Sunday, September 28, 2003

All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling.
-- Oscar Wilde

I'm not working hard right now. I'm listening to To the Best of Our Knowledge online, reading Oscar Wilde quotes, and sipping chamomile mint tea. It doesn't seem such a bad way to spend Sunday night.

The following recipes have seen recent use.

  • Beef (I used about a quarter pound -- tofu would probably work, too)
  • Small onion
  • Mushrooms (ordinary cut)
  • Garlic (2-4 cloves)
  • Ginger (perhaps half as much as the garlic)
  • Soy sauce
  • Black bean sauce (half a spoon)
  • Red bell pepper (one)
  • Hot peppers (I used two serrano)
  • Baby corn (half a can)
  • Vegetable oil (a couple teaspoons -- I use olive oil)
  • Sesame oil (maybe half a teaspoon)

Cut up the beef (or tofu) into a bowl. Dice or grate the ginger; crush and dice the garlic. Mix the ginger, garlic, and black bean sauce with the meat, then douse liberally with soy sauce. Put the bowl aside to blend for a little while.

Dice the onion, bell pepper, and hot peppers. Heat the olive oil and sesame oil in the pan, then start the onions. When it smells ready, throw everything else in -- the meat, the peppers, and the baby corn. Let it cook until it smells done.

  • Green beans
  • Peanuts
  • Garlic cloves
  • Soy sauce
  • A little oil

Put a little oil in the pan. Dice up some garlic and throw it in, too. Cut up the green beans. Put in peanuts -- I use a 1:2 or 1:3 ratio of peanuts to green beans (by volumes). Cook on the stove on high, seasoning with soy sauce to taste.

  • Red cabbage (half a head or a whole head)
  • Plenty of vinegar (white vinegar, cider vinegar, rice vinegar, balsamic, or some combination thereof)
  • Salt, pepper, and garlic to taste.

Drop everything in the pan. Heat until the red cabbage is flexible and the vinegar is bright purple with the cabbage juice. Don't skimp on the vinegar. Add salt and pepper as you cook, tasting frequently to make sure it still tastes right.

  • Plain yogurt
  • Diced fruit
  • Honey
  • Cinnamon

Mix honey into the yogurt to taste. I use perhaps a teaspoon of honey per half cup of yogurt, but I like the yogurt tart; the ratio also depends on the type of yogurt you use. Sprinkle cinnamon over the top, enough so that you can see distinct swirls when you stir things up. Put the yogurt over top of the fruit or mix the fruit into the yogurt, whichever way seems most appealing.

  • Two cans of black beans
  • One large can of tomatoes (use fresh tomatoes in season)
  • One large onion
  • Garlic (2-4 cloves)
  • Salt
  • Lime juice (or a lime)
  • Cumin
  • Chili powder
  • Hot peppers to taste

Saute the onion and garlic. Add the black beans and tomatoes and squirt in a generous amount of lime juice, or just cut a lime in quarters, squeeze the majority of the juice over the beans, and then toss what remains of the fruit into the pot. Sprinkle the top of the mix with equal parts cumin and chili powder, enough to get a film over the top of the entire pot. Add salt to taste. Throw in a bay leaf or two if you fancy it, simmer until your hungry or you're finished with other dishes, and eat. Goes great with rice. You might want to fish out the limes before you eat, though.

All recipes go well with a half cup of adaptation before and a cup of tea after.

  • Currently drinking: Chamomile and mint

Autumn is here.

Autumn in this part of the SF Bay area is not so dramatically different from the rest of the dry season. The days are shorter, and some of the deciduous trees are just beginning to think about losing leaves. This morning it cool and grey and quiet, and there is enough moisture in the air that the edges of Albany Hill appear monochrome, and just slightly flattened and blurred, as they might in a charcoal drawing. Even here, though, there are autumn days when the clouds roll out, the sky is a bright, clear blue, and the air smells of cool days and turning leaves.

Patxi received bike tires by UPS this week, and both Esther and I were here Friday afternoon to ensure that Patxi wouldn't have to go to Richmond to pick up his package in person. We were both working in the living room when Esther asked, Bindel, are you feeling homesick? I thought for a second, and replied A little. I wasn't really sure why, then, but it sounded right. I think, perhaps, I miss fall in the woods most of all right now.

On Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon, I took a break and had a cup of coffee with Christof at Brewed Awakening. There was a breeze, and bits of fallen leaves kept showering onto the heads of passers by. Christof commented that it was like rain, and I replied that perhaps this is why the season is called fall. Then we went back to the office to work.

Yesterday morning, I finished Children of God (the sequel to The Sparrow) by Mary Doria Russell. I highly recommend both books. Yesterday in the early afternoon, I finished my PDE homework for the week, and in the late afternon and evening I spent time with Winnie.

Today, I think, is reserved for polynomial computations, fluid mechanics, talking to Patxi about numerical solutions of ODEs, and perhaps taking a walk in the sun.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

I'm drinking Stash peach-flavored black tea again this evening. It suits me particularly well this evening.

Sanjay and I met at a cafe at 9:00 this morning to talk about where we were and what we wanted to ask Howe and his students when we met them at 10:00. The meeting with the resonator folks was productive, I think. After the meeting I had a short break, then PDE lecture. Then I spent some time quietly scribbling my way through some more scrap paper, and then came home. I bought some groceries on the way back: milk and cereal, pears and yogurt, cabbage and baby corn, and black bean sauce and chow mein noodles. Huzzah for food! And for someone to help eat it.

I think I should turn in early tonight. When I'm tired, my eyelid betrays me. In fact, it betrays me whether or not I actually realize I'm tired. It started to droop markedly shortly after I returned home. My eyes have been particularly irritated since yesterday morning, or perhaps even since late Sunday night; all the more reason to let them close early.

  • Currently drinking: Black tea with peach

Monday, September 22, 2003

I re-registered to vote, got my student bus pass for the semester, and fixed my 1D thermoelastic code for today. I did a few other things, but not so many that I was impressed with myself. I worked some this evening, but I also took some time to visit Trader Joe's to buy ginger cookies, tea, and rolls for lunch for a few days.

I'm digesting a lot of things right now. Part of the process of doing that digestion is to spend a lot of time staring into space. Sometimes I look like I'm daydreaming; sometimes I daydream in truth. But for me, time spent staring at a wall is as vital as time spent staring at papers and code, or as time spent scribbling page after page of scribbled equations and interspersed with question mark. I know this is true, yet I still find it frustrating not to be able to point to something concrete at the end of the week and say There! I have worked well, and that's the evidence.

Think, think, think, as a certain stuffed bear was wont to say.

I remember talking to Kahan once about his days as a graduate student. He said there was a courtyard where people would walk and think. No e-mail or phone calls, just time to think. And that, he concluded, is a problem for students now: where is the time to think? I'm not sure I believe there was such an idyllic time, though I wasn't there to witness either way. Online time has its own stresses, but the computer also simplifies tasks, both as an assistant to computation and as an aid to data management and communication. The only trick is the ability to walk away from the computer, perhaps to scribble on a pad, perhaps to stare into space over a cup of tea.

I spent yesterday neither staring into space nor staring at a computer. Instead, I spent the afternoon and early evening wandering about San Francisco with Winnie. She's good company, lively and funny. We walked from the Powell Street BART station through Chinatown to the north edge, then turned at Pier 39 and walked west along the coast to the Palace of Fine Arts. Then we walked back along the coast, with a break for ice cream at Ghiradelli's square. Then we took the trolley to near where she parked. She drove me to my place, and I made tea; but since it was late and neither of us were all that hungry, we decided to save dinner for another day.

It was a day of no math, unless you count the conversation about the chimney decoration that reminded me of an integral sign. I thought that someone might make an action show starring me, in which the transitions were marked by a spinning integral sign zooming into the screen and then zooming back out, as the old Batman episodes had transitions with a bat spinning in and out. Winnie thought it might make also make a good hood ornament. And I did only a little work at the computer, and that in the morning. I did no computer work, either, except in the morning. But we walked and talked and enjoyed the day, and that's important, too.

Tomorrow morning, I meet with people to talk about simulating damping mechanisms in resonators. And that will be fun, too.

  • Currently drinking: Black tea with peach

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Once a month, I travel with W. Kahan and Jason Riedy to some location in the South Bay for the meeting of the IEEE 754 floating point arithmetic standard revision committee. It is a monthly lesson in arithmetic, computing history, and perhaps a bit of cultural anthropology. It's also a test of endurance and a penance, though I'm not sure for what it is a penance. We have dinner afterward, though, and this month was no exception. So if it's a penance, it's an imperfect one.

The IEEE meeting is not a red herring, a lame duck, or a shaggy dog. More's the pity.

I intended to do a little more work this evening after returning home, checking some equations, and writing my solutions to some homework for tomorrow. I've now returned home and finished with the problem set and the equations, and decided that there is little essaying any more for the day. I'll make a cup of red tea and end on a high note.

  • Currently drinking: Cold water

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

I left the house late this morning expecting that I would miss the delivery of the last part of my book order. When I returned, though, there was no sticker on my door to say that UPS tried to deliver while I was out. I'm not sure whether to be glad, because I didn't miss the delivery after all; or impatient, because I want the book to come soon. I think I'll settle for glad.

I finished the proof of a theorem that I conjectured was true nearly three weeks ago. Ultimately, the proof was short and simple, but I'm more inclined to pat myself on the back for finally finding it than to chastise myself for not finding it sooner. Still, I expect this result to be useful in my evaluation of a source of (mercifully rare) error growth in the structured eigenvalue solver I've looked at for the past few months. Yesterday, I did some calculations based on the sensitivity of the coefficients of a polynomial to perturbations in the roots. Tomorrow, perhaps, I will spend some time actually devising test code based on these results.

Actually, I expect I will spend much of tomorrow wearing my mechanics hat. There is a homework set due on Friday in my fluids class, and with the IEEE meeting on Thursday, I expect little time to finish the homework after tomorrow, and I'm a little confused by it right now. I hope that I'll find out in office hours tomorrow that I'm confused on something simple and that the problem is, in fact, as simple as it sounds like it ought to be. I'm also supposed to meet with Sanjay tomorrow afternoon to compare notes on our respective numerical solutions of a simple 1D thermoelastic damping problem. I'd like to review my code before we meet, since he mentioned that the solution has a boundary layer that I may not have resolved. I don't expect that any refinements I make will substantially change my results, but I should still check.

I worked from home and from a local coffee shop for most of today. I was in the office just long enough to have a conversation with Kahan regarding evaluation of accuracy for polynomial root finders. Then I went to the cafe and sat with my cookie and coffee and pad of paper for a while to think thoughtful thoughts. Anant came by a little later, and we had an interesting conversation. Conversations with Anant are always interesting; he works on nuclear magnetic resonance and I work on numerical computations and linear algebra (and other odds and ends), but we both have at least a little understanding what the other does, and we both like to explain what we're working on to anyone who looks even remotely interested. So I tell him about eigenvalue problems and he tells me about nuclear spins and we both walk away happy and a little more informed about the world.

My days have been full and interesting recently. It keeps me happy, but it's exhausting, too.

  • Currently drinking: Red tea

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Walking with a friend along Solano Ave for the Solano Stroll, visiting, then sharing a meal and tea. PDE homework and fluid dynamics and thermodynamic relations that turn into a snarl of notation. Models for thermoelastic damping and radiation boundary conditions. Finite elements and nonsymmetric eigenvalue problems, polynomial computations and error analysis. More Fourier transforms than you can shake a stick at, particularly if you're only willing to shake sticks in a narrow range of frequencies. Gazpacho and green beans with peanuts and fruit with yogurt. Friendly e-mail and technical correspondence and technical support. Floating point and measure theory. Books on statistical mechanics and SPICE and the making of the Oxford English Dictionary.

That's not what I've been up to since this time last week. That's what I've been up to since Sunday morning.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Grinnell's Law of Labor Laxity:
At all times, for any task, you have not got enough done today.
-- from Unix fortune

I spent the morning thinking about thermoelastic problems, then went to PDE lecture in the early afternoon, and then worked on my presentation for the matrix computations seminar tomorrow. I'm re-running some of my experiments now, and I was surprised to find that some of my work to correct subtle numerical difficulties in my code also made the code run faster. Usually there is a trade between speed and stability. The suspicious side of my nature sees a silver lining and wonders where the attached thunder cloud is hiding.

There was a lot of mail on the 754R floating point committee mailing list about stochastic rounding. The idea with stochastic rounding is to round and random. Authors of similar schemes in the past made grandious (and erroneous) claims about how probabilistic error analysis significantly enhanced reliability and made conventional error analysis unnecessary. The proponents of stochastic rounding write that their scheme differs significantly from probabilistic error analysis, but I'm not sure I see how different the spirit is. Floating point arithmetic is not exactly real arithmetic, but neither is it fuzzy. It has precise rules, and it's possible to take use those rules to do remarkable things. But more people learn a little about significant figures and standard normal distributions than learn about floating point arithmetic, so perhaps it's not so surprising to find people who think floating point arithmetic is just real arithmetic with fuzz.

I should probably get back to my slides, now.

  • Currently drinking: Red tea

Monday, September 08, 2003

What makes the universe so hard to understand is that there's nothing to compare it with.
-- from Unix fortune
  • Currently drinking: Coffee with a little milk

Sunday, September 07, 2003

I spent yesterday afternoon with a friend at Golden Gate Park, and then we went to dinner at an Indian restaurant. Esther informs me that this counts as a date; I'm not sure, but it doesn't matter much what the word is. I enjoyed the company and conversation immensely, I enjoyed exploring the park, and I enjoyed dinner. I didn't burn, but I'm much more tan than I was yesterday morning. And if I spend most of today working, at least I took a day of this weekend for fun.

I finished The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell last night. Well, early this morning. It's a very good book, well written and thoughtful.

I made a dish of chickpeas, lentils, and tomatoes with paprika salt, chili powder, and black pepper for dinner Friday. It turned out well. I invited Anant over to try some and to help me figure out a paper on a particular dissipation mechanism for microresonators. Mike had a few bowls, too. I looked in my cupboard this morning, and thought that it was probably a good thing I had dinner out last night. Maybe I could make a meal from what I have left, but I should probably go to the store and restock rather than straining my creativity. Maybe I'll do that this afternoon.

Saturday, September 06, 2003

Conversation while boarding the BART train:
Stranger: That's a great book.
Me: Have you read the sequel?
Stranger: There's a sequel?
Me: My friend loaned me both.
Stranger: I'm off to the book store.

Friday, September 05, 2003

There were two quakes this evening: a magnitude 4 shock around 6:30, and a magnitude 3 shock a while later. The epicenter was in Piedmont, just a few miles away. If I was a doomsayer, I might interpret the combination of dry lightning, earthquakes, and the prominence of Mars as inauspicious signs. Fortunately, I'm not a doomsayer.

I was tempted toward doomsaying on the BART ride home, though. The first Richmond-bound train to arrive in the station after I got there sat for about fifteen minutes before disboarding all passengers and going on its way. One of the doors was stuck, and so it was officially Out of Service. Most of the passengers couldn't hear the tinny voice of the PA system asking them to step back so the train could depart; consequently, it took a while for the train to leave even once it was emptied. I had misadventures with BART in the morning, too; the machines were mightily unhappy about my ticket, for reasons that neither I nor the station agent understood. He fished the ticket out of one of the machines, shrugged, and said Did you put any more money on it? No? Well, try the other machine and see what happens.

What happened, fortunately, is that it worked.

I bought technical books this morning: Batchelor's fluid mechanics text, Chandler's little green book on statistical mechanics, the SPICE book, and a book on multiscale modeling. None of the texts was exorbitantly priced, but they weren't cheap, either. I think I just spent most of my planned allotment for books for the month. Even with the expense of money and shelf space, though, I've rarely regretted acquiring a technical book. They are the tools of the trade.

To the curious anonymous asker: the title Tea Total for this blog is a pun on teetotal, a verb which means to abstain from alcohol. I chose the name because I enjoy tea and puns.

  • Currently drinking: Water.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

I woke early this morning to the sound of thunder from dry lightning. The news this morning warned of possible fires, which would not be good. Thunder, though... I miss thunder, sometimes. We have few electrical storms in this area.

I'm looking forward to getting to some physics in the fluid mechanics course. Thus far, we've reviewed linear algebra facts; that's well and good, but I'm getting impatient for something I don't know so well. We were given all the homework for the semester in one handout (it's not all due at once), so I know that there are some interesting-looking topics soon. I just wish soon would be now. I suppose there is a balance of things that I wish would come sooner than they do and things I wish would come later than they do. On the mean, I probably wish time would progress about at the rate it actually does. So I will deign to let time flow at its current pace. Huzzah for hubris!

  • Currently drinking: Cinnamon plum tea

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Our old neighbors downstairs were very quiet. They moved at the end of the summer, and the new tenants in their place are not so quiet. One of them has a motorcycle, and he frequently works on it in the parking bay immediately under our apartment. When he works the smell of exhaust wafts through the windows, and the rumble of the engine shakes the floor. The way the floor resonates is interesting for the first few minutes; then it gets old.

Monday, September 01, 2003

I've spent most of the Labor Day weekend thus far glorying in the fact that I can stay barefoot around the apartment. The majority of the skin from my left knee down is covered with poison ivy rash, and the right side isn't much better, but it doesn't bother me too much if I keep it clean and apply anti-itch lotion a couple times a day. Still, wearing socks right now is a trial.

I spent Saturday night with Anant and Mike and Tracy, eating food and watching The Two Towers on video. Last night, I went to dinner with Patxi and Esther and some friends, and saw Bringing Down the House. Otherwise, I spent the weekend working, reading from the Feynman physics lectures, and reading for fun. I read The Philosophical Strangler by Eric Flint, and I'm about a third of the way into Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow. I originally thought I might make a trip to Golden Gate Park this weekend, but perhaps there will be fewer people there next weekend anyhow.

My flatmate had another computer adventure this weekend. After his old machine died, he bought a little microtower to replace it. That computer had its own problems: it was prone to overheating, and the L2 cache was flaky. After it became clear that he had the choice between running slow, crashing constantly, and getting another machine, he went back to Fry's electronics for a replacement. The replacement machine, also a microtower, never even started up. Eventually, he returned the machine to Fry's for a refund and bought a new machine in an ordinary tower case, and that seems to work fine.

Patxi also chose this weekend to start a trial of the Atkins diet. Among other things, this means no coffee. I can't imagine that made his Sunday trip to Fry's any more entertaining. Makes poison ivy seem a right day in the park, it does.

  • Currently drinking: Black coffee