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September 28, 2007

Things I learned by reading books

...at least the books I was reading late last night:

1) The NASA Gemini program was so-called because the space capsules were two-seaters (Mercury flew solo astronauts, only).

2) Hardy's book on Ramanujan was based on lectures he gave at Harvard in 1936. [book]

3) George Washington wrote a letter to Benedict Arnold on 5 Dec 1775 ("It is not in the power of any man to command success, but you have done more—you have deserved it, & before this I hope, have met with the Laurels which are due your Toils, in the possession of Quebec") [book]. What the hell is that about? Wasn't Benedict Arnold a traitor? I guess this letter was written before that happened. I wish I knew something about revolutionary America—I guess I should read more books like this one?

Posted by tplambeck at 11:28 PM

Two more ideas for new glasses

I could just copy Bruce, even though he's got the financial restructuring look on his face:


Or how about Barry Goldwater:


Am I on the wrong track here?

Posted by tplambeck at 02:55 PM

I need a new pair of glasses

Somehow I lost my glasses, which I never wear except in the middle of the night when responding to strange noises, vomiting cat(s), or other emergencies.

Ho Chi Minh's eyeglasses

I like this Ho Chi Minh look. But could I carry it off?

Not that it matters to the vomiting cat.

Posted by tplambeck at 11:24 AM

grwster's art project

IMG 1882
Originally uploaded by grwster
all of grw's burning man photos
Posted by tplambeck at 11:17 AM

September 27, 2007

via grw

IMG 2119
Originally uploaded by grwster
Taken at burning man 2007
Posted by tplambeck at 12:42 PM

September 24, 2007

1983 & 2007


Just divide by 5

Posted by tplambeck at 12:58 AM

September 22, 2007

2007.09.15 - pad, Norman Hsu

2007.09.15 - pad, Norman Hsu
Originally uploaded by a_painter

Posted by tplambeck at 06:08 PM

September 15, 2007

Outside the Boxing Club

I walked over to the Luna Taqueria (the burrito place closest to the loft) for a late lunch and was surprised to find it full of tough-looking young guys wearing black T-shirts and close-cropped haircuts. It's usually empty on Saturdays.

"It's the boxing club—they're having fights all day and night," the owner told me. "I wish they'd let me know when they're going to have events like this."

Outside the Boxing Club

I didn't know about the boxing club, so I asked some of the guys in the restaurant where it was.

"Right over there," one guy told me. "See that big SUV—where the line is? They're on a break now, but the next fight starts at 2:30pm."

"How much is it to get in?" I asked.


"Well, that looks like a long line," I said. "Would I be able to see anything if I got in?"

"Probably not," a guy said, who looked pretty tough himself. He had a black eye and was wearing a black T-shirt with a skull on it. "Mostly, if you get in, you stand there and sweat."

"Hmmm—it's probably not for me," I said. They were headed over to the club, so I walked with them. We ran into two other guys who were sparring outside the club.

"There he is," one of the sparring guys said.

"Which one?" his partner said.

"The guy in who just stepped into the street." He looked at me and said, "That's my opponent."

"Ah, well, you look tougher than him, at least to me," I said. "Not that I'd want to fight him, of course!"

He looked me over. "Right," he said.

"Well, anyway...good luck with the fight!" I said.

"See you later," he said, and I left.

Posted by tplambeck at 05:38 PM

September 13, 2007

Conversation at Palo Alto Sol restaurant

GLORIA: So, Owen, what are you doing at recess?

OWEN (4th grader): We talk. We play games. We ran some laps today—the teacher said we could walk one lap, then run two more. I walked one, then ran 6 more. "Good pace, keep it up," he said.

THANE: Hmmm—what do I remember doing in 4th grade recess? I know I had a lot of recesses, so you'd think I remember something. OK—in the winter, after a snowplower might have made the mistake of piling up all the snow in one place on the playground, I remember epic games of King of the Hill. You'd run to the top of the hill, and try to push away kids who challenged you. You had to watch your back in that game! Even if you got knocked off the hill, everyone had on a heavy coat, so it didn't hurt. Yes—very fun.

GLORIA: I don't remember that [Gloria went to school in El Paso].

THANE: Also, races. The PE teacher posted our times—who was fastest at the 40yd dash, who could run the long course around the playground the fastest, things like that. I was never quite the fastest in anything but I followed that stuff closely. I remember at the beginning of 4th grade, a new kid came to town named Mark Harrison. He was wicked fast, and took his place at the top of the 40yd dash chart. We all had to move over for him. Everyone moved down a notch. Also—I remember some girls being almost as fast as the boys. Lynn Rosenlof, for example. She could zip right along.

GLORIA: I was one of those girls. They don't allow competitive stuff like that anymore in grade school. Owen—did you know that at Duveneck, they don't allow kids to play games that have winners and losers?

OWEN: What? How could you play kickball, with no winners or losers? Why?

GLORIA: People think that their kids shouldn't have to lose—that it makes them feel bad.

THANE: Which it does. What's the point of losing if you don't feel bad?

OWEN: Not fun—I'm glad we don't have that rule at Hays. Why no losing?

GLORIA: The parents, they don't want it. Or maybe it's the principal of the school. (Now assuming a teaching tone): But, you know, Owen, I think a person can learn something from losing.

THANE: Right—you learn that you're a loser.

OWEN: Ha, HA-HA! HA! heh HA! ha-haha-ha-ha!!!

GLORIA: Thane!! Owen, don't let your refried beans come out your nose.

OWEN: Ha-hahaha-! You learn you're a loser! Ha!

THANE: Just a little joke—sorry...

Posted by tplambeck at 07:41 PM

The Busycle

Originally uploaded by christophercotton
So I guess the correct spelling is Busycle.

So maybe it's pronounced "bus-sickle."
Posted by tplambeck at 12:45 AM

September 12, 2007

The Buscycle

Flickr slideshow for the tag buscycle.

I see this thing riding around our neighborhood a lot. The Palo Alto Weekly reports that it achieved a new peak speed of 21 miles per hour, "returning from the Palo Alto airport."

Posted by tplambeck at 07:24 PM

September 09, 2007

Quality is Boj 1

Bruce's friend received this catalog in the mail. ("It's not Photoshopped," he says.)


Click it to view it larger.

Added later: grw points out bruce has sent it to boingboing.

Posted by tplambeck at 09:51 AM

September 08, 2007

"Circus Music"

I think someone (forgot who) described the second-to-last variation of the andante cantabile in Beethoven's op18 #5 String Quartet (A major) as "Circus Music."

And when the Music @ Menlo lecturer got to it a couple of years ago, he skipped it over it, and told the student quartet he was directing to move on to the Mozart.

It's fucking genius nevertheless. When I heard it played in person for the first time, the first violinist sat up straight in his chair and drew his foot back with a big scraping noise on the stage. Then he completely cranked it out, louder than anyone would have expected, a complete slamdunk with shattered backboard. The fans streamed onto the court to carry the quartet to the locker room.

Or at least that's how I remember it.

Beethoven Rulez.

Posted by tplambeck at 01:41 AM

Prerequisites & Preparations

I renewed my membership in the American Math Society for the nth year, wondering how many consecutive years I've been a member (it's got to be at least twenty). Supposing I'm struck by a lightning bolt and killed tomorrow, I'm wondering, would this merit a dry acknowledgement in the Math Notices: "He was a member of the Society for 20 years?"

Probably not.

The AMS online renewal system makes it easy to purchase Math books as you renew. Usually I can't resist the temptation, and this time I got a copy of a recent reprinting of I Martin Isaacs's 1976 book Character Theory of Finite Groups, a book that I struggled with as a non-math major (I was about to switch to it) ca 1982.

I think that Spyros Magliveras (perhaps David Klarner, but I doubt it) suggested this topic to me, and I got the Isaacs book out of the University of Nebraska math library, around 1982 or 83. Like in all math books (practically), the author begins by describing necessary Prerequisites & Preparations:

The reader will need to know some basic finite group theory: the Sylow theorems and how to use them and some elementary properties of permutation groups and solvable and nilpotent groups. A knowledge of additional topics such as transfer and the Schur-Zassenhaus theorem would be helpful at a few points but is not essential. The other prerequisites are Galois theory and some familiarity with rings. In summary, the content of a first-year graduate algebra course should provide sufficient preparation.

Now—I offer this text not because I consider it gobbledygook (in fact, I knew a little bit about all those subjects, even then). Instead, I offer it as an exemplar of a common rhetorical device of mathematical writers, the "depressing lead-in."

Mathematicians are always saying, "Ah—welcome! I'm only too delighted that you've decided to read this book! C'mon on in—but—you are in the wrong place, of course. Please leave immediately, put this book down, and go learn what you need to know before reading this book."

I can never be bothered to do that. Who wants to go read another book (or books) first? I've only just decided I want to read this book, and here's the author trying to check my ID. Instead, I think something along the lines of "Riigghht. What is it that's so hard, anyway?" I turn to the first page of the book and it's almost always possible to read the book anyway, looking up definitions only from other books.

Related situation: Someone says something like: "If you have a background in X, it's easy to see that Y." Fuck the background in "X". Tell me why Y, I think.

Anyway, I guess I'm not a good reader. I'm sure Mortimer Adler would say so.

Instead, I try to read things, and run into obstacles. If no solution to the obstacle presents itself in a few moments, I put the book down and consider something else instead (why thrash if there's nothing obvious to be done that might improve the situation)? I reread troublesome things again and again and again, just like I listen to the same Jazz music over and over again. Eventually I don't need to read it again, and I move on to the next random thing I'd like to be able to read. After I never have to read it again, I consider the book beneath contempt, something totally obvious to any breathing entity, no matter how many times I had to read it to understand it. These books I put into boxes and put into the garage.

The effect of this is that I'm always surrounded by books that are pissing me off in some way, or which I have to read again. They're inscrutable, they have introductions that piss me off, they have to be read. They're the books whose Necessary Prerequistes and Preparations I've not yet been able to sidestep.

This blog entry isn't making much sense, so I'll stop.

Posted by tplambeck at 12:16 AM

September 07, 2007


Gloria and I liked this poster stuck on a freeway support in San Francisco.


I looked for other flickr photos of the same poster, found some, and learned there is a web site.

Added later: more Brown Jesus

Posted by tplambeck at 12:09 PM

September 06, 2007

Stompin' at the Savoy

Ella Fitzgerald on her 40th birthday, 25 April 1958, recorded at the Teatro Sistina in Rome.

Liner notes by Phil Schaap:

Count your blessings—the magical voice of Ella Fitzgerald—a treasure of the 20th century [...] but Ella really pulls out all the stops on "Stompin' At the Savoy," which features the only instrumental solo of the concert, a real romp by Oscar Peterson.

It's amazing how she starts out coughing and laughing, sort of like it's a big joke ["How my heart is swayin'" (cough-cough)]. Then Oscar Peterson starts playing at a faster tempo, Ella switches over to skat and it's all pure genius after that ["C'mon Oscar, "roll!" C'mon Oscar, "rock!"]

What happened to music after the late 1950s is a big mystery to me. It started sucking.

Posted by tplambeck at 01:41 AM

September 05, 2007

Palo Alto Back-to-School Night

It was Standing Room Only at Palo Alto public-school Back to School night(s), as usual.

"I used to teach in another district," Cole's 7th grade social studies teacher said. "On their back to school night, I had 8 parents show up. And that's eight parents total, for six different classes." (He spoke in a classroom packed with parents, for just one class). "I've been to thirty-five different countries. I use some of my photos in class."

In Owen's 4th grade classroom: three tarantulas, a snake, a 14 year-old lizard, and a skink. I think there were more animals that I missed.

Cole's 7th grade Japanese teacher, Keiko Nakajima:

Keiko Nakajima

"If you participate in the Japanese exchange student program, hosting a sister-city Japanese child in your home, then your child can go to Japan for a return trip. The Japanese take this very seriously—they do lots more than we do." She had all the parents stand up and bow before her presentation (she bowed, too).

At the elementary school 4th grade presentation, the teachers started listing all the extra resources they have available (aides for every teacher, external funding for all kinds of programs, zillions of parental sign up sheets—with mothers racing to beat each other to them—"I don't know why she mentioned that one," Gloria said. "All the spots are taken.") It took up most of their time, thanking people for all the resources.

The Junior Museum. The Children's Zoo (with $200K bobcat exhibition expansion planned). The children's library (completely renovated). The Children's Theatre, with multiple stages, sort of like Stratford upon Avon, and its award-winning drama program. The multiple orchestral music programs, stuffed with kids taking private lessons. (Owen's violin teacher: "You should prepare the Sukuzki Bach minuet for your audition.") The field trips. The drop-in Stanford lecturers on nanotechnology, neurobiology, and genetics ("only available to our three middle schools," Cole's science teacher said).

"If we are lucky, we will have the Tea Ceremony in San Francisco again this year," Keiko said.

Cole's algebra teacher: an ex-investment banker and 1999 Stanford graduate with a Master's degree in Education. Cole's English teacher: an ex-editor ("don't correct their mistakes, please," she said. "I know the temptation.")

No wonder people want to live here and have their kids attend the public schools.

Posted by tplambeck at 11:57 PM



Madera, California

Posted by tplambeck at 10:25 PM

September 03, 2007

Balloon helicopter

Cole demonstrates the Balloon Helicopter.

Part I: Introduction

Part II: The flight

Posted by tplambeck at 11:03 PM

September 01, 2007

COPS: An appreciation

I like the TV show COPS.


#1) For its central teaching that criminals may be distinguished from the rest of us easily, because they do not wear shirts.

#2) For the introductory remarks of the police officer, accelerating in his cruiser just as he receives his next assignment: "I like this job. We're helping the community. Every day is different."

#3) For the big messes in the houses of the miscreant citizenry, for they are greater than my own.

#4) For its unintended demonstration that the drug laws in the USA are stupid.

#5) For proving that I'm right in assuming lots of other drivers on the road are drunk, stupid, crazy, or stoned, or worse.

#6) For its misplacedly-upbeat reggae theme song.

#7) For the earnest protestations of obviously guilty, just-apprehended people, who approach Shakespearean locutions in their attempts at appeasing the arresting officer.

#8) For its glimpses of everyday locations in cities I'm unlikely to visit: Wichita, Kansas City, Memphis.

#9) For its general sweatiness, which reminds me of Nebraska and the contrastingly temperate weather here in Palo Alto.

#10) For its omnipresence on cable TV.

#11) For its transparently vapid moralizing.

#12) For its images of people jumping out of a car and running to capture (or escape), for these are central themes of human activity for over 500,000 years (except for the car part, that is).

#13) For its view into the human condition as it's lived today on porches with beer cans, kids in diapers, funny uncles, and unpleasant relatives.

#14) For the possibility of violence.

#15) For the possibility of sex.

OK—I've listed 15 reasons, but I'm sure there are more...

Posted by tplambeck at 12:19 AM

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