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I think too much, therefore I am mad!
20 most recent entries

Date:2010-03-05 17:32
Subject:Minority rule
Security:Public

Yeah, this won't fit into 140 characters.

UC cognitive science prof George Lakoff, usually an adviser to Democrat candidates, especially concerning the framing of issues, is this year trying his own hand at implementing change: he's trying to get a constitutional measure on the November ballot so that "All legislative actions on revenue and budget must be determined by a majority vote." His reasoning is that, currently, the 2/3rd majority required allows a 1/3rd minority (I believe Republicans are 37%) to hold up passing fiscal legislation, which is why budgets are frequently late (which has caused the state to stop services some years back) and stopgap budgetary decisions are made. Hence current funding problems in public schools and universities, hospitals, etc. Yes, you can draw similarities between this and the US senate's legislative log jam.

Frankly, part of the budget problem is that people want services but no one wants to pay for them. But maybe this will help. Currently, they're trying to collect petitions, recruit volunteers, and fundraise. This isn't getting a lot of support from the political machinery, so the initiative is going grassroots.

SF Gate article:
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/03/03/MND31C7UDR.DTL

Sites:
http://www.californiademocracyact.com/
http://californiansfordemocracy.com/

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Date:2010-02-15 10:30
Subject:Dear LJ
Security:Public

http://www.dorktower.com/2010/02/15/dork-tower-monday-february-15-2010/

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Date:2009-12-21 17:58
Subject:Chemistry in the kitchen
Security:Public

Question for you cooks and chemists out there: what flavors are being extracted when you cook with alcohol? If they're polar, wouldn't a more polar solvent (like water, or if you're worried about diluting flavor, broth) work better? If they're more non-polar, wouldn't a non-polar solvent work better? Or are there no edible/tasty non-polar solvents?

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Date:2009-10-25 17:40
Subject:It isn't a hoax
Security:Public

From: http://nerviosismo.tumblr.com/post/222166649

Well, the bottom is obvious to anyone who's done convolutions. The top one is easy to show by induction.

Claim: If f(k) be the integer with descending digits 987..[10-k], g(k) = 9-k, h(k) be the k+1 digit integer 888..8. Then f(k) * 9 + g(k) = h(k).

Proof: By induction. The claim is true for k = 1:

9 * 9 + 8 = 88
Note that
f(k+1) = 10*f(k) + g(k) + 1
and
h(k+1) = 10*h(k) + 8
       = 10*f(k)*9 + 10*g(k) + 8
       = [10*f(k) + g(k) + 1] * 9 + [g(k)-1]
       = f(k+1) * 9 + g(k+1)

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Date:2009-10-11 19:44
Subject:Gone to Texas
Security:Public

I just flew in from Texas, and boy are my arms tired. Actually, no, but my right shoulder is still kinda sore.

On Friday, my flight was delayed 7.5 hours, then 8, then 8.5 as they tried to get a replacement crew. As compensation, I was given $26 worth of food vouchers with which to pig out, including an unagi rice plate at the Japanese fusion restaurant and a grilled ham & cheese with clam chowder. I remarking how long it felt like since I had a cream-based chowder, when I remembered, oh right, I might be lactose intolerant. But I was okay on the plane, so I may want to retest that conjecture. Anyway, being stuck at the airport for about 10 hours meant I got a lot of reading done (statistical learning methods coming out of my ears) and I wrote a very simple (and thus fairly bad) Pandora-like music suggester.

The flight touched down in Houston in the middle of the night. My sister-in-law kindly arranged for the family to rent a house for the weekend (my parents' health is still sensitive), so we bunked there for a few hours until morning proper came. My youngest niece, Melanie, takes a while to warm up to people, but the elder, Evelyn, was childish exuberance from the get go. People went their separate ways for Saturday afternoon activities which, for me, was more reading, until cousin Kathy and Edwin's wedding banquet on Saturday night.

The banquet was at a restaurant called Ocean Palace, but a couple letters had gone out, so it was now the OCN Palace, which actually doesn't really change the name. The 10-course meal was easily the largest meal I've eaten all year. I got to sit between my nieces and help feed Melanie while my brother and another doctor at the table talked shop (and kids and schools and houses). I only got to talk to my cousins, aunt, and uncle as they circulated through the party, but I did get to dance with them a little afterwards.

Then it was home for bed because my mother needs regular sleep and I had a flight early Sunday afternoon. After waking up, there was only time for breakfast, packing, and playing with my nieces a bit(Melanie now only runs away sometime :p) before it was off to the airport. A 4 hour ride then BART and then walk home under luggage.

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Date:2009-09-26 08:58
Subject:Dream On (III)
Security:Public

Last night's dream involved a psychologist and a wizard arguing over whether the universe is rational. The psychologist was aided by Hughie, Dewey, and Louis, who were wielding arcane artifacts to create a special effects show. Both sides eventually agreed that the universe is rational, just not humans.

I think we broke James' brain.

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Date:2009-09-17 19:08
Subject:Study tips
Security:Public

I passed the following out to my students last Friday. It's my attempt to boil active learning strategies onto a 1-page handout in the hopes that some of them adopt them. However, I have a feeling a lot of them are already jaded by college, gave it a glance, and promptly forgot about it. Frankly, because of the space limitation, I had to cut out a lot of the reasoning behind why the course is structured in this way, motivation for these strategies, what objective the teaching staff is trying to reach apart from course material, etc. that I feel is important in understanding any problem -- understanding which is a prerequisite before addressing said. However, given how impatient students are about 'wasting time' in discussion, which some already treat as an optional activity, I decided to cut to the chase. I also could have run discussion closer to the lines I drew in the handout.

I would really like to get my hands on some freshmen before they've falling into the general jaded/passive/overloaded Berkeley EECS student demeanor. Also, as one of a rotating set of GSIs as opposed to being the prof or having a particular section, I feel my words don't carry as much weight. Shifting cultural inertia is hard work (ask Harry Seldon), and I need to get better at it because I'm not exactly equipped with the charisma for it.

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Date:2009-09-13 17:40
Subject:Boba
Security:Public

So since my digestion went blooey last month, I've been avoiding caffeine and milk where possible. Which means the person who penned "We put the TEA in TEAM" into comic book has been avoiding milk tea like the plague. But listen to an early 70s rock song about dating a transvestite and a mid-80s Weird Al parody of it about a wrinkled green muppet enough times and, well, this happens:

(To the tune of 'Lola' by The Kinks)

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Date:2009-09-12 09:52
Subject:Dream on
Security:Public

What does a dream mean if we're running through a mall, getting lost, in search of popcorn shrimp, David is up front somewhere, and someone who looks like Shaenon Garrity but with a bigger nose keeps trying to get us to synch up so she can kick me in the sole of the foot as we run along and is amused at how compliant I am?

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Date:2009-09-11 15:17
Subject:Politics as usual
Security:Public

I usually dump links to my twitter, but the backlog of political links have been building up.

Obama tells schoolchildren to work hard:


Health care:

"You lie!":
the chinese dream
Edit: to balance out the socialist agenda: here

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Date:2009-08-28 12:45
Subject:Rocket man
Security:Public

I'm ambivalent about all these news stories about shuttle launches being delayed. On the one hand, it's good that science is getting press. On the other hand, there's a reason why there aren't stories about United flight 512 being delayed: air travel is so commonplace that all the little failures and victories of the technology are treated like everyday occurances. Meanwhile, space flight, now several decades old (ancient compared some technologies today), is still undeveloped enough that scheduling and weather problems are newsworthy.

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Date:2009-08-21 17:45
Subject:Today's history lesson
Security:Public

So apparently there was one man who practically ran infrastructure development in New York city during the 1930s through '60s. He's typically portrayed as more interested in power, especially control over what gets built where and the use of public funds, than (say) building communities. He also favored the car over public transportation, with associated biased against poorer demographics. Also, when other cities followed his model, it's debatable whether he contributed to the spread of suburbia and the decline of the inner city or if he was just a product of the times. I find this interesting given, with growing urbanization, how cities affect various things like transportation (and thus industry and energy) and education (and whether your kids can really have a better life than you). Of course, his reputation was solidified in a negative light by a pulitzer winning biography, The Power Broker. His name was Robert Moses.

I learned this from comics. And wikipedia.

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Date:2009-08-20 01:07
Subject:Of all the words of tongue or pen...
Security:Public

... the saddest are these: it might have been.

Otaku contaiment field failing... (see panel 15)

While I try to surpress them, I admit I have otaku tendencies. You know, how some flavors of geekdom look down upon them as taking it too far or taking it in the wrong direction. But, you know, if you embrace comics, you'll probably have a passing interest interest in manga, and then it's a short jump to anime. Just have to figure out where to draw the line...

That said, this post really isn't about anime. It's about storytelling, or utter failure at it. Case in point: the second season of Haruhi has an arc called Endless Eight. It, fittingly, has 8 episodes. For comparison, the next longest are 5 and 2. This isn't Naruto, where it takes 4 episodes to walk down the street; this is an epic-sized canvas to paint on.

The gimmick for this arc is a time loop, a la Groundhog Day. And they do nothing with it. Instead, episodes 2 through halfway through 8 are the same thing over and over. Okay, the animation was new (you get to see the girls in 8 different swimsuits and yukatas, bit whoop), but the scripts and settings were so similar that they probably could be reusing voice acting and scenary. There's no build up, no culmination, just some lame ass excuse in the last 15 minutes that frees them from the loop.

There was a really good episode of Star Trek: TNG involving a time loop called Cause and Effect. The first iteration setup the key scenes. Successive versions of the same scenes either: 1) repeated to add to the atmosphere (the creepy voices in the doctor's quarters when she's trying to sleep), or 2) were expanded and contributed to the final resolution (the poker game and brainstorming sessions where they tried to figure out what was happening and how to get out of it). The bits fit together, and even though you know it's Star Trek so the ship and crew will survive, it's tense watching it come together.

Endless Eight could have been so much more (like what was the deal with that thing with wings that looked like those paper darts from Spirited Away?), and that's why it's so sad they wasted the production staff's time and the audience's time. Things they could have done differently:

  • Restructure the script so that repetitions of the same lines gain new layers of meaning (for some lines, this happened on the first repeat but gained nothing by the 7th).
  • Excise scenes that add nothing. You can have your 8 iterations, but don't make it 8 episodes if there isn't enough material for it.
  • Or, and I know this may sound crazy for a show known for its weird characters and their wacky hijinks, but have them do something different. For instance: N wins the cicada contest, while M interferes with H, so the most passive character becomes chief for the day.
  • Or they try to make the summer activities as little fun as they can in hopes H doesn't loop time again, but fails due to unexpected events.
  • Or they try to convince N to warn themselves earlier in the loop so they can work out a way to break the cycle, but she's stubborn about her observer role (character-based tension!).
  • Or after K declines to try the "I love you" thing, I tries and H gets mad at I because he did and K because he didn't.
  • Or K says there's one thing he hasn't done this summer, and that is have a summertime date, and the club spends the last day doing that.

See? That's like 6 episodes right there. However, I do like how another fan suggested the arc end here.

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Date:2009-08-15 12:41
Subject:Bad math and comics
Security:Public

This is what happens when I'm waiting for scripts to finish running. In my attempt to impose organization on my life, at least the bits I can keep organized, I recently recategorized the webcomics I read (the list was kept here). Compared to (say) a year ago, I read fewer webcomics. This is because some that I followed slowed or stopped updating or just lost my interest (it's not like they jumped the shark, but there's that similar feeling that something good isn't nearly as good anymore), while the number added has not offset the number leaving. I'd like to think it's because I'm getting choosier and not because webcomics are losing momentum. That said, I did hear of one just last week (Lovelace and Babbage) that sent me into throes of spastic glee! It's semi-historical, and the artist (an absolute geek) is an animator who has facial expressions I find very amusing for some reason. A Google Reader bundle of my favorites can be previewed here.

With the reorganization complete, and scripts still to run, I restarted an idea I had earlier (one, which a comic-phile friend of mine once said "sounds like a terrible idea" when I described it to her): some comic artists list other comics that they like on their site. Under the assumption that, if you like a comic, and an artist likes their comic, and two people who both like one thing probably like similar things, then you may also like comics they like. Thus, you can sort of create a score similar to Google page rank based on which comics point to which comics. Except I'm too lazy to program a crawler. Or an SVM. Or much of anything. Insert bad math here.

I took the links pages from the following comics:

  • Cat and Girl
  • Dr. McNinja
  • Dresden Codak
  • Gunnerkrigg Court
  • Lackadaisy
  • Questionable Content
  • Scary Go Round
  • xkcd

and just tallied them. One reassuring observation is that, with the exception of Lackadaisy, they form a closed, recurrent state map, meaning they like each other. And Lackadaisy links to Girl Genius which, while they don't maintain links, has made shoutouts to Gunnerkrigg Court, Lackadaisy, Questionable Content, and Scary Go Round. So it's one big happy family. Graphically, it's centered around the large, interconnected blob that is Dr. McNinja / Dresden Codak / Gunnerkrigg Court / Scary Go Round (it may have something to do with 2 of them having the most out-going links among the 8).

The most tallies (allowing a comic to vote for itself) a comic received was 5. Here's the list, with ones I already read bolded:
  • A Softer World
  • Achewood
  • Overcompensating
  • Scary Go Round
  • Wondermark

And 4 tallies:
  • Dinosaur Comics
  • Dr. McNinja
  • Gunnerkrigg Court
  • Octopus Pie
  • Patches
  • Sam and Fuzzy
  • Wigu

1 in 3 recommendations being something you already like ain't bad, and I've heard if not checked out at least half of these.

One final statistic I made up is to examine the comics pairwise and see how many links they have in common, normalized to a potential maximum of 1 (i.e. dividing by the number links of whichever has the fewest). This leads to the conclusion that the two comics which have the most in common are with 86% match (drumroll, please)... Gunnerkrigg Court and Scary Go Round. Um, yeah. Well, maybe the artists would get along. Being British and all. Runners-up were Dr. McNinja and xkcd (70%) and Dr. McNinja and Questionable Content (69%).

Okay, not every idea I have is a winner.

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Date:2009-08-12 20:17
Subject:Abandon ship all ye who enter here
Security:Public

So I decided to finally get with the decade before it ended and started using an RSS aggregator (Google, natch'). I've been using LJ to do that for years, but not everything has an LJ syndication and almost everyone has an RSS (exceptions are people like the comic syndicators who don't have a decent Peanuts syndication, probably because they want you to visit their site or read newspapers). What this means for LJ is that I've moved most of my feeds to Google Reader, and thus my LJ Friends page is much less crowded and won't be generating about 40 posts per day to sort through. I'm not sure if that means I'll respond more or I'll check in less. We'll see.

Oh, and if anyone has an RSS feed I should be adding, say so.

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Date:2009-07-31 22:10
Subject:Feynman on science education
Security:Public

Fall semester is around the corner, and I'm a GSI again. I dug up a passage of 'Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!' when he discusses the Brazilian science education system. Now that I reread it, I see some of it leaking into the US system, even at Berkeley. Troubling. Bears thinking about.



Edit: Actually, this may be a better description:

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Date:2009-07-12 00:15
Subject:Your call is important to us
Security:Public

Most nights, I can hear phones ringing in the lab. Sometimes it's next door, sometimes it's far off. The sound wanders around the otherwise quiet floor like some digital ghost. But what's actually happening is that, because all of our office phone start with the same numbers, a telemarketer is pinging them in turn. Maybe someone should have told them we're all business lines.

Telemarketers are pretty reviled in the US, possibly because it's a job that requires little skill (I mean they're supposed to sound enthusiastic about the product they're selling, but most I've talked to sound tired of long hours at the phone), but most likely because they're annoying like spam. But, so I hear, they get to work from home and choose their own hours.

On the other hand, there's another group of people infamously known for just talking on the phone: call centers, especially those cropping up on the Indian subcontinent. I think about half my tech support calls have been fielded by someone out of the country. So the thing is this: people talk about the outsourcing of jobs, which is mainly a function of cheaper labor costs overseas. A quick google search turns up that US telemarketers make about $32k while an Indian call center staffer, even with a university degree, probably gets less than $4-5k.

One would hope that it's the unskilled labor jobs that are being outsourced, but what may be happening is that there's greater pressure to find overseas skilled labor because the cost differential between domestic and foreign skilled labor is (probably) greater than the gap above. I just worry that we're becoming a telemarketer nation, one which subsists on consumption and doesn't produce anything.

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Date:2009-06-10 15:57
Subject:↑↑↓↓ Left Right Left Right BA start
Security:Public

I've been trying to get through Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles. Trying. As fun as it is to see Summer Glau beat up people, I'm on episode 3, and every time I watch it for even 5 minutes I'm overwhelmed by how... right wing it is. I can't find my old post with notes from George Lakoff's lecture (this is what happens when I don't update my tags) so here's another link. The philosophy of the show is Strict Father (well, Mother/Father) through and through: the world is dangerous, and strength and discipline and moral rightness are how you defend yourself.

The first episode was about being pro-active in fighting an enemy (see pre-emptive war on Iraq). Episode 2 established that the mother's role was protection. In both episodes 2 and 3, there is discussion whether killing was justified to protect yourself (see Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo torture). In both, the answer is: sometimes, yes.

I've never watched 24, but I hear it tackles some similar issues (e.g. whether torture is an acceptable means of getting intelligence to stop a terrorist attack was discussed during a GOP primary debate). I can't but help feel that, if you watch these shows and take their ideas to heart, you would probably vote for Bush and McCain because they fit the protective Strict Father template better than Kerry or Obama.

And here I thought it was just another silly action/drama show. Now I'm wondering what messages other FOX shows I've watched (i.e. Firefly and Dollhouse) have hidden in them.

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Date:2009-06-04 12:17
Subject:Collections of the non-Corinthian variety
Security:Public

Journal. Right.

Seems like I've been archiving my life of late mostly through Twitter and BGG. In the past few months I have: started dating; submitted a conference paper and got my thesis work off on the right foot; did a spot of gaming; and caught and recovered from pneumonia. Could have been worse. There, now that we're caught up...

I've moved again, hopefully for the last time I'm in Berkeley. I've moved next door into the bedroom. Rent's a bit higher, not that much more space (mostly closet), but I have a door and can now sit up in bed without running into the bunk above me.

The process of moving always depresses me. Sorting through your life and deciding where everything fits, what to sell, and what to throw away. About 6 years, I started collecting various things. This is different from being a packrat (which I am); a packrat saves things in case they come in handy later while a collector actively seeks things out to buy and store. I think I started collecting material things in an attempt to define and solidify my identity. Whatever the reason, most of these are no longer actively pursued, but they chronicle what's happened to me these past several years.

  • Everyman's Library Wodehouse Editions: I have 28 of these, though I think they're now up to 64-ish. I stopped collecting for a few reasons. First, the cover art is horrible. Second, the main way to get them on the cheap is to find ones with blemishes, which is the sort of thing that drives collectors mad. Three, I've been reading Wodehouse less and less since I got into Terry Pratchett and comics. Heck, I'm plain reading less.
  • Cartoon History of the Universe: Bought the first collection (of 5) to give it a whirl, since I like comics and narratives and history. It was okay, but not worth continuing.
  • Digger: I have 2 of the (so far) 3 print volumes. I still find the comic great; I just wasn't told when the next book is coming out.
  • Dork Tower: I got collections 1, 2, 3, and 5 before realizing, know what? They're not really worth rereading or collecting. Still subscribed to the RSS feed, but not paying for it.
  • Megatokyo: Have the first 5 books. Then the comic got... weird. Well, it already had a weird premise. Now the storytelling is disjointed, and it's hard to tell what's going on. It was big when webcomics were new, but I think the times have moved on.
  • Narbonic: The only reason I haven't bought the 6th and last book is that I was frickin' poor when it came out. I'm still frickin' poor, but priorities! Maybe I can redirect some money from my games budget. Yes, it's that important.
  • Nodwick: Same boat as Dork Tower. I found them around the same time (to be precise, I found Aaron Williams through John Kovalic's site). Worth following, just not buying.
  • Order of the Stick: I have 1 of the now 5 books. It's a good comic, really, it's just hard to justify the money when it's all online for free. Maybe someday.
  • The Complete Peanuts: Similar to Wodehouse, actually. I'm a devotee and won't have a word said against them, and the collection is very well done, but I've passed up buying the 5th box set for some time now. It's just that... 50 years of output is a lot to absorb.
  • Piled Higher and Deeper: 2 of 3 books. Oh, wait, there's a 4th now. I guess I felt he was running out of fresh material.
  • Phoenix (Tezuka): I bought 'Karma' for a class, and it's simply... brilliant. I haven't encountered any manga like it since. I'm told this is the best of the lot, but I still want to read the others.
  • Sandman (Gaiman): This is what I've been buying with my last few Amazon gift certificates. The Absolute Sandman collections are unabashedly pretty. Oh, and good reading.

I also have the complete Calvin and Hobbes and Azumanga Daioh, but I'm not sure it counts as collecting when they're all bound and printed in one package.

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Date:2009-04-13 01:19
Subject:Life going on
Security:Public

Since becoming serious (well, more serious) about graduating, and my time management skills haven't correspondingly improved, I've been getting out less and less. Here's the run down: David, Jenn, and I went to a free day at the California Academy of Science but got there late to see what Roberts called, "the best parts." We also ate Burmese food for dinner. In early March, I picnicked up by the rose garden, but they weren't in bloom yet. The best laid plans... St. Patrick's Day was mentioned earlier. Before spring break, there was a birthday party for Alex. I came out and found my bike stolen. Later in the month, I toured the train museum in Sacramento. In this age where air travel and moving across the country is commonplace, I forgot that California was really cut off from the rest of the country until trains made transport faster and less dangerous. This Friday, David and Jenn and Ricky hosted sausagefest, which was a bbq with sausage, grilled vegetables, and a lot of forestry and logging sports folks. And Saturday was a team dinner at Au Coquelet and watching random videos at Jessica's afterward. I miss hanging out with the team.

Right, now back to my paper.

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