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September 29, 2005

Pumpkin Globes!

Originally uploaded by thane.
I can't get enough pumpkin globes!
Posted by tplambeck at 11:23 PM


Originally uploaded by hollistar.
I keep expecting flickr to get overrun by boring photos. I'm still waiting.
Posted by tplambeck at 12:12 AM

September 28, 2005

Chair designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for the Larkin Building

FLW chair

The Larkin Building was cool (it was demolished in 1950), but I'm not sure I would have enjoyed sitting in these Uncomfortable Aeron Prototypes. Leaning back on that that third leg at TGIF after a long day of filing soap dossiers for the Larkins, I probably would have spun backward and spilled my brewski all over the next clerk's paperweight. Not that people did too much of that TGIF thing, back then, I imagine.

From Carter Wiseman's book Shaping a Nation: Twentieth Century American Architecture and its Shapers:

The 1904 Larkin Company Administration Building in Buffalo included built-in metal furniture, the first wall-hung toilets, and an unprecedented air-conditiioning system. Wright rejoiced in calling the Larkin an example of the "genuine and constructive affirmation of the new Order of the Machine Age."
Posted by tplambeck at 10:27 PM

September 27, 2005

Inspiring Human Triumph

Mike Cameron: I don't know you very well, you know, but I wanted to ask you - how'd you get Diane Court to go out with you?

Lloyd Dobler: I called her up.

Mike Cameron: But how come it worked? I mean, like, what are you?

Lloyd Dobler: I'm Lloyd Dobler.

Mike Cameron: This is great. This gives me hope! Thanks!

Google Answers: How do I ask out the coffee girl?

Posted by tplambeck at 03:47 PM

Single links considered harmful in blog

Since its performance now seems to be acceptable, I've decided to start keep track of bookmarks in del.icio.us again.

So—no more blog entries with just a single link in them (or a link with a few words of useless text). Instead, be my guest and head over here, instead. I'll be over there myself.

I'll save the blog for other, more... uh, (valuable?)..err, important? things.

Posted by tplambeck at 09:39 AM

September 25, 2005

September 24, 2005

The world is a cooler place than I thought...

...if it's really true that there's going to be a facility built in Morgan Hill "focused on workshops in all areas of the mathematical sciences" that's going to look like this:



Posted by tplambeck at 11:51 PM

thirty-six views of mt fuji [1852]


ando hiroshige

Posted by tplambeck at 04:42 PM


read about bloop

listen to bloop

Posted by tplambeck at 11:25 AM

September 23, 2005

IRS audit: the conclusion

[the prologue]

* * *

Beowulf got ready,
donned his war-gear, indifferent to death;
his mighty, hand-forged, fine-webbed mail
would soon meet with the menace underwater.
It would keep the bone-cage of his body safe:
no enemy's clasp could crush him in it,
no vicious armlock choke his life out.
To guard his head he had a glittering helmet
that was due to be muddied on the mere bottom
and blurred in the upswirl. It was of beaten gold,
princely headgear hooped and hasped
by a weapon-smith who had worked wonders
in days gone by and adorned it with boar-shapes;
since then it had resisted every sword.
And another item lent by Unferth
at that moment of need was of no small importance:
the brehon handed him a hilted weapon,
a rare and ancient sword named Hrunting.
The iron blade with its ill-boding patterns
had beeen tempered in blood. It had never failed
the hand of anyone who hefted it in battle,
anyone who had fought and faced the worst
in the gap of danger. This was not the first time
it had been called to perform heroic feats.


* * *

A few flecks of brain-matter on the chain-mail, but still a victory—

$0 due.

Take that, Mr Grendel IRS.

* * *
"You're lucky they didn't pick you for the 'research program.' It's a line-by-line audit. The IRS takes months and months with it. We CPAs like to call it autopsy without the benefit of death."

Posted by tplambeck at 11:59 PM

September 22, 2005

Hacked out of a paper by Terence Parr

After condemning all CS "systems" research to the intellectual dustbin over fifteen years ago after finally passing my PhD comps [Don Knuth: "Well, sometimes you really hate a subject. For example, I decided I really hated Astronomy. I failed the first exam. I hated that, so I decided I would become the world's best Astronomy student, and would get the highest scores on the exams. So I did that." (Easy for him to say, I thought, but weirdly, on my last try at passing them before getting kicked out of Stanford, I did get the highest score. Message from DEK: "I see you passed with the highest score. See?")], I'm suddenly reading this stuff and finding it interesting. This is from the paper Enforcing Strict Model-View Separation in Template Engines, by Terence Parr, the author of the excellent parser-generator tool Antlr:
* * * *
I kept a few simple rules and tests in mind to evaluate entanglement [of views, models, and controllers]:

1) Could I reuse this template with a completely different model?

2) Could a [web] designer understand this template?

3) If it looks like a program, it probably is.

4) If the template can modify the model, it's part of the program.

5) If order of execution is important, it's part of the program.

6) If the template has computations or logic dependent on model data, it's part of the program.

7) The types are important, the template is a program.
* * *
You'll find this paper has an excellent discussion of why having over-expressive templates inside HTML or the reverse (over-expressive templates driving HTML output) are both states of sin. Then some concrete proposals what to do to separate model, view and controller information [just those three words, "model-view-controller" bring on a tinge of the old nausea] in dynamic HTML page generation. By limiting the expressiveness of the templates and following some relatively simple, hard and fast compartmentalization rules to avoid the "entanglement," he's made it sound so simple.

I feel like I can see how people could build Flickr, Amazon, and other complicated web apps now. [Not that I want to, or have to, thank God].

Posted by tplambeck at 09:53 PM

The Ginternet

"This is huge. It's scary. They're not fooling around."

—Hunter Newby, chief strategy officer with carrier connection specialist Telx, on Google's telecom aspirations.

link (via langreiter)

Posted by tplambeck at 03:37 PM

Bruce writes

Dave is famous!
Posted by tplambeck at 02:45 PM

Andrew Wiles

It often comes as a surprise to non-mathematicians that we do place such a strong emphasis on originality. One common reaction is that mathematics has all been known for years; all we do is to perform calculations. This could not be further from the truth. Firstly there are many problems, old and new, that have not been solved. Secondly the creation of new mathematics enables us to dramatically simplify and clarify the old results. Calculus is now routinely taught in high school; however, in the seventeenth century it could not have been understood except by a very, very few eminent mathematicians in the world. This is not because people are smarter now, but because our language is clearer...


Posted by tplambeck at 02:42 PM

The shape of iPod nano

A question that's been nagging at me:

What is the iPod nano shaped like?

It's a very pleasing shape, and not just because it's small.

Anyway, those descriptions from the newspaper, inevitably saying something like —"as wide as a pencil"—they don't cut it.

Even Apple's own highly-crafted description doesn't satisfy:

>Call it astonishing. Unbelievable. Impossible, even. Then pick it up and hold it in your hand. Take in the brilliant color display....the pencil-thin iPod nano packs the entire iPod experience into an impossibly small design.

No. There's something else. What is it?

I just thought of it.


A Japanese gold bar!

Posted by tplambeck at 12:05 AM

September 21, 2005

Spanish as spoken by newly appointed physicians at the Palo Alto Medical Clinic

[From bios included in the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Health News newsletter, Sept 2005]

"conversational Spanish" (1)

"basic Spanish" (1)

"fluent Spanish" (1)

"medical Spanish" (2)

"limited Spanish" (1)

"Spanish" (1)
* * * *
They could get a little more descriptive here. It would help I think. Some suggestions:

"Spanish spoken as if it were English, present tense only, with many wrong words and other mistakes."

"Seriously flawed Spanish followed by a shrug and a decisive return to English"

"Bad, bad, bad Spanish. You-don't-want-to-know-how-bad Spanish."

" 'Hey, you're hurting my ears' Spanish."

Posted by tplambeck at 09:51 AM

September 20, 2005

Scotland tops list of world's most violent countries

booze and blades

Posted by tplambeck at 03:03 PM

Thunder Barking

Clouds and thunder are rolling over over Palo Alto this afternoon.

Since we almost never have thunder here, the neighborhood's dogs are all barking.

Posted by tplambeck at 02:58 PM

Atiyah at UNL

Atiyah at UNL

Posted by tplambeck at 12:03 AM

September 19, 2005

Email with Marc: Radio waves seek the bottom

On Mon, Sep 19, Thane Plambeck writes ...

Thane> /The New York Times/ recommends ways to get your wireless
Thane> network signal its strongest throughout your home, with
Thane> this tidbit:

Thane> Place the base station centrally on an upper floor, or atop
Thane> furniture, because radio waves spread best laterally and down

* * * *

Yes. It may not be obvious to the layperson, but radio waves actually gain strength as they propagate through RF attenuating materials.


Posted by tplambeck at 11:34 PM

Strange Tomato

Owen asked that I blog this strange tomato he found.


Posted by tplambeck at 12:19 PM

Larabar, Cherry Pie

"You're going like this thing. It tastes exactly like cherry pie."


Gloria was right.

I can overlook the gratuitous umlaut (the company is based in Denver).

If the label is to be believed these things only have dates, almonds, and unsweetened cherries in them.

Posted by tplambeck at 11:40 AM

From W. G. Sebald's Austerlitz

Someone, he added, ought to draw up a catalogue of types of buildings listed in order of size, and it would be immediately obvious that domestic buildings of less than normal size—the little cottage in the fields, the hermitage, the lockkeeper's lodge, the pavilion for viewing the landscape, the children's bothy in the garden—are those that offer us at least the semblance of peace, whereas no one in his right mind could truthfully say that he likes a vast edifice such as the Palace of Justice on the old Gallows Hill in Brussels. At the most we gaze at it in wonder, which in itself is a form of dawning horror, for somehow we know by instinct that outsize buildings cast the shadow of their own destruction before them, and are designed from the first with an eye to their later existence as ruins.
Posted by tplambeck at 12:13 AM

September 18, 2005

iPod nano

A moment of weakness.

"One of many," I can hear Gloria saying.

Posted by tplambeck at 11:58 PM

September 17, 2005

One of life's many lessons, revisited, as the Stanford football team loses to UC Davis this evening by a score of 20-17

Some things are worth caring about.

Such things repay your interest and the investment of your time.

You get involved with things like that. Those things develop. Those things get better.

One can develop emotional attachment to such things.

A person can light a candle and say, "Yes, I believe."


Posted by tplambeck at 11:59 PM


Here's a useful-looking page explaining how to shortcut automated customer support menus at various major US corporations to reach a human being, instead. [via Cosmic Variance]

"Our automated support menu has changed, so please listen carefuh----"

Oh no I won't Mr. VoiceBox, here's a

option 1, xt 7266966, option 1, option 4, option 4----

Right back at you, Dell Customer Support!

Posted by tplambeck at 11:46 PM

September 15, 2005

Orthodontist Ornithologist


Is this mural done, or will more be added? Am I overexerting myself trying to find visual puns?

Posted by tplambeck at 10:23 PM

September 14, 2005

captcha decoder


Posted by tplambeck at 11:27 PM

The cow jumped over the moon, but

did boomerang hit MOND?

Posted by tplambeck at 10:14 PM

The Emperor's New Distributed Systems Technology

Like most things in computer science the Grid is an old idea dressed up in spangly pants. It's not rocket science to have a client ask a server to do some computation and then return the result. You wouldn't know it to look at the descriptions of most Grid related projects, though - there's so much guff surrounding the central idea. Here in the UK, at least, there's a great deal of money available for Grid projects, so perhaps people feel that they need to justify their grants by inventing new acronyms and giving older technologies new, swisher names...


Posted by tplambeck at 09:23 PM

The AIG Private Client Group Wildfire Protection UnitTM

In today's mail: a solicitation from the insurance company AIG, selling
"first of its kind" insurance to its "Private Client Group" owning homes in wildfire-prone areas of California.

A Rapid Response unit is dispatched automatically if a wildfire comes within three miles of a residence; fire retardant is applied to all combustible structures on the property, including landscaping ...

That's right—they sell you the insurance and then will come to put out the fire if looks like you're in for the burn.

On the front cover of the brochure, a looming black cloud over a quiet street of exurban McMansions, with a single tiny kid riding a bicycle in the middle of a street:


Posted by tplambeck at 05:33 PM

archaeological sifting screens

if we ever decide to do the dig at indian rock

Posted by tplambeck at 11:49 AM

Circular arrangements of genomic data


Posted by tplambeck at 11:26 AM

Deep Springs College


Posted by tplambeck at 10:41 AM

Finding the speed of light with marshmallows and a microwave oven


Posted by tplambeck at 10:39 AM


"We fill human fossil skulls with vulcanised rubber and once it has set, we pull it out of the large hole at the base of the skull and the rubber snaps back into the shape of the skull," Holloway explains...

Molecular Insights into Human Brain Evolution

Posted by tplambeck at 12:04 AM

September 13, 2005

In the Upper Room

mahalia jackson

Posted by tplambeck at 12:54 AM

September 12, 2005

From The Watershed

Tycho was a giant as an observer, but nothing else. His leanings toward alchemy and astrology never fused, as in Kepler, with his science. The measure of Kepler's genius is the intensity of his contradictions, and the use he made of them. We saw him plod, with infinite patience, along dreary stretches of trial-and-error procedure, then suddenly become airborne when a lucky guess or hazard presented him with an opportunity. What enabled him to recognize instantly his chance when the number 0.00429 turned up in an unexpected context was the fact that not only his waking mind, but his sleepwalking unconscious self was saturated with every conceivable aspect of his problem, not only with numerical data and ratios, but also with an intuitive "feel" of the physical forces, and of the Gestalt configurations which it involved. A locksmith who opens a complicated lock with a crude piece of bent wire is not guided by logic, but by the unconscious residue of countless past experiences with locks, which lend his touch a wisdom that his reason does not possess. It is perhaps this intermittent flicker of an over-all vision which accounts for the mutually compensatory nature of Kepler's mistakes, as if some balancing reflex or "back-feed" mechanism had been at work in his unconscious mind.
* * *

Posted by tplambeck at 12:02 AM

September 11, 2005

Two California commercial palindromes [distilled from the NPL list]



[Everytime I drive by the IT'S IT factory on highway 101 between San Francisco and Palo Alto, I've felt a need to massage it into a palindrome, somehow. This then proves to be a headache-inducing (or perhaps merely headache-enhancing, given 101 traffic) activity. Somewhere about a mile down the road, I hit upon


—but that's not the sort of thing that I'm looking for, at least when I start moving the letters around in my head [OK—maybe it is]]

Posted by tplambeck at 10:41 PM

Book review

Owen reviews this:

Calvin and Hobbes, but without the gross stuff.

Posted by tplambeck at 09:15 PM

September 10, 2005

The Fulton Flash

Everyone's heard of Jesse Owens.

How about The Fulton Flash?

[even Peter Gay got it wrong—should be Helen Stephens, not Helen Stevens].

Posted by tplambeck at 11:14 PM

At the 1936 Olympics

From My German Question, by Peter Gay:

* * *
All this excitement paled before the women's 4 X 100 meter relay, in which a confidently expected German triumph turned into a tearful embarrassment. The German foursome had consistently outrun competitors in earlier track meets and seemed virtually unbeatable. They were equally strong in each position; in contrast, the American relay team, though respectable, boasted only one outstanding runner, Helen Stevens, who had won the gold medal in the 100-meter race. Hitler was in his box, and it depressed me to think that loyal German Amazons, no doubt admirers of the Fuehrer, would win this one for him.

My father, sitting next to me, was no less dejected as he held his stopwatch poised


The final of relay started and went according to predictions; the German women were quick to take the lead and widened it with each passing of the baton. Then, as the third German sprinter passed the baton to the anchor for a dash to sure victory, something went wrong. As long as I shall live I shall hear my father's voice as he leaped to his feet, one of the first to see what had happened: Die Maedchen haben den Stab verloren! he shouted, "The girls have dropped the baton!" As Helen Stevens loped to the tape to the Americans yet another gold medal, the unbeatable models of Nazi womenhood put their arms around each other and cried their German hearts out. A number of years ago, I wrote that seeing the calamity "remains one of the great moments in my life." I can endorse this judgment now. Schadenfreude can be one of the greatest joys in life. Splinters such as these in a time that gave me little pleasure provided instants of pure happiness.

Posted by tplambeck at 11:08 PM

September 09, 2005

Well-matched cutlery

fork vs knife

spoon can't touch these guys.

Posted by tplambeck at 08:28 PM

From an Interview with Mick Jagger at the Guardian

How come he is the only Stone with a knighthood? "Yes. They—should—all— have—one." He answers as if by rote, like a sarcastic schoolboy. "Wouldn't that be lov-ely?"

Did he ever consider himself to be a rebel, or was he just selling an image to the public? He thinks hard before answering. Yes, of course, he was a well-brought-up boy; yes, he was slumming it for our benefit; but at the same time he really was kicking against the pricks. "Before we got famous, we were rebellious on our own minor level because we were very frustrated because we were playing all this blues music and nobody wanted it. So we went fuck you and your fucking old jazz, because it was a terrible music scene with all these old farts playing clarinets. . . The record companies were ghastly Dickensian organisations. Nobody knew what they were doing. And they didn't want to pay you, so we were very rebellious against that, and the rest of it just came naturally after that. So it wasn't such a leap into doing it on camera, so to speak."

Posted by tplambeck at 03:46 PM

The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil

book by George Saunders


Posted by tplambeck at 03:33 PM

From the Oct 2005 AMS Notices

Hironaka: The world is interesting because of singularities. Sometimes people say resolving the singularities is a useless thing to do—it makes the world uninteresting! But technically it is quite useful, because when you have singularities, computation of change becomes very complicated. If I can make some model that has no singularities but that can be used as a computation for the singularity itself, then that's very useful. It's like a magnifying glass. For smooth things, you can look from a distance and recognize the shape. But when there is a singularity, you must come closer and closer. If you have a magnifying glass, you can see better. Resolution of singularities is like a magnifying glass. Actually, it's better than a magnifying glass.

A very simple example is a roller coaster. A roller coaster does not have singularities—if it did, you would have a problem! But if you look at the shadow that the roller coaster makes on the ground, you might see cusps and crossings. If you can explain a singularity as being the projection of a smooth object, then computations become easier. Namely, when you have a problem with singularities in evaluation or differentiation or whatever, you can pull back to the smooth thing, and there the calculation is much easier. So you pull back to the smooth object, you do the computation or analysis, and then pull back to the original object to see what it means in the original geometry.

Notices: It's a beautiful idea.

Hironaka: Yes, I think that's a good idea.


hironaka field's medalist citation

Posted by tplambeck at 03:11 PM

Six things, multiply


Posted by tplambeck at 02:56 PM



wish I had the patience, intelligence, cleverness, manual dexterity, knowledge, vision or whatever else is required to do things like this

Posted by tplambeck at 10:58 AM

From Heaneyland!


[think about it]

Posted by tplambeck at 10:25 AM

September 07, 2005

Titanium Wallet



Plus: Cool.

Minus: $300.

DoubleMinus: Jeans worn out before their time.

Posted by tplambeck at 10:50 PM

September 06, 2005

Sudoku Variations

Ed Pegg:

I've written a huge article on Sudoku variations.
Posted by tplambeck at 10:58 AM

September 05, 2005



Posted by tplambeck at 09:47 PM


Originally uploaded by thane.

Posted by tplambeck at 09:03 PM

one last look

Originally uploaded by thane.

Posted by tplambeck at 09:03 PM

bobcat wondering what I'm doing with that big camera

Originally uploaded by thane.

Posted by tplambeck at 09:02 PM


Originally uploaded by thane.
When we arrived up in Ahwahnee, not far from Yosemite, Gloria went around to the back of the house. She said "two kittens" were playing in the yard. I went to see them and realized they were bobcat kittens.
I hurried in to go get the camera, but when I returned, the kittens were gone. I went out the front door with Owen, and he pointed over to the garage and said, "There it is!"

It wasn't one of the kittens though—it was their mother, instead. In this photo, she's looking behind the garage, maybe at the kittens. I don't know.
Later, I asked Gloria what the kittens were doing when she saw them.

"I was by my 'coffee rock', where I like to sit and think with my morning coffee," she said. "I saw one kitten sitting by a nearby rock. Then the second kitten came up and whacked it with its paw."
Posted by tplambeck at 09:01 PM

September 03, 2005

No sobbing

The kids fell asleep tonight without sobbing about Sophie, first.

Posted by tplambeck at 12:51 AM

September 02, 2005

Maleska vs Shortz

From Crossworld: One Man's Journey into America's Crossword Obsession, by Marc Romano, in a section title "Maleska versus Shortz:

"Fine," I thought to myself as we piled into our cars. "Fine, Eugene T. Maleska, from this day onward, you'll publish no puzzle but that I'll complete. Eugene T. Maleska, you improbable Slovakian evil genius, from this day on your ass is mine."
Posted by tplambeck at 02:26 PM

Caffe Riace

Caffe Riace

Posted by tplambeck at 01:58 PM

License plate frame



Posted by tplambeck at 11:02 AM

September 01, 2005

No parking

Originally uploaded by thane.
Even if you've got a BMW 733, don't go trying to park it on our little street in Palo Alto for long term storage.

I once made the mistake of not moving the Pimpmobile (the 78 Ford Thunderbird I originally came to Palo Alto in, in 1985) for a few days, near downtown Palo Alto.

I got the sticker then. I washed the car and moved it a block away.

Then I got another sticker.

So I sold it.

Posted by tplambeck at 03:46 PM

Sophie the Cat


Our cat Sophie died on an upstairs bed yesterday morning.

She was 14 years old but didn't seem sick.

Thirteen years ago, we decided to get a second cat. We went to the humane society in Palo Alto. The person minding the "cat room" full of adoptable cats pointed to little Sophie and said, "That one is my favorite. I think she looks like an owl." I was about to take her home when another person appeared to sign the forms. She said, "Oh, and one final question—do you have another cat?" To which I (stupidly) replied, "Yes, we do, his name is Norbert, and he's awful."

The humane society person insisted that I bring in Norbert for a "compatibility test."

"I don't think that's a good idea," I said.

"Why not?"

"Because if I bring Norbert into this place he's going to freak out and turn into a devil-like tasmanian saber-toothed hyena nightmare that will shred all human or feline tissue within his radius, including you, me, and most importantly, this little cute kitten, the owl, right here," I said (or words to that effect).

"He doesn't like new places that smell funny, like this one," I helpfully summarized.

But the person insisted. I went back home and brought in Norbert. Sophie was waiting patiently on the floor of the room.

Thankfully, no other cats were present. Norbert jumped out of the box I brought him in, made a unearthly hissing sound, quickly scanned the room and saw a cage he could jump into, about 7 feet high. He jumped into it, turned his back to the wall, and defied anyone to grab him and get him back in his box without getting shredded. He hadn't noticed Sophie at all.

"So, this is your other cat?" the person asked.

"Yes. You can see, he doesn't like this place. Are there any armed officials with experience in forcible cell extractions present in this office?"

"I can't give you this other cat."

Now I had a hole to dig myself out of. I had to explain every aspect of Norbert's personality, selling his dubious positive qualities, his intelligence, his ability to fetch foam balls, etc.

"He just doesn't like *this* place. He will be fine with the other cat."

Finally I wore them out and we got to take Sophie home. Norbert was sometimes mean to her but it was never too bad.

Another time, I was sitting in the backyard, wondering where Sophie was. I heard a loud bark from the yard behind, a scramble of claws, and then looked up to see Sophie soaring about 15 feet over my head. She had launched herself into orbit by jumping from the the top of a nine foot fence.

She touched down softly, just past my feet, and I let her back inside.

Posted by tplambeck at 12:00 PM

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