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Monday, February 26, 2007

foxes and hedgehogs

Inspired by a conversation with my cousin this weekend, instead of asking whether God is French or English, we might instead ask whether God is a hedgehog or a fox (or Tolstoy, a fox that thinks it ought to be a hedgehog).

What we were actually discussing was the danger of being a hedgehog ("The fox knows many tricks, the hedgehog only one, one good one"). I'm also reminded of this post.
The problem with being single minded is that we are not computers. We ask questions beyond the one thing we are focused on, and if we don't have very many tools/metaphors at hand, we may well make some pretty bad assumptions about other topics. Ok, I can't help adding the adage "If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." This same fact seems to pop up in multiple ways... must be something we are trying pretty hard to remind ourselves of.

I know, too much self-linking. I don't want to turn into this guy (he does have some cool stuff, but the self-linking is way out of control... try clicking on a few links.)

Thursday, February 22, 2007


Hmm. I recently discovered the blog tm-free. I'd known about some of these people previously in my web searches for alternative information on TM. Anyways, I posted a few comments, and they put one on the front page, which is pretty cool, except that its a bit confusing out of context from the original comment. (They added a bit more context now, so its ok. But all the original comments were lost when they recently updated their comment system..)

I'm still coming to terms with my opinion of TM. I really appreciate the work these people do, but because they are basically a force to counter-balance all the false TM propaganda, reading that material makes it pretty difficult to not have a really negative view of TM and makes it quite tempting to just cut connections to things like meditation, religion, etc. which I think would be a loss.
Anyway, I'd like to be on the side of peace. I'd like to encourage finding common ground, a middle way to things. I don't want to be drawn into a war.
But for the most part, I think that blog is a really good thing. A number of different voices with differing opinions. A broader perspective than was available from the individual web-sites such as Trance-net and other anti-cult sites.
Wow. This is a pretty charged area. I thought that hanging out on the pro/con string theory sites was rough!

Monday, February 19, 2007

physics of shooting deer

What do you do when your small farm is being over-run by too many deer?
Well, if you happen to also have in interest in balistics science and biomedical engineering, then you write a paper on testing hand gun bullets in live deer.
I do eat meat, and I suppose this obliges me to come to terms with the question of killing animals. But I still get the feeling that some moral line is being crossed here that I'm not at all comfortable with. Reading through the physics paper, its remarkably easy to imagine replacing deer with person. I am then reminded of the discussion from Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello comparing our treatment of animals with the Nazi's treatment of Jews. But nobody wanted those people, and valuable science came out of it, right?

At the same time, Coetzee's book raises the question of what to do with such difficult metaphors and how to view those who hold them rigidly. I guess I'm saying that I'm reluctant to impose such a sweeping denunciation on this research without looking further into it, but my first impulse is definitely revulsion.

Saturday, February 17, 2007


Gender-neutral pronouns? Spivak pronouns. Instead of him/her, we have em. Instead if he/she, we have ey (or alternatively, e). Apparently they're mainly used in online games such as MUD's.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


0 1 0

0 0 1

1 0 0

hmm... trying to figure out if I can put equations into a post using mathml by just throwing the markup stuff in there. No success so far... (Its sort of a matrix anyway)

A little more reading later makes me think you can't do this. (Apparently you have to change the mime type to xml or something like that and you can't do that w/ blogger.) Oh well. I'll leave it in anyway for fun.

How about this?
∫ d μ = ℵ
Almost as fun.

Monday, February 12, 2007


I have to give a short talk tommorow, and I've been so wrapped up in details, its hard to draw back and think about the big picture.
Previously I've been far into equations and then my talks are just one equation after another. If the equations are abstract enough, then the person who listens thinks, "Ahh, yes, its very simple at the heart of it all, its just about linear algebra, invariant subspaces, etc. I don't have a great grasp of those concepts, and I don't know exactly how they relate to the problem at hand, but math is pretty solid stuff."
Now I've been doing computational work for awhile and my tendency is to give plot after plot without clearly defining things. "Trust me," these plots say. "This code works and is smart."

In both these cases, the audience doesn't learn very much. At the moment, I'm considering showing one equation, and that seems like a dramatic gesture.

I used to wonder how people could be bad teachers but still know things. If they can't explain it to me, why should I think they understand it? Now I realize that you can learn things in either a narrow way or a broad way. In a narrow way, each thing you learn is connected to one solid thing. You follow a thread. In the end, you may have gone quite far and found something quite interesting, but all you can do is tell other people how to follow the same thread you did. If there are independent ways of checking that something is right... the pie is delicious, or parachute does indeed open, then that may be good enough. To learn something in a broad way is to carve out a path to the result in which each step along the way is connected to something else. This means that you can enter the process at any point and feel relatively comfortable. This is what you need to do in order to teach something. Then, if the person you are teaching has different knowledge, assumptions, understanding than you, then they can still find a way to the answer that is compatible with what they know.

I suppose the same goes for personal communications, which is in some ways about teaching people about yourself. I always feel uncomfortable arriving anywhere in the narrow sense I just described. I then feel isolated and that no one can help me from there since it was by means of such a narrow path that I got there. If there are enough rewards, people push themselves through narrow situations to get to the big prize at the end. But if the journey was so narrow that it becomes untellable, then a big piece of personal history may be lost, which may or may not be compensated by the prize.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

once upon a time...

I had a sense of humour.
Oh where did you go, my fine feathered friend?

"I think it was the
that got 'em."

Sunday, February 04, 2007

dream catcher

Another movie. These kids wandering, working things out.
Anger running deep. Rules to live by? Edge of society.

Friday, February 02, 2007

house of sand

Tonight I watched House of Sand, a 2005 film from Brazil. I was reminded of the Japanese film Woman in the Dunes. Both films involve being forced to live in an inhospitable environment involving sand dunes. Both have erotic elements. But you don't get as wrapped up in the desolation in House of Sand. Some aspects seem unpolished. The transitions occur silently, and I wanted to put a sound effect in there, a giant "chunk, chunk, chunk" to represent the passage of time. But in the end, the result is a different emphasis than you expect. There is little room for nostalgia and not a lot of dwelling on psychological character development. This was a relief in a way, because the actors and writer does a lot of the work here. You are not asked to follow every twist and turn, to remember each line in the way that some films set up a sort of reward system where your diligence is paid off by returning to each such set-up at a later time. Characters do return and themes develop, but in an understated way, as if life is allowed to be so much bigger than the little glimpse you are given.

Physics and life merge together in an interesting way in this film. The date is early 1900's and the main character has an interaction with the team of scientists observing the solar eclipse which was supposed to test Einstein's general relativity. But this story reveals itself in the background. We don't hear from the scientists themselves, but from the man who is acting as their guide. Relativity is seen as a glittering representative from the outside world almost on par with music.


Light snow again today.

I've consolidated much of my internet reading using Google Reader.
Now my homepage contains a list of new news, new posts, new YouTube most popular videos. The wildness of running around from site to site seems less.

I feel frozen today. I've been working on this code that simulates a storage ring (maybe I'll start writing a bit about what I've actually been working on, instead of my distractions?)

The worrisome thing is that I feel less bad than usual, or rather, that the edge isn't there. Instead its just a numbness from the overstimulation. Usually there's a feeling underneath that something is wrong, that I'm not settled, that I need to keep pushing another mile, to the summit; ford one more river, turn over one more stone. But that feeling is gone and yet the numbness remains.

In a dream last night the base I was working from had two rooms. Like Ruth in SFU learns in "The Plan", perhaps I have finally drawn up new blueprints?
But if I sit still will I freeze to death?