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Monday, January 30, 2006


For an enzyme to catalyze a reaction, the reactants need to fit into the space provided.
Every time I see such an enzyme, I rearrange myself so that the reaction can be catalyzed. Then, the discomfort of the situation causes me to set to work on rearranging the enzyme. It is probably a better strategy to not do such extreme contortion in the first place and wait for a better fitting enzyme.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

what do theorists do?

Suppose we don't take the answer that theorists are smarter than other people.
Theorists develop frameworks. They develop languages that link multiple fields together.
The non-theorist is the specialist in a certain sense. They learn a certain language that directly relates to concrete facts.
This language is typically not big enough to easilly cover relationships to other subjects.
Let's say a politician knows a whole bunch of people and how to get certain things done in the context of the existing relationships amongst those people. The political theorist doesn't necessarily know those people. The theorist takes the words that the politican uses to describe what they do and works out the relationships amongst those words. Then they throw in something else, say economics. Then they put together a framework that combines all these terms and concepts together and says to the politicians that they can get things done better or do the right things if they take this economics piece of the language into account as well.

Maybe I'd better leave this as an open question.


I don't like the word genius. To me it seems to be just a way of saying that someone is not understood.
One can have a broad range of interest, large memory, strong skills of association.
One can be called a genius if they accomplish what they do in a mysterious way. They seem to reach a correct or compelling answer and the path to that answer is murky. Why should we see this murkiness as positive? Isn't it better if the process and reasoning can be explained? There are two explanations for the murkiness. Either lack of understanding or deception, sneakiness.
I am a fan of articulation. This makes one a good teacher.

Thursday, January 26, 2006


Why are physicists skeptical of mathematical rigour?
I think that they view it like viscosity. It slows you down. And there's only a limited amount of time, so if you move too slowly, you won't get to where you want to go.
But as you learn if you try to drive on ice, too little friction can result in you going in the totally wrong direction and smashing into a tree!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

16 candles

I had to find some cheerful movie at the library...
if only life were so simple.

the dullness of the general

It seems that I've gone through several phases of trying to put everything into one category. When I first learned some science and the concept of reductionism, it seemed that the whole world was made of atoms which were featureless, identical building blocks, possibly somewhat interesting, but not *that* interesting. The interest of the world had been traded for the interest of the atom, and it seemed a very poor trade-off.

I wrote about this once. I knew that I had made an error. At the time I thought it was in thinking that atoms were not particualrly interesting.

Later on, I thought about the idea of the digital- that all information can be encoded in 1's and 0's. I had a computer programming job in which I worked on an image compressor. I started to think of everything I saw in terms of bits. How can one environment be better than any other if each one is just a different collection of bits. There are certainly logical ways to attack this, and it doesn't even necesarilly make that much sense, but this idea sunk deeply into me. I suppose I was translating all problems into a language that could be engaged algorithmically in terms of an image compression or manipulation program.

Recently, maybe I've taken the concept of consciousness more seriously which has led to another of these reducing all experience to a single language that inevitably feels feeble and depressing. All experience is translated into a state of consciousness. Maybe I don't have as concrete a picture of this as I do an atom or a bit, but it still is a poor trade-off to replace all the world with a single category- that of conscious experience.

Stephen Wolfram wanted to do this with cellular automota. I think zen Buddhism does something similar to what I was describing as conscious experience. Modern physics does this with quantum field theories.

How do we get out of this? I suppose with a general skepticism about the power of any given language to describe.
Here lies a danger of academic work: one must fully saturate oneself with the given language in order to make progress and do something new. Maybe the old adage about the hammer is wise: "those whose only tool is a hammer will see all problems as nails." If one has both a hammer and a screw driver, then at least one has the concept of picking the appropriate tool for the problem. In the end, one can't do everything. But maybe the feeling of dullness when I take one tool or language too seriously is a sign that there are things I'd like to do that the current language is not so good for.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

santayana on nietzsche

Nietzsche is a writer who has stuck with me and bothers me every now and then, making me want to figure out what he was really up to. I usually end up feeling lost and overwhelmed. I remember he wrote somewhere something like, "only after you have forsaken me will you return to me and understand what I am saying." Something along those lines. The ultimate arrogance. Along the lines of Stephen Wolfram's "principle of computational equivalence", which is vaguely worded and followed by claiming that many will stumble to define more clearly what he was saying all along. Viral copyrighting of ideas. One is always worried that ones ideas are derivative of the master.
Anyway, turning 30, I felt brave, and read through the Wikipedia entry on Nietzsche. At the end was a link to
this essay by George Santayana. I suppose that some rhetoric must be countered by rhetoric rather than systematic logic. If a stab in the dark turns up one answer, then someone else should take another stab in the dark and turn up a different answer. Only with the two conflicting answers in front of you is the power of the whole endeavor reduced enough that one can critically evaluate it. I think Nietzsche himself effectively uses this tool to reduce some of the power Christianity may hold over people. So it is appropriate that it is used against him as well.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

reading reviews

Somebody wrote

For all its silliness, "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World" is also a work of integrity.

Because of my general approach of not reading reviews before seeing movies, this line, along with a brief taking in of the premise was enough to get me to go see this movie.
I haven't walked out on a movie in awhile. I just couldn't take this one. I really could not find the integrity in this movie. I felt really gullible afterwards. That line was written just to lure someone like me into this movie. Its the same feeling as when an ad seems directly targeted towards me. I think: "I really don't want to buy that, but those people know a little too much about me..."
Ok, fine, maybe the writer really found some integrity in this movie. I'll try to remain the optimist. But I may need to get into the habit of looking at more than one review.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Happy birthday to me!

I'm 30 today.
Bring on the grey hair!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

will "blog" prevail?

I was asking myself earlier today why the word "blog" is so annoying.
Its supposed to be this new form of communication/expression, but it combines the words "blah" and "bog", neither of which are very inspiring. If it weren't for the "blah" part, I might think that the end result would be to the benefit of the bog. I mean, I don't have anything against bogs really. Aren't there even cranberry bogs? Maybe eventually getting bogged down would mean to become grounded, earthy, in a fruity kind of way. But with the "blah" angle as well, I think "blog" may be doomed. Then again, maybe someday automated censorship will become so intrenched that blogs will in fact become true to their name. --End crackpot linguistics now--

Friday, January 13, 2006

the roles

what dedication!
to become a boot or a pencil!
and then to be back having gained something.
but then we tell others to do the same. cruelty.

my movie collection has become like my music collection.
running thin. but then it forces me to appreciate films for
what they offer when one doesn't care about plot. some of these
movies I never quite follow all the way through. fifteen minutes.
fall asleep. ten minutes. write a blog entry.
at the moment its "thirty two shorts stories about glen gould"
there is music. there is rapid dialogue.
i suppose if the film is good it can be
appreciated as an actor can appreciate a performance of the same
show again and again.
"or as the interlocuter as the controller of conversation perhaps?"
"no need to be rude."
fade out

the never ending paper

Now I know why people skip so many steps in their derivations, and just write stuff like "after some algebra, we find..."
This way, if you make a mistake, its only the final answer that's wrong, not 20 various intermediary steps along the way.
No, I am still not a competent 2 and minus sign finder.
Yes. I make mistakes.
I'd like to make this all fascinating and everything. But its really not. Its just me making dumb mistake after mistake in the very annoying details of this paper.
This was a pretty bad one though. Its especially annoying because its not totally obvious what the best fix is. From one point of view (that of me starting this part of the paper from the beginning) its obvious. But that involves changing the sign of like 30 equations. So I'm making the less aesthetically pleasing choice which involves changing just a few equations. But as I propogate these minus signs throughout the paper, I find doubt hiding in all sorts of corners that I thought I wouldn't have to visit anymore.
These are the moments that truly make you doubt your competence.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

dangerous ideas

Josh forwarded me this link, which I happened to already be reading at that moment! (thanks to Peter Woit)

Anyway, that's what some of the experts say, here's my opinion on the most dangerous ideas:
I'd be tempted to say something like capitalism, or the central limit theorem, but I'll stick to the truly dangerous idea of using alternate flavour delivery mechanisms with such results as buttered popcorn flavoured jelly bellys and jalapeno cream cheese. And let us never forget The Skipper.

(Ok, this isn't so different from my point a few posts ago about apricot heffeweisen. Sorry, I can only have one idea every few months)