My Zunivers

30 October 2006

Cider Reformation Rules; or, My Night

Fascinating. My .tex file has a virus, so I can't upload it to Yahoo or Hotmail. Of course, it doesn't actually have a virus at all. I could upload it to my school account except that the school mail is down. You can't get something up when the recipient is down. Hmmm... .suggestive....

My wife is not feeling well, and the symptoms are screaming "strep throat," but I can't convince her to skip school tomorrow (she and I are due for a nice debate over the difference between "motivated" and "stubborn"), so you locals will probably see her. You can be near her, but don't let her spit on you.

In other news, we had a Reformation Party at church tonight (I thought about inviting all of you Catholics I know, but I forgot), including build-your-own bread pizza. There's nothing like a good slice of marinated and roasted red pepper, mushroom, dill pickle, and pepperoni pizza! I also had a piece of ham, mushroom, and pepperoni. And a plain piece. And a cheddar pepperonni piece. And twelve Oreos of various flavors. We all sat down and watched the movie Luther, which was a good show. It was well acted. I enjoyed the delivery of the line during the rant about indulgences "Eighteen of the twelve apostles are buried in Spain alone!"

My wife wasn't there, but I got to hang out with some friends, including a few of the church teenagers who get along with me for some reason. I am a giant four year old. I also helped move furnature and such after the event. In fact, I stayted chatting with my pastor's wife and daughter while we waited with one of the youf for her ride to come. I recalled the good times when I was a youf and my family often closed down the church, many times including a couple who goes to my church now and was there most of the evening tonight. For the first time in a while, ages in fact, I got to be the last one out of church on Sunday evening.

The highlight of the night, though, was the apple cider that someone took for the drink selection. I opened it and one of the youf and I had some. We liked it. I'm a connaisseur of apple cider. I love the stuff. This particular kind was excellent. It had a nice edge to it, a very bold flavor. It was kind of carbonated, like there was Sprite mixed in. So I had some more. And some more. I asked the guy who brought it what was going on, and he said he wasn't sure how old it was, but it tasted good, didn't it? So I had another cup. Then we had the pastor try some, and he said it tasted good but he couldn't pin down why. In fact everyone said that. And so I had some more.

Upon figuring out what it was that was making the cider taste that way, I proudly dedicated the last of my fifth cup to Martin Luther, Man of Ale, and I went off to sit down in a corner and let the buzz wear off (it doesn't take much for me). Yes, I did stop when I figured it out. Good for teetotaling me. I think the moral of the story is either "Nate only drinks in church," "Don't drink the bubbly cider" or "Never again pass up a chance to stagger around the church singing 'A Mighty Fortress Is Our God' with a fake slur and few hiccups" (in other words, "Sing boldy, that grace may abound").

26 October 2006

Lifestyle Centers

With the opening of the poorly named "Shops at the Promenade" (which literally means something like "overpriced stores at the place where you can walk around"; how clever... not) I need to point out something very important. I hate the term "lifestyle center."

This place, and this goes for every other fancy sounding corporate hell hole throughout the nation, isn't a center around which a person makes a lifestyle. You know why? Because it's a fricking mall, that's why. Not only is it a mall, it's a mall where they took off the roof, hooray for temerature extremes, mixed the parking in with everything else, horry for getting run over by people who don't understand pedestrian rights, and only allow stores the likes of which anyone with a budget will never shop, hooray for credit card debt. They have comfy chairs instead of hard benches, too. Note how that fact appears all over on the internet, as if it mattters. And of course, the regular mall here is building a lifestyle center of its own, just to keep up.

I find it very sick and sad that not only can't Americans be bothered to rehabilitate cities, but that they do go so far as to build franchized versions of Main Street, USA, in the suburbs because people just can't face the idea of cities being good for anything. And along with that they arrogantly name their little creations "lifestyle centers" as if there's just something about those places that makes life better. The fact that I can't find a reason why they are called "lifestyle centers" instantly tells me that the term is nothing but a psychological marketing ploy. I'm not being fooled, though. It's a mall. And I need to go throw up now.

PSA For Everyone Expecting Me Today

I had intended to be at a school late afternoon Wednesday, and I told a number of people that I would be there, but I wasn't there. One reason is that my wife went to school at 9:00 and didn't come home until 5:00. Another reason is that I slept. A lot. I slept form about 03:30 to 17:00, inturrupted often for the first half by trips to the bathroom (to do normal things, not anything gross) and then again from 20:00 to 23:30. I'd rather have been awake and doing things, but I felt absolutely awful when I was even awake. I was a bit naseous and bright light was really bothersome. I had no headace at all, though. Anyone have any ideas?

I'm probably going to read for a while now and go to bed, since I finally feel okay but I'm still tired.

25 October 2006

Which Reminds Me...

I may have found the missing link in my family tree. For those of you who haven't heard the story, I've been trying for years to trace my paternal line. The names stop dead at my great-grandfather, but I think I know the names of one or two of his siblings. I'm suspecting that I've only got one or two generations to fill between my great-grandfather and established family lines back to an immigrant buried in Pennsylvania. Anyway, tonight instead of doing real work I found a candidate line for the connection. All I really have to go on is sensible ages for births at this point and what I found tonight is more helpful than anything else I've found so far.

For my family: in case I keel over, tonight's work is saved in a plain text file, rather obviously named, on my computer. Among other places.

John Updike

Yeah, I'm posting too much today.

I was just thinking about John Updike. What originally got me interested in his writing was that he sets his books rather blatantly in real places. Many authors do that, but most don't do it as well as he does. I can say that because I grew up a block from the border between the towns of Mount Judge and Brewer. Although it has been years since I read any of the Rabbit novels, I recall reading Rabbit, Run during late nights in Brown House my last semester of college. There on the couch hundreds of miles from home I knew where Rabbit lived, worked, and played. I had been to all of those places, and I could relate to them.

The long description near the beginning of the novel of Rabbit Angstrom's overnight drive which went through some renamed streets and roads but eventually ended up on Route 10 heading to Morgantown, and from there (possibly even before there) on other real roads to real towns had me hooked. Brewer was Reading and Mount Judge was Mount Penn, down to the streets, the buildings, and even the people. The story took place in a better time, one that I would like to have seen with my own eyes, but one that I only know from stories from my parents and grandparents.

Of course, a person doesn't need to be from the southesternmost corner of Brewer to like Updike. A person just needs to find something likable in Updike. I'll admit that I was not impressed with Memories of the Ford Administration. In the Beauty of the Lilies looked too dull for words. S. and Seek My Face, too. My first Updike book was Couples, a tour de force of sexual impropriety in New England. Although interesting, it had that everyone gets the STD feel to it.

The sex in there wasn't nearly as disturbing (I think that's the right word) as a particular scene in the Poconos in Rabbit Is Rich, but you'll just have to read it for yourself if you want to know more about that. John Updike is over sexual-- my wife proabably would flog me for reading a tenth of it-- and in Villages Updike made a point of making fun of the critics for mocking his sex writing, something you can find by simply reading the table of contents, which is all of it that I've read.

Here is how I recommend getting to know Updike. If you are a fan of Nicholson Baker's books like The Mezzanine then you should start where Updike started, The Poorhouse Fair. The story spans a day and is full of interesting details about it. If you don't like that sort of thing, you can skip it.

I highly recommend The Centaur, including the fascinating untranslated Greek sentence near the end (it took me a while to get the drift, but I eventualy figured out it was... well... go read it; only tonight did I accidently find this sentence translated, sparking my interest in writing this post). The Centaur is also set in a real but renamed place, and if you don't know where I'll leave it to you to figure out. The story involes a father, a son, and a snowstorm that keeps them from getting home. There are some related and intertwined passages involving Chiron et al. (Sorry for the language mash up there at the end.) Everyone bonds.

Gertrude and Claudius was a good read. That's all I can really say about it. It was the first Updike book I owned. Peter has since given me a copy of The Centaur, the last Updike book I've gotten.

If you want an amusing display of clergy gone wrong, A Month of Sundays, which I read in the library of Mount Holyoke College over a few sweltering afternoons in June 2005, is your kind of book. The book is the diary of a priest sent to a monestary to get some things out of his system. Each week there is a sermon that starts as a decent sermon but then goes all Barth on us, and there is lots of cursing of Jesus and such. Not that I condone such behavior. But it's an interesting look at the type of person who is, well, like the type of person that the character is.

Yes, you see now why I don't do literature for a living. "Moby Dick was about a whale. Must have been a big one, otherwise the book would be smaller. Or interesting."

If you'd like to see what happens to people who want to find God in the gaps, as well as some other amusing things going on, you should read Roger's Version. In fact, if you're not up for hearing Chiron and Venus discuss virginity and soem sort of touching scene in a high school stairwell during a basketball game, skip The Centaur and start here.

I haven't read any of the short stories, and I'm not a much of a short story kind of guy, but I've been told that Bech is as amusing as Rabbit. So if you want Updike in shorter pieces you'll probably like the Bech collection.

I do need to read two or three more Updike books. Why? Because I've read approximately as many John Updike novels as Tom Clancy novels (I've read all the Ryan books except Teeth of the Tiger). I'd like to have a real author be the one I've read the most.


Sylvia turned over 150000 miles tonight at the corner of Buckeye Rd. and PA-29. Literally at the corner. The numbers were almost turned when I stopped for the traffic light and they finished as I went through the intersection. We drove most of the way to Cedar Crest with that glorious number on the odometer, bright and shiny. I'll also note that Vera Cruz Rd., and whatever name it might take from Vera Cruz to Shimerville, was a fun ride. I'd never driven it before.

24 October 2006

Why Do People....

-- Think that my sister can get a job as a math teacher anywhere that she wants?

-- Think that I'm going to be dirt rich as soon as I finish my Ph.D.?

I'm pretty sure that the math teaching market isn't very wide open, or at least isn't very wide open outside the places where nobody wants to teach, like major cities in the south. If a place is hurting for math teachers they could at least stop whinging abotu how they can't find any until they, say, offer to hire teachers. Meanwhile, Ph.D. physicists don't get paid much more than any other middle class schmuck (high middle class people who work 80 hours a week in industry get paid more than most other middle class schmucks whether they are physicists or accountants, but they are just that much schmuckier for the fact that they have no lives), at least not for the first few decades of their careers. Prestige and happiness come at a cost, after all.

The fact that many people think these things is one more proof that many people are out of touch with reality.

23 October 2006

Meet Henry

Heidi is semi-permanently out of commission. She was having, um, issues. She'll stay around, though, as a bookend.

Now in my office I am running Henry, a computer that Jeff S. gave to me (and might take back when he hears its new name!). All he needed was some RAM and a hard drive. He's tiny, about 4 by 12 by 15, but he works. So far anyway. I'll install some compilers and such in the next few days.

I'd love to stay and chat but I need to get home. My adviser wants me to have a rewrite of the The Content Free Paper to show to him tomorrow.

What's Been Going On

I fixed the bug in the second computer program for Le Projet Perpetuel. Apparently I had some variables for some ranges and then I decided that I wanted the ranges of the parameters to be independent. When I made that change I accidently kept none of the old variables. And now I have one of my Fortran professors voices in my mind saying "If you don't follow good programming practice you'll cause yourself a lot of grief." Wise man. Delete variables when no longer used. I deleted them, put in the appropriate new variables, and now it's working all shiny-like and mad cool.

I also realized why my algorithm to evaluate everything is crapping out. I'm assuming evenly spaced points in one of my variables, and I have the variables I can control evenly spaced, but what I'm actually comparing is two sets of unevenly spaced points. Oops. This will be fun to fix. It is something I could do by hand, but why spend 100 hours working by hand when I could put maybe 20 hours into the program and have it all go at the push of a button? For those who have no experience in these things, computers are the way of the future.

In other news, I am finally writing up my statement of research interests for a particular job application. Fat chance I'll get the job, but you never know. What is working against me is that I'm from a nowhere grad school and it is a research job in a very different field from what I'm doing now. What is working for me is that I know many of the required tools and I have some familiarity with the new field. Well, I know who to call anyway. They don't know me, at least not any of the Americans. But I'm willing to crack jokes. It's a balancing act, you see. It needs to be a 2-3 page thing I can submit online, so I can't do what I really want to do and sculpt it. Of course, that might be over the top...

"Why didn't your application include a statement of research interests and what is this glued together pile of Paint Your Own Pottery?"

"Oh, that. That is my statement research interests. It symbolizes the human condition and how I want to improve it by sucking up government money studying things that won't help anyone ever except me because I get to buy food and toys. That's what the chip on the left that makes the crack up the whole thing to that brown blotch on the left means, anyway. The rest is about my new models for overlaying differnet types of social networks, something I currently know nothing about. ... Pretty, ain't it?"

"Well... yes... this shade of yellow would go well in our conference room. But the brown blotch will need to point down. We'll take you, if you can make a blue one too."

Sure. Like that would happen.

This weekend my sister came over and we took a drive. We took Sylvia because I didn't want to make my sister drive and I didn't want to ruin Babette. I wanted to show her what leaves were left, and she'd never been up over them thar' hills north of the Lehigh Valley. So we went form here to Stroudsburg, where we got gas and snacks (a spontaneous stop at the ALDI on 611 produced trail mix and beef jerkey), up to Tannersvile, back to Brodheadsville (um, I meant to go more northward?), over to Lehighton (the Country Junction is a total wreck; sort of looks cool though) and then up to Jim Thorpe.

Actually, I accidently drove past Jim Thorpe on 209 South (which goes north through there) and didn't get a chance to turn around until Nesquehoning. Details, details. Anyway, back in Jim Thorpe we found a place to park near the far end of town and walked down, down, down, through the dusk past the Old Jail, past the museum, past everything until we got to the courthouse. From there we went up to the Packer Mansion and had a gander at the exterior, then back down to the "park" by the train station, and then up Race Street until it ended, and then back up to the car. It was a refreshing walk. Boring town, though, although a train ride sometime might be fun.

On the drive back I turned off 209 onto 248, I saw the 248 East sign, and said "Wait, I want to go West." I immediately turned around, and, upon returning to the intersection of 209 and 248 and turning onto 209 North, I said "Wait a minute, 248 ends here! I can't go west. Duuuuuuh!" So I got that straightened out and, after picking up a half gallon of Green's Graham Central Station flavor ice cream, we got home. Once home I made chicken and brown rice while the girls talked Real Analysis in the living room. We ate and my sister departed. But she will return soon.

A reminder for all of you, Carmina Burana is in two weeks. This concert is going to suck in terms of how much concert you get for your ticket price, unless you're a student. Regular tickets are $18. At the Missa Solemnis concert last spring you would have gotten two hours of music for that price, a really good buy compared to the professional orchestras in the area. This time you'll get just over an hour (okay, like an hour 20), so your price to pleasure ratio will be almost equivalent to seeing the pros. But you'll get to hear a brand new piece for electric violin along with the most trite choral masterwork of early Nazi Germany. Um, yeah. Guess who's looking forward to singing something else every week?

21 October 2006

On Grief

I was talking to a friend online recently and I found out that he's had a death in his immediate family. In the past few months, I've known people from school and church who have faced the same thing. Within the past year I've helped an out of town friend find his father's grave near where I live. I mentioned a week or two back that I don't really know what to tell these people. The only one that I've been able to have something like a conversation with (as in more than a few words, and something a little more deep than just the surface) is a person who I've noticed approaches life quite similarly to the way that I do. He prefers to handle mourning alone, and tends to be humorous about it in public. That's exactly what I do.

Overall, I think our culture is too rosy to help us understand grief. America is optimism. America is positive. America is thoughts over feelings, actions over consideration, outward over inward. In other words, America is a dream. The world can't always work that way. I'm not saying that for every individual American life is good. On the whole, though, we do push aside things that don't fit into our positive cultural ideals. Those of us who live within the ivory towers of academia can lose sight of this easily because we're trained to criticize everything, but it is out there. Even if life isn't currently good for some Joe Blow, Joe Blow wants a life that at least fits inside a comfortable American box. His desires are positives-- freedom, money, health, friendship.

Death is not the happiest of things, really. The living need to come to terms with losing one of thier own, no longer having that person, for better or for worse. Sometimes this loss is significant, as with a spouse, parent, sibling, or child. Family members are a wealth of experiences and wisdom that often goes untapped. Close friends can be just as hard to lose. There are other times that the loss isn't terribly significant. The person reported murdered in some other state on the news. Death in a war on another continent. If we reflect on such deaths we realize that they are probably quite significant for someone, but we don't let it affect us personally. In those times when we do not need to deal with loss ourselves, we find our chance to ignore this dreadful thing, saving ourselves for the time when there is a loss that impacts us significantly. There is too much death out there for us to care about each one individually.

I know that it is natural to try to avoid distasteful things. I'm not sure, however, if ignoring is really the best way to deal with all non-immediate death around us-- death that is close to those who we know but not close to ourselves. I say that for two reasons.

First, I've talked a lot so far about things like "personal" and "individual." Those are significant words because they disconnect a person from other people. I sometimes wonder, and I said this a week or two back, why we are so willing to celebrate with others but not willing to grieve with the same people. I've had people argue that it comes down to how an individual grieves. Perhaps not everyone is invited to help, just like not everyone gets invited to a party. I handle sadness by myself, not with others. I do my crying at home and I stay home if I have to cry. When I am forced to talk with others about death, I often exhibit a bleak and morbid sense of humor, twisted to the point that others find it pathological. So I agree, not everyone is alike. But even if that is true, there is one difference. We don't often treat someone who has faced happiness and returned with the same sort of bumbling confusion we show when the grieving face someone's death and return. At least not in America.

My favorite element of the Hispanic cultures rising in our country is that they (maybe not all, but at least some of them) handle death not as individuals but as a community. Of course those closest to the dead are those most affected, but those who are more distant do feel affected. This would not be simple to force upon America as a whole because the Hispanic people have something most Americans lack-- a group identity as part of their culture. I did not say as part of their immigrant culture, as if they band together only because they face a sea of different norms beating on them. I mean in their native culture. Community, to use that trite word, matters. This includes taking on death together rather than hiding it in a closet somewhere, hoping those who have had to deal with it stay in that closet as well until they can act normally again. I think it can be helpful for people to know that they are not alone in their mourning. Even if someone prefers to grieve privately, it might be helpful to simply have in mind that others are in fact hurting with you rather than simply living normally and waiting.

Sometimes I think that one reason we avoid dealing with deaths that mean a lot only to those around us is that somewhere inside us we do feel their hurt with them but our individualistic culture doesn't give us a framework in which we can deal with being part of a community. After all, many of us have failed to show up to a party, because we desire to do something other than corporately celebrate. Or we'll go to the party, just like to a funeral, to show our support, and then high-tail out of Dodge City to our own lives as soon as we can. One reason to take on death, then, might be that it can help us get back in touch with our social natures-- our need to be bonded in many ways with others.

The second reason I think hiding from non-immediate death is not the best idea is related to this. We don't get any practice for ourselves if we do nothing but stamp out our feelings and hide. When it is our turn to mourn, we could be better prepared if we took the time to hurt with others' hurt. I do mean being prepared in both having experienced a sense of loss and faced it, even if it is not as extreme a loss. But I also mean being prepared in practical ways. When will I feel like talking about it? When will I want to stop talking about it? How much time can I take from work? How exactly does a person go about disposing a relative's body, anyway? What will I feel? What will I think? What will I ask? Who have I seen go through this that can I talk to? Who should I avoid, no matter how well meaning they might be? And on and on. I don't think it would take much for us to strengthen ourselves.

When people we know are mourning we can't bear everything for them. We might not even be able to offer empathy, saying "I know how you feel." But at the very least, we could tell them something more than "That's not good. I'm sorry" as if we're sorry that they need to be them. And it's not that we need to tell them "Don't worry, Everything is okay." What would be nice is to say "I feel. It may not be what you feel, but it comes from knowing you're dealing with losing something important. I'm not just here to hold you up, I'm here to fall a little with you. I can't be you and take on what you are experiencing, but this life is ours, not just yours or mine." That isn't exactly the first thing that comes to our minds when our friends grieve. Even if we think it and let it lead us to act, we don't say it that directly. Maybe everyone else does this and it's just me who is the odd one. I wish that I could figure out how to give and take this sort of thing with others. We might all be better off for it.

20 October 2006

I'm With Gordon

He says that rock music is boring compared to Elizabethan ballads. I applaud him.

19 October 2006

Math Education

Before I start, I think I'm over yesterday, which was a Very Bad Day.

So, here's something that makes me say "Duh!" Math skills and confidence don't go hand in hand.

Other countries do better than the United States because they seem to expect more from students, he [the study's author] said. That could also explain why high performers in other nations express less confidence and enjoyment in math. They consider their peer group to be star achievers.

Even efforts to make math relevant may be irrelevant, says the study, released Wednesday.

For most people, math beyond arithmetic is not useful, so I actually wish that math wouldn't be taught for its usefulness. If kids spend six years being told "Here's what math is good for, that's why you need to know it, here's what it's good for, that's why you need to know it" then I'd like to know what the teachers can really say about, for example, conic sections, or integration by parts. I can list a large number of uses for both, but the common person contributing to the good of society will not have heard of any of them. And I find math to be useful in all kinds of places that I don't expect it. Without good critical thinking skills, a kid who is told that the volume formula for a rectangle can calculate the capacity of a fish tank isn't going to know that the formula is good for so much more than calculating the capacity of a fish tank, like finding the side length of a cube shaped fish tank of a given capacity. That's a zany example but you get my idea.

Another problem I have with math is that it is full of words. I don't often find least common factors when I multiply fractions, for example. I cross multiply and screw it if I could have multiplied by a third as much both ways to have the least common multiple in the denominator. Arguably I do this sort of thing out of experience, but that doesn't quite satisfy me. If it is just experience, why does my wife sound like she's speaking Greek when I hear her tutoring algebra? She uses those terms because that's what is in the books, not because you need all those terms to get the problem solved. Most of the math I know I've learned by doing it, not by having it explained to me using a load of strange jargon. The fact that students often learn really well by seeing example problems makes me think I'm not alone.

The biggsest problem I have with teaching math, though, is that learning math takes doing work in math. An educational system that is all about improving students "self concept" (which is like self esteem but apparently not or it would be called such) misses such fundamental ideas as educational progress being proportional to achievement or grades being based on knowledge. Shock and horror that countries with those sorts of standards do better academically than touchy-feely la-la lands like ours-- not! It shouldn't really surprise anyone that an educational system built around something other than education fails to educate, but nobody in the establishment seems to understand that.

While I'd like to agree with Francis "Skip" Fennell, I can't. He seems to be focusing on majoring in math in college, but math is far more than that. As much as mathematicians talk about math being beautiful and bull bull bull, math is, no matter what you say about its essence, for most people a tool. You don't need to be confident to use a tool and you don't need to enjoy using a tool to use a tool, you need to be competent in using a tool. People who use a tool will become confident using that tool, too. I know many engineers who can do sophistaicated math related to their own work but can't do the same math if it is unrelated to their work. Confidence isn't going to come from being told math is useful, it is going to come from using math. That might mean that students in a good system are not confident until later, when they specialize and become confident only within their specialty.

My sister, by the way, has a nice rant about how arithmetic with negative numbers is taught incorrectly. Most teachers and books say that adding a negative number is subtraction. The truth is that the thing we call subtraction is adding a negative number. Similarly, multiplication by the inverse of a fraction isn't like division. Division is multiplication by the inverse of a fraction. (This one usually gets treated more properly.) If you don't believe me, go look up the operations listed for the ring of real numbers. You'll find addition and multiplication. And if you look up what a ring is you'll figure out that those two operations and the idea of thier inverses take care of all four operations on a calculator. Yeah, four compared to four. Math is symmetric that way. But you can get one type of inverses by multiplication by -1, and that's the most basic number you use to make imaginary numbers, so I think that makes the real numbers forming a ring a better way to look at arithmetic than the way a calculator shows it. (That has got to be one of the nerdiest thigns I've ever said.) Look at it however you prefer, though.

Anyway, my sister thinks, and I agree with her, that this makes a big difference in how students perceive problems involving negative numbers. The only thing I didn't talk to her about is exactly what to do about it. What it really comes down to is answering the question "How do you teach the specific before the general in a way that assures that learning the general does not involve un-learning a specific?" Obviously I ask that because we can't take kidergarteners and teach them about rings so that by middle school they're ready to learn the finer points of subtraction being addition by a negative. It would be fun to try teaching our kid brother about rings, though!

18 October 2006

Eggs On The Noggin

My brain is numb, like it's been fried or something. That's why I haven't been posting anything of any seriousnes lately.

I had total freak-out on the drive home today because I was surrounded by idiot drivers and snapped. Total idiot drivers. The kind where you honk your horn because they're about to hit you and they decide that means "That person must want me to work harder to get in the way." Total jerk-offs. I'm reinstating the rule that I do not drive between 4:00 and 7:00, curse all else that anyone might need.

And then I was totally hungry, which probably contributed to the freak-out, so I came home and have proceeded to eat way too much. Not a good thing for a fat guy to do.

This weather is partucularly bad here now. It's too warm to keep the windows closed but too humid to feel cool with the windows open. (This is where one of my colleagues' idea that I need to just get a dehumidifier breaks down. I need to constantly replace the humid air with more humid air to keep the temperature down. If I replace the air, close the doors, and dehumidify, the air temperature goes up during the dehumidification and we're back to the dryer but too warm state we started with.) And that WeatherWench on TV who said how beautiful the weather will be tomorrow? She can come suck my, well, nothing, actually, because if I see her tomorrow there'll be a beat down before she can even reach me. Summer is over.

I'm trying to figure out what to do with my life, since being a liberal arts professor and researching emerging, interdisiplinary things don't go together. Small departments don't want fruits, they want people who solidly work in an established discipline. I don't want to work in a time-honored discipline, I want to be part of an emerging one. In other words, I'm a fruit. And as a fruit I've got to whip up a really quick application packet for a job that is open but that is a very long shot for me to actually get. Grumble. It's hard to write a brief paper on your research interests when your research interests lie outside the research you actually know about....

My desire for the comments for the referee's review for the Content Free Paper is to scan a photo of my middle finger. There are two kinds of negative reviews, the kind that come from things in the paper actually being done wrong and the kind that come from people who don't even know about the field and wonder why everything you did isn't related to thier own field. We've got the latter on our hands. Seriously, asking us why we didn't comment at length about how the range of an attractive potential energy compares to range of repulsive interactions that aren't present in this system? Wondering why we used volume fraction (which is actually number density) instead of real concentration units when we're always taking a ratio that cancels the units and conversion factors? Why do we dismiss the difference we find from the previous work as a problem with the previous work's use of a technique that was conclusively demonstrated to thuroughly suck back when Nixon was president? And why on Earth did we use all these things that we clearly state are from someone else's model instead of starting from scratch and builiding a space elevator to boot? Oh, that's just a sampling of the lunacy. Of about 15 criticisms (we're not sure if we should count the point on the outline that isn't even a coherent sentence fragment) exactly one has some merit. We worded something improperly and the sentence makes it sound like the opposite of what is happening is happening. But even so, someone needs to consider taking the Small Bus to work, and it's not us.

I found the problem in my most rencent program. The good news is that I'm all set up to get decent results. The bad news is that the results are extremely sensitive to the derivative of a quantity, but I need to take that derivative numerically, which sucks for precision. My Fortran 95 code runs significantly faster than the Russian kid's MATLAB code (I'm comparing a 333 MHz Celeron for the Fortran code to a 2.0GHz P4 for the MATLAB and still going twice as fast in real time with the Fortran) and that pleases me, consdiering that I didn't maximize the efficiency in two places. So, happy joy, if I can overcome this derivative problem.

I'm once again tired of being up late at night by myself. I need to find some nocturnal friends so that I can do something like chat with them online. If I'm going to be here too fried to work but still waiting to get tired I might as well have something to do. (This isn't meant as a slight against you real friends who keep regular hours, it's just a sign of the chronic depression that I've had for 20 years. I admit that I'm needy and high maintainence, but I'll point out that you get what you pay for.) And, honestly, there are things I need to talk to people about that I can't talk about with anyone, so that doesn't help either.

Forward in life I go. Even if I'm currently bored with all the music I do own, I still have music. I got to bed an hour late last night becuase I wanted to listen to one song from Turandot before bed and ended up listeing to soem of the second act and the entire third act. Right now I'm in the mood for some renaissance choral stuff, or maybe Rachmonioff's Piano Concerto no. 3. Or some middle and late romantic short programmatic pieces. A large string quartet, maybe. Or some German opera. Or anything in German.

Tomorrow I get to reinstall Linux on my work computer, which broke today. Hooray! That's always a fun thing.

17 October 2006

Maintaining Steve

I talked to one of my Steves tonight for a few minutes (Thanks for calling, dude! And for giving me your phone number) and I realized something-- I have three Steves who read my blog. I usually sort out which comments belong to whom based on content and asking or elimination. But I do have a request for you guys. Could you comment with a last initial? Your last names are all different. That would help me know who is saying what without having to figure it out. Yeah, I'm just that fat and lazy. You can come over and do my dishes too.

You guys rock. I'm glad I entertain you on some sick level.

This Might Prove How Dumb I Am

It doesn't even involve this afternoon when Jeff let me follow him into the machine shop.

Am I totally crazy or is one of our department's first year graduate students in Choral Union? I thought I saw a familiar face over in the second sopranos tonight, but I'm really not sure. I think it's the one who had a chicken salad sandwich at Bridgeworks when she visited and we went to lunch. No, I don't keep track of what women eat. I only remember when other people order things that I think I might want to order or that I know I wouldn't ever order.

The fact that I couldn't solve this mystery on my own, and even the fact that it is a mystery, and that it's this late in the semester when I realize it is a mystery, and that I can't remember her name or face dispite having probably lectured about math physics in front of her last week, tempts me to tell one of those jokes about why at choir parties the basses are always happily chatting over by the food. You know, like, "Because the tenors are chasing the sopranos skirts, the altos are hiding in case the tenors figure out that the sopranos aren't just playing hard to get, and the sopranos are throwing prissy fits about the tenors singing three measures of the melody." There are a bazillion other variations. Some of them involve the basses getting all the booze. Others involve the basses chasing the tenors, or thier skirts.

Suffice it to say on the subject of voice part clubbishness-- "Oh, how true." I know most of the basses and baritones. I don't know by name a single one of the women, except the one who sends the e-mails. My wife will say "Thank goodness" but she should know that I'm actually not attracted to singing women unless they're really hot. They are annoying like me, always breaking out into song, singing along with headphones, or playing a round of Riccardo Muti Is In My Living Room. (I actually identify more with Sidney Rothstein, but I figured I'd go for someone more universally known.)


Oh, right, then. Well, come and get us.

[Cue Mitch McVicker song] And he sang I, I've heard about blood. I think it stands for Love. And one day I'll be sittin' up in heaven on an easy chair Sippin' lemonade-- love lives there.

Yeah, that choice leaves options for optimism and pessimism.

(Did I just quote a CCM song?)

16 October 2006

Name That Opera

And some of you are clueless about operas, so I'll totally know that you cheated.

O welche Lust, in freier Luft
Den Atem leicht zu heben!
Nur hier, nur hier ist Leben,
Der Kerker eine Gruft.

Wir Wollen mit Vertrauen
Auf Gottes Hilfe bauen!
Die Hoffnung flüstert sanft mir zu:
Wir werden frei, wir.

O Himmel! Rettung! Welch ein Glück!
O Freiheit! Kehrst du zurück?

Sprecht leise! Haltet euch zurück!
Wir sind belauscht mit Ohr und Blick.

Sprecht leise! Haltet euch zurück!
Wir sind belauscht mit Ohr und Blick.
O welche Lust, in freier Luft
Den Atem leicht zu heben!
Nur hier, nur hier ist Leben.
Sprecht leise! Haltet euch zurück!
Wir sind belauscht mit Ohr und Blick.

I love that song. I sang it once and I can't get it out of my head tonight. I think the reason why is that I'm struggling with deciding what to do with my future, on top of regular work. Cursed transition periods.

13 October 2006

Links! Links!

Here are two that I just have to post. My knowledge of the first is currently due to my sister in law. My knowledge of the second is originally due to Peter.

Faerie's Nightmare

Priestly Genitalia

Okay, those aren't the titles of the pages, they're just hints at the contents.

A Poem

I wish I were in Buffalo
So I could play out in the snow.
The white stuff, it is everywhere
The Joy of that, none can compare.

But I am here at school instead
(I feel I'd rather I be dead)
To teach about the deuteron.
My sanity is surely gone.

(Guess who's up early to guest lecture Math Physics?)

(What classroom does that meet in anyway?)

12 October 2006

TMI About Health Is Back

Just so you know, if you don't want to hear about my latest urinary tract problems then please don't ask me how I'm doing. I mean it.

(This is a reference to a very disgusting post near the beginning of my archives with a similar title that mentioned the same subject. If I were mean person I'd talk about it all again and that would teach all of you about complaining.)

BIg T and the Oaktones

I figured some of you would be interested in the music by this band. Dave Barry himself once or twice mentioned Big T and the Oaktones song "I Want Your Sex Pootie" I also like "'Merican Cheese" a lot. I've heard afew of the other songs listed, but I don't remember them,. You'll need to go listen and formulate your own opinions.

10 October 2006


My friend's mom, who has been struggling with cancer for years, died yesterday morning. That sucks. The sad part is that even though I want to I really don't have anything to say to him. Most of you know that I don't have one of those eternally uplifting personalities. Did you ever know a person who you could always count on to pull you up when you're down? It's not me you're thinking about. The best I can do when bad things happen is to make jokes, and when something as bad as one of my friends' parents dying happens, I don't even let my mind start down that path. When my parents finally do die (no reason to rush it guys) I'll make an exception, because that's how I can encourage myself. And you're both funny alive, so why not also be funny dead? So, anyway, that has me down a little now that I've been able to think about it. It's part of being in a community. When one person hurts we all hurt a little. It's the oppposite of the part we pay attention to-- that we celebrate with others' success.

In other news, my adviser is still alive dispite being sick for almost two weeks. I got a note today asking me if I could lecture for his class on Friday, so tomorrow I need to learn everything I ever wanted to forget about Hermitian operators. That will be good for me beacuse it's a general topic related to what I have usually filled in teaching (he's usually sick later in the semester), solving PDEs with integral transforms. And it's something I really should understand, since I hope to someday be the token theorist in a money-grabbing liberal arts physics department (I'm too cynical for my age, I know) and they'll probably want me to teach undergrad math physics. Integral transforms are my favorite way of solving PDEs, so I guess I really should love Strum-Liouville theory and such. Now I have an excuse to take a step in that direction on "company time." I found a dead bug on top of my copy of Arfken, so I guess the book is happy to be out again after a year or two in hiding. I might use Matthews and Walker instead, though. I'd prefer to use Whittaker and Watson, but finding that one is a real bear.

We went to dinner at the Spirkos' place tonight, and that was great fun. Good food, good times. Thanks for letitng us come over :) I never knew that there were actually people who would set up a wireless network on their dial-up connection, but if I had to take a guess out of everyone I know besides my brother in law, it would be you guys.

Music Notes

I tried out Bruckner today, the 4th symphony ('78 version), but got inturrupted halfway through, to the point that I had to stop, so I still have no comments on him. I'll try it again later.

I also recently got a copy of a Georg Solti recording of Beethoven's 9th Symphony with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Besides the track itself having a warm sound, I really like the gentle tempo. The scherzo is excellent, a competition between the rythmic and flowing lines, rather than the rhythmic lines overpowering everything. And unlike a number of recordings I've heard of this symphony, the chorus is clear enough that you can actually hear the words. Even the live performance I saw at Wheaton didn't quite have that.

Another CD in the pile is Busoni's piano concerto, but need to return it to the sender (i.e. the person who burned it and gave it to me) because the track information got burned but not the tracks themselves. Ever put in a CD and be able to skip from track to track but not play any of them because they aren't there? Great fun. Thinking about it, I could just buy the thing, since no matter what it sounds like it's an odd enough combination to be attractive to me. I'm a sucker for any over-the-top romantic music.

I'm really getting the itch to hear Tallis' Spem in Alium. Perhaps I need to go pick up a copy of that, too. And Ippolitov-Ivanov's Caucasian Sketches.

(Ha-ha. Funny thing just happened. I wandered over to and searched for one of those CDs but misspelled something. Amazon got confused and said "Hey, we don't have that. Are you interested in one of these three books?" The choices were, from left to right, a Landau physics text, a Polkinghorne book on science and religion, and a MacArthur Bible commentary.)

A week or two from now the National Symmphony Chorus will be taking on Beethoven's Missa Solemnis. Rumor has it that there are still tickets available, but I have no interest in the pricetag. Or in getting kicked out for humming along, although with the crowd at the back of the balcony at the Kennedy Center who knows what's permissible. Don't touch the bottom of the seats. And so on.

I had the chance to watch the platinum release of The Little Mermaid this weekend and there are two things to point out. First, Jodi Benson said in an interview she still sings "that song" all the time. You know, the one I sing all falsettoey and such, "Part of Your World." Second, I never saw The Black Cauldron. Have any of you seen it? Have any of you even heard of it? (Who cares if it's like the book or not. You can argue about that somewhere else. Movies can stand alone.)

09 October 2006

Isn't This Freaking Fantastic?

North Korea had a little earthquake.

08 October 2006

Where Have I Been

Yeah, it's a shock when I'm not here pontificating and otherwise making a fool of myself every day. Or maybe it's a relief. I spent all of my posting time last week razzing on some people at a message board I visit, on the subject of homeschooling. Besides the usual crap about socialization and unqulified parents I also had to deal with the "homeschooling can't prepare a child to study science no matter what" lot.

So I've been around. A few of you have seen me in person. Fede even talked to me about my last post. Peter and I continue to play a game. I got to work this week and actually programmed. I think that is going okay although it's discouraging that it's taking this long. Right now is academic job hunting season, and I'm going to have to sit out this season and hope for the best once I can get to it. Maybe I can dredge up a year of postdocoral work somewhere that would lead me to my dream temporary job (a year at the Santa Fe Institute). And then I could get a job at some nice liberal arts college in some very cold place like Maine. Or not.

I got to chat with my mom and brother yesterday. Sometime soon I'm going to try to visit my dad or have him over. I think I'll call my sister this afternoon.

04 October 2006

What I'm Thinking

In my mind today I rediscovered why I get frustrated with people-- people lack perspective. The main frustration I have is that people in arguments, for example, is that most people spend their energy trying to argue why they are right and so spend no time trying to figure out why they could be wrong.

This came up because of the recent "science vs. religion" dabate I talked about a few posts back. I almost always get frustrated with those discussions of any serious matter of a philosophical bent, no matter who is talking. People define terms so as to be convenient for them to prove their own point and make sure to police their opponents useage, constantly insisting that the other person is incompetent for lacking subtle shades of meaning and oblivious to the fact that their opponents are doing the same with other shades of meaning. People who want to say two things are different but do not step back and look for what the things have in common along with the differences. People who want to say that two things are the same don't bother to look at the differences alogn with what's in common. Analogies often bring those last two to a boil; one party builds an analogy to aid in understanding and the other party, instead of seeing the point that comes from the similarity, goes on to pick about or even build an opposing argument from the inevitable differences between the analogy and the matter of debate. And then there's the Queen Mother Of All Stupidities-- people who insist that the other side prove itself to an extent that they cannot prove their own side.

One thing about many of my friends, and something that quickly endears me to people whether I agree with them or not, is when I see them being reflexive (that's inner sociologist's phycho-ed-babble coming out). And the sheer number of people who come across as incapable of doing this is why there is a sheer number of people that I really can't stand. The guy who sings off key in front of the church and who after the service comes to demand an explanation for why I did something wrong with his microphone level. The person who insists that evolution takes faith too so Christianity is right. The person who insists that science can prove things and religion can't without bothering to consider that the definition of proof being used comes from science and can't be expected to apply away from there. The person who builds his conception of truth on his own experiences and then complains that everyone else is subjective. The person who complains about local politicians but only votes in national elections. The person who insists without any reason that any behavior is okay as long as it doesn't hurt anyone but then wants people with a different system of ethics to prove why their system is better. And on and on and on.

I don't insist on agnosticism. People can come to conclusions. But I do insist that everyone admit their assumptions and predjudices and that they take time to consider the assumptions and predjudices of others. I freely admit that being reflexive rather than a stubborn mule is not something I can prove as the best approach to having a healthy a mind. I do have experience that has demonstrated some very good things. It helps me get along with (even if I'm not close friends with) people with lots of kinds of ideas because it keeps me from hacking relfexively at every statement I don't like. It makes me search what other people are thinking, and I enjoy the understanding that comes from that. I also enjoy using that knowledge to carefully pick my arguments with people, saving my energy for things that matter to me and not wasting it on people who will never agree or understand. The icing on the cake is that I've gotten a lot of kudos from professors for tearing my own little ideas apart. I don't think any of that amouts to proof that being reflexive is the ultimate in being a thinker, but I feel really comforable with it so that's what I go for.

Chances are if you're reading this you're someone I know (almost certainly) and someone I've decided is okay (most of you). Go you! You don't need to worry about me hating you or anything like that. But, if you don't already do it, I would like you to consider whether or not you'll enjoy or gain anything from practicing reflexive thinking. You can probably learn things, both from what you think and what you don't think. I'll let you ponder that last line.

Quote Of The Day

Sorry that I had to throw this into a separate post. You'll understand soon enough.

Magical Phil (speaking on the psychology of magic tricks): "I had you so focused on your card that you couldn't see the forest for the trees."

Me: "Or the sheep for the sex."

Yeah, I'm gross.

03 October 2006

Tomorrow's Meal

While you all are eating whatever you're eating for lunch tomorrow, I'll be here at home eating a nice chunk of swiss steak fresh from the crock pot. Life is beautiful. Except for the fact that I need to be in Whitaker by 11:45 for a class that I'm getting no credit for attending. Sucks. So I'll probably be done with lunch before you get started.

Now if only I could get some work done....

02 October 2006

Quote Of The Day

While bickering about worldviews on a message board today I managed to compose this fine sentence--

Somewhere along the way you'll need to use some language to express that atheists, agnostics, Christians, and whoever else you might want to include or exclude from the conversation can only reach so far in their belief system, worldview, or whatever other term makes you happy before they hit fundamental concepts, basic ideas, axioms, or whatever other term you accept in this spot that are required for the belief system, worldview, or whatever other term makes you happy to be correct, right, or whatever word makes you happy but that the belief system, worldview, or whatever other term makes you happy itself cannot demonstrate as true, correct, right, or whatever word makes you happy to people who hold a different set of fundamental concepts, basic ideas, axioms, or whatever other term you accept.

This was made in response to a person who said that "faith" as applied to religious matters and "faith" as applied to science must be two separate terms because they aren't the same thing.

What did I get in response to my post? A reply about how science isn't about "believing" anything but is about "accepting." Um, sure. As if I couldn't have put the gramatically proper form of "accept" in into my long sentence too....