfielder, said years ago. "Just take the five percent unemployed and give them a statistic to follow.''

A few notes on "awesomeness" (plus a little bit of awesomeness)

Here are a few "awesome" things from yesterday. (I wanted to post them yesterday, but I was busy helping to make ping pong shirts.)

Well, one of them is that my Screamer arrived on Monday. I set it up in the entry room in Sloan Annex. The building's residents just assumed I was the one responsible, so I obviously have the right kind of reputation. Also, Mike Cross is teaching Phys 106, so all the students picking up or turning in homework assignments or exams will be seeing the Screamer every time they do so. (Mike has now officially sanctioned this.) A couple of amusing picture ideas got thrown around yesterday: An 'I love this #%!$ing school' shirt and other Caltech memorabilia will be worn, beer mugs will be held, and at least one person broached the subject of being somewhat tipsy (which apparently only takes half a beer) for the picture. OK, so only two of us were discussing this while we were both avoiding work (yeah, flicking), but if done correctly, I forsee an extremely awesome picture.

Yesterday, I had a work meeting with the prof with whom I'm collaborating on the solitary-wave-through-beads project. This was right before a faculty meeting in which people were slated to officially approve the choice of this guy for the Applied & Computational Math department (with an IST affiliation). My collaborator told me about the meeting and I asked who was decided up. She mentioned the name, so I googled the guy. Check out the picture on his professional web page. It's "awesome." As I told my collaborator, his picture looks like he's trying to get a date, so we had some fun mocking him (keeping in mind that she was going to go cast her vote on him in a faculty meeting in a couple of minutes... so this was all really tactful).

Also during the meeting, something fell out of my hair that apparently had fallen in there during lunch time. I need a haircut really badly right now, and this whole thing reminded me of a comment Wendell made many years ago (when my hair was similarly long or even longer) that I shouldn't cut my hair because the family of birds living there would have to find a new nest. The thing falling out of my hair was simultaneously embarrassing and amusing. I told my collaborator to pretend it didn't happen. She agreed to do this as long as I also pretended she hadn't laughed at me hysterically. Clearly, it's a win-win situation. (Hmmm... I almost made a "Wendell" tag because of this paragraph.)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Uh oh... not a good sign

My iPod just started playing "Crazy on You" by Heart, and my mind was thinking of notes passing by on Guitar Hero II. I've been poisoned.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Tales from the arXiv: "Fight!"

Here is the abstract of a new arXiv paper, which follows up a response to a paper posted by the author of this short note:

Paper: quant-ph/0703244
Date: Mon, 26 Mar 2007 19:15:54 GMT (2kb)

Title: Disproof of Bell's Theorem: Reply to Critics
Authors: Joy Christian (Perimeter and Oxford)
Categories: quant-ph
Comments: 1 page; RevTeX4
This is my response to a criticism of my recent argument to disprove the
remarkable impossibility proof of John S. Bell, which appears to undermine any
conceivable possibility of a local realistic completion of quantum mechanics.
Since I expect more resistance to my paper in the future, I plan to
periodically update this preprint with my responses, instead of creating a new
preprint each time.
\\ ( , 2kb)

And I was looking forward to a long chain of papers with titles that begin "Response to 'Reponse to ' ... "

By the way, in the title of this entry I am referencing a specific video game. (I know the reference is so vague that it could be a ton of things, but I'll just mention that I do have something very specific in mind and see if any of you guess which game it is. I'll give hints later, but I think it's conceivable that a couple of you might get this without any hints.)

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Well of course he's awesome! Don't be ridiculous!

I suspect this title won't ring any bells with most of you, but when I was in elementary school, I occasionally watched a feel-good sitcom called Perfect Strangers, which really wasn't very funny and lasted far longer than it had any right to. One of the characters in the show was Myposian shepherd Balki Bartokomous, who was played by Bronson Pinchot.

In addition to the Mypos "dance of joy", the character Balki was known for certain expressions, such as "Well of course not! Don't be ridiculous!" (and variants thereof), which he uttered with a pretty good fake European accent.

About a week and a half ago, I saw a new play called "Distracted" that includes Pinchot as one of its stars. He played four different characters and also went meta- a couple times (actually, the play had a very healthy dose of meta-, which is one reason I liked it). His facility with accents came in handy.

I saw the play at the Mark Taper Forum. It's pretty funny, and Pinchot clearly stole the show. "I'm playing four characters! Without Ridalin, I couldn't even memorize my fucking lines!"

It's about ADHD, lots of input, and the issue of using meds to "raise" kids. As Number Johnny 5 once said, "Need input."

Saturday, March 24, 2007 "customer service" is retarded.

See the title. I have nothing else to say.

Friday, March 23, 2007

"I detest American television!"

As Lemming alluded in his review, the title of this entry is the best line of the film The Namesake. (Technically, he only alluded to the fact that I think the line is awesome, but the stronger statement holds in spades. This is the second time in a row that Lemming and I have agreed on the best line of a film and also the second time in a row that that line was the best by a large margin.) It was awesome the first time it was used and it became progressively more awesome in subsequent uses/references.

Lemming's review pretty much echoes my opinion of the film, though let me state explicitly that I too was expecting a good film but found a great one. I did find the beginning to be a bit slow (which I think differs a bit from Lemming's view) and while I would recommend the film to all adults, I'm not sure if most children would enjoy the film. I don't think I would have appreciated this film when I was a child and I expect that would be true of many children.

As Lemming points out, there are both very funny and very sad moments in the film. It's listen on IMDB as a comedy first but it's really a "dramedy." I was tearing a little bit at a couple of points in the film, and that's not too common to me. I also laughed out out on several occasions.

A very important component of the film are the experiences of first-generation and second-generation immigrants. I am a second-generation immigrant (is that the right term?), and while I doubt my father's experiences were much like the ones from the film (his brothers and parents immigrated with him, which is very different from the film), it is true that in his heart the US is a distant third to two other countries and that that perspective was made obvious to my siblings and me when we were growing up. Also, as an academic, I've had the chance to meet a lot of people who just moved to this country (and I'll be making a move of my own like that, though mine will be a far easier one) and also know a bunch of people from who moved here at various nontrivial, and I can definitely sympathize with these sorts of issues and trying to preserve some of the old amidst the new.

The film also explores a couple of significant relationships -- between parent and child (especially via first- versus second-generation immigrants) and (in one main case and, to a lesser extent, in a couple of others) between lovers.

It was a very deep, moving, and often-funny film. Go see it!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Quotes of the Day (Overheard in Sloan Annex)

Today's quotes of the day come from a meeting this afternoon with two of my collaborators (one professor and one postdoc).

At some point, the professor (Gil Refael) commented that I was good at stalking experimentalists to ask them about their data and the current status of their work. My response was "I'm good at stalking in general."

Gil responded by saying that I should put this in my blog. I agree, so here it is.

Later on, the following exchange occurred between Gil and the other postdoc (Ryan Barnett):

Professor: [[asks something]]

Postdoc: "That's a whole other issue."

Professor: "So how are we handling it?"

Postdoc: "We're ignoring it."

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Blow-up doll of the "Screamer"

I bought a new office adornment on Sunday night: a 4-foot blow-up doll of Edward Munch's "Screamer". I think it and Summer Fun Cthulhu will get along quite handsomely.

One of my postdoc advisors at Georgia Tech had one, and I had been meaning to get one since then. (Here is a picture that was taken during a grant-proposal-writing meeting. This picture is so bloody awesome!) On Sunday night, I finally got around to it.

I'm actually tempted to use my Screamer as an adornment for the main entry room of Sloan Annex instead of my office, but we'll see what I can get away with.

There are so many potential uses for this...

"I am not an anteater! I am an aardvark!"

Picture a cartoon containing a blue aardvark who is always going after a certain ant and failing miserably. Then, imagine the cartoon's narrator referring to him as an anteater and then in the middle of the chase, the aardvark turns to the audience and says the line in the title in the very distinctive voice of Jackie Mason (though it was actually a sound-alike; the same guy voiced the ant while sounding like Dean Martin). This was in The Ant and the Aardvark, which along with the Roadrunner cartoons, constituted my favorite cartoon series from childhood. Also, I have always had a keen interest in comically sisyphean endeavors. (I assume that you guys are aware that I can do a mean Road Runner impersonation. I can't do the tongue thing, but I've got the "Beep! Beep!" down pretty well. Just listen to the voice message on my home phone.)

When I bought the pink panther film collection a few years ago, the package included a 'bonus CD' of pink panther cartoons with the first episode of The Ant and the Aardvark (this cartoon would occasionally be shown as one of the cartoons in the same 30-minute package on TV). The animation quality itself was horrible (though I didn't remember that until I saw the episode again), but the humor is wonderful. In fact, the Roadruner and Ant/Aardvark bits have several similarities, such as the violence. Also, I loved the whole meta- aspect of the Aardvark turning to the audience and uttering quips. Jackie Mason has spent his career as the stereotypical neurotic Jewish comedian, so picture an aardvark doing this and add Roadrunner-style violence and that's what this cartoon series was all about.

After I returned to Caltech, the entire pink panther cartoon collection was released and according to early advertisements (I bought it at the beginning), it was supposed to contain all the Ant/Aardvark stuff. Sadly, that turned out to be false advertisement. (I vaguely remember complaining about this in a blog entry. At the very least, I know I mentioned it to some people in person.)

However, I received an e-mail today from Amazon that a DVD with all the Ant/Aardvark cartoons would be released on April 4th. So I pre-ordered it (and also pre-ordered Super Paper Mario while I was at it).

Sometimes, it's the simple things in life that give me pleasure.

"Ten billion ants in this world, and I'm having trouble with just one.

WTF award: Pasadena mailboxes

Today's WTF award goes to some of the mailboxes in Pasadena (for example, see the ones on Lake & Del Mar), which have messages about some policy that is going to change on "Saturday" March 19th.

OK, so what's so special about that? First, March 19th is Monday. Second, Saturday is in quotes and underlined in the notice.

Will somebody please explain this to me? This doesn't make any sense, and my puny little mind can't handle it.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Tales from the ArXiv: Dating Edition

This recent arXiv post caught my eye:

Paper: physics/0703189
Date: Mon, 19 Mar 2007 16:21:21 GMT (19kb)

Title: Paradoxical Way for Losers in a Dating Game
Authors: C. M. Arizmendi
Categories: physics.soc-ph
Comments: 6 pages, 3 figures, MEDYFINOL06
Subj-class: Physics and Society
We study the dating market decision problem in which men and women repeatedly
go out on dates and learn about each other. We consider a model for the dating
market that takes into account progressive mutual learning. This model consists
of a repeated game in which agents gain an uncertain payoff from being matched
with a particular person on the other side of the market in each time period.
Players have a list of preferred partners on the other set. The players that
reach higher rank levels on the other set preferences list have also higher
probability to be accepted for dating. A question can be raised, as considered
in this study: Can the less appreciated players do better? Two different kinds
of dating game are combined "a la Parrondo" to foster the less attractive
players. Optimism seems to be highly recommendable, especially for losers.
\\ ( , 19kb)

In closing, I'd like to draw your attention to the last sentence of the abstract: Optimism seems to be highly recommendable, especially for losers.

That sentence is my quote of the day...

Sunday, March 18, 2007

This differential equation is retarded!

In the new issue of AMS Notices, a letter to the editor was given the section title "Retarded Differential Equations and Quantum Mechanics". (Go to page 2 of the .pdf file. Most of you should be at institutions with a subscription that allows you to see the link.)

Remember, "theory is retarded!" is the new champ stamp. I can see it being used by academic hiring committees everywhere.

Similarly, "he/she is more or less full of crap" is a popular comment to make about a seminar speaker.

Overheard in ACM 210a

This quote comes from Tom Hou (who is teaching the class) on 3/6/07. I'm a little late in posting it. (I have several other things still in my backlog as well...)

Referring to the books that he chose for the class, he said, "But none of the books are very good."

Basically, it turns out that he chose one of them because it was ok (and there wasn't anything better) and chose the others before he bothered to check whether they were good. (Though I don't think there were many other choices for most of those topics either.)

Awesome t-shirt!

Here's another post on the subject of t-shirts.

I was at Peet's today and I saw somebody wearing this shirt about the Black Death: European Tour (1347-1351). That is just so classy. I approve!

Actually, yesterday at Peet's (technically, at Noah's) was even more interesting. Sometimes it's good when people forget about one's order and one has to wait longer. It's all about the luck.

Friday, March 16, 2007

If you were a fundamental constant, which one would you be?

I'm making the title above sound like one of those cheesy questions from The Dating Game, although it could easily be a Lower or Upper Crotch question. In fact, if Caltech ever ran a version of The Dating Game, this question should clearly be on it.

The question started out with physical constants in mind, but mathematical ones (or ones from other fields as well) are also fair game.

This thread basically started out with the design of ping pong uniforms for the women's team because they made nationals (which occurs in about two weeks) and have to have uniforms. In the process of brainstorming about that yesterday instead of the research I should have been doing, I found out that one of my friends (who is on the team; some of you met her briefly) hadn't seen the Caltech physics baseball jersey I designed with my uniform number 'hbar' (and also that she hasn't ever seen The Princess Bride, but that will be remedied later), so I decided I'd wear that today. She really liked the shirt and wants a version for herself, so there's been a bit of a discussion of what constant she should choose.

Now, I chose hbar just because it amused me to have that as my uniform number, but I was told that that was an appropriate choice for me because I "tend to be short wavelength/eccentric/energetic/uncertain". I admit I'm afraid to ask what it means to be "short wavelength". (There's only one thing that comes to mind, and it's not exactly positive.)

Also, I was amused by Tim's comment about having enough different people get shirts with mathematical constants so that we could form the equation e^{i*pi) + 1 = 0. (Then we could also blow up some SUVs.)

So, I invite you to answer what constants fits you. But let me answer for Lemming. He's clearly represented by the fine structure constant for obvious physical reasons.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

RIP Bowie Kuhn (1926-2007)

Former Major Leage Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn died today. Here is the ESPN article about it.

Take a look at the wikipedia entry for information about his life. One person (maybe it was Donald Fehr?) once said of Kuhn, "His ego is his North Star. He follows it wherever it leads." (I googled this briefly and couldn't find who said this.) Some of you may have heard me use a variant of this comment before. In fact, I'm almost positive a couple of you have, although I don't know if you remember it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

(Recent) Movies, Plays, and Musicals

OK, so this isn't exactly lawyers, guns, and money; but I'll take what I can get.

Let's start with 300, which is an extremely good movie. Here's Lemming's review. I don't think I liked it quite as much as he did, but I enjoyed it quite a bit and recommend it wholeheartedly. Lemming's review sums things up nicely, but let me add explicitly that the line "I don't see why we can't be civil about this." is (1) the best line in the film and (2) much better than the second best line. The delivery on that line was fantastic and both Lemming and I laughed hysterically when it was uttered. The rest of the dialog was hit-or-miss, but the storytelling and ambiance were the highlights here.

The other movie I saw recently in the theatre was Ghost Rider, which was exactly what was advertised. The movie was both good and fun (though I suspect others might call it "fun" but perhaps not good) but not excellent. The whole thing about pointing at someone and going "You -- guilty!" or "You -- innocent!" reminded me of recent discussions with colleagues about interviewing students and seeing clearly who was a scientist at heart and who was an engineer (despite the fact that --for the most part -- the students in question didn't really know). For what it's worth, "engineer" = "guilty" in terms of my recruitment of SURF students. (Note that an engineering major can be a scientist. I'm referring to the research mentality of the student.) Also, I was looking through some pictures recently and I found a really cool one from DragonCon that shows someone dressed up as Ghost Rider next to someone else dressed up as Beaker. Awesome!

There was also a recent string of movies that we saw on DVD. Crank got the wtf award. Who needs a plot when you can just have fun? (The movie was fun to watch but it wasn't exactly deep stuff.) Idiocracy was decent but not great. Watching it, however, did remind me that a pimp always goes after his hos. No exceptions. The Departed was awesome and Mark Wahlberg played a badass, which is probably the biggest compliment that one guy can give to another. (Technically, saying that someone is a badass is said biggest compliment.)

The play I saw recently was David Mamet's Oleanna. (There's a film version with William H. Macy that I have never seen.) I have enjoyed some of David Mamet's other work immensely (especially the film State and Main) and this one was decent, but it wasn't great. This one was basically pure drama; none of Mamet's hallmark witty dialog was present. While there was good stuff, the ending was extremely abrupt, and I left feeling that the play ended before the action did. By the way, I saw this play at the Hollywood Fight Club, whose stage has occasionally been graced by the wondrous presence of one Joshua Hime.

The musical I recently saw was My Fair Lady. I read Pygmalian in 10th grade but had never actually seen My Fair Lady before. A couple of the songs were familiar, and naturally I had seen a version of the story before. One of the CPA people with whom I went is from Great Britain and she claimed the accents were done well, so that's a good sign. And cockney is just fucking awesome as a general principle!

That's about it for recent media (aside from video games). I'm seeing another play on Friday and I'm playing lots of Zelda.

Quote of the Day (overheard at Chandler)

Today's quote of the day once again comes from Catalin Turc:

"We had strippers dancing on tables. [pause] We wanted to have a nice, relaxed atmosphere." (Some of the minor connecting words may not be entirely accurate.)

Then the conversation at lunch really became "awesome" because of the whole yearbook bit. I think that Cat must have been making up for the recent tameness (relatively speaking) in our lunch conversations.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

2007 ME 72 contest

The 2007 ME 72 engineering design contest was held in Beckman Auditorium today. I know one of the participants a little bit but this is among the weakest senses of "knowing" possible, so I was there to see carnage and root for Dr. Placebo.

I hadn't seen the ME 72 contest since 1998, so it was really nice to watch it again. The carnage was better than in most years I witnessed, though Dr. Placebo was craptacular -- the guy controlling it could never even get it to move. (That didn't stop it from winning one round.) The last time the contest was run publicly was in 2003 (though apparently it was still done privately; the competitions were just less photogenic or something), so the crowd wasn't used to rooting for Dr. Placebo from the beginning and the auditorium wasn't completely filled as it used to be. By the end, however, people had started rooting for the Placebo a lot, so people picked up the proper etiquette pretty quickly.

Monday, March 12, 2007

UNIX error jokes

Courtesy Maria King (opera singer extraordinaire and nerd groupie), you can find these jokes here.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

What happens in Estes Park stays in Estes Park

Tomorrow morning, I have a flight to Denver (I know, right when the March Meeting is ending) followed by ground transportation to Estes Park, Colorado. I will be attending the wedding of Lloydies Sam Bench '01 and Matt Reese '01 and a lot of Techers I haven't seen in many years (and some friends I have seen more recently than that) will be there. It should be very fun.

The timing of the wedding was purposely aligned with the end of the March Meeting in order to maximize the number of physicists attending it. (Matt is a physicist and was responsible in part for the Lloydie-Scurve dinner at last year's March Meeting becoming a Lloydie-Scurve-Yalee [how does one spell Yalee?] dinner.) In fact, the first formal e-mail announcement was titled something like "March Meeting and wedding" and was timed to be just before the abstract submission deadline for the March Meeting (and included a reminder about that). It was really quite classy.

There is a small chance I'll run into one of my friends at the airport (given the relative timing of my flight in and her flight out), though I don't know about relative airlines, so I'm guessing that won't happen. I'll hazard a guess, however, that I will see some meeting attendees that I know who are not people attending the wedding. It's just a matter of whom.

I almost forgot: this will be my first flight in which I am not taking a laptop with me since March 1998, when I was visiting grad schools.

How about that "2005" presidential election?

Here is a paper just posted to the arXiv:

Paper: physics/0703095
Date: Thu, 8 Mar 2007 11:45:47 GMT (178kb)

Title: From 2000 Bush-Gore to 2006 Italian elections: Voting at fifty-fifty and
the Contrarian Effect
Authors: Serge Galam
Categories: physics.soc-ph
Comments: 17 pages, 8 figures
Subj-class: Physics and Society
A sociophysical model for opinion dynamics is shown to embody a series of
recent western hung national votes all set at the unexpected and very
improbable edge of a fifty-fifty score. It started with the Bush-Gore 2000
American presidential election, followed by the 2002 Stoiber-Schr\H{o}der, then
the 2005 Schr\H{o}der-Merkel German elections, and finally the 2006
Prodi-Berlusconi Italian elections. In each case, the country was facing
drastic choices, the running competing parties were advocating very different
programs and millions of voters were involved. Moreover, polls were given a
substantial margin for the predicted winner. While all these events were
perceived as accidental and isolated, our model suggests that indeed they are
deterministic and obey to one single universal phenomena associated to the
effect of contrarian behavior on the dynamics of opinion forming. The not hung
Bush-Kerry 2005 presidential election is shown to belong to the same universal
frame. To conclude, the existence of contrarians hints at the repetition of
hung elections in the near future.
\\ ( , 178kb)

While I'm on the subject of recent arXiv papers, try this one on for size:

Paper: physics/0703091
Date: Thu, 8 Mar 2007 06:40:20 GMT (59kb)

Title: Scientific inquiry in modern art
Authors: M.V. Simkin
Categories: physics.soc-ph
Subj-class: Physics and Society
I report the results of the test, where the takers had to tell true
masterpieces of abstract art from the fakes, produced by myself. Every picture
can be described by the fraction of the test takers, who selected it as a
masterpiece. When judged by this metric, the pictures show no stratification
between masterpieces and fakes, suggesting that they are of about the same
\\ ( , 59kb)

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

"Awesome" test answers

Courtesy my fellow Norman (i.e., Beverly High alum) Maria King, I posted some "awesome" test answers. I especially like the one with the "expansion."

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Blessing in disguise

Yesterday, I bought a new battery (and film) for my camera at Target. I stupidly bought the wrong kind of battery (and I even-more-stupidly opened it because I didn't anticipate a problem and then found that it was too big the hole where it's supposed to go), so I went back to Target this morning to buy another battery (with my $6 completely down the drain). And I checked just in case (even though I checked yesterday as well) and they had Wiis there! Dude! Buying the wrong battery was fortuitious (though opening it was still stupid). I also bought a carrying case and an extra controller. They had enough controllers for me to get my fill, but I decided that for more than two players, people can bring them for now. (And then I went Wii, Wii, Wiiiiiiiiii all the way home.) Maybe I'll see some controllers and Amazon, and then I'll be able to use my remaining gift certificates.

Target did not have any nunchuks, so one question I have is whether Zelda needs those. I want to play Zelda tonight.

I'll set up my Wii later this evening.

A possible reason for the SUV incident?

I received an interesting e-mail this morning with the following text:

i saw your blog after finding your paper on ranking sports teams with a
markov chain. (that is a sortuh interesting topic but after 5 minutes on
your paper i decided to google elsewhere to see if there is anything a
little shorter; there are thousands of these most of which appear to be
rewrites, but then the paper on n-th excited state of the h-atom may in a
sense be a rewrite of the paper on the n-1st.). there does not appear to
be a good source on markov chains in fact (either they are for elementary
school or they immediately turn into a 'theorem/proof' stream of
consiousness). of course, googling for the answer is lazy in a sense, or a
'sociological' study. (who thinks what?)

i saw your post on the la times article, and was going to comment but
forgot my google password. i would just say that it seems to me that
situation (good or bad) is partly due to the fact that people at cal tech
spend alot of time writing papers like yours. in a sense, it may be as
lazy as buying an suv or trashing one---there may be better time allocations
(but i guess everyone is an ant following a pherenome trail). it also
suggests that 'genius' may not be all its cooked up to be.
i guess the alternative would be to say, teach calculus outside of
caltech and prison. (or markov chains). but, as opposed to laziness, that
might be too difficult a problem to solve. or, maybe one could see if your
algorithm works for ranking american idol candidates.

So, I guess the conclusion is that if we want to avoid more "ecoterrorism" incidents, people at Caltech should stop spending so much time writing esoteric scientific articles.

Any good ideas for what I should do with my life now?

Friday, March 02, 2007

Oscar Wrap-up (2007)

A few weeks ago, I offered some fearless predictions about this year's Oscars. Let's see how I did. (In 2006, I might as well have guess completely randomly. I know -- it's such a shock.)

Best Actor: Forest Whitaker (Me: Will Smith)

Best Supporting Actor: Alan Arkin (Me: Arkin). Conclusion: The Academy got this one right! (Arkin deserved this award beyond belief.)

Best Actress: Helen Mirren (Me: Meyrl Streep). Conclusion: Meryl got robbed!

Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Hudson (Me: Abigail Breslin)

Best Animated Film: Happy Feet (Me: Cars). This is total crap. And why weren't A Scanner Darkly and Flushed Away nomited. Criminal.

Best Art Direction: Pan's Labyrinth (Me: Pan's Labyrinth). Duh.

Best Cinematography: Pan's Labyrinth (Me: Pan's Labyrinth). Even more duh.

Best Costume Design: Marie Antoinette (Me: Marie Antoinette). Wow, three in a row. By the way, Marie got my pick for who would win. In my opinion, Curse of the Golden Flower should have won, but I was voting with my ... er ... "heart" rather than my mind as far as what I felt should have gotten the nod. Any, this is a victory as far as my predictions go.

Best Directing: The Departed (Me: United 93). In my defense, I made an arbirtrary prediction before I saw any of these films. Now that I've actually seen The Departed...

Best Documentary: An Inconvenient Truth (Me: An Inconvenient Truth). Everybody saw this one coming from a mile away. At least we now know Al Gore can win something. I heard he's keeping his statue in a lockbox.

Best Short Documentary: The Blood of Yinzhou District (Me: Yingzhou). I pulled this one out of my ass and picked a winner (as it were).

Best Film Editing: The Departed (Me: United 93). Once again, had I actually seen The Departed at the time I made these predictions...

Best Foreign Language Film: The Lives of Others (Me: Pan's Labyrinth).

Best Makeup: Pan's Labyrinth (Me: Pan's Labyrinth).

Best Musical Score: Babel (Me: Pan's Labyrinth).

Best Original Song: Melissa Etheridge, "I Need to Wake Up", An Inconvenient Truth. (Me: Randy Newman, "Our Town", Cars). When is the last time a documentary had the best original song? Back in the day, the best song almost always came from a Disney film, but the times they are achangin'.

Best Picture: The Departed (Me: Little Miss Sunshine). Oops. (Note that I was predicting which one would win. My favorite films weren't even nominated for this award.)

Best Animated Short Picture: The Danish Poet (Me: Time For Nuts).

Best Live Action Short Film: West Bank Story (Me: West Bank Story). Dig the title and dig it well.

Best Sound Editing: Letters from Iwo Jima (Me: Iwo Jima). I pulled another one out of my ass.

Best Sound Mixing: Dreamgirls (Me: Dreamgirls).

Best Visual Effects: Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest (Me: Pirates). Dude, another three in a row.

Best Adapted Screenplay: The Departed (Me: Notes on a Scandal).

Best Original Screenplay: Little Miss Sunshine (Me: Little Miss Sunshine).

OK, so how did I do this year? I got 12 right out of 24. Last year, I only got 8 right out of 24. The difference is a combination or randomness, a couple of obvious choices, and the fact that I saw more nominated films this year than last year and I made fewer wild guesses as a result. Actually, batting .500 in predicting Oscars (given the nominees) is actually pretty decent.

Georgia Tech math account: officially dead

As of today (or possibly yesterday, which is the day I was told this would happen), my Georgia Tech math department account is now officially dead. Some people may still try e-mailing me there, but I won't get any of those messages any more. Also, all the nice pictures I had posted there are now no longer posted (and the number of hits on my websites has concomitantly gone down -- of course, the hits I get now have a much higher probability of being academic ones).

Now, I'm going to remove the links to those pages that I have on my Caltech website. I might repost some of this stuff eventually, but I'm not going to bother until after I flee to England.

I did repost the picture of me in the giant flower because I wanted a picture to show up on blogger. (The sudden absence of this picture from my blogger profile is how I realized the axe had officially fallen.)

I moved a couple things over to my Caltech account (such as my introduction to LaTeX, which a lot of people actually use), but because of the very limited space I have (and the fact that I use most of it already), older papers will just have to not be available from my website until I move to Oxford and have more room to post them. Moreover, my 'research' webpage was well-organized when I first wrote it, but it's gained a lot of entropy as I have advised more students, undertaken more projects, and written more papers. It needs to be completely rewritten (and my site needs to be reorganized as well), though because I'm a lame duck at the moment, I'm just going to leave my ITS site as is and start from scratch when I move to Oxford. (I really don't want to spend the time to do this at the moment, so I'll do this as part of setting up the OCD group webpage.)

I've had it with those SOBs in their SUVs.

So, I read an extremely interesting article this evening while I was at Peet's. I even clipped it out to show to Lemming, but he saved me the trouble by finding the article independently and posting it.

The article is about the former Caltech physics grad turkey who played a role in blowing up some SUVs a few years back. It discusses both the incident and his life in prison. I concur with Lemming and strongly encourage you to read this.