Friday, February 29, 2008

Extra day! Hat puzzle.

Today is an extra day. As a special bonus, it is also snowing big, fluffy flakes, and it's not too cold. This is a good sampling of weather for the prospective students who are visiting the department this week. Last night, the department sent us forth in groups of {two current, four potential} students to eat dinner. The dinner degenerated (after a long period of substantive, informative conversation) into puzzles. I love puzzles!

... and so I shall introduce you to the "hat" puzzle. There are many versions of this puzzle, but I heard this one first so I think of it as the canonical "hat" puzzle. I am sure I will post many more.

A hundred mathematicians are shipwrecked on a cannibal-infested island. The cannibals are sporting, though, so rather than skewer and roast all the mathematicians right away, they give them a chance to win their freedom, saying,
Tomorrow at dawn we will line you up on the beach, each facing the back of the next person in line. Then we will take a bunch of red and blue hats and put one hat on each person's head.

Starting with the last person in line (that is, the person who can see everyone else), we will ask you what color hat you are wearing. If you answer correctly, you will be set free. If you answer incorrectly, we will drag you off to "participate" in the evening feast.
What strategy do the mathematicians develop to save themselves? Can they save everyone?

This post's theme song: "Problem Girl" by Rob Thomas.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Pumpkin-raisin scones

My experiments in cooking continue. I made the pictured pumpkin- raisin scones rather successfully -- none of my housemates has died of food poisoning (yet), and I even received a compliment. I also made banana bread and managed to only burn it the first time I tried the recipe. I am gradually mastering the fine art of baking with my aged, imprecise oven.

The kitchen is extremely drafty. If you stand in certain places, you can feel the breeze of frigid air pass by. Baking helps warm it up a little. I managed to avoid burning my hand until after all the baking. O irony. The cursed toaster is responsible for my tender fingertips.

This post's theme unexpectedly scrumptiousness-imparting ingredient: cornmeal.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Lunar eclipse

There is a lunar eclipse right now. I tried to take some pictures, but they didn't turn out too well. It's just a little reminder that we live in a universe far larger than our petty concerns. Look! The planet obscures light from the sun, preventing it from reflecting off the moon!

This post's theme theory of the solar system: geocentric, with each planet embedded in a rotating crystal sphere.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Black ice on my block: 2
Lila: 0

This post's theme bruise: right kneecap.

Monday, February 18, 2008

I'm twisted (@ the gym)

A few times, guys have hit on me at the gym. I don't know why -- I'm all sweaty, I'm out of breath, I'm listening to music, I'm not exactly the picture of romantic attraction. Yet they do it anyway. Mostly I'm amused, sometimes I'm offended. Is the gym a good place to go trolling for dates? I've never seen a girl hit on a guy at the gym, so maybe the appeal of the gym as a romantic starting-block is one of the masculine mysteries forever unknowable to me.

I think of the gym is as an insular place. We're not participating in a group activity; each person is there for his own self-improvement. People who have conversations at the gym are a rare and unwelcome breed. And yet, we are all watching each other, gaging each others' relative fitness and strength levels. There's nothing else to look at, really.

So I do occasionally find myself noting particularly handsome boys at the gym, despite my asocial nature and my aversion to gym-spawned romance.

Today I noticed a boy who had strikingly blue eyes. They were pure blue, unspoiled by flecks of other colors. He kept moving back and forth across the gym to different machines, crossing my (better-planned) path through the machines. He was, in a word, "cute"... until he started to do push-ups next to the erg where I was rowing. Rowing is fairly monotonous, so out of the corner of my eye I counted his push-ups: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 (strain begins to show), 7, 8 (pause for breath), 9, 10 (collapse to the mat in exhaustion)!

Wow! Ten whole push-ups! His mysterious cuteness was instantly dissipated in a poof! of wimphood. I snickered out loud. I am twisted. But I'm far stronger than he is, that namby-pamby posturer. A cut-off t-shirt does not an athlete make.

This post's theme word: caducity. "Frailty, infirmity."

Family day

Today is a new statutory holiday in Ontario: family day. Happy family day! I have no classes today, but also no classes this week (it's "reading week", and most undergraduates have skipped town to do whatever it is they do when off-campus). It's a strange occasion for a holiday.

This post's theme parallel US holiday: President's day.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Keyboard bruise

I discovered a mysterious bruise this week on the side of my left middle finger. It puzzled me. I didn't remember slamming my hand into anything, and none of my other fingers were bruised.

I figured out later that this bruise was self-inflicted by typing control-W, which I do with my left pinky and middle finger. The command closes windows. Apparently I close a lot of windows in my daily use of my computer. Bizarre.

This post's theme pop-health observation: women bruise more easily than men. Just look at my fall earlier this week. Even my womanly subcutaneous fat didn't cushion me adequately.

Robert Shea's "Shike"

I just finished reading Robert Shea's "Shike". A Boing Boing post brought it to my attention, and I started reading it because Amazon had recommended other Robert Shea books for me. Whatever model they have running their recommendations (complicated machine learning? simple statistical correlation with others who report the same tastes as me?) works, because "Shike" is exactly the kind of fiction I like. It was long, detailed, had an epic plot, spanned many generations, and (bonus for 日本の事がすき人!) was mostly set in Japan.

I found that the last hundred or so pages dragged a little -- as the characters aged, the story had lost it's "Ender's Game"-like youthfulness and became a little too powerful. I mean, how likely is it that a single woman could be so clever and powerful as to obtain the ears (and beds) of the power-wielding men wherever she goes? With her first husband it seems reasonable that he weasel his way into power. But then, in a period of exile, she beds the ruler of the Mongols, and then on her return to Japan, she beds the main opponent of her still-living husband in a civil war? I am willing to allow other, egregious errors in the name of fiction, but this was too impossible to accept.

Despite this tapering-off of quality towards its end, I recommend this book.

This post's theme quote is taken from the end of a seminar I attended, which degenerated into one student shouting at another: "No! Look, if you have f(x) and you divide by forty-nine, then do you see?!?!" Everyone else in the room was suppressing giggles at this. What a fantastic argument.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The new color of love

... is green! Happy Valentine's day!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Happy birthday, Lincoln, Gromit!

My calendar informs me that today is both Lincoln's birthday and Gromit's birthday. Two very influential figures in my life.

This post's theme garment: the wrong trousers.

Icy sidewalk |--> bruise

Yesterday, after spending all weekend finishing a project (and paying little attention to the weather), I gleefully set out from home to turn in said project. No more than five paces beyond my front door, I slipped on the black ice-covered sidewalk and sprawled (cartoon-style) on the ground. It was so dramatic a fall that passing cars stopped and drivers got out to check if I was ok. I was ok, merely bruising my dignity and tailbone.

I confess this to you, o internet, in the hopes that maximizing the audience to my ridiculous fall will max out my embarrassment. Maybe embarrassment is modular, and I'll go back to being unembarrassed.

In other icy news, on my way home from the gym, the wet hair uncovered by my hat froze solid. Solid curls of hair are interesting. It was like some sort of all-powerful gel, which deteriorated quickly once I made it back indoors.

This post's theme outdoor garment: crampons.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Pain sucks

Pain sucks a lot. Not psychological pain, I'm talking about physical pain. Psychological pain is bad, too, but it has a certain literary deliciousness.

This post's theme medication: naproxen sodium.