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.