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."