Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Vacation highlights

Vacation is a few days over, and I've been back to work. My last post of the year will be how my brain works: all the referential highlights, with none of the downtime buffer between. I love my family. Today, the last day of 2008, is one second longer than a normal day! (It has a leap second added.) So go enjoy your extra second of new year's eve party!

My vacation, montage-style:

Exchanging the lock on a bag of M&Ms, since it was too narrow for both of us to fit our hands in at once.

A simulated depth-first search with some interesting vertices. Kingsly.

Death by chocolate. Semi-literally. So much chocolate, ice cream, candy, and souffle that I felt a little sick. More than once.

"In order to understand recursion, you must first understand recursion."

"Mennonite ankle porn" and learning Japanese from anime. "Take anything you want! Leave me my life!" あぶない!にんじゃです。Thereafter, nearly everything was declared あぶない.

Delighted by ducklings.

"Safari action adventure Lila"

Pandora (which I've now set up to work from Canada). Listen to this song, it's amazing.

It's so hard to find a really snootily-educated man these days.

"E., Mom's worried about something in particular. But I'm just worried. About curtains, about the bed, about gravity..." (Note: his room has increased gravity. For training purposes.)

A stray lawn dart killed my only bunny. Twice.

While giving a back massage, E.: "It's like your shoulders are reinforced!"

This island.

Benjamin Button? Not as good as watching Atonement for the third time in 24 hours.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Ithacan holiday

I spent this morning reading about bryozoa and siphonophora (so cool!), and yesterday's front-page headline in the local paper was, "Weather doesn't dampen rutabaga contest." You just can't make stuff like that up. This afternoon I have to do some real work on ongoing projects, but now that other people are awake, I'm headed to the gym.

This post's theme word: thalassic, "relating to the sea."

Monday, December 22, 2008

Noteworthy scientific research

I love the scientific method in all its wonderful applications.

Noteworthy research of late? Well, octopodes have no personalities. But the good news is that they like HD TV!

And have you heard about the cutting-edge research happening now to answer that age-old question: do sharks like Christmas music?

I just don't understand all this recent talk about money for fundamental scientific research (like this!) being cut because of "the economy." Knowing that octopodes prefer to see HD video, or that sharks like Christmas pop songs, is vitally important to my life; merely reading about it has completely brightened my outlook! (Not sarcasm!) Wow, do I love science. Even if scientists sometimes bicker.

(Both via Slashdot.)

This post's theme word: internecine, "conflict within a group/organization." As in, the internecine science conflict between physicists and computer scientists. Or biologists and chemists. Or whatever. In the end, it's us against the literature students.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Easy wind and downy flake

The weather here is excellent, lacking only in people (snowball targets). Canadians have gone home, and all the international students who are staying are griping about the weather. I have to go back to the office later tonight to gather the truckload of material that I'm taking home with me, and the only complaint I have is this: the city of Toronto has no idea how to deal with snow. Main streets are a few inches deep in it, and secondary streets have a completely unplowed 6 or so inches. I wish my office had a window, so I could have watched the streets fill up with snow.

This post's theme word: flocculent, "having fluffy character or appearance."

Monday, December 15, 2008


{\sc Yes, I am trying to finish my thesis now. This week. Thanks for all your good wishes, but every time you ask me about it, another grain of stress is added to the pile I'm lugging around with me. So please just rest assured that I am working hard, and you will certainly hear the jubilant shouts -- followed by silence as I catch up on sleep -- when I'm done.}

This post's theme word: boustrophedon, "a method of writing in which lines alternate left-to-right and right-to-left."

Pumpkin pies

I baked some pumpkin pies for American Thanksgiving a few weeks ago. One of them was accidentally more vegan than intended (though still not at all vegan). They were both delicious.

This post's featured word: macadamize, "to pave with gravel." I remember the meaning by visualizing a road paved in macadamia nuts.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Healthy nachos

These were visually pleasing, so I photographed them.They were gustatorily pleasing, too.

This post's featured word: thurible, "a censer."

Saturday, December 13, 2008

My discomfort with blogging

My discomfort with blogging is waxing. Why? It's so public. But I certainly knew that when I started.

This post's theme word: coprolite, "fossilized excrement." The internet is full of it... you have betrayed me for the last time, Google.

Friday, December 12, 2008


Just overheard from the next room: "Ok. Dishes. Ow. What?!"

This post's theme word: hyaloid, "transparent; glassy."

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wendy and Lucy

Postpostpre recommends Wendy and Lucy. Postpostpre is never wrong, but in case you have any doubt, the NYTimes review is here, and includes the following:

“Wendy and Lucy” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). It has some swearing, a little drug use and a brief implication of violence, but no nudity, sex or murder. The rating seems to reflect, above all, an impulse to protect children from learning that people are lonely and that life can be hard.

We should protect children from that. Also, adults.

This post's theme word: homiletic, "to do with preaching."

Monday, December 8, 2008

No light propitious shone

I awoke from overheating 30 minutes before my alarm, to the dulcet tones of Crazy Lady swearing through the wall and the heartening sight of ample snow falling on the pre-dawn street. William Cowper's "The Castaway" was running through my head, but I could only remember the first and last stanzas, so I'm printing it out to memorize at the gym this morning.

This post's theme word: logy, "lethargic, groggy."

Sunday, December 7, 2008

In which I wish gchat were real life

If I could only be physically present with all my gchat co-existers, I would be in a room with the most awesome people all the time, from all over the world. My gchat list reads like a dream team of the best party I could think of... and between us, someone is always awake and logged-in. So there's always someone available for solace.

This post's theme word is locum, "a person filling in for another, especially a doctor or clergyman." Modern conveniences like gchat provide locums at any locus.

Saturday, December 6, 2008


It's Saturday, it's snowing, and I am happy.

Yesterday was 4 hours of office hours, and board games, and finding the Madison, and three sets of quite enthusiastic guitar-playing. Today is laundry and swim practice and finishing the write-up of the formal theory we're calling VMod2L. And then some more socializing.

This post's theme word: bawd, "prostitute." No one playing Scrabble yesterday knew it, but by the time it was my turn, that place on the board had been taken. When I go home I intend to play Dictionary, and revel in the expansive collective family vocabulary.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Research meeting debriefing

I have this experience approximately once a week:

A meeting approaches. I dread it, I feel confused and unprepared. I briefly consider dropping out of grad school to professionally serve fries or perhaps tutor rich kids.

The meeting happens. I leave the meeting with enthusiasm and newfound understanding. Life is suddenly full of delicious opportunities.

Someday, I want to be the kind of advisor that inspires students this way. (And maybe I'll be lucky enough to have students who are more competent grad students than I am now.)

This post's theme word: quiddity, "the essence of someone/something," or "a trifling." It has the nice property of having two meanings, and serving as its own opposite.

Where is everyone?

Usually by this time the office is full of grad students; right now there are only four, counting me. Where is everyone? Is today a holiday that I don't know about?

I'm not complaining. The quiet and lack of interruptions means that I've been fairly productive with a minimal amount of stress.

And yet... deadlines loom. Thesis!

This post's theme word: sciolist, "dabbler; an amateur who engages in an activity without serious intentions and who pretends to have knowledge."

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sore and tired

I erged (ergged?) yesterday and did my abs workout. This is a bad combination. Today all the muscles on the dorsal side of my body are achingly sore. On the bright side, I went to bed so early that I awoke before my super-early alarm. This is good, because I was so tired that I forgot to set the alarm.

It rained yesterday and all the snow melted and washed away. It was a pretty dismal day. (Exception: I got to talk to D., which was excellent.) I miss my family, my Harvard friends, and being able to use words like "pallor" in casual conversation without having to spell and define them. I don't mind having to do this for non-native English speakers, but for crying out loud -- doesn't anyone read books anymore? I would go hang out with grad students in the humanities, but they wouldn't understand my nerdy jokes. Sigh. It's so hard to be an academic elitist sometimes.

Perhaps next I'll memorize the alliterative v monologue from "V for Vendetta."

Good news: in a few weeks, I'll be at home. Cookie swap, Geometry Wars, pies, Patapon 2! Not soon enough!

Bad news: in a few weeks - ε, I want to submit a complete draft of my Master's work. Too soon!

This post's theme word: cacology, "poor choice of words" or "incorrect pronunciation."

Monday, November 24, 2008


Sorry for the recent silence; I've been very busy. Things are going well, I'm getting enough sleep and food and socialization. I am accumulating posts (and photos) I want to post, I just have no time to organize my thoughts. There will be a deluge here after December 15.

This post's theme word: macropterous, "with well-developed long wings."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


It's supposed to snow today! Huzzah! I have oodles of work but I might go stand outside at lunch just to be snowed upon.

This post's theme word: piccalilli, "relish of chopped pickled cucumbers and green peppers and onion." M. lost the spelling bee on this one.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Swim meet

This weekend I had [flavorless, colorless] gelatin applied to my head with a paintbrush, glitter applied to my face, and a purple (6th place) ribbon applied to my synchronized swimming team. Photos and a video of our performance are available on facebook (as long as you are in the right network to align with privacy settings).
It was fun, but I prefer rugby, pain, and mud to swimming, asphyxiation, and makeup. No surprises there. It rained the entire weekend, which didn't really matter since we were mostly inside (and wet anyway).

This post's theme word: flouse, "to splash."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What is a PhD good for?

In a momentary lapse of grad student stamina, I had the following conversation. (I actually think that a PhD has real value.)
A: What is a PhD good for, anyway?
L: To make your parents proud?
A: Nope.
L: For personal betterment?
A: No.
L: Papier-mâché?
A: Yes!
L: I think there are easier ways to obtain paper for papier-mâché.
This post is dedicated to new reader Y. It also has a featured mantra: "no more smiling sports." Repeat it to yourself; I know I will. The first synchronized swimming meet is on Saturday.

This post's theme word: paragoge, "The addition of a letter or syllable at the end of a word, either through natural development or to add emphasis. For example, height-th for height."

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Puzzle challenge 2008

My team did a lot better this year. You can see the puzzles and solutions here, if you're interested.

This post's featured quote (interchange):
- Now I know how a dynamic programming algorithm feels.
- And how is that?
- Confused.

Friday, November 7, 2008

NP-complete person

Earlier today I updated my facebook status to be "Lila is a complete person. NP-complete."

Just now, I had the following conversation with Y.:

Y: You are an NP-complete person?
L: Yes. I haven't figured out a solution, but I also haven't figured out how to do anything nondeterministically yet...
Y: So it takes... time... ?
L: Well, it's an open problem.
Y: Of course, right, it's just a conjecture.

This post's theme quote is from Robert Heinlein['s character Lazarus Long]:
Anyone who cannot cope with mathematics is not fully human. At best he is a tolerable subhuman who has learned to wear shoes, bathe, and not make messes in the house.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Runner's high, election high

I felt kind of gypped yesterday, because I ran three miles in the morning and didn't get the elated "runner's high" that I was expecting (and that I usually experience).

I ended up getting my high in the evening instead, watching the election. That ungypped me, fast. Huzzah for voting!

Today my knee is sore and a little swollen, but I'm happy.

Back to work! ... thesis thesis thesis thesis thesis thesis...

This post's theme quote, in honor of the internet-savvy seen in this campaign, is from William Gibson (via):
The limitation to what you can find on Youtube is basically your own imagination. When I think of something, if I don’t automatically think of searching for it on Youtube, I will never see it. When something comes to mind, I try to train myself to google it and then look on Youtube, often with the most amazing results. I think, in the end, if we just kind of run this technology out to its logical conclusion, we will end up with something like a single retina that covers the entire inner surface of a sphere, looking at itself, being quite self-sufficient, and made completely of Youtube videos.

Monday, November 3, 2008

High stakes

I know that I am a fairly confident, competent public speaker. I have given good presentations on subjects not in my field while an undergraduate. Yet I just finished leading a[nother] one-hour student seminar and I feel like I've walked through flames (psychologically, at least). I'm not so self-conscious that I refused to admit my nervousness, though -- in fact, I cited it often, since admitting that I'm nervous actually helps me to be more relaxed.

Afterwards, Y. told me that I had nothing to be worried about; he followed the whole thing, it was fine. But in the reciprocal situation, he is often nervous and I always have no trouble following.

I've experienced the same effect in writing; it's much harder to write in my field that outside. (I wrote some terrific English, history, and opera papers!) What it amounts to is this:

The cost of failure is very high.

If I botched a paper in a humanities course, it meant very little to me; it was not a field where I had declared any interest or professional intent. Compare that with now, writing my master's research paper: every word seems heavy with meaning, and not just because the topic matter is dense. It has import; the stakes are much higher, since this is something I want to do well in, something that affects my planned career path.

Unfortunately, the only way to overcome this performance anxiety is to just keep writing and giving presentations until it becomes natural.

This post's theme quote is from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe:
Mathematicians are like Frenchmen: Whatever you say to them they translate into their own language, and forthwith it is something entirely different.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

A. is standing

It's such a big event that she requested I blog it.

This post's theme word: obamulate, "to walk about." She's doing that now.


Fine, not very hot. One egg.

This week was very tiring, and the weekend is totally booked; no downtime.

That is all.

This post's theme word: orthoepy, "study of the pronunciation of words" or "customary pronunciation of a language."

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Traffic spike!

A week ago I must have been crawled by some Google spider, because my previous maximum visits-per-day was 6. Since then, I've had between 8 and 47 hits per day. FORTY-SEVEN. I think I interact with fewer than 47 people each day. WHO ARE YOU OUT THERE IN THE INTERTUBES? (intertubes intertubes intertubes...)

Only two of you came from my departmental page, and five from my facebook profile. 97 new visitors came from Google images. Where? When I Google image search my name, I get some hits for me but none for LilaPrime.

Welcome to all my new, anonymous internet stalkers. I guess I have to be even more careful and paranoid about what I post. (This blog has come so far since its early days as a public status update to my mother.) I invite you to leave comments, so that (1) I know who you are, and (2) I get feedback. These will both contribute to a more enjoyable blog-reading experience for you, o my anonymous and numerous readers.

This post's theme word: asperse, "to spread false and malicious charges against someone" or "to sprinkle with holy water. " It is a transitive verb, as in, "Lila aspersed him on her blog."

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


I have 19 inches of hair and I don't particularly want it. What should I do with it? Please suggest uses for the hair. Also, haircuts. It is very curly when short.

I've donated to Locks of Love in the past, and might again.

This post's theme word: caruncle, "a fleshy growth" (e.g., rooster's comb).


It's snowing! I love this country.

This post's theme word: col (rhymes with "doll"), "a mountain pass."

All I want for Christmas...

All I want for Christmas is:
  • to finish my MSc thesis;
  • an Xbox 360;*
  • a green Xbox controller, if it exists;
  • socks; and
  • Wegmans purple-top triple-fruit jam.
Prices just finished adjusting to the $1 CAN = $1 US conversion rate, but it's now more like $1 CAN = $0.73 US. Thus, things are now cheaper in Canada, even with slightly higher prices. Witness the Xbox: $300 in both countries, but $300 CAN = $230 US; maybe I should just buy one here. This is also the case with the computer I'm coveting, but I don't need it and can't justify its purchase. Quine is still alive and well.

Come to think of it, I can't really justify my desire for an Xbox, either. It would be fun. Back to work, now!

* This is somewhat expensive, and I don't really expect to get it as a gift.

This post's theme game: geometry wars.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Crazy Lady

Our crazy neighbor is at it again. I keep waking up in the middle of the night to loud, loud music. Recently (last night? the night before? memories are hazy) I awoke to particularly loud music. As I lay in bed, trying to remember where I put my earplugs so that I wouldn't have to turn on a light, the downstairs neighbors (or maybe her downstairs neighbors) banged on the ceiling/wall and shouted 'BE QUIET!' She screamed back something unintelligible. And continued playing her music.

This is typical.

I know that aggression is an unworkable tactic. (Evidence: the above-recounted event; also, I personally witnessed her life meltdown, recounted in screaming at a soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend, from 4am-6am one night, loud enough that earplugs made no difference.) Passive-aggressive tactics also seem bad; besides, what can we do that would affect only her, and not our other long-suffering neighbors? A. and I are thinking of maybe mounting some speakers pointed into the wall we share with Crazy Lady's apartment. Or maybe not... I feel really sorry for her, since I have been witness (albeit against my will) to her intense personal suffering.

Recent musical selections: "Jolene" (on an endless loop), "Sexyback," and unidentifiable loud-bass-beat hip-hop/pop/whatever.

My earplugs have a new permanent resting place reachable from bed, in the dark, with sleep-addled clumsiness.

This post's theme word: quidnunc, "a nosy or gossipy person."

Sunday, October 26, 2008


Fall is my favorite season. I like the textures:... and the colors:
... and my new camera.

This post's theme word: serein, "Fine rain falling from an apparently cloudless sky, typically observed after sunset." Not today -- the rain was heavy and the clouds, visible.

Another weekend bites the dust

I spent another Sunday on grading. Then swim practice. Laundry was aborted because of rain. In the hour or so of consciousness I have left, I shall write letters and tidy up my mental space in preparation for the week.
While grading, I took a break to photograph this lovely tree outside my apartment. Still playing with the different modes of my camera. Above, everything black-and-white except the tree; it is very dramatic. Below, I color-sampled other things and (in-camera) changed the leaves to those colors.

First, a red-covered magazine from the side of my bed:
Then, one of my green shirts reverses autumn:My purple bedspread makes a landscape reminiscent of Dr. Seuss:
This post's theme quote comes from "The Nerd Handbook" (via MetaFilter). I don't agree with everything in the essay, but this rings true:
[The nerd] sees the world as a system which, given enough time and effort, is completely knowable.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Mathematics is fixed again

Earlier this week I thought I had broken mathematics. A meeting with my advisor today cleared this up, and mathematics is fixed again.

I recall breaking mathematics a few times as an undergrad, but always on small problems. Like breaking off a corner of mathematics. Now that I've moved on to larger problems, my mistakes and misunderstandings cause much larger rents in the fabric of the mathematical universe.

Luckily enough for everyone, the thoughts in my head have no direct effect on the universe. You are all safe.

This post's theme word: palinode, "a poem in which the author retracts something said in an earlier poem." If I had to write up my research in poem form, it would be even more unreadable than it is now.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


I mailed my absentee ballot today, and it should arrive well before the deadline. Woohoo! I voted!

I am empowered in other ways, too: I am not starving; I do not have to struggle every day to find housing, clothing, safety, food, or positive social interactions; I am free to pursue arcane studies of my choosing. In fact, I am almost completely self-determined, and not compelled to engage in any activity I don't choose for myself. I pick my friends, my modes of social interaction, my food, my housing, my psychological and physical surroundings.

I take my life for granted, but it does make me happy. The situation I'm in. Everything.

This post's theme word: demagogue, "a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather by using than rational argument."

Monday, October 20, 2008


I found a gorgeous leaf on the way home, but in the time between this afternoon and now, when I scanned it, it dessicated and lost some of its glorious color. (Also on the way home: two girls, dressed as zombies, complete with prosthetic bleeding wounds and grisly makeup, sprinted past me on the sidewalk. Zombie sprinting... what a weird concept.)Yes, it is a leaf. Yes, it was more red, and had a more vibrant gradient, this afternoon. Yes, I am done posting now and am going to bed. Goodnight.

This post's theme word: wifty, "silly, eccentric, scatterbrained."

Crossing the gap

I stumbled across this visual metaphor for how I feel about the thesis-writing process.

Slow. Bridging a gap. Beautifully detailed.

This post's theme quote comes from Bertrand Russell:

Mathematics may be defined as the subject in which we never know what we are talking about, nor whether what we are saying is true.

Blowdry a lamb

Because sometimes, you just gotta.
This post's theme word: croft, "a small rented farm."


I made a double batch of daal over the weekend, to tide me through the week. The mixture of colors and textures was very nice. (And I'm still in the new-camera-photograph-everything honeymoon period.)
This post's theme word: fugacious, "lasting a very short time." I love daal, and it never lasts.

Eggplant curry

I adapted this recipe for eggplant curry, adding green pepper, an extra tomato, and quintupling the called-for curry. (I like my food hot-hot-hot; also, I wanted to finish my curry paste.)
That last change proved to be fatal... or nearly so. (Hyperbole!) I ate what I could, until my lips and tongue were completely numb. It was delicious (while I was able to taste it). And it will last a long time, since I can only eat it in small quantities.

This post's theme word: linctus, "a syrupy liquid medicine, especially for treating coughs." I am certain that all the bacteria in my throat were purged in the curry-genocide.

Local goals reviewed

This weekend, I successfully
  • emptied one inbox (zero!),
  • finished my grading,
  • straightened out business with former landlord,
  • had two synchro practices and went running,
  • cooked (a week's supply of daal and cookies),
  • did laundry (necessary),
  • gained another RSS subscriber (yo R.!),
  • caught up on my desperate sleep debt from the end of last week, and
  • ordered a new keyboard (but not the swanky one C. lent me).
It remains to
  • empty the other inbox (41),
  • read a paper before the M11 seminar,
  • find my ballot,
  • complete an assignment,
  • achieve my weekly thesis-writing goals (particularly large this week),
  • find the necessary receipts to be reimbursed, and
  • follow-up on the many contacts I've made this month.
I could accomplish all these things tomorrow if I set aside the thesis-writing, but that strategy generalizes poorly. And if all I do is thesis-writing, then I won't accomplish any of the goals, plus I'll burn out all my mathematical neurons in one session. Moderation.

This post's theme quote reflects my puzzlement at some students' solutions:
On two occasions I have been asked, ‘Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?’
I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question. -- Charles Babbage

Friday, October 17, 2008

Make your grader smile!

When, in the course of marking, I read,
This is where inequalities kick butt, literally.
... it made me smile. Take some time to be kind to your grader today! It is appreciated.

This post's theme quote, from Colin Renfrew:
The days of the innumerate are numbered.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Pretty Oktoberfest pictures

I could not resist photographing the variety of colors and textures, even though it meant that I created a clog in the already-overcongested pedestrian traffic.I marvel at the wide angle of my new camera's lens.
This post's theme word: snood, "fleshy appendage over the beak of a turkey." Not related to Dr. Seuss' sneeds.


... with my new camera, taken this weekend in the Kirkland courtyard as I waited for E.

This post's theme word: skeuomorph, "A design feature copied from a similar artifact in another material, even when not functionally necessary. For example, the click sound of a shutter in an analog camera that is now reproduced in a digital camera by playing a sound clip. " My camera is on "mute."

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Local goals

After my last meeting with my advisor, I have a goal:

Submit my thesis by December 15.

This is to allow enough time for it to be read, and for me to amend mistakes. It does not, however, allow a lot more time for me to wander about the topic, wildly flailing my mental tendrils as I absorb the problem from every angle. I have to be direct and effective, without reading every article ever written on the subject.

I have a lot of other things -- a veritable swarm -- hovering over me, emails to write, internships to apply for, articles to read, cleaning to do, posts to write (yes, I still have my GHC reflections bouncing around in my head), and miscellaneous tasks. (It would be nice to have food in the kitchen so I don't starve.) These things are all on pause while I cram in some more work before my weekly meeting with my advisor; as soon as I leave his office tomorrow, I'm going to go on a task-completing rampage.

My more local goal is to get back down to inbox zero, which I achieved over the summer and maintained up until two weeks ago. A more long-term goal is to pick up where I left off with Project Simplify.

This post's theme quote is from Siméon Poisson:
Life is good for only two things, discovering mathematics and teaching mathematics.

Keyboard recommendations?

My keyboard is limping to its death after a recent encounter with a cup [read: lake] of tea. I'm looking to buy a new keyboard which is:
  1. suitable for small hands,
  2. ergonomic (slightly tilted/curved, different hands' keys separated),
  3. has a number pad, F keys, arrows and insert/delete/home/end/page up/page down, and
  4. has a satisfying action (not too mushy; an audible click on key depression is ok).
I went yesterday to Best Buy and Future Shop, and wasn't too impressed with the small selections of keyboards there. However, I'm hesitant to buy a keyboard online, since I can't test it out.

Any suggestions? Do you love your keyboard?

This post's theme word: bosset, "a small protuberance or knob."

Friday, October 10, 2008

Tall personality, short physique

I spoke with G. on the phone this afternoon. Approximately:
G: You sound more assertive on the phone.
L: Really? How?
G: Well, I don't know... more assertive than in person.
[A beat while I think: if anything, I'm more assertive in person.]
L: Do you mean that I sound taller on the phone?
G: Yes.
I have heard similar things before, namely, that my personality is taller/bigger/whatever-er than my actual, physical body. Yes. I know I'm short. That doesn't mean I'm a passive, docile munchkin. (Nothing against passive, docile munchkins.)

G. also mentioned that he sometimes reads this blog to see what I'm up to. It is very strange for me to hear about readers of this blog, even though I obviously write here with the expectation of nonzero readership. Sometimes, while I am having a conversation with someone, he references (directly or indirectly) this blog, and it takes me a moment (or several) to realize what is happening.

I dedicate this post to my latest RSS subscriber, D. Welcome!

Would you like a post dedicated to you? Well, now's your chance! I'm looking for an easy way to monitor my RSS subscribers. (I'd be happy just to know the number, but other data would also be nice.) If you can tell me how to easily do this within Blogger, I will dedicate a post to you. And I'll probably make it one that involves you, or relates you somehow, so this is your chance to be famous amongst my readership! Immortality! Take it, it's yours!

This post's theme word: bespoke, "made to order."

King Lear

Y. had some tickets to King Lear that he could not use, and he kindly gave them to me. Thus did I unexpectedly end up at the theater tonight with R. (And that is why I am blogging at 2am; once I'm done here, I'll pack for my flight tomorrow.) Wow, do I love Shakespeare - antiquated usages of words, clever puns, and every once in a while, the lines rhyme! Plus everyone dies at the end. Woo hoo!

This spring, I added a used $3 edition of King Lear to my collection of books stored in my gym locker, for reading on the stationary bicycle. I read it twice, a few months ago. (Back when my knee forced me to do a lot of stationary biking.) So I knew the plot, and was ready for the clever outdated-usage puns. And I could explain it to R., whose English is not quite up to Shakespeare-comprehension level. (Oddly, this is now the second Shakespeare play I've seen with him.)

Seeing it performed was much better than reading it.

When I read, I imagined Regan and Goneril as scheming and conniving from the start; they were played as vaguely unsavory characters who gradually worsened, until their tragic-and-unavoidable last-scene deaths. They were more believable when staged than imagined.

It was easy to read a scene with stage directions "plucks out his eyes," but they actually did it onstage. Not his actual eyes, of course, but some fake eyes that appeared to come from his face by clever slight-of-hand. It was messy and bloody and convincingly nauseating. And totally unexpected; I had imagined that it would be staged with him behind a screen or something, then... whoa! Where did all that blood come from? It was dripping down his face and chest, and all over the hands of the eye-plucker. Then, for good measure, Goneril squashed one of the "eyes" on his chest. Poor Gloucester.

The most delightful difference between reading and watching King Lear was Edmund. Kudos to Benjamin Blais, who played Edmund delightfully. Really. Even though Edmund is the villain, and ultimately causes > 8 deaths (his own included), he was a joy to watch. He had as much fun in his convoluted scheming as Iago! And his lines earned more laughs than any other character's. (Holding a knife to his arm, about to self-inflict a wound: "I have seen drunkards do more than this in sport." Delivered in an offhand way, straight to the audience.) Even though King Lear is a tragedy (whose moral, the man sitting in front of us said, is "never have daughters"), I fell in love with Edmund the bastard. When he died, R. leaned over and said, "There goes all the fun."

It's playing at Hart House through October 18; if you're in Toronto, I recommend that you see it. Yay culture!

This post's theme word: dreadnought, either "a battleship that has big guns all of the same caliber" or "a large acoustic steel-string guitar." I'm sure there are clever double-entendres to be made here. I wish Shakespeare were around; he'd have a field day with modern English.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Week o' productivity

I have many reflections on Grace Hopper, women, computer science, and myself. (I did, eventually, collect many answers to the question, "What is the value of a PhD?") And many other things to do this week, making up for my absence last week. I plan to have an especially productive week, and then celebrate it with my Canadian Thanksgiving weekend trip to Boston.

This post's theme quote, from FemaleScienceProfessor:
If the aliens are studying us, I hope at least that they are collecting systematic data, taking good notes, making interesting graphs, and publishing their results.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Keystone, Colorado

Keystone, Colorado, is beautiful.The loquacious desk clerk/multipurpose hotel staffer at the front desk engaged me in several hours of chit-chat upon check-in (and when I went to ask where a restaurant was, and when I picked up a bus schedule, and when I was making tea, and ..., and at check-out). He completely talked me in to returning to Colorado to ski. They are starting to make snow next week -- that is, the second week of October. How fantastic is that?

Here I am, having escaped his society to attend the conference:This picture makes me look like a wrestler. Big shoulders, small legs. I don't like it. But I did like the scenery, and this is proof that I was there (and had a totally legitimizing nametag, too!).
Due to the altitude, quite a few people had altitude sickness for the duration of the conference. I'm still not clear on what causes it, but its symptoms are headaches, tiredness, and easily being winded (that one makes sense, oxygen is less available up here). It can be combated by drinking lots of water and getting plenty of sleep. We were reminded to drink water at the beginning of each session, and also at meals, in hallways, and while chatting between events. There was water (and free logo-emblazoned water bottles) everywhere.

This post's theme word: monadock, "An isolated hill or mountain that, having resisted erosion, rises above a plain."

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

What is the value of a PhD?

I've heard a lot of dismissal recently -- mostly from graduate students in software engineering at Toronto -- of the value of a graduate degree. This puzzles me: if the degree (Master's/PhD) is so worthless, why are they spending time, effort, and mental cycles working for it? I figured that maybe it was just a University of Toronto issue, or maybe even just a perception in that research group. (I haven't heard anything similar from my theory colleagues.)

Just today I've received contradictory information about a PhD. The idea of a PhD looms on my horizon, as I'm finishing my MSc this semester and planning on continuing into the PhD program.

From one of the business managers of the Grace Hopper Institute (I didn't get her name, and there were no barcode scanners nearby so our meeting was undocumented -- we agreed to meet up later and get scanned), I heard a very strong encouragement: "Women should stay in the pipeline all the way through the PhD. This is what we're working towards, this is what we're trying to encourage." This advice would seem to unequivocally encourage me to continue my graduate studies, stay in academia for several more years, and get a PhD. (The widely-observed problem is that women "fall out of the pipeline" to PhD/academic jobs, and locally, I am the one most in control of whether I remain in that pipeline or not.)

From a senior recruiter (Apple), I heard different information. She said that to industry, a person with a PhD often looks "too academic," and thus undesirable. Her observation about the pipeline was skewed positively: many people in graduate programs are too constrained by academia, and basically leap out of the pipeline and into startups where they can accomplish their ideas more easily.

I think that it's unlikely that women are disproportionately more entrepreneurial than men, so the recruiter's explanation can't account for the ever-worsening gender ratio further down the academic pipeline. But it seems to be mostly an issue of perception: academics are unhappy that people choose other jobs? industry professionals greedily want to soak up the best talent before it becomes absorbed into academia?

What is the value of a PhD? I think that, as with everything else in life, its value is what you want it to be. What I want it to be. If the PhD is what I want, then I can devote myself to it and do a fantastic job and (with luck) end up well-situated for entry into an academic job. (And I genuinely like my current research; I'm not sure that proof complexity lines up with an industry job.) But if there are more exciting projects and opportunities elsewhere, then I can easily fall into the open, welcoming arms of industry. I have to be an adult, know myself, and boldly make my own decisions.

So in the end, what it comes down to is choice.

This post's theme word: prorogue, "to discontinue/defer/postpone a session of something." Unfortunately, it is not an adjective meaning, "in favor of rogues."

Pre-Grace Hopper

Travel from Toronto to Denver was incident-free. Apparently Epizeuxis is very suspicious; he got swabbed both times I went through security. In Toronto, this also warranted me a full unpack-repack of my luggage. Having determined that my backpack -- contents wallet (1), keys (1 set), my herd of electronic devices (6) and their chargers (5) -- was not a threat, the friendly security guard hypothesized, "You are a student?" A funny conversation ensued wherein I admitted to being a student, and he, having seen my passport, asked me why I was at Toronto: "It's better than Harvard, right?" (As if Harvard is the only school in the US.)
The airport had a really nice used bookstore; also on my layover, I learned that Milwaukee is in Wisconsin. (Who knew?) Just past their security check, the entire hallway is labelled, "Recombobulation Area." For putting on shoes. I would've taken a picture, but I'm pretty sure that would have been too suspicious.

I'm in a one-person hotel room, which is unexpectedly lonely. My day of volunteering was quick -- we worked so fast that it was a half-day, and I ended up helping tomorrow as well.

This post has several theme band names, culled from my first hour of GHC:
"Accidental Complexity"
"Parallel Program Properly"
.. and a third one that I forgot.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Whirlwind weekend

I finished moving, incremented my age by a year, visited Ikea, and hosted my extremely helpful and wonderful parents. I ate cake. I just spent most of my usual sleep-time awake, finishing unpacking (the apartment) and then turning around to repack (for Grace Hopper). Now I will sleep for a few hours, then awake and trek to the airport for my nonsensical series of flights.

Note: I will be reachable at my US cell phone number Monday - Saturday this week. I'm still accepting tardy happy birthday wishes.

This post's theme word: somnolent, "suggestive of drowsiness."

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Happy birthday, Lila, Google!

O happy day! A cause for celebration!

This post's theme song: "Suppertime" from "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown." It's that level of enthusiastic.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


I feel that my last post was rather negative and stressed, so I'd like to counter today. I spent from 5am-6am this morning listening to my through-the-wall neighbors have a shouting match/breakdown, ferociously angry, punctuated by full-body sobbing. Then, since my attempts at pillow-over-the-head were unsuccessful, I got up and found my earplugs, and went back to sleep.

I have a lot to be positive about, and am in general a positive person (dark sense of humor notwithstanding). Having passed the one-year warm-up mark, I find myself increasingly comfortable in academia, with the idea of independent research, and with the concepts and tools of my field. (And now I have a group of comfortable friends.) I am in good health, and (nearly) able to be as active as I want to be. My friends and family are also in good health, in good situations. I find myself happy with life and my position in it, though of course there's always that little apprehensive dread of what the future may bring. And I can remember the last time I was as upset, and distraught, and angry as my neighbor -- I was 14 or 15.

So life is good, happy, healthy, peaceful. Busy. Today is my birthday-eve, and I'm celebrating by going to my old house and packing my remaining belongings into boxes. Then I'll go to my lovely new apartment and sleep in preparation for a long day (parents, moving, Ikea) tomorrow.

This post's theme word: salubrious, "healthy."

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

TGI... M/T/W?

I had a very exhausting weekend.

8-noon pack and move boxes of books, clothing, and some large furniture to new apartment (thanks to the heroic friends who turned up to help!); sprint to pool
noon-2 swim practice
2-5 more packing and moving, though slightly toned-down since by now I'm having trouble walking
5-8 go to Ikea, too tired to effectively find suitable windowshades
9 drop into bed already unconscious

8-3 unpack some things at new place, pack things at old place, move a little more; help roommate carry her boxes up the perilous fire escape into the apartment
3-5 another swim practice
6 drag myself to buy food, cook it, eat it, fall asleep

I was truly thankful for Monday to roll around, since it meant a reprieve from the gruelling swim practices. My new, noisier street has meant uneasy sleep (and strange dreams), and the first half of the week has flown by in a sore, tired daze. I wrote parts of this post on Sunday, intending to post it Monday, and you can see how that turned out. I need a break, but my bookshelf and several crates of books are lingering at my old place, and there's shopping to brace myself for this weekend.

Lots of projects and projectlets are moving forward; there's research and writing to do, games night #100 celebrations to plan, another teammate for the puzzle challenge to find, my parent's visit to anticipate, GHC (need to get cards, a finished résumé), my Canadian Thanksgiving trip, office hours and grading, ongoing knee therapy/care, and my birthday is Saturday. (Project Simplify update: I've sold two books online, posted several others, and assembled a pile of clothing to donate.) This is besides all the daily rituals and upkeep. I feel very busy. It will really help when I'm completely moved into the new apartment.

In the spirit of moving furniture, this post's theme word: antimacassar, "a small cloth placed over the backs or arms of chairs, or the head or cushions of a sofa, to prevent soiling of the permanent fabric."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Knights and knaves puzzle variations

My guess is that nearly all my readers have heard the basic knights/knaves puzzle, but I have recently come across interesting modifications of the problem. (It took four -- count them! -- theory grad students to figure out the "challenge" below, and it is probably within ε (i.e., nigh) of murderously frustrating for non-mathematical laypeople.) I have not solved the last three, although two of them have solutions posted on Wikipedia.

As so often occurs in puzzles, you find yourself shipwrecked on an island. The population of this island can be partitioned into two groups: knights and knaves. Knights answer all questions truthfully; knaves always lie. While wandering, you come upon a building with two doors, each guarded by one native islander. You know that one of the doors leads to a pile of treasure, and the other leads to a hungry, man-eating lion. You may ask a single yes/no question to one of the guards. Then you must select a door, and meet your fortune/death.

Warm-up: If you know that exactly one of the guards is a knave and one is a knight, what question do you ask? This is the standard knights and knaves puzzle.

Challenge: If you know nothing about the distribution of the two islanders (maybe two knights, maybe two knaves, maybe one of each), what question do you ask?

Hard challenge: The island also contains some residents who reply at random. You happen upon three islanders, and know that there is one of each type (Knave, Knight, Random). You may ask three yes/no questions. (Each question can be addressed to only one of the islanders.) What do you ask in order to determine their identities?

Harder challenge: Same as the hard challenge, except that the islanders reply in their language, where {yes, no} = {foo, bar} but the exact correlation is unknown. Wikipedia lists this as "the hardest logic puzzle ever."


This post's theme word: ambisinister, "clumsy with both hands." Unfortunately, it does not mean that you are equally sinister with both sides of your body.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

IDoS debriefing

It wasn't really that bad. I think I used up all my sadness over the weekend, and also in looking at apartments yesterday in the rain. Very wet, through my shoes to my socks.

Now life is renewed and delicious:
  • Happy birthday to M. and S.!
  • My new office is much better-positioned than my old one (people walk by, I am close to the lab, there is some distantly-accessible natural light), and my new officemate is either extremely considerate or afraid of me. Either way is fine.
  • The LHC has not yet destroyed the earth. (Check here to see if that's still true.)
  • In an overview yesterday, I determined that everything is going well and, in general, I'm in a happy and productive phase.

This post's theme word: boggify, "to make boggy."

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

International Day of Sadness

Commemorating bad feelings experienced on this day, I declare it to be an International Day of Sadness.

My motivation is that one day a year, I should gather up all my sadness and regret and just get over it. Today is that day, a day for wallowing and self-pity. Tomorrow will be a new day. This date nicely coincides with the beginning of a new academic year almost everywhere (a little late for A., just about right for me, a little early for E.).

I had decided on this strange holiday a few months ago; I knew I'd probably feel bad today, and resolved at least to feel better tomorrow. Ever self-thwarting, my subconscious arranged it so that I awoke this morning feeling great. I am fairly certain that my stepped-up workout schedule is to blame for that; I am sore all over, and energetic, and sleeping well.

This post's theme word: roborant, "strengthening."

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Fall is...

Fall is... purple-painted people circling my building playing marching band songs. Loudly.
Fall is... beautiful weather.
Fall is... signing up for five different sports teams. (They think I'm a freshman.)
Fall is... engineering students exploding things outside my advisor's office during meetings.
L'automne est triste, avec sa bise et son brouillard.
Fall is... searching for a new apartment.

This post is dedicated to antennae and neighbors with unsecured wireless networks. Epizeuxis' antennae can pick up internet, though Quine can't even see any networks.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Modest proposals

I love Jonathan Swift's "Modest Proposal," and recall reading many good imitation proposals. (I even wrote one in high school, though I can't remember the topics.) The Freakonomics blog posted An Immodest Proposal, solving the two problems of a money-needy government, and too much sexual activity (the article enumerates its various downsides).

What's your favorite modest proposal?

This post's theme word: louche, "of questionable character; dubious; disreputable."

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Oh, be joyful!

I wonder if other people have moods as variable as mine. It is impossible for me to ever know, since I can't be other people; and even if I were, how then would I refer to my own moods?

This morning I crabbily awoke and ran several miles through beautiful early-morning weather, then lifted weights. My weaker knee kept up, and didn't complain too much. The work day has been productive, with a break in the middle for free lunch (at the cost of mentoring some incoming graduate students). I found out that I'm headed to a conference, and that my costs will be totally covered. Everything's coming up roses!

I've somehow just discovered a large online community of women researchers (grad students, recent PhDs, early- and mid-career academics) who also blog. Their thoughts are fascinating and validating.

Let's see if I can replicate the good parts of this day tomorrow.

This post's theme song: the eponymous song from "The Civil War."

Monday, September 1, 2008

A new year, a new project

Celebrations of the turnover from December to January ring a bit false. But today? Today is a new year that I can celebrate. It is the beginning of a new school year, which means something. Not just a changing of the calendar, but a new schedule, a new course to teach, new seminars to attend, new knowledge to absorb. The same thesis project to work on, but with new energy. Everything just seems new and shiny. The weather is perfect. The day of massive insect die-out (freeze, demonic mosquitoes!) is nigh.

Thus I begin a new project: Project Simplify.

Motivated by a sense of crowding generated by my own possessions, here begins a massive reduction of the things that I own, manage, and live with. They take up physical and mental space. I have to carry them, clean them, sort them, file them, index them, and keep track of where they are. Losing things drives me crazy, but I don't mind culling the herd. It will free up space, mental cycles, and time. (As an added bonus, my infrequent "what to wear?" deliberations will be made even scarcer.)

So my new year's resolution is to streamline everything. Clothing not worn in the past year (excluding, perhaps, special occasion clothing like formalwear and my corset/hoopskirt outfit) shall be sold or donated. Books I don't plan on rereading or using as reference material shall be sold or donated. Crates of old papers I'm saving as records shall be digitized, shredded and recycled. My goal is to be able to transport all of my living accoutrements, by myself, in a few trips. (Large pieces of furniture excepted.)

Abetting the completion of this project, today I am (once again) without internet at home. So posts here on the Lila Prime project will be dearer (only what my guilty conscience permits me to eke out here in my office), but Project Simplify shall benefit from that displaced time.

Today I went through a box of papers, and sold a book online. A good beginning.

This post's theme word: pleonexia, "excessive/insatiable covetousness."


I now receive physical spam from Greenpeace. This one arrived pre-highlighted. My family added the sarcastic "LEST YE TEMPT FATE." Since I received the mail long after the ten day deadline on the envelope, I guess I tempted fate. And probably the deaths of several whales lie on my shoulders. Sorry, whales! I know that whales probably read my blog, since whales are all over web 2.0.

This post's theme word: eleemosynary, "of, relating to, or dependent on charity."

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Rollerblading Saturdays, pedestrian Sundays

I went rollerblading along the lake shore. The weather was good, my knee was good, it was fun.

On the final Sunday of every month, Kensington Market is closed to car traffic. (I thought that this happened every weekend, but apparently that's just bold and numerous pedestrians. This is official.) It was delightful. Streets of people, shops with special events and booths on the street. And street performers -- balloon animal makers, puppeteers, multiple live bands (my favorite did a ska rendition of "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da"), a magician. Huge on-the-street games: Scrabble (tiles bigger than my hand), chess (pieces as tall as me), a maze. I walked around all day. R. made vegan tomato soup and gave it away free to anyone with a container.

Hopefully this triple of weather-rollerblading-Kensington will happen again.

This post's theme food: bread made with pumpkin. If I were a superhero, this would be my kryptonite.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


It's nice to know I'm not the only one who has days like this:This post's theme word: nugacity, "triviality, futility."

No editors for this commercial script!

If we could wrap our kids in bubble wrap, we would. Because we love them.
We love them so much it's smothering. Literally. (This from a commercial for life insurance. Or allergy medicine. Or whatever.) And we want to preserve their bodies forever.

This post's theme word: parapraxis, "a slip of the tongue/pen that reveals the unconscious mind."

Friday, August 29, 2008

Evaluating the Olympics

There are many different ways to interpret the medal count to determine which country "won" the Olympics. Throughout its coverage of the Olympics, my daily (US) newspaper ranked countries by total medals won. This put the US at the top; other countries' media seem to prefer a self-favoring ranking system, too. Measuring in golds per million people or golds per billion GDP, the US fared quite poorly.

Generally impressive all-around geek Simon Tatham constructed this Hasse diagram of countries participating in the 2008 Olympics. His idea was to take generally sensible comparisons (where country A clearly outperformed country B) and form a partial ordering of countries.
So we want to say that one country has done strictly better than another if the medal score of the latter can be transformed into the former by a sequence of medal additions and medal upgrades. A bit of thought shows that this is exactly equivalent to defining a partial order on triples of medals...
I found this very satisfying not only because I love graphs and beautiful diagrams, but because it also allows for easy visual comprehension of which countries performed around the same level.

(Via *God Plays Dice*.)

This post's theme word: fungible, "interchangeable," usually used in an economic sense w.r.t. products or assets.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Hamster? Bunny rabbit? Star-, circle-, heart-shaped eggs.

R1 and I have often conversed about the confusion of crossed romantic signals. So this evening, R2 invited me to dinner and cooked for me again. I'm fairly certain this was a non-romantic encounter, and that R2 is just a friendly guy. (He told a joke that -- even after translation -- made me blush. Awk.)

eggs cooked in molds
fried onions and sweet potatoes

Today was colder than I expected, and I had to wear my office sweatshirt home. The cold did nothing to assuage my aching knee, so now I sit at home doing PT exercises with an exercise band and an ice pack, staving off the cold with a sweatshirt.

And despite the cold, I had several positive social encounters today and so I feel warm and fuzzy inside. (Even though I've had the following clip looping in my head all day: "When I walk in the room, there's a table of men. Always men!" ... on a related note, I believe there's an incoming woman graduate student! That will make two of us. Huzzah!)

This post's theme word: catholicon, "a panacea."


When I left some 15 days ago, there were newly-bought bananas on the table. When I returned, they were still here. Now rotting. On the table. Who keeps buying bananas to rot in our kitchen?

My knee hurts and is slightly swollen this morning. I guess I might have pushed too hard yesterday at the gym. I'll take today to recover and ice.

I'm in a bad housing situation and don't know how to get out. Just like last year, the people who are moving in on the normal schedule (Sept 1 student leases) are disgusting and are driving me out. But I have to give my landlord two month's notice before I leave, and the housing market here is strongly driven by students. So most places are rented starting in September, not November. It makes me angry that I'll have to do this off-season househunting again. I feel rather defeated, because I have to give my landlord notice and later find somewhither to move (rather than vice-versa, the more secure way). I'm an excellent tenant -- clean, quiet, responsible -- so why is it so hard for me to find a good place to live?

And so September rolls around again, the same as last year. Doubts, insecurities, and my favorite weather. Welcome to autumn.

This post's theme song: "Climbing Uphill" from The Last Five Years.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Veggie roast beef

Although it looks like brown circular ham slices, it's veggie roast beef. It didn't taste anything like real roast beef, but it did have a sort of smoky/meaty quality. I wonder how they get that without using any meat products.
Final review: not unpalatable, but I probably won't buy it again.

This post's theme word: だます (damasu), "to trick, cheat, deceive."

More silly animal wines

The little penguin, a fairly normal animal-named wine:I just didn't understand "Cat's pee on a gooseberry bush." Who would want to drink such a thing?This post's theme word: mucid, "moldy, musty, festering, stagnant, slimy." I heard it used in the phrase "mucidly moist." Yuck.

Got angst?

O teen book section. How silly.This post's theme word: cromulent, "excellent, realistic, authentic."

How active is the activities fair?

The geology department set up a seismograph. It was neat. When we jumped near the sensors, we could see the needle waver in response.This post's theme word: pluton, "an intrusive rock, as distinguished from the preexisting country rock that surrounds it."

Literal labeling

Earlier in the summer, while driving with my grandparents, we got a flat tire. The garage whither we went to obtain a replacement had this lovely binder on display.
This post's theme word: pellucid, "transparent, or nearly so."

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Another one bites the dust

On Friday, we helped A. move in to college. His dorm is clean and new and designed for socializing nicely (but not for study; we'll see how that plays out). It was delightful. It reminded me how great Freshman week was -- I remember one of my upperclass peer advisors saying, "this is the most fun you'll have until Senior week," and that proved to be fairly accurate. (There were a few exceptions, but overall, my four years were spent busily learning, working, and living; those two bookend weeks' demands were social only.)

One day, A. and I will found a group to legalize recreational whale torture (citation: 30 Rock). It's pretty much the most difficult cause to get anyone to sign off on (save for causes involving cannibalism, babies as projectiles, etc.). In that spirit, I encourage him to take marine biology, philosophy, and pre-law classes. For his gym requirement, maybe boxing? Bow & arrow or rifle-shooting?

This post is dedicated to that age-old battle: Capulets VS. Romulans (ibid).

Le petit prince reconsiders

This post's theme word: morganatic, "Of or relating to a marriage between two people of different social ranks such that the spouse of lower rank and the children do not share the titles or possessions of the higher-ranking spouse."

Friday, August 22, 2008

Sing about the body

This website answers the question, "What do we sing about, when we sing about the body?" By far, the largest statistical share of any genre of music is hip hop's references to... see below.Via Metafilter.

This post's theme word (you can see it coming, right?): callipygian, "having well-shaped buttocks."

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Things on a single post-it on my desktop

"I mean that in the Roman sense of 300, which means a bajillion." -- A.
bike jousting
pysdens / pysdxes

This post's theme word: epergne, "a serving dish of numerous separate bowls attached to one main stem." I've been trying to work that into a blog post for awhile, and hadn't managed. Bonus points if you can rhyme it in a poem.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Austen puns

From 5ives:
Five terrible fake Jane Austen novels:
  1. Rash and Rationality
  2. Punk and Punctuality
  3. Beast and Bestiality
  4. Funk and Functionality
  5. Fried and Credulous
This post's theme word: bossive, "crooked; deformed."

Monday, August 18, 2008

Lovecraft reviews chocolates

I love H. P. Lovecraft's diction, and the parody "Selections from H. P. Lovecraft's Brief Tenure as a Whitman's Sampler Copywriter" (from McSweeney's) combines that love with my love of chocolate.

Dark Chocolate Fudge

Dark! All-encompassing, eternal darkness! Human eyes cannot penetrate the stygian blackness of this unholy confection!

This post's theme word: waugh, "tasteless; insipid; unpleasant to smell or taste; sickly, faint, weak, etc."

Friday, August 8, 2008


I just finished Stephen Bury and Neal Stephenson's Interface. The book was decently good, but I found the conclusion dissatisfying. It felt like a deus ex machina, insofar as all the actions were sped-up and suddenly everything came together; however, it was not optimistic. Even the characters I liked turned out to be slightly crooked.

Despite my quarrels with the conclusion, the writing was as crisp and clever as I've come to expect from Neal Stephenson. My favorite piece -- that made me laugh aloud -- was this (p. 148):
The operations were conceptually simple. Incisions were made along lines that had been drawn along the lines that had been drawn on the patients' shaven heads.
"It was a debacle. I am personally ashamed. I will never do anything like that again. The level of incompetence makes me physically ill. I may shoot myself," Dr. Radhakrishnan was saying.
It builds so nicely. It's not just a debacle, he's not just personally ashamed. The text crescendos.

This post's theme word, pong, colloquially, can mean, "a strong, unpleasant smell; a stink." I heard it used thusly in the phrase, "a bestial and pongoid fashion." I think. Otherwise, I've no idea what "pongoid" means. The OED also has "pong" as derisive slang for a person of Asian descent.

Thursday, July 31, 2008


Thank you, years of Latin and French, for giving me the knowledge to use the subjunctive in my writing, and the confidence to defend its use. Would that knowledge of the subjunctive were more widespread!

This post's theme word: catachresis, "the misuse of words."

Solar eclipse tomorrow

It won't pass over the part of Canada where I am, but nevertheless, it'll be visible from this country! NASA has organized a lot of cool solar eclipse resources. My favorite is this animation:
You can see how the shadow of the moon passes over our spherical world, in a way that is muddled when projected onto our flat maps.

This post's theme word: envisage, "to form a mental image of something that is not present or is not the case." When I first heard "envisage," I thought it was a fake word meant to sound like "envision," but fancier.


Via 3D pancakes.

This post's theme word: atrabilious, "gloomy, ill-tempered."

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

I miss film studies

The academic writing that I work on every day has no polish. No poetry. I am just hammering out a rough draft of something that may or may not go into my thesis, and it is dry. At best, it is concise and clear. I haven't yet found (or even dreamt of producing) written academic work that is a pleasure to read.

So I seek other outlets. I'm working on a film studies/lit/lang-style essay analyzing Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. I just saw the latest Batman in IMAX (delightful! -- did you know that IMAX was created in Canada?) and then got entangled in a literary/critical discussion of it. I miss having a playground for that part of my brain.

This post's theme word: mondegreen, "the mishearing (usually unintentional) of a phrase as a [near-]homophone in such a way that it acquires a new meaning."

Facebook does Hamlet

I just rewatched Kenneth Branagh's magnificent Hamlet, and this concise retelling of the story came up in my RSS feeds:

Hamlet (Facebook news feed edition)

This post's theme word: quinsell, "a rein for a horse."

Monday, July 28, 2008


I have of late been rather quiet here. This is not for lack of post ideas (and even drafts), but for lack of internet connectivity at home. When my house is put back on the web-o-sphere grid, there will be a great outpouring.

For now, though, like John C. Wright's Paethon, I have realized how much of my mental space is online. Without all that e-maintainance to do, tending my blog gardens, checking on my RSS feeds, ruthlessly trimming to inbox zero, what do I do? I go home and stare at my hands for awhile. Then I cook something. (I've discovered the secret ingredient to delicious pumpkin scones.) Or clean something. Then I go to sleep even earlier than usual -- sometimes 9. Or 8. I have gotten a lot of sleep, without the internet.

Over the weekend, while replenishing my depleted stock of flour and cornmeal, I happened upon peaches being sold by the open box, not the pound. So I bought a box of (carefully examined) peaches. I have eaten peaches at (sometimes as) every meal since then. They are delicious, and juicy, and the challenge for me -- as usual -- is to eat them all before they go bad. As a household of one, this is how I've come to manage my diet: buy very little, and eat it. There is no natural force to gradually diminish leftovers, as there is at home.

A spate of peaches. A dearth of connectivity. And when I do have internet -- that is, now, at the office -- I feel terribly guilty using it for personal maintenance and not research. Hopefully by next week (an EPIC week), we'll be back online. Stay tuned. Big things are coming.

This post's theme word: ophiolatry, "the worship of serpents."

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Stoplight macarena

Yesterday as I was walking home, I passed a group of maybe 30 students hanging out at an intersection. At the red light, they spread across the avenue crosswalk in a line and sang and danced the macarena for the cars stopped there. When the light turned green, they gathered back on the streetcorner.

That dance will never die.

This post's theme word is: misoneism, "a hatred or fear of change or innovation."

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Animal-themed wine

Following this observation that wine tastes about the same no matter what the price, I have conserved my meager grad student budget by purchasing the cheapest of cheap wines: box o' wine. I try out a new box 'o wine each time. This time I ventured away from the Canadian section into the international section, and found myself strangely compelled to purchase "Frisky Zebras," made in South Africa.

On my way out of the store I noticed another display, this one for a wine called "Funky Llama."

Who would name their wine after a large, smelly, obstinate mammal? And why? I guess that in my case, it made the sale, so that is a good motivation. I'll have to get the llama wine next time, though it is more expensive since it comes in a bottle, not a box.

Have you seen other mammal-named wines? Reptile? Bird? Insect?

This post's theme word: marua, "a fermented liquor made from finger millet."

Monday, July 14, 2008

Busting out

This weekend I saw "The Incredible Hulk," which was good insofar as it involved Edward Norton and bad insofar as it involved a lot of a green CG character who was not Edward Norton. It certainly witnessed this truth:
There was one scene in particular where he transforms, and scraps of his torn shirt (he goes through so much clothing!) hang off his torso as he moves. I thought, "Wow! They're getting so good at animating cloth!" ... and so bad at plotlines.

Much to my delight, many of the campus scenes were shot at U of T, on the lawn and in the alley just outside my building! If my office had a window, it would be visible in this movie. I spent most of the action scenes trying to spot familiar locations and tell when they'd digitally extended buildings, adding stories and towers and duplicate stairs. And watching the animation of muscles contracting under skin.

After weeks and weeks of daily use, a chunk tore out of my exercise band. That is how serious I am about my PT and recovery. I wore through an exercise band. Thanks to UHS, though, I have several more.

This post's theme word: wavel, "to stagger."