Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Barry Bonds liveblogging

7:19 pm: The first half inning of the Dodgers-Giants game just ended. With Ray Durham on base, Barry Bonds just struck out on three pitches (the last pitch was a check swing). Hell yeah!

8:04 pm: Barry Bonds came up with one out and a runner on third. As in the first inning, the Dodger stadium crowd booed him lustily when he was announced (though one could also see flashes from the stands as people took pictures). The Dodgers walked Bonds intentionally and the next batter hit into a double play. Hell yeah! (By the way, the crowd also booed when Bonds was walked intentionally.) After 2.5 innings, the game is tied 1-1.

8:45 pm: Barry Bonds lead off the 5th inning with a walk. Dodger pitcher Brad Penny disputed the ball call on the last pitch.

9:22 pm: Barry Bonds came up with 2 outs and the bases empty in the top of the 7th inning. Bonds hit a shallow fly ball and shortsop Rafael Furcal went out to the outfield to try to catch it (even though it was an easy play for the leftfielder). Furcal dropped it and was charged with an error. Fred Lewis has just been inserted as a pinch runner for Bonds, and so ends my Bondsblogging for the night.

Fantastic DHL commercial with Kenny Lofton

I saw a fantastic DHL (shipping company) commercial today, which is discussed here. (If you're able to find this commercial online, please let me know...)

I think I had it on in the background a week ago or so (apparently, it aired during the All-Star game), but I had never actually been in front of the tv while it aired or paid close attention to it before. Anyway, Lofton has been on a lot of teams, and the commercial was about his being traded from the Rangers (his team at the time) to some other team during the trading deadline. It was really quite a clever commercial. I was amused to see the commercial today, because he was recently traded to the Indians (for his third tour of duty with the team).

I approve!

Monday, July 30, 2007

Goodbye to Cat!

As I write this entry, Catalin ("Cat") Turc, applied math postdoc and all-around porn expert, is on a flight to Charlotte to start his new life as a faculty member at UNC Charlotte.

It was really fun having lunch with Cat these last couple of years, and I learned more about German porn than I ever thought I would. (In fact, I'm still trying to forget my lessons and I probably will continue on that course for a long time.) I can only hope that in my time in Oxford, I'll be able to recapture the fun I had at lunch with Cat and Lemming. As Lemming says, every barrel has a bottom, and I can only hope he's right.

On Saturday, Lemming, Cat, Cat's wife, and I went out to Silverlake and Los Feliz for a goodbye dinner/chilling out. I was feeling like crap (see my recent post) for much of that time, but I'm not going to miss Cat's goodbye dinner for a silly thing like that. I am thinking that for my goodbye dinner there should be large portions of meat and then some gaming, and hopefully the goodbye dinner will even be while I'm still around rather than the night after I leave... :)

Sunday, July 29, 2007

You spin me 'round (like a record, baby)

I've been feeling really dizzy all day today. I don't have a headache, but it's like somebody has been applying constant pressure to my head and my sense of equilibrium is all haywire.

In general, I have been really sick physically with various ailments for something like 6 weeks in the last two months---two full cases of the flu (the second apparently induced when my immune system was weakened by hepatitis shots), severe jet lag (worse than usual, and it's usually pretty bad for me), inability to sleep, issues because of weather/dehydration/lack of ice in Switzerland, and also other maladies from being much more stressed out than usual for various reasons. The causes have been varied (and variety is the spice of life), but this needs to stop. I've been trying to remain pretty active through all of this, although I have curtailed that somewhat, and working has often been far more difficult than usual.

I am just fucking sick of feeling like total crap. This has been going on way too long and it's also making me even more ornery than usual.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Hall of Fame Veterans Committee rules revised (again)

After having elected nobody to the Hall of Fame three straight times, the Veterans Committee rules have been revised yet again.

He's still on the regular ballot, so will people please get off their asses and elect Bert Blyleven to the Hall of Fame already? He should have been elected years ago!

Upcoming Musical

I saw an advertisement in the LA Weekly today for a musical called Alice in One-Hit Wonderland. I am so going to see this! (I'm currently trying to convince the CPA theatre crowd to go with me. We'll see how well that works.)

Dude, this is going to be so awesome!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Visa Visa and Traffic Jam

I went to get my VISA today and to get some more immunization shots. (Shots that induce a day's fever provide a great supplement to the jet lag I already have. Oh, I feel wonderful right now...)

The VISA business was thankfully without incident, so I'm all set to get into the UK when I move in two months. I still need to get things settled as far as arranging the shipping of my stuff --- I was going to try referencing George Carlin's "A place for my stuff" by discussing somebody else's shit, but it's just not coming to me at the moment --- but at least some more hurdles are now out of the way. (The last set of shots are ones I need to get 5 months from now, so I don't need any more of those for a while either.)

To push the 80s music reference in the title just a little further, let me mention that I started the day by going to the Hollywood & Highland metro station, so I was lost in tan lotion. (There was a brief traffic jam on the way back home --- my mother gave me a ride home to my apartment --- but the main reason I'm mentioning that in the title is because of the 80s music thing. Not that anybody will get the allusion, but it's not like that's stopped me before. I suppose Lemming and Gazebo have a chance to get this without googling.)

I need to rest. Bye.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


Super Smash Brothers Brawl became available for preorder today (it comes out in early December), and I just preordered it and Super Mario Galaxy. The goods and I will both arrive in Pasadena around early to mid December. (The package may beat me by a week, but we'll see.)

I really enjoy kicking ass as Jigglypuff! :)

Monday, July 23, 2007

Another me


Take a look at this article.

Apparently, one of my alter egos is a very Christian mime. How's that for polar opposites?

The article includes the following blurb about his efforts:

Many young people rank listening to a sermon right up there with a trip to the dentist's office or taking a pop quiz

"But what if that sermon included miming, inspiring music and dramatic dance moves?" Some people go to sleep listening to preachers," said Mason Porter, a Dallas mime who uses his talent for the dramatic to encourage people to embrace the Christian faith. "We're outta the box."

Shouldn't this article be in The Onion?

There's a Rat in Mi Kitchen!

I really ought to go to bed because my body is shaking somewhat uncontrollably from sleep deprivation (and I skipped dinner tonight for something like the 5th night out of 6... I've just been feeling too tired at night to eat in recent days even though I feel hungry), but I'll start dealing with my movie review backlog. Well, it will actually be pretty simple. This movie, Ratatouille, gets an individual entry. One other one also might, but then I'm just going to lump them together.

Anyway, I saw Ratatouille on June 29th. It's a Pixar film, so of course it's very good. It's about a rat who works some miracles in a kitchen. Well, it's also about discovering oneself, rediscovering one's inner child, and not judging books (creatures) by their covers (species). The one major disappointment for me is that the credits were bland. And of course, the movie wasn't as good as The Incredibles. But that is a very high standard that I don't actually expect even of Pixar movies. At any rate, the film was extremely good and if you haven't already seen it, then shame on you!

By the way, points for anybody who knows the reference in the title without googling. (Hints available upon request.)

I need food. And sleep. I guess I'll have a fruit roll-up before I go to bed. (Sigh... I want to shift back to the correct time zone.)

Minor league baseball coach dies after being hit by line drive

A minor league first base coach died after being hit by a line drive in a minor league game.

One reason I'm mentioning this is that Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully has been saying for decades that coaches should wear helmets and that it would take a tragedy like this for people to do something about it. I'm holding my breath and waiting for the usual comments of 'nobody could have predicted this.'

By the way, the coach was Mike Coolbaugh, who played briefly in the Majors. His brother Scott, who I unfortunately bought 100 rookie cards of when I thought he'd be a great player, bounced around the Majors for a few years.

In other news, I need sleep. I went to bed at 8pm last night, and the 5 hours of sleep followed by a few more hours of tossing and turning were not enough.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Baseball outside of Fenway and The Bronx

Courtesy Rob Neyer, here is an article in The Onion that nicely sums up what an uncomfortably large number of sportswriters seem to think of any baseball news that doesn't pertain to the Red Sox or Yankees.

This short article (so don't be afraid to click on the link) basically hits the nail on the head. I approve!

Amusing LinkedIn invitation

I just got a LinkedIn invitation from Ron Dollette, a Pageboy from the class of 2000. The phrasing of the invite was highly amusing:

"Yo Mason. Every time I drop in Depeche Mode's ULTRA, I still think of how you grilled me on the review I wrote for the Tech. After all these years, I gotta stay, it stands up as a fantastic album. Link a mufuca in!"


Back home...

I got back home a couple of hours ago. I need to rant a little bit, but I'm not going to do too much because I need to sleep at least as much as I need to rant.

First, let me summarize more of the trip: After I was no longer jet-lagged and the weather got a little better, I was able to enjoy things more, though there were still some seriously broken things. For some reason, the citizens of Zurich like room temperature drinks no matter how sweltering it is outside. I like very cold drinks no matter how cold it is --- this led to strange looks, head-shaking, and questions on numerous occasions when I lived in Ithaca! --- so the fact that I had an obscene difficult time finding truly cold drinks made my life very hard. I can handle things being really hot, but then when it's very hot and humid outside and most of the conference rooms are worlds stuffier than Jorian's place (which is saying quite a lot, by the way), it becomes very annoying when I can't get a refreshing drink. (And I'm not just talking about having trouble getting cold coffee drinks, which I realize is much harder in most places outside the US. I mean truly cold drinks of any kind, so this isn't just a matter of my own weird preferences). When I didn't have a big preference of one session over others, I starting choosing parallel sessions in better-ventilated rooms.

Anyway, I can handle the heat if there is some means of escape/refreshment, which proved to be rather difficult.

The ice cream sold on the street was melting (and one place that I tried had a strict one-free-sample policy, which is fine, but I really didn't like the one I tried and wanted to see which of the others I liked --- I felt committed to buying the ice cream after I had a free sample [until I found out about the strict policy, after which I thanked the person helping me and left], and it seems like their policy isn't conducive to attracting customers. Ah well. It wasn't an unpleasant exchange or anything; I was just taken by surprise by the abject refusal for a second sample. (Maybe I should have explained that with my sampling flavors that I definitely felt committed to buying a scoop so that the person behind the counter wouldn't worry about my sampling lots of things and not buying anything, but I decided to leave instead of attempting to convince her.)

The ice cream wasn't a big deal, but the situation with the water was extremely annoying. It was almost impossible to find non-carbonated water. I strongly dislike sode water and don't find it refreshing. Whether or not I could get tap water at a given place depended on whether I could get my point across, because the facility people had with English varied strongly from person to person. (I'm guess that at some of the places, I might well have been able to get tap water and their insisting they didn't have it was probably just an unsuccessful attempt at communication on my part.) And it's like the use of ice is a foreign concept there. I was almost always in places without air conditioning, and this contributed greatly to my not feeling well for much of the time I was in Zurich. In the hostel, I bought one thing of iced tea from a vending machine (and with no ice and a very hot/stuffy environment, that didn't stay cold for long) and fill that with tap water once I was done with it, because the sink water was much colder than any water one could buy (and the only bottled water one could get was soda water). It wasn't a great solution (especially without ice), but it helped. (My understanding is that I was far from the only person who resorted to doing this.) The only place where I could get an ice cold drink was at Starbucks, where the stuff was made the same way as in the US. While I prefer local coffee places (or Peet's) on normal occasions, for my Zurich trip my two visits to Starbucks turned out to be an FSM-send: I found three different locations, and the one at which I camped had (a) air conditioning, (b) numerous comfortable chairs and couches, and (c) very cold coffee drinks (where 'very cold' was far more important than coffee). This made Starbucks the only place I could reiliably escape from the weather and has given me more respect for them than I had before. Sometimes, just knowing what you're getting is what needs to be optimized, and that was the case here. Just enjoy the cold drink and the air con, sit down, and read for pleasure.

I mentioned this in an earlier post, but let me reiterate that (at least in terms of food) Zurich has by far the highest cost of living of anywhere I've been. I think prices are a factor of close to 2 higher than anywhere else I've been. I guess salaries there are high and I expected prices to be high, but I didn't think it would be as ridiculous as it actually was.

By the way, the old town area of the city is unsurprisingly cool. I skipped some of the conference on Friday to walk around there again (which I also did on Sunday, but that was when I was really exhausted) and go to the science toy shop. (The toy shop unfortunately had sold their Chladni plate a few years ago, but there was still other stuff there to see.)

My trek home started Saturday morning and proved to be a disaster. Unsurprisngly, I saw lots of conference people at the train station, airport, and on my flight. This gave me the chance to talk to more of them. (There were also a number of others who I knew were with the conference, but whose identities I didn't know.) The return flights were each about an hour longer than the flights there (because of relative wind directions), which I could handle except for what happened: Namely, on the 9-hour flight from Zurich to Philadelphia, I developed a migraine headache and puked on myself (I couldn't find a barf bag in time). Migraines suck anyway, as do 9-hour flights, but getting a migraine on such a flight is simply awful. (Today may well have been my worst flying experience ever.) One of the flight attendants was really helpful, as was the guy sitting next to me (who moved to an empty seat elsewhere that was more crowded so that I would have room to clean myself and wouldn't have to sit in the stuff), so it's good that some people aren't totally callous. (That was the bright spot amidst the whole ordeal.) I cleaned things the best that I could and then once the flight was over, I had to deal with customs. I got through the first part ok but then after I got my checked luggage, one customs guy took it upon himself to accost me before the second part. Maybe he thought I was stoned or something, and I was certainly in bad shape because I was dizzy, walking slowly, and shaking fairly uncontrollably. He asked me how I was doing, and I first thought he was using that as a synonym for 'hi', which people often do, so I just said 'hi' back (and I'm sure I didn't sound friendly... when I feel that awful, I can just imagine how pissy I might sound as part of my state). He repeated his question with more than a hint of anger in his voice, so I said I felt awful (which was true). He asked me why, so I explained about the migraine (with four-part harmony and all that). We talked a little more and he was (IMO) rude to me. He ended up undoing the 'ok' for me to just turn in my card and leave, and asked me to go to the inspectors before I got out of customs. I did that and I explained why I was traveling and that all I had to claim was three bars of chocolate. (I went to a chocolatier on Friday. This is some really good shit. Well, I only tried one of them, but I expect the other two will also be really good.) He re-ok'ed me and let me get through customs to get past security again (which thankfully went smoothly).

I got coffee and a pretzel before my 6-hour flight from Philadelphia to LA, and I also made sure to take a 2-pill dose of dramamine. (I normally only take 1 when I bother to take it at all these days, but I decided that I really needed to avoid another 6 hours of pain.) The dramanine's side effects put me to sleep for about 3-3.5 hours of that flight, for which I was very thankful. So that was definitely a good move.

The flight arrived slightly early and then I dealt with Supershuttle. The driver was a prick. He missed my apartment slightly, which was just an honest mistake of not hearing me when I mentioned where to stop (or of my possibly not being loud enough; given my state, I couldn't exactly speak very loudly at the time). That's no problem and is easily corrected. But then he started giving me a tongue-lashing about my not having mentioned anything, which is utter tripe because I had said it three times before he passed by the place. He complained about the extra driving and having to pay for gas himself, which was also asinine because he only overshot by a quarter of a block before we squared things away! Like I am going to have sympathy for a quarter of a block worth of gas money! Anyway, the driver backed up and I left the bus and got my stuff. Then as he left, he shouted something incoherently in my direction. I have no idea what it was, but that kind of treatment is just a bunch of shit. I briefly considered reporting him to Supershuttle but I decided I'm not going to be that petty because he probably had a long day and it's not like I'm not ever ornery to people who don't deserve it.

Anyway, then I came hear and have been reading baseball box scores (and trying some of my chocolate) and, in general, relaxing a bit before I officially crash.

OK, so this entry was much longer than I was planning. Se la vie. In subsequent blog entries, I have several movies I still want to discuss. I saw them a while ago now, but I want to go over them anyway.

And I have some chocolate for the locals to try...

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Life imitates Castlevania

Today I've had the chance to see talks in buildings I didn't previously get to (aside from looking at them from the outside while I was lost). In one of them, as you go up the stairs, there are two huge spikes (one on the left and one on the right) hanging on chains next to where the steps are. One can swing these really well and presumably also swing on these (and maybe even use them to reach a life-improving pork chop if one whips away to find a secret compartment). Naturally, the first thing I thought of when I saw them was somebody walking under them and getting impaled by one as it falls. (I checked and confirmed that the pointed tip is reasonably sharp.) Then I thought of using a whip t swing from one to the other and the whole Castlevania perspective was quite clear.

I haven't taken my camera with me the last couple of days, but I'll do that tomorrow and get a picture of this. (I don't have any talks I am planning to attend in this building tomorrow, but getting a picture of these is worth the extra walking.) Some of the other buildings also have some cool architectural features I want to capture on film, so I'll do that tomorrow too.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Quote of the Day (Zurich seminar edition)

Today's quote comes from a seminar I saw a couple of hours ago:

"In this graph, you see this lovely lady in different body positions."

I believe the quote in question is also a Housequote (or perhas a "seminarquote"), as I'm pretty sure the meaning my mind went towards was not intended by the speaker. In case you're wondering about the context, the talk concerned isospectral problems (given a spectrum, determine the shape) and the graph being shown was talking about conformational changes (say, dancing or bending over) that shouldn't prevent you from identifying something as the same object. None of the depicted positions were dirty ones. Anyway, the phrasing was lovely.

Right now, we're having the reception for the Prandtl lecture. It's sponsored by Beck's, so their beer is the only drink available. This is really annoying, because I am thirsty (and possibly a bit dehydrated) and don't drink alcohol. One thing I am finding at this conference is that the quality of certain things is occasionaly being adversely affected by such sponsorship, and it's surprising and shameful to see this at a math conference. I know we see it in many (just about every?) walk of life, but would it be such a crime to have water?

On a similar note, the only water one can buy is sparkling water. Grrrrr.... I can't stand sparkling water. Bring on the tap!

Update to a prior post: I got my missing sheet today, which was simply an official certificate indicating that I had participated. Some organizations require that for reimbursement, though I doubt I'll need it. They reversed my first and last names despite my identifying which is which, but se la vie. (Ooh, Dido's "Here With Me" is playing in the background, though the crowd noise is mostly drowning it out.) Also, I was trying to refind the registration area yesterday to deal with it then but spent a lot of time searching outside and wondering where it was. I asked about it this morning, and the helpers gave me the info but treated me like I was stupid for asking this piece of information. Well, as it turns out, the registration area was moved to a smaller location after the first day even though this wasn't announced in any obvious spot. (I assume it's somewhere and that I just didn't see it.) I didn't even bother to explain to them that when I registered, the place do it was different than where they directed me because there was no point. As long as I could get where I needed to go... Anyway, my point here is that my question was obviously not stupid (given the move), despite the way it was treated.

How to choose between parallel sessions (+ coffee bars and toys!)

The next set of parallel sessions starts in just over an hour. I was deciding between two of them in which I was interested, with an a priori minor preference for one (call it Session A, even though that's not it's real name) versus another one (similarly, call it Session B). I was mildly more interested in A versus B, but Session A is in a room that is horribly ventiliated and gets fucking hot (as I found out yesterday), whereas the room for Session B is much bigger and has air condition. Conclusion: I'm going to attend Session B. A major reason I've been feeling really tired this conference and not exploring as much as usual has been the hot, humid weather and Hellish lecture rooms are seriously exacerbating the problem.

I am writing this from a coffee bar at the university at which the conference is being held. I had meant to try it earlier but finally go to it today. (In fact, I was going to hang out here last night after the last lecture, but I was tired so I went back to the hostel and crashed.) Their latte is only ok, but I was able to get them to make it iced without a problem! Between that and liking the coffee bar environment, this definitely improves my mood. (Being able to camp in a cool coffee bar is one of the great pleasures in life! It's such a simple thing, but I value it a great deal.)

As for the toys, I'll hopefully have more to say on Friday. Michael Berry was mentioning during the session this morning (as part of his comment to a talk) that there is scientific toy shop near the downtown area of Zurich (where the conference is being held) that he says is really awesome and will apparently do demos of lots of their stuff. In particular, they supposedly have a very good (though very expensive) Chladni plate, which are really hard to get to work in practice. The store is only open on Fridays and Saturdays, but it's something like a 10-15 minute walk from two of the train stations to which I've been going anyway. My flight on Saturday is going to occur before it opens, but I'll make time on Friday to go there. We'll see if I can afford anything they have, but that seems like my best opportunity for me to find a souvenir I actually want. (And I'm all over cool demos whether or not I actually buy anything.)

I hope to be able to write more about scientific toys later...

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

When does a talk really exist?

I gave my 20 minute contributed talk yesterday. I was somehow placed in a "stochastic modeling" section even though the stuff I presented was entirely deterministic. There were 5 talks in the session and 3 of us remarked that we had no idea why our talks were placed in our session, so maybe it's just the placement of those talks that was stochastic?

With the odd placement of the talk and its conflict with a nonlinear waves session (which is where most people who would want to see my talk were, and also where I would have been were it not for my talk), I had an abundant audience consisting of four people. (2 of the session speakers had already left.) I have given practice talks with over 7 times as many people (granted, that was excellent attendance for a practice talk), so at some level it's hard to treat that as a real talk. (I do know of situations in which the only people in the audience were the speaker and the session chair, but thankfully that's never happened to me.)

The talk before mine was craptacular. In fact, it was impressively "awesome" and may have been the worst talk I've ever seen in terms of delivery style. (I've seen loads of talks whose results I didn't agree with, so I would say they sucked in that sense, but which were given in some sort of logical or semilogical fashion.) The speaker had busy slides, zipped through them instantly, was silent for a long time while he was zipping through them, and never gave any clue as to what his topic was. He also finished in 5 minutes (instead of the 15 minutes + 5 for questions), giving a 15 minute break before I was supposed to start. Words cannot accurately describe how singularly "impressive" this talk was. I'm not sure if it's the worst talk I've ever seen --- technically, the fact that it only lasted 5 minutes automatically prevents it from being worse than lots of other talks, but I'm trying to measure pure quality regardless of how much or little pain it caused me --- but it's definitely a contender. I can't remember a "worse" talk at the moment, though because of the length considerations I mentioned, I can certainly think of tons of more painful ones.

I had to move multiple times while writing this blog entry. I guess I should have just told them I'd be done with this before the coffee break (and the ensuing several hundred people) started.

Monday, July 16, 2007

All's fair in love, war, and Mario Kart

Courtesy Lemming, here is an extremely appropriate XKCD.

Strictly speaking, it isn't entirely accurate, but who am I to let the truth get in the way of a good story?

(Now I need to go back to registration to pick up the form that they didn't have ready for me on Sunday. I was able to eat some good duck last night at a sort of Asian fusion restaurant, so while that is hardly traditional Swiss food, it was good food, which is far more important. FYI, I still haven't had any chocolate since I got here. Such a waste.)

More from Zurich

I'll try to be better about blogging from here than I was at my Snowbird conference two months ago. (There were some things I wanted to blog about from that conference that I was planning to write after I came home, but I just never bothered and then I figured too long had passed for me to bother. If I remember some of that stuff at an appropriate time, I'll write about them then.)

Although I was exhausted yesterday, I did get a chance to walk around Zurich's old town yesterday. Sadly, almost everything was closed. There were several places I wanted to try, but they were closed because it was Sunday. In particular, I would like to try some of their cafe-bakeries. I ended up settling for Starbucks yesterday because the only places I found selling coffee yesterday were either decidedly not places I felt would have good coffee (they were generic places that happened to have coffee) or had a very bar-like environment that I simply did not find pleasant. Starbucks offered the familiar, which included iced espresso drinks (which are not easy to find in Europe, at least based on my experience and what others have told me), and this location happened to have an exceptional setup as far as comfortable places to sit go. I was very tired and wanted to be inside on a couch (and my room at the hostel wouldn't be available for a few more hours), so I decided to hang out there and read Electronic Gaming Monthly for a while. (Too bad I left my new Dragonlance book with my luggage, which was locked up at the hostel.)

Prices in Zurich are ridiculously expensive! Some of the venti drinks at Starbucks were something like $9, well over twice as much as they cost in the U.S. And people were paying for them! That was probably a little extreme even for here, but food is much more expensive here than it is in the U.S. I would say that at minimum one sees a 75% higher price for comparable things, with an even higher mark-up for drinks.

I have already seen a lot of people I know and have done some networking (partly through their introducing me to people). Also, it turns out there is a 4-part nonlinear waves session at the conference! Yeah! I'll miss one part because it conflicts with my talk, but otherwise I'll be going there until it ends. Then I'll figure out where to go starting on Wednesday.

Baseball Update

I have another quick baseball update.

First, another of this year's highly anticipated milestones just occurred: The Philadelphia Phillies franchise lost its 10000th game. How's that for awesome?

The Dodgers finished a 3-game sweep of the hated San Francisco Giants yesterday! Awesome! The Padres won yesterday, so our lead remained at 1 game. Of course, given that the Padres were playing the Diamondbacks, we gained a game on the latter. Go Dodgers!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Update from Zurich

Here's a quick update:

I am exhausted. I slept one or two hours between my two plane flights but have otherwise been awake since 10am on Friday. I am in horrible shape.

The conference organization is ass backwards on so many levels. They got one thing right --- giving each attendee a voucher for free train and tram rides for the entire week --- but have basically failed on everything else. The website is unreadable and is missing convenient ways to find out who is attending and what talks are being given (and when they're being given). There are glitches in the registration system (I need to go back on Tuesday to get my last document). The registration is in a room that is way too small to handle the volume of people. There are different stations to get things so one has to wait in line multiple times. When there are issues, one station doesn't know which precise other one to send you to. The directions to where the registration was in the first place were broken (both in telling us the name of the building in advance and including on-site directions), causing many people to wander around the buildings in searing heat (90 degrees + reasonably major humidity) for 20 minutes until they found it. Oh yeah, and one of the stations where we had to wait in line was at the airport (why make us wait in line for over 30 minutes just to get our generic train voucher --- they could have given us our entire package since they had to look up our name anyway!) They didn't inform me that the hostel where I'm staying doesn't let you check into your room until 3pm. (That one is more of a minor complaint but is the reason I haven't gotten any rest of taken a shower even though that was what I first wanted to do when I got here.) It's just been a big fail so far. Given how I feel right now, I already wish I hadn't bothered to come here. Maybe I'll feel better after I get some sleep. With this experience, I've gained much more appreciation for how good a job SIAM, APS, and AMS/MAA do with organizing their conferences. This has just been a major fail.

Good thing: Unsurprisingly, there were lots of people attending the conference on my flight from Philly to Zurich. I talked to a couple of them, plus other people I know who I saw after landing, in the Zurich airport. (That was one benefit of having to wait in line there for my train voucher.)

Even better thing: The Dodgers won today and the Padres lost. We're now in first place by ourselves!

Hmmm... I need to find a plug so I can read box scores before I go to bed. Though I must say I am tempted to just go right back to the hostel and crash and read the box scores tomorrow.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

What happens in Zurich stays in Zurich

At about 2:30 am, I am going to be picked up by Supershuttle for my early-morning flight to Zurich, where I will be attending the 2007 International Congress on Industrial and Applied Mathematics, a grand gala that takes place every four years. I considered attending the 2003 conference in Sydney, but the logistics and my finances ended up making it untenable. By the way, this conference is the applied mathematics analog of the International Congress of Mathematics, which leans more towards pure math, also takes place every four years, and is where the Fields Medals are announced. There won't be any new Fields Medalists this week, but some major awards are being given. For me, however, it's partly about the spectacle at attending such a huge conference but even more about crossing off another city from the list of ones I want to visit. I was able to get a travel award from SIAM (the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics), which is not easy to get, so I'll be able to afford it. The award won't cover my entire cost of staying at the conference, but I can probably eat some of my Oxford travel funds to take care of the rest.

I promise to stay neutral during my entire visit to Switzerland. And I also hope to eat lots of good chocolate...

My layover for both sides of my trip is in Philadelphia because it has to be somewhere. (If you don't know the reference, I am referring to a short play called "The Philadelphia", which I was unsuccessful in googling in my attempt to provide a good link.)

Friday, July 13, 2007

Baseball Update

I might add more to this entry later tonight. (I want to talk about my fantasy teams, but I'll wait until tonight's updates are in.)

First of all, the Dodgers kicked the Giants' ass today! We scored 6 runs in the 9th inning to turn a close 3-1 game into a 9-1 devouring. Because the Padres lost today to the Diamondbacks, our victory put us back into a first place tie in the NL West. (We have spent quite a few days of the season tied for first with the Padres...)

It's also time for a Nomar vs. Juan Pierre update.

Here are some of Juan Pierre's stats (through tonight's game): .313 on-base percentage, .340 slugging percentage, and .653 OPS (on base + slugging percentage).

Here are some of Nomar Garciaparra's stats: .318 OBP, .332 slugging percentage, and .650 OPS.

Before tonight's game, Nomar held a .653 to .651 lead in OPS, so it looks like this battle of sluggers might last all the way until the end of the season. Juan Pierre's lead in slugging percentage is a bit bigger but still extremely small. This battle is going to be fierce! Stay tuned.

In other good news, today's loss to the Devil Rays dropped the Yankess below .500 again. Oh how I love to see them suffer!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Quote of the Day

I am currently working on a proposal for somebody to get a fellowship to do a postdoc for me at Oxford (without my having to pay for it). The fellowship asks us to address whether the proposal can help with the socio-economic development of third-world countries. I wrote the following in the proposal's latex file during the drafting stage:

"I don't know. Maybe the knowledge of asymptotic analysis will lead to less starvation among African children?"

I'm such a sweetheart.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

2007 Major League Baseball All Star Game

The 2007 Major League Baseball All Star Game was today. I've missed parts (or occasionally all) of many of the past several All Star games because the game almost always conflicts with the SIAM Annual Meeting, which I often attend. Today I was able to watch the entire game, though I was occasionally distracted while trying to get work done during commercials and sneaking in some work during a couple of batters. I also felt like crap today because I've been really sick for the past several days, though I am somewhat better than yesterday, so I have some hope that I'll be reasonably ok tomorrow. We'll see how that goes.

In terms of the actual game, the American League won again. The AL has been superior to the NL for a while now, as evidenced by its major advantage in interleague games and the fact that the NL hasn't won an All-Star game since 1996 (there was a tie in 2002). In today's game, Ichiro hit the first inside-the-park homerun in All Star game history. In fact, he made is safely home standing up, because the ball took a really messed-up bounce off of the wall. Ichiro, who got two other hits and was named the game's MVP, is one of the most exciting games in the Majors to watch. There are rumors that he will soon sign a 5-year contract extension with the Mariners worth $90-100 million.

In the pregame introductions, the reserves for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim were booed pretty loudly, so I knew what was going to happen when the Dodger players were introduced (the game was in San Francisco). Last last reserve before the Dodger players to be announced was Carlos ("El Caballo") Lee of the Houston Astros, who could be overheard to mutter "Oh shit." in the direction of the Dodger players. As expected, the Dodger reserves were booed especially lustily by the crowd. Dodger Russell Martin, the starting catcher in the game, was also booed quite lustily, but a few cheers were mixed in. Angel starter Vladimir Guerrero was mostly cheered, in contrast to the lesser-known Angels on the team. Unsurprisingly, Barry Bonds of the Giants got the biggest cheer of the night by far.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Friday iTunes Fortune

I haven't done one of these in a while, so here's an iTunes fortune:

1. Pet Shop Boys, "Why Don't We Live Together"
2. Nouvelle Vague, "Sorry for Laughing"
3. Annie Lennox, "The Gift"
4. The Knife, "Christmas Reindeer"
5. Rockin' Ritchie Ray, "Baseball Card Lover"
6. Depeche Mode, "Dream On"
7. Yaz, "The Other Side Of Love"
8. Scorpions, "Rock You Like A Hurricane"
9. Martin L. Gore, "In My Other World"
10. Nouvelle Vague, "Friday Night Saturday Morning"

Bonus Track. Psychedelic Furs, "All That Money Wants"

I decided to do a bonus track because two songs were by one group and three other songs had a strong connection to another group.

This isn't among the stronger groups of songs from my collection, though there are definitely some good ones there. The best one in the above crowd by far is "Dream On".

I don't remember the key to determining what my fortune is, though song 10's title is quite appropriate.

By the way, can anybody guess the theme surrounding when I do these fortunes?

Friday, July 06, 2007

More than meets the eye

I'm going to skip my intended reviews of something like five movies because some movies just deserve to skip the queue. (I'm even bypassing Ratatouille for this one, which really says all you need to know!)

Anyway, I was a Transformers fanboy when I was growing up, so the microsecond that I found out about a live-action Transformers movie, I was so there. The trailers could have been total crap, but I was already so there either on opening night or shortly thereafter.

Well, yesterday I got to see the movie and, as Lemming writes, the movie did not disappoint. Indeed, it was a big win. Put another way, it was bloody awesome! (Here are links to the film's IMDB and wikipedia entries.)

Now I don't know if it will be my favorite movie of the year because I'm going to somehow have to separate the nostalgia factor when I figure that out, because for me the Transformers can't really be separated from my childhood. I had a lot of Transformer toys and I was a big fan of the cartoon series and original (cartoon) movie. I have a bunch of Transformers scattered around my parents' house, but most important, I still have my favorite one (Shockwave) intact and in excellent condition. By the way, the Transformer who is closest to my paradigm is Shockwave. Soundwave is second, and none of the others are close.

Before I get to my favorite part of the movie, let me go into Comicbook Guy mode briefly and explained what annoyed me. Principally, it was two things: (1) Megatron is a gun, not a plane! (2) The Decepticon selection was really weak. Two Constructicons without having them as a set? Either have all of them or none of them! One of Soundwave's "casettes" (updated for modern technology) but not Soundwave? Strange. Granted, Frenzy's Scratch-like style and antics were very amusing, but how can one have him without Soundwave. (Apparently, both Soundwave and Shockwave were in the original plans.)

As for things to love about the movie, there were many of them. There was awesome action. (In fact, there was eye candy of all sorts.) There was a lot more humor than I was expecting. There were live-action Transformers, and that enough would have made the movie worth it for me! The best parts were the homages to the original series. Optimus Prime had the same honor, nobility, and chivalry I remembered and the addition of some more humor to his personality worked well. I remember several lines from the original series. Prime saying "Autobots, roll out!" brought back a ton of memories. The individual line that I like the best was "You have failed me yet again, Starscream.", which only occurs about every other episode in the original series. And as far as nostalgia goes, the best part of the film occurred near the beginning in which I heard the narrator for the first time. And do you know why? Simple, because that's when I found out that the voice for Optimus Prime was being done by the original guy who did that voice. Lemming mentions this as well, but when I heard that I was 8 years old again and there are very few things that make me feel that way. I had not been previously aware of this choice, but to shout out my approval would just be way too mild. To be more accurate, my favorite part of the movie (which contains tons and tons of awesomeness) was the entire movie of hearing the right voice as Optimus Prime. But it was the beginning of the narration when I found that out that was truly special, and the feeling that gave me was worth the price of admission all by itself.

By the way, for those of you who have never read this, here is a history of the Transformers. It's high-quality reading.

RBI Baseball reenactment of (the important part of) Game 6 of 1986 World Series

Courtesy Rob Neyer's blog, you can find that here.

I'm not going to watch the whole thing, but I do plan on going ahead to see the Buckner play.

Also, I tagged this as "amusing", but that's only for people who aren't Red Sox fans...

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Nomaaaaaah vs. Juan Pierre: Fight!

As several of you know, I've been dogging Juan Pierre ever since the Dodgers signed him during the offseason to an expensive, multi-year contract. There's basically only one thing wrong with him: he sucks.

In 2004 and earlier, Juan Pierre actually did what he was supposed to do: get on base. However, he hasn't done that for years, even though he is paid the salary that someone who does that might command. Oh, and he plays a lousy center field. Sometimes he'll outrun his mistakes and otherwise he won't. Basically, Pierre is a waste of money and batting him in the #2 spot in the batting order is just retarded.

The situation with Nomar Garciaparra is a somewhat different one. For one thing, he had a very good year for us last year. Unfortunately, this year he seems to have forgotten how to hit anything besides the occasional single. Also, as the Dodger stadium statistics screen made sure we were aware on Monday night, Nomar has a fantastic batting average when runners are in scoring position. But Nomar is supposed to be a power hitter and he has just 14 (count 'em!) extra base hits this season (12 doubles and 2 homers). Do you know how many Juan Pierre has this year? 17 (13 doubles and 4 triples)! As I write this, Pierre also has a better OPS than Nomar. Nomar started the year playing first base but has since moved to third base to make room for James Loney, who already has 9 extra base hits in a small fraction of the plate appearances that Nomar has.

So, the question I've been asking all year is 'What happened?' Nomar's power has just disappeared overnight, which suggests to me that there is an injury that has not been made public. He's hitting like a #8-hitting shortstop rather than what he's done in the past. Something is wrong.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Roger Clemens wins 350th career game

Roger Clemens won his 350th career game today. This ranks 8th all time. Greg Maddux's 340 wins rank him 10th.

Here is a good exercise that will give you an excellent idea of just how special these two players have been. Take a look at the years in which all the other members of the top 10 played:

1. Cy Young: 1890-1911
2. Walter Johnson: 1907-1927
3. Pete Alexander: 1911-1930
4. Christy Mathewson: 1900-1916
5. Pud Galvin: 1875-1892
6. Warren Spahn: 1942-1965
7. Kid Nichols: 1890-1906
8. Clemens
9. Tim Keefe: 1880-1893
10. Maddux

Let's think about this for a second. Maddux and Clemens are the only guys on this list who are still alive. Aside from them, the most recent player on the list (Warren Spahn) retired in 1965. The second most recent (Pete Alexander) retired in 1930.

In sum, wow! This isn't like the homerun leaders in which many of the guys are recent (which will be increasingly true for the next several years). We haven't seen anything like this in a very, very long time.


I would just like to say that I am allergic to being fucked over.

The amount may be small in the grand scheme of things (in this case, about $90), but there is something about somebody or some company attempting to fuck me over that gets my blood boiling on sheer principle. (And I mean that my blood is boiling in the bad way, not the good way.) I'm pissed off and I recently read an excellent Harlan Ellison essay on how to deal with shit like this. But first, I'm going to stop by their place (assuming Charter Communications didn't also lie to me about the location of their Pasadena billing office, which I wouldn't put past them) to show them the credit card statement that verifies my claim.

If I lose some amount of money by my own stupidity or things just not working out, fine. But I will not stand for being fucked over in some arbitrary manner.

In sum: Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.

And I'm really pissed off right now. (Of course, I'm the one suffering because it's my time that has been wasted and will be wasted at least a decent amount more. Sigh...) I won't stand for this.

Voted off!

I showed up to my second day of jury duty this morning and was voted off (well, "kicked off" is more technically correct) within 15 minutes of the court going on record. And, as predicted by my friend Danny when I first got my summons, I essentially got voted off for being myself.

There are various ways one can get kicked off --- in my case, it was a peremptory decision by the defense attorney. People can get kicked off in various ways but after a few really obvious people were dumped in those matters, the prosecuting and defense attorney get to alternate in kicking people off. It was the prosecutor's turn first today and then the defense attorney kicked me off during his first turn. When he had questioned me on Friday, my predilection for devotion to logic and stubbornness (the ambiguous location of the word "devotion" is intentional) came through like a beacon of light. He asked me how comfortable I felt about facts that "come out of left field" as opposed to ones that follow a train of logical progression, and I answered truthfully that I am less comfortable with those. I assume that's why he didn't want me there --- I imagine some of the stuff he brings into evidence will have that flavor. I also commented on the arbitrariness (and thus essential meaninglessness) of the phrase "beyond a reasonable doubt", which is in part what I think led to the defense attorney's line of questioning in the first place.

When I left, my going through the walk of shame very much reminded me of seeing people do that when they get voted off in "The Weakest Link", which is why I like the 'voted off' phrasing of this whole thing. When I left my seat in the jury box, I accidently tripped while walking down the stairs, which I suppose was a bit fitting for me.

On Friday, I accidently did two things that were "awesome". I was supposed to answer about whether I had previous jury experience and I indicated that I have "no experience", which led to a comment by the judge about Caltech people being generally inexperienced in life. This was completely accidental (albeit accurate). The truly "awesome" moment, however, occurred a couple of minutes later when the judge asked me what subjects I study. I answered "math and physics" and the judge said I didn't have to dumb it down that much and that I should be more specific. So, I decided that I was just going to give the short buzzword statements of what my fields are (the type I put on my CV) and I answered "nonlinear dynamics and complex adaptive systems". The entire room immediately burst out in laughter; this includes the defendant, who was using a Spanish translator. The judge didn't bother asking me what these things actually are, which would have taken a bit of time to explain (which is why I decided to be short and sweet).

Anyway, no more jury duty for me for a very long time because I'll be living in the UK by the time I'd be eligible again.

Major League Baseball All Star rosters announced

Most of the rosters (except for one player from each league; for each of these, the fans get to vote for one of five people) for the Major League Baseball All Star game have now been selected. Here are links to the American League and National League rosters. Here is a discussion/poll regarding players who got snubbed.

As usual, there are some inexplicable decisions. (Well, I can explain them, but by "inexplicable" I really mean explanations that don't include statements about some person or group being retarded.) Why is Kevin Youkilis (aka, "The Greek God of Walks") not on the AL team? Why is Manny Ramirez on it? Where are Orlando Cabrera and Gary Sheffield? (Actually, the wtf award for biggest omission in the AL goes for not including Sheffield.)

In the NL, where is Chris Young of the Padres? (This one gets the NL's wtf award. Young should be on the short list for starting the game and he's not on the team. John Smoltz was selected for the team and certainly belongs on it by leaps and bounds, but not ahead of Chris Young!) John Maine, Edgar Renteria, Hanley Ramirez, and Jimmy Rollins were also snubbed. (However, shortstop J.J. Hardy of the Brewers was selected ahead of three shortsops -- Ramirez, Renteria, and Rollins -- who are all having much better seasons! Hardy was red hot earlier in the year, but he has completely stalled since then and those other guys are all doing much better.) Why is Brian McCann there ahead of Bengie Molina? Huh? (At least Russell Martin got the starting job he deserved! Damn straight!)

Sunday, July 01, 2007

More media sluttage

Here is the blurb on Legends III by Engineering & Science, one of Caltech's alumni publications.

This is a bit belated, but here is the book review that appeared in The Tech in May. Also, here is an an article from The Tech about the book's release.

By the way, when the judge of the case I might be on found out I worked at Caltech, her next sentence included a comment about Caltech pranks. In particular, she mentioned Rose Bowl hijinks. Under other circumstances, I would have mentioned the book.