« March 2007 | April 2007 | May 2007 »

April 30, 2007

Crazy You-Know-Whats

PDF (one page PDF puzzle)

Posted by tplambeck at 12:33 AM

April 29, 2007

Padding the nest

A bird collected dog fur outside our house this morning.


another photo

Posted by tplambeck at 02:39 PM

April 28, 2007

At Borders bookstore

THANE: Oh, look, a big volume of Edward Lear. Must have it. It will replace that Dover book collection which we've lost and wasn't complete, anyway.

GLORIA: You can't find it, or is it lost lost?

THANE: What's the difference?

GLORIA: Something's "lost lost" if there's no possibility of finding it. Otherwise you just can't find it.

THANE: If I knew whether there was a possibility of finding it, I wouldn't call it "lost." And if I knew there was no possibility of finding it, I'd be more descriptive—I'd say, for example, "that Edward Lear book that I burned as a Equinox Offering," or "that Edward Lear book that I threw into an industrial shredder." I just mean, "it's lost," as in, "I can't find it, and I've tried."

GLORIA: Just because you've tried, ha! Calling something lost because you can't find it!!!! HA HA HA HA HA!! [Stage direction: maniacal laughter, or its psychic equivalent]

THANE: OK, fine, you try to find it. I'm buying the book.

Posted by tplambeck at 12:47 AM

April 27, 2007

it's marching season

One of the seasonal pleasures of working at home: every weekday in the last few weeks of April, the Jordan Middle School marching band comes by.

They're getting ready for the May Fete parade in downtown Palo Alto.

Posted by tplambeck at 12:32 PM

April 25, 2007

libraryThing gizmo

kind of cool:

maybe it will motivate me to enter more books into it.

added later: now i remember why i didn't like this thing on a previous look at it—it doesn't re-randomize on a reload. that's essential for a thingy like this, I think. my verse-o-tron does (of course!).

Posted by tplambeck at 11:52 PM

Thank you Ambigram

Thank you Ambigram
Originally uploaded by Amafirlian.
I thought this was a particularly nice ambigram by Amafirlian on flickr
Posted by tplambeck at 04:17 PM

Driveway ornamentation

White Knite Tesla Coil
Originally uploaded by tesla1000.
I need to get myself one of these.

Might be useful in conjunction with a "no solicitors" sign.
Posted by tplambeck at 12:45 PM

April 24, 2007

David Halberstam at the red dot

At flickr, some thoughts on the intersection where the author David Halberstam was killed yesterday morning.

Posted by tplambeck at 11:09 PM

Poetry + Flickr = verse-o-tron

Poetry fragments from Dickinson, Yeats, Eliot, Dr. Seuss, Lewis Carroll—let me introduce you to PHP APIs to the flickr photo database.

I unveil the verse-o-tron.

The keyword tag used to retrieve the photo is randomly picked from the text, and appears at the lower left hand corner.

Hit reload to do it again!

Posted by tplambeck at 12:45 PM

April 23, 2007

secret research, fill in the blank

As [Willard Frank] Libby himself later recalled, success was by no means a foregone conclusion: he and his colleagues persevered through 'a period of two or three years of secret research when we believed that the notion of ______________ was beyond reasonable credence.'

(spoilers) book / person

Posted by tplambeck at 12:42 AM

April 22, 2007

"In Los Angeles, you see the future of the United States"

I'm not sure where I read that quotation, but I always think of it when LA comes up.

Anyway—test the hypothesis yourself with this slideshow of people whose photo I took in Los Angeles airport, back in 2005: it's called LAX.

So—are the photos more like the United States in 2007 than they were like the United States in 2005?

Posted by tplambeck at 01:13 AM

April 21, 2007

From an Introduction by Lemony Snicket to Noisy Outlaws, Unfriendly Blobs [...]

link (a mcsweeney's book)

If you enjoy tedious stories, you may read the following paragraphs for your tedious enjoyment, and if you don't, don't.

"I have an adorable announcement!" cried the King of Teddy Bear Land. "In honor of Princess Buttercup's marriage to Prince Appletree, we will have a Teddy Bear parade throughout the Town Square, which happens to be made of candy!"


"But if you're a wizard," asked Henry, "why can't you just defeat the Shadow Lord and his army of vicious porcupines with a wave of your wand?" "That's a good question, young Henry," replied Thistlewing. "You'd better sit down, because I'm going to take the next nine pages to explain what wizards can and cannot do in this particular magical land."


"Don't be silly!" cried the Long Division Worm. "Math is fun! Come with me and I'll show you!"
Posted by tplambeck at 09:20 PM

Bee update

The hive in the Valley Oak tree right in front of our house keeps growing.


CHRIS: Have you gone up to take any honey?

THANE: Are you kidding? It's got to be 20 feet up in the air!


CHRIS: I've got a ladder that long, and a bee suit.

THANE: I'm sure you do; you're a bee nut, and that's why I told you about the bees in the first place. But I'm interested in survival. I've read Winnie the Pooh, OK? I know what happens when someone gets an idea to get honey from a tree!


Posted by tplambeck at 02:10 PM

April 20, 2007

Reading the Mercury News

GLORIA: So many of the words associated with con men are fun to say, for example, 'bamboozle,' 'flim-flam,' 'grifter,' 'confidence man,' ...

THANE: Even 'con man,' I like that one too.

[Con man wanted in San Jose caught]

Posted by tplambeck at 10:18 AM

The octagon, reinterpreted

Originally uploaded by comcinco.

Posted by tplambeck at 10:02 AM

April 19, 2007

Ornidontist update

Moving the plaque on the Ornidontist
Originally uploaded by thane.
I ran into these guys as I went to get some coffee.

They were moving the plaque on the previously blogged Ornidontist painting.

"I was afraid someone tagged it," I said.

They pointed out some dumb writing on his hat that I hadn't noticed and said "Someone did—but the artist is going to fix it."

Posted by tplambeck at 08:25 PM


i confess to adding the caps and exclams

Posted by tplambeck at 10:54 AM

April 18, 2007

The Jewel Analyzed

From THE OXFORD TUTORIAL: "Thanks, you taught me how to think" (beware: MSWord link), edited by David Palfreyman.


Yet the only detailed assessment of the true worth of the [Oxford & Cambridge] tutorial system dates back to the 1960s, when Will G. Moore, Fellow and Tutor of St John's College, published in 1968 The Tutorial System and its Future. Moore describes what a tutorial is:

At its most simple the tutorial is a weekly meeting of the student with the teacher to whom he is especially committed. This does not replace other methods, such as instruction by lecture or in class. It clearly cannot replace private study. Indeed, it assumes all these, and includes their results in the preparation of a weekly essay, which is presented orally, listened to by the tutor and discussed immediately. The whole process—of reading, discussion, arrangements for the following week—takes up little more than an hour.

A usual feature of the method is informality [...] It opens with a few questions as to how the student has "got on" with his subject and a brief confession on his part, perhaps that he liked it better than he expected to, or that he was conscious that he had not covered the ground nor uncovered the real problem within the subject. Then the reading, interrupted at will by the tutor, and at times by the student, followed by perfunctory praise or thanks and then by detailed comments, which the student is free to take down or not as he prefers. This part can be either free interchange of points or painfully one-sided information. The final minutes are devoted to suggestions and hints about next week's subject and the session ends when the next pupil knocks on the tutor's door or when the first pupil departs to a lecture or the tutor to a meeting, or, indeed, when either side feels that the other is losing interest.

Not all tutorials are like this. As in other living forms of education, the norm is not the rule. Endless variations are possible, and are, indeed, produced by circumstances. Two, or even three, pupils may be present; one will be asked to read and the other to hand in his essay. A busy tutor may ask for a summary of the main points of two or three essays, weaving them into a single discussion. Either side may refuse to play its traditional part: the pupil may bring no essay, or one not his own; he may rely on confession, of failure, of interruption ("parent crisis" said one once), of illness. The tutor may bypass discussion for analysis, of documents, of problems. He may be tempted by the astute pupil into defence of his own writings. A single hour may be inadequate for a lively or complicated discussion. Some tutors "run over", getting later as the morning wears on; others leave two or more hours free for the good performers. I have dismissed bored pupils after 50 minutes and, at the other end of the scale, a philosophy tutorial starting at noon may well not finish until college lunch is over. (pp 15/16)

Moore recognises that the Tutorial is not readily subject to, in the modern jargon, "quality control":

"What happens in a tutorial depends so much on the two or three personalities taking part in the exercise that the keynote is variety: almost anything may happen. A colleague looking in on a neighbour's tutorial found that nothing at all seemed to be happening, and concluded that both parties were asleep. The picture of an undergraduate being "smoked at" by a laconic and occasionally oracular tutor may be true, but it is not typical, for many other pictures would be no less true. Students vary, especially when on their own: some pretend to be stupid, some are stupid, some are lazy and plausible, some are easily discouraged, few work well without praise, many conceal their real attitudes, not many are able to help the tutor to be both clear and interesting. Teachers vary no less, and any good teacher will vary his tactic. Not many of us, I think, manage to be both concise and interesting. There are times to be cryptic, and to be plain, to be sarcastic, and to be sympathetic, to expatiate and to hint. Experience has taught me that, whatever the tactic, one's best formulae may fall on deaf ears, and one's inanities may be remembered. Reception of wisdom seems to have less to do with the wisdom than with the sense on the part of the disciple that he can contribute, that his role is not to be eternally told things he must accept [...]

The tutor is not a teacher in the usual sense: it is not his job to convey information. The student should find for himself the information. The teacher acts as constructive critic, helping him to sort it out, to try it out sometimes, in the sense of exploring a possible avenue, rejecting one approach in favour of another. The whole process turns around the concept of bias: how you see things, how you evaluate evidence, how you tend to connect one fact with another. The student soon learns the teacher's mind, that a certain teacher tends to apply certain criteria or to favour certain types of evidence. From this point onwards the good student will acquire independence of his teacher, will grope after his own means of interpretation. The good teacher will thus help the student to refute or correct him, which is to say that he will teach method rather than hard and fast conclusions. The great temptation of the teacher is to cling to particular interpretations of evidence. It is hard for us to learn that our students may find their feet in using our methods to reject our views.

Here I think we touch the nerve of power of the tutorial as a tool of learning. Each side is free to refuse what is offered by the other. This may (and does) mean waste of time and effort, boredom and sense of frustration, on both sides." (p18)

Moore sums it all up as follows:

"Here, I suggest, are the roots of the tutorial method. It is a sceptical method, a method that inquires, probes, scrutinises. It is not at its best in ex cathedra authoritative statement, but in criticism, theory, analysis, comparison. It prefers the relative to the absolute, the tentative to the dogmatic, the essay to the treatise. Obviously—and this we must consider later—it is antagonistic to much in the modern temper and does not offer that certainty which the young so often and so naturally seek. A university in which the tutorial method operates is not likely to offer a blueprint for society, to speak with the voice of authority, to fix, determine, assert, sanction, denounce. It is rather a university seeking to be the one place in society where inquiry may proceed without regard to the consequences, where theory may clash with theory, to be the home of point and counterpoint, of dialectic rather then of dogma." (pp 31/32)

Finally, Moore ends his little book by quoting a colleague (Dr Marjorie Reeves, Vice-Principal of St Anne's College, giving evidence to the Franks Commission):

'When every effort has been made to make instruction effective [...] it is still true that there is no substitute for the individual tutorial, either singly or in pairs. Its function is not to instruct: it is to set the student the task of expressing his thought articulately, and then to assist him in subjecting his creation to critical examination and reconstructing it. The charge of spoon-feeding so often levelled against the tutorial method implies a complete misunderstanding of its function: it should be the most adult relationship between teacher and student, not the least [...] Unless all [other teaching methods] lead towards tutorial work, the final and essential stage in education may never be reached. This is the process of handling material for oneself and of bringing together one's own analysis, reflection, judgement in a form which is really a creation of individual thought. No one will dispute that this is the crown of the educational process. What is not so fully accepted is that the very production of an essay by a student demands that it should be subjected to detailed, individual criticism, otherwise his educators have failed him at the last.' (pp 65/66)

Posted by tplambeck at 11:31 PM

April 17, 2007

Crossword, Sudoku, ____ Latin bitrade (?)

It's the question we all have asked ourselves—what is the next puzzle craze going to be that's based on writing symbols in squares?

I noticed this paper that was just put into the arXiv (Nicholas J. Cavenagh, Ales Drapal, Carlo Hamalainen):

A latin bitrade is a pair of partial latin squares which are disjoint, occupy the same set of non-empty cells, and whose corresponding rows and columns contain the same set of entries. Dr\'apal (\cite{Dr9}) showed that a latin bitrade is equivalent to three derangements whose product is the identity and whose cycles pairwise have at most one point in common. By letting a group act on itself by right translation, we show how some latin bitrades may be derived from groups without specifying an independent group action. Properties of latin trades such as homogeneousness, minimality (via thinness) and orthogonality may also be encoded succinctly within the group structure. We apply the construction to some well-known groups, constructing previously unknown latin bitrades. In particular, we show the existence of minimal, $k$-homogeneous latin trades for each odd $k\geq 3$. In some cases these are the smallest known such examples.

Hmmm...How to make these into puzzles?

For example, see pg 13 of this.

Posted by tplambeck at 09:43 PM

Gathering for Gardner signatures

I've been busy working on G4G8, although you won't be able to see anything much there without the password, and even if you had it, there's not much more there that you can't see by clicking this, and scrolling down to the stained glass.

Instead I'll offer two signatures from today's email:

Esther Dyson:

Always make new mistakes!

Wei-Hwa Huang:

Everybody counts in base 10, but not everybody counts in base ten.

Posted by tplambeck at 01:39 AM

April 15, 2007

Teleportation mystery, or just bad cameras?

At the drugstore today, we developed film from three disposable cameras. Cole and Owen used two of the cameras in DC a couple of weeks ago, while the third held photos that have to be at least three years old.

One photo taken in DC appears to show me eating Chinese take out just as I'm beamed up to a UFO:


While another, from the older camera, shows a younger version of me on the deck of the flying Saucer:

Aboard the UFO

The mystery—how could I appear on the UFO before I was abducted? And why can I remember none of this actually happening?

Posted by tplambeck at 10:13 PM

Googlechat with Cole

4:25 PM Cole: hello
me: hi
Cole: :(|)
4:26 PM me: :(|)
Cole: :):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):
me: remarkably similar to our last conversation
Cole: when in doubt, emote
me: ah
Cole: }:-)
4:27 PM <3 :P :D
me: }-)
whoops again
Cole: hold on mommy is calling
4:28 PM I'm back
me: ok
4:29 PM Cole: :(:):(:):(:):(:):(:):(:)
me: B)
Cole: B-)
me: B-)
Cole: thats better
me: B(
Cole: +/'\
me: ;)
it winks
Cole: look at the cowbell
4:30 PM me: cowbell?
Cole: +/'\
me: +/\
Cole: run over it with your mouse
me: + /\
+/ \
4:31 PM Cole: that is not it it's + / ' \
me: +/'\
Cole: yesssssssss
apple juice
me: bye I have to send an email
Cole: gtg

Posted by tplambeck at 10:08 AM


According to flickr:

(You're the only person who has used 'water polo' as a tag)

What?! I only went to my first water polo game today. It's hard to believe no one else has tagged a photo that way.

Posted by tplambeck at 01:26 AM

no seer ever prophesied more truthfully

One hundred years ago in Nature magazine:

[OK, maybe not exactly one hundred years ago. I've got a big stack of magazines I'm trying to wade through..]

14 Feb 1907 issue:

Death has been very busy of late among the army of men of science [...] Our immediate concern is with Dmitri Ivanovitsch Mendeleeff [...] he was a Siberian, born at Tobolsk on February 7th (N.S.), 1834. He died, therefore, within a week of his seventy-third birthday. he was the seventeenth and youngest child of Ivan Paolowitch Mendeleeff [...] The story of the rise and development of the Periodic Law is so well known that it is unnecessary now to dwell upon it. By a good fortune, which some may regard as evidence of predestination, Mendeleeff lived to see the verification of his predictions in the discovery, in rapid succession, of gallium, scandium, and germanium; and no seer ever prophesied more truthfully.

[from the 14 Feb 2007 issue]

Posted by tplambeck at 12:03 AM

April 14, 2007

Owen pitching

Originally uploaded by thane.
Palo Alto Little League game (photo by Howard Look).
Posted by tplambeck at 10:56 PM

Opening day of Palo Alto Little League after the rain started

Opening day after the rain started
Originally uploaded by thane.
At least it didn't hail, like it did two years ago.
Posted by tplambeck at 10:54 PM

Too many cryptic crosswords

A false epiphany while reading the word NETHERLANDS in a newspaper article:

Hey—that's an anagram for NEANDERTHALS!

But no, not quite.

Posted by tplambeck at 01:01 AM

April 13, 2007

Waiting for Einstein

Einstein problems
Originally uploaded by thane.
I tutored 6th graders on their "Einstein" extra-credit math problems this afternoon.

While waiting for the substitute teacher to release the students to go to the library, I took this photo of number tiles on the desk in front of me.
Posted by tplambeck at 12:43 AM

April 10, 2007

how low can you go?

The lowest place on the earth
Originally uploaded by jenWSB.

Posted by tplambeck at 11:51 PM

Down by the River

Anthony Lane, writing in the 12 March 2007 New Yorker "Current Cinema:"

No one can claim that we live in a golden age—or even a bile-green, suppurating age—of movie monsters, and there will be plenty of filmgoers who yawned through "Godzilla" in 1998 and swore of large amphibians for good. All I can say to tempt them back is that I have seen "The Host" twice and have every intention of seeing it again.
Posted by tplambeck at 10:29 AM

April 09, 2007

Smartpark, Rightbite, Quickpick, or Minimeal?

Returning from Washington DC on United Airlines [please note—this is not a post about Washington DC!], and flying to San Jose, CA via an O'Hare connection, we were again confronted with the choice between four different $5 "snackboxes." Their names were

The Smartpark, The Rightbite, The Quickpick, and The Minimeal.

It was announced that a description of the contents of each box was to be found on "page 133" of the inflight magazine, and the flight attendants immediately began moving their cart up the aisle to ask each passenger which snackbox, if any, he wanted to buy.

"How nice," I suppose we're supposed to think—"we can pick whatever we like, from four choices!"

But consider the contents of the SMARTPACK. It includes

1) Subtly sweet Pita Break Lavash Multi Grain & Honey Grain Crackers,
2) Glacier Ridge Farms White Cheddar Cheese,
3) Hero Strawberry Preserves,
4) SunGold Creamy Sunbutter,
5) Vermont Village Cannery Organic Peach Applesauce,
6) Bear Naked All-Natural Fruit and Nut Granola,
7) Alacer Emergen-C Tangerine Fizzing Drink Mix, and
8) Bali's Best Latte Candy.

The other three boxes have a similar roster of dubiously overpackaged and unthematic nut, cracker, and cheese foods (I've wondered—why "Cheese Food?" It is cheese, right? Why the 'food'? Is there some doubt?)

Anil pointed out this is actually a cheap stunt—to avoid running out of anything, United Airlines presents 4 similar choices, carefully crafted by statisticians to be indistinguishable by the modern jet traveler in the 4 minutes between the time he's directed to "page 133" and the time he must make his selection.

Still, you have to admire the strategy. "Go ahead—HAVE WHATEVER YOU LIKE," our Corporate Foodmasters are saying with a sneer. "It's all about serving YOU, the CUSTOMER."

Posted by tplambeck at 11:40 PM

April 08, 2007

Washington DC

Washington DC
Originally uploaded by thane.
My last DC blog entry.

I promise (I do solemnly swear).
Posted by tplambeck at 05:55 PM

April 06, 2007

Taps with pink shoes

Visiting Arlington National Cemetery this afternoon, we happened to reach the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier just as four middle school girls were presenting a wreath to the honor guard.

I'm no fashion expert, but I agree with Gloria that one girl's pink shoes (unfortunately not shown in this video) were probably not appropriate on this occasion.

Posted by tplambeck at 07:31 PM

Lesser Obelisk #15

Lesser Obelisk #15
Originally uploaded by thane.
Arlington cemetery is full miniaturized Washington monuments.
Posted by tplambeck at 07:18 PM

Chalice of the Abbot Suger of Saint-Denis

Cole liked this chalice at the National Gallery of Art, so we returned to it to show Owen and Gloria.

Owen wasn't tall enough to see that the inside was made of stone, not gold, so Gloria gave him a boost. A security guard moved closer to make arrests if we all crashed into the display and shattered the whole thing into a million pieces.

Posted by tplambeck at 03:27 PM

April 05, 2007

The unfunded mandate

The unfunded mandate
Originally uploaded by thane.
Modified entrance to offices of the Dept of Education, Washington, DC
Posted by tplambeck at 06:26 PM

At the National Archives

STUDENT (Inspecting facsimile of JFK's high school report card): He got a D in history?! Those other grades aren't so hot, either.

THANE: He still got into Harvard. (To Gloria): It was the era before the Rise of the Admissions Officer. Maybe they have a room on that era in this museum? Or is it in the Museum of Natural History...

GLORIA: Look—LBJ wasn't too good at Latin, either.

Posted by tplambeck at 02:33 PM

April 04, 2007

Suffocating tunnel leading to Capitol

Suffocating tunnel leading to Capitol
Originally uploaded by thane.
It wasn't fun waiting for admission to the US capitol in this overcrowded underground passageway with hundreds of other tourists. I normally have a pretty high threshold for claustrophobia-inducing situations, but I found myself speculating about the next day's headlines—350 ROTUNDA TOURISTS SUFFOCATE IN CAPITOL TUNNEL SNAFU, maybe.

Perhaps the word SNAFU wouldn't have been used.

The capitol itself seems to be mostly passageways, too, interrupted by the occasional circular rotunda stuffed with too many statues, security guards, and teenagers in matching "DC 2007" T shirts.

When we finally made it to the house of representatives gallery area, the annoying kid in our group amplified his stupid questions, interrupting our guide over and over again.

"When is the show going to start?" Owen asked.

"They're not in session. Nothing is going to happen," I said. "It's time to go."
Posted by tplambeck at 07:13 PM

Jefferson Memorial

Jefferson Memorial
Originally uploaded by thane.
The marble on the pillars looks so obviously texture-wrappped and fake—yet I didn't do anything to this picture in Photoshop.

I did steal the idea of pointing the camera up through the pillars from the tourist standing next to me.
Posted by tplambeck at 06:57 PM

Jefferson Memorials

Jefferson Memorials
Originally uploaded by thane.

Posted by tplambeck at 06:45 PM

April 02, 2007


Originally uploaded by thane.

Posted by tplambeck at 05:53 PM

The main event: big-talkin' human vs extinct dinosaurs

Looking over the dinosaur and ancient mammals skeletons at the Natural History Museum, I wondered which ones I might be able to defeat in mortal combat, if only I had a baseball bat.

"What about the T-Rex?" Cole asked, doubtfully.

"No contest, I admit that," I said. "But see that one over there, the one that looks like a giant salamander with the big sharp teeth? I think I could take that thing. I wonder how fast it was?"


"Pretty fast, I'll bet," said Owen.

"I wouldn't want to fight that thing in a swamp, or underwater, but on a basketball court, with appropriate footwear, maybe," I said. "Give me a net in addition to the bat, and I'd wipe the floor with that overgrown newt. I'd throw the net over that thing and then give one decisive whack with the bat. Game over."

"I don't know, maybe," said Cole.

"I wouldn't want to fight a triceratops, or any of those gigantic slow-moving things," I went on. "I've seen the TV shows, and I know they travelled in big posses, and whacked attackers with their tails. No. None of that for me....I'm a welterweight, and I fight the medium size lizard things. There's one over there—I could get that one, even without the net."

Posted by tplambeck at 02:48 PM

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