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."

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Life-sized chess

There was a street festival outside my apartment last month. It featured a large vinyl chessboard with large plastic chess pieces. When I went by, some children (in teams? advised by parents, a little) were playing chess. I liked that the kids were only a little bit taller than the pieces.
This post's theme word: schwerpunkt, "The point of focus; an area of concentrated effort, especially in a military operation."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Filming on campus

It often happens that an entire block of campus will be lined with fancy movie-star trailers. I've never seen them filming, but I've seen the prop cars and the trucks with filming permits in their windows.
Last month a scene for a Disney show (I forget which) was filmed outside the corner of my building. They blocked access to my favorite stairwell, and I had to go around to the main door. I guess that U of T has a generic university look, and maybe filming in Canada is cheaper than in the US? Or perhaps the city of Toronto is more amenable to large urban disruptions than other, similar-looking cities.

Yesterday, as I was walking along King's College Circle (where many recognizable shots from The Incredible Hulk were filmed!) when this truck drove by me, cruising at 2 mph:There was a long metal arm extended from the truck, holding a large, fancy camera. I waved right into the lens from a distance of only a few feet, ruining whatever shot they were trying to get. There were two men atop the truck, plugged into headphones and microphones and staring intently at screens. What's getting filmed now? Maybe just stock footage, or second-unit background shots. Maybe my silly smile and overenthusiastic wave will make it into a movie!

This post's theme word: hypergelast, "one who laughs excessively."

Friday, July 24, 2009


As a member of the educated elite, I take pedantic, sadistic pleasure in others' spelling and grammar mistakes. The Cake Wrecks blog tracks such unfortunate mistakes on confections:
I wonder what Mickael (Michael?) conformed to, in order to deserve a celebration with a cross-laden cake?

This post's theme word: lucubrate, "to work (such as study, write, discourse) laboriously or learnedly. "

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Award-winning students

At CCC (currently happening!), two of Steve Cook's students won awards. Former PhD Mark Braverman won best paper, and current PhD Aktioshi Kawamura won best student paper. That's great! I am re-intimidated by them. (Hat tip: Lance Fortnow.)

This post's theme word: hagiography, "a biography that idealizes or idolizes the person (especially a person who is a saint)."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

What makes us happy?

I just finished reading Joshua Wolf Shenk's article "What Makes Us Happy?" from the Atlantic. It was interesting, for all science is interesting, and it focused on Harvard and psychology (and, tangentially, the challenges of an academic career and obtaining funding). But I think that what makes the article most interesting is a self-interested desire for the reader (me!) to compare my life with those described, and see how I measure up. With a title like "What Makes Us Happy?" I would expect that the article answers. What I'm looking for is a rubric for happiness, so that I can check off some boxes and -- bam! -- be happy.

Of course, there's not an answer, though several are presented. The now-lead researcher Valliant named seven "major factors that predict healthy aging:"
Employing mature adaptations was one. The others were education, stable marriage, not smoking, not abusing alcohol, some exercise, and healthy weight.
These are all forehead-smackingly obvious, and I do pretty well by this metric (though my education is not yet complete and I'm unmarried). But later the article reports that good adjustment in youth/early adulthood (right where I am) is no predictor for health and happiness in old(er) age.
In an interview in the March 2008 newsletter to the Grant Study subjects, Vaillant was asked, “What have you learned from the Grant Study men?” Vaillant’s response: “That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.”
Again, this seems obvious. (I have to work on this one.)

Shenk's unacknowledged assumption in writing the article is that everyone wants to live to a healthy, happy, bad-memory-obliterating old age. It seems like one of Valliant's goals for the study is to determine some guidelines, or at least predictive factors, for achieving healthy, happy old age. We'll never find out what the self-evaluations are of the study participants who died young. If self-evaluations are what really matters, then those who lived and lived happily are successful, merely by the fact of their happiness.

Bah, humbug. The article was interesting -- I'd recommend that you read it -- but questionable in its romantic portrayal of the way that valiant Valliant kept the study alive. And the "poetry" of the very subjective parts of the study. The ideas of a scientific study is divorced from this researcher-dependent qualitative study, but this makes for such fun reading. (Hat tip: postpostpre via A. via C.)

This post's theme word: kismet, "ineluctable destiny, fate."

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Us, as pirates

A. posted an illustration of all her friends on a pirate ship. I'm the green one. No one knows who the guy vomiting over the far side of the deck is. (A. insists he's not seasick, just hanging out.)

This post's featured comic:


I've had some dreams/nightmares this week that really stuck with me. I usually remember my dreams for a few hours after I awake (and sometimes confuse dream-memories with real memories, to odd effect).

On Sunday night, safely returned home to Toronto, I dreamt that I was back in senior year, and (again! even in my dream!) drew last in the housing lottery. Then, when I got to my room, it was a totally sweet (and non-existent) room in A for like 16 people, and had 4 common rooms and 5 bathrooms and a central room with red leather couches, a dark wood bar, and a hot tub. Only, I got there after all the other people moved in, and I couldn't find a bed! They were all taken, and no one would help me, because I'd floated into the room or something. So I went door-to-door in this enormous suite, being rebuffed by friends from high school and college and grad school who didn't want me to crowd their singles. It was very upsetting, and I awoke angry at people I haven't seen in six years for not even trying to help me figure out what was wrong. And for the entire dream, I was carrying all my worldly possessions in backpacks and duffles stacked high on my back and in my arms and being kicked in front of me. Grr.

Then this morning, while snoozing (I woke up three hours before my early alarm! silly body) I dreamt that I woke up and was about to cross the threshold of my bedroom door when I noticed a hair suspended above it. I bent down to look and it was a structural support of an enormous spider web, spun of cord-thick spider's thread, and -- behold! -- in the center was a black widow spider the size of a small dog. Yowza! No kidding. It was shiny and the red markings were clearly visible from the other side of the room, where I had retreated, quaking in fear. While I was over there, discussing with my father (inexplicably present) what to do, I noticed two or three more, smaller (so just hand-sized) black widows wandering around the room. One of them went across the room and was strong enough to move the door on its hinges. From the other side, my mother was approaching the room and asking what was so interesting. I had to shout at her to stay away. Neither of my parents seemed too worried about these huge spiders that probably had to catch hamsters in their nets to feed, and certainly had enough venom to easily kill all three of us. My father tried to squish the big one with a broom (hah! it was much too solid), and only succeeded in getting the web all tangled in the broom. He drew it to his face to figure out what was wrong, and I shouted, no! the spider's right on the broom! and in slow-dream-motion he pulled the spider's abdomen up to his face...

And I woke up. Wow do I dislike rooming lotteries and spiders. I crept around the apartment with both eyes peeled for spiders, though without glasses I'd only be able to see them if they were nightmarishly large...

This post's featured word: oscitancy, "drowsiness or boredom, indicated by yawning."

Roller derby

I went to see a roller derby match last month with A. and co. It was fun, and reminiscent of rugby -- lots of falling (on pavement! with helmets and pads!) and physicality, girls whipping each other around the corner and elbowing. An unexpectedly large amount of using one's own bottom as a blocking device. I don't think I'd want to play (among other reasons: it involves makeup and decidedly unsporting outfits), but it was fun to watch. The teams' themes and silly names were cute. I rooted for last year's champions, the math/nerd-themed team wearing bright green dresses, but they lost in a close game.

This post is brought to you by the letter G.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Toronto garbage

There's currently a garbage worker's strike in Toronto. (Other municipal workers in the same unit are also on strike.) This is fine -- I'm all for higher wages; my own union threatened as much in our negotiations -- but some of the temporary measures taken to deal with the garbage are terrible. Toronto creates a lot of garbage, which is essentially invisible as long as it's getting taken away on a daily basis. Now that it is lingering, the public trash cans are overflowing mounds of slowly rotting trash on street corners.

While jogging, I came across a public park with an outdoor hockey rink, surrounded by chain-link fence and stacked full of bags of garbage. Further running around the area revealed that, for the duration of the strike, this neighborhood had established a temporary drop-off at the playground. Gross. It was fragrant from blocks downwind. Yuck.

The union certainly picked the right season to go on strike; in the winter, we could just store the garbage outside and freeze it for months without a thought.

This post's theme comic:

Own an integer!

What's your favorite number? Statistically, it's very likely that there is someone else out there with the very same favorite number, despite the fact that there are infinitely many numbers and finitely many people to claim them. So what to do, what to do? Get in a fight with the other million people who like 7, or pi, or the golden ratio? No! Why not just own a 128-bit integer of your very own?

It may not make sense, but thanks to some recent lawsuits, it's now (sort of) possible to own an integer (if you buy into that sort of thing). Everybody had better stay away from my integer,
27 1D 04 35 51 27 3D 19 28 85 FC 1B 7D 53 F1 3E
If I catch you using it, I'll probably have to sue. ... because I take all my cues from the litigious movie industry! (Hat tip: the HCS mailing list.)

This post's theme word: mathematicaster, "a minor or incompetent mathematician."


I've been to two weddings in as many weekends. It never rains but it pours, and apparently my peer group has just broached the marriageable age. (Facebook tells me that other friends got married this month without inviting me, and still others are getting engaged.)

Both weddings were large, including all relatives and friends, and both were decorated with Christmas lights in white gauzy curtains. (When I described this to her, M. replied, "I encourage you to elope!" Much cheaper.) They were interesting amalgams of stereotypical wedding traditions with ethnic ones (Bengali and Portugese, respectively). The actual wedding ceremonies whipped past, a blur of recited passages and vows, but the receptions were lengthy socializing affairs, full of food and music and good feelings. They were beautiful, memorable events, worthy of the thousands of professional and amateur photographs that they generated. The wine was homemade, the rehearsal dinner for a hundred people was homemade!, the gifts were thematically appropriate, the groomsmen were forced to wear Bengali clothing and pink-accented tuxedos (respectively), the processional music was a classical-piano treatment of Star Wars, and the dresses were lovely confections of lace and fabric, piled high and wide around the brides like a slow-moving, formal game of human bumper cars.

Based on the speeches I heard, I'd recommend winging the speech instead of reading a prepared statement -- it comes from the heart, and the audience can tell. I'd also recommend getting a sibling or friend to plan your wedding, so that you can enjoy it. And an open bar, so your friends enjoy it, too.

This post's theme word, "tope," has three meanings:
  1. (verb tr., intr.) to drink (liquor) habitually and copiously.
  2. (noun) a small shark with a long snout (Galeorhinus galeus).
  3. (noun) a usually dome-shaped monument built by Buddhists. Also known as a stupa.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Is it always illegal to KILL a woman?

Thus asks this advertisement for a postage-meter. I don't understand the connection -- is he angry because she metered his postage wrong? Or because she refuses to let him buy a postage-meter?Via boingboing.

This post's theme word: extenerate, "disembowel."

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Rehearsal dinner

Impressions of the rehearsal dinner from the J. & N. wedding: the food was delicious, and all home cooked, which is both impressive and delicious. Everyone was dressed beautifully, though I didn't take the pictures that M. implored me to take -- there was a full staff of photographers and video-recorders deployed throughout the crowd, capturing every moment for all digital eternity. Cousins performed dances. Sisters performed a violin/piano arrangement of the WoW theme. In accordance with tradition, cousins stole the groom's shoes from off his feet and ransomed them back to him (repeatedly). I don't know how they made the desserts so sweet.

Highlight: a crowd of people in saaris (sp?) dancing in a circle to loud LOUD pop-dance-hiphop music.

This post's theme quote comes from MM.: "Tomorrow's ceremony will be much more... Anglican."

Saturday, July 4, 2009


I like some of the photos because of the time-lapse that's apparent. Ghostly traces left on the camera sensor while it collects sufficient light for a photo.
My hand sometimes moved, making edges and squiggles appear in the fireworks.

This post's theme word: decussate, "to intersect or cross."

Sea creatures

Some of the fireworks photos remind me of anemones or sponges. A Planet Earth pan across a coral reef in the tropics.
Sponges come in many colors!
This post's theme word: snickersnee, "a knife" or "a knife fight." Like "snicker-snack" from the Jabberwocky! I love that this is a word.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Koosh balls

A lot of the fireworks explosions remind me of Koosh balls, in their coloring and appearance. At least in these photos. When witnessing them firsthand, of course, the explosions are temporary and fade in a few seconds, only briefly impressing upon my retinas.
This post's featured word: argal, "therefore."

Brontosauri are also big

A few hundred meters from where the fireworks were launched, there's a big brontosaurus statue (sculpture? toy?) in the park. Its flesh is squishy, like a stress ball. (R. snuck across the surrounding fence to poke it.) The seams between the rubber are leaking from weather, and so that it looks like it's been stabbed.It's sad -- it came all this way through time and space, just to pose for us. And this is the treatment it gets. But it keeps its noble head high. I wonder if the fireworks managed to stir its meditations. (I wonder if pictures of fireworks behind a brontosaurus -- an awesome anachronism -- would have come out. I should have tried to take some.)

This post's theme word: keloid, "scar tissue."

Fireworks are big

The scale is immense. I don't think the human brain is good at estimating size of large things hanging in the air. I wonder what it would be like to fly around inside a fireworks display. (Since I'm flying in this imagined scenario, I'm invulnerable, too.)

This post's theme word: decuman, "very large."

Fireworks barge

The fireworks were shot off a barge in the harbor. It's possible to make out the outline of the barge, and -- cool! -- see the reflection of the fireworks in the water below.That obstructing shadow on the right is a tree.
This post's theme word: nubilous, "cloudy, misty, foggy" or "vague, obscure."


After spending Sunday walking around Toronto and feeding various mosquito populations in the idyllic weather, R. and I watched the fireworks at the [sponsor company's] Festival of Fire. We also found a suitable boathouse for R., and many, many bodies of standing water just waiting for a malaria vector to breed therein.

These will be the only fireworks I see in Canada this year, since the usual Canada Day (July 1) fireworks were canceled. (The municipal workers required are members of the same union as the garbage collectors, who are currently on strike.)

We both took this opportunity to play with the "fireworks" setting on our cameras. I also set my camera to continuously shoot, so now I have a lot of mediocre pictures of fireworks and a few good ones. A few of the ones I like shall be posted here shortly.
From a perspective of no human history, it is very strange that we shoot explosives into the air and watch them burn above us as a means of celebration.

This post's theme word: doolally, "irrational, deranged, insane."