September 30, 2004
September 29, 2004
Device to Root Out Evil
From the Stanford Daily, 28 September 2004, pg 1, "University censors Sculpture:"
[Oppenheim] joked that the title of the cancelled Stanford sculpture, Device to Root out Evil, which caused him trouble with the University, has grown ironically appropriate.
"It really did root out evil in a strange, circuitous way," Oppenheim mused. "The President [John Hennessy] and others have conservative views and are afraid of a work of art, and now we know about it. It really worked."
This paper airplane flaps its wings when thrown.
I found the design here. Yesterday, I messed up my first attempt at making it, but this afternoon Cole and Owen and I succeeded.
It worksit's best to throw it in a quiet place so that you can enjoy the soft sound of the flappingsomething like the sound of several pigeons taking off from a ledge, high above you.
The design calls for a penny to be taped into the bulgy part at the bottom. The airplane hardly veers off to the side at all when it's thrownCole and I were practically playing catch with it.
Ten years as a card carrying member
Yes, ten years, not nine. I counted with my fingers.
From Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, I (1945):
106. Here is is difficult as it were to keep our heads upto see that we must stick to the subjects of our every-day thinking, and not go astray and imagine that we have to describe extreme subtleties, which in turn we are after all unable to describe with the means at our disposal. We feel as if we had to repair a torn spider's web.
Forma Urbis Romae
From the Stanford Computer Science Newsletter on my desk:
And now, let us return to the continuing saga of Professor Marc Levoy and his Indiana Jones adventures trying to assemble that ancient map of Rome (see last year's newsletter). In March, Marc, his Ph.D. student David Koller, and Professor Jennifer Trimble (Marc's collaborator in the Classics department) traveled to Rome to present a sequence of talks at a conference devoted specifically to "New Discoveries Related to the Forma Urbis Romae." The conference was attended by every leading Italian-speaking Roman archaeologist in the world.
According to all reports, David's talk on "solving the puzzle" was the runaway hit of the day. Earlier talks had focused on one or another fragment of the map; for example, proposing a new placement for the fragment, re-interpreting the meaning of its incised architecture, etc. By contrast, David started his talk by throwing up a slide listing 50 proposed new matches. This drew audible gasps from the audience. He then marched through the list, spending less than a minute on each match. Such things are simply not done in that research community. The murmuring of the audience grew with each match. When he finished, there was loud and sustained applause, so much that David began blushing. Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, director of the British School in Rome was heard exclaiming, "Today changes everything; the study of this map will never be the same!"
September 28, 2004
Walking, red and pink
From the Westchester (New York) Magazine (October 2004), "The Eight Wonders of Westchester," p. 71:
The extraordinary 134-year-old Armour-Stiner Octagon House in Irvington: You can see the red-and-pink painted structure walking along the Croton Aqueduct; the house resembles nothing you've seen before.
[via: Ditto at the NPL]
WSJ Bushism of the Week
"Let me put it to you bluntly. In a changing world, we want more people to have control over your life."
Many people never bother to change the default password on their Telecom answer phone service (it's the last four digits of the phone number): this simple fact has provided me with hours of wholesome fun. I once broke into the Presbyterian Support Services answer phone and re-recorded their message word-for-word, but with an oddly camp Polish accent. At the end of the message I sung a little song of my own devising. I spent a happy afternoon listening to the messages left by bemused parishioners; the vicar had re-recorded the message by the end of the day.
"A flash of fire went through the car along with a red flare..."
Moon, or temporary clump?
I bought Gloria an iPod mini:
Cole wanted a book on knots:
I've liberated a shell that's been sitting on a dresser in our bedroom. Now it's in my office, instead. It's got a pattern on it that looks like output from a cellular automaton:
I don't know what type of shell it is. Do you? (answer in the comments, perhaps). I bought this book for myself:
September 26, 2004
grid rage: The total frustration that comes from being unable to complete the New York Times Saturday (or Sunday) crossword puzzle. [Nominated by Gene Newman for "Buzzword of the Day"; definition via: a puzzlers.org mailing list]
Some good clues from yesterday's (Saturday) NYT, created by Brian Walden:
Hostile takeover symbol (10): PIRATEFLAG
It's not all fluff (11): MERINGUEPIE
Appropriate (5): COOPT [Gave me some grief]
Put out, in the old days (8): ETHERIZE [Good to know your TS Eliot]
Former carrier to Lima (8): AEROPERU [Not really such a great clue, and I hadn't heard of it, anyway, but once you've written that word down it has a way of echoing in the mind like an Incan wind chime: "aeroperu...aeroperu....aeroperu...aeroperu my apercu..."]
Cole (age 9) told me
Author Silverstein (4): SHEL
But I had already written that one in myself. Really. Cole also offered two six-letter solutions for #1 Across:
(SAHARA and MOJAVE), but I refused to write either in (we were waiting for his violin lesson). "Why?" he asked. "Because I don't know any of the other words in that corner, yet." He wasn't satsified, but I was right: the answer proved to be LIBYAN.
No rage today, but three pen colors and (part of Sunday) were required:
Mistakes requiring significant ink overlay scribbling:
13 Down: Father of Deimos (4): I wrote in MARS immediately, thinking of the moon of the planet. But the answer is ARES.
41 Down: Whodunit necessity (6): I wrote in CORPSE, fully satisified that it would be correct since it went well with PIXAR, just the left of it. But the answer was MOTIVE. Two words with second letter O and final E.
I've noticed in my webserver logs that my entries about crossword puzzles are bringing people to this web site who are searching for answers to older NYT puzzles (they get republished in other newspapers a few weeks later). For example, a good 100 of you have come by looking for the answer to Mrs Reed's creator.
Now, now, it is CHEATING to use the web to search for crossword puzzle answers, friends. You are not allowed to
1) use a pencil
2) ask your wife
3) pick up any book
4) touch a computer
How else can a good case of grid rage settle in?
September 23, 2004
A speedy guy I met last year, about this time of year, in Roger Mathiesen's office at Kearney High School, in Kearney, Nebraska. He was thinking of applying to Stanford. Looks like he is a Jayhawk, instead.
Some Silver Atrocity
Bits and googlelinks from Bernard Shaw: Collected Letters 1926-1950, edited by Dan H. Laurence:
"I never grieve," Shaw iterated in letters of condolence, "and I never forget."
Nice thought, nice use of "iterate," and nice quotation from that definition:
Nor Eve to iterate Her former trespass feared.
taoiseach*bouyant billions*wesleyan connexional school*robert donat*sir jacob epstein*pearson's magazine
Shaw writes to Ernest Thesiger, 24 July 1936:
My Dear Ernest: Let me explain about birthday presents. I am not insensible to the good feeling that prompts them; but I like them to be useful and friendly. Also they should be personal. A presentation into which the subscribers have been blackmailed is abhorrent to me. It results in some silver atrocity that I dont wantthat no human being could ever possibly want (except to pawn)and that I shall never see again. For instance, the Nobel Prize. Eight ounces of solid gold, with a stamp of less merit than a postmark. I havnt the slightest notion where it is; and its possession has never given me a moment's gratification.
September 22, 2004
Monster Houses and Albert Einstein
From the Palo Alto Weekly, 10 September 2004, "Proposed Subdivision Divides Neighbors"
Migdal vigorously defended the plans as completely conforming with Palo Alto standards.
"These are not 5,000-, 6,000-, or 7,000-square foot monster homes. This is below the average home in Palo Alto," Migdal said of the plan, which calls for homes of 2,650- to 2850-square feet. "They should not be called 'monster.' They are not monstrous."
One resident who supported Migdal said the city needed new development to attract intellectual capital to the area.
But another resident later retorted: "Albert Einstein's house in Princeton, NJit's not two story."
Fox News poster
September 21, 2004
Some more ways to feel good about Bush winning the election
1. Think on geological timescales.
2. Recall all the times things looked bad, then turned out good. Or when they seemed to be good, but were in fact bad.
3. Petite Syrah.
4. Decide that Teresa Heinz Kerry must be an anagram for something evil. [YE ERR: THE ARK IS ZEN, maybe?]
5. Learn macrame, kick boxing, or the ferns of California.
6. Exercise all the time.
7. Effect change locally, perhaps by doing the dishes, or cleaning the catbox.
8. Be thankful no Kerry signage remains to be removed from cars, or front lawns.
9. Schadenfreude: Bush is going to have a horrible second term, and it's going to be fun to watch the world blow up. Remain confident I won't be caught up in it myself.
10. Cryptic crosswords.
Road to Reality
I talked to Tom Rodgers today on the phone and he told me about this new book by Roger Penrose, apparently not planned for release in the US until 2005, but already available in the UK (that's amazon.co.uk in the link).
It's over 1000 pages.
That's a reality check. If I get it, I'll put it underneath my copy of Misner, Thorne and Wheeler's Gravitation.
Some ways to feel good about Bush winning the election
1. Move to New Zealand
2. Have an abiding, irrational faith in the collective wisdom of the good people of the United States.
3. Watch more Fox News.
4. Recall Clinton's disappointing final four years. Project negative images onto Kerry.
5. Withdraw from worldly concerns, ignoring the trouble. Eat good, organic vegetables. Study Buddhism.
9. Cancel subscription to New York Times.
10. Cancel subscription to The Nation.
September 20, 2004
September 19, 2004
Advice to a six- and nine-year-old who wouldn't eat their dinner
"Eat it, don't critique it."
1 pm: Giants game
It ended up being a beautiful day at the Giants game. No sign of rain at all.
We sat almost at the top of the stadium, behind home plate, and in the shade.
The Giants won, 4-2. Barry Bonds did not start, but pinch hit in the eighth (and was intentionally walked). The minivan was almost at full capacity for the drive home.
A new flavor
I've got a better, more descriptive term for how these taste:
10am: rain in SF
Sogo to the Giants game at 1pm, or not?
September 18, 2004
Three Dimensional Printing
Create "unmachinable" geometryBuild the impossible
September 17, 2004
Two nights too early
We have Giants tickets for Sunday (two days from now), and Owen was hoping Barry Bonds would hit his 700th home run then. Bonds had 699 going into tonight's game, with the Padres. Owen was listening to it on the radio. The homerun came the 4th.
Owen wasn't pleased.
Original release date: March 4, 1956
September 16, 2004
No warring elves or interminable quests, please
From Publisher's Weekly:
The talented and prolific VanderMeer (Veniss Underground) and co-editor Roberts have here created perhaps the oddest theme anthology in the history of fantasy literature. The heavily illustrated volume does exactly what its title implies, collecting short, fictional medical descriptions of such diseases as Ballistic Organ Syndrome, Delusions of Universal Grandeur and Razornail Bone Rot. This is on the whole an amazing book. Not for the faint of heart, the easily shocked or those who see fantasy fiction primarily in terms of warring elves and interminable quests, VanderMeer's anthology plays delicious postmodernist games that are sure to delight the discerning (and slightly warped) reader.
Your business card reflects who you are
Earlier this year, I met the magician and inventor Mark Setteducati, who was one of the organizers of G4G6.
Trying to find a landscaper's phone number, I dropped a bunch of business cards on my desk, and Mark's flipped open.
Some of things Mark invents (and patents) are magic tricks. But wouldn't it ruin things to have to reveal magical secrets in patents? Mark seems to have found a solution in the obscure language permitted to patent writers. Here's the abstract to his Spectator failure trick involving suspension illusion, US Patent 5,409,420:
A magician's prop comprised of a flat body having an elongate body portion extending along a central axis rearward from a head and elongate lateral portions extending laterally and forward from locations on respective opposite sides of the body portion behind the head to free end portions protruding a small distance in front of the head. A ballast weight and a magnetic element of less weight are concealed in respective free end portions, with respective centers of gravity thereof spaced in front of the head. The resultant weight distribution of the body is such that, when extending horizontally, the surreptitious addition and removal of a hidden magnetic balance weight to the magnetic element by a magician's sleight of hand sets the object into and out of balance extending horizontally from a single pylon positioned under the head, the improbable horizontal balance providing an illusion that a portion of the body remote from the head is suspended. A second magnetic element can be provided to obtain an alternative point of adherence for the balance weight and a point of balance alternative to the head. The ballast weight can be omitted and a third magnetic element and a second balance weight.
Yeah, that pretty much spoils it.
September 15, 2004
In the mail, the "2004 Presidential Campaign Photograph," from John Kerry and John Edwards.
It says "Registered Photo Number 160027079" on it. It was "Prepared Exclusively" for me.
Then, at the bottom of the photo, some alarming chicken-counting:
That just has to be bad luck. I might as well have a received a photo of a smiling Shrub with a newspaper over his head:
I just mailed the DNC another $200.
I just noticed that two of the books stacked on my desk have flawed spines.
Howie's book says "Semigroup Thoery".
Clifford and Preston's title is upside down.
The midstream font change in Baader and Nipkow is intentional I think, but it's still dumb. It's a good book, but it should have been titled "Term Rewriting." Robert Graves is probably the last person to whom "All That" should be permitted.
Rigatoni vs Penne
Gloria suggested that I combine the contents of two pasta boxes, each 1/4 full, to save space in the pantry.
Sowas it to be rigatoni posing as penne, or the reverse?
Let's say you're looking for rigatoni, and you find penne in the box. If you're like me, you would think:
"Ahhere's something interestingthere's penne here, not rigatoni!"
But if you're looking for penne, and find rigatoni, that's different:
"OK, who's the idiot who put the rigatoni in here?"
I decided to pour the penne into the rigatoni.
"Excuse me, may I have your seat?"
NYT article on a Milgram experiment:
Dr. Milgram, who died in 1984 at age 51, got the idea for the experiment from a conversation with his mother-in-law, who complained to him one day that no one had offered her a seat on the subway. "It occurred to me: What would have happened had she asked for a seat?" he said in a 1974 interview in the magazine Psychology Today.He suggested the experiment to one of his graduate student classes, but the students recoiled. Finally, one student, Ira Goodman, volunteered to try it with a partner. But instead of coming back after 20 trials as he had promised, he returned with only 14. When Dr. Milgram asked him what had happened, he said that it was just too difficult.Dismissing his students' fears, Dr. Milgram set out to try it himself. But when he approached his first seated passenger, he found himself frozen."The words seemed lodged in my trachea and would simply not emerge," he said in the interview.Retreating, he berated himself: 'What kind of craven coward are you?"A few unsuccessful tries later, he managed to choke out a request."Taking the man's seat, I was overwhelmed by the need to behave in a way that would justify my request," he said. "My head sank between my knees, and I could feel my face blanching. I was not role-playing. I actually felt as if I were going to perish."
Defending the quadratic
I put this matter on the agenda today because I have been troubled since the president of a teachers' union suggested a couple of months ago that mathematics might be dropped as a compulsory subject by pupils at the age of 14. Mr. Bladen of the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers was given a lengthy slot on the "Today" programme to present his views. He cited the quadratic equation as an example of the sort of irrelevant topic that pupils study. I had hoped that the Government would make a robust rebuttal, but there was no defence either of mathematics in general or the quadratic equation in particular...
September 14, 2004
The Sound Cannon
From one news story (my bold marks added):
The resulting ultrasonic sound wave can then be directed out in a tightly controlled beam. Wherever the beam makes contact with air, the air molecules interact in a way that isolates the original audible sound. So if you're standing in front of the ultrasonic sound wave, you can hear the sound. If you're a few inches away, you hear nothing.
This cuts down on ambient noise and gives listeners the somewhat eerie effect that the noise is inside their heads.
"We like to say we create silence instead of noise," said Norris. "You don't need to fill the space with a whole cacophony of noise."
September 13, 2004
Drudge seems to take particular delight in combing the AP for bad photos of Democratic politicians. It's hard work, since most of the funny looking guys are Republican. But Al Gore sure doesn't look too healthy in this one. He looks like he's gained perhaps 100 lbs in four years. A little too much pasta primavera? From the AP article:
Al Gore's stiff jokes are gone now, replaced by recount jokes. The cautious campaigner of 2000 is gone, too, replaced by a fire-breathing Bush basher.
When Gore delivered his latest-in-a-series slam at the Republicans last week, faulting Vice President Dick Cheney for "sleazy and despicable" criticism of the Democrats, a White House spokesman dismissively responded: "Consider the source."Well, Gore used to be the vice president. And, as he likes to say, he used to be the next president of the United States.
Now, he is Al Gore, private citizenunleashed.
they go plucked
From the archives: pleasevote.com
Walking to the Sky
Photo: Robert Stolarik for The New York Times
September 12, 2004
September 10, 2004
This Schubert Dance (Op 33, D. 783, No. 10), available in the Dover book "Schubert Dances," seems to be suitable for endless improvisation.
You could play it with ice tongs and it would still sound good.
Playing through these, I started putting smiley faces by the ones I liked immediately or thought otherwise admirable in some way. About a year later Cole asked, "Why do they all have smiley faces?"
I said, they don't; just the ones I like. But then he challenged me to find one that didn't have the smiley. Not so easy.
From the archives (Jan 2002): I tried to compose a Schubert Waltz.
I spent all day TeXing a big stack of labor day weekend scribblings on wild misere games and semigroup presentations. I only got through about half it. It gave me a sore neck.
I need a chiropractor, or perhaps only some consulting time with someone who understands ideal extensions. Is there a semigroup theorist in the house?
This is from a 2002 paper Semigroups: Past, Present and Future, by John Howie:
In 1952, in the Preface to the second edition of The Theory of Groups, A. G. Kurosh  wrote:The concept of the factor group and the homomorphism theorem appear in the book long before the concept of a normal subgroup is introduced. This interchange is not due to the needs of group theory itself and has been made only in order to expose the triviality of those all-too-numerous generalizations of the group concept whose theory does not go much further than the homomorphism theorem.Once in a while that is quoted to me by group theorists as an argument against studying semigroup theory. It may be an argument against studying some other algebras, but I hope today to convince anyone who needs convincing that Kurosh, if he did have semigroup theory in mind, was wrong, even in 1952. Maybe he had an excuse for being wrong: it would be surprising if he had not known of the work of Suskevic  in 1928, in which the structure of what we now call completely simple semigroups was elucidated, but I suppose that the cataclysm of the Second World War followed by the tragedy of the Cold War might have left him unaware of more recent developments.
What is meant by good mathematics? If you take the view that "good" can apply only to mathematics that is directly applicable to physics or engineering or whatever, then I suggest that you leave quietly now. I am speaking to those who, like me, regard Andrew Wiles as one of the heroes of the late twentieth century, despite the fact that the truth of Fermat's theorem is, so far as we know, irrelevant to the building of bridges, the design of computers or the classification of elementary particles.
September 09, 2004
From a Dr Bronner's Magic Soaps label [PDF]:
Rinse towel in plain hot water and massage again. Breathe deeply! Health is Wealth. Within 9 minutes you feel fresh, mint-clean, saving 90% of your hot water & soap, ready to help teach the whole Human race the Moral ABC of All-One-God-Faith! For we're All-One or none! ALL-ONE! ALL-ONE!
Biotch vs Biotech
Banff International Research Station
A combinatorial games conference I'm sure I'll attend next summer. Inshallah.
I like the idea of an "International Research Station." It makes me think of an outpost on the South Pole, or on a moon of Saturn perhaps.
Today in the Safeway parking lot, I saw a car with a simple bumper sticker reading "Blame Canada."
Palm Leaf Hat Size
Since the label just fell out of my Palm Leaf hat, I thought I'd better save it for future reference.
September 08, 2004
I wondered what my old friend from graduate school Oren Patashnik was up to, and I found that he recently prepared an interesting report on the question of whether Spanish curved red tile roofs are really so safe in California wildfires.
More Hard Crime
A Cultural History of Causality:
Science, Murder Novels, and Systems of Thought
Cloth | September 2004 | $29.95 | ISBN: 0-691-11523-0
A couple of blurbs from the Princeton University Press web site:
"Historians of late have been returning to the scene of the crime. And if murder is where bodies and histories cross, then there is no better place than the scene of the crime to take the temperature of modernity. Stephen Kern's richly informed investigation of causality's strange history shows why."--Mark Seltzer, author of Serial Killers: Death and Life in America's Wound Culture and True Crime
"Kern gives us in this book a brilliant history of modern causality, which he traces in fiction from the linear unities of the realist novel through the indirection and uncertainty of modernism. He hits on the ingenious device of analyzing literary treatments of murder to illuminate the changing psychiatric, social, linguistic, and biological theories of cause mirrored in the history of contemporary philosophy and science. This is a text of incomparable richness, ingenuity, and careful reasoning."--Robert Nye, Thomas Hart and Mary Jones Horning Professor of the Humanities and Professor of History, Oregon State University
September 07, 2004
Hard Case Crime
Hard Case Crime
From the "About" page:
From World War II through the 1960s, paperback crime novels were one of the fastest-selling categories in book publishing. Millions of readers snapped up hundreds of millions of books by well-known authors like Erle Stanley Gardner and Mickey Spillane, as well as by promising young writers like Lawrence Block, Elmore Leonard, and Ed McBain. Today, Block, Leonard, and McBain still make the bestseller lists with each new hardcoverbut the pulp novels that first captured the public's imagination weren't hardcovers. They were paperbacks you could fit in your back pocket, with jaw-dropping cover paintings and bare-knuckled prose that grabbed you by the collar with the first sentence and held you until the last page. No one's published books like that in years.
September 03, 2004
kuvia ja linkkejä
I'd be saying that too if I saw this thing crossing the road ahead of me.
[If the previous link doesn't work, click here].
I Meet the Manhunter
Outside the loft this morning on Bryant St in San Francisco, across from the Hall of Justice, I recognized Mackenzie Green, a bail bond writer (and subject of Tad Friend's New Yorker article from about one year ago, "Manhunter"):
Green loves her work. "When she fills out a bail application," Friend writes, "she often jots down the barest of information, no more than the defendant's name, address, and phone numberseeming not only to dare her clients to run but also to give them a sporting head start." Green says, "Writing bonds is really boring. But chasing skips is an incredibly exciting head game," adding, "Theythe courts, the cops, the phone companyhave all these rules, and if you're an adrenaline junkie like me you have to beat them to get your high...
She was standing with a big guy whom I also recognized from a photo in the magazine article. I blogged it last year (scroll down a bit).
They didn't look like they were chasing anyoneperhaps they were just waiting to see if someone they might like to chat with was about to emerge from the Hall of Justice, across the street. So I introduced myself and shook their hands.
"Well, I'm not on the run so I thought I would introduce myself," I said. "How's business?" I asked.
She laughed and said, "Not bad."
RHEA begat HERA (it was in the NYT crossword a few days ago).
This started me on a search for other parental anagrams. I thought of one in bed but unfortunately
DA, MA did not beget ADAM (he had other origins).
I suppose Genesis should be also respected in that
GOD begat DOG.
Then I searched for more familial relationships and discovered some disturbing genealogy:
HIS FUNNY UNCLE ARTURO = YOUR FRENCH AUNT LINUS
Sly Cooper 2
[From the plambeck.org archives (Sept 2002): Sly Cooper 1].
[Added 7 Sept 2004: Bruce points out this Seattle Times article recounting Suckerpunch history.]
An even better collective noun
"A wunch of bankers." (via Roger Phillips on a puzzlers.org mailing list).
September 02, 2004
No Child Left Behind
At dr crazy:
I was watching an interview on MSNBC with the communications director of the Bush Campaign and witnessed the following:
Interviewer: One of the things that people are saying about this election is that single, working women are going to be the swing voters. What does the Republican party have to do to get the "Sex and the City" vote?
CD: Well, I think that single mothers care a lot about President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" program.
Interviewer: Yes, that matters to single mothers, but what about single working women without children? What plans of Bush's speak to them?
CD: Well, I don't think that people vote based on just one issue, but I do think that President Bush's programs and policies are very attractive to single mothers without children.
September 01, 2004
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