Saturday, June 30, 2007

Diverse Applications of Rock-Paper-Scisssors

Courtesy (Mike)^2, here is a a short article on the use of Rock-Paper-Scissors to decide a dispute between attorneys over trivial details in a court case. That is simply fantastic!

Also, it's rather universal. I used it to ensure that some local students didn't pay for me yet again when I was in Taiwan. (I proposed this after I was caught trying to pay for the bill behind their backs.)

Friday, June 29, 2007

More Legends III coverage

Here is a small blurb that appeared on 6/24 in a tiny venue called the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin.

I'll let you know when the scheduled LA Magazine, Popular Science, and San Jose Mercury News things come out.

And I still don't understand why my hometown paper (Beverly Hills Weekly, which often publishes trivial things about alums) and especially the Pasadena papers haven't picked up the story.

Did I mention that I'm a media slut?

Thursday, June 28, 2007

"Missed it by that much!"

I have to show up to the courthouse for jury duty tomorrow. I started having to check in for Monday 6/25 and I didn't have to show up the first four days. I almost got away with the whole thing.

Sigh... it's time to serve my country.

Craig Biggio gets 3000th career hit!

In another of the current flux of baseball milestones, Craig Biggio got his 3000th career hit today.

Like Frank Thomas, Biggio is an obvious first-ballot Hall-of-Famer despite some seriously asinine skepticism on the part of some.

Once again, start by looking at the stats and then compare his stats to what other second basemen have done. The position one plays is an important part of the equation, and Biggio is perhaps in the top five ever at his position (and very close to it, at the minimum). If you want to look at sophisticated Jamesian statistics, Biggio is estimated to be something like the 37th best player of all time (though most people consider that to be an overestimate). [I don't know of an online reference for this, but one of Bill James' books goes through his top 100 players based on his way of combining statistics. Also, it may be 100 position players and 100 pitchers because I'm not sure how he compared those.)

I should also mention that even though he's never played for the Dodgers, Biggio is my favorite player. He plays the game the right way --- he runs to first base hard on every ball, he leads the world (second all time) in getting hit by pitches, he gets his uniform dirty and/or ripped every game, his helmet is just the cruddiest thing imaginable, and he has now played for a single team his entire 20 year career.

Incidentally, tomorrow marks the 19th anniversary of his first Major League hit, which came off of the Dodgers' Orel Hershiser.

Frank Thomas hits 500th career homerun

Earlier today, Frank Thomas became the 21st Major League player to hit 500 career homeruns.

I have read some comments that Frank Thomas "might" be a Hall-of-Famer. That's absurd, as he easily belongs in the Hall. He's one of the best hitters ever and is a much great offensive player than almost everybody already in the Hall. Just check out these stats! Frank Thomas is not merely a Hall-of-Famer but will make it on the first ballot with flying colors!

Anyway, that's it for now. More baseball milestones coming soon...

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

More Cowbell: The Play

Like Lemming, I went to see All About Walken last night. I second his high recommendation of the play. It was really great! As he also mentions, it is shown on Monday night. It's slated to be presented on 7/2 and 7/9 but it has already been brought back for extra performances, so maybe it will be brought back again. Definitely go see it if you get a chance! There's more that I'd like to say, but I just don't know how to do it without spoiling something, so I'll keep mum.

Also, thanks to Lemming for linking to the original "More cowbell!" skit, which I hadn't ever seen before. Don't fear the reaper!

Finally, Jenny Ho sent an e-mail with a link to an amusing Fatboy Slim video featuring Christopher Walken.

Oh, and I can't resist the following pun: "Move over! Can't you see I'm Walken here!" (This line was not in the play.)

Worst album covers of all time

My officemate Israel Klich just passed along a url of the worst album covers of all time. There are some real winners here.

I don't think much commentary is necessary, but if you want to nominate any albums that aren't already here, send a link to their covers.

Class Warfare as seen using Social Networking Sites

Courtesy Arcane Gazebo, here is an article on class warfare as seen using the social networking sites Facebook and MySpace.

I am a member of both, but I am what would be called a 'passive' member. If someone contacts me, I'll respond, but otherwise I don't typically log in very often. (I'll often go months at a time without logging in.) However, I have gotten back in touch with old friends by virtue of have profiles on these services, so they do offer some excellent benefits.

Moreover, they offer some really bloody cool social networks stuff to study. I currently have students studying this stuff, although aside from a SURF report, we don't have any articles on online social network sites yet. However, stay tuned...

Scary thought

I was just pondering about how much worse I am at dealing with certain types of emotions than others. For example, I can't really read other people well and in general am not so good at certain emotional things because I seem to look at things so differently from everybody else and I am unable to figure out what they're thinking, yet I am much better at knowing reasonable and logical ways to react when somebody else threatens violence.

So here comes the scary part: My next thought was that the reason I can react to threats of violence in a much more calm, collected, logical fashion is because of just how much experience I was forced to have doing that while growing up. It was always just there and a part of me is simply inured to things like that. (At some level, this makes me want to weep a bit for myself for having been brought up in a manner that did this to me, but those are the cards I was dealt.) I always had to just go and keep myself occupied amidst the turmoil around --- whether that meant schoolwork, novels, baseball, video games, or whatever. I also think that part of my constant need to always be doing something stems partially from that.

Anyway, this is today's look inside my head.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

My famous jury duty story

It may not be "world famous" like KROQ, but I have a pretty damned cool story to tell about my one of my really slick ways of avoiding jury duty.

I have avoided jury duty on numerous occasions, using multiple methods. My luck had finally run out, as I was to actually show up for the first time tomorrow. However, I am getting at least a one-day reprieve, as my group doesn't have to show up to the courthouse tomorrow. I have my fingers crossed that this luck continues for the rest of the week.

My most recent avoidings of jury duty were a few years ago and went along the following lines: I received a summons for a California court while I was in grad school at Cornell, so I informed them that I live in New York. While in grad school, I also received a summons from a court in Ithaca, so I got out of that by informing them of my voting status in California.

My best story, however, culminated in the summer between my junior and senior years (summer 1996). I had been summoned to one court in Beverly Hills. I tried unsuccessfully to get out of it because of my student status, but I delayed it for the then-maximum 6 months at one time. (If I recall correctly, one was allowed two separate six-month delays at the time.) I was supposed to be taken out of the pool for new summons, but I nevertheless received a summons during this waiting period to appear in another of the Beverly Hills courts. I attempted to get out of this using the reason that I was already summoned elsewhere so that I wasn't supposed to be in the candidate pool, etc. They did not accept this reasoning, which wa clearly valid, and scheduled my appearance for jury duty in that other court.

This, of course, meant war. Yesterday, I read an essay by Harlan Ellison about revenge, and my actions in this particular case fit pretty well within Ellison's discussion. I delayed both of my court appearance dates, which I remind you were in two different courts, to the same day. You might remember that back in 1996, there was some delay as databases got updated, so the solution was simple: I called the first courthouse and informed them of the clerical error that had me showing up to both courts on the same day, which clearly I couldn't do. The guy I talked to checked their database and saw that it was true, so he removed my scheduled appearance at the first courthouse. Then, before the database could be updated, I immediately called the second courthouse and used the same procedure to remove my appearance there. Slam dunk! Of course, this wouldn't work nowadays because the database would have contained the updated information immediately, but the solution was the simple but elegant one for the technology of the day.

Take that, U.S. government bureaucracy!

The Physics of Audio Compression

Also in the June 2007 issue of Physics Today is a short article about audio compression.

The article is unfortunately rather dry, but I wanted to pass it along anyway because of the topic.

Quote of the Day (old school edition)

Today's quote comes from President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who made the following statement during the Sputnik era:

"God help this nation when it has a President who doesn't know as much about the military as I do."


(By the way, I found this quote in an article about Eisenhower, scientists, and Sputnik in the June 2007 issue of Physics Today.)

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Finished with the third dungeon in Zelda: Twilight Princess

I finally got past the third dungeon in Zelda: Twilight Princess. About fucking time!


This isn't a new observation, but it is blogworthy.

Basically, the fact that I am hyper and talk about projects in a tone that conveys my extreme excitement makes me really good at sucking other people into projects. (It's also one of the things that makes me a very good research mentor.)

By the way, excuse the bragging. You can shoot me down if you'd like, but I do genuinely believe what I just wrote. I think this is actually one of the biggest assets I bring to the scientific table.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Best mathematics book review ever!

It's possible that I'm exaggerating a bit, but today I encountered the best mathematics book review ever!

I received my new issue of Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society today and I was glancing through the issue. I browsed through the article in question (a review of a two-volume treatise by Barry Simon about orthogonal polynomials on the unit circle), thinking that I was only going to leaf through the pages in about a minute, but then I noticed lots of historical facts, personal anecdotes, and jokes in both the main text in the footnotes. This review is written in a much more colloquial and light-hearted manner than one would expect from such an article.

The first paragraph sets the article's tone nicely:

NOTE. If the reader is interested in reading a comprehensive, magnificently written, and up-to-date history of orthogonal polynomials, I recommend turning to L. Golinskii and V. Totik [8] and Totik [30]. On the other hand, if the reader wants to see a fairly detailed but not overly technical review of Barry Simon’s book, then I suggest Simon’s article [24] despite the obvious conflict of interest. End of story, or at least it seems that way. However, my editor insisted that the story must go on, which explains why I agreed to write this review, which, when compared to [8], [30], and [24], is doomed to fail.

The first sentence of the next paragraph is even more spectacular: If you are still with me, then let’s get on with the definitions.

I didn't come close to reading the whole thing cover-to-cover because there was a lot of math in between the anecdotes. I'm sure I missed many amusing moments this way, but I stll got a lot out of my 10-15 minutes. (Besides, why would I want to let technical stuff get in the way of my enjoyment.)

In one notable sequence, the author of the review solicited comments from several experts in the field and included their views of the books being reviewed. Each one of them (with one exception, as I recall) was given a footnote to identify them. One very amusing thing was that the first of these guys, Harold Widom (as in Tracy-Widom distributions and the very academically talented Widom clan) was given a footnote whose text read, "Professor Widom needs no footnote." But that wasn't even the punchline... the punchline is that Harold's first name was misspelled in the article (at least at the location in which the footnote is used). Dude!

By the way, those of you like meta- should note that this blog entry is a review of a book review.

Moving time scale

I have started dealing with various things --- making sure I get my work permit in order, getting overdue medical shots, asking about banking information, and so on.

Anyway, I have just been told that I should expect my stuff to arrive in Oxford roughly 6 weeks (maybe 4 if I'm really, really lucky) after it's picked up.

I was thinking of having it picked up around 2 weeks before I leave and then not having it for 4 weeks across the pond (I'll bring an extra suitcase with clothing or something), but then during those two weeks I won't have a tv to watch Dodger games. I'm just going to have to borrow one.

Having to start dealing with my move a bit already is making my I'm-going-to-miss-my-friends feelings kick in even more.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Might as well face as it, you're addicted to...

Courtesy Jing Xu, some guy in Sweden has had his fetish for heavy metal officially classified as a disability and he is now receiving benefits and accomodations for it. Wow.

Given my current depressed mood, this article definitely hit the right chord.

Jason Schmidt out for the season

Dodger pitcher Jason Schmidt had major shoulder surgery (which was originally scheduled to be "exploratory" surgery, though there were excellent reasons to be pessimistic given his reduced velocity all season) and is out until spring training of 2008. Fuck.

To give some better news, the Yankees are again 10 games behind the Red Sox and have fallen to 6 games out of the Wild Card race (with 4 teams ahead of them). Let's hope they don't make the playoffs this year...

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Sammy Sosa hits 600th career homerun

Tonight, Sammy Sosa became the 5th player to hit 600 career homeruns. Congratulations, Sammy!

More baseball milestones are on the way... (This includes Ken Griffey Jr.'s 600th career homerun, though that will occur a decent bit later in the season.)

I thought about being snarky and including a 'steroids' label, but I'll reserve that for Barry Bonds. There's something like a ton more evidence against him than there is against Sammy (for which there have been public rumors, but no actual evidence of which I'm aware). Plus, Sammy doesn't seem to be an asshole the way Bonds is.

Doctor, doctor (can't you see I'm burnin', burnin')

Today I went back to my 'hood (Beverly Hills) for a teeth-cleaning appointment with my dentist and a doctor's appointment.

I don't have more cavities, which is good. Of course, probability is on my side these days because I have so many fillings that it seems like there are very few virgin teeth my dentist actually has to check. (Yes, I know having a filling doesn't prevent further things from happening, but I don't want to let accuracy get in the way of a good comment.)

I went to the doctor to get some shots that I should have had years ago. I'm going to go back in a month for more (her policy is to not give too many shots at once), and then I need to finish things off in 6 months (which I'll either do in England or when I am visiting). The doctor also did some of the routine physical type of stuff and informed me that I need to be more physically active. Imagine that.

One thing that happened in my visit is that I didn't have my Blue Cross card (and could only figure out after talking to my brother that my coverage was indeed through them) because, oh yeah, I lost that too when I lost my pocket protector. So I paid $ from my checkbook and now I need to contact Blue Cross to get a new card and also see how much of the $ can get reimbursed. Damnit. I forgot that was another thing I needed to replace. When I got home an hour ago, I found an expired driver's license with the same picture as the recently-lost one. Because I don't drive anyway, I'm just going to use that and avoid paying the $20 I'd need to get a replacement. That way, I don't have to take my passport with me all the time.

By the way, I hate getting shots. (I also hate getting shot.)

Finally, I hope at least some of you (Lemming?) recognize the title of the blog entry. I really ought to have included that song as part of my 'Out of Context' mix CD. I used 'Burning for You' but in retrospect, the song in question would have worked even better. Too bad only two of you wanted copies of the CD. Se la vie.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Scientific mentoring

Jing Xu brought to my attention some stuff on scientific mentoring in the current issue of Nature. They have a bunch of articles on this stuff in the current issue. You can read one of them here.

Here is an article that I wrote on mentoring versus being mentored, and here is a slightly longer version.

What Jing e-mailed me was the following excerpt (from an article other than the one above... maybe from a podcast?):

Kerri Smith: Science, like any other enterprise, needs young blood to keep it going, but how does the scientific community go about shaping and guiding its newest charges to become the great scientists of the future. That is the subject of a feature in this week's Nature. Philip Campbell, Nature's editor-in-chief was one of the authors of that piece. Phil, first of all tell us what you mean by mentoring?

Philip Campbell: What I mean by mentoring is something more than being a principal investigator or the head of a research group or a PhD supervisor. A mentor is someone who is that much more involved in the welfare of the people for whom they are responsible. And what we have put into this article is the outcome, its evidence based if you like, as a result of a competition we held in Australia last year to find outstanding mentors in the region and we got people to nominate their mentors and by looking at everything they said about their mentors we distilled out some of the properties, as it were, of these people that seemed to be so rewarding for the people who work for them.

Kerri Smith: Give us your top tips then on how to be a good mentor?

Philip Campbell: One of the clear winning tips, as it were, which we saw in all the nominees in fact was to be accessible and that is at two different levels, one is physically, that is, be there and to have an open door. It was quite clear that although these were all very successful scientists with lots of demands on their time they made absolutely sure that young scientists under their care could come and see them. It did not mean that they were mothering them as it were it did not mean that they were making it easy for them. These people also had the ability to balance being supportive, particularly the early stages with getting quite tough and critically minded as things moved on. So, that was one way in which they were there. The other way in which they were there was being if you like diverse in their responsiveness, because every student or every post
doc is different in character and these people seem to have a special ability to empathize with different people in different ways and adjust to get the best results out of the character that they had to work with.

Kerri Smith: So, accessibility one big theme and a tailoring of mentoring responsibilities to each individual scientists, communication was also a big theme, I gather?

Philip Campbell: Yeah, communication in two different ways, one was a level of knowledge and breadth of interest that the mentor themselves had was outstanding generally so that you knew you could as a young scientists go in and talk to them and get the experience of that breadth of knowledge given back to you, but then there was also mentoring about communication as a key theme. So, helping young scientists write papers is something that anybody does, but the degree of care that these people took and the degree of challenge that they imposed on the young people in terms of really being critical about the way they use language that was obviously very important. And actually there is one other thing that I wanted to highlight after this exercise and that is the responsibility to help young people become better peer reviewers. One accentual piece of communication between scientists is criticisms of each other's work in the peer review process and the best mentors remember that and help people write good objective and balanced referees report.

Kerri Smith: So, there is obviously lot for young scientists to gain from being mentored by a very successful scientists in their own rights. In this case, what is in it for the mentors themselves? When you spoke to them, what had they gained from it?

Philip Campbell: That is actually a very pointed question because the answer is not much in terms of external recognition. I think, what was interesting about all this was to realize that this activity is going on all the time and some people are really good at it. There are other people who produce extremely good prot?g?s by leaving them to sink and swim. If you swim, you are great and you come out of that really well and there are plenty of really prestigious labs like this, but if you sink of course you are lost, whereas the mentors that we looked for had satisfaction without the recognition, that the satisfaction of helping people who would otherwise sink, survive and indeed go on to get really good careers.

Translation of 'fudge factor'

I found out today that the Hebrew word for 'fudge factor' is 'fudge factor'. My officemate Israel Klich says it's not a standard term, but he and two others in the condensed matter group were using it in the office today.

In a discussion with Israel and Lemming, I was telling a story about the term 'morally equivalent' and wondering what the symbol for that particular equivalence relation might be.

Oh, and I finally submitted my legislation cosponsorship paper to Nature today. Wish me luck!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Father's Day dinner

I just got back from Father's Day dinner with my family at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse. I had an excellent piece of cow and an excellent creme brulee, and I put up with the usual shenanigans from my family.

I'm not going to get into it because I'd mostly be repeating rants I've already made (with maybe one or two new twists, but I'd rather resist the urge to get overly ranty) and it's just not worth it (and also not that interesting). The short version is that the way I see it, my family wants to be part of so-called "high society". As I think all of you know, I piss on high society because it's such a bunch of bullshit.

Anyway, I'm going to stop now before I rant about the new twists. I need to go deal with my newfound toilet leak anyway.

Chipper Jones gets 2000th career hit

Larry Wayne Jones, Jr. (more commonly called "Chipper" Jones), got his 2000th career hit today.

More baseball milestones coming soon...

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Pleasure e-mails

This week has been a busy week.

I set up several SURF students, worked on finishing up a paper (which we should submit very soon -- maybe as early as Monday), did some numerical runs for the archival version of the dimer chain paper (currently in progress, with an estimated submission time of mid July), engaged in some media sluttage, and sent tons of e-mails.

Between dealing with all this stuff, I think I sent more than 40 e-mails on at least three different days. However, very few of them were so-called pleasure e-mails, which is a meme I accidently started at dinner a few months ago. This, by the way, is what this post is really about. ("This is a song about Alice.")

Anyway, my nice little slip of the tongue (ugh... that could be interpreted multiple ways) became a bit of a meme in our crowd. I guess that's just the way things work.

Baseball Update

The Dodgers are back in 1st place by themselves, although they only lead the Padres by .5 games. The Giants are in last in the NL West, as they trail the Dodgers by 8.5 games.

Sadly, the Yankees have been playing well lately, but they still trail Boston by 8.5 games in the AL East and are 4.5 games out of the wild card race. They better start screwing up again; they're too close.

My fantasy team has not been able to get it going at all this year. I've just had horrible luck with that this year. One of my friends is currently #7 in the entire thing (out of over 11000) and has been as high as #4. (He finished 1st overall in 2005 and won $5000 for doing so.) He is #26 financially, so he's in great shape to win it all or at least come very close.

I haven't gotten many comments here lately, though I know people have been reading my blog because of outside discussions. Maybe I should accidently put my foot in my mouth? That always increases the number of comments I get here.

In other news, Juan Pierre still sucks.

Friday, June 15, 2007

More media coverage of Legends III

I'm such a media slut.

There will be coverage of Legends III in Engineering & Science (a Caltech publication, so duh) and Los Angeles Magazine. (The latter one should give the book some good exposure, especially considering that the Caltech bookstore sells something like 250 each of the first two books each year.)

I already linked to the LA Times blurb in an earlier post. There was supposedly something in San Gabriel (though I can't find it online) and there is going to be a book review of Legends III in the San Jose Mercury News. (I think the latter one is kind of using the Autumn as a local person spin, which makes sense. Also, there are a ton of Techers in the Bay Area.) The book is slated to be mentioned (and hopefully discussed at some reasonable length, but I don't really know how much) in an upcoming article on tech-savvy pranks in Popular Science.

At some point, I am supposed to meet with Tom Mannion and some guy who is producing a some sort of documentary on Caltech pranks. (The meeting hasn't been scheduled.) This is the guy who I'll be talking to about movie possibilities -- my hope is to try to inspire a sort of modern version of Real Genius.

You know what city's publications are missing from the above discussion? Pasadena! Go figure. (Actually, it would also make sense for Beverly Hils Weekly to cover this because I'm an alum, and maybe they'll do that after they see the stuff in the LA Times and LA Magazine. Hell, I know the editor of that paper and I'm pretty sure I told him about the book.)

I don't expect to go beyond California publications (and Caltech's stuff), but we'll see. There were blurbs about my college football ranking stuff all over the world (including by Nature), and it's sometimes surprising who cares about what.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Quote of the Day

This quote comes from Julia Wang, one of my friends from high school who just moved back to the southern California area (she'll be in Glendale or Burbank... I'm blanking on which). (Well, in reality, she just moved her stuff here and needs to go away for 2.5 weeks to finish things up before she is actually around here in practice.) I haven't seen her since something like 1996 (maybe 1997), so it will be great to hang out with her again.

Anyway, her e-mail included the following comment: "Wow... can you believe... You're going somewhere where you might actually get- paler.... :) "

I think that quote is going to be hard to top.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Fake bumper sticker of the day

I am listening to a podcast of "Real Time with Bill Maher". Maher was mentioning a bunch of fake bumper stickers that George Bush has on his car. The following one of them is a big win: "My other war is on drugs." Wow. That is just fantastic!

Legends of Caltech III briefly covered in LA Times

A brief article in today's Los Angeles Times covers the new Legends book that Autumn Looijen and I wrote. It is only mentioned very briefly and our names aren't included, but it's better than nothing.

I've made some other venues before (such as The Washington Post and ESPN: The Magazine) via my research, and maybe I'll eventually make the New York Times.

I haven't seen Legends III mentioned anywhere else, though I wasn't actually looking either. I could the Pasadena Weekly would be the most likely place I should check? (Of course, my brother is the one who told me about this one because it's not like I read the LA Times, so maybe other people can be my eyes and ears.)

Monday, June 11, 2007

RIP Pierre-Gilles de Gennes (1932-2007)

I was too focused on my book, conference, and (gasp!) social life to notice, and I completely missed the fact that Pierre-Gilles de Gennes died three weeks ago.

As the NY Times article put it, de Gennes received the Nobel Prize in physics in 1991 "for studying the boundary lines between order and disorder in materials like liquid crystals and polymers."

In fact, de Gennes was one of the giants in condensed matter physics and (unsurprisingly) a ton of his stuff influenced research in my own field of nonlinear dynamics very deeply. He was supposed to speak at a conference I attended in January 2006, but he ended up cancelling. I was really looking forward to his talk. I never had the chance to see him speak.

Here is his wikipedia entry.

Day Watch

On Friday, I saw Day Watch with Katiya and her friend Alex (another ACM grad turkey). This movie is the sequel to Night Watch and (like the first movie) was very good. I am looking forward to seeing the final movie in the trilogy, Dusk Watch (or, as the book version is called, Twilight Watch).

Unlike what happened when I saw Night Watch, my experiencing watching the sequel was a little different. First of all, we went to Hollywood to see it at rhe Arc Light theatre, which is more expensive than usual but worth the extra cost. (We had dinner at Canter's right before the movie.) While having (Mike)^2 and Lemming's body for company with Night Watch (if you never read my first telling of that story, you should follow the link above... it was one of my more amusing posts) was fun and all, I have to say that the proper way to see these movies is with a hot Russian girl next to you. Hence, I watched Day Watch in the proper manner but not Night Watch. That's just the way it is. (Hmmm... I am wondering how Katiya would react to a certain "Snakes on a Plane" trailer that Lemming and I once saw...)

I'm not sure if there is much more I want to add, but there is a car scene that one can see in some of the trailers that is fantastic.

Also, Katiya mentions that both movies are missing several scenes from the Russian version and that there was some severe mistranslation with the subtitles to the point that some meanings were changed (e.g., "my neighbor" instead of "my daughter").

I'm interested in reading the books (well, the English translations thereof, which were all available at Vroman's when we went there yesterday).

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Gay Bomb

Last night, Lemming mentioned that a gay bomb was proposed by the U.S. military back in 1994. The gist is that the enemy soldiers who were hit by this would be given homosexual desires along with a major dose of aphrodisiac and would then be more interested in boinking their fellow soldiers than in fighting. Wow. You can read some more details here.

When Lemming first brought it up, I had assumed he was talking about a parody story. I did a double-take. (I was also playing Guitar Hero at the time, so I couldn't completely divert my attention to him.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Trevor Hoffman saves 500th career game

I didn't blog about this earlier because I was too busy eating crow and getting myself in trouble, but Trevor Hoffman saved his 500th career game during the Padres 3-game sweep of the Dodgers. (Those bastards!) Hoffman, the all-time saves leader, will fly into the Hall of Fame.

Power Laws

I'm quick to rant and mock when it comes to power laws. Many of you have heard me do this before on multiple occasions. (Just search for 'power laws' in this blog and you'll see what I mean...)

Anyway, Aaron Clauset has just written a review with Mark Newman and Cosma Shalizi about getting power laws from empirical data. I don't know Cosma (though I know of Cosma), but I have tremendous respect for Mark and Aaron has both people and scientists. (Actually, Aaron has commented on this blog once or twice.)

The real reason I'm including the link is not the new article but rather the fantastic poem in Aaron's blog post. Go take a look at it.

You can teach if you want to

The current issue of Beverly Hills Weekly lists some teachers and other staff of Beverly Hills Unified School district who are retiring at the end of this school year. Obviously, there are many familiar names on the list, but some of the familiar names are people I never actually met. Hence, let me mention the ones I actually knew:

David Knowlton: I had him for AP Physics at Beverly High. He didn't know the material he was teaching. I would often read issues of EGM during class. If one other person in the class and I got the same answer on a test, Knowlton essentially defined it as correct and there was at least one time when both of us turned out to have made the same mistake. Another time, I remember Knowlton asking me how to do a problem while I had a break during Science Olympiad (Knowlton was the coach). That problem was on the test he had given us the day before. It should be obvious from what I've written, but I didn't exactly respect him.

Scott Harvey: I had him for AP Poly Sci/Honor Econ (which were combined into one year-long course) during my senior year at Beverly. He was awesome! I appreciated the fact that he said what he actually thought and wouldn't put up with bullshit. He had a lot of critics, but typically those were people who were used to bullshitting their way through things. Harvey was one of the best teachers I had. Also, my idea for my senior-year graduation picture came from his class: he spent the entire year joking around about people flipping burgers at McDonalds, and on the day we picked up our caps and gowns, Harvey filmed each person in his class for a minute; we each wore our cap, held the spatula prominently, and said what we planned to do with our lives. I approve!

Dorothy Wong: She was my kindergarden teacher at Hawthorne School. She put up with my dinosaur fetish and let me proceed at a faster pace than the other students. (I have had numerous teachers who held me back because she wanted everybody in the class at the same place, no matter how far ahead of them I could be if they only let me see the next material.)

Dorthy Adler: She was the health ad I often saw at both Hawthorne and Beverly. At Hawthorne, she was the one to talk to in order to get home from school early. :)

Caltech Commencement 2007

Caltech's commencement was today.

The commencement speech, by Jared Diamond, sucked total ass. He basically just mentioned stuff that I assume is from his book (probably the first chapter) and didn't bother making any connections to Caltech aside from an asisine way of introducing his speech with the idea of what the world is going to be like in 32 years because that's about how much older Jean-Lou Chameau (Caltech's new president, who was official installed today as part of the ceremony even though he's been around since September) is than the typical graduating senior. Also, his repeated assertion that Chameau's age constitutes the prime of his career is wrong for most scientists. While the 'best work is under 30' bit that one hears about, say, mathematics isn't true, I would argue that 10 years before retirement is atypical at best in as a career prime for a scientist. Any, while Diamond gets some credit for not being David Baltimore, his speech sucked and would have been far better if he actually drew some real connections to the Caltech student experience. Even Tom Brokaw did that a little bit! (See, I told you I'd get back to posting rants here.)

The important reason I went to the graduation ceremony was to be there to be there to cheer on Janet Sheung and Julius Su, both of whom are good friends of mine. Janet is a Pagegirl who I know primarily from ping pong (yes, some people from Page are actually very cool) and over the last several months (which is when we really got to know each other well) she's been my main ping pong partner and co-conspirator on t-shirts and stuff. Julius was officially awarded his Ph.D. today. I first met him during Rotation in Fall 2004 (my frosh year), and he's one of the few people I met that week who has been my friend ever since. One of my favorite Julius stories, about the alternative uses of capacitors, is in Legends III. (Julius did an excellent job telling this story!) Also, I've counted Julius for than any other Flem in history. (It's kind of funny that I went to the commencement ceremony and cheered mainly for people from Page and Fleming. Well, those were the two important ones, at any rate.)

The other thing I really like about graduation besides cheering on my friends (and, in some years --- like 1998 and 2005 --- the commencement speeches) is to see the cornucopia of funky caps and gowns worn by the professors. It's really awesome that each of them wears the plumage ("Beautiful plumage!") of their doctoral institution and some of them (especially those from the old European institutions) are extremely funky. I love seeing the professors march every year. I took pictures of my postdoc advisor Mike Cross and my phononic-crystal collaborator Chiara Daraio, though I suspect they didn't come out well. (They're both very tall, so we'll see.) Apparently, they talked about me a little bit while they were marching.

Also, my timing in walking up to get a seat was extremely fortuitous: I ran into Janet coming out of Baxter, so I was able to get a picture of her in cap and gown. I didn't see Julius and it's really hard to get shots of people while marching, but one out of two isn't bad.

Three final observations about the ceremony: (1) While some yellow shirts were present in the audience, this year's commencement didn't include a sea of yellow (a tradition that started during my senior year, instigated by that year's frosh --- I believe Pei was the main one who set that up, but some of my readers may be able to confirm or deny this) and also didn't include the gong. I like the idea of banging the gong for every Lloydie even though I wasn't there to root for Lloydies on this particular occasion. (2) This is the first year that Techers who were one term away from graduating could walk with their class (with an additional notation in the program). This was an excellent policy change and was long overdue. (3) This was my 9th Caltech commencement ceremony. I know there will be at least one or two more in my future.


The last couple of days have been one hell of a rollercoaster ride. I never want to do it again.

Anyway, despite my best attempts to screw everything up (because I'm just that "awesome"), things are now ok again. Now we'll just have to resume those lessons on Russian curse words that were promised a while back. I hear there are enough of them to fill an entire book...

Oh, and a big thanks go out to several people. I hope I never need this kind of help again. I'm supposed to be the collected one, so I'll try to go back to doing that. (Or as a certain person might say, "Do or do not. There is no try.")

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Quote of the Day

This is a follow-up to the last post. It comes from me and seems to be my new mantra: "I never knew I could fuck up that badly."

I'll probably never find out for sure, but what I did last night may well have made the worst mistake I've ever made so far in my life. (And whether or not that's true during my 31+ years so far, I better not do anything worse.) After reading a particular e-mail, I think I cried more this morning than I have in the past 10 years, and the last time I broke down like I did this morning was on the order of 15 to 20 years ago. (I'll have to think very hard to figure out what it was the last time. I cried a bit when my grandmother died but not that much and I certainly didn't entirely break down like I did today.)

Math is easy. Life is hard, and I'm apparently not very good at it.

So, absent a time machine (which I can't afford), I'll cross my fingers and hope things can be patched. In the meantime, I don't know what else to do besides try to put my game face on and see if I can get work done. And we'll see if I can ever forgive myself.

I will try to make future posts happier ones --- or at least angry ranty ones.

Song of the Day

Today's theme song is Regret by New Order. It's a damn fine song. You should listen to it someday.

I don't feel regret very often, but today is one of them. (I'm usually very confident about my decisions, make them, go forward, do the best I can, and accept the negative things that sometimes happen --- and this includes the breaks I have made with my family. I don't regret the bridges I burned with my family. I'm not confident about numerous other things and I guess that has come back to bite me on some occasions, and I hope I can gradually overcome such things and maybe even become better at interacting with people as a result.)

I did some major soul-searching after I got really distressed last night and made a decision that I feel was correct in the long term, even though it bloody sucks right now (especially after going through with it) and I feel worse than I have in probably several years. (I would say this is the worst I've felt since my grandmother died a few years ago and this is a bit different because I had no control over that.) It's amazing how I can simultaneously feel like this and still think I made the right decision.

In some circles, I guess all of this makes me weak. I think it means that I can express some feelings (which is one of my really major weak points --- even people I like don't necessarily know how much I like them!), which I think sometimes even some of my friends might on occasion doubt actually exist.

So, while I can't apologize for doing what I think was right, I can express the desire that I wish I could understand people (especially the ones I care about). I don't think I can understand people at all (even ones who I think I know well) because I'm just so different from everybody else. And maybe if I were better at putting myself in others' shoes, things would be better. And at times like this, I also wish people understood me a little better because the fact that I'm so different from everybody else seems to really cause major problems sometimes.

Usually, I'm able to roll with the punches... but not this time.

Despite the negative tone of this post, let me give some of the reasons I get up in the morning (mostly not in order, but some things are kind of in order):

My friends

Hanging out with my friends

Receiving an awesome home-made picture from a friend that I can proudly display in my office (a picture that I wish I deserved)

Somebody showing that they care about me enough to do something special like that

Hearing about successes from my friends --- whether that is passing a course, getting a paper published, the birth of a child (though I question the wisdom of considering that a success), beating 'Freebird' on expert level, or whatever

Finding out that I'm not totally hopeless in certain respects (even though I may well be mostly hopeless) and that maybe there's a chance (no matter how remote) that some seemingly unreachable dreams can come true.

Knowing that my friends are there for me even when I don't tell them why I happen to need them at a particular moment

Occasionally making baby steps to surmount by social difficulties and the hope that I can one day be able to make bigger steps


The Dodgers

Looking at the standings and seeing the Dodgers in first place

Baseball articles and box scores

Good music

Good movies and tv shows

Good books and magazines (fantasy, sci-fi, math, physics, or otherwise)



Getting the chance to move back to Caltech

My job (both now and in October, even though I'll be moving away from my friends)

Applied Math (and parts of theoretical physics)

That 'Aha!' moment when a calculation or numerical simulation or whatever finally works after long weeks or months of struggling

Music by A-Ha

Keeping at least some of my sense of humor no matter how shitty I feel (I can't help it...)

Getting theory or numerics to match experiments (ideally with no fitting parameters)

My research students and their successes

Waking up to find out that Democrats are now the majority party in both houses of Congress

Going to cool math and physics conferences and getting booed (for which happened in 2005) or offending people by insulting Republicans too blatantly during my talk (which just happened at Snowbird)


Witty comments (even when I'm the target)

My MacBook Pro

Getting e-mails or IMs from my friends

Reading my friends' blogs (specific entries excluded) and interacting with them that way as well.

Seeing my book in the Caltech bookstore

Finding out about a new prank (or at least one I didn't know about)

Iced lattes (and other good things of the coffee persuasion)

Being a music snob (for a certain class of music)

Confirming my claim from earlier tonight that the original version of You Really Got Me was indeed by The Kinks. (And finding out that Boingo also covered this song... Dude!)

Occasionally believing in the existence of things and concepts I usually don't (note: this does not include dieties; those never exist)

Going to bed with the hope that maybe I'll gain some wisdom about all of this tomorrow (no matter how shitty I feel about things at the moment)


Well, this isn't me at my best. But it is dedicated to anybody I've ever hurt. You may not like me better after reading this, but I hope you'll at least understand me better.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Modulational instability in nonlinearity-managed optical media

I've been so productive thus far today, so I might as well continue in this direction and blog about a paper of mine that just came out in Physical Review A today. This paper, which you can find here, is the archival sequel to a paper my collaborators and I published in Physical Review Letters late last year.

Anyway, here is the info:

Title: Modulational instability in nonlinearity-managed optical media

Authors: Martin Centurion, Mason A. Porter, Ye Pu, P. G. Kevrekidis, D. J. Frantzeskakis, and Demetri Psaltis

Abstract: We investigate analytically, numerically, and experimentally the modulational instability in a layered, cubically nonlinear (Kerr) optical medium that consists of alternating layers of glass and air. We model this setting using a nonlinear Schrödinger (NLS) equation with a piecewise constant nonlinearity coefficient and conduct a theoretical analysis of its linear stability, obtaining a Kronig-Penney equation whose forbidden bands correspond to the modulationally unstable regimes. We find very good quantitative agreement between the theoretical analysis of the Kronig-Penney equation, numerical simulations of the NLS equation, and the experimental results for the modulational instability. Because of the periodicity in the evolution variable arising from the layered medium, we find multiple instability regions rather than just the one that would occur in uniform media.

We are currently trying to do a little more of a follow-up with our layered optical media setup and then I think that this series of projects will be over. (Martin, the main experimentalist has left Caltech. Demetri Psaltis, whose lab he was in, is probably leaving Caltech, which is preventing new people from joining the project on the experimental side and this sort of thing puts things in limbo anyway. Ye is spread very thin, as he is working not just on this stuff but also on biomechanics stuff and on trying to find a tenure-track job. Anyway, the hope is to submit a final short paper with experiments and some numerics (on which Ye will be the first author) and then put this down. Panos, his students, and I are working on something theoretical that is related to our series of optics projects and the long-term hope is to find another lab (maybe at Oxford or elsewhere in England?) with which we can work on future experiments.

I'll try to write about this later when I blog more about my conference, but I was apparently extremely useful in hooking up a couple of people (by seeing something and realizing exactly who Person A should talk to) for a collaboration. I really like being useful. I wish I could do that more often. (I received a thank-you e-mail about this today.)

Monday, June 04, 2007

Classic Managerial Meltdown

Take a look at the video accompanying this article on a recent meltdown by Braves minor league manager Phillip Wellman. Awesome!

There are some old audio clips of meltdowns by Tommy Lasorda (on numerous occasions!), Lee Elia, and Tony LaRussa (among others) that are even better. There are also classy videos of, for example, Lloyd McClendon (referenced in the video I'm citing). Not to mention the classic dugout confrontation of Carlos Perez versus the water cooler...

Note added at 7:36 pm: I accidently called the manager "Paul Wellstone" earlier. Paul Wellstone is a former Congressman who I briefly mentioned as an example in one of my papers (that I just resubmitted).

Sunday, June 03, 2007


I have some movies from the past few weeks to review. I haven't really been in the mood to write lengthy, separate entries for movies lately, so this will have to do. There can also be additional discussion in the comments section if anyone is interested.

Spiderman 3: The movie started off with Hamiltonian mechanics on a chalkboard, which is a good way to draw me in. (I know; I'm not exactly a typical audience member --- or as one of my Georgia Tech colleagues once told me, "You're not a typical anything!") The movie was fun and pretty good, but it wasn't anything special. Peter Parker was a punk and annoyed me on several occasions. He's really not likable at all (though his turning in the other photographer was completely justified, despite how it was seemingly portrayed in the film). The line I liked the best was when Spidey mentioned something like "Where do they all come from?" when referring to supervillians.

Chalk: You can teach if you want to! You can leave no child behind! (The reference to "Safety Dance" was awesome!) This movie, a fake documentary about new high school teachers, was good but not great. The "spelling hornet", in which teachers try to spell student slang, was a truly fantastic part of the film --- especially the clarification in one case about whether a word is a certain one (apparently) used in Atlanta or some other one. This one also had an extremely unlikable character who pissed me off.

Shrek the Third: It was decent but not great. It was not as good as the second film, which was in turn not quite as good as the first one. It also suffers from being more of the same. I did appreciate the reference to Harry Chapin and (of course) the company.

Pirates of the Carribean: At World's End: My ordering of film quality in this series is 1 > 3 > 2. There were moments in 2 I really liked, but overall the third film was definitely better than the second. The first film had the advantage of newness over the others.

Coming soon (i.e., eventually): additional vignettes from the conference I attended in Snowbird

A new blog in town

Zifnab now has a blog, which you can find here.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Overheard in Snowbird (quote of the day)

A parent to her disobedient child in the hotel where I am staying: "They're going to keep you and make you clean toilets."