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March 31, 2005

The Biham-Middleton-Levine traffic model

google search

Stanford probability seminar abstract:

Alexander Holroyd (UBC and MSRI)
The Biham-Middleton-Levine Traffic Model
Initially a car is placed with probability p at each site of the two-dimensional integer lattice. Each car is equally likely to be East-facing or North-facing, and different sites receive independent assignments. At odd time steps, each North-facing car moves one unit North if there is a vacant site for it to move into. At even time steps, East-facing cars move East in the same way.
Simulations suggest that the model has remarkable self-organising properties, but rigorous results have been notoriously elusive. We make a step towards establishing a phase transition by proving that there is a phase in which traffic is completely jammed.

[Interesting, but it's going to be hard to drive around the block in this traffic model...]

[added later: a paper at the arXiv]

Posted by tplambeck at 10:43 PM

March 30, 2005

Mexican pebble toting

Bertrand Russell offered the following definition of "work":

Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth's surface relatively to other such matter; second, telling other people to do so.

Notes to self:

1) It's well worth spending an extra dollar to have someone other than yourself fill seventeen large-grocery-bag-sized gunny sacks with Mexican Pebble.

The big ones—yes: those, on the far right, please

2) Don't be fooled by that word, "pebble."

3) This is not that kind of pebbling problem you learned about in graduate school.

4) Finally—that smallish area you'd like to cover with rocks? You need about five times more rocks than you think.

Posted by tplambeck at 10:58 PM

The Institute for Figuring


Posted by tplambeck at 09:43 PM

Crocheting mathematicians

link [flickr photoset]

Posted by tplambeck at 09:41 PM

howard schickler fine art


Posted by tplambeck at 07:59 PM

UK place name quiz


I scored 5 of 10 (it's a hard quiz!)

Posted by tplambeck at 12:46 PM

Snow Moebius Strip


Posted by tplambeck at 09:31 AM

March 29, 2005

Broigul I ain't—let's face it

link [r crumb at the guardian]

Posted by tplambeck at 12:04 AM

March 28, 2005

Pop music spasm

I bought three CDs by a group called Cake. I like them quite a bit, particularly how unadorned the music is. The vocalist (I hesitate to call him a "singer") is crystal clear and each song has its own little story to tell. Why can't more people produce simple works that are attractive in this way? There's so much crap around.

Unwrapping the CDs, I found they had "Parental Advisory: Explicit Content" warning stickers on them. So satisfying!

Yet playing them in my office, I haven't noticed anything particularly naughty.

Posted by tplambeck at 10:48 PM

Experiment loading photos off flickr

Perhaps a way to lighten the load on this web server—stick all my photos on Flickr, instead, and load them like this:

Indian rock grinding holes
Indian rock acorn grinding holes

Nice. It works.

Posted by tplambeck at 10:30 PM

via The Economist

Humanoids on the march:


Posted by tplambeck at 08:23 PM

March 26, 2005

Today's (Saturday) NYT crossword

1 down: Yuppie's way up: CORPORATELADDER

2 down: London attraction: ROYALOPERAHOUSE

3 down: Baby boomers, some say: THEMEGENERATION

Posted by tplambeck at 09:38 PM

a phd and a failure



If you're a graduate student, step outside of the limited perspective of the Ph.D. world and look at other versions of success. Consider what you need to be happy and successful, not just your adviser's definition. Cover your bases by pursuing other interests or experiences during graduate school; don't put all of your eggs in one basket. Take advantage of workshops and support services, and demand them if they're not available. Finally, realize that sometimes changing your mind is the right decision.

Posted by tplambeck at 12:01 AM

March 25, 2005


To listen is an effort, and just to hear is no merit. A duck hears also.
Posted by tplambeck at 02:34 PM

via Kiran Kedlaya

topical anagram:

e.g., um—Iraq?

Posted by tplambeck at 01:42 PM

transparent laptop

My first try at taking a transparent laptop photo turned out better than I expected it would.


The effect is much better in the photo than in real life, since in the photo you can carefully choose the viewpoint.

Posted by tplambeck at 09:50 AM

March 24, 2005

via greg

transparent screens

Posted by tplambeck at 08:36 PM

Fischer expected in Iceland



Posted by tplambeck at 06:13 PM

Bobby Fischer to be released from Japanese detention


Last night the news from the Icelandic RJF Committee was tense. "There are critical hours/days ahead. As this very moment the Icelandic Ambassador in Tokyo is giving diplomatic notification of Fischer's new Icelandic citizenship to the Japanese authorities. We expect Bobby to be released any moment now, but that remains still to be seen and realized."
Then this morning an ecstatic message from Reykjavík: "Fantastic news, awesome! Bobby will be released at midnight GMT – in just 11 hours. The passed Fischer pawn has been shepherded home to the eighth rank, where it can be promoted into a piece, with complete freedom of movement."
Posted by tplambeck at 12:04 AM

March 23, 2005


This LaTeX-based slide preparation tool kicks butt, and beats PowerPoint all to hell. I said goodbye to Word about 4 years ago, and now I can give up PowerPoint.

What about Excel? I'd like to be done with it too.

Not that I can avoid paying for "Office" because I still want to be able to read other people's MS-based stuff. (I know, there are free readers for that, too, but I don't want to replace Word/Excel/PowerPoint with weaker, slightly buggy "compatible" versions). I just don't want to have to use this stuff at all, if possible.

Posted by tplambeck at 09:07 AM

March 21, 2005

The sports enthusiast

Owen: Da-da, do you want to play basketball?

Thane: Owen, I don't want to play basketball in the dark in the rain.

Owen: OK. (runs outside to play basketball in the dark in the rain)

Posted by tplambeck at 07:08 PM

Mark Finegold writes (at the Internet Chess Club)

I attended Nancy Cartwright's public talk at Oakland University on March 15. Since the fans demanded it, she performed the voices of several of her characters from "The Simpsons" -- Bart (duh), Nelson, Ralph, and Todd. Nancy says that the script for the oft-discussed Simpsons movie is now being written, and her feeling is that it will be two or three years until the movie premieres. During the audience Q&A, someone asked if Nancy had ever been asked about contributing story ideas or scripts. She said that she had no interest in working on that particular aspect of the show, although Dan Castellaneta (Homer) has co-written two scripts with his wife.
Posted by tplambeck at 04:37 PM

March 20, 2005

katamari damacy


...gameplay mechanics of mesmerizing fluidity, reduced to Pac-Man simplicity, through pure absurdity


Posted by tplambeck at 10:53 PM

The big bento box of unuseless japanese inventions


Posted by tplambeck at 10:51 PM

Abel Prize web site

Reload it for a new quotation (in the upper right hand corner). I reloaded at least thirty times without getting a duplicate quotation.

I like this one from Richard Feynman's Nobel lecture (11 December 1965) the best:

We have a habit in writing articles published in scientific journals to make the work as finished as possible, to cover up all the tracks, to not worry about the blind alleys or describe how you had the wrong idea first, and so on. So there isn't any place to publish, in a dignified manner, what you actually did in order to get to do the work.
Posted by tplambeck at 09:09 PM

March 19, 2005

From Bob's Poetry Magazine

Dear Readers, no one sent in poetry this month, so I just filled this issue with about a dozen pages of digits of π. Then I highlighted the first instance of a number n after the previous instance of n-1, which in turn has the same relationship.

Links: bob's poetry magazine and the current issue with the pi digits.

Purists, take note: on the seq-fan list, it's noted that Bob ignored numbers that split over over line breaks in his printout.

Posted by tplambeck at 12:22 PM

March 18, 2005

the crank generalized

Excerpt ("Mathematician untangles legendary problem"):

Karl Mahlburg, a young mathematician, has solved a crucial chunk of a puzzle that has haunted number theorists since the math legend Srinivasa Ramanujan scribbled his revolutionary notions into a tattered notebook. "In a nutshell, this [work] is the final chapter in one of the most famous subjects in the story of Ramanujan," says Ken Ono, Mahlburg's graduate advisor and an expert on Ramanujan's work...


Posted by tplambeck at 11:21 PM


"Digitization of ancient mathematical documents"


Not quite "ancient," I think (unless 1969 is ancient) but it did have a commutative semigroup paper by Tamura that I was looking for...

Posted by tplambeck at 06:15 PM

March 17, 2005

There is no such thing as Identity Theft

This is from today's New York Times:

SAN FRANCISCO, March 16 - The phone lines are seldom quiet for long at the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center. But lately they have been ringing almost continually.

The calls come from people like Warren Lambert, who phoned on Feb. 18, the same day he received a letter conveying alarming news from ChoicePoint, a company that compiles data on millions of citizens. It was only one of more than 140,000 such letters ChoicePoint has mailed in recent weeks, informing people like Mr. Lambert that computer files containing their names, addresses and Social Security numbers, among other critical personal data, had been inadvertently sold to "several individuals, posing as legitimate business customers."

Mr. Lambert, a 67-year-old retiree living in San Francisco, called the identity theft hotline to ask not only what immediate steps he should take but, more important, "what I'm going to be exposed to."

The immediate steps were clear, according to Jay Foley, who with his wife, Linda, runs the ID theft counseling center from their home in San Diego. Mr. Lambert needed to phone the three major credit reporting agencies to find out if any credit cards or other accounts had been opened in his name - none had, so far - and then place a "fraud alert" on his accounts, to warn potential creditors not to open additional accounts in Mr. Lambert's name without fuller verification.

But Mr. Lambert also needed to understand that the privacy breach meant he now had something similar to an incurable virus - a chronic condition he would need to monitor for the rest of his life.

"Once a person knows your name and Social Security number," Mr. Foley said, "what, short of killing that person or lobotomizing them, is going to prevent them from digging out a file with that information and going to town on you, whether a year down the road or in 10 years?

* * * *
Now. I would like to advance some simple principles:

1. We do not live in a world in which it is possible to "steal" an identity. My identity is my identity, no matter how many banks mess up and extend credit to people who happen to know my social security number and home address. There are no soul-sucking doppelgangers that can seize control of who I am, no matter how many times a financial institution would like me to start thinking of things that way. There is no such thing as identity theft.
2. When a bank or other financial institution damages my financial condition through no fault of my own, that bank or financial institution is to blame. Not me.
3. If the mistakes of a financial institution cause me material harm, I should be made whole by that financial institution. For example, if I spend 400 hours or even "the rest of my life" in the effort to "monitor" the malfeasance of financial institutions, they should pay me to do so. It's only fair.

There's a VISA ad (I think it is VISA) that shows people sitting in their houses, talking about their recent vacations and big-ticket purchases. The joke is that the voices don't match the people—a grandmother is heard talking about her snowboard purchase, a 250lb linebacker is giggling about a dress, etc. In this way we're encouraged to think of credit extended to ghostly presences that have taken over our very voices. What better way to capture the "Identity Theft" concept? The joke is that we know it's impossible. But the subtext is there—it could happen to you.

What the commercial should show instead is a fat banker smoking a cigarette, looking up a social security number on a Ukrainian web site in his "confirmation" of the "identity" of the 16-year old on the other end of the phone, a hacker working in his parent's garage. "OK, you're good to go, Mr., uh, Plumbacker...Welcome to Wells Fargo Bank home equity financing!"

If we're going to lobotomize someone, why not start at ChoicePoint?

Posted by tplambeck at 09:51 AM

March 16, 2005

From Counterpunch

Alexander Cockburn, at Counterpunch:

It's always eerie how quickly people accept sharply changed circumstances as normalcy, like paying 22 percent interest on a credit card debt and watching payments on all cards get hiked to the fiercest interest rate if they're late on one payment. Twenty years ago those were credit terms the FBI took to be proof of Mafia membership and got prosecutors to file charges of extortion.
Posted by tplambeck at 11:54 PM

At the University of Calgary

The Eugene Strens Recreational Mathematics Collection (search)

Posted by tplambeck at 01:11 PM

An unacted-upon idea

In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. —Emerson

I've often thought it would be good to write a book with the title "Booker Prize Nominee," or "29 Weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List." With appropriate graphical presentation of the title on the cover, it would help sales, surely.

Now Jincy Willet has beaten me to it with her book Winner of the National Book Award.

Posted by tplambeck at 12:52 PM

"how did this linguistic specter come to haunt the dictionary?"

the story of dord

Posted by tplambeck at 10:51 AM

March 15, 2005

Fly tipping

"Fly tipping?"

One of those UK-isms I guess:

google search / i'm feeling lucky

Posted by tplambeck at 07:51 PM

March 14, 2005

Pi Day

Roger points out that today is Pi Day. It's already 10:21pm in Palo Alto, so I guess I missed it.

I didn't even know there was a Pi Day until he pointed it out.

While we honor this abstraction, let me offer my nomination for the mathematics term most likely to cause snickering in a high school geometry class.

Posted by tplambeck at 10:58 PM

Cole's poem

Roses are red
Violets are blue
This poem doesn't rhyme
So how about that?

Posted by tplambeck at 09:22 PM

Veselin Topalov on playing (and defeating) Garry Kasparov in Kasparov's final game of professional chess [Linares, Spain]

broadband video, 1 min 22 seconds

Posted by tplambeck at 09:03 AM

March 13, 2005

A word I've been hearing


Huh? I heard it first at morning basketball. Then on the plane to Nebraska, and then again at the basketball tournament.

I thought people were saying "pyrometrics." Since the context of these overheard conversations always had something to do with physical fitness, a subject which for me signifies the inevitable decay of the body over time in its well-known, anniversarial fashion, I thought yes, "pyrometrics"—yes, I know that, the science of counting birthday candles.

But no, it has to do with weight lifting.

Posted by tplambeck at 10:43 PM

How to have an out-of-body experience


I like the helpful illustrations (scroll down a bit).

Posted by tplambeck at 10:14 PM

Nebraska Boys' High School Basketball tournament

I just came back from watching approximately 18 games of the Nebraska high school boys' basketball state tournament at the Bob Devaney Sports Center in Lincoln, Nebraska (three days; six games per day). My dad got an award (Flickr photostream) at halftime of one game, on Saturday night.

Quite a few high school girls were there (naturally), and in many of them I recognized a certain look that was familiar somehow—long, blonde, and straight hair about shoulder length, with a shiny, almost metalic sheen; eye shadow a bit overdone; overly prim bearing. I wasn't sure where I had seen it before.

On the flight back this morning I thought of it: the Paris Hilton look.

Posted by tplambeck at 09:50 PM

frozen sea on Mars


Posted by tplambeck at 09:36 PM

via puzzlers.org

congratulations to mosaic

Posted by tplambeck at 09:18 PM

March 10, 2005

Latest new words in the OED


Posted by tplambeck at 07:39 AM

March 09, 2005

Redefining hacking: what a seven year-old can do

be careful what you click

Posted by tplambeck at 11:35 PM

Orvieto Duomo


Posted by tplambeck at 10:13 PM

New #1 search term

The search term "company name generator" is now the #1 phrase landing people somewhere in the big mess of pages that form this web site.

Move over, "chocolate martini recipe."

The economy must be picking up.

Posted by tplambeck at 10:00 PM

City Lights Bookstore reading, part II

Bruce (photo) writes:

Thanks again for joining me for that reading (photo) [at City Lights Bookstore]. It turns out that the first reader was a (badly done) hoax. "Lucy Thomas" is a pseudonym for Dave Eggers [...] he likes messing with pretentious book reading people, and hired an actress to do the reading on Monday. She was supposed to be much more over the top, but ended up being plain ol' believable. So much for that hoax...

The "piece" that "Lucy" read was only about 60 seconds long. She approached the microphone, cleared her throat, and said, "I'm going to read my piece now." Then she paused about 10 seconds, and said it again: "I'm going to read my piece now." I have almost no memory of the rest of what she read, although I'm pretty sure the first sentence mentioned chocolate, and "darkness." She left the reading immediately after finishing, and hurried down the "Poetry Room" staircase (photo), which caught my attention—I don't go to many readings, but surely it has to be rude to read your own work, and then scamper down the stairs before hearing what others have to say?

Posted by tplambeck at 09:14 AM

March 08, 2005

Watch it Shred


Posted by tplambeck at 10:27 AM

Five days in solitary confinement for Bobby Fischer



Posted by tplambeck at 10:23 AM

manic d, future tense

Book publishers mentioned at last night's reading at City Light's Bookstore:

manic d press

future tense publishing

Also: the moderator (Kevin) had reverential words for Rick Moody.

Posted by tplambeck at 09:21 AM

March 07, 2005

Hans Bethe

In typical fashion, he bore down on the problems [of building the atomic bomb] like a battleship, studying them carefully and then crushing them. Colleagues often balked. "No, no, you're crazy!" Dr. Richard Feynman, a young scientist who eventually gained fame as an eccentric genius, protested one day. But Dr. Bethe plowed ahead, proving his idea exactly right. At Los Alamos, Dr. Bethe's group calculated such things as how much plutonium it would take to build an atom bomb, and whether the detonation would ignite the atmosphere and destroy the earth.


Posted by tplambeck at 03:18 PM


Ted Nelson:

Intertwingularity is not generally acknowledged—people keep pretending they can make things deeply hierarchical, categorizable and sequential when they can't. Everything is deeply intertwingled.


Posted by tplambeck at 11:42 AM

March 06, 2005

From home pages of various math departments

Two lame puns:

"Where everybody counts!"

"To the power of dreams!"

At another home page:

A dedicated staff of thirteen faculty members, ten in mathematics and three in computer science, serve the programs, with all but one having doctoral degrees in their disciplines.

[glad I'm not that "but one" person]

Another page helpfully explains that

The study of computer science involves programming, but it delves beyond just writing more complex or eye-catching programs...

["eye-catching" ?!]

Posted by tplambeck at 09:03 PM

USA mathematics departments


Posted by tplambeck at 08:48 PM

March 05, 2005

Before a violin assessment

I was hoping to sit in the audience to watch our kids (and others') play stringed instruments under pressure, but it wasn't allowed. Just the accompanist and the assessment person were allowed in.


Owen has his turn. When the assessment was over, we drove to the Stanford-Washington basketball game, with the kids changing into more comfortable clothes along the way. At the game, I sat with Cole.

Posted by tplambeck at 08:21 PM


After weaseling out of a completely lost position into a draw on the Internet chess club, my French opponent called me a blaireau.

I prefer being called a "weasel," of course, but still, I thanked him for the compliment.

Posted by tplambeck at 10:04 AM

March 04, 2005

Flickr photostream test

Is this the correct URL?

[If so, it should take you to a photo of a book in honor of Albert Einstein, "Some Strangeness in the Proportion", or, if not to that, to a more recent photo I've taken with my cameraphone.]

Posted by tplambeck at 05:47 PM

Museo Emilio Greco, Orvieto


Posted by tplambeck at 04:44 PM


track 3, disk 1, jj johnson, the complete columbia small group sessions

24 July 1956

Posted by tplambeck at 04:07 PM

Via Eric Berman—a found first-sound change

Jacksonville, Fla. (AP) When police went to check on a high school teacher who failed to show up at school for two days, they found him dead in his bathroom. And they found two bedrooms filled with marijuana plants.

Among the evidence police have carted from the Jacksonville, Florida house—76 pot plants, scales, and odor elimination device, rolling papers, a bong, several pipes and three tanks of carbon dioxide.

Police haven't determined what killed Terry Hannabas, but they say they don't suspect foul play.

Posted by tplambeck at 02:20 PM

Il Duce arriva in Piazza del Duomo [Orvieto]


Posted by tplambeck at 02:14 PM

Pantheon dome & restoration scaffolding

Posted by tplambeck at 02:04 PM



Posted by tplambeck at 01:58 PM

Wiener Q

Rather than typing in that quotation from Norbert Wiener's Ex-Prodigy autobiography, I let my new fax-printer-copier try to recognize it, automatically:

Mathematics is too arduous and uninviting a field to appeal to those to whom it does not give great rewards. These rewards are of exactly the same character as those of the artist. To see a difficult, uncompromising material take living shape and meaning is to be Pygmalion, whether the material is stone or hard, stonelike logic. To see meaning and understanding come where there has been no meaning and no understanding is to share the work of a demiurge. No amount of technical correctness and no amount of labor can replace this creative moment, whether in the life of a mathematician or in that of a painter or musician. Bound up with it is a judgment of values, quite parallel to the judgment of values that belongs to the painter or the musician. Neither the artist nor the mathematician may be able to tell you what constitutes the difference between a significant piece of work and an inflated trifle; but if he is never able to recognize this in his own heart, he is no artist and no mathematician.

I had to correct a few OCR errors, but it worked pretty well I think. Certainly better than I expected.

Posted by tplambeck at 01:48 PM

March 03, 2005

Mechanics' Institute


This afternoon, I visited the Mechanics' Institute in San Francisco, where they have a world-famous chess club, lending library, and a beautiful spiral staircase near the back of the building.

I spent a happy hour in the library reading several chapters of Norbert Wiener's Ex Prodigy. I photocopied two pages of it having to do with creativity in mathematics, but am too tired right now to type them in. It's a very interesting book I think. I was sorry to leave it in the library and return to Palo Alto.


I took these two photos with my cellphone. I'm starting to like my cellphone (a Motorola Razr).

Posted by tplambeck at 09:55 PM

Dictionary of Old Hobo Slang


Posted by tplambeck at 12:48 PM

March 02, 2005

From The Inferno

Later, when I was dead, St. Francis came
to claim my soul, but one of the Black Angels
said, 'Leave him. Do not wrong me. This one's name

went into my book the moment he resolved
to give false counsel. Since then he has been mine,
for who does not repent cannot be absolved;

nor can we admit the possibility
of repenting a thing at the same time it is willed,
for the two acts are contradictory.'

Miserable me! with what contrition
I shuddered when he lifted me, saying: 'Perhaps
you hadn't heard that I was a logician.'

Posted by tplambeck at 09:47 PM



Posted by tplambeck at 12:39 PM

Train station bookshop shopping bag


Posted by tplambeck at 09:11 AM

The Blues and the Abstract Truth


Recorded 23 February 1961

Posted by tplambeck at 08:54 AM

March 01, 2005

Rhumb Lines and Map Wars

A social history of the Mercator projection.


Posted by tplambeck at 10:02 AM

For sale: Teepees


[when did the spelling change to tipi? —TP]

Posted by tplambeck at 09:48 AM

In today's mail: invitation to a Schobert Violin sonata


A typo?


Posted by tplambeck at 09:38 AM

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