Thursday, April 29, 2004

If my room seemed a little different yesterday, it seems much different today. I picked up keys this morning, and a friend and I moved all the furniture except my lamp and my chair, along with most of the miscellaney around my room. Tomorrow morning, I'll put the remaining odds and ends in bags, and tomorrow evening, I'll finish moving those odds and ends, and I'll spend some time vacuuming. For as often as I vacuumed around the room, there were a lot of bits of junk under the bed and behind the shelves.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Books! Books! I finished moving my technical library to the office last night. For the moment, there are about 175 books, and another four shelf-feet of papers and journals, shelved, piled, and otherwise packed into a space meant for a more modest collection. The tall wood bookshelf at home is empty, though the smaller bookshelves where I keep my fiction collection are still neatly packed. My room feels different without that mass of references; and the office feels different with them. Part of it, I think, is the colors: the Springer books with their bright yellow covers, SIAM books garbed in green, Dover texts in a rainbow of hues, and other covers in more muted tones. In any case, I notice the bright colors when they move that far, even when I took them for granted as they slowly diffused between my shelves and my desk.

On KQED's Forum program yesterday, a panel discussed writer's block. I missed the panel's response to the caller who wanted to bring poetry to academic writing. How sad.

I feel I should write something profound about the rest of the show, but I lack the right words. Or, more accurately, I find I'm more interested in doing other things. Such is life.

Monday, April 26, 2004

I have Serre's book on my shelf, actually. He is as terse as some Russian analysts. We spent a month on representation theory in the second semester of my graduate algebra course at Maryland, and covered about twenty pages of Serre's book.

If I were a Springer-Verlag Graduate Text in Mathematics, I would be J.-P. Serre's Linear Representations of Finite Groups.

My creator is a Professor at the College de France. He has previously published a number of books, including Groupes Algebriques et Corps de Classes, Corps Locaux, and Cours d'Arithmetique (A Course in Arithmetic, published by Springer-Verlag as Vol. 7 in the Graduate Texts in Mathematics).

Which Springer GTM would you be? The Springer GTM Test

Sunday, April 25, 2004

I spent some time at play this weekend. On Friday night, I ate with Winnie at Nizza La Bella, a little French/Italian restaurant on San Pablo Ave, near the intersection with Solano. We had an excellent meal, which cost roughly the same amount that admission to the spring ball would have cost. I visited Barnes and Noble briefly on Saturday afternoon, and walked in the sun to Solano Avenue for brunch late this morning. Dave invited Patxi, Esther, and I over for dinner this evening, too. There is something very satisfying about sharing a meal with friends; even on the days when I'm feeling hermit-like, I usually feel better after meal shared (though perhaps in companionable silence).

The rest of the time, I worked on the fluids class paper. I finished around 11 this evening. I managed to fit what I wanted to say into five pages, but I had not a centimeter of space left over. Of course, it took me longer to figure out what I wanted to say than it did to write. It seems as though for every sentence I write, I erase at least two sentences -- and that's when I construct a first draft! Of course, for each sentence I speak, there are usually two or three that I decide are best left unspoken. Any edged tool deserves to be used with care; words are no different.

I'm glad I was able to spend the weekend with this work, though. I needed to teach myself something about this topic, and the class deadline was a good excuse to do it now. The ideal is simple enough: time runs in one direction, but the wave equations of mathematical physics allow solutions which go either forward or backward in time. For computer simulations, as for analytical calculations, there needs to be some way to pick out the solution that goes in the right direction. The details, of course, are more complicated. At this point in my career, though, they are manageably more complicated, and I was able to set up the theory, numerically and analytically solve several test problems to illustrate the point, and write everything up in the course of about three days.

And now I will read iaijutsu for half an hour before I sleep.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

The course project for my fluids class is due Monday, and I have work yet to do. I forget who wrote in a letter that he was sorry to be so rushed, and the letter would be shorter if he had more time. I should look up that quote, since I refer to it once every month or two, and I always forget the source. Whoever said it, he was spot on. My project paper can be at most five pages, and while I have the time to say what I need in that space, I do not think I have the time to say all I want. Since at least two of my classmates will be forced to review what I write, perhaps it's just as well that I haven't the time to pack the information as densely as I might wish to.

Despite time pressure from the project and from my work, I took time yesterday and today to take care of mundane tasks like grocery shopping and laundry. I also took a little time to relax. After class today, I turned on my radio and listened to news while I walked home. It was clear, warm, and breezy, a wonderful day for walking. Yesterday, I ate Mexican food with my office mates for lunch, and sipped tea and chatted with a friend in the evening after my grocery trip. Tomorrow night, I'll go to the spring ball with Winnie. It's good to have distractions from work.

I've been re-reading Autumn Lightning, Dave Lowry's book about the history of one of the Japanese schools of swordsmanship, and his education in that style as a young man. Lowry writes well, and I enjoy reading his work now as much as I did when I read it four years ago, or again four years before that. I'll soon go back to my pile of books that I have yet to read; but for now, it's comforting to read an old favorite.

I spent this evening listening to Kupo Beat (a weekly program of music from Africa and the African diaspora) and puzzling over a code that wasn't behaving as I thought it should. My problem was simple, and I wanted to use it as the example for my class project, but I couldn't seem to get the same answer from my program and my hand analysis. After an hour of puzzling, I discovered a sign error. Now it works beautifully, and the only trouble is choosing which of my figures I should include in the paper.

I move in eight days, and I have not yet begun to pack. I'm glad I don't have much stuff to move. Even so, I foresee another busy week ahead.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Since Patxi and Esther moved, I have not had network access from home. I know others in the complex have wireless networks, and I could probably get an acceptable signal from one of them. I have not tried to do so. I'm sure I could make good use of the network, just as I would probably enjoy watching television if we had one, or as I would use a cell phone if I had one. I don't have anything against those things -- but as it is, it's nice to be spend some time free of such distractions. I have enough to do with books and baking, radio and reading papers, computing and contemplating. And when I feel like writing a blog entry, I can record it on my local drive and post it in the morning.

For the first few days after Patxi and Esther left, the apartment felt eerie. I still forget that the living room lamps are gone, and get confused when flipping the light switch has no effect. But otherwise, the empty space is starting to feel just about right. I'm certainly no longer bothered by the mess; it's probably best that Patxi and Esther took the cleaning supplies on Saturday morning, or I'd still be cleaning every morning.

I made some lima beans and tomatoes late this afternoon. Mike and Tracy were kind enough to give me a can of tomatoes, and for dinner we shared both my lima beans and the vegetable dish Tracy had made. My larder is running low, but I didn't feel like fighting through weekend grocery lines. So I'm baking bread now; it's a perfect day for it, and bread, lima beans, and fresh green peppers with a little salt will be enough food for a day or two, until I get to the grocery store.

Patxi and Esther had a barbeque yesterday. I thought to get them some spices as a housewarming gift. But the lines at the grocery stores dissuaded me; and it turned out to be just as well, since they already bought spices for themselves. Instead of getting spices, I went to Barnes and Noble and bought a copy of the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook for them. It was a better choice, and I enjoyed wandering around the bookstore for a bit better than I would have enjoyed the same time in the grocery store.

I spent more time on leisure reading this weekend than I have in many weeks. I finished Alistair Cooke's book of biographical sketches (Memories of the Great and the Good), and Winnie and I finished another chapter in Cooke's America. I also read a few hundred pages of Moon's Legacy of Gird; I read more of it than I intended, actually. But today was a rainy weekend day of the type that's perfect for reading.

This evening, though, is a time for writing. I spent some time on Friday afternoon to do the homework I'd hoped to do by Friday morning (for a meeting with collaborators, not for a class). I may spend some more time working through that this evening. Or perhaps I'll work on the fluids homework that's due on Tuesday, or spend some time working through the derivation in one of the papers on drum acoustics sitting in my paper pile. Of course, all this is just a distraction meant to kill the time until the bread is ready. I have to keep my priorities straight, after all.

  • Currently drinking: Chamomile tea with lemon

Friday, April 16, 2004

I'm glad weeks like this don't come often. I was productive, but I'm very tired.

Monday, April 12, 2004

Today was a day of near misses, the type that make me irritable and panicky while they happen, and then grateful afterward. It could have been so much worse.

  • I figured out this morning that I'd never received my W2 forms. Fortunately, the university payroll office can produce duplicates in a matter of seconds. Everyone I asked for help along the way was able to point me in the right direction, promptly and courteously. It's hard to complain about that. My taxes are done now.
  • The Thursday deadline for the extended abstract is soft. I don't intend to stretch it, but that's still reassuring.
  • The power went off for ten minutes in the middle of the afternoon. When it came back up, a few of the file servers were gone. It turns out that there's something screwy with the uninterruptible power supply (it appears to interrupt itself), but they were able to restore the file servers by late in the afternoon. The server with my directory on it was one of the last to be recovered, but since I spent the mid-afternoon working in a coffee shop and the late afternoon buying toilet paper -- have I mentioned everything in the apartment was Patxi's? -- it made little difference to me.
  • I got home and checked e-mail just before Patxi unplugged the cable modem and took it to his new apartment. There was an alarming mail from Sanjay saying that a funding agency needed something from us by tomorrow. I came into the office, since I thought I might need the network resources, and I might end up burning the midnight oil for his request. It turned out that what they needed was one paragraph, and he just wanted a sounding board.
  • The microwave was gone, so I didn't heat the enchiladas I'd planned to have for dinner. But I had a slice of olive bread, some cheese, an orange, and some apricots, so that was fine.
  • I couldn't find a hot water pot in the grocery store, but the hot water spigot in the kitchenette has finally been repaired, and so I still had my evening tea.

The day turned out well. I can't complain.

It has been almost a year since I started writing this blog. It has been about a year since Saddam Hussein's downfall. And it has been about a year since I organized my personal papers. It seems like I always organize under the same impetus: I need to make sure I have all the information I need for taxes. And, as always, I think the task of organizing all my papers, which I spent the past few hours doing, will prove far more tedious than actually filling out the tax forms.

Patxi and Esther will take the cable modem with them tomorrow. I expect I'll spend more time in the office after that.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Patxi and Esther are finishing their packing. They've reserved a truck, and will move tomorrow. I helped classify kitchen items for a while earlier. Tea, tea cups, tea pots, electric kettle -- those are mine. Coffee items and most of the mugs (except the black ones and the Dilbert ones) -- those are Patxi's. The baking sheets and pans, the spices, the cheap beat-up frying pans without nonstick -- those are mine. The wok, the good skillet, and almost all the utensils (except two forks, two spoons, and two butter knives) -- Patxi's. And everything outside my kitchen, the bedroom, and one half of the bathroom cabinet is Patxi's.

In a couple more weeks, I'll move back to Berkeley. I'll miss El Cerrito, but at the same time, I'm starting to look forward to the move. I lived in Berkeley for my first year of graduate school; it was miserable in some ways, but it was pleasant in others. I'll be able to walk home late at night without waiting twenty minutes for a train. I'll be close to Black Oak Books again, and to Shattuck Avenue, and to interesting parks. I'll be closer to my favorite cafes.

I remember my weekend routine from my first year, when I lived in Berkeley. I would buy a book from Black Oaks on a Saturday walk, and bring it home with me. After making dinner, I'd retreat to my room, sit in my inflatable chair next to my floor lamp, and alternate between reading and radio listening. On Saturday, I'd listen to Prairie Home Companion and Beyond 2000, a show of science fiction stories turned into radio drama. On Sunday, I'd listen to To the Best of Our Knowledge -- the same show I'm listening to now. Between programs, I'd read. My roommate was rarely home for most of those weekend evenings, and the quiet was undisturbed. I never quite went back to that routine after my move to El Cerrito.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

The EECS department at Berkeley will hire a few new faculty members next year, and so we've had several interesting job talks. Earlier this week, I heard a candidate talk that touched problems from combinatorics, PDE-constrained optimization, and quantum computation -- and was still comprehensible. At least, I thought he was comprehensible. A job talk is an odd balancing act: there's always too much material to cover, but it must be presented in a way that is still accessible and interesting. There's an edge of tension to a job talk that's missing in an ordinary seminar talk. The matrix computations seminar today interested me just as much as the candidate talk, drew from nearly as many disciplines, and similarly balanced the completeness and accessibility of the presentation; but it was much more relaxed, and I think that contributed to my enjoyment and understanding. Besides, today's speaker spoke with a Dutch accent which I found easy to listen to.

I gave a talk yesterday to a group of MEMS engineers. It turned out to be a very small group; everyone who would normally attend was busy, including the guy who originally invited me to speak. Such is life. I figured out some interesting things in the process of preparing the talk, and I may have convinced someone to use my software, so I can hardly complain.

In a way, classes are a pleasant break from preparing and hearing talks, not to mention from coding and writing. We're studying stability in my fluids course. The material so far is elementary, or at least familiar, but I've still remained entertained. How do you tell if your roommate is stable? asked the professor. Wait until he's at equilibrium -- asleep on the sofa, say -- and then make a loud noise to perturb him. If he quickly goes back to sleep, he's very stable. If he runs to the kitchen, grabs a knife, and chases you around the apartment, he's probably unstable.

I also amused myself for half an hour this morning solving a question asked by a colleague: what does this series sum to?

n = 0
sin((2n+1)y) ⁄ (2n+1)

The answer is π/4 -- independent of y. It's simple if you remember the appropriate calculus tricks. I'm still unsure why Jason cared about this sum, though I assume it was probably for some sort of series solution to a differential equation. Still, I was grateful for the brief distraction. Short, easy problems are a boon. I have spent too much focus on work recently, and it's starting to show; my eating and sleeping patterns are both off.

A fellow student in my graduate algebra class at Maryland once claimed that Gauss went clean-shaven when he worked on algebra, but went scruffy when he did analysis. I expect the story was apocryphal, but if it was not, I seem to be mimicking Gauss in at least one trivial way. Yesterday and today were full of analysis, leading to satisfactory ends in some cases (I have a perturbation-based method for thermoelastic loss calculations which runs way faster than the straightforward approach), and less satisfactory results in other cases (using slightly different versions of the same formula, I get answers which range from 50 to 50000 -- and I trust none of them). Even when I'm not entirely successful, I find this sort of analysis satisfying; unless there's some analysis to aim a computation, the computer will usually give answers which are at best useless and at worst misleading.

However much I admire Gauss and enjoy analysis, I do need to shave.

I've done a poor job of maintaining this blog lately, and have only done an adequate job of responding to friendly e-mails. I have taken some time from work to do other things, though. I walked home a couple times in the last week. The route I take is about five miles, mostly downhill, and it takes me just over an hour and a quarter to walk it. I usually watch the sunset at the end of the walk; I often smell the scents of evening. One day last week, I stopped at a cafe near campus on my walk home. There were several undergrads there, chatting merrily with each other. One pair was discussing fraternity politics; another was talking about which majors on campus were most difficult (with each party in the conversation convinced that he surely had the most difficult major). They spoke loudly enough that I couldn't easily ignore them, and I mentally rolled my eyes a few times as I listened. Was I ever that young?

Of course I was that young. I still am. But in every young man, an old man bides his time. The converse might be true as well, if those who believe in reincarnation have the right of it.

  • Currently drinking: Hot water with lime and honey

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Alistaire Cooke died yesterday at age 95. I was introduced to Cooke through his Letter to America, the long-running radio series that ended only a couple weeks ago. I enjoyed his radio program, and I have enjoyed his writing. I only hope I survive to such energetic old age.

I spoke at the local matrix computations seminar today. I stayed up too late last night working on the slides, and my presentation was unpolished, but the talk went acceptably well. Whether or not my audience learned anything new from my talk, I learned something truly remarkable from it. In preparing my talk, I tried to describe in pictures why a certain phenomena occurs. When I described the picture during the talk, I realized that I had not carried my idea as far as it would go. After lunch with colleagues, I walked home, thinking as I went. I paused at the French Hotel Cafe and wrote down my idea, then wrote about a different problem for a while. I finished my walk; put my room in order and checked e-mail; had dinner, tea, and an interesting conversation about Hamilton's principle with Dave; talked to Winnie; and then returned to my insight from earlier in the day.

I wrote the programs I needed in about twenty minutes. Neither one was complicated. I tested them on a small problem, and they worked beautifully. They were fast, too, and solved most of my problem in a fraction of the time taken by approaches I'd tried until now. So I gleefully set up a larger problem and set my programs to work -- and the network connection died.

That's okay. The network will come back tomorrow. It was still a good day.