Friday, August 31, 2007

Open sore + lemon = win

How's that for a sarcastic equation?

I'm such a champ. I was klutzy when squeezing lemon on my shrimp at lunch today and I accidently nailed a decently-large open sore. Damn, that hurts!

The sad thing is that this is not the first time I've done this to myself (and I'm not referring to the act of squeezing lemons over the paper cut of my sole...).

Thursday, August 30, 2007

"The Scientific Research Potential of Virtual Worlds"

Courtesy Kris Green, a math professor at St. John Fisher College, I found out about the recent Science article, The Scientific Research Potential of Virtual Worlds.

I remember talking to Zifnab a while ago about the potential for a social networks study simply from the ability to gather data from these things, and it's not surprising at all that others (presumably many others) are having similar ideas. The paper in question, which I only skimmed very briefly, seems to not have any quantitative analysis, so in no way have I been scooped as far as the networks stuff goes. (Moreover, there is so much one can do that there are going to be tons of papers on networks, economies, and so on in virtual worlds before any of this stuff is even remotely exhausted.)

Anyway, I wanted to provide the link because I think it may interest several of you. (And maybe I'll be able to force myself to read the full article before I actually start trying to do the research in question...)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

PAX: The Final Countdown

As fellow party-member Lemming has discussed (while I have been strangely silent), we attended Pax (Penny Arcade Expo) this weekend. You can find Lemming's show highlights here. Also, here are his brief notes for portions of days one, two, and three.

Before I get into some of my highlights (and occasional shenanigans), it's worth pointing out one different in perspective from Lemming. I view Lemming as a hard-core video gamer, whereas I most definitely am not one. I am hard-core with certain other games (at least to some extent when it comes to RPGs) and I enjoy games a lot, but I frequently go several weeks at a time (and sometimes several months at a time) without even playing video games. My being deeply in the middle of a game means I am playing something like 7-15 hours a week. It has been many years when I have had anything beyond very thin spikes of more than that. I don't actually read Penny Arcade and I basically haven't seen the humor in nearly any of the example strips of thirs that I have read.

OK, so why did I go to this convention? Well, for one thing, I do have a reasonable connection to geek culture even if my primary focus of is a different aspect than the main themes of this convention. There are tons of correlations involved, and my adventures into the Realms of Ironic T-Shirts tend to be very enjoyable ones. If attending a Con on my own, an RPG-heavy one like Dragon*Con would be my preference. However, attending a Con like this with a fellow party member is a rare and invaluable opportunity, so once I realized (granted, very late in the game) that I would actually have time to go, I went with it and had a lot of fun in the process. I hadn't attended a Con in three years, and I tend to like the big ones a lot. I read my work e-mails this weekend while attending PAX (and I definitely read baseball box scores when I went back to the hotel room!), but I actually left nearly all of my nontrivial work untouched until my return. This, perhaps more than anything else, truly reveals how much I enjoyed this weekend. I actually had a real vacation and I almost always am spending a good amount of time doing work even during what amount to my version of real vacations. This time, I was so engrossed with having fun that I was able to let most of my work wait for me. Well met, PAX! (The one nontrivial thing I did some work on was a fairly urgent request involving a collaborator and because they had helped quickly when my student and I had a comparable request in the past, it was my responsibility to do likewise even while on vacation.)

Alright, let's get to the various highlights and misadventures from the show:


Minor shenanigans at the Oakland airport: Lemming mentioned that I showed my excellence here. Basically, we ended up in different groups for the second leg of our trip but I assumed we were in the same one (and never actually checked). The guy collecting tickets made me take a walk of shame from group B to the end of the line of group C, which made me basically the last person on the plane to pick a seat. Thankfully, the people behind me in line B told Lemming what happened, so he knew why I had suddenly disappeared. Of course, this incident got completely dwarfed by Saturday's booth babe shenanigans, but I'll get to that below.

Random conversations: Here is one place where Lemming and I differ. I did not find it easy to start random conversations with people. I didn't feel comfortable enough to pass my inertial barriers. Most of my interactions with people were fine, though I got annoyed a couple of times (though less often than I am annoyed in day-to-day stuff, especially when you consider the number of people around and the close quarters). In one case, people behind me were disparaging my shirt and talking behind my back even while I was within earshot. (What they said wasn't horribly nasty, but it was enough to bother me.) Unfortunately, this was near the beginning of the Con and didn't help me with respect to my usual timidity in meeting new people (basically, it hurt my comfort level). In one other, somebody asked a perfectly reasonable question in a Question & Answer session and a couple of dozen or so jackasses verbally abused him. It was a very small minority, but this was completely out of line and such behavior just pisses me off in general. There were a couple of smaller things.

Long lines: There were some long lines at PAX, but none of them were even close to as long as this one. Also, the long lines moved really fast, so while the first one I saw was intimidating, it was never actually an issue.

Wil Wheaton: As Lemming mentioned, Wil Wheaton gave a fantastic keynote. I should note, however, that he was preaching to the choir. So, while the talk was excellent, I can't say I learned much from it even though I can say I was greatly entertained by it. That's more than enough for me, but I figure that it's worth pointing out the distinction. Also, I didn't agree 100% with his perspective. For example, he called gaming an "inherently social" activity. In my mind, that's not quite true. It can be extremely social, but that depends to a large extent on the context and (especially) the people involved. I have also seen the opposite, so really it's a matter of what people do with gaming that can be social or not (just like with numerous other things).

Q & A Session with Gabe and Tycho: I also enjoyed this quite a bit. They were very funny and charismatic and their interactions with (and extreme accomodation of!) the questioners was absolutely awesome. I gained a lot of respect for them after seeing this session. (See Lemming's blog for a great specific example.)

Uwe Boll: OK, so this is not technically a highlight. I was curious to see how the Q & A would go --- apparently, it devolved into the expected nastiness --- but he rambled for 20 minutes before Lemming and I gave up and left. It just wasn't worth it. I do want to mention, however, that apparently Sarah Silverman (!) refused to be in his new film because she felt it was too offensive. Holy shit! That's really hard to do!

One of the best t-shirts ever: You can find that here. This was being sold at the Paizo booth. I had never seen it before. Awesome! Now, who can I give this to as a gift without getting killed? (The best guess I have right now is my opera singer friend who is a nerd groupie.)

Simultaneous dismissal: On Friday, when Lemming and I were taking our first pass through the exhibitor's hall, we saw the World of Warcraft booth, said there was nothing of interest there, and moved on. I just have no desire to spend time with that at all.

Mmmm... steaks: Given that Lemming and I were spending a lot of money on the hotel and flight, we decided that we should have at least one really good dinner while we were in Seattle. Accordingly, we went to Ruth's Chris Steakhouse and had large, excellent pieces of meat.

D & D Dungeon Delve: I skipped out on the first couple of concerts on Friday because I wanted to play at least some D & D, and the only event I wanted to play was on Friday. (I did see some private D & D games and board games going on, but I felt too shy to even try to join in. I also never bothered trying to play multi-player DS or convincing people to play Apples to Apples, even though both of those were theoretically part of my original plan.) Dungeon Delve was a twenty minute romp with pregenerated 4th level characters. The idea was to see how far in a dungeon the party could get in that time. I chose to play a barbarian because I would take less time making decisions. There were only three of us in the party (others couldn't be found), but we had a barbarian, a cleric, and a sorceror, so I think this actually helped given the time limitation. One guy was a bit slow (he kept rolling dice with the wrong number of sides), but we got lucky with the random dungeon generation and became the only party up to that point to make it all the way through (again, our dungeon was much easier than the norm). We each got five Wizards tokens for our trouble. I redeemed them for a miniature; I could have gotten a set of dice, but it's a good thing I didn't choose that because I was later given a set of those for free at the Wizards booth. Incidentally, all the other D & D events were either RPGA events or miniatures. I used to play in the RPGA events years ago (and even DMed several games for a particular set of online Cons!), but I saw a lot of really annoying behavior that resulted from how those are set up --- they have a certificate method that ends up providing motivation for people to act in really retarded manners --- so I have refused to play in these for 5-6 years now and will never play in them again. Sadly, those are the most popular D & D events at Cons, so for Cons like PAX in which RPGs have limited representation, that basically means there aren't that many of them in which I want to play. In this case, that meant that I only did the Dungeon Delve.

Freezepop: I missed the other concerts because I did a combination of zoning out, walking around a bit, and D & D. I also missed at least part of the first song, which may actually have been song N > 1. From my discussions with Lemming, I eventually figured out that they were the Indie band that performed the new wavey song that I really liked in Guitar Hero II. Given my musical leanings, I really enjoyed the background music (i.e., the parts without singing) in this concert. The group is really a direct hit with my paradigm! However, the quality of the singing was sloppy and the lyrics were often rather weak. I have since downloaded a bunch of songs from the group --- including covers of "Neverending Story" and Depeche Mode's "Photographic" (the first ever DM single) --- and I liked the ones I listed to, so I think it's currently an issue of I like them better when they can have multiple takes. As Lemming points out, their rendition of Europe's "Final Countdown" was fantastic. That was definitely a show highlight. I've had that song in my head on and off ever since, and I don't regret it.


Game demos and actual games: First, let me start with Friday. I tried the same Geometry Wars game that Lemming did. I basically did the Wii version of button mashing. I'll have to try the game again later. I think that's the only game I tried on Friday, so let me jump to Saturday. I did the same button mashing with an incomplete version of a Wii Godzilla fighting game. I actually managed to beat the PR guy I played, but I didn't feel like I knew what I was doing. I loved it when he mentioned something like "Don't pick that monster; it's not finished yet." I tried the Wii version of the ping pong game that Zifnab has. I was hoping that I could use my ping pong stroke with the game given that it used the Wii-mote. Sadly, if one flicks one's wrist at even close to the speed that one needs in the real game, then one fails miserably at the console version. Lame. I'll actually screw up my stroke if I play this game, so I'm definitely not getting it. The most important demo I tried was the one for Zelda: Fantom Hourglass, which seems to be a direct sequel to my GBA Zelda game. I had trouble controlling certain things with the stylus, but I imagine I'll get used to it. Obviously, I am buying this game...

D & D panel session: I went to a D & D panel session that was primarily about their new online social network Gleemax. I think that most of what it offers is ho-hum, but I like the fact that it might help me find people to game with in a new city. Then it occurred to me that this could be the source of time snapshot network data that I craved --- the best way to do this is with a brand new social network, of course! --- so I put on my scientific hat a bit and hoped that I could have a chance to talk to the guy presenting the stuff and maybe even acquire time-series data so that I could have some real data to study growth mechanisms for social networks. This session also included a lot of information about 4th edition D & D, so I was very happy I went to it. There was also a really awesome promo video making fun of the most messed up stuff from earlier editions. (For first edition, I don't remember the specific target, but the fake afro on the guy who shaves his head to look younger was priceless. The target for second edition was THAC0 and that for third edition was grappling. "How do I compute THAC0 again?" I heard that question so many times back in the day...)

Free stuff: Well, there was lots of this. I have a free beach ball, a t-shirt, a set of dice, a burr, some Magic cards and other cards, some bags, etc. I didn't get any of the free Ramen, but I wouldn't have had room for it anyway.

Did I mention that Wil Wheaton is awesome?: The line for Wheaton's autograph on Saturday was reasonably short at some point, so I stood in line and got my program signed. (I then accidently smeared his signature a bit with my thumb when I got it back, but there are memories from the line that are far more important than that.) The person right before me had Wheaton sign his Guitar Hero guitar, which is already awesome... but there's more: In signing it, Wheaton started out by writing "FREEBIRD!!!" in large block letters. He then put his signature below that. I tried to take a picture of that, but my non-digital camera didn't react in time so I couldn't get that picture. (But that wasn't my "best" camera failure of the day...)

For a good time, call Jenny: One of the prevalent things at PAX were the people prominently displaying their numbers for an NVIDIA contest in which they were supposed to find their love match (i.e., the person who had the same number) at the Con. That wasn't so bad, although I found it extremely annoying when people used a Q & A question to do this (which I saw twice). That's retarded! While in line to get Wheaton's autograph, however, I saw something that more than made up for that. There was a person with the fake contest number 8675309 and somebody next to him with the fake number 8675308. Dude! I took a couple pictures of this, although that's in the roll that's still in my camera, so it will be a while before I can show anybody. (I need to get a digital camera, as both this and the last blurb indicate.)

The booth babe incident: OK, here's the real camera incident, though in my case, the problem was technically my timing rather than the camera's. One of the games had a both babe with an interesting gunslinger costume that I (and lots of others, obviously) thought would make a good picture. Most people were taking pictures with her, but I figured that taking a picture of her would be fine. So when there isn't anyone else there, I start doing this. Then she starts posing for the shot, which for some reason I didn't register that she was going to do. I finished taking the picture before she could finish posing, and she ended up with this really horrified look on her face that I think I got on camera. (This is the last picture from the other roll, so I'll show you this picture soon enough. We'll see what it actually looks like.) I'm sure I had a sheepish grin on my face and I know that I shrugged apologetically. Lemming was browsing the PAX forums later where there was a discussion of the small number of booth babes (two separate ones in the exhibitors hall, and a few more for one particular game --- I know I saw more than the 2 that Lemming mentions), and this particular booth babe, who had basically two complaints about the Con: the lesser of the two was that her boots were uncomfortable and the greater of the two were the people who didn't know how to operate their cameras. Um, oops. (For what it's worth, I think that this happened a lot --- probably not with the same flair as with my incident, but she wouldn't have complained about it so prominently if things weren't happening repeatedly.)

Fun with Microsoft: Lemming describes this very well: Joking with Microsoft PR: Mason made a point to bring his "Windows for Solitaire" shirt, and then made a point to get a picture taken at the Microsoft booth. We got a nice picture of him posing with Microsoft's PR rep for the event, and "Manager of Online Communities" (whatever position that is), who took it with a great sense of humor and was a great sport. Then I went over and took a picture with Mr. Bubbles (a statue of a "Big Daddy" from BioShock, a game that just came out). I have a couple of things to add: (1) the picture I took of Lemming with Mr. Bubbles came out really well. (2) The Microsoft guy requested a copy of the picture of him and me. (3) I hope that Lemming will post these two pictures on his blog. I'll add a link if/when he does.

The World's Smallest Dungeon: The people were very accomodating. They found out that I get migraines (they actually ask about motion sickness because of the strobe lights they use) and they decided I shouldn't have to deal with the strobe lights. I probably could have gotten away with only some small amount of dizziness if the strobe lights were still there, but they wanted to err on the side of caution. I was the only person up to that point who actually had a problem with strobe lights, though apparently several people had joked around about it before then. Also, I took a picture of Lemming next to the "satyr" (a guy in costume) who helping run the booth. Well, Lemming was not posing next to him but was rather playing House of the Dead III next to him. Also, Lemming bought a shot glass from this booth; the glass had a caption about about rolling the dice to see if he's getting drunk. :)

Omegathon: Round 4: Well, the people playing Rock Band here got the closest experience to being in a rock band than they'll probably get ever again in their lives. It was an amusing spectacle, even though the song they played sucked (IMO, obviously). I was hoping the song would be "Don't Fear the Reaper".

Jonathan Coulton: I loved his folk-music cover of "Baby Got Back". He was ok for me. The shenanigans with the camera guy were really amusing. I liked the song about the Mandelbrot set even though Coulton royally messed up some of the math. (I can't help being anal about that. It's part of my field and connecting it to the butterfly effect, which is directly in my field, is highly misleading)

MC Frontalot: I couldn't understand his lyrics at all because the acoustics were awful. I don't like rap, so I think I would have gotten a lot more out of his performance if I could actually figure out what he was saying. I love MC Hawking and it's really the lyrics that do it for me rather than the rap, and I want to hear the words to see if they amuse me. The song topics are certainly good.


Life imitates Spaceballs (and some notes on other costumes): Lemming and I decided to go to IHOP on Sunday, so we got to the Con a little later than the previous day. On the way back, we saw a guy dressed as Princess Peach (we also saw one of them earlier, so in total, I saw two male Princess Peaches and one or two female ones). When we noticed that he was smoking, I knew that we had captured Peach's stunt double. (As awesome as this was, it would have been even more spectacular would be if Mario, Luigi, Yoshi, and Toad were also in the scene. There were certainly plenty of Marios and Luigis to go around.) Other costumes included at least 4 links (3 female, 1 male), Phoenix Wright (sp?) stuff, and more. Costumes weren't as close to as prevalent as at Dragon*Con (which is one reason I like Dragon*Con so much), but they were reasonably common and it definitely made people-watching better.

Come hither: This interaction ended up working out a little better than the booth babe one, though this time the person involved had a vested interest. Basically, Lemming and I were in the middle of an alleyway discussing where to go next and the girl at a booth beckoned me with her pinky to come over to the Astro booth that she was manning. I eventually walked over despite my shyness (i.e, the summon spell worked) and filled out a form to possibly get a free laptop. (I guess it will be pretty ironic if I win it.) She was very friendly, but I was pretty tired at that point and wasn't confusing it with friendship, so I didn't try to stray from business. (Mostly, I was amused by the girl's tactics. That's why I'm mentioning it here.) I probably should have at least asked for a name, but I didn't.

N+: This game reminded me of Loadrunner and the few levels I played were really fun. I started swearing are the game when I exploded at a particularly inopprtune time. In this case, it was a sign that I was getting really into the game. I found out later that this is coming out for the DS, so I'll be buying it. (According to Amazon, it comes out on January 8th, 2008.)

Castle Crashers: I tried this demo with Lemming and two other people --- well, we tried most of it, but the exhibition hall was having power troubles at the time, so it ended up crashing before we could finish. (We previously saw a different group play the part we missed, and the twist we couldn't played was really cool.) The game --- reminiscent of the old TMNT action games and with a spectacular animation style --- was pretty fun, but I had a lot of trouble keeping track of my character. (Lemming had no such troubles, so this could easily just be a facet of my own lack of skill with most games.) I was mostly button-mashing, but I found some very cool special moves by accident, so it seems like one could develop a decent amount of strategy with this game.

Omegathon: Final Round: Lemming describes this on his on his blog. I completely differ with him on this one. I definitely understand how others can enjoy this (on a broad level, it comes down to the same reasons I really enjoy watching things like baseball), but I found watching a game I don't care about in a genre I don't care about being played by people I don't care about to be utterly boring (except when one person accidently immolated himself, which I found hilarious). I was underwhelmed. I know most of the people at the Con care about Halo 3, but hopefully I'll instead be able to see a future Final Round which instead uses Combat for the Atari 2600.

Dinner with Kin Chan: A couple of hours later, Lemming and I had dinner with Kin Chan, one of my fellow Usual Bastards. The place I went actually had 100% cream, which is rare. (Most places have half & half, and that's what they give you when you ask for cream.) I approve!

OK, so this post is long, but I decided to try to get things out of the way at once. Hopefully, Lemming will post some of his pictures and I can link to them. I'll let you know about the picture of the horrified booth babe once I have it.

Update: Here is a picture of Wil Wheaton posing with the autographed guitar and the couple for whom he autographed. By the way, I'm the one who took that photo. (The standard procedure, naturally, is to ask the next person in line to help out.)

Friday, August 24, 2007

What happens at PAX stays at PAX

I am going to PAX this weekend. And if you need more proof of the veracity (or maybe not) of the title of this blog entry, be forwarned that I am rooming with Lemming. This weekend is supposed to contain our first conjugal visit between what we like to call our "laptops". (I've been promising to give Lemming copies of some of my "music" for at least a couple of years.)

Anyway, we're going to be in Seattle, and it's going to be awesome! Late August to September is the optimal time (with respect to weather) to visit Seattle. I am also hoping to get together with 2 of my friends: Kin Chan (Caltech, class of 1998) and Corrie Vaa (who I met at a nonlinear dynamics conference in January 02 but haven't seen since; sometimes you just get along really well with someone from the beginning).

As was discussed in previous blog entries by Lemming (which I don't feel like looking up because I really ought to have gone to bed a while ago...), both of us have specific nerdware plans for this weekend's clothing. I am trying to decide between starting off with 'Windows for Solitaire' versus 'Flirt harder. I'm a physicist.' I'm currently leaning towards the latter, if for no other reason than the fact that I'll likely look less disheveled on Friday than I will the remainder of the weekend.

I will try to do some blogging from the convention (my first con in 3 years!), but we'll see how that goes.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Baseball box score of the year (and some milestone updates)

One of the most incredible baseball games ever occurred today, as the Rangers beat the Orioles 30-3. Here is the box score. (Check out the Ranger hitting lines and the Oriole pitching lines.)

There are plenty of things I can say about this game, so let's list some of the interesting facts:

1. The Orioles manager was recently given a contract extension for 2008. In the middle of the season, he had been named the interim manager for the remainder of the 2007 season when the previous manager was fired. Today's 30-3 loss was his first game as the "permanent" manager. Things can only get better.

2. The 30 runs scored by the Rangers constitute the most runs ever scored by an American League team in any game ever. The previous record of 29 came from games in 1950 and 1955. These 30 runs also constitute baseball's "modern" (aka, post-1900) record and are the second most scored by any team ever. (The record was 36 runs by the Chicago Colts in 1897.)

3. The Orioles actually led the game 3-0 at some point.

4. The Oriole relievers allowed 24 earned runs in 4 innings. That's an ERA of 54.00.

5. Four Orioles pitched in this game: one allowed 6 runs, one allowed 7, one allowed 8, and one allowed 9.

6. Four Rangers drove in 4 or more runs. The last time four or more players from a team each drove in four or more runs was 1979.

7. The Baltimore Ravens (a football team) haven't allowed 30 or more points in a game since week 12 of 2005.

8. The Rangers had scored a total of 28 runs in their last nine games combined.

9. Rangers reliever Wes Littleton recorded a save with 3 innings of solid relief. It's good to know that he can protect a 27-run lead. (By the way, the save rule is one of the most broken rules in the entire game. Among other problems, one can "earn" a save by finishing the game with 3 innings of effective relief no matter how large a lead one's team has.)

10. The 30-3 game was actually the first game of a double-header. The Rangers won the second game 9-7. The 39 runs scored in a double-header also constitute a Major-League record.

If I find out any other interesting facts about this game --- articles by people like Jayson Stark and Tim Kurkjian will be the best sources for those --- I'll pass them along.

Let me also provide updates on two other things in baseball:

1. Bobby Jenks' streak of consecutive batters retired ended at 41, so he had to settle for tying the record rather than breaking it.

2. Brandon Webb's scoreless inning streak ended at 42 innings, the long streak in the Majors since Orel Hersisher recorded 59 straight scoreless innings (the Major League record) in 1988. Following Hershiser's run in 1988 was one of my most incredible experiences as a baseball fan. Dodger announcer Don Drysdale was the previous record holder, so their interview in the dugout immediately after Orel broke the record was particularly special. 1988 was also magical for many other reasons --- chief among them was that we won the World Series that year even though we went into the playoffs as extreme underdogs. We didn't have the most talented team that year, but it didn't matter. We won, and 1988 is remains my favorite baseball season for very good reason.

Update: Rob Neyer of ESPN wrote the following in his blog today: "My favorite statistic from last night's game? The Orioles gave up more earned runs in one game -- in 3 hours and 21 minutes -- than Brandon Webb has given up in the past three months (and yes, I swiped that one from Buster Olney)." I knew people would come up with amusing stats like that... (Buster Olney also writes for ESPN, though he was not one of the ones I mentioned last night as people who I'd expect to come up with something like this. Pardon the oversight.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Old friends

Today I had dinner with Julia Wang, an old friend of mine from Beverly Hills High School who I hadn't seen in something like 10 years. She might be joining us for a games night or two at my place before I head off to Oxford. (We'll see how many I actually have before I leave town. I would like to organize many more of these than I do in practice...)

I also got a Facebook friend request from Matt Sullivan, who I last talked to at the 2006 APS March Meeting. Naturally, Matt commented on my current 'Turning Japanese' status, though I like Gazebo's response (in his Facebook status) even better. Actually, I'm particularly happy to have Matt in this addressbook, because sometimes I've had trouble keeping track of which e-mail address I should be using for him.

4th Edition D & D

It's coming out in May 2008.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Quick Thoughts (I'm Still Standin')

What do you think the plot of the average severity of an injury as a function of the number of syllables in its name looks like qualitatively?

Also, my father (a doctor) is coming by today to look at my eyes. I believe this is to make sure that I didn't suffer a concussion. The police officer mentioned this test to me last night and I realized today that the small talk (asking about one of the books on my shelf and so on) probably had much less to do with his general interest than it did with just seeing if I was alert (i.e., again checking for symptoms of a concussion).

I don't know if I lost consciousness when I was punched. I do know that I can't remember what song was on my iPod at the time. (Though, perhaps ironically, Elton John's "I'm Still Standing" was the next one I was going to pick when I wasn't in the mood to listen to the random selection.)

For what it's worth, the odds weren't good (4-5:1 ... I can't remember if there were 4 or 5 of them). I have nothing to report regarding whether the goods were odd.

P.S. Fists to the head suck! (Mind if I just lie here for a minute?)

P.P.S. Hopefully coming soon: Blog entries that are actually positive in tone.

The complex network of Marvel Universe comic book characters

This isn't the first paper on analyzing comic book characters as a complex network, but given tonight's events (I've certainly been doing really well lately, huh? I really can't wait to move out of this city. I love Pasadena, but I really need to leave.), I'm especially happy to see something that amuses me.

You can download the paper here

The title, author, and abstract are as follows:

Title: How to become a superhero

Author: P. M. Gleiser

Abstract: We analyze a collaboration network based on the Marvel Universe comic books. First, we consider the system as a binary network, where two characters are connected if they appear in the same publication. The analysis of degree correlations reveals that, in contrast to most real social networks, the Marvel Universe presents a disassortative mixing on the degree. Then, we use a weight measure to study the system as a weighted network. This allows us to find and characterize well defined communities. Through the analysis of the community structure and the clustering as a function of the degree we show that the network presents a hierarchical structure. Finally, we comment on possible mechanisms responsible for the particular motifs observed.

The big win, however, comes from the paper's conclusions: On the other hand characters labeled as villains appear around the hubs and do not connect communities. We discussed possible mechanisms that lead to these effects. In particular the rules of the Comic Authority Code clearly limit the role of villains. Also, we believe that heroes need to team up in order to show that some effort is necessary to defeat their enemies, since there is a rule that states that in the end always good shall triumph over evil. Finally, we note that a gender classification reveals that all the central characters are males, and, as in the case of villains, the female characters do not play a role connecting communities. However, as was already noted, the strongest link in the MU is the relation between Spider Man and Mary Jane Watson Parker, a fact that shows that although the MU deals mainly with superheroes and villains the most popular plot is a love story.

Isn't that sweet?

P.S. I'm guess this is getting submitted (or has been submitted already) to Physical Review E.


I was walking back from the Paseo where I saw a late showing of The Simpsons.

I was accosted by 4-5 people. I'm ok (though I have a headache). I was hit very hard in the back of my head (I believe with a fist) and my iPod was demanded of me under threat of violence. I grudgingly gave up my iPod (it didn't seem like a good risk to do otherwise), walked home, and called the police to report the incident. (An officer is on his way over now so that I can give a complete report.)


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Organizing Legends of Caltech IV

Today I spent several hours working a preliminary outline for the table of contents of Legends of Caltech IV, which should come out either May 2010 or May 2011.

As I discussed recently, I had been getting the urge to start working on the new Legends book, which was an excellent sign that the pain associated with the sprint to the finish line for Legends III had subsided substantially. The additional benefits of working on this today included (in no particular order) getting the thing organized so that we could start getting the actual stories more easily (i.e., the benefit that directly pertains to the book!), allowing me to not think about things that are still depressing me (I don't know when I'll truly get over that stuff; it's definitely going to take a while), and allowing me to avoid organizing and starting to write the grant proposal that I plan to submit as soon as possible after I show up in Oxford. (I'll definitely be doing some work on that grant proposal this week...) Plus, I had gotten a couple of different e-mails about Legends from Autumn this week, so the fact that she's doing some work on this stuff also provided an important spark. Given that today's Sunday and no e-mails asking me to do stuff arrived, I figured that today was the day I should start organizing the new book.

There are a couple of tentative title possibilities. Personally, I am most fond of "Legends of Caltech IV: Or How I Learned to Stop Studying and Love the Ride". The other one I wrote down is "Legends of Caltech IV: The Finesse, The Brute Force, and the Flaming", but that one really doesn't flow at all (even if the idea itself isn't horrible). Any subtitle suggestions? My current idea for a cover is to make it like the poster of a grindhouse movie (i.e., a B movie).

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Update from a student (and an update on Erdos-Bacon numbers)

I got an e-mail from Casey Warmbrand, one of my former undergrad advisees and now a Ph.D. student in mathematics at University of Arizona.

He wrote to ask if I knew about Erdos-Bacon numbers. You might remember that I do, as evidenced by this blog entry from last year. The wikipedia entry for Erdos-Bacon numbers seems decently more extensive than it was last year. I especially like the section showing which actors have finite Erdos-Bacon numbers (e.g., Natalie Portman's is bounded above by 7).

One of my frivolous goals is to achieve a finite Erdos-Bacon number. Right now, my Erdos number is bounded above by 4 (and I have numerous paths of length 4). My Bacon number is infinite, but there is a small chance that that will eventually change. In particular, it's conceivable that I'll be interviewed for a documentary because I co-wrote/co-edited Legends of Caltech III, and my plan is to request that Kevin Bacon have a cameo in that flick in order to give me a Bacon number of 1 and an Erdos-Bacon number of 5 (which would be one of the lowest ones out there). When I had the chance, perhaps I should have asked if I could have a cameo in Starship Dave, the movie for which I briefly served as a mathematical consultant. (Be sure to check out the 'DEI' I inserted into the unified field theory that appears in that film...)

Before I go, I also want to give an update on what Casey is doing: He was a coauthor on my PNAS paper on Congressional committee networks. He decided he prefers pure math and is working for Ken McLaughlin at University of Arizona. (McLaughlin is quite famous for his work on integrable systems.) Casey successfully wrote and defended his Masters thesis, which concerned partitions given by the Plancherel measure and an asymptotic analysis analogous that of random matrix theory and the Wigner semicircle law. Casey's doctoral thesis will focus on domino tilings of the aztec diamond (and possibly tilings of a hexagon with
rhombi) and the use of orthogonal polynomials to relate the tilings (and the non-intersecting paths that describe them) to probability distributions related to random matrix theory via the asymptotic analysis of orthogonal polynomials. (Got all that? Go ask Percy Deift if that doesn't make any sense to you... I audited his class on some of this stuff when he visited Caltech this year, and it's pretty serious shit.)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

RIP Phil Rizzuto (1916-2007)

On Monday night, Hall of Famer and former Yankee great Phil Rizzuto died. A defensive whiz, Rizzuto was a marginal Hall of Famer at best and (unfortunately) receivede extra credit for being a Yankee. After his playing days ended, he had a long career as a broadcaster --- including a guest appearance in Meatloaf's "Paradise by the Dashboard Lights".

Bobby Jenks ties record for consecutive retired batters

White Sox reliever Bobby Jenks tied a Major League record on Sunday by retiring his 41st consecutive batter. He has a chance to break the record the next time he enters a game.

To record a perfect game, one needs to record 27 consecutive outs, so recording 41 straight outs is quite an impressive feat!

Stay tuned...

Bobby Cox sets all-time managerial ejection record

The milestone for which we've all been waiting (well, I've been waiting for this... in fact, I was really hoping it would happen at the Dodgers-Braves game a while back) has finally happened. That's right, Bobby Cox was ejected for the 132 of his career today, setting a new Major League record. Congratulations, Bobby!

By the way, here's a shock: Cox was ejected for arguing a called third strike. I never imagined that he'd break the record that way! ;)

Cox has an an incredible managerial career and is eventually going to be in the Hall of Fame (though the ejections have nothing to do with it).

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Today's fortunes (and a bit of ranting)

Today has been one of those really hectic days that just stress me out. I have sent more than forty e-mails today, and nearly all of them have been work-related (with nary a pleasure e-mail to be found...). When this happens, it typically means that (1) I've been working very hard that day and (2) it probably didn't involve much time spent on the stuff I had been planning to do. Hence, at the end of such days, I typically either have progressed very little, not progressed at all, or fallen farther behind --- all while working the entire time rather than goofing off. Add to that the fact that I had over two hours' worth of meetings today and would have had more had I not gotten stood up for another meeting (which has now been rescheduled for tomorrow, so that I now have five meetings scheduled for this oh-so-wonderful of weekdays...) and it's made for a very stressful day. I also have more work I'm going to do tonight in order to keep afloat. I also worked for several hours last night. Work spikes are fun.

Oh, and there is a rant based on one of today's things that I will give in a forthcoming blog entry. I won't write that one tonight, however, because it might take a little while and I hope to spend some time either playing games or reading for pleasure.

Long preamble aside, here are (in order) the fortunes I got today:

"Draw up a budget and figure out how to cut down your debt." (Hell yeah! I'm goin' pimpin'!)

"Today is an ideal time to water your personal garden." (OK, that's just gross.)

"Soothing your body is the name of the game today." (How? By turning Japanese? Or perhaps dancing with myself?)

And now we have dusting of stars

I saw Stardust on Sunday. The movie was fantastic and Robert DeNiro was, shall we say, absolutely fabulous. (If you don't understand that reference, then you can start your education at this website.) I first found out about this movie when I saw the trailer during Transformers. I remember being blown away by how cool the trailer was, and then I was blown away by how awesome the movie was! Stardust is on the short list of my favorite movies of 2007, though I need time to pass (not to mention several more months full of movies that will be coming out) before I can figure out precisely where it ranks.

As far as I can tell, the entire gang approved of the movie wholeheartedly. As I wrote above, I consider it to be awesome. Zifnab was even more enthusiastic, as this movie has converted his erstwhile trimvirate of all-time favorite movies into a quartet. Lemming correctly writes, "If you don't see it, it's your own damn fault.". The movie really is that good. I can certainly see why fantasty-philes might like the movie better than the average person, but I would nevertheless argue that the so-called average person who might not normally like fantasy should see the movie because it really is that awesome. Gazebo had positive things to say about Stardust as well, and I'm sure the sentiments all of us have been conveying will be repeated by others. (But don't just listen to us gush... go see the bloody film!)

I should also point out that numerous people seem to be making (both general and specific) comparisons to The Princess Bride. While I certainly observed the very superficial similarity of both of them being in the fantasy genre, the stronger statements aren't things that occurred to me at all during the film. Based on the commentary by others, this basically tells me that it's time to go watch Princess Bride again...

By the way, the title of this entry is a reference to a certain poem that you can find reproduced in full at this website.

Monday, August 13, 2007

I saw the signs (and they opened up my mind)

Last night, my life had one positive sign and another non-negative one. (By the way, I simply love how I'm using the word "sign" with positivity and non-negativity here... Sometimes it's really awesome how mathematical jargon mixes with the normal English usage of words.)

The (very!) positive sign was that I was finally feeling a strong urge to organize Legends of Caltech IV. I have been planning to write a rough outline for this. I intended to produce it when the third book came out, but I wasn't really in the mood to deal with it. In addition to that sudden urge, I was also in the mood to start contacting people to write or flesh out (depending on the story) the various stories Autumn and I know that we want to include in Legends IV. I didn't actually do any of these things last night, but the fact that I now want to start spending some time doing them is absolutely excellent news as far as my mental outlook on life is concerned. In particular, it means that the massive pain (in the ass) associated with producing Legends III is now starting to fade away to the extent that I am ready to start working on the next book now. I don't plan to dive into it completely yet, but I do want to get started. Autumn and I are definitely not going to start the clock for a while (we'll see where we are in a year), but right now I would say that the ETA is either May 2010 or May 2011 (depending on how strenuously we end up working on it).

The non-negative sign is that I played some Zelda: Twilight Princess last night. I haven't been playing that game or Super Paper Mario very much even though I would like to (because I've been doing other things). I made some nice progress on the 4th dungeon in Zelda last night. (Yes, I am only on the 4th dungeon even though I bought the game in March. I have twice gone more than a month without touching the game. This is certainly not my usual practice when it comes to Zelda games.)

By the way, please excuse the Ace of Base...

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Comeback Story: Rick Ankiel

One of the most interesting stories of this baseball season is the comeback of Rick Ankiel, a still-evolving story.

Ankiel first got called up to the Major Leagues by the Cardinals as a 19-year-old pitcher in 1999. He had a fantastic rookie year in 2000 and looked like he was going to be one of the top pitchers in the league for years to come.

Then Ankiel completely melted down during the 2000 playoffs, throwing wild pitch after wild pitch in one of the worst cases of Steve Blass disease ever recorded. (Note that "Steve Blass disease" isn't a literal disease but rather refers to a pitcher suddenly not being able to throw strikes without any explanation and possibly due to entirely mental reasons. It has famously happened to Steve Blass [naturally], Mark Wohlers, and various other pitchers.)

After a few years trying to come back, Ankiel decided he was going to stop being a pitcher and try to return to the Major Leagues as an outfielder. He spent a couple of years in the minors and came back to the Major Leagues on August 9th. Ankiel proceeded to hit a homerun in his first game back and in today's game against the Dodgers, he has hit 2 more homeruns. Although it's not clear how long a career he'll have as an outfielder --- Ankiel is still just 28; he can hit the power with power, but he needs much better plate discipline --- this has already been an amazing comeback story. I expect we'll be seeing some sort of movie about this eventually (a la the Jim Morris movie, which I still need to see...). I'm annoyed he hit two homers against the Dodgers, but this is definitely a very cool comeback story.

Movie roundup

I haven't been very good about posting blog entries about movies for quite a while now. In this post, I'll briefly discuss some of the movies I've seen recently. A few of these deserve their own entries, and you'll notice that I'm including movies that I saw more than 2 months ago that I simply didn't get around to discussing. I'll list them in the order I saw them:

Paprika (6/9/07): Lemming felt that the movie was awesome. Zifnab felt that the movie was good. Certainly, I agree that the movie was trippy, but I found it to be merely decent. I was disappointed because the trailer made me think that I would like it a lot more than I actually did. (Though unlike one of our party, I remained awake during the entire flick.)

Knocked Up (6/16/07): This movie was great! I really enjoyed it! Now I need to go see The 40-year old virgin, which comes from the same group.

You Kill Me (6/23/07): This artsy dark comedy was nice and enjoyable, but it was good rather than great. I also appreciate the fact that the lead actor Ben Kingsley, who played an assassin in this film, has also played Ghandi.

Ocean's Thirteen (6/27/07): Mindless fun. (By the way, I was literally the only person watching this showing of the film.)

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (7/11/07): I really liked this movie as well, though of course it was more of the same. The character Luna was awesome and the Raistlinesque view into the character of Snape was much appreciated. My plans concerning this series are to finish watching all the movies, let a little more time pass, and then start the story over with the first book. (I haven't read any of the books yet.)

Rush Hour 3 (8/10/07): This was the movie the gang saw last night. I really liked it, so I'll classify it as at least very good and possibly great. I enjoyed this iteration more than its two prequels, though it's possible my not having seen the first two films in the series for quite a while is influencing this perspective. (It actually has the highest IMDB rating of the three films, though there does seem to be some inflation in IMDB ratings for recent films. I know I've heard Lemming briefly mention this before, but I wonder if this perception corresponds to a statistically significant result?) The cab driver was fantastic, the female assassin was also really awesome, and I always enjoy the outtakes in Jackie Chan's films. Also, Chris Tucker was far less annoying in this film than he sometimes can be (which also has a lot to do with why I liked this film better than the first two). This film also can also be described as "mindless fun" and it's a particular good example of that type of film.

There are a number of upcoming films I really want to see. Among the ones (of those not already ot in theatres) at the top of my list are Balls of Fury, which is supposed to be released on August 29th of this year. In fact, I've been waiting for this film for quite a while --- ever since my ping pong coach Wei Wang discussed her role as the film's technical advisor (she also appears briefly in the film as the nun, who appears in some of the trailers). Yesterday's film included an expanded trailer for this film, which pretty much typifies the phrase "mindless fun". (It's definitely not going to be winning any major awards that are considered to be "good" ones.) Moreover, it centers around ping pong, which makes me want to see it even more than I otherwise would. Coming out in 2008 is the film version of Get Smart, which was a fantastic TV show from the mind of Mel Brooks that appeared way back in the day. (I had a chance to see some reruns while growing up --- and again briefly a few years ago --- and comedy has held up extremely well over time.) I was really excited about this film as soon as I heard about it a couple of years ago, and I became even more excited about it with the superb casting of Steve Carell as Agent Maxwell Smart. (Incidentally, Lemming told me today that the trailer is really good. I haven't watched it yet, but I will during one of the commercial breaks for the Dodger game.)

Non sequitar: One other thing I wanted to mention about the trek to see Rush Hour 3 last night is that while we were eating dinner at Carl's Jr., I heard an elevator music version of the song "Falling Down" by Tears for Fears.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Quote of the Day

The guy who is assessing how much stuff I am moving from my home and office came by today to do his job. I was trying to coordinate how to find him on campus. When he got to campus, he called to say he was there. When I asked him what building he was near, his initial response was "I'm near a science building."

Dodger (and Yankee) update

Lost amidst the things going on in my life recently is the fact that the Dodgers have sucked ass lately. We have lost 6 games in a row and 9 out of ten. We have been shut out three times in a row for the first time in more than forty years. (In fact, we've been shut out four of the last five games and have lost 1-0 twice. We haven't scored a single run for more than about thirty innings or so.) The Dodgers are now in 4th place, five games behind the Diamonds for the division lead and three games out of the Wild Card lead (with tons of teams ahead of us). Meanwhile, the thrice-damned Yankees have continued to kick ass and are six games out of the AL East divison lead and -- even worse! -- just half a game out of the AL Wild Card lead. That sucks! This must be because of all the bad karma I've accumulated...

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Move over, Henry. Here comes Barry.

Barry Bonds his his 756th career homerun today, passing Hank Aaron to become baseball's all-time homerun king.

The title of this post is a reference to a song that was recorded when Aaron passed Ruth. I believe the song lyrics (and title) refer to part of the call an announcer made when the record was broken. (Well, people might have started using those words when Aaron was on his way to breaking the record -- the song was certainly phrased in that manner.)

The Usual Bastards: Reunion Tour

It looks like my old gang, The Usual Bastards, are going to have a reunion "tour" in the near future, possibly as early as December. (Well, the tentative plan is to do this in December, but we'll see how it goes. The tentative place is to go to Vegas, so that this will become Vegas III.) Vito Dai, Ben Williamson, and I are officially on board. Vincent Lin is visiting Ben for two weeks starting in a couple of days, so Ben will work on him. I'll see Kin Chan at the end of the month when I got to PAX, so I'll ask him. (I am waiting for my own timing to become a little clearer before I send out a spam.) Louis Wang lives in Nevada, so he better come. Otherwise, Ben is just going to have to kick his ass. Young Wang may not have enough money to make it, but perhaps he can combine it with a visit to his brother. Of course, locals can come as well, but the timing is going to be chosen to maximize the number of Bastards who are present. I think Nelson Escober, Brian Limketkai (part of our crowd but not technically a bastards), and Varun Tansuwan may be hard to convince, but we'll see how it goes.

With this post, I am adding the label "Bastards", which I should have added before.

I don't feel like getting into this right now, but I'll eventually write a blurb about how our group got that name. (It's actually kind of weird that name stuck for our group.) Also remind me to tell you about the cheese golem (from the first AD & D session we ever played together).

Monday, August 06, 2007

Life imitates the Frantics

Despite my current (justified) feelings of guilt and remorse, I'm going to continue to post regular entries here. This shouldn't be interpreted as callousness but rather as my putting on my game face and proceeding with life as I try to deal with things.

Anyway, I am on a Democrat mailing list from which I have unsuccessfully tried to subscribe on numuerous occasions (I've pretty much given up by now).

The first statement in their letter this morning was "The best defense is a strong offense". Do you know who said that (well, something very similar to that)?

Tom Glavine wins 300th career game

Well, given recent things, I care less about this milestone than I normally would. But I have been posting these, so I'm going to continue as a matter of habit. Anyway, Tom Glavine became the 23rd Major League pitcher to win at least 300 games.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

What kind of monster have I become?

What kind of monster have I become...?

Given recent events and an unforgivable lack of self-control of my anger on my part that has done a great deal of damage, I
am going to need to do some rethinking of how I go about things. In certain situations, I am going to need to somehow gain control of the whole 'I think it, I say it' deal. I think such shooting from the hip usually works fine, but what happened here was definitely made much worse by these aspects of my personality. (The lack of self-control was the more general thing that I royally fucked up here.) I am also going to need to work on my compassion and ability to forgive. (I'll need to work on forgiving myself as well, but that's going to take some time. Right now, I neither ask for nor deserve forgiveness, and I wouldn't blame anybody for never forgiving me for this.) I've never been a forgiving person, but somehow I have grown colder over the years. I never intended for that to happen. I think it happened gradually, but I need to do something about it. Also, the whole self-righteous anger thing in my version of fire and pulpit has to go. After what I have done, I certainly am in no position to judge others (not that I was in any position to do that before, but that certainly didn't stop me).

I want to say as well that the 'damage' refers to damage to someone else who is now currently in the hospital. So I mean real damage, not the trivial things that I might consider as so-called 'damage' on other occasions.

I think I still need to talk things over with people. Gazebo, Janet, and some others have been very helpful in listening to me, but I want to get others' opinions. I'm really glad you guys are my friends, but I'm afraid you've chosen a horrible person in me as a friend. I can't believe how much unintentional evil I am capable of. I hope you'll be able to help me change for the better. I wish it didn't take something like this to make me realize that I needed to do this. I'm going to need your help in fixing these flaws in my personality. I never thought of myself as cold and heartless, but I think I have strayed too far in that direction.

One thing that really scares me is that what I did is basically comparable to any of the worst stuff my father ever did, and I grew up viewing him as a horrible person because of his actions. And now it seems I have become him despite vowing during my childhood that I would never do so. (His weapons were physical violence and mine were words, but there isn't any difference.)

Comments on this should all be private. (Actually, I would like to do the discussions in person rather than via private e-mails.) My reason for writing this entry is that if I stray from this path, I want somebody to remind me to reread this vow. I can't change what happened or unhurt people, but it is in my power to take responsibility, look in the mirror, and make whatever changes are necessary.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

More Homerun Milestones (and Nomaaaaah update)

Alex Rodriguez hit his 500th homerun today. At 32 years and 8 days of age, he has become the youngest player ever to join the club. Also today, Barry Bonds hit his 755th career homerun, which ties him with Hank Aaron for first of all time. See this page for's milestone tracker.

In other news, Dodgers third baseman Nomaaaaah Garciaparra has been hitting much better lately (including for power!) and his OPS is now (barely) over .700. If he keeps this up, he may actually get his OPS up to a decent level in the reasonably near future. Of course, we've been losing lots of games lately and we've now fallen 3 games out of first and 1.5 games out of second. That sucks.


Continuing my pattern of saying what happens somewhere stays somewhere and then proceeding to describe aspects of my trip...

Gazebo and I went to the baseball game between the A's and Angels today. The game was fast-paced and low-scoring, with the A's winning 2-1. There was some entertainment at the end with some Oakland A's fans (especially a kid) getting into it a bit with some Angel fans who had come to the game. Of course, this doesn't even hold a candle to the heckling we Dodger fans received in San Fransisco's home ballpark a few years back. (Also, Gazebo didn't have to use any pepper spray on this particular trip to the ballpark. Well, he hasn't used on at other times either, but there's one time that I bet he wished he had some...) Alas, Gazebo's old blog entry doesn't describe the loud Giants-fan child and the react he got from a certain visiting Dodgers fan (which was a truly spectacular example of fans interacting with each other)...

We also went to Games of Berkeley today. I bought the expected prize, which is the Dunwich Horror expansion to Arkham Horror. (The King in Yellow expansions didn't sound appealing, and I definitely don't want the Pharoah expansion...) One guy behind the counter asked me how long Arkham Horror games take for me. I answered that, and then I felt compelled to tell him about a certain game of Munchkin. I also considered buying Apples to Apples: Jewish Edition because I know so many of the private jokes in there. (The sample nouns on the cover included "Jewish mother" and "bris" and the sample adjectives included "misunderstood". They had the usual irreverant humor, and I was pleased to see the expected inside jokes. I approve!) However, the box also gave me the impression that the product included an element of proselytizing, so I decided not to buy it for now. However, I think it would make a great gift for certain friends and relatives, and I would very much like to play the game with other people who would appreciate the inside jokes. (I'd play it with non-MOTs as well, but I'm not sure how much they'd get out of it because some things might get too specific.)

Gazebo also picked up Guitar Hero: Rock the 80s. Unsurprisingly, the fraction of songs I know well on this version of the game is much higher than on other versions. (Plus, I like more of the songs!) Also, I get to have more Comic Book Guy moments: The sound-alike for the Scorpions lead singer kind of fails and the version of the song "Radar Love" is inspired by the White Lion cover of the much better original version, which Golden Earing recorded in the 70s.

In the meantime, my personal life is still leaving me in a general state of anger/bitterness and with an increased cynicism that I used to think was all but impossible for me (hadn't I already reached the "pinnacle" of that?). It's a good thing that I'm good at putting my game face on and working/hanging out with friends to get things out of my mind. "Hooray" for iron will and practice from my rotten childhood...

Caltech imitiates Mel Brooks and Douglas Adams

This doesn't actually affect me (my office is in a different building), but because I am on the Daraio group mailing list, I received the following message earlier today (I removed parts of it; all emphasis is mine):

"Beginning Monday, August 6 through Friday, September 7, the air conditioning system will be restored throughout the entire Firestone building. In consequence, the building's air vents will be shut down. The basement and subbasement occupants will receive the worst of the air shortage. Please have patience while were all dealing with the reconstruction. If you need anything to make this situation a little easier, please let me know and I'll try to help. Sorry for the short notice and inconvenience."

Anybody for Perrier Air? Not to mention interstellar bypasses...

Friday Poetry

So, I'm not sure if I'll make this a regular feature (and it's technically early Saturday morning as I write this), but in these times of crisis and universal brouhaha, I feel it is appropriate to include the text of the poem that currently fits my mood.

The poem in question is "Fire and Ice" by Robert Frost:

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

'But what is the subtext?', I hear your cry. It's simple: I don't know how the poem was originally intended, but I am thinking more along the lines of how people act when they are very angry. As I think all of you know, my usual mode in such matters is ice. And I think the analogy between nasty arguments and fire versus ice is quite an apt one.

I hope to post a happier poem next Friday, but we'll see what kind of mood I'm in and also how well I can keep my game face up.

Update (8/6/07): My mood was very dark during this post, and I wrote this entry about two hours after I reacted rashly (and harshly) because I couldn't control my anger. So, in accordance to my attempts to change certain things, when I am in that kind of mode, I should stick to posting poems that reflect the mood and most definitely make sure I calm down before I respond to e-mails (or other media) in which feelings are involved. This post reflects the fact that part of me understood what was going on in my mind, and yet I still didn't possess the self-control to stop myself. This needs to change. In the future, I will vent those feelings out only in an entry like this (with a poem or whatnot) and not towards other people.

Bumper Sticker of the Day

While driving back from Black Angus, Gazebo and I saw the following bumper sticker (which is perhaps the best one I've ever seen!):


Sorry. We did the best we could.

- Half of America"

That is just fantastic!

(I am not getting the spacing right. The message is idented from the greeting, and the signature is indented from the message. At the moment, I really don't feel like reminding myself how to properly do tabs in html.

Steaks on a plate! (Subtitled: What happens in Berkeley stays in Berkeley)

I am writing this entry from Gazebo's apartment in Berkeley, which I will be visiting until Monday.

Unlike most of my trips, this is a pleasure trip rather than a business trip. (Rahr!)

Gazebo and I went straight from the airport to Black Angus, where we had large steaks. Yum!

The other people I am planning to see this weekend are also big meat lovers, so I anticipate plenty of good food.

The plan is to play ping pong with Janet on Sunday, and there is a tentative plan for Gazebo and I to meet [or should I say "meat"] up with Veeeeeeeeeeeetoh Dai '98 for dinner on Sunday evening. I haven't seen Vito in 4.5 years, so I really hope that works out. As some of you know, he is part of my old gang, who I don't see even as close to as often as I'd like.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Quote of the Day

While at Jorian's place, I uttered the following quote concerning my quotes page (that includes lots of my own quotes) and the narcissism it entails:

"There's a sense of narcissim, but I do it for myself... [pause] Oh wait! That is narcissism!"

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Headline: Bonds does not tie or break the record against the Dodgers!

Although the Dodgers are losing to the Giants 3-1 today, there is nevertheless some excellent news. Namely, Bonds has not hit a homerun today and Fred Lewis just pinch-ran for him. Today's game is the last of the series, so bonds will not be tying or breaking Hank Aaron's homerun record against us. Dude! That is just so bloody awesome!

I am reconciled to the fact that Bonds will get the record. I just didn't want it to be against us. And it's not because of the steroids (and it's certainly not because he's ornery because I have both sympathy and empathy for that); rather, it's because he's a fucking Giant and I hate the Giants.

Obesity as an epidemic on social networks

A while ago --- maybe something like 1.5 years ago --- I read and provided comments on a preprint by one of my (now-)coauthors James Fowler concerning obesity as an epidemic that spreads on social networks.

Well, the published version of the paper came out last week, and it's been getting a ridiculous amount of press. (Just go to and type in "James Fowler" and you'll see.) Articles have appeared in numerous countries as well as in prominent venues like USA Today and the New York Times (in a front-page article that was the second-most e-mailed article in the whole paper at some point!).

Earlier today, James mentioned that he just got off the phone with people from The Daily Show, as they apparently might be interviewing him.

When I was in the waiting room for my visa, I heard people on CNN Headline News discussing epidemic spread of obesity via social networks and was wondering if they were discussion Fowler's article. I hadn't know at the time that the article was just published, so I guess they were talking about them. The people discussing this couldn't get over the fact that things like obesity might spread via social pressures (either explicit or implicit). Of course, that insight itself brought the response of 'duh' from me, because there are entire fields founded on that very principle!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

DSWeb report on Snowbird dynamics meeting

You can find that article here. It was written by one of my former colleagues (Luz Vela-Arevalo, a former CNS postdoc) from Georgia Tech, who I actually originally met at Tech when she was a CDS grad turkey at Caltech and we took the same course. The 'lost wallet' that she mentions in the article refers to my infamous missing pocket protector.

In this entry, I should also include a public thanks to Luz, who let me charge my room to her credit card. Thanks!!!!

Barry Bonds liveblogging (Day 2)

7:10 pm: The Dodger game against the Giants is about to start. I'll again keep track of Barry Bonds' at-bats and hopefully report on his failures in this space.

7:29 pm: Barry Bonds had his first at-bat as the first hitter in the top of the 2nd inning. He flied out to right field on a 3-2 count. The Dodgers are currently leading 1-0.

8:11 pm: Barry Bonds came up in the top of the 4th inning and grounded out to first baseman James Loney. The Dodgers are currently up 2-1.

8:47 pm: Barry Bonds came up in the top of the 6th inning and hit a fly ball to shallow centerfield. Much to everybody's surprise, Juan Pierre made an excellent diving catch of the ball! (I need to check how he and Nomar are faring offensively... Nomar got a pretty decent lead recently, but I think the gap has since closed a bit.) The score is currently tied 2-2.

9:33 pm: Barry Bonds came up in the 8th inning with two outs, a runner on third, and the Giants leading 3-2. The Dodgers ostensibly started the at-bat by pitching to Bonds. However, they were really just seeing if he would chase a bad pitch, as after two balls, they stopped kidding themselves and finished up the at-bat by walking him intentionally. Fred Lewis then came in to run for Bonds, so that's it for tonight's Bondsblogging.

Tomorrow, I'm going to play frisbee, so I'm unlikely to liveblog about Bonds tomorrow. However, I will continue to report on baseball milestones here.