Saturday, March 28, 2009

La Sourdine

I'm sure you've noticed how Spanish or French versions of things often come out longer. A case in point: my computer speaker has a big round button, which underneath says


and also



Thursday, March 26, 2009

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Lately I've noticed how very helpful notes are - not just notes I've already taken, but the writing of notes itself. Here are situations, some more common than others, in which writing notes helps me:
  • To-do lists. I don't write large or ongoing to-do lists and keep them for weeks, but I find them helpful for a few tasks I need to do within a couple of days.
  • Breaking down a task. Sometimes when I'm not sure how to tackle something, or just can't quite get myself started, I can write it down in tiny steps and get kick-started that way.
  • Handling confusion. When I get confused about a problem - at school or work - writing out my questions and concerns (neatly, in complete sentences, slowly) is often surprisingly helpful. I will either get an answer to my problems or great insights about how to approach them. (The picture with this post is an example of some of this type of note-taking; I took these notes a few minutes ago and they have jump-started a task I had completely stalled at.)
  • Reading difficult material. Recently, I've been trying to read some math journal articles. I decided that since I write down things like axioms and theorems when I take notes in class, I might as well directly copy them from journal articles as well. And guess what? It helps! A lot! I think the process of slowing down and being methodical makes me a lot more likely to understand material. I have also found this works wonders for reading math textbooks. It feels silly to copy out the exact lines of an example worked in the book, but it aids understanding immensely.
In general, I have found that all kinds of thinking tasks are aided by pencil and paper. I think I just find it much easier to concentrate on one thing at a time and work it out slowly and carefully if I am trying to create a written record at the same time.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Cooking Experiment

not my actual cookingFor the past few months, Ed and I have been trying to make and eat dinner together more. We've stuck pretty well to our original goal of having me cook for us twice a week and him once a week. A meal is typically weekday dinner or weekend brunch, and we try (and have so far managed) to include protein, vegetables (and/or fruits), and some kind of starch. I often include a whole grain when it is my turn. (I did not make the meal in this picture, but it looks like my type of thing.)

Last night, for instance, I made boneless pork chops (broiled in the oven), brown basmati rice (plain, but cooked with salt and butter), and asparagus (sauteed in a pan with olive oil, crushed red pepper, and garlic). It made a very pretty meal, actually, and the asparagus was pleasingly spicy.

Here is what I have learned so far:
  • I much prefer cooking for the two of us to making my own dinner, even though when I cook for just myself it is much easier (because I don't make such elaborate things).
  • I actually really enjoy making dinner for us.
  • I prefer cooking several things to making a one-pot dish. I am especially fond of the protein/starch/vegetable trio, often with a very plain vegetable.
  • Any kind of fish can be cooked with oil and butter in a pan and come out delicious.
  • Excluding (bizarrely) restaurant food, I view food cooked by other people with suspicion and distrust.
  • I like to control what we have for dinner.
It's been really exciting to learn that I can pretty easily make a variety of reasonably healthy meals, and that I enjoy doing so.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Once He Was

I've owned this album for years, but lately (perhaps because Pandora has been playing it for me) I've gotten obsessed with "King of Spain" by Moxy Früvous. I think the whole thing is quite clever, but I especially like the policy details mixed in with the silliness, as here:
Royalty, lord it looked good on me
Buried in silk in the royal boudoir or going nuclear free
Or playing Crokinole with the Princess of Monaco
Telling my jokes to the OPEC leaders, getting it all on video.
Here is the song (along with a video someone made up to go with it):

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Passive-Aggressive Tendencies

It's important to me to keep getting better in whatever ways I can. Of course, I start out with a basic package of assets and flaws, and my relative strengths and weaknesses may not change all that much over time. But I do work on many of the things about me that are troublesome.

Something I've worked on a lot in my relationship with Ed is passive aggressiveness. I've never thought of myself as particularly passive-aggressive, and I don't think most people would characterize me that way (in the spectrum of humanity), but I definitely have tendencies. Ed is particularly sensitive to it, and that has...helped.

When I get angry with someone, my first impulse is to be silent at them. Once I reject that option, the next few that come up on the list are also passive-aggressive. I could make a snide remark to let them know I'm angry. I could say something sarcastic. Or I could just go somewhere else and wait for them to figure out that I'm avoiding them on purpose.

These days, I try to first think and determine whether the anger seems justified or not. If it isn't, or if I can't tell, I'll say something like, "This may not be fair. But I'm feeling kind of angry [about X]." Otherwise I'll just say the angry part.

Even at this point (and Ed is amazing supportive of this type of communication), it's hard for me not to follow up with passive-aggressive remarks like, "I guess I just thought you would have known how that would make me feel," or, "I guess I just trusted that you knew how to cook a steak," or, "Never mind - I shouldn't have thought you'd get it."

It's not that being passive-aggressive is generally so very awful. There are definitely worse ways to handle anger. But I think my tendency to be this way comes from feeling essentially powerless whenever I am angry. I see no hope of remediation, and that's what makes me want to just snub the other person. I feel contemptuous or fundamentally angry towards them, as though whatever has happened changes the underlying reality of the whole relationship.

I am actually getting a lot better at this through practice, this thing of just saying, "I am angry. Here is why," and listening to the response and working through it. For me, right now, in this relationship, even when it turns out that my anger is unfair I seem to be better off expressing it.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Spoiler-Free Review of Watchmen

Ed and I saw Watchmen tonight, in IMAX glory. And I promise this (brief) review will be completely spoiler-free, so read without fear.

I either read or started to read Watchmen years ago while dating Robin. At any rate, I didn't remember anything about the plot at all, though the opening sequence of the film was very familiar and I think it was shot a lot like you'd expect from the beginning of the book. I was glad not to know the plot going in.

I should preface this by saying that I have a hard time getting into any kind of plot-based action movies, especially superhero movies. I saw Iron Man. Watched The Dark Knight. They didn't really do anything for me even when I could recognize the artistry. I wasn't really drawn in at all, and they felt tedious to watch and I waited for the plots to resolve. Honestly, I feel similarly about the more recent three Star Wars movies and about The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter movies. I can modestly enjoy them but I wouldn't go see them if they weren't blockbuster spectaculars that one should see. (And I saw a lot of those with Mosch, who always wants to have seen those movies.) Oh, and Pirates of the Caribbean and the sequels. Same deal.

But Watchmen I liked. I mean, I really, really liked it. I was aware while I was watching it that I was just having a fantastic time.

I'm trying to think why that was. I think that, unlike with most other action movies, I was actually into the characters. Other than perhaps the romantic female lead (if you can call her that), any time a character was on screen I was watching in a mesmerized fashion. I found every one of the men attractive in some unusual way. I just wanted to look at them all day. And somehow that really helps.

The movie is gory in parts - more gory than I prefer. It is probably what Robin would call "cartoon-like violence," but for me it was mostly just violence. But I was willing to tolerate it in order to see the rest of the movie, and only one part really disturbed me.

It has a lot of fighting, but as best I can recall no high-speed chasing types of sequences, which was good since those usually bore me. There was interesting machinery and structures. And beauty.

So, if you're at all inclined to see it, go. You'll probably like it.

A Pressing Question

Now that Sally is moving east of the Mississippi, will it become WSAL??

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Ed's New Job

Ed starts his first post-college job next week - a regular corporate office job. It will actually be a 3-month internship, at the close of which he will hopefully be hired as a permanent employee.

It's kind of an exciting time. He's never had a corporate job before and I'm looking forward to him having a working experience similar to mine. I feel like he doesn't really understand what working in this type of job is like, though all types of work have their ups and downs, and I certainly don't know what trying to write a thesis is like (though I think I would suck at it).

It'll also be challenging for us. Our relationship goes more smoothly when I'm not in school, when Ed is not stressed, when things are...easy. And having your first full-time office job is not easy. Being unemployed is stressful but also easy in terms of having plenty of time for rest and recreation.

But overall it's exciting. I hope Ed has a great time doing a kind of work where, when you come home at night, you're done. I don't think he's ever had that luxury. And just...all the various aspects of working life. (Oh. And they pay you. That's good too.)

Bring it on!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The One We Left Blank

Last week, I had a test in Principles of Programming Languages. I knew I wasn't fully prepared, but I had gone through my notes and looked for ways to review the things I would have to do on the test. (The whole test was "do this" types of questions - no factual questions at all. It was nice, actually. And it was open notes.)

The last question on the test was about recursive descent parsing. We were supposed to write some code to go with some existing code to do a little piece of it, and I just...couldn't. I couldn't figure out how to access the variables I would have needed from the code block I was to write, and I wasn't sure how it was supposed to work anyway. I wrote a couple of lines and then gave up, essentially leaving it blank. Time was up anyway - I had spent most of the two-hour class period doing the first 7 problems.

So I was expecting a B.

Last night, when I got the test back, I had scored 55/56, or 98%.

"I didn't grade Question 8," the professor said. "By the time I got there I was just like ... eh. This is enough. No, not really. It's just, I looked, and most of the answers were blank. And the rest were...varying degrees of pseudocode that...yeah. So I decided not to grade it."

It seems fair. Our class has no textbook or any other kind of outside material. If basically nobody can make a decent attempt at answering a test question, it seems likely that you didn't actually teach the material.

And, of course, I was personally pleased to be one of many fuck-ups rather than an individual unique fuck-up.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Desargues' Theorem

My geometry class this semester seems to revolve around Desargues' Theorem (pronounced dezargs), which is a slightly complicated theorem that doesn't hold in the Euclidean plane, but holds in a lot of projective spaces. It took me a long time to be really comfortable with it, but it now seems quite simple to me, probably because of the dozens of times that I have drawn and explained it.

Desargues' says, simply, that if two triangles are perspective from a point, they are also perspective from a line.

"Perspective from a point" is relatively simple, though it took me a while to learn what motivated calling it that.

In this picture, the two triangles ABC and A'B'C' are perspective from V because if you were looking from V (hint: like the giant eye), the corresponding points of the triangles would be on the same lines. (Here, "triangle" actually refers to the points, not the line segments or the interior, though it's not very important in this case.)

"Perspective from a line," alas, doesn't allow quite such a simple explanation. What it means is that the intersections of the corresponding sides (e.g., where AB crosses A'B', if you extend the line segments) are collinear, or all on the same line. Let's expand the drawing above to include those points and their (possible) line of perspective. (Note: I've also moved the points around slightly to make the intersections show up.)

Here, I've colored the corresponding sides the same color, so AB and A'B' are blue, AC and A'C' are red, and BC and B'C' are green. Where each pair intersects, you get the purple points L, M, and N, and the big purple line goes through all of them. So, in this case, Desargues' Theorem does hold: ABC and A'B'C' are perspective from both V and the the purple line.

The only reason Desargues' doesn't always hold in a Euclidean plane (the kind of geometry we're used to) is that some of the lines might be parallel. For instance, if AC and A'C' were parallel, N (their intersection) wouldn't exist. Projective geometry basically does away with parallel lines, so it doesn't have that limitation.