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Wednesday, June 30

wah!
posted @ 1:47 PM -

realise my genius

Lately I've actually been working off both of my computers at once quite often, rather than using one or the other as is my usual habit. I only have one keyboard and one mouse at home, so because I far prefer using a separate mouse to the RSI-inducing touchpad on either laptop I borrowed the one that I use while I'm in the lab. It's an optical mouse, which in most circumstances is a good thing, but there's a slight hitch: where I want to use it is on a clear glass desk. As far as the mouse is concerned, it's just being moved around in the air, so it isn't registering anything. Doh.
posted @ 9:45 AM -

how the land of the free treats its guests

After the WTC was destroyed, there was a lot of [to outsiders] comical self-questioning in the US, along the lines of why do they hate us?. Or rather the more comical parts were along the lines of how could anyone possibly hate such a wonderful country as this?. Clearly there are a lot of reasons, and clearly some of them are very bad reasons (envy, blaming Uncle Sam for other countries' own domestic problems, and so on), but sometimes this country seems out of its way to make enemies. I'm still on enough of a recoil from politics to not want to go into foreign policy, but treatment of foreigners on US soil is a prime example.

Reading stories like this one, about a visa overstayer spending months in solitary, makes me very angry. All the more angry because this one evidently isn't a matter of rogue FBI agents, but of an agent trying to do a good thing and being hamstrung by the system in which he has to work. A system in which people who have been cleared of any other crime (he was originally arrested on absurdly flimsy suspicion, but at least he was arrested for something) end up being subjected to that degradation is not becoming of a country that likes to call itself civilised, let alone the land of the free. So when the same country tries to tell others how to run its affairs, is it surprising that this rankles?

The thing I found most surprising about the story was that the victim remained so charitable about it. Once he made it home, he refused to take his experience as in any way representative of the USA, and continues to say positive things about the country. Unfortunately this country can't count on everyone it shafts being that magnanimous, and every time I see a story like this I find myself thinking Al Qaeda has another recruit.
posted @ 7:14 AM -

Tuesday, June 29

I know where I'm going for my next trip abroad: Molvanîa
posted @ 5:21 PM -

Monday, June 28

belief, beggared

To the best of my knowledge, the Kansas state tax on illegal drugs is not a joke. It looks like the bona fide state revenue department website, but... but... but... I don't need to explain any further, do I?
posted @ 9:58 AM -

contact issues

  • someone has been trying to phone me, on-and-off, for the past few weeks and never leaving a message. For some reason it's always been at bad moments, so I haven't taken the calls, but I also haven't been able to see who the caller was. It comes up as a Vancouver number, which I know happens when my parents phone from home, but I also know it's not them because they leave messages. It's probably someone else from the UK; whoever you are please email me or leave a message on my voicemail, and then I will call you back. I'm not rudely ignoring your calls, I just don't know who to be calling back.
  • the university-supplied email has had some troubles of late. I get very little non-work email there, so the chances are this won't affect anyone, but if you sent mail to my @cwru or @case address (which are actually the same thing) on Thursday or Friday it might have disappeared into the ether, so please re-send it.
posted @ 9:24 AM -

Friday, June 25

note to self

Aluminium foil onto which fat has dripped from what was intended to be my lunch is in fact highly flammable, and to make things worse it carries on burning for some time. This is one of those things that it would have been better not to discover empirically.

Happily I also discovered today that when I start a fire in the oven I am capable of staying calm for long enough to do something sensible about it, and remembering not to pour water onto a cooking-fat fire. The only damage in the end was a smell of smoke that may take a few days to entirely clear.
posted @ 10:53 AM -

Thursday, June 24

football

well England are out, but at least it sounds like it was an honourable exit. As close as a match can be, to one of the better sides in the tournament. And it really wasn't that many years ago that the England football team were nothing short of an embarrassment.
posted @ 2:41 PM -

Bombs in Istanbul

Not on the scale of the November ones, but that's only a small consolation. My complete lack of surprise only makes this worse. Full story.
posted @ 7:10 AM -

Wednesday, June 23

I just went out to buy some eggs, and in the shop there was a lady asking for what I can best transcribe as v-eye-yee-ners. It took me (and the shopkeeper) some time to figure out that she wanted a particular variety of sausage.
posted @ 3:09 PM -
if this carefully hedged report turns out to be correct, it's time the Beastie Boys found themselves victim to a boycott. I must say I'll be disappointed in them if it's true.
posted @ 8:31 AM -

Tuesday, June 22

sad news, and a request for Londoners

I just received the following email:
....You might have seen in the national newspapers the story of the arson attack at Aish. Our offices were completely burnt out and our 2 sefer Torah’s were desecrated. The police are investigating, but as yet have no real leads.

Today (Wednesday 23rd June) at 6.30 pm, we are having a solidarity gathering outside aish (obviously, it is not possible to go in at the moment) at the back of 379 Hendon Way. The Chief Rabbi and Lord Janner, amongst others, will be speaking. Please do join with us if you are able.
I would go if I could. Not because of who it is specifically, but because this is representative of something that is generally deeply worrying, and I think it's important that a message be sent out that people do actually care. However, I'm a rather long way away. I would be very grateful if anyone could go in my place. All the more so if some non-Jews could go, in the hope that the press start talking to people and see that there are individuals who are not directly impacted by this kind of thing but still consider it unacceptable.

For more about what happened, there's an article in the Evening Standard.
posted @ 5:35 PM -

Thursday, June 17

England 3 - 0 Switzerland

not entirely reassuring when it sounds like they had a lot of luck this time. There's no great dishonour in losing to France, but beating Switzerland should have been easy, and it sounded like the scoreline flattered them.
posted @ 10:51 AM -

an aside about the football

The commentator just mentioned that the game is in a university town, and it's finals time for the local students. Even assuming that all visitors are good-humoured and there are none of the hooligan issues that usually follow England fans around the world, having your town over-run by football fans on holiday during finals must really, really suck. A football fan would want to be in the pub every day, and anyone who doesn't care about the game would presumably resent the lack of peace and quiet even more if they had serious exams.
posted @ 9:27 AM -

England 1 - 0 Switzerland

The sad thing is, the radio commentary (from the BBC, so not exactly biased against England) is making it sound like Switzerland, yes SWITZERLAND are dominating the game and this goal was an undeserved lucky break. We have ¾ of a game to hold on to an undeserved lead....
posted @ 9:25 AM -

Wednesday, June 16

Should I print and send this?

Dear President Bush,

Today I received a very pleasant letter urging me to donate money to your re-election campaign and to vote for you. I must say that in an age of off-puttingly negative political campaigning by all sides, it was refreshing for once to see some campaign materials in which the positive message far outweighed the attacks on your opponents, and I hope this sets the tone for the remaining months of your campaign; if it does I am sure it will serve you well. However, there must have been some mistake.

The third sentence of your charming letter states that you are grateful for all [I] do as a long-time friend and supporter, and is followed by some pleasantries about my steadfast commitment and dedication to Republican principles and ideals. This shows a miserable failure of the targeting of your advertising campaign. I have never actively supported the GOP, and though I am no cheerleader for the Kerry campaign I must confess I find the Democratic Party the less unappealling of the only two options that have any chance of winning this election. I also do not have the right to vote in US elections, because I am a non-resident alien. This is quite right and proper (as well as being how any other country would treat someone in my position), but unless you are planning on changing that rule between now and November (which I would strongly advise against, as the gratuitous harrassment people like me often face when we enter the country tends to make us rather bitter about your administration) sending campaign materials to me will be a waste of money at best.

Clearly if you want to waste money with untargeted mass mailings that is your prerogative, but I would like to draw your attention to two side issues. Firstly, I am on the national mailing preference list as having opted out of unsolicited marketing mail. Having [rightly, and with broad popular support] made such a song and dance about the do-not-call register and at least attempted to do something pro-active about the exploding problem of spam, it jars to see you cavalierly ignoring the oldest such initiative. Secondly, after all your brave talk of America forging its own path and not being dictated to by foreign interests, I must ask how you think it looks when your re-election campaign solicits donations from foreigners. There is a note on the contribution slip informing me that Contributions from corporations and foreign nationals are prohibited, but this letter was personally addressed to me. It would take only a cursory perusal of the vast databases which the Department of Homeland Security maintains (and which I am compelled, on pain of deportation, to keep up to date whenever my address and/or status changes) to find that the same Eldan Goldenberg who resides at this address is a citizen of Italy, not the United States of America.

Finally, included in the mailing was a rather pretty RNC Victory 2004 Membership Card. I appreciate that sending out these cards may be nothing more than a gesture along the lines of charities who send free gifts in advance of donations, but I sincerely hope that is all. Every now and again party membership figures for the whole country or particular subsets (such as the State of Ohio, which I understand is considered a key battleground this year) are wheeled out to support some claim or other. I hope that your Party will have the honesty to only count as supporters those people who respond to these cards with a donation, and not simply everyone who receives one.
posted @ 9:35 AM -

Bionic people!

While most 'news' about 'bionic' implants turns out to be hype and/or scaremongering, there is some really exciting work going on in biomedical engineering. A story particularly caught my eye today, about generating electricity from the body's internal heat. The voltage to size of implant ratio is not likely to be very large, but if it works on even quite a small scale it could be enough to keep the battery for, say, a pacemaker perpetually charged, meaning that people with pacemakers wouldn't need regular surgery to replace batteries.
posted @ 7:59 AM -

Tuesday, June 15

blank page syndrome

I'm preparing my presentation for the conference I'll be at in a month's time, and I'm sufferring from a particularly bad case of blank page syndrome. It's a strange one, because the paper is written, and the presentation really just needs to summarise the paper and why it's worth reading, so it ought to be relatively easy given the lack of need for original content. Yet I'm having real trouble getting started.

I'm very glad that I'm scheduled to do two practice runs in the lab first, so I've been pushed (with my co-operation because I knew this would be helpful) into writing this ahead of time and not facing this situation the week before the conference. I'm also very glad that I decided to do a pre-practice run for my parents' benefit, because that means I definitely will have something done before the lab meeting, and even if the version I show my parents is sketchy I'll have another day to tighten it up. If I edit substantially between practice run and real thing that's no problem—it is half the point of the dry run, after all—but I do have to be in a position of showing the lab a presentation that is at least complete and of a quality that wouldn't send the audience to sleep or make us look like fools.
posted @ 11:16 AM -

I need help

Finding somewhere to watch football. This week I'm not likely to see any games anyway, because my parents are in town, and all the time I'm not with them I'm spending working. But for the rest of Euro 2004 I'd like to see as many games as I can, and so far I don't know of any way I can watch them. Does anyone know of any bars/cafes/restaurants in the Cleveland area that show games without charging an admission fee, or any services to see them as streaming internet video?
posted @ 5:55 AM -

Monday, June 14

storm watch

When one lives in a developed country, is it not a reasonable demand that the electricity supply be able to withstand routine thunderstorms? The power just flicked off for a few seconds here, making me once again glad both of my computers are laptops and don't reboot when this happens. Granted, it is bucketing down in impressive style, but we get storms like this every couple of weeks, and I'm tired of re-setting the clock in my answering machine.

Oh, and while I'm bitching about the poor infrastructure in these parts, I ought to mention a couple of things about the roads. I've broken two spokes in the rear wheel of my bike in the past few weeks, which I'm sure is at least partly due to the terrible state of Cleveland area roads (there may be a fault in the construction of the wheel, and the second breakage may have been contributed to by a bad repair of the first, but neither of those can be the whole story). And my dad has hired a medium-sized SUV (a Ford Explorer to be precise), and even in that thing (basically a luxury tank) the ride is noticeably rough in parts of Cleveland.
posted @ 2:45 PM -

Gmail

Personally, I don't understand why gmail is generating as much of a fuss as it is. I only signed up out of curiosity, but it's serving me well, because I keep getting invites. I tried to swap my first two for booze—a bottle of icewine that I think is unlikely to show up now, and a bottle of arak that I still have some faith will arrive this week—and now I have three more. In a day or two I'll go back to Gmail Swap to see if I can get anything for them, but before that I thought I'd offer them here. Any takers?
posted @ 10:36 AM -

Freedomball

Well those damn dastardly Frenchies might have stolen our victory in the football yesterday (of course this has nothing to do with them being the superior team, oh no), but Richard Branson got one back for the plucky English by driving over the channel. Hurrah! Huzzah! And no, of course this doesn't make up for the football.
posted @ 9:15 AM -

Thursday, June 10

recommendations

Two articles in Wired that everyone should read:

A depressing one about the Bush administration's Lysenkoisation of science, which is somewhat melodramatic (we're a long way from seeing American science turned into a laughing stock), but sadly is pointing in the right direction (every time the govt conspicuously rigs a committee by firing the people who don't buy into the party line, all government funded science loses a little credibility).

A much more cheering one about ways of harnessing the collective decision-making power of an organisation, as opposed to relying on top-down command. Though social psychology provides plenty of relevant warnings about groupthink, it's also not surprising that with the right structure in place collective decision-making consistently beats that of individuals in positions of authority.

And while I'm reccommending reading, I ought to mention that I'm most of the way through Edward R. Tufte's Visual and Statistical Thinking: Displays of Evidence for Making Decisions. It uses two case studies—one of a major success (the discovery of the cause of cholera and how to prevent it) and one of a terrible failure (the decision to launch the Space Shuttle Challenger on a cold day in 1986)—to illustrate how decisions of how to display a given set of data can [mis]guide the drawing of conclusions from it. Its lessons can be used both to improve the reliability of decision making and to massage unconvincing data to make it look better. Essential reading for anyone who writes reports presenting data to make a point, be they scientific papers or background briefings for politicians, or whatever else. Come to think of it, it's also essential reading for any consumer of such reports, because it helps to understand how much one is a hostage to the author's choice of presentation. Key quote from the latter perspective:
Like magicians, chartmakers reveal what they choose to reveal. That selection of data... can make all the difference, determining the scope of the evidence and thereby setting the analytic agenda that leads to a particular decision.
posted @ 2:49 PM -
I'm back in Cleveland, with Mark. Today is lab meeting day, so I'll keep it short as I'd better get some work done, but Toronto was very cool. It's not all that full of touristy things to see—perhaps an effect of it only having become a major city in the past few decades—but it has a really nice feel to walk around, and I get the impression it would be a great place to live. And Greyhound are bastards, with quite the worst customer service I've encountered in the US; I'll explain later, but when I went to a manager to complain about being messed around, her response was fly next time, which is advice I might follow.
posted @ 6:44 AM -

Friday, June 4

Terminator? Hit the North!

Blogging will be light for the next couple of weeks as I'm off to Toronto, then Niagara Falls, then New York, and in between Mark and my parents will be in Cleveland.
posted @ 11:24 AM -

Thursday, June 3

they breathe out oxygen like we breathe out... the other

I haven't really felt like blogging much lately, but I feel like I ought to make it clear that I do things other than work. In fact, apart from the qual result getting me down, the past week has been pretty good. Here's what I've been up to:

Friday: just moped really. It's very counterproductive to respond to failing an exam by moping around, but I think I can forgive me for that. Eventually I went round to Melinda's place, eventually she managed to cheer me up, and we had some fine curry, which is something I don't eat often enough these days.

Saturday: ran some errands, Melinda and I picked up Vinay, purchased coconut, pineapple, rum and amaretto, and went to Froggy & Tygers' place, where many people were hanging out, tasty pina coladas and 'nutty coladas' (like a pina colada but with amaretto instead of rum, and surprisingly delicious) were mixed and quaffed, and much fun was had. Just what I needed to keep me from slipping back into moping.

Sunday: took some time shaking off the unfortunate after effects of heavy cocktail consumption, then met half a dozen others for a bike ride down to the lake and through Bratenahl, which is a ridiculously upscale suburb that's quite entertaining for gawping at massive houses.

Monday: went back to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park for some more hiking with Melinda. Took more photos, a handful of which have turned out nice, but it will probably be a while till I get around to putting them online. I'm very pleased to have discovered that there's far more natural beauty in the outskirts of and just outside Cleveland than I had expected. At times this can feel like a rancid and decrepit industrial city, but there are plenty of places to go to forget that and see a much... healthier side to the area.

Tuesday: a not very productive work day, and quite a productive cleaning the house day.

Wednesday: 40-50 miles on the bike through parts of the Ohio Erie Canal towpath and the Metroparks' Hike & Bike trail. Then work and making cookies with Vinay. No, that is not a euphemism. Shut up, you at the back.

Thursday: swim, lab meeting, and then a beautiful piece of reverse stereotyping. Melinda came straight here from work, to find me barefoot and in the kitchen, making us dinner. All so we could go out in time to hear Apollo's Fire perform Bach's St. John Passion in a local church, which was absolutely wonderful.

Friday will be largely occupied with getting stuff ready for the coming week, because on Saturday morning I head to to Toronto to meet Mark, which I'm looking forward to loads. Mark is the person I see most out of my old friends, and I still don't get to see him nearly as often as I'd like, which is what I get for leaving the country where I grew up.
posted @ 8:55 PM -

technical question

Does anyone know how to capture video from a [Windows] display? I have some graphical output from my simulator, which would be useful to show when I present at that conference (only 6 weeks away!), but it doesn't save the output. I know how to capture still images (actually that's very simple), so I'm wondering if I could do something similar for the moving picture. It would be very useful if I could do that.
posted @ 11:14 AM -

redirections

For the past few days I've been collecting things I want to link to, by leaving browser windows open. I was planning to spend some time writing about them properly, but I need to clear my desktop a bit, so I'm just going to write a list of links so I can close these things:
  • Harvard Magazine have an article on why obesity is becoming more common. Scroll past the annoying blame the purveyors of food for listening to the market stuff and you will find an interesting and worthwhile discussion of the biology of obesity.
  • Bill Cosby has said some painful home truths about the continuing plight of African Americans. Even within the Jewish community (I find this more surprising coming from us because we are not an underclass, and we have the big advantage of being able to conceal our ethnicity if we need to) I see the occasional flash of we're the victims of prejudice so we can never be the creators of our own problems, so I think I understand where he's coming from. Yes, racism is an issue, but I get tired of hearing it used as a crutch to explain away every shortcoming.
  • Tom points out the similarity between the marketing of hunting and porn videos.
  • And last but by no means least, Alex has replied at length to my weariness of discussing politics in public. Quite apart from being rather flattered (both by this and the various comments I got in public and private to the effect of actually your ramblings are less pointless than you think), I think his general point is good. At the moment I have no desire to crank the pundit machine back up, but on the strength of the feedback that post generated I don't think I'll gag myself when I next do feel like it.
Speaking of Alex's blog, you should really go and read it all (here). He's articulate and knowledgeable about many things—from him I have learned about the first properly argued counter to Lomborg I've seen, and some interesting observations about Brazilian and Japanese culture, among other things—and I think he deserves a wider audience.
posted @ 8:01 AM -

Wednesday, June 2

my work habits

Often my work involves setting off little experiments that take from a couple of minutes to half an hour to run. The half hour ones are good, because either the amount of time motivates me to set off batches overnight, or it's long enough for me to do something useful in between results. The really short ones are a problem though, because they just give me an excuse to work mechanically without thinking. Right now I'm at a stage where I have a lot of short tests to run, so I can try to draw patterns from the large amount of data I'm gathering. In between kicking experiments off I should really be thinking about how to automate this analysis, but I keep just distracting myself for two minutes and then returning to mechanically setting up the next one. I need to break that habit, because over the course of a day it actually means I waste a lot of time.
posted @ 8:07 PM -
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