Thursday, December 31, 2009

Σ strawberry-rhubarb pie

I made this strawberry-rhubarb pie, using this recipe as a general guideline. It was a Christmas present for E.No, that's not an "E," it's a "Σ."

This post's theme comic is a cautionary tale about mathematics in non-mathematical realms of life:

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Rubik's yeah!

My graduation date may need to be pushed back a few years. I love these puzzles. This one in particular is quite devious. Mind games. The math is so delicious.

This post's theme word: birl, "to rotate (a floating log) by running on it in place," or "to spin or rotate. "

Monday, December 21, 2009

Inglorious Basterds

I saw Inglorious Basterds a few weeks ago. It was good. Really good. Edge-of-the-seat-gripping good. Quentin Tarantino can just do things with a camera and two actors in a room that give me chills, that make me laugh with delight at the wonder of their construction. The symbolism in this film was absurd, abstract, fantastic. (In one scene, my brain kept shouting, "Why is there cream?! What does the cigarette mean?" I have a fully-formed hypothesis on dairy, whiteness, and parallelism [the first and last scenes, although completely different, have excessive parallelism], but don't want to spoil it for you.)

Most movies are a little formulaic and predictable. This man has an unexpected style -- I never know what is going to happen next. I am often surprised (especially given Tarantino's predilection for extreme violence).

Go see it.

This post's theme word: rhubarb, "a heated dispute; a brawl." Delightful! Unexpected! Symbolic?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Punkin ale

That is not a typo.Yet another in my delightful exploratory series, "Alcohol Inexplicably Named After Animals It Does Not Taste Like."

I wish they made pumpkin ales year-round.

This post's theme word: cacography, "bad handwriting" or "incorrect spelling."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mary and Max

I went to see Mary and Max yesterday. Based on the trailer, the poster, and the visual style, I thought it would be a quirky, quiet, cute film. And it was. It was also unexpectedly sad, and made me reflect on the difficulties of interpersonal relationships, mental instability, and illness. R. and I both left the film heavyhearted. I'd still recommend it, but beware: it's sad. Very sad.

This post's theme word: subfusc, "dark, drab, or gloomy" (adjective), or "dark, formal clothing worn at some universities for exams and special occasions" (noun).

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Apartment irks

Finally! Today the heat came on for the first time this winter, and I awoke with a painfully dry nose in a too-warm room. Equally uncomfortable was my roommate, whose bedroom heat is still broken/off/misconfigured. The temperature difference between our rooms can be felt on the skin.

To make "the heat is working!" an even more bittersweet semi-victory, we continue to have no hot water. On Monday some aspect of our formerly-fully-functional hot water system was replaced, and it has not yet heated and delivered water to our faucets since. Grr.

This post's theme word: rachmanism, "the exploitation and intimidation of tenants by landlords." I don't feel so much exploited as abused, avoided, and neglected. I miss being able to feel my hands after I wash dishes.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Ninja Assassin

We saw Ninja Assassin last week. It was the vapid, hand-to-hand combat-filled, mysterious, shadowy ninja flick that you'd exactly expect with a title like "Ninja Assassin." As the Ask A Ninja host points out, the title is redundant. Ninja. Assassin.

We all left with a clear idea of what the plot intended, though the execution made it unclear. (Yes, obviously there will be a ninja with a grudge against those who trained him. But what motivates that grudge? Who is the antagonist? Does it matter, as long as people fade in and out of shadows, and a suitable number of throwing stars and blood spatters are spread around?)

This post's theme word: hecatomb, "a large-scale slaughter."

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

December consumerism: no, thanks

We've all survived another year of Thanksgiving, black Friday, and cyber Monday. (I also received notification of cyber Wednesday, presumably for those too lazy to get around to internet shopping until two days later.) Now the Christmas* season is upon us, with its pervasive question:

What do I want for Christmas*?

I want world peace, and for humans to stop destroying the environment and each other. I want a solution to P=NP (with proof). I want three feet of snow.

What I don't want is more stuff. I have lots of stuff. I have all the material objects I need (food excepted -- I just keep eating it!). Probably, you have all the material objects that you need, too. You don't need anything more. Perhaps you want something more, or advertising has convinced you that you want something more. I don't want anything more; I don't want to have to carry it around and keep it clean and in good condition and worry about whether I'm using it too much or too little. Stuff is just a hassle. (See my other notes on Project Simplify.) This Christmas*, I want to avoid consumerism, reduce my wastefulness, go off the grid.

So please don't get me more stuff. If you want to get me a present, get me something that has meaning. I'd much rather have a nice letter from you than a DVD. I'd rather eat something you cook than play a video game. Let's go on a walk instead of buying each other silly cards! What I'm saying is partially that I'd rather have something that cost you time and brain cycles than something that cost you money. I'd prefer interpersonal value to monetary value.

And I also want to give such gifts. I'm working on that now.

So what do you want for Christmas*?

*or whatever you would rather read -- insert your own politically-correct or -preferred holiday [noun] here.

This post's theme comic is from A Softer World:

Friday, November 27, 2009

Academic blech

Some weeks, I just don't like graduate school. It's not the merry romp through fascinating ideas that I imagined; instead, it's a slog through the ugly drudgery of education. Learning, or trying to learn, or trying to force myself to try to learn, facts and methods about science that I find uninteresting, unmotivated, and useless.

It's enough to make me want to drop out, move home, and sell handmade pottery on Etsy.

Where's the magic? I know that I have to make the magic happen for myself. I've read, heard, and received enough advice to understand that. I just have to chant J.'s reminder over and over: "There are lots of cool problems out there to solve!" ... until I see that light, that magical research light, at the end of the drugde-lined tunnel.

I should have taken a break today, but I didn't, really. Oh well.

This post's theme word: roustabout, "a casual or unskilled laborer."

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Happy Thanksgiving, all. I'm in Canadia so there was no time off, but I had a nice Thanksgiving dinner anyway, with other expatriates. No one fought over the drumsticks.
I'm thankful for many things. I hope you are, too.

This post's theme word: grangerize, "to mutilate a book by clipping pictures out of it, " or "to illustrate a book by adding pictures cut from other books. "

Sunday, November 22, 2009


This weekend we celebrated R.'s birthday (despite its actual calendar placement of Tuesday). We went paintballing (photos forthcoming on facebook), and I got shot in the head (ow). Now I have a lovely pink bump, and every time I think of it, I fondly remember the 30-year-old army veteran who gave it to me. Those guys* are crazy about paintball. I also baked a cake, and cookies. And had brunch and dinner, as well as a ridiculous trek to Best Buy so that we could be disgusted with consumerism. (And we were.)

Everything was very nice. Fun. Tiring. I did not finish my grading, so that's what I'll be doing tomorrow morning. The final report from other participants has the paintball at "fun," and the cake/pub/brunch at "delicious." So it was good. R. reports a warm feeling of well-being in his chest arising from so much attention and care.

This post's theme word: limerance, "an involuntary cognitive and emotional state in which a person feels an intense romantic desire for another person" or "infatuation." But with more science behind it.

*You know who else is crazy about paintball? Disturbingly violent and enthusiastic males aged 9 -- 14.

Monday, November 16, 2009


I deal with a certain level of awkwardness every day. Huzzah for CS grad school. It has taught me that often, silence is the best response.

Just now, in the lab, with awkward coworker P.:

P: Hello, beautiful girl.
L: Hello, P.
P: (laughs at my curtness) You are a mathematician, no?
L: They tell me so.
P: Do you know anything about representation theory?
L: (apologetic shrug) No.
P: You have very beautiful eyes, you know?
L: Thank you.
P: I am not trying to hit on you.
L: I know.
P: You do?
L: ...
P. hovers as if to say something, then thinks better of it and walks away.

This post's theme word: pretermit, "to let pass without mention," or "to suspend or to leave undone. "

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Visual haiku

Every once in a while, I am confronted with a small, self-contained visual statement. It is often puzzling in origin or intent. I think of these as visual haiku. Today, while watching the Santa parade from my apartment window, this floated by:
It is a Pepsi can, suspended from two balloons. It was slowly rising and nearly neutrally buoyant. I have no idea where it came from, or why. Thoughts?

This post's theme word: clerihew, "a witty satiric verse containing two rhymed couplets and mentioning a famous person."

Toronto Santa Parade

Despite the very Novemberness of it, today was Toronto's Santa Parade. I twittered it live, and also took some photos.

They shut down Bloor Street, and kids played and drew with chalk while waiting for the parade.
Postal workers preceded the parade, gathering letters to Santa.
Clowns preceded (and interspersed) the parade, distributing goodie bags and candy from a train. Following the train were a bevy (?) of golf carts, resupplying the train with boxes of goodie bags from the three commercial-sized trucks following the clowns.
Twenty minutes later, there followed a day-glow train.
Clowns dispensing candy-canes.

Then a lot of standard parade stuff: marching bands and floats.
This McDonald's one was impressive.

The funniest part was the children driving -- actually driving! -- tiny Duracell cars, with adults trying to prevent them from hitting the crowd and each other.
The steering wheels worked!

People dressed as food for the Ontario grower's association:
Poor pink lobsters.

Clever flamingo costumes

What happens to all these props after the parade? I want a giant foam banana!

This post's theme word: brachiate, "to move by swinging from one hold to another using arms," or simply, "having arms." Did you notice the inbrachiate apple above?

Medical imaging

Medical imaging is so cool. My twitter avatar attests to that. Last week I learned that my uterus measures 7.0 x 3.0 x 3.5 cm... and now you know, too!

This post's theme word: phlebotomy, "letting blood from a vein." I had to let them take a lot of blood to get those (unrelated) measurements.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Cory Doctorow!

Yesterday, I attended the first night of Cory Doctorow's Makers book tour tonight. It was very exciting! I've been reading along with the serialization of Makers over at, but there are still several chapters to go. Now my reading is unmetered!

I've never been to a book reading by the author (at least, not a big celebrity one -- yes I think Cory Doctorow is a celebrity). I got there early enough to sit mere feet from the man himself. I enjoy his podcasts and reading style, and this was even better -- plus, when he was done, he took questions on anything.

Not only can Cory Doctorow talk a mile a minute, but he is coherent and well-thought-out and generally fantastic. I know some of his answers were things he's said before (some were verbatim from Boingboing, I swear), but I am still impressed at the sheer productivity of the man. He writes and tours and podcasts, blogs, and twitters, plus has the time to read and watch and listen enought to be deeply well-informed on a variety of topics. He's incredible, and I hope to one day grow up to be just like him.

Afterwards, I got him to sign a copy of the book for a friend. And a copy of the latest Ubuntu (9.10, karmic koala) for me. He was genuine, despite his tiredness, the repetitive nature of the questions (he'd answered many online or in columns before), and the scattered, racing questions and tasks pummelling him from all sides. I really appreciated getting to see him in person, even though there was no content that I couldn't get online (in fact, audio of the entire reading, and some video, is available). Attending this reading turned me from an enthusiastic reader into a serious fan.

This post's theme word similarly multitasks: growler, "one that growls," or "a container (as a pail or pitcher) brought by a customer to fetch beer," or "a small iceberg," or "a four-wheeled cab," or "an electromagnetic device for testing short-circuited coils. "


While at the Cory Doctorow reading, a nearby audience member caught my attention and said, "Excuse me. Is that a Radcliffe rugby sweatshirt?" Indeed, it was, and it unfolded that he shared my alma mater and even my concentration, though he graduated before my time. It was nice to have my affiliation recognized, and share a few minutes of common-history-based socializing.

This post's featured word is a bit of a stretch, but I have been waiting for awhile to use it and I just want to take it off the queue. A paraprosdokian (from Greek "παρα-", meaning "beyond" and "προσδοκία", meaning "expectation") is a figure of speech in which the second part of a sentence or phrase is unexpected in a way that causes the audience to reframe the first part. It is frequently used for humorous or dramatic effect, sometimes producing an anticlimax. For this reason, it is extremely popular among comedians and satirists.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Seminar skills

I gave a seminar today, entitled "An introduction to Kolmogorov complexity." The abstract I provided:
This week, I'll cover some introductory Kolmogorov complexity (including how to pronounce it!), definitions and applications to complexity theory,
including the relation of Kolmogorov complexity to the halting problem, and defining resource-bounded computational hierarchies from Kolmogorov
complexity. No background knowledge of Kolmogorov complexity is required; this seminar will be self-contained.
General consensus? It went very well. There was a lot of audience participation. Perhaps too much, since it got a bit derailed with people trying to explain each others' questions and answer them. Afterwards, more senior grad students offered me this advice:
  • Never admit you are wrong. Never erase and edit what you've written on the board. I wrote one thing wrong and then 10 minutes were wasted fiddling with it. Relatedly,
  • Don't answer all the questions. Make sure everyone has a basic understanding. If the question is about details that won't improve a basic understanding, postpone it until after the seminar is over.
  • Proof by assertion. Related to the above two points. If there are too many details, or you don't quite remember how to prove it, or it's too hard, or whatever, then just say, "Obviously, ..." and move on before anyone derails you.
  • Don't let audience members talk amongst themselves.
Obviously some of these should be applied judiciously. I'll have to work on these points, now that I seem to have the basics down.

This post's theme word: expatiate, "to speak or write at length" or "to move about freely."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Project Simplify

It's been awhile, but Project Simplify continues. I have culled more clothes and shoes that have reached the end of their (enjoyable) lifetimes with me. I sold some books to the secondhand bookstore (only to have them replaced with birthday-present books on my shelves! how exciting! new books to read!).

Mostly, I find myself thinking, "Do I need this? It will just clutter my life" with respect to paper. I am inundated with paper, and so my strategy is this: if I need the original copy (receipts, health insurance costs) I file it away neatly. If I need a copy, then I scan it and recycle it: bits take up much less space than physical documents, and are more easily indexed, sorted, and searched! In the end, nearly all the paper I get handed is recycled, which makes me feel honest when I'm around my vegan-eco-hippie friends.

The one thing I can't seem to cull is electronics. I use a lot of them -- many computers and peripherals and gadgets and toys -- and don't want to throw away the less-frequently-used ones, lest they be the missing link in some sort of migraine-inducing file/signal-conversion protocol. (I plug the output of my DS into my laptop, and string the audio from that into my desktop so I can process it with some software there, but send the video through a series of cables to the monitor...)

I recently happened across Eleven Myths of Decluttering and agree heartily with this: "If you get rid of everything you don’t need, you may not need any fancy containers." Of course, a sort of reverse process is happening in my kitchen, where my collection of containers of spices has expanded from by basic post-graduate {salt, pepper, garlic} to a much more sophisticated set.

This post's theme words: avenaceous, "relating to or like oats" and spurtle, "a wooden stick for stirring porridge." Yay goopy, warm autumn breakfasts!

Very comfortable

For my birthday, my very affectionate boyfriend R. kidnapped my bicycle (I was out-of-the-country) and repainted it green. I really appreciated it. Soon thereafter, my bike was hit by a car while locked on the sidewalk outside my apartment.

Boo to cars.

So R. and I went today to fix or replace the squashed rear wheel. After maybe an hour of working on it together, the friendly BikeChain helper T. asked, "Are you siblings?"

We both paused. He said, "... or boyfriend and girlfriend?"

"The latter," I said.

He was flustered and tried to backpedal with, "You just seem so comfortable around each other!" And then he acted like he had something else to do and wandered off for awhile to wear off his embarrassment.

I thought this was very cute.

This post's theme word: absquatulate, "to leave in a hurry; to flee."

Monday, November 9, 2009

Yuck, Harvard.

As a member of the distinguished alumni of a distinguished university, I enjoy frequent emails updating me on further distinguished awards and achievements obtained by my university, as well as increasingly desperate messages from increasingly important people entreating me to donate money to my alma mater.

I don't mind these emails. They are sometimes interesting, and otherwise easily ignored. But today I received an advertisement, which featured:
Back by demand. ... This new[ly reopened online] store now features youth sizes, so you can now get [insignia clothing] for your future Harvard athlete with his or her anticipated class year!
I am disgusted.
  1. Harvard admissions are now so competitive that legacy children are by no means assured acceptance. (I do not know that they ever were, but there is a general belief that this is the case.) The alumni magazine features articles about current Harvard students, showcasing their amazing skills and genius, for the purpose of consoling irate Harvard parents whose children were not accepted.
  2. No child deserves the familial pressure of bearing insignia clothing that he must fulfill. That is cruel.
  3. Where is it socially acceptable to wear a "Harvard 2020" sweatshirt?
  4. Yuck.
If you nonetheless desire some shamelessly branded clothing, you can obtain it and my disapproval here.

This post's theme word: churrigueresque, "baroque, lavish, over-the-top."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


I was sick last week, and now I feel swamped with the tasks before me.

This post's theme word: coeval, "having the same age or duration."

Saturday, October 24, 2009

DVD playback

I spent the last hour getting Paradelle to play DVDs, following a series of unilluminating error messages across the vast wasteland of Ubuntu message boards. Now that DVDs are playable (thank you, hundreds of forums, two of which had the answer to my particular instance of the "known bug," given my hardware), it's too late to watch anything. Tired, slightly sick Lila signing out for the day. Goodnight.

This post's theme word: contumacious, "stubborn, insubordinate."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Google street view

Google street view now features Toronto. If you look closely, you can find me! My fame as an internet person is now guaranteed.

This post's theme word: overslaugh, "to pass over someone in favor of another, as in a promotion," or "to bar or to hinder. "

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Window-washing robot

This tethered robot washes the glass on the pyramids at the Louvre. So cool. I wonder if they use it to clear snow, as well.

This post's theme word: rimy, "covered with frost."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

No underwear

Prohibited pictograms on the top of l'Arc du Triomphe. Can you guess their meanings? I've got "no food," "no smoking," "no camera tripods," and "no cell phone usage." That last one? Take a guess.

Really. Look at it.

We finally decided that it means, "no sunbathing." But maybe not. It's not very clear.

This post's theme word: grig, "a cricket or grasshopper," or "a small or young eel," or "a lively or lighthearted person." That grig is sunbathing on the top of l'Arc du Triomphe!

... in my hand

I've got the Eiffel tower, in my hand.
I've got the Eiffel tower, in my hand.
I've got the Eiffel tower, in my hand!

Taken from the top of l'Arc du Triomphe.

This post's theme word: purlicue, "the space between the extended forefinger and thumb," or "a flourish or curl at the end of a handwritten word (a.k.a. "curlicue")," or "a discourse, especially its summarizing part."

View of the Louvre

A view of the Louvre (across the river) from the hotel balcony/fire escape.

This post's theme word: trammel, "something that limits or hinders," or "a fishing net having three layers," or "an instrument for drawing ellipses," or "a shackle used in training a horse to amble," or "an instrument for gauging and aligning parts of a machine," or "a hook for hanging a pot or a kettle over a fire," or "to restrain or hinder."

Monday, September 28, 2009

Paris sunset

Eiffel tower!
A bridge near Notre Dame.

This post's theme word: halcyon, "idyllically calm, peaceful, tranquil, happy."

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Jewish cemetery

When they ran out of space, they would just add another layer of soil and bury more people above the former burials. Tombstones were moved up, not buried, when the level was raised -- hence the shark-teeth-like amassing of tombstones pictured here.

An interesting place to study erosion.

This post's theme word: yardang, "an elongated ridge formed by wind erosion, often resembling the keel of an upside down ship."

Post office

Lovely. Uncrowded, with a clear take-a-number-and-wait-to-be-called system. Beautiful. Also, open seven days a week from 2am to midnight!

This post's theme word: martinet, "a strict disciplinarian."

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Scary marionette

Scary but wonderful. Each claw/foot had a separate string to manipulate it.

This post's theme word: dicephalous, "having two heads."

Albino peacock

Albino peacock!

This post's theme word: sorrel, "a light reddish-brown color; a horse of this color," or the salad green with a sharp-sour taste.

Decoration ideas

Decoration ideas for my castle, when I design one.

This post's theme word: mug's game, "a foolish or futile activity."

Friday, September 25, 2009

Charles bridge

The Charles bridge, as shot from the next bridge north.

This post's theme word: clou, "a major point of interest, or a central idea." The Charles bridge is a major tourist attraction, though it is similar to the (many) other nearby bridges. It has some extra statues.


Cobblestones are everywhere. Very pretty, but punishing to drag a wheeled suitcase over. This photo is a self-portrait by M.; the upper-right foot is mine.

This post's theme word: tessera, "a small piece of stone, glass, or tile used to make a mosaic."

Astronomical clock

The astronomical clock. Having seen it several days in a row, I still couldn't figure out all the data its various dials and hands convey.

This post's theme word: cathect, "to focus one's emotional or mental energy on something."

Math institute

This is the mathematical institute. It is a beautiful building. So many windows! So much natural light! ... and noise. Plus, they were doing construction in the courtyard that consisted of jackhammering apart stone/concrete blocks, in 30 second increments, every 5 minutes.

This post's related word: borborygmus, "a rumbling noise caused by the movement of gas through the intestines."

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Prague castle

This is Prague castle, from a distance, blurrily, at night. I never did get to see inside it.

This post's theme word: micropsia, "a defect of vision in which objects appear smaller than normal."

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

View from near the castle

A view south-east from the castle grounds, over the prettiest part of Prague.

This post's theme word: coetaneous, "having the same age; contemporary." The buildings are all done in the same style; I'd guess that they are coetaneous.

Roll of newspaper

We arrived too late; the castle was closed for the day. But we did get to walk (briefly) around its grounds, and admire it from the outside. This statue ornaments one side of the main entrance gate. I think it is one man beating another with a newspaper, though I suspect that I am mistaken.

This post's theme word: vituperate, "to scold."

The elusive castle

We searched for the castle, with a rough idea of where it was. The directions we got from a helpful, if not-English-speaking passerby, were "walk uphill." As this photo shows, we still had a way to go -- the pointier spire is the cathedral inside the castle. The statue here seems to be showing us the way.

This post's theme word: chouse, "to cheat or trick" or "to drive or herd in a rough manner." I mean mostly the latter sense, here: we choused towards the castle.

Possible Pope location

This is the square where, on Saturday, I will see a convoy of cars drive by that might possibly include the Pope.

This post's theme word: adiaphorism, "tolerance or indifference, especially in the matters of religion."

Monday, September 21, 2009

Curved road

A curved, sloping road in Prague. Part of my photo-documentation of getting lost. I had no map, but managed to find my way. Eventually.

This post's theme word: pingo, "a mound or hill of soil-covered ice in permafrost, pushed up by the pressure of water seeping in."

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Prague's candy-colored buildings

The buildings come in candy-colors.

This post's theme word: karst, "an area of irregular limestone in which erosion has produced fissures, sinks, etc."

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Midnight sourdough

There is a sourdough bread recipe that came to me highly recommended. Last week I made the starter, and today the time had come to make the bread, which I started when I came home. It took longer to rise than I (or the recipe) expected, both times, and so here I am, baking bread in the middle of the night. Absolutely not hungry for it, though it does smell nice. I hope that all the sleepers who smell the wafting fragrance of my baking bread are having nice associative dreams.

Baking in the middle of the night is not too bad. It's quiet, and there's a lot of waiting involved, so I'm working my inbox down to zero, completing tasks on my increasingly-urgent "to do" list, and blogging. No one is awake to interrupt me. If it weren't for the fact that this is discombobulating my sleep schedule in ways I don't want to contemplate, I'd like it.

Bonus: waking up to nearly-freshly-baked bread.

[Update: bread done. I set off the smoke detector by burning crumbs on the pan, and now everyone in the building probably hates me.]

This post's theme word: bap, "a soft, round bread roll."

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Why can't we all just get along? (copyright edition)

I just watched this lecture by Lawrence Lessig.* It inspires me to do good out in the world. Maybe I should have gone to law school? I like to write and I'm killer at logic puzzles; being a lawyer might really agree with me. And I care about all the enormously, outrageously bad things that are happening in the way that we -- a society, a species -- treat ideas.

Why can't we all just get along? Why do court cases take so long? (And how dramatically different would the entire world be if the US had a time-limit on court cases?) Why is it so hard to get people to do the right thing?**

I have trouble believing that there is some Recording Industry Executive sitting up in his mountain retreat, stroking a cat in his lap, and ordering his minions to go forth, and shower the fuel of money upon their army of lawyers. Why is this the way things work? Perhaps it's a gradual accumulation of small negative decisions which leads to this massively evil, broken system. The RIE needs to make a payment on his yacht, so he has an underling sign a new artist, so... and the lawyer can charge $100 more per hour if he works for the RIE's company, and... so on and so forth.

How can I help? Perhaps I can help devise a more realistic model of this profit-corporation-courts-makers model, and then a game-theoretic strategy where it is in the interests of all parties to be nice. Then the next step is to change the entire political/social system to conform to the rules of my game.***

So I can't really help, or at least I feel that I can't really help, and this feeling will cause me to fail to help. sigh

*Via *Emergent Chaos*, who has some interesting thoughts on the term "non-commercial." More on Creative Commons' research project into "non-commercial" via Boingboing.
** I know that it is more complicated than just "do the right thing," because people have different opinions of what "the right thing" is. That just makes me more frustrated.
***Oh, algorithmic mechanism design, how I love you.

This post's theme word: quodlibet, "a subtle argument, especially on a theological or philosophical issue" or "a musical medley: a whimsical combination of popular tunes." As in, "we had a quodlibet about whether the quodlibet was legal."

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Some combination of the weather, an uptick in mosquito population, chlorine, and soap/lotion is making my skin itch all over. It feels like ants are crawling across my body. This is the worst my "biggest organ of the body" has ever been. I can't figure out how to make it stop -- my usual fallbacks of udder cream* and lotion aren't working. In fact, all variations of the Lila-controllable factors make no difference.

I think I am allergic to summer.

I scratch myself in my sleep until my skin is raw. I've trimmed my nails down to nothing and sleep in full-coverage pajamas to prevent this, but still. It's not pleasant. I spend my waking time either freezing in my overly air-conditioned office, or focusing on not itching the itches.

G. joked that this is a common symptom of withdrawal. Hah hah. I'm suddenly very sympathetic with addicts. And also extra-convinced not to become one.

Please, may I have winter now?

*As used on real cows! Very soothing.

This post's theme word: formication, "the sensation of insects crawling on the skin."

Dreams III

Last night I had to make a huge pancake, maybe 30 or 40 pounds of batter. And for some dream-logic reason, I had to make it as one single pancake, in a griddle bigger than a bathtub, across two full stovetops. It was a logistical nightmare! Also, how on earth could I flip such a beast?

This dream probably arose from all my cooking planning this week. I'm leading the Hot Yam! in a delicious Indian-themed lunch. Thursday, 12 noon, at the ISC. Be there or be sadly malnourished. Pictures to follow.

This post's theme word: gavage, "the administration of food or drugs by force, typically through a tube leading down the throat to the stomach."

Monday, September 7, 2009

More dreams

Last night I dreamt I was starting school at a new university, and as my "whimsy sport of the year" I was trying out for cheerleading. (Yikes, I know.) The cheerleading tryouts involved a week of putting on the intolerably girly/revealing cheerleading uniforms and then swimming laps for hours. It was weird. And when I went home at the end of the day, an old boyfriend was there and didn't understand when I tried to explain that it's the future now, and I have a new boyfriend. Weird.

Last week, I dreamt I was wading in a creekbed, trying to catch tiny fish with my bare hands. My cousins, parents, and some grandparents were there. We were very hungry, but we couldn't catch any fish because they were too fast. We needed tools, and we had none. A little bit upstream, some restaurant employees had big ceramic tools and were catching fish by the barrel-full.

The night before, I was invited to cook dinner for President Obama, but when he arrived he said he wasn't hungry. He said it really politely, but I could tell that he just didn't like my food.

Although the dreams are interesting, let's hope that this hot weather breaks and I can go back to my usual OCD dreams: travelling through a maze, visualizing air currents around a launching space shuttle, etc.

This post's theme word: stenotopic, "able to adapt to only a small range of environmental conditions."

VK couple's testing -- insecure protocol!

Friday's XKCD comic dealt with the question "How can I tell if my internet relationship is real, or just a chatbot?"

The VK couple's testing page was realized and announced in a follow-up blog post. As I understand it, you and your significant other go to this website. At the top, there's a [presumably unique] test ID. At the bottom, there's a "partner's link." So you send your partner the link, and you both reveal the letters/numbers you see, and you are each reassured of the other's non-bot status.

But here's the problem. If the bot is chatting with "thousands of connections at once," then it could just send your link to one of them and have them read it, passing the answer back to you. This breaks the security of the system, as no matter how you set it up, one person has to send a link to another person. This is a weak point, as a chatbot can use two real people to verify its own "real person" status.

VK couple's testing is interesting, but needs a more secure protocol.

[Update: I browsed the comments of the blog post, and many people pointed out the same vulnerability. One suggested fix for this insecure hole is to have the form require the names of both parties, a "signature" of sorts. This reduces the likelihood of failure, but since names are not unique, the bot could still set up an insecurity by mimicking the name of another real person, who it uses to solve the captcha. Likewise, timestamped tests make it harder, but not impossible, to break the protocol.]

This post's theme word: nugatory, "of little value; trifling" or "having no force; ineffective."

Saturday, September 5, 2009


Tuesday was very quiet -- little traffic, few people on the streets. Or so it seemed to me. The auditory environment as I walked to work made me feel like there were cotton balls or earplugs in my ears. It stayed like that all day; the sun shone down on a muted world. My quiet office. The dampened traffic. Even ambient machinery noises (air ducts, elevators) were oddly quiet (and also just at the cusp-of-hearing, too-loud, like the high-pitched sound that televisions make).

Wednesday, everything was back to normal. Weird. I had independent confirmation, though, that Tuesday was quiet. Eerily so.

This post's theme word: anechoic, "tending to deaden sound."

Monday, August 24, 2009


I've been remembering my dreams very vividly of late. And they all have ties to actual thoughts and experiences, so I remember them during the day. It makes me pause and think, "was that real?" It's sometimes hard to tell.

Yesterday I awoke still humming a song from a dream. It took me a few hours to figure out whether the song was real or just a figment of my dream. Preliminary Google searches suggested "figment," but then I remembered the words to a verse and it was real after all.

Two days ago I awoke from a dream that I was taking a long cross-continental train ride, and throughout the thing, gross wet stuff (dog pee, rotting milk, etc.) kept getting splashed on me, in one way or another. (Perhaps this was a mental echo of being sprayed with lobster juice during the day.) Also, the dog in question had untrimmed nails and kept standing (painfully!) on my feet. I think this was because (in real life) my sandals had worn raw spots on the tops of my feet during the day, and the pain came through into my sleeping brain. I tried to get off the train to escape, but it was in the middle of Siberia or the arctic -- very cold and snowy -- and as the train blew its whistle to leave, I realized, "I won't survive here!" I had to sprint to catch up and then leap onto the train. Only to be promptly hit with a drinks cart, soaking me in cups of flat soda and strangers' backwash.

Last night, I had a dream. I was going back to Japan, with a friend, to stay with my host family again. My topology professor showed up and tried to teach me game theory, insisting, "If you don't know this, you're unemployable!" -- but we couldn't find any empty blackboards. That's saying something, because three of the four walls in my bedroom were covered in blackboards, but E. had left notes and lists and diagrams all over them that I couldn't erase.

Robin Williams was in Japan, too, with a cockney accent, trying to pull off some movie-heist scheme involving my friend. (Note: some parts of my dream were close-up shots of his face while speaking & emoting, and I remember thinking, "This was shot with an HD camera! Look at that detail! Nice camerawork." in my dream.) He had a huge, cavernous lair with a concrete floor decorated by the imprints of tyrannosaurus footprints (laid in wet concrete). There was a rough layer of pebbles scattered on the floor, and at some point he gave them a verbal command and they self-assembled into a tyrannosaurus! -- starting at the footprints, and building upward. The pebbles were actually tiny robots! Eeeeek!

So we ran and ran and ran, while I wondered what algorithm the little robots were running to coordinate so well. And I woke up.

This post's theme word: ecumenical, "having a mix of diverse elements" or "universal; general" or "pertaining to the whole Christian church; concerned with promoting unity among churches or religions. "

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Pictures on Ubuntu, update

I've been playing around with Picasa. It's missing some features I really liked about iPhoto.
  1. I can't import my albums from iPhoto. This fact is still incredibly irksome, and will continue to be so for as long as it persists.
  2. I can't make folders of albums. This means that if I have more than 20 albums, they clutter up my sidebar and I have to scroll through the entire list to find the one I want.
  3. There's no way to scroll through ALL the pictures in full-screen mode; photos are sorted by year, then month, then day. And full-screen mode will only allow for scrolling through a single day's pictures -- then to jump to the next day, I have to exit full-screen mode, pick the next day, and re-enter full-screen mode. Yuck.
  4. Although Picasa is set to recognize .avi files, it doesn't.
The struggle continues. On the positive side, Picasa is not terribly slow. And lets me see my photos. That's nice. Standards lowering... lowering...

This post's theme word: moue, "pout or grimace."

Monday, August 17, 2009

District 9

"District 9" came out this past weekend, to many accolades. My inputs have been overflowing with praise -- oodles of positive tweets, the question "District 9 best sci-fi movie of 09?", reccommendations from friends -- and I'd like to add my two cents:

Don't watch it.

It's sad.

Really sad.

It's the saddest movie I've ever seen with that many explosions and aliens.

The preview, and the word-of-mouth praise, set up my expectations for a well-done science fiction/action movie: I expected aliens, guns, and explosions. The ad campaign (which started four or five months ago with "humans only" signs posted on bus stops) made me expect a little bit of alien/human segregation, you know, as a light topic in an otherwise science-fiction film. Let me clear up your confusion if you have similar ideas:

This is a movie about apartheid, racism, and humanity's (and individual human beings') limitless abillity for xenophobia, racism-based murder (think: holocaust) and even genocide.

Sound like heavy topics? They're given a heavy-handed treatment, too. Set in Johannesburg, the aliens are confined to a slum surrounded with barbed wire. I don't think anyone ever said "ghetto," but the words "concentration camp" were used.

This has been widely discussed online:
The CG was good, and interesting -- they have figured out a way to insert digital characters into Blair-Witch-style shaky-cam footage. But so depressing. Boo.

This post's theme word: abrogate, "to put aside or treat as nonexistent, especially by an authoritative act."

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Managing pictures on Ubuntu

I have amassed 30,000+ pictures since I got my first digital camera six years ago. For the past few years, I have been using iPhoto to organize these. (It is now very slow, since it tries to preload thumbnails of every picture on startup, or something similarly unreasonable.)

I like four features of iPhoto:
  1. Photo files are stored in directories by YEAR/MONTH/DAY . This makes sense.
  2. I can use albums to group together photos of the same event taken on different days.
  3. If the camera date was set wrong, I can change the metadata on the photos.
  4. My entire library is in iPhoto and organized in a way I understand.
I am trying to find a similar way to manage photos on Ubuntu. I have so far been unsuccessful. F-spot satisfies (1) but there doesn't seem to be a clean, working way to grab the albums from iPhoto. (Manually re-creating the albums for thirty thousand photos is not an option; I haven't found a hack that works yet, either.) Also, I can't figure out how to change the metadata with F-spot, or with any other Ubuntu software, for that matter.

I have heard good things about Picasa (Google's answer to organizing photos) but also bad things (it's slow; too many bells and whistles).

Suggestions? I've been making myself cozy on Ubuntu, but this is really irking me.

[Update, two hours later: I installed Picasa to try it out. After an XKCD-like series of events, something -- possible a hidden preference file? bug reports online are unclear -- is quite borked about my entire setup. Also, Google now gives me search returns in French and Portugese, but not English. Now everything I try fails, not just with Picasa but also basic OS functionality. Aaaiiieee! But there are no sharks. Yet.]

This post's theme word: nidicolous, "nesting."

Ahab's Wife

I just finished reading Ahab's Wife, by Sena Jeter Naslund. It was recommended to me based on my enjoyment of Moby Dick, and amounts to a long addendum to that book. Or maybe it is fan fiction? Actually, it touches only tangentially on the characters and plot of Moby Dick; after all, Ahab spends all his time being haunted and stalking a whale at sea. He leaves his wife behind, and this is her story.

The book opens with the sentence:
Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last.
This is now one of my favorite opening lines. The promise of the story! It yanks our attention: we already know all about Captain Ahab's looney end, but his wife? Her mention in Moby Dick is brief and provides no explanation: how did a creepily-driven, single-purpose captain like Ahab end up married? We also wonder about her story: who was the first husband, and what happened to him? Who does she marry after Ahab?

The book fails to live up to the promise of this first line. What it satisfies is a modern, liberated woman's dream of an ideal, rustic-yet-intelligent, helpless-yet-self-determining, protesting-yet-permissive, whatever-yet-whatever life in the 1800s. Among the unrealistic things accomplished by the protagonist that irritated me:
  • As a 15-year-old girl with no education, she discusses the dilemma of whether light is a particle or a wave.
  • She singlehandedly invents/discovers guacamole, with the author going out of the way to call it "a mash or jam of a strange greenish fruit with a large pit" so as to avoid the historically inaccurate knowledge of the word "guacamole."
  • Despite growing up in rural Kentucky, she is an abolitionist.
  • Despite being an abolitionist, she is not in favor of temperance.
  • She singlehandedly frees a slave, in the middle of winter, in the deep South, while in labor, as her mother and baby are dying/newly-deceased.
  • She meets Nathaniel Hawthorne.
  • She meets and admires Frederick Douglass, and encourages all her correspondents to meet and admire him, too.
These little irritants accumulated throughout the book, so that big irritants (she survives 3 months without food or water on an open boat in the Pacific) don't even matter. And her first husband? Not even a meaningful plot point. Her third husband is, of course, Ishmael, who encourages her to write her book even as he is writing his. That explains the similarity of styles (one of the things I really liked: this book mimics "Moby Dick"'s long-winded passages about the ocean). But, blech. How uncreative. I didn't get any great insight into Ahab, Ishmael, Ahab's wife, the whale Moby Dick, or any other character from the original book or newly-fabricated for this spin-off.

My take-away feeling? Boo on Ahab's Wife. Write to the time! I want a first-person woman's story from this period of time to be full of chores and oppression, and I want her to be uneducated. (Understand that in real life, I am opposed to such things today. Of course.) I want my historical fiction with a little more history, and a little less fiction.

This post's theme word: maritorious, "to be excessively fond of one's husband."

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Apple enthusiasts

This comic proves it: Apple products defend against screen-based cephalopod attacks!Doghouse via Gizmodo.

This post's theme word: neuston, "the aggregate of minute aquatic organisms that inhabit the surface of a body of water."

Friday, August 14, 2009

Hot hot hot

It's hot and humid and this looks like it would feel fantastic.
This post's theme word: adiabatic, "occurring without loss or gain of heat."

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Green rabbit

A wine name combining my favorite color with an animal that has nothing to do with wine? Why yes, it's
Green rabbit!
From organically grown grapes! And comes in a nice, cheap, recyclable box! (And yes, it's shelved next to a much less-agreeably-named wine.)

This post's theme word:rube, "country bumpkin."

Monday, August 3, 2009

Plant update

The basil is doing well -- some really well, some not so well.

Inspired by my success in keeping the basil alive, I tried to grow poppies. At a conference, I received this promotional card that was embedded with seeds and printed with instructions for growing them. It first they sprouted with great promise. Then they fell over and died (possibly in the reverse order).

Oh well. At least I have my delicious basil.

This post's theme word: saxicolous, "growing on rocks."

Sunday, August 2, 2009


I want a bike to explore the greater Toronto area. Last weekend I went around to a several bike stores and was appalled at the cost of a bike, even a used bike. R. suggested checking out police auctions, and we discovered that Toronto's police auctions are conducted on eBay. This is brilliant! It's easier for them to sell the items, and easier for us to buy the items. No one has to be co-located in time and space except the single buyer who wins the auction.

I won the second bike I bid on, a red mountain bike (that I plan to paint green). It was nice and cheap, and -- surprisingly! -- in rideable condition when I picked it up. The lock cost exactly as much as the bike, which I guess is a comment on the middle-to-good lock I bought and the ridiculous nature of retail. (And no, there weren't any bike locks available at police auction.)

Onward to bike-mounted adventures I go!

This post's green-Earth theme comic:

Green car

This car is often parked in Kensington. It's lovely. What a color.

This post's theme word: gramineous, "Of or relating to grass."

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Recursive blister

Awhile back I was on a Geometry Wars bender, and managed to get a blister on my thumb. Undeterred, I continued to play... and my blister got a blister, possibly visible in this blurry phone-camera picture:
My bender ended when I achieved "wax off."

This post's theme word: jactitation, "a false or boasting claim."

Friday, July 31, 2009

Stone balancing

I've seen this artist/street performer a few times in my neighborhood. He balances stones in improbable stacks. No glue or wire. I've watched, and it could be a form of meditation -- it's slow, careful work.
This post's theme word: newel, "a center column that supports the steps of a spiral staircase" or "a post supporting the handrail of a staircase. "

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Oranges and raspberries

Food often has a very pleasing visual texture.Especially when immersed in a glass of wine.
This post's theme word: clathrate, "lattice-like."