January 30, 2007
Save me a seat
In the 1950s, only 12 percent of teenagers between 12 and 14 agreed with the statement, "I am an important person." By the late 1980s, the number had reached an astounding 80 percent, an upward trajectory that shows no signs of reversing. Preliminary findings from a joint study conducted by Jean Twenge, Keith Campbell and three other researchers revealed that an average college student in 2006 scored higher than 65 percent of the students in 1987 on the standard Narcissism Personality Inventory test, which includes such statements as "I am a special person," "I find it easy to manipulate people," and "If I were on the Titantic, I would deserve to be on the first lifeboat."
January 29, 2007
The south pole of Saturn
One randomly-generated person Google hasn't heard of, even though shortly after I post this blog entry, it will have
Nella Vahle [zero hits returned for me on 28 January 2007]
It's getting harder and harder to find truly unknown people such as Ms Vahle. For example, I'm amazed that Google knows a
Xavier Smiley, which to my eye looks like an impossibly-unlikely, spambot-generated name. On the contraryhe's a little boy who was born in March 2005.
[As before, these were obtained using my random person generator.]
January 28, 2007
Three suggestions for beating the rush hour traffic in Baghdad
#1) Drive an armored Humvee.
#2) Tap horn.
#3) Don't be overly concerned about fender-benders.
The place to start is horizontal gene transfer (HGT)
The emerging picture of microbes as gene-swapping collectives demands a revision of such concepts as organism, species and evolution itself.
Tracking the remains of Gondwanalandrecounting of an article I missed in the NYT about a month ago:
* * *
Throughout Venezuela, we read, there are dozens of sandstone mesas, or tepuis. These tepuis are "remnants of what geologists believe were the mountains of the ancient supercontinent known as Gondwana."
Added later: Recent flickr photos tagged "tepuis."
Here I am led at once to expatiate on the grandeur of an Institution which is comprehensive enough to admit the discussion of a subject such as this. Among the objects of human enterpriseI may say it surely without extravagance, Gentlemen,none higher or nobler can be named than that which is contemplated in the erection of a University.
John Henry Newman, The Idea of a University, 1889 (I guess, or maybe sooner?)
Over the years I've found myself brooding over this excellent trilogy by John Dos Passos:
From the Wikipedia:
Dos Passos used experimental techniques in these novels, incorporating newspaper clippings, autobiography, biography and fictional realism to paint a vast landscape of American culture during the first decades of the twentieth century. Though each novel stands on its own, the trilogy is designed to be read as a whole. Dos Passos' political and social reflections in the novel are deeply pessimistic about the political and economic direction of the United States, and few of the characters manage to hold onto their ideals through the First World War.
Strangely, when I brood over Emerson, I always pull it off the shelf to reread it.
Dos Passos stays on the shelf like an unsolved puzzle.
Maybe I'll reread it.
January 27, 2007
A former bakery owner and professional bicyclist, he was choking down PowerBars for energy in the middle of a daylong 175-mile ride. "I couldn't make the last one go down, and that's when I had an epiphany -- make a product that actually tasted good."
-- Gary Erickson, founder and CEO of Clif Bar. Quoted in Fortune Small Business, October 2003.
Notice in it the three key elements of a founding story:
* A quest which is romantically appealing to the target market,
* An epiphany,
* A trivial and obvious idea claimed as original.
January 25, 2007
Not my job
January 22, 2007
I solved it and snail-mailed it back to him with the answer, but forgot to take a photo of the puzzle, first.
Anyway, I did just send him a one line email
which is enough for you to guess the puzzle encoding I'll bet.
Added later: In checking whether Tom's forwarded puzzle might not be on the web, I found this G4G7 article that I hadn't seen before. In particular, it has the following:
By day four, even Princeton's John Conwaytypically the earliest to rise and last to bedwas lamenting the overload. "There's infinitely much to know," he said. "You simply can't know it all, despite the fact that that is my aim."
"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind." (Dr. Seuss)
Is that in a Seuss book, or is it something he just said, sometime?
Maybe it's in "Oh, the places you'll go" ? (probably not)
January 21, 2007
things I'm thinking of doing
1) Learn to write thoroughbass
The Baroque has been called the era of the thoroughbass. It served as the textual/harmonic foundation for most choral pieces, ensembles, arias, and instrumental sonatas of the period. Other equivalent terms are basso continuo, basse continue (French), and Generalbass (German).
I've discovered that there is a big literature of music theory on this subject, complete with exercises (and solution manuals). I'm sorely tempted to study it closely, at least to the point of being able to do the exercises.
In the sixteenth century the emphasis shifted (from theoretical treatises) to a more didactic approach with "how to write" counterpoint manuals...
Too cool! link
[Aside: I love books of problems that have solutions in the back. Long ago, still in grade school, I got a black-market copy of 8th grade algebra problems used in junior high school classes. The pleasure I took in working out the answers prior to reading the answers has stayed with me to this day. "Give me a boy to age 10, and I will give you the man," said some Roman or Greek personage. Perhaps it is "age 8", instead?]
2) Concoct startup with Greg and Aaron.
3) Book wrastlin'or more properly, book boxing and transport to distant locations.
4) I finally found a book on quantum field theory that looks understandable, Pierre Ramond's Field Theory: A Modern Primer. At least I was able to get through chapter 1 feeling that I had (a) learned something without getting confused by why it was being suggested that I learn it, and (b) had a desire to learn more.
5) My long obsessional Textoutput project. If you can figure out what it is, please advise.
January 19, 2007
After practicing their violin pieces, the normally tireless Cole and Owen quickly wore themselves out vaulting from trampoline to trampoline at Sky High in Santa Clara.
They would exhaust themselves, sit next to me for a few minutes, then return for more jumping. Older kids plopped themselves down on the trampolines somewhere only to have the Staff Guy would have to shout "STAND UP!" Sitting or lying on the trampolines for more than a few seconds isn't allowed.
Cole is pretty good at trampoline jumping, and threw in a lot of front- and back-flips, layouts, back handsprings, etc.
"You're pretty good," the Staff Guy said. "You should come at night, when the girls are here. Bring your little black book."
January 18, 2007
Killing time on the internet
I just found a neat problem on this page at Stan Wagon's site:
Suppose you are playing poker with a small group of companions and a single deck of cards. If Lady Luck guarantees you a full house, and you can choose which full house you will get, which one should you choose? Hint: The answer is not "three aces and two kings".
The ranking of poker hands is
Four of a Kind
Three of a kind
Since every full house makes two types of four of a kind impossible, I guess the the trick is that you want to choose a full house that will deny as many straight flushes and royal flushes as possible? With thirteen denominations
with A's possible at the "bottom" as well as the "top" on straights, maybe the 5's and 10's full house is better than A's and K's, since it makes more conceivable types of straight flush impossible ?
Uh"more impossible," that is, if I choose my 5's and 10's so as to exhaust all the four suits.
I'm just making this up here, but I guess I've convinced myself that the A's and K's choice is not the best one, at least.
Maybe I've solved it by picking 5's and 10's?
Um, no, I'm not sureI've also got to consider the number of possible full houses that beat me, since I'm not picking the best possible full house if I pick 5's and 10's. Yecchnow I've got to actually get out a pencil and paper.
Added later: If I were a patient man, I'd consult this.
January 17, 2007
The first thing you notice about a tarsier are its eyes. Looking at the skull, it is almost the only thing there is to notice: a pair of eyes on legs pretty well sums up a tarsier.
Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale, Ch 7.
Today's news from the lab
From an article in today's (17 Jan 2007) Nature magazine, "Concern as revived 1918 flu virus kills monkeys:"
The 1918 influenza virus, which killed some 50 million people worldwide, has proved fatal to macaques infected in a laboratory. The study follows Nature's controversial publication of the virus's sequence in 2005, alongside a paper in Science that described the recreation of the virus from a corpse and its potency in mice.
Some scientists question the wisdom of reconstructing such a deadly virus. Do the benefits outweigh the risks?
Those who carried out the macaque study say yes, as a better understanding of how it acts in a system similar to humans' will help scientists treat future pandemics. The study was carried out in the biohazard level 4 labs of the Public Health Agency of Canada in Winnipeg. Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and his colleagues infected macaques with the 1918 virus or a contemporary flu strain. Whereas the contemporary virus caused mild symptoms in the lungs, the 1918 flu spread quickly throughout the respiratory system and the monkeys died within days. The damage parallels reports of human patients in 1918.
truce vodka logo
Not quite an ambigram, at least to my way of thinking, but still a very nice design I think.
If not an ambigram, what then?
January 16, 2007
"Ah yesI'm sure this is perfectly harmless," I assured myself as the white powder flowed smoothly over the car and I drove on through.
I took this photo of an unoccupied office building 20 minutes earlier as I sat in my then motionless car, roughly near the Oakland Colosseum on highway 880.
January 14, 2007
As I go through old books as part of my "book wrastlin'" project, I'm flipping through them for pages I bookmarked or otherwise noted somehow (usually with a little scrap of paper jammed into the spine). Here's one I found in David Held's Introduction to Critical Theory: Horkheimer to Habermas, in a chapter called "The Frankfurt School: critical theory and aesthetics:"
The desire for distraction reflects needs to escape from the responsibilities and drudgery of everyday life. The lack of meaning and control people experience registers accurately a truth about their livesthey are not masters of their own destiny. They are 'caught' within the present mode of production, with its rationalized and mechanized labour processes and all its hierarchies. The pattern of recurring crises in the mode of production, its continuous expansions, recessions and depressions, engenders strains, fears and anxieties about one's capacity to earn a living, etc. Capitalism creates conditions of dependence upon the powerful, who can give or withhold things greatly wanted. It also creates dependency needs. Situations continuously arise in which people cannot cope. They are often beset by ego weakness and narcissistic defenses which aid them to compensate for their feelings of inadequacy and inferiority. More often than not, these feelings are expressions of objective conditions in reality; that is a reality that is inadequate and quite inferior when measured against its promise [...] One can 'take flight' and escape into the world of entertainment. It offers fun, relaxation and relief from demands and effort. Temporarily, boredom can also be overcome without labour and concentration (both of which are necessary for the enjoyment of autonomous art.) Irrational susceptibilities and neurotic symptoms, ever present within most human beings, are open, as a consequence, to exploitation by the mass media. The 'natural' corollary of capitalist industrial production is the culture industry.
An equation from Allouche and Shallit's Automatic Sequences
January 13, 2007
Building B operatives visit the SF loft
Marc, representing the mysterious Building B, writes in email:
"The test plan is converging; we'll be making measurements either Saturday or Sunday."
I guess it didn't happen until today, but I missed it since Aaron and Olya are staying in the loft this week and were able to let them in. I stayed in Palo Alto to coach Owen's NJB basketball team, and later see Stanford defeat Washington State in an exciting overtime game.
The suspense is killing mewhat did they measure? I don't want them to have to kill me to find out, though.
January 12, 2007
From a 1999 interview with David Sedaris
GI: In "Santaland Diaries," you say that it breaks your heart to see a man dressed up like a taco [a promotional costume]. Why?
DS: Because I don't think it's anybody's plan to grow up and dress up as a taco -- especially in New York. People move to New York to succeed. And your failure is more pronounced there. There's always that fear. I mean, I could be a taco a year from now. There's always that fear of ending up a taco. If I stay in France, at least I won't end up being a taco.
Comet McNaught over Finlandflickr photo search
January 11, 2007
Roz Chast Easy Chair
This chair has been around forever in my Dad's house. He sent me a photo of the new upstairs carpeting, but I was more interested in bringing out the essence of the chair via a little Photoshopping.
[link to New Yorker Chast "cartoonbank." ]
January 09, 2007
Selecting cartoons for the New Yorker
* * *
No. Yes. No. No. Remnick picks up a cartoon of a corporate boardroom with a bunch of guys in suits sitting around a conference table with one chair occupied by a brain in a jar. The caption reads, "But first let's all congratulate Ted on his return to work."
" Ewwww!" Remnick says, half groaning, half laughing. "Bob!"
"It's great!" Mankoff says.
"It's horrible!" Remnick responds, laughing.
"What? A little brain in a jar?" Mankoff replies. "No animals were hurt in the making of this cartoon."
Remnick laughs. But he doesn't change his mind. "Not here," he says. It's a No.
January 08, 2007
Wild animal park, Chinese style
In China, entros visits the Harbin Siberian Tiger Park:
I was stunned when the park rangers drove out a small truck and let loose a live cow!!! A dozen tigers immediately pounced, biting in and holding on. It wasn't very violent because the cow basically just lay there while the tigers just held their bites, waiting for the cow to die. It eventually did. The rangers then proceeded to scare away the tigers, tie a rope on the (dead) cow's leg, and then drag the carcass around for the tigers to chase. Pretty grim, but the folks in my bus were very entertained.
My guide was sort of aghast. She said she had been to the park dozens of times and had never seen a live animal fed to the tigers.
R 022entros seems to be in China, visiting scientific curiosities like this bronze plaque of Charles Darwin. I wonderis he on his way to the DPRK?
January 07, 2007
On the way to Arnold, NE
Mick Messbarger writes
Here is a link to some very beautiful yet haunting pictures of the ice storm in central Nebraska.
A few days ago, my father wrote in email:
Quite a bit of ice fell off my trees yesterday and it was falling at 9:00 a.m. today, so things are looking up. I am out of ice melt and there's a shortage in town, so that's a problem. The Lunds, for example, have been without power for five days and so have Dick and Meg, although they were possibly to get it yesterday. That's the big problem--the loss of power for homes. Even I was without power for an hour yesterday. I tried to establish a bond of understanding with Doug Lund on the basis of that hour of suffering, but he wouldn't hear of it. Big power poles are down in the country. It should be a blessing in disguise for my pear tree, for I can now short-arm all the big long limbs and blame the unsightliness on the storm, and thereby prolong the life of the tree, I think.
January 06, 2007
Moments after this photo was taken, the clerk in the foreground reached back behind her, and flipped the top switch on the pole (far left, center). This caused a white light atop the pole to start blinking. I don't know what that means.
I try to stay out of places like Target because it seems like I always end up choosing a checkout line that has some thorny difficulty like this to be worked out.
Things like this used to stress me out, but in my old age I've come to expect and even appreciate them. It was interesting to see how they determined what items to return.
Cosmetics went first, and they almost reached the magic number with only cosmetics.
In the end a bottle of shampoo had to go to make the number. I couldnt quite see all what more-valued objects were being passed over without being snoopy.
Phoenix Mars Lander
I'm sorrythat's so 1976.
I hope someone packed disco records onto that lander.
January 05, 2007
Note to self: renew in April 2008
The Golden Age of DMV Visits will end in just over a year. The federal government's REAL ID Act apparently requires in-person license renewals in all 50 states, beginning in May 2008. The state whose feasibility study he saw anticipates millions of new in-person applicants yearly.
January 04, 2007
Move over, earthquake weather
From a NYT article about a golf-ball sized metallic object that crashed into a house:
Specialists in the field were testing the small, dense object, the lieutenant said, although he declined to say who the specialists were. All he would say was that the specialists were expert in "investigating unusual objects of this type." Then the lieutenant threw out a tantalizing word: "Quadrantids" meteor showers that peak in January when northern skies are cold and cloudy.
I spotted this sprinkler installation truck near the intersection of El Camino Real and Oregon Expressway in Palo Alto:
2006 wrap up
1) Finished two math papers, Advances in losing and Misere quotients for impartial games, collaborating with Aaron N. Siegel, who continues to discover more algebraic structure and elegant algorithms in the misere theory than anyone could possibly shake a stick at. Inaugurated a web site at miseregames.org to organize this stuff and archive solutions to particular games.
3) Met Buzz Aldrin at Gloria's 20 year Stanford reunion, and talked to him about flashing LEDs and the difference between Kearny, New Jersey, and Kearney, Nebraska.
4) Met Julia Sweeney, ex-cast member of Saturday Night Live (remember the androgynous "Pat"?) on a trip to Death Valley, and talked to her about G4G7. She confided that she was soon to accept the 2006 Atheist of the Year award. Am now convinced that she's the funniest person I'll ever meet in person.
5) Met Terence Parr, and gave a talk at USF on entrepeneurship.
6) Carpooled with my neighbor Lenny to his continuing education Physics night classes at Stanford, asking dumb questions not only on the drive there, but also in class, and finally on the drive back.
7) Nursed Gloria through two back surgeries.
8) Sat in on countless violin lessons.
9) Coached a couple of kid's basketball teams.
10) Miscellaneous people I got to know better, or met for the first time in person: John Horton Conway, Elwyn Berlekamp, Richard Guy, David Gale, Tom Rodgers (organizer of the Gathering for Gardner), Neil Sloane, Jonathan Borwein, David Singmaster, Ed Pegg Jr, David Wolfe, Richard Nowakowski, David Eisenbud, Graham Leuschke, Dean Allemang, George Lakoff, Persi Diaconis, Aviezri Fraenkel, David Eisenbud, Nick Baxter, Wei-Hwa Huang.
11) Met Ron Rivest and Don Knuth at a Stanford CS computer science department event, and Bertrand Meyer was kind enough to send me a photo recording this fact. Saw Joe Weening, Anil Gangolli, ex-officemate Patrick Lincoln, and Oren Patashnik there (Oren was at G4G7, too).
13) Got an unsolicited job offer from Google. "I'm too old, and too slow," I said.
15) Failed to stretch my the IT band in my left leg regularly enough for the aches and pains to go away.
17) Listened to quite a bit of Shostakovich and AC/DC.
18) Didn't go to SF Symphony or as many Stanford Lively Arts events.
19) Vacationed in Seattle.
20) Volunteered in Cole's middle school helping kids with "Einstein" math problems.
21) Can't think of anything else at the moment. So I guess I'll stop.
* * *
added later: Reading this over, it sure sounds interesting. Yet my memory of the year consists mainly of sitting in my home office, alternating between three activities:
#1) Making absolutely no progress on working on whatever math or physics I'm messing with
#2) Playing games of one-minute Internet chess, and
#3) Walking the dog.
This second account seems far more accurate to me. Which is more correct?
January 02, 2007
Thankfully most hyperlinks aren't like many in the Wikipedia...
...because if they were, they'd be like this.
Aspartame gets uppity
If we're not going to be allowed to ignore these packets anymore, I have some suggested messages to put on them
Perhaps combine the previous two, if not too many characters?
* * *
Added later: From the archives: Grande Latte Speaks
I just checked my web logs for the first time in quite awhile.
There were 1.7 million page views of this web site in 2006, mostly not visits to my blog itself, but to other random detritus I've put up somewhere on this machine. The machine serving those requests is a 1992 era Windows PC refurbished to run Linux and stripped of all services likely to attract hackers. It resides in Brat's machine room with an excellent view of the San Francisco bay and Oracle Corporation headquarters, near the shoreline. I wish I were up there more often, myself.
Over half of all visits landed at the company name generator, the only page to carry advertising. There are more than 10,000 pages lurking somewhere in the bowels of this site (yes, there's a lot of stuff here, you have no ideabut Google does).
I've earned about $44 on that company name generator advertising, but Google won't write a check until it reaches $100.
January 01, 2007
Football is not right in this world
The Huskers couldn't beat Oklahoma, then this morning couldn't beat Auburn, and now Oklahoma can't beat f**king Boise State:
BOI 2PT 0:00 Ian Johnson rush to the left. 2-pt conversion successful. 43-42 Boise St, Final
I miss the glory days.
Excerpts from Alessandra Stanley's description of media coverage of the Hussein execution in the NYT yesterday:
When the first images of the hanging began trickling onto CNN and other cable news shows just before 4 a.m., the death looked oddly casual. Mr. Hussein, who refused a hood, wore a black overcoat and a calm, bland expression that made him look almost like a visiting dignitary on a factory tour.
Some news reports said the condemned man shouted "Allah-u akbar," Arabic for "God is great," on the gallows, but the camera showed Mr. Hussein being escorted by masked men into a shabby room, seemingly listening in a considering way as one of the guards gestured to his own neck as if to explain how the process works.
Throughout the night, cable news anchors repeatedly assured viewers that for deep-rooted cultural reasons, the Iraqi public would need to see a videotape of Saddam Hussein's executionas if implying that left to their own devices, the anchors would prefer to just flash a photocopy of the death certificate.
The new year in Palo Alto...
...greeted by the repeated sounds of gunshots.
Reminds me of our days in Redwood City, ca 1991-1994.
Added twenty seconds later: wowthere goes another gunshot. Perhaps it's an invasion? I raise my laser pointer in defense, so as to blind and perhaps lecture the (unknown) invader.
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