March 31, 2005
The Biham-Middleton-Levine traffic model
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]
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 onesyes: 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) Finallythat smallish area you'd like to cover with rocks? You need about five times more rocks than you think.
March 29, 2005
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.
Experiment loading photos off flickr
Perhaps a way to lighten the load on this web serverstick all my photos on Flickr, instead, and load them like this:
Indian rock acorn grinding holes
Nice. It works.
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
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.
March 25, 2005
To listen is an effort, and just to hear is no merit. A duck hears also.
via Kiran Kedlaya
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.
March 24, 2005
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."
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.
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)
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.
March 20, 2005
...gameplay mechanics of mesmerizing fluidity, reduced to Pac-Man simplicity, through pure absurdity
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.
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.
Purists, take note: on the seq-fan list, it's noted that Bob ignored numbers that split over over line breaks in his printout.
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...
"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...
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 peoplea 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 thereit 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?
March 16, 2005
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.
At the University of Calgary
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.
"how did this linguistic specter come to haunt the dictionary?"
March 15, 2005
One of those UK-isms I guess:
March 14, 2005
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.
Roses are red
Violets are blue
This poem doesn't rhyme
So how about that?
Veselin Topalov on playing (and defeating) Garry Kasparov in Kasparov's final game of professional chess [Linares, Spain]
broadband video, 1 min 22 seconds
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.
How to have an out-of-body experience
I like the helpful illustrations (scroll down a bit).
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 somehowlong, 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.
March 10, 2005
March 09, 2005
Redefining hacking: what a seven year-old can do
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.
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 attentionI 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?
March 08, 2005
manic d, future tense
Book publishers mentioned at last night's reading at City Light's Bookstore:
Also: the moderator (Kevin) had reverential words for Rick Moody.
March 07, 2005
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.
Intertwingularity is not generally acknowledgedpeople keep pretending they can make things deeply hierarchical, categorizable and sequential when they can't. Everything is deeply intertwingled.
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...
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.
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.
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.]
Museo Emilio Greco, Orvieto
track 3, disk 1, jj johnson, the complete columbia small group sessions
24 July 1956
Via Eric Bermana 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 house76 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.
Il Duce arriva in Piazza del Duomo [Orvieto]
Pantheon dome & restoration scaffolding
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.
March 03, 2005
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).
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.'
Train station bookshop shopping bag
The Blues and the Abstract Truth
Recorded 23 February 1961
March 01, 2005
Rhumb Lines and Map Wars
A social history of the Mercator projection.
In today's mail: invitation to a Schobert Violin sonata
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