Sunday, November 30, 2003

On Thanksgiving, I took my desk chair next door for my neighbors to use. The plan was that six of the people present would eat in their apartment and four would eat in my apartment, with people shuttling back and forth to get food items. The meal did not go according to plan, of course -- we all ended up eating sitting on the floor in their apartment. It was a comfortably informal arrangement that scarcely detracted from the meal.

I did not think to retrieve the chair until today. When I asked Mike about it, he commented that it was very comfortable, and -- unlike any of the chairs he owned -- didn't bring any pain to his problem hip. So I sold it to him. And now I'm sitting in the remaining chair in my room, a sort of upholstered rolling rocker which used to serve solely as a reading chair and a hanging place for an overshirt or windbreaker. It's a fine, comfortable seat, and it retains my body heat far more effectively than the other chair ever did. That's a distinct advantage in the evening, when the temperature in the apartment sinks to 60 F or so.

This grey rocker has character. I bought it from my former landlady when I moved. I wanted a chair, and she wanted the space. It reminds me in little ways of several chairs in my past. When I lived with my parents, there was an old stuffed rocker in my room where I used to stretch and read for hours on end. The handles were carved in a design I never quite understood, with a little indented circle at the bottom that looked like the eye of some stylized bird or snake. The seat was nearly twice as wide as I was, and so it was easy to spread a blanket over my lap and have space for a cat to curl up beside me. The handles on this grey chair remind me a little of those handles, and the way the chair rocks reminds me a lot of that old chair.

In another way, the chair reminds me a little of Big Red. Big Red was my desk chair (and reading chair) when I was an undergraduate. It was a bit threadbare, but most of the surface was still covered by a maroon cover flecked with a sort of slivery blue. It wasn't pretty, but it was comfortable, and I was attached to it. As a freshman, I carried that chair from the store where I bought it along Route 1 through College Park, across the campus, and up six flights of stairs to my room in the high rise. The trek was perhaps two miles, and I carried the chair on my head for much of that distance. In memory's light, that trek is one of my treasured adventures from college days -- but those days are not so far past that I don't remember getting something of a crick in my neck on the walk home. Regardless of the crick in my neck, I felt some attachment to the chair from the moment I set it down in my room. I think Big Red still sits by the desk in my old room at the family home.

This grey chair previously sat nestled in the nook bounded by one of my bookshelves, the foot of my bed, and my floor lamp. That lamp is another comforting piece of furniture which I purchased inexpensively and carried some miles from the Berkeley Salvation Army store to my home. On the wall between the shelf and the lamp is a world map, tacked up so that the bottom is perhaps four feet from the floor. That nook seems startlingly empty, now. I think I may fill the space with a set of brick-and-board shelves to relieve the overcrowding of my existing book shelves. But that is a task for the new year, after I return from my visit home.

Perhaps by that time I will be able to use the space for some boundary element books borrowed from the Berkeley engineering library. I spent some time this evening searching the catalog for books related to boundary element simulation of elastic wave propogation from structures sitting on an elastic half space. There are a few books that look like they may be very useful -- and most of them are checked out. The fact that those books all have the same due date makes me think that one person has probably checked them out. I have some guesses as to who that person might be, though. Perhaps the easiest way to find the information I need is to e-mail the people who I think might have those books (or might have read them recently) and ask for their help.

Meanwhile, I've more than enough other tasks to occupy my time. Before I call it quits, I think I may spend another half hour revising some text describing posterior error estimates for interpolated invariant subspace bases for twice continuously differentiable parameterized matrix families. Or perhaps I'll just drink a glass of water and sleep a bit early.

The winter rains have finally come to the Bay Area, and they bring to me a sudden desire for new footwear. My sneakers are leakers. In particular, there is a hole at the top of the tip of the toe of my right shoe which seems to turn that shoe into a bucket. There's still a lot of life left in this pair of sneakers, but perhaps it's time to retire them until the rains are past.

I ate well enough on Thursday to be full and happy but not to be overstuffed, and I worked well enough this weekend to be comfortable while still having time to walk and to read a little. And I spent a little time procrastinating, too. It was interesting procrastination, though -- I found out something I didn't know about Marshall McLuhan's book The Medium is The Message.

  • Currently drinking: Rasberry Zinger
  • Currently reading: The Culture We Deserve by Jacques Barzun

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

The apartment is clean, and dinner is simmering on the oven. The slowly growing stack of clothes draped over the back of my chair is stowed, as are the stacks of books that were starting to grow by the base of my shelves. I made some good progress this week in my research work; I had interesting conversations with colleagues, some of which may lead to future collaborations; and I have only one homework left for the semester. I have lots of research work that I'd like to do before I leave for Maryland (not to mention two take-home finals to do), but I can worry about that on Friday or Saturday.

Now, though, it's Thanksgiving Eve, which is an approximate Friday. So perhaps I'll curl up with a book and go to bed early.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

I saw Master and Commander: the Far Side of the World with Winnie this weekend. We chose that over going to see Matrix Revolutions on the IMAX screen, and I think we chose well. It was a fine movie, and I enjoyed the visit to San Francisco.

I ate a scramble of eggs, peppers, onions, tomato, and sausage for breakfast, as well as a few cinnamon rolls with orange frosting. For dinner, I made a spicy black bean soup with celery, peppers, onions, tomato, and sausage, and topped the meal off with fresh-baked cinnamon-raisin bread. Do I seem to repeat myself? If I've played the same theme twice, though, at least it was a theme worth playing. I enjoyed both meals.

I finished reading Stephenson's Quicksilver. I enjoyed it, but not as much as I enjoyed Cryptonomicon. I'm now reading The Culture We Deserve by Jacques Barzun, which is a pleasantly brisk and direct change of pace. Perhaps I'll stick to essays and short stories until I go home for the holidays.

  • Currently drinking: Hot water with lemon

Thursday, November 20, 2003

I made cinnamon rolls this evening. Yeast dough with a little sugar, filling of butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, raisins, and honey. Bake 20 minutes at 350.

This evening, I solved no partial differential equations. I wrote no code. I baked cinnamon rolls, and drank hot apple juice with lemon, read, and sat quietly doing nothing in particular. I've burned the midnight wattage too many nights this week. Tonight I'm going to sleep early.

Monday, November 17, 2003

I visited Vince's page this evening. There is a new addition to his site: a blog kept by Susie the Guinea Pig. Susie's entries make me wish all over again that I had the ability to digest cellulose.

Vince and Heidi are the only old friends I know still keeping interesting web pages alive. Perhaps this is a sign of my own ignorance, though.

  • Currently drinking: Green tea

Sunday, November 16, 2003

I think all the following jokes are funny. This is further evidence that I'm probably better suited to computational mathematics than to stand-up comedy.

  • The self-help group for compulsive talkers: On and On Anon.
  • What looks a lot like a tote bag? An asymptote bag.
  • All famous mathematicians are Armenian. Just look at the names: Gaussian, Lagrangian, Hamiltonian, ...
  • To estimate the time for a task, take your best estimate and double it. Apply recursively.
  • I'm totally normal: < totally, David> = 0.
  • The calculus of variations is a small part of the beach of changes.
  • World ends at 10! More at 11.
  • Get thee to a punnery!
  • I'd like to fill out an apple-cation to become an orange-anion.
  • C is for cookie my browser fetched for me; C is for cookie that's sent by TCP...
  • If it ain't broke, you haven't meddled enough.
  • Do differentiable manifolds have something to do with integrable exhaust?
  • A baby eigensheep is... a lamb, duh. A baby eigencow says mu. And why are all my jokes about wavefunctions met with psis?

Friday, November 14, 2003

The Word.A.Day list to which I'm subscribed has archaic words as this week's theme. The words for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday are anon, gainsay, and harken. I think I've used all of those words at some point; I'm sure I've used the gainsay and hark, at least.

I figured out the fluids problem. I made one mistake very early on that led me to rule out solutions of a particular form, and was then immensely frustrated when I found every attack of even modest success seemed to drive me toward solutions of the form I'd ruled out as impossible.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

One of my college roommates, Scott, took a course called Thanatos - The Many Meanings of Death. Despite (or perhaps because of) the grim-sounding title, it was one of the most popular seminars offered through the University Honors program at College Park, and it's still offered. After class one day, Scott mentioned a comment the professor made: that the educational system teaches a sort of controlled obsession. I think the comment was more specific -- that technical education teaches controlled obsession -- but it was a passing comment five years ago, and I've forgotten that detail.

I have a stubborn streak in my own nature, and I'm fully capable of pondering a problem during most of my waking hours, and then having dreams about it at night. It can be consuming. I'm trying to understand some aspects of interface waves right now, and I awoke this morning to vague memories of a dream about wave interference patterns on the surface of a sea of fried onions. And while taking a tea break last night, I found myself idly tapping the table and watching the ripples spread across the surface of the tea in the pot -- and thinking whether I could estimate the wave velocity by tapping at the right frequency to set up a constructive interference pattern. I've also spent far too many hours so far this week trying to figure out my fluids homework, and it's likely that will show up in my dreams tonight, too.

Is that stubborn streak taught, or innate? Probably both. Is it constructive? Yes. Is it obsessive, with the unhealthy connotations that word carries? I don't think it is. Call it concentration, or perhaps stubbornness.

Call it time to think for half an hour more.

  • Currently drinking: Water

Monday, November 10, 2003

An article in the Sunday NY Times described the world's tiniest guitar, ten microns long, fabricated from silicon. It was an amusing article, generally well done, but at the end there was a reference to Michael Crichton's Prey and the book by Dr. Martin Rees which includes berserk nanorobots among the technological threats to the future of mankind. I was reminded of Dyson's article in the New York Review of Books critiquing such arguments. I was also reminded of another article Times article I'd just read, entitled Does Science Matter? To summarize in an exaggerated way, the point of the article is that a large fraction of the American public is willfully ignorant, frightened, or perhaps just bored of science.

Actually, that's not much of an exaggeration.

Science and technology are not Faust's devil, Pandora's box, or the broomsticks of the sorcerer's apprentice. Those stories are powerful myths, and perhaps useful metaphors. But hyper-intelligent nanorobots seem like a ridiculous sort of bogeyman when you consider not only that they're physically implausible (see Dyson's article), but also how little success we've had in building any sort of machines with even a fraction of the general cognitive ability of a human. For that matter, building a water-carrying robot takes some doing -- much more doing than waving a wand.

I would rather wonder at what we're finding out about the universe and what we're learning to construct, and worry about the wisdom of our politicians. I know some would wonder at the wisdom of our politicians and worry that we're learning too much about the universe, but I find such an attitude perplexing.

Perhaps it's even more perplexing than the calculation I was doing before this procrastination break.

  • Currently drinking: Apple cider

And now for something completely different.

The majority of my shirts are plain in cut and single-colored (blue or monochrome, typically). But a substantial minority of my shirts are decorated with some piece of text that shouts to the world, This man is a geek. The collection began with a shirt bought in high school with Maxwell's equations on it. Alas, that has gone from being whole to being holes. But that still leaves me with plenty of other such shirts, accumulated over the years. More than enough, right?

Still. Perhaps I should find a replacement Maxwell's equations shirt.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Saturday was the long-awaited Pumpkin Extravaganza. Well, it was as long-awaited as anything planned about a week in advance can be. I used about 1.75 medium-sized pumpkins for making pumpkin soup, pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, and toasted pumpkin seeds. There was also fresh apple cider, quiche, bread, pate, a salad with candied walnuts and cranberry goat cheese, and some pork and chicken. There was also a curried cabbage dish and some cupcakes. It was all quite tasty, which is good -- I still have another quarter pumpkin in the refrigerator with which I should do something.

Friday evening, I had dinner with Mike, Tracy, and Anant; most of Saturday was devoted to pumpkin buying, cooking, and eating; and I had lunch with Winnie at Vik's Chaat House today. And then the past few hours were spent coping with the realization that I'd planned to do at least three days worth of work this weekend, and only scheduled Sunday evening in which to really do it. Such is life.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Comments I've received this semester:

  • So how does a computer scientist get such an intuition for fluid dynamics?
  • So you do numerical linear algebra, right?
  • As a mathematician, you probably have a different intuition, but I'm a networking person.
  • So you're in mechanical engineering, right?
  • So you're an EE, right?
  • Well, this makes life easier for the mathematicians, but harder for the engineer -- yes, but you are the engineer in this case.
  • So you're a PDE guy?
  • I didn't know mathematicians could think such un-lofty thoughts.
  • Yes, I dealt with that by joining both departments, but it's a bad idea for junior faculty.
  • So when are you graduating? (times umpteen)

Ah, the joys of multidisciplinary research -- it sows such confusion. Lots of people attack the same problem from different backgrounds, and they all get confused about different things.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

We just set up the printer to work with the print server built into our wireless router. It was an adventure. It started printing garbage (I may have set the wrong print driver); then the paper jammed; then it refused to respond to any requests at all. Things began to work only after we reset the printer, our router, and our respective print daemons. It will doubtless continue to work, now, until the full moon. Then we'll have to do a little ritual dance around the apartment to appease the Goat in the Machine.

I'm told the Goat in the Machine will be replaced by a more standard Ghost in the Machine in the next firmware release.

Monday, November 03, 2003

I received notice that my Amazon order shipped on Saturday. When I came home this evening, the box was on my desk. This is with the cheap 5-9 day shipping option. Whee!

Giving those new books a home proved trickier than expected. When I tried to put them into on my desk, I knocked over The Pile. The Pile, which grew for at least two months unchecked, contained most of the junk mail, book catalogs, paid bills that I received. It also contained many pages of scribbled intermediate computations, which I may once have found deeply meaningful. The Pile and I form an agreement during the periods when I'm busy: if it doesn't disturb me (e.g. by falling over at the slightest provocation), I won't disturb it (e.g. by discarding most of its contents).

So. The Pile is now again just the pile, an inoffensive stack of blessedly non-urgent business. Once I'd cut The Pile down to size, it made sense to straighten the rest of my room. I can be a packrat, but I'm a tidy packrat, so there was little enough mess outside the confines of my desk. I straightened my covers, put away a nail clipper and a coaster, and scooped some scattered loose pennies into a jar. And then I stowed my books, which was the whole point of the endeavour.

Time flies when I'm procrastinating. But since my room is clean, I have groceries, and my homework sets for the week are finished, I suppose I've no more good excuses.

  • Currently drinking: Black tea with unidentifiable spice bits

Sunday, November 02, 2003

I made a big dinner this evening: black bean soup with Irish soda bread and with apple-rhubarb-raisin cobbler for dessert. I had a cup of hot apple cider on the side. I filled myself quite comfortably, and shared with Patxi and my neighbors, too. There will still be leftover food for the next couple days, I'm sure.

The weather has turned cool, at least as much as it does in the area. Construction practices in this area place more emphasis on seismic soundness than on insulation, which is as it should be. But as a consequence, the difference between the inside and outside temperature is not so great as I might wish. All of which is a roundabout way of saying My feet are cold.

My feet are cold. But my hands are warm, thanks to the cider, and my ears are warm, thanks to my hood. I find contentment in these little things.