Wednesday, June 30, 2004

This afternoon when I tired of writing, I decided I would spend some time figuring out how to get my little 5 dB antenna to work a little better. I've seen designs for antennas made from Pringles cans, tin foil, and Chinese mesh cookware. I know something about RF waveguides, though my training is not as an electrical engineer. And I only need a little boost, since I know that I can get the signal I want; I just kept losing it.

After some reading online, a trip to Barnes and Noble to read the O'Reilly Wireless Hacks book, and a trip to the local hardware store, I thought I would be ready. But the book told me little that I didn't know, and at the hardware store I forgot what I wanted, and just bought some more clothes hangars and a roll of tape. Still, I came home filled with the notion of my own cleverness, ready to build a parabolic antenna from tin foil and start scanning it about.

That's when I rediscovered the wonder of binder clips. It turns out that the signal I get is just fine, so long as the pigtail connector from my wireless card to the external antenna is held firmly in place. A binder clip does that trick. With the binder clip in place and a little piece of cardboard to keep the antenna from falling over, I'm all set.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

I retrieved my photos of Copenhagen from Long's Drugs this afternoon. I usually go through a roll of film every year or two, which means the next post in which I announce an entire roll of photos should probably occur some time after I graduate. I leave it to you, dear reader, to decide whether that is an optimistic or a pessimistic statement.

  • Currently drinking: Russian caravan blend

Monday, June 28, 2004

I ate dinner with Dave this evening, and afterward we visited Barnes and Noble for dessert. Then we wandered over to the music section.

I buy CDs rarely. But I've thought for some time now that I would like to buy some of the Verve jazz collection CDs, and the music section stocked the CDs that I wanted. So I bought the Verve Unmixed 2 CD, a collection of classic jazz pieces which was released as an accompaniement to Verve Remixed 2, a collection of remixes of those same tunes. I also bought the Verve Remixed CD.

I listened to the remix CD and read for a while this evening. Now I'm listening to the first few tracks of the Unmixed CD, long-time favorites: Manteca, Sinnerman, and Whatever Lola Wants. And the remix CD includes Summertime, which I think has been my favorite jazz tune since I first heard it as a youngster.

Books often keep me up past my bed time. Music keeps me up less often, but there are nights I stay up late listening. This is one of them.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Winnie visited today. We went to the Cheeseboard after she arrived, and bought a loaf of provolone-olive bread. Together with slices of good tomatoes -- heirloom tomatoes bought from the Berkeley farmer's market -- and a little salt, it was good. Actually, if you can't imagine that it was delicious just given the description, then you have less imagination than I'd credit to you... or perhaps your lactose intolerant, hate olives, and break out in hives near tomato plants, in which case I'm very sorry, and hope that you at least like garlic or chocolate.

The loaf of bread is gone now. So are the tomatoes.

Friday, June 25, 2004

I just returned yesterday afternoon from the conference in Copenhagen. I slept some ten hours last night, but even with that, I'm sufficiently out of it that I'm about useless for any technical work. So this seems like a good time to write about the trip.

The route from SFO to Copenhagen consisted of a long flight over the pole from SFO to Paris, a mad dash across Charles de Gaulle airport, and a shorter flight from Paris to Copenhagen. We made it across the airport in time, but our luggage did not. Other American travelers we ran into had the same problem; I guess the heightened security at de Gaulle caused some issues. Air France gave us a kit of toiletries and a t-shirt (with the Air France logo on the sleeve). After we checked in at the hotel, we wandered around central Copenhagen looking for places that sell socks. There were many of them, but none were open. The closest we got was a 7-11, which was open but which (oddly enough) didn't sell socks.

I saw a lot of 7-11 stores in Copenhagen, actually. They were more tightly concentrated than I'd ever have imagined -- coming out of the Copenhagen central train station, for instances, there are two 7-11s visible, spaced a short city block apart. There are at least two others in an additional two block radius. One of the ones next to the train station saved me on the trip back: I needed 25 kroners to pay the station fare, but only had a 20 kroner coin. It was around 4:30 am, but one of the 7-11 stores was open. So I'm willing to forgive them for not having socks.

A lot of things about the city reminded me of New England -- of Boston, perhaps. The plant life was similar in color and shape, and there were a lot of brick buildings in a reasonably familiar architectural style. Of course, the Danish train system (the DSB) is much nicer than the T, and Copenhagen is much more bike-oriented than any place here. Many of the roads have three height levels: there is the road for motor vehicles, a step, the road for bicycles, another step, and the sidewalk. There is a system of bikes for free use around the city center, and other bikes are parked everywhere. Of course, the bikes are often not locked to anything; I suppose cycle theft is less of a problem there.

All the Danes I encountered spoke fluent English. One of the conference speakers, a Scot, joked that he spoke with a heavier accent than any of the Danes he'd met -- and he was right. At least half the television stations played English-language programming: mostly American programs, though some were from the BBC. I only had language trouble in Denmark at the train ticket vending machine the one time I tried to use it, though when I was alone I was sometimes addressed in Danish initially (it never happened when I was walking with Rajesh, the other Berkeley grad student at the conference). The Danish greeting hej sounds the same as the English hi, so in at least one exchange (where I was buying a magazine), I don't think the gentleman behind the counter didn't realize I spoke no Danish until I said thank you at the end. At dinner one evening, one of the gentleman with whom I was eating, a professor from the Netherlands, pointed out that there are only a few million speakers of Danish, and that the total combined population of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark is somewhat less than the population of New York. So a lot of the entertainment media is never translated from English (and American English, at that).

The Eurocup 2004 competition was everywhere. The Denmark-Sweden match took place on the night of the conference dinner, and as we walked from the train station to our hotel before the dinner, we passed many people in red Danish soccer shirts heading the other way. There was also one brave soul dressed in Sweden's blue and yellow, with Swedish flags painted on each cheek. They were all going to see the game projected on the side of one of the buildings in central Copenhagen. Those of us in the dinner were kept posted, too -- people had their cell phones set to receive bulletins every time there was a goal, and they kept running to the microphone on the stage to let us know about it (the final score was 2-2). We also heard the scores from the Italy-vs-Bulgaria game from representatives of those countries. And in the insomniac hours when we watched a little television, the commercials constantly referred to soccer. There was also a really catchy music video for the Danish team, which I wish I could find now.

Night lasted from around 10:30 at night to around 3:30 in the morning, and between the daylight and the jet lag, I didn't sleep much. I was also hungry a lot. Danish bread and cheese are outstanding, and I ate a lot of bread, cheese, and meat (and sometimes fish). I didn't live exclusively on a diet of bread, meat, and cheese, but in retrospect it seems pretty close. Otherwise, I had French food a couple times (and was impressed), a pizza-and-salad buffet once (much like Pizza Hut), and a Turkish buffet once (which was warm, filling, and otherwise mediocre). But I probably ate fewer fruits and vegetables during my entire stay than I sometimes eat in a single day here. When I came back, the first thing I did after showering and getting my hair cut was to walk to the Berkeley farmer's market and buy fresh produce: heirloom tomatoes, a cucumber, string beans, and a lettuce mix. Winnie visited yesterday evening, and while she was here, she poked at my ribs and said You lost weight! Maybe Atkins does work. I thought she was exaggerating, but while walking around Berkeley today, I noticed that my pants were a little on the loose side, and my shirt kept coming untucked. So perhaps she was right.

The cheese-slicer at the hotel's morning buffet was a marvelous thing. The cheese sat on a horizontal platform, alongside a bar that served as a stop. Through the center of the platform was a threaded post, and from the top of the post there extended a long crank handle, with a slicing wire stretched below it. Turning the handle pushed the wire through the block of cheese, and simultaneously turned the threaded post so that the platform -- and thus the cheese -- moved up a notch. So the slices came out at just the right thickness. And there were several different varieties of bread to go with the cheese, from a soft, nutty multi-grain bread to a dense pumpernickel loaf. It was good.

The conference itself was quite interesting. I'm glad I spoke on the first day, when everyone was fresh. The technical sessions started early (~9) and ended late (~7), so even the most enthusiastic were starting to flag by the end. There were a few outstanding presentations, a few terrible presentations, and a lot of interesting presentations somewhere between. The very worst presenters spoke in a mumbling monotone and used foils with print that would try those with the best of eyesight. I've decided that I'm not one of those with the best of eyesight, even with my glasses taken into account. I believe I ought to get my prescription updated. Rajesh and I skipped out on the morning sessions during the last day, in order to see Copenhagen, but otherwise I did go to the presentations, even if I ended up scribbling observations about my own favorite equations during some of the not-so-good presentations.

The conference dinner on Tuesday took place at Det Ny Teater, which I imagine means something like the new theatre. The meal was very good, with an appetizer, main course, dessert, and coffee with cookies, all spread out over five hours. There were also five wine courses: champagne with strawberries while we milled around in the foyer, a white wine with the appetizer, a red wine with the main meal, a dessert wine, and cognac after the coffee. I tried a sip of the white wine, but that was about as far as I got -- I'm told all the wines were quite good (and that Danish beer is justifiably famous as well), but I still can't seem to make it past the scent. Ah, well. The food was good, and so was the coffee. Also, there were performances of some violin pieces and songs from some German operettas, and I enjoyed both -- somewhat to my surprise, since I usually don't care for opera music.

I've lost much of the rest of the chronology of the trip already. I have mental snapshots of the Buddha Bar, which shared a wall with a church; of American Indians performing in one of the main square; of looking across another square to see a street flanked by a 7-11 on one side and a Chinese restaurant on the other, with old brick buildings rising above each and a spire rising in the background; of getting lost on a walk from the DTU campus back to the Lyngby train station; and of many interesting conversations. But those snapshots are already all out of order.

The trip back felt much like the trip there. I left the hotel early, so that even after back-tracking to a 7-11 so I could get change for the train -- thank heaven for 7-11 -- I was at the airport in plenty of time. I again rushed through Charles de Gaulle, this time accompanied by a Danish tourist also going to San Francisco, who asked if he could tag along since he was unfamiliar with the airport. We made it across the airport quickly enough, but spent a long time in the line for security. Everyone else was in the same boat, though, so the flight departed late. There was additional confusion from several families who had arranged to sit together, but were accidentally reseated apart. The flight attendants did what they could -- I exchanged my seat for another aisle seat so that a mother and child could sit together -- but I still think a few of the passengers came away very unhappy with Air France. Still the winds were favorable, and so we arrived in SFO nearly on time. My baggage made it back with me this time, and the rest of the trip was mostly uneventful.

Somewhat to my surprise, I wasn't ever initially addressed in English while I was in Charles de Gaulle, or while I was between Paris and the States. I surely felt like a confused American, and I'm told that the gait, garb, and mannerisms make Americans easy to identify. But the Air France check-in attendant, the stewardesses, the security attendants, the guy I sat next to, and one pour soul who seemed to be lost in the airport, all addressed me in French (at least at first), and gave me French-language forms to fill out. I was also addressed twice in German, once in passing through the airport, and once by the woman sitting next to me on the plane (naturally enough, since she spoke but little English, and knew even less French than I). I helped her fill out the customs form -- they'd given me the French version and her the English version, much to our respective confusion -- and the visa exemption form, which was written in French, but was simple enough for me to interpret. Her English was only slightly better than my German, but we were able to communicate well enough by a combination of the two languages, and she was grateful for the help.

And now I'm sitting in familiar surroundings, sipping tea and looking at a pair of plants. I think I probably ought to water them now, poor things.

  • Currently drinking: Jasmine downy pearl green tea

Friday, June 18, 2004

I leave for Copenhagen tomorrow afternoon, and will be gone for about a week. This is not my first conference talk, but it is my first trip out of the States. I look forward to the conference, even to giving my talk -- I'm just not looking forward to the plane ride, or to the jet lag, or to the pranks of Murphy. Also, I notice that the weather forecast predicts rain for most of the time I'll be there. Fortunately, I have both an umbrella and a rain coat.

Also fortunately, I can happily sit and stare off into the rain for hours on end. I can sit and stare into the distance on a sunny day, too, but it doesn't have quite the same charm. Regardless, I'm easily amused by just watching the world go by. It's entertaining, educational, inexpensive, and relaxing.

Time to rest now, I think.

  • Currently drinking: Water

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

I think I should read Ulysses at some point.

In an article on Bloomday, a reporter copied Joyce's description of Bloom's talkativeness -- how we could see a straw on the floor and talk just about that straw for an hour, without taking a break. I could not do that. I rarely speak more than a few sentences in an ordinary conversation without pausing to think and sort my words. And I rarely write even a single sentence without first pausing to chew the words over in my mind. That doesn't mean I never speak a thoughtless word or write a careless sentence, but it does mean that I spend a lot of time staring into space when I write, or even sometimes when I talk.

Sometimes I think a lot and don't write at all. Silence and white space can both be beautiful; there's no need to fill them without purpose. Pensive moments often sound more foolish than thoughtful, once they're recorded; and, as Samuel Clemens wrote, it's better to remain silent and appear a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.

I wonder if I could sell the visual variant of John Cage's music -- 4.33, a blank sheet of white paper 4.33 cm in length. It has probably already been done. I prefer landscapes.

A week in conversations

What's new with you?
Oh, I'm working on slides for a talk.
Another one? You give more talks than just about anyone I know.
It comes in bursts.
Yeah, I guess I had a time when I was speaking every month or two. I kept revising the same slides. I was sick of them by the time I was through
Well, that's my blessing and curse -- I only give the same talk once every several months. I cycle through topics.
Hunh. You're like a professor talking about all the work his grad students have done, except that there's only one grad student involved.
Something like that.


Ha! And another detailed description of the character's main meal.
Yeah, he Modesitt does do that, doesn't he?
It's like an obsession. He must have read a series of books that really bothered him, once upon a time, in which none of the characters ever ate or used the facilities. So now he makes a point of describing all the characters' meals.
Oh, it's not so bad as all that.
No? I just think it's funny that I flipped to a page arbitrarily, and that's what I found.


So which of you wants to be the first subject for this user study?
Too late. Jason just volunteered you.


Have you actually ever been to Moscow?
That is the Moscow subway on your shirt, right? Look, the zoo!
It is, but I got it from my dad.
Ah. Well, it's a wonderful city.


The language of this standard is so broken! At least there aren't any implementations of this part.
Yes, there are. There's ATLAS.
It's not a complete implementation.
I think it is. And Intel has one, too.
Really? And they didn't complain?
I'm sure they have one. I caught a bug in one of the routines a while back.
Huh. I remember that. Are you sure those are complete implementations?
Pretty sure. Besides, there's a reference implementation.
I'm sure there's not.
I'm sure there is. Check Netlib.
Oh. There it is. That's too bad; we'll never get the standard fixed, now.


Do you think I should bring her cookies? What's your favorite dessert that I've made?
I've only had the cookies.
That's true...
Cookies are always good, though.
Do you think she would like cookies?
I think so. I mean, I have trouble wrapping my mind around the idea of someone who doesn't like cookies. I see!

  • Currently drinking: Spiced black tea

Monday, June 14, 2004

I finished the last of my loose vanilla-flavored black tea this morning. I carefully tapped the leaves into the tea ball and shook a bit of dust away. Then I put my nose into the tea tin, inhaled the scent of vanilla, and lapsed into thought. A minute or two later, I realized I was still idly waving the tea tin back and forth below my nose.

In high school Spanish, I saw a film about a Spanish sherry maker nicknamed El Nariz (The Nose). He had an enormously long nose, under which he would wave a glass of wine which he was judging. My nose is long and bony, though not so magnificent as his; but this tea tin is rather smaller than a wine glass, and the similarity struck me as I continued to absent-mindedly sniff at the smell of vanilla.

Then I put the tea tin away and went to get hot water.

I'm right in the middle of my mid-afternoon slump, which is why I'm writing here rather than revising slides. I'm listening to an episode To the Best of Our Knowledge; this time the topic is Shades of Color. The first segment was on color in poetry, and I wondered as I listened -- is it the color images or the color words that make a difference? You don't have to be able to see red to associate it with blood, luck, or tomatoes (depending on your cultural biases), and color words are often the short, sharp, old words that work so well in poems.

On a completely unrelated note, I was amused by this comment on correspondence, particularly after recent conversations on the topic of letter-writing with Vince, and on the topic of scientific correspondence with -- drat. Well, I think I had a conversation about scientific correspondence with someone recently.

I think I should make another cup of tea and work on my slides, now.

Friday, June 11, 2004

I took off around 5:00 this evening. I took a break at home, ate a pear, showered, and listened to the radio for a while before I left the apartment again. This evening, the program for Fresh Air included an archived interview with Ray Charles. As I walked to Safeway, and then to the office, I found myself humming Georgia on My Mind.

I was young during Reagan's presidency, and at that age I was usually more interested in the letter Q than in politics. My priorities have changed since then -- except in my saner moments, when I still think the letter Q is far more interesting than the latest shenanigans of our elected officials -- but Reagan remains a vague figure in my memory, colored more by reading history than by living through it. Ray Charles is different. I remember him for myself.

Patxi had a going-away party at the Basque cultural center last night. It was a good meal and good company. There was butternut soup, fresh pepper on the salad, a savory dish of lamb shank with beans, and a sort of Basque cake (gateu Basque) for dessert. And there was at least one person who expressed keen interest when I joked about Gateux and Frechet derivatives after hearing about the cake.

On a completely unrelated note, I've discovered the reason that I like salty flavors so. It's because I'm secretly part porcupine:

The porcupine feeds on leaves, twigs and green plants and has a ravenous appetite for salt (it will chew on any salt stained tools or clothes it comes across) and also it relishes plywood because of the glue between the layers.

I think the butternut soup was much better than plywood would be.

  • Currently drinking: Loose black tea flavored with caramel bits

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

I've decided to cut back on coffee, from a cup or two a day to a cup or two a week. When the ratio of coffee to food is too high, my stomach starts to complain. And early this week, my stomach complained bitterly, if mercifully briefly.

Tea is different. I had a cup of osymanthus fancy (a black tea blend flavored with osymanthus flowers) last night, and a cup of Earl Grey this afternoon. And now the apartment smells of masala from the lentils cooking, of lychee from the tea brewing, and of bleach from the still-drying kitchen floor.

  • Currently drinking: Black tea with lychee

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Hey Dave?
I'm your roommate, I can ask prying questions, right?
And I can refuse to answer. Go ahead.
Are you always this out of it?
Only when I'm thinking about a problem.
And that is...
... almost always, yes.
Okay. Just checking.

Even though I took yesterday off, I spent today in Friday mode. I spent some time this morning sitting in a cafe and reading further chapters from the Feynmann lectures. I spent the afternoon reading something else given to me for my consideration which was considerably less lucid, and which I think is fundamentally flawed. Still, perhaps the afternoon reading was as instructive in its own way as the morning reading was.

I came home early. Dave came over, and after we visited for a bit, I loaned him some books for his flight. Then I went to the south bay to have dinner with Winnie. We ate at a Mexican restaurant called Ancestros, a very pleasant place with good food, and then took a little walk. The walk ended at Borders, where there was a live band playing, and where we both got distracted by books. Well, perhaps I was more distracted, but Winnie knows me well enough by now to understand and forgive the quirks in my character that come out when I'm near large collections of books.

On the train ride home, I finished reading Life of Pi by Yann Martel. I turned the last page near Macarthur station, and chewed on the ideas through the Macarthur, Ashby, Berkeley, and North Berkeley BART stops, and on the walk from the North Berkeley BART to home. It's an interesting, well-written book, and I recommend it.

While at Borders, I picked up a copy of The Far Side of the World by Patrick O'Brian. I enjoyed Master and Commander, and hope this will be as good. I also think it will suit my reading mood: I want a well-written narrative which is neither too deep nor too pulpy.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Some things are easy to repeat. I bring the same sweatshirt to the office most days; I cycle through the same web sites when I'm procrastinating; sometimes I'll even write the same sentence repeatedly (usually with increasing frustration as I fail to find better words). But it's impossible to cook lentils or fall in love the same way twice. I had lentils and rice this evening for dinner, and now I'm feeling immensely benevolent. Oh, brave new world that has such spices in it! And spinach and tomatoes -- those were good additions, too.

I didn't work through the entire weekend. Winnie came here to visit on Saturday, and on Sunday, I went to the south bay, and we swam and watched Shrek 2 (not at the same time). Still, I made it into the office Sunday morning, and again on Monday. I was running simulations and making movies to be used in a presentation and sales pitch at a workshop this week. Sanjay is giving the presentation, but no few of the visuals will be things that I produced. I also finally did a preliminary study of the effects of film thickness on the predicted quality of resonance, and discovered a secondary effect that I think is most interesting. Suffice it to say that the number I care about (call it Q) seems to vary by about five orders of magnitude over a small range of film thicknesses. It seems relatively stable outside that range. Now, I think this is immensely excititing for two reasons. First, it means I have a testable hypothesis: a qualitative behavior predicted by the model which I believe will occur somewhere in the range of fabricateable devices, even if I don't know the material properties precisely enough to predict exactly where. Second, it may be something that I can exploit -- or, rather, that I can tell my engineering colleagues how to exploit -- to build a system which blows our current prototypes out of the water (not to mention all but the most expensive of the existing alternatives).


Somehow, though, even that excitement hasn't been enough to keep me crunching. Yesterday afternoon, I set up a long-running computation and then went outside to read from the Feynmann lectures, sip coffee, and munch on a biscotti. It was a pleasant break, but even with that break, I felt grouchy and tired by five or six, when I left the office. So I came home, showered, and went for a walk.

So -- books! My stroll ended in the nonfiction section of Black Oak Books. I'm now the proud owner of Wave Motion in Elastic Solids (Graff); Perturbation Methods (Nayfeh); and Mathematical Models in the Applied Sciences (Fowler). There were lots of other interesting-looking books, too, but I'd been thinking about getting those three for a few months (Graff, Nayfeh) to a few years (Fowler). Besides, some of the other books looked more interesting than they actually were -- and some of the books which were probably most interesting were also incomprehensible

There was a slim volume of classic papers from the mathematical masters of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, for instance, which looked immensely interesting. I opened it, read the introduction (in English), and then turned to the first paper -- only to be forcibly reminded that English was not the prefered language of technical communication at that time. There were papers written in French, German, and Russian, all with authors whose names most any engineer, scientist, or mathematician would recognize immediately. I know no French, precious little Russian, and just enough technical German to decipher the descriptions of the equations when needed.

So much for that. I walked home almost chortling aloud in glee, and my mood hasn't dimmed appreciably since. Whee! Books! This makes up for the ending to This Rough Magic, which was a fun book with a very mediocre conclusion. I finished it late Monday night. Perhaps that's why I felt so wiped out by Tuesday evening. It may have been a mediocre ending, but I did stay up past my bed time.

I had a cup of herbal tea and then went to bed at a reasonable hour, but I wasn't much more motivated today than I was yesterday. So I think I will take a day or two regrouping: walking, reading, doing laundry, enjoying the sun, and avoiding the office. Maybe I'll read some more from the Feynmann lectures, or maybe I'll go to the library and read from the work of E.B. White.

And, of course, I'll drink plenty of tea, cook good things to eat, and enjoy the leftover lentils.

  • Currently drinking: Black tea with lychees