Sunday, March 21, 2004

I have been happily busy. My talk last Saturday went well; my hike this Saturday was fun; and in between there were some fun things and some not-so-fun things and a lot of general doings.

I continue to work my way through a volume of short stories by Dorothy Sayers. A friend loaned me three sci-fi books by Michael Flynn, which look interesting. I have the new SIAM Review, which I've perused in part, and a copy of Alistaire Cooke's Memories of the Great and the Good. It had been on my wish list for a while, and I finally decided to buy it -- not long before the last of his Letters from America. I will miss his voice on the radio.

I now own Horn and Johnson'sTopics in Matrix Analysis, which I've missed ever since my former office mate graduated and returned the copy our advisor had loaned to her. Barenblatt's book on similarities and intermediate asymptotics should arive soon. I'm still making my way through Fowler's book on code refactoring and through Rob Phillip's excellent Crystals, Defects, and Microstructures. I have a bounty of light reading and of technical reading, both.

At the end of the meeting last Saturday, there was an interesting round-table discussion about education in computational science and engineering. The immediate question was from numerical computation experts at the national lab who asked How can we ensure there continue to be people with the right background available to hire? The ensuing discussion was wide-ranging and heated, and covered everything from how high school might be better organized to the effect of the job market to the structure of undergrad curricula in engineering, computer science, mathematics, and the physical sciences. I listened to the argument, and I agreed with many points made -- and I pondered my own thoughts quietly.

The word amateur now has a negative connotation -- an amateur is a bungler, or at least someone who lacks the skill to be a professional. Yet that is not the original meaning of the word. From the Latin, an amateur is a lover -- one who pursues a skill for the sheer joy of it. I would like to see more students become professional scientists and engineers of various stripes, but I really want more amateurs: people who build their own physical models to better understand every-day phenomena, for example. I also think we need more amateur historians and poets, philosophers and writers, engineers and naturalists. The world is a marvelous place, and we should take time to marvel and question and explore for ourselves.

Mark Zimmermann discovered my pages, first Sandy Mack's sermons and then this blog. He seems a kindred spirit, with wide-ranging interests much like mine. In an e-mail, he reminded me of the question about whether you can hear the shape of a drum -- given a membrane, how much can you tell about the geometry by learning the frequencies of the modes of vibration. Quite a bit, as it turns out. Jim mentioned the same body of literature when I first mentioned drums to him. It's not quite the same problem that I'm helping Cynthia simulate -- but it's an interesting problem nonetheless.

I ran another resonator simulation this week, and also another drum-head simulation. Both simulations were intended as much to test some new machinery as anything else. That's good, since I'm suspicious of the results of at least one of those simulations -- but for reasons that have nothing to do with the machinery I wanted to test. I also went to the floating point committee meeting this Thursday, and was party to a four-hour discussion on extended semantics for NaN (Not-A-Number). I was grateful when the meeting ended and I was able to meet with Winnie and play Frisbee for a while. I also helped my neighbor with a calculation involving molecule alignment, finished a fluid mechanics homework problem, and learned a little more about thermal effects at grain boundaries in polycrystalline silicon. It was a busy week.

It was also another beautifully sunny week, and a week of good food. Last Saturday there was a banquet dinner after the meeting, and I got to take home some leftovers. I had duck for a few days. When Winnie visited on Sunday, we got a loaf of olive bread, tangelos, and a delicious brownie. I was so impressed that I walked back to Andronicos on Monday to buy some bread and cheese, more tangelos, and a gallon of milk. On Thursday evening, I went with Winnie to the store, and we bought grapes and cheese and a baguette; and yesterday, I went to Trader Joe's and got some sesame thins, corn chips and tomatilla salsa, tangerines, and grapefruit Italian soda.

You might have the impression from these grocery lists that I subsist mostly on bread, cheese, and citrus fruit. It is not so -- I eat salad regularly, too, not to mention sour cabbage, noodles, rice, and beans. On the other hand, I do dearly love good bread, cheese, and fruit, and I've been eating a lot of all three lately.

And this week is Berkeley's spring break. I look forward to enjoying a couple days off, and also to finishing a little of my work backlog.