Saturday, April 23, 2011

Lifestyle, Redux

I posted a long time ago about Brooks Brothers ads. Lately, this one has been catching my eye:

All I can say is wow.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Potluck Success

I normally don't enjoy potlucks very much. I'd rather eat out than eat a bunch of random food prepared by other people, and I'd rather pay for a restaurant meal than have to make something (which often ends up costing me as much as a restaurant meal anyway). I also hate the hassle of how it's impossible for everything to be served warm/cold/whatever. I am just a grump about them.

However, I was invited to a Passover seder last Sunday. The host made a fine brisket as well as matzo ball soup, and we were asked to bring a side item, dessert, or drink, etc., made without leavened flour and without pork or shellfish or both meat and cheese, etc. So it was kind of a semi-potluck, but a great opportunity to participate in a seder, so that was all right.

I decided to roast some brussels sprouts. I'd never tried this before, but it seemed like it ought to work, and the Internet seemed to agree. At the store, there were boxes of fresh sprouts that were not as fresh as I would have liked, and then there were these enormous stems of sprouts which were much fresher (presumably because the stem sustains them).

This thing was amazing - huge and bulky, like a big club made of brussels sprouts. And it had way plenty of sprouts on it for roasting. Cutting them off wasn't much extra work since you normally have to trim the flat end anyway.

It was $4.49.

So I cut the sprouts off, tossed them in olive oil and salt, and roasted them at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes (whole). Cutting them in half would probably have been more delicious, but I was actually running out of time.

I don't have two ovens and I wanted a warm dish to transport these in (I was afraid a cold vessel would coldify them right away), so when they were getting done, I poured boiling water into a lidded casserole dish. When the sprouts were done, I poured the water out, dried the dish thoroughly, and put the sprouts in. I carried the casserole dish to the seder wrapped in a towel, and I got the hosts to put their oven on warm as I drove over, so I could pop it right in the oven when I got there.

The ritual part of the seder went on for a while, so by the time we ate, my sprouts had been kept warm in the oven for perhaps 45 minutes. This is not an ideal situation for maintaining any kind of roasted quality, but when we ate them, they were still delicious - not totally toasty but still considerably different from boiled or steamed sprouts. I got a ton of compliments both from people who like brussels sprouts and from people (well, one person) who had previously regarded them with fear.

I felt pretty kick-ass at bringing a healthy, well-liked dish that cost me under $5 to make.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Non-Zero Probability

It now appears that there is a non-zero probability that I will finish the semester. For the first time, I can actually see the end from here. We have two more weeks of classes, and then finals, but I had a big exam today and really couldn't see past it until it was over.

In some ways, the class I had the exam in was my most important one (real analysis, which I'm taking a qual in this summer), and of my four classes, it has gone the worst. There is a lot of material I really struggle to understand, and what I do understand, I have trouble holding on to from moment to moment. Studying for the exam did greatly increase my knowledge, but there were topics I couldn't study because I just couldn't face them. And yet...the qual.

I'm feeling better now, but the past couple of days I have felt pretty down on school. As happened during the stressful part of last semester, I found myself fantasizing a lot about quitting and going back to my old job (I think they would hire me back, but I could probably get a similar job in any case) and having an easier life with more money and not as much math. I think that terrible negativity might be passing now, which would be nice. Most of the time, I prefer my life here to my old life by a moderately large margin.

I actually probably did all right on the exam. Last semester, I got a 55% on the midterm and ended up (somehow) with an A in the class. I estimate that I got about a 70% on this one. If I do a good job on the final, I should be able to at least pass with a B, I think. (If I fail the class, all hope is not lost, but passing would be better, of course.)

I posted a while back about my doom-laden decision to take four courses this semester. I'm happy to report that that decision, at least, was not in fact a mistake. Reports of my impending doom turned out to have been exaggerated. The logic class has been very interesting and our professor dramatically decreased the workload relative to the first half, and the topology class has been as vital as I'd thought it might be, and I'm really glad that I had the opportunity to take it.

So, that's my life these days, anyway.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Do Not Want

It seems to be the case that after a serious relationship ends, I discover that certain aspects of it are things I do not want in any future relationships. Some of these are senseless allergies (omg no more Alex Chilton fans!!!*) but others, I think, are legitimate discoveries. It's hard to know how living with someone who does x or y or believes z will turn out. Sometimes I was blind to signs that I can now recognize, and others times, it just requires playing the experience out all the way to find out how it goes.

One thing I learned from my relationship with Ed that I don't want anymore is a little bit subtle, but important. One of the very noticeable features of Ed early on was that he was very emotionally literate (which I really appreciated, and continue to think is cool) and wanted to understand in minute detail what I was thinking and feeling about various aspects of the relationship. He didn't feel safe if he didn't understand my exact feelings.

This went both ways. If Ed found a feeling in himself that he thought might be a deal-breaker or bad news for me, he always told me about it. He was very open with me (which is a good thing, in general) and scrupulously honest, to the best of his ability.

All of this is why "radical honesty" was a tenet of our relationship.

I'm not against radical honesty. I think as an experiment it's fun. In fact, as long as you remember that it's called "radical" for a reason, it's all good.

But I don't want to be in another relationship with someone for whom that is of prime importance. I want my future partners to trust me to manage my own thoughts and feelings. I want them to trust that I'll tell them what's important, but be content with my being somewhat of a black box. I want to be with someone who doesn't worry about it that much, and/or who just figures me out as we go along. And I want to be with someone who manages his or her own inner thoughts and emotions as well, sharing as appropriate or desired but sometimes holding things back that are counterproductive to share.

(* not actually on my list)

Monday, April 04, 2011

Strange Advertisement

A few blocks down from my apartment is a big complex that is mostly inhabited by students at my school. Out front is a sign that caught my eye a few weeks ago because of its nonsensical slogan:

Live like you "Mean" it!

It's a weird slogan to begin with (don't I really mean it? how am I living now? what does it mean to mean living, anyway?), and not improved by the scare quotes.

Then I started looking at the picture more closely:

Now, here we have these students, I guess. But this picture is so weird. Notice the following:

  • At least three, possibly all four, are wearing oversized sunglasses.
  • Both of the boys are carrying helmets.
  • Three of them are wearing large headphones of the kind people use almost exclusively at home.
  • All humans come in couples.
  • The way a couple walks is that the boy puts his arm around the girl and then she reaches up near where her neck and his arm meet.
  • The boy on the left is wearing a sleeveless hoodie and a very slender bracelet.
  • The boy on the right appears to also be wearing at least one, and possibly two, bracelets.
  • 75% of the people pictured are wearing hats. (Note that both boys are wearing hats in addition to carrying helmets.)
  • At least one girl has rollerblades; both boys seem to have skateboards attached to their backs.
  • The girl on the right is disturbingly narrow from the waist down, and has the hips of an 11-year-old boy.
Who are these people? Why are they all dressed/accessorized so similarly? Are they living like they "mean" it?

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Wikipedia and Math

I am a relatively big fan of Wikipedia. It tends to be my go-to source for things I want to know that are of a general nature - for instance, when I finished Bleak House the other day, I read/skimmed the Wikipedia articles on Charles Dickens, Bleak House, and the Chancery court that is such a big feature of that book.

But for professors in many disciplines, Wikipedia is a kind of sore spot, because students will often try to cite it. Not only is it generally inappropriate to cite an encyclopedia in a college class, Wikipedia is extra-suspect since anyone can edit it, and so it may or may not be rife with errors. (Everything in life is full of errors, really, but at least published encyclopedias have editors.)

But in math, people seem to like Wikipedia a lot. Several of my professors have referred to looking up things in Wikipedia themselves before presenting them in class, or to using it in general.

In fact, a few weeks ago, we had a visitor from the NSA who came to talk about careers there. It came up that of course (for security reasons) they don't have Internet access at their workstations there. I asked the woman how they did math without Wikipedia, and she immediately replied, "Oh, we have our own copy of Wikipedia." She didn't seem to find the question bizarre (like if I'd asked, "Oh, how do you do math without Facebook?")

I think there are some legitimate reasons why Wikipedia is different for math than for other subjects.

First of all, I imagine that when, say, history professors read Wikipedia, they find errors that irritate them. (This is probably true of many encyclopedias as well, but I doubt it comes up much that professors read encyclopedias.) You can make a lot of factual errors in history, or you can simply write an article that is unbalanced - that goes into a lot of detail on one small point and completely fails to include other major points. This is especially likely if the topic is controversial.

In math, on the other hand, there are not so many facts. When you look up a math topic in Wikipedia, you want to answer questions like
  • How is this thing defined?
  • What areas is it used in?
  • What are some theorems about it?
  • What are the different notations or ways that it is conceptualized?
You might think of definitions as being akin to facts, but actually they're quite flexible. It's true that some things are simply NOT the definition of an algebraic group, for instance, but there are several different definitions to choose from, and you can do math from a lot of different standpoints or bases.

I commented to Ed the other day that, unlike in other fields, in math it's the facts (definitions and axioms) that are matters of taste or opinion, and the conclusions drawn from those facts (theorems, etc.) that are either right or wrong.

The second reason I think Wikipedia is different for math is that, honestly, it's difficult to abuse it. You can't read and understand a Wikipedia math article unless you actually know enough math that any errors are probably not going to be dangerous to you. Is there a proof that is erroneous? You should be able to tell. (Nobody sophisticated enough to read proofs in Wikipedia should be foolish enough to treat any proof as authoritative.)

So if you were going to write a paper about Hausdorff spaces and you looked up the Wikipedia article and started there, it wouldn't really hurt you any. Either the definition in the article would work for you as a starting point in your research or it wouldn't. Once you know generally what's being discussed, you can make up your own definition if you want (though of course if it's not roughly equivalent to a commonly-used one, you'll only confuse your audience by calling it "Hausdorff"). You don't need a source for a mathematical definition, so you're not likely to mistakenly cite Wikipedia.

So, math Wikipedia - all upside, no drawbacks (if you can read it at all).

As a side note, my ability to read Wikipedia articles in math has absolutely skyrocketed since I started grad school. I'm actually starting to get enough background in the various general areas of mathematics for these things to make sense.