Saturday, May 29, 2004

Bread from the Cheeseboard is one reason the Atkin's diet would be considered cruel and unusual punishment if anyone were ever subjected to it involuntarily (fads can be cruel and unusual, but perhaps don't count as punishment). I went there yesterday during a scheduled computer outage, and today when Winnie came to visit. I shared in a cheese-and-olive roll, a spicy roll laced with a less strong cheese, and a brioche. I also got a twist bread laced with nuts and raisins to go with dinner. It was all very good.

Plain yogurt with honey and fresh strawberries is good, too. So was the dish of red lentils with cilantro and tomato, and flavored with salt, paprika, curry powder, garam masala, turmeric, and jalapenu. So was the egg scramble with spinach, onion, pepper, and tomato for dinner this evening, or the almost-French onion soup for an appetizer (almost-French because I inherited extra chicken stock from a friend who moved recently, so I used that instead of the usual beef stock).

I sometimes miss meals. I sometimes live on rice and beans for a week, or on bread and cabbage (and salt). I'm not sure what to do with more than one fork, and even if I could stomach wine and ate meat regularly, I'd probably be largely indifferent to what vintage is supposed to complement what type of meat. But when I take the time to plan a meal, it's good.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

The OpenDX visualization program is a new favorite in my software toolchest. I spent most of the day fiddling with it, but I don't think it was wasted time. I got some pretty pictures for my efforts -- and more importantly, I built the infrastructure that I'll need to generate lots more pretty pictures with much less effort.

  • Currently drinking: Twinings Russian caravan blend

Monday, May 24, 2004

I went home in the late afternoon (around 5), showered and ate, and came back to the office in the early evening. The evening was full of tea (lemon-flavored black tea), good cheer, and only rarely a fit of mumbling confusion.

I'm comparing my simulated data to some measurements. I can run my simulations to convergence in order to feel some confidence that I'm getting the numbers appropriate for my model; but it is a model, and I know that I have the geometry slightly wrong and the material properties slightly wrong. And then there's the measured data -- which lacks any error bars. Being well aware of Murphy's laws, I expect that there are errors in the simulation from model simplifications, and also issues with the measurements that might have shown up if the number of measurements per device type was greater than one.

If science is a blind man exploring the world by vigorously poking with a stick, engineering sometimes seems like what happens when the blind man is handed a spear.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Friday went by in a blur. I met Sanjay at the coffee shop in the morning, where we talked about anchor losses and Earnshaw's theorem for a bit. Then we went to a dissertation talk, and from there to the SUGAR meeting. I dropped off stuff at the office, went to help Elaine move, ate dinner, and then walked back to campus -- to encounter Sanjay going the other way. His class had a final exam on Friday evening. We had a brief conversation about some ways in which electric filters can go awry, at the end of which he shook his head and said There's too much out there to learn. Then I walked the rest of the way to the office, and if I did anything with the rest of the evening, it wasn't sufficiently inspired that I remember it through the general bemusement of a tired end-of-week evening.

I briefly visited the office on Saturday morning to have a cup of coffee and do a little editing. Then I wandered back home, where I cleaned while I waited for Winnie. I find household cleaning very satisfying. It's so simple: scrubbing goes in, shine comes out. Then Winnie came, and we spent the day walking and reading and eating some fish chowder that I made for dinner. I thought I might read a while after she left, but I fell asleep before I even opened the book.

Winnie brought with her a collection of stackable plastic drawers, and this morning I moved the drawers into my room and my clothes into the drawers. I'd say that I moved my drawers into the drawers, but they're actually in a separate box at the foot of my bed -- alas! a pun wasted. After a flurry of rearrangement, one of my small black shelves was free, and I moved it to the kitchen, where it accomodated the piles of stuff -- flour, sugar, corn starch, spices, and the like -- which previously occupied one end of the dining table and threatened to take over all available eating space. If the Thing from the Swamp ever does come to devour us all, it would do well to disguise itself as such random clutter. Nobody would be wise to its existence until it was too late.

And so a wave of reorganization rippled through the apartment, and left things looking tidier in its wake. I rearranged my tea collection on the shelf, and moved my little porcelain figurine of the old sage so that he looks like he's beatifically pondering life from a cave in a cliffside of tea tins. The Old Man of the Tea and the Bookshelf Buddha -- we could build myths of such things, if the whim took us.

My whim for the afternoon took me to the office, though, where I spent an idle our finding out about various visualization tools for scientific data. Huzzah for pretty pictures! Learning how IBM's Data Explorer tool works is not exactly a high-priority item, but it's a weekend, and I'm willing to forgive myself a little wandering. Besides, without substantial wandering, most of the ideas I've had would have come to naught. Sometimes it's good to follow an outline, and sometimes it's good to follow where my wierd may lead.

And now the outline says I should go home and make dinner.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

This afternoon, I walked to Andronico's and back with my nose in a book. I bought bread, cheese, milk, and some ice cream, and dined on French onion soup -- with my nose still in a book. I finished the book a little while ago, and the first thing that caught my eye was my copy of volume 2 of the Feynmann lectures, sitting unread at the end of my bed where I'd put it after I took it out of my backpack.

I read a little from Feynmann today, and a lot of Flynn this evening. I enjoyed Flynn's second book as much as I enjoyed the first, but I'll probably read those books just once. Okay, maybe I'll read them two or three times -- old books, like old friends, both need to a visit now and then. But in all, I'll spend more time with the Feynmann lectures, and that's as it should be.

Feynmann would have been quite a novelist if he'd ever turned his hand to it. He lived a sufficiently novel life that his autobiographical books come close. But I'm more impressed by those lecture notes than ever I'd be by novels. He chose his genre well.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Moving is unsettling not because of a change of locations, but because of a change of habits. I walk to work now, rather than bike. I keep my technical library at the office, rather than at home. I'm eating simpler meals, now, and fewer of them. I go to sleep earlier and wake earlier. In subtle ways and not-so-subtle ways, life here is different than it was in El Cerrito. It's not better or worse, on the mean -- just different.

When I moved here, I thought I might resume some of the habits of my first year of graduate school, before I moved to El Cerrito for four years. In a way I was right, but the habits I'm resuming are different than the habits I thought I'd resume. I've yet to visit Black Oaks, for instance, though I've been taking an hour or two off in the evenings to read fiction. But I do spend more time at the office or around campus, and I do enjoy some of my old walking routes around Berkeley.

I've fallen back to my old decorating style, too. My room is small, and the wall space is limited, so I haven't been tempted to put up my world map, or the print of the Japanese harbor. I've hung my scrolls and the placard of the frog claiming time's fun when you're having flies, but otherwise I've left the walls undecorated. But the wooden Buddha, the porcelain sage figurine, and Webster the Duck all observe benignly from their respective corners of the room, and the crazy-patch quilt is on my bed, so the room has color and character.

I put up more decorations after a time of turmoil a couple years ago. At the time, I felt like I needed the change in my surroundings. Then the decorations faded into the mental background, and I didn't change them for a long time. Now, simple seems attractive.

I've written little for this blog since I moved, though I've written letters and e-mails and text to go into papers. There has been plenty to tickle my fancy and make me think of writing, though. I thought to write when I read about the engineering design of the jogging bra on Mark Zimmermann's blog; and again when a bird sat just a few inches from my foot and examined me for most of a miute in that twitchy way birds have, turning its head to and fro to keep one eye on me, then the other. And I thought to write after I sat on the lawn outside the theological school, and listened to the organ playing for the graduation inside -- and then a few minutes later to a group practicing jazz on their saxophones across the lawn. The saxophonists were rather more talented than the organist was. But the urge to write lost to the urge to spend time away from the computer, and that's probably all for the better.

I had an e-mail conversation today with Vince about procrastinon scattering. What if procrastination was carried on particles or waves that reflected and refracted off various household objects? You could build procrastination isolation zones, or waveguides to channel procrastination toward your competitors! Perhaps I could write a simple code to calculate scattering of plane waves of procrastination entering a 2D room? I'd call it FSC2D -- Feng Shui CAD 2D. I wonder if I could sell it?

I've learned some things about wave scattering recently, which is why the topic surfaces in my idle thoughts. I've also been reading about waveguides and antennaes and cavity resonators, filter design, compressible flow calculations, magnetic levitation, Lambert's W function, and some fine points of Hamiltonian mechanics. I could tell you why I read about each of these things, and in what references, but at this point I'm a little unclear about when I read them. Memory is a curious thing. I can tell you that I drank one and a half glasses of orange juice from my tall tan plastic cup with the heel end of the last loaf of bread I bought -- but I can't remember what day I finished the loaf. And I can tell you exactly where in the library stacks I found each of the books I checked out on Monday, but I only know I checked them out on Monday by a process of elimination (it was some time this week, and it wasn't today).

Why do I remember this way? The best answer I can think of involves space aliens -- the googly-eyed ones that used to appear on Sesame Street and get excited over the noises the telephone made. It's probably as well that I never considered psychology as a major.

  • Currently drinking: Water

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

The bouncing cow in my screensaver is eerily in time with the station to which I'm listening. And Blogger has completely changed.

I think I should put a blank look on my face and say Whoa now.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

I left the office at 7:00 and did no work for the rest of the evening.

I'm looking forward to hitting it again tomorrow, though. This stuff is just so slick!

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

I am finally and truly moved out of the apartment in El Cerrito. We walked through the apartment with our landlords this evening, verified that everything was present as it should be, and turned in our keys. I moved my kitchen stuff to my neighbor's place on Tuesday night, but I forgot the stuff in our junk drawer. That's okay. It was easy to move.

At the other place I lived in El Cerrito -- now two moves ago -- I had my bed propped on cinder blocks. I liked having my bed propped up, both because it was at a more comfortable height for me, and because it opened the space beneath the bed for storage. After the walkthrough, Patxi and I took the cinder blocks out of the storage space where I put them two years ago. Patxi gave me a ride to my place and helped me carry the blocks upstairs, and I used them to prop up my bed here. The room now looks less cluttered, and feels more like home. Little changes make big differences in the feel to the room, and I've always disliked feeling crowded in. A cozy room is fine; a room crowded with mess is not.

Part of the reason I've written little this week is that I've been particularly excited about my work. I have an immensely ingenious peer in the civil engineering department whose ideas I'm using and extending, and those ideas work truly marvelously. More than once, though, I've thought to myself how difficult I would have found this a few years ago. Everything comes together easily now in part because of Matlab graphics features that only appeared in the past couple years; in part because of features of the C99 language standard which has only recently seen wide support; and in part because I now have the experience of writing lots and lots of finite element codes for a variety of problems.

The network tomography paper that I co-authored with Yan got into the SIGCOMM conference. I'm excited about that. SIGCOMM is a very good conference, and I think the work is solid. I also have some ideas for extensions that I think are very, very slick, both mathematically and practically. I have not yet tested those ideas in actual code, though; for the moment, what free time I have has been dedicated to other tasks.

Last Monday, we had to turn in first drafts of our fluids class project papers. In lecture that Tuesday, each of us was given papers by two of our peers. Our reviews of those papers were due on Monday, and each of us received the reviews for our papers in lecture on Tuesday. I went to our professor's office on Tuesday afternoon, and he commented that, though the reviews were anonymous, he knew the class sufficiently well that he was still able to match each review with the reviewer. I picked the first review off the stack, he said, and I thought, 'Dave Bindel wrote this.' Then I realized that I could identify the reviewers for the other papers, too; but yours was the one that set the thought. I was amused by that. I didn't think until later to ask which of my two reviews sparked that thought. I'd be curious to know, since the two reviews were very different -- I was impressed by one of the papers and unimpressed by the other, and it showed.

Deadlines focus the mind wonderfully. Had it not been for the deadline for my class paper -- which was on something called a perfectly matched layer for acoustics problems -- I probably would never have been so productive in the work with perfectly matched layers for elasticity which has taken so much of the past few days.

Fortunately, I have had relatively little need for network access in the past few days. The wireless network at Soda Hall has become a stumbling thing, sometimes dropping connections only a minute or two after they have been established. Of course, thus far I have not bothered to set up a network at my new place. I did get a wireless antenna that is supposed to boost the gain on my network card by about 5 dB; perhaps I'll be able to pick up an open nearby wireless network from my apartment using that. I don't expect to use it much, but it would be nice to be able to check e-mail on the weekends without going to the office. If nothing else, that would spread over three days the pain that I feel on Monday morning when I go into the office and throw away a weekend's worth of spam that the filters did not catch.

I wore a shirt today with Eschew Obfuscation written on the front. I've observed three reactions to this shirt: delight, despair, and incomprehension. Of course, some people ignore or don't notice the shirt, but that can hardly be counted as a reaction. In any case, I've noticed that English-speaking computer scientists tend to be amused by the shirt if they notice it at all. Friends from other engineering disciplines have more mixed reactions. I would tell you about the reactions of all my local friends in humanities and social sciences, but alas, there are very few.

Enough rambling. I think I'll spend a moment or two more admiring my newly-straightened room, and then perhaps sleep in the newly-lifted bed.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

I've moved. Except for my dishes, all my stuff is at the new place. For the most part, I've packed everything away into my new space. The new space is smaller, and so I got rid of some of my stuff. With Winnie's help, I sorted through my clothes, and picked some to turn into rags and some to take to Goodwill. I also took the television to Goodwill -- I got it for free a year and a half ago, and only took it out of my closet when I moved. I will probably get rid of my old computer as well, and try to sell some of my fiction collection. If I feel particularly Spartan, I may choose to get rid of more stuff.

Moving and organizing is tiring, though. I was exhausted by the time I came home from dinner last night, and I ran out of enthusiasm today by the middle of the afternoon. So I came to the office, and here I still am, listening to the end of To the Best of Our Knowledge. I did my last fluids homework, caught up with my e-mail, and did a little programming. It was a nice break.

And now I'm going to walk home.