Sunday, December 21, 2003

No updates in a while, yet again. Well, I am at home now, the semester is over, and I have nothing but time to do things like post. Unfortunately, I don't really have any crazy cool links to post. I hope you're all still checking NewsDog for thought-provoking news and commentary. Oh, and regarding my previous post, WatchThatPage works great; I highly recommend it.

So, the semester ended up being a great one. Teaching was a great experience that taught me a lot and added another twist to the long-term industry vs. academia decision. In some ways, I wish I could start over with the experience I have now and do a better job. But, I guess nothing teaches you like actually doing something, and there had to be a first time for teaching. I don't think the students suffered too much from my early shakiness, either, so overall there isn't much to regret.

AJ and I also got some really cool results on our final project for our math class. It's amazing how sometimes you luck out and do something cool even after totally procrastinating and basically blowing off a task; definitely not a phenomenon to rely on. It is fun to do work in young fields (eg. computer science and combinatorial game theory) where even a mediocre idea can still get you good results. I guess even in established fields like physics, there are probably new subfields that have the same property. A better way to do things is probably to find an area like this, take your time, have a good idea, and then just own the area. Oh, which reminds me of one cool link I can share: my old advisor Daniel Jackson's lecture notes on succeeding in research. You sort of had to be there to get the full experience, but there are still some valuable things to glean from the slides.

So, if we haven't been in touch in a while, drop me an email; I'll definitely have time to respond in the next few days.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

For those fellow compulsive web surfers who hate wasting time checking those infrequently updated pages for an update, a potential solution: WatchThatPage. I haven't actually gotten an email update yet, but if this works, it will make me very happy. Recommended by Ilya.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003 no new posts in a while. Is anyone still reading this thing? Anyway, things have been busy, but good. It's hard to believe the semester is almost over. I've got a bunch to do before the end, but it's definitely in sight. As much as I enjoy teaching, I am really looking forward to having time to actually get some research done. Oh, one other thing to look forward to: I'm doing the last lecture for the class I am TAing. I'll be talking about language security, and I hope to include some slides on this really clever attack on JVMs. It will hopefully be a good experience.

I managed to make 3 of the 5 performances mentioned previously. The SF Symphony concert conducted by Robertson was pretty good; I especially enjoyed the Steve Reich piece they did. Emanuel Ax gave an amazing recital, and Don Carlos was much more comprehensible with English supertitles (I previously saw it in Paris with no supertitles). I missed the Berlin Philharmonic because of poor planning, and Lady Macbeth because of opera exhaustion after Don Carlos.

I finally started to do some singing again. I'm starting to work on the first song in Schubert's Winterreise song cycle. Depressing subject matter, but incredible music. It's been nice to work on some new music; once winter break hits, I hope to find a new voice teacher and make practice a habit next semester.

Well, maybe I'll post again over Thanksgiving break since there probably won't be much else going on (I'll be home in PA).

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Just heard from my old friend Decker, who is now down in LA with his band, Remy De La Mora. I listened to some of their stuff this morning, and it's pretty good. Check it out, and check them out if you're down in the LA area.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

See my thoughts on this whole leaked Senate intelligence committee memo here on NewsDog. Also see this TNR article on the news media. It makes some good points on how being too "even-handed" can obscure facts.
Performances to check out this month:

Robertson conducts Stravinsky

Berlin Philharmonic

Don Carlos

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk

Emanuel Ax

Didn't do too well last month on concert attendance, but I'm definitely doing at least 2 out of these 5, so it's looking better.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

I just got a surprise gift from Ilya, a CD course on Mahler from The Teaching Company; this looks so cool! I haven't listened to any of it yet, but apparently other courses from this company have been really good. There are tons of great-looking courses on that site that are sold pretty cheap. This could potentially be a huge time-waster...

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Sunday, October 26, 2003

I tend to rarely post news links here, even though I usually read something pretty interesting at least once a day. The major reason is NewsDog, a great small-scale news site implemented and maintained by my office-mate AJ. Almost everything posted on there is good stuff. If you want an account, send me an email and I'll get you set up. But, if you don't want to waste even more time than you already do on the Internet, perhaps you shouldn't click that link. Here is an article I definitely would have posted here if it weren't already on NewsDog.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

If you want a place to start in understanding references that Kill Bill makes to other films, check out this Tarantino interview (via GreenCine Daily). I might check one or two of the movies to get more exposure to the genre. Note that the link seems to annoyingly resize your browser window.

Saturday, October 18, 2003

Some thoughts on movies I saw in the past week:

  • The Decalogue: I finally finished 8, 9, and 10 this week. Actually, it was too much to absorb in one week, but I couldn't resist the urge to finally get through them. My favorites, all of which are amazing: 1, 2, 5, 6, 9, and 10. Didn't quite captivate me: 3, 4, and 7. 8 is somewhere in between. See them all for yourself and decide; you can't really go wrong with any of them. And take your time; in some sense I wasted my GreenCine membership for 2 months on these, but in another, watching them any faster would have done them a disservice. BTW, here is a nice site on Kieslowski; I especially enjoyed this overview of all of his works.

  • Kill Bill, Vol. 1: Hrm...I think there is actually a consensus feeling on this movie among the people I've discussed it with; an easy recommendation, if it wasn't for the excessive gore. Tarantino pulls everything out of his bag of tricks, and some of the camera work and shots are really amazing. And, he still has great taste in music. But, the violence is really over the top, and I just couldn't watch some of it. If you don't think that will bother you, definitely go check out the movie.

  • Auto Focus: Really disappointing. The movie was far too predictable, and it loses its momentum at the end. You just don't care enough about Bob Crane to feel bad about his downfall. Besides the sensationalistic story, I'm not sure what all the buzz was about.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

This review (via Metafilter) of Bush's poem to his wife is just too funny not to post. This kind of tongue-in-cheek seriousness just cracks me up:

Though the final word seems literally to imply an aircraft carrier, we couldn't help but wonder—in this age of HIV and AIDS—if the author was bitterly implying that he, in fact, was a carrier of some venereal disease, or if he was placing a sort of curse upon her: "the next time you cheat on me may you 'land' on a 'carrier' of some horrible infectious disease." It lends the poem a disturbing quality that leaves us uncertain if we are to take joy in the reunion of these two lovers, or if we are to understand some barely repressed hostility on the part of the speaker.

In this context, we return to the end of the penultimate line and the word "barrier," which, if we are to understand the final line as interpreted above, may be re-read as "bury her." Again, we note the repressed rage of the jilted lover erupting through the surface of the poem, revealing itself in the phonetically articulated desire of the speaker to avenge his emasculation.

I at one point thought of trying to do a similar analysis of the second Inbred Brothers State skit (what are we doing?), but never had the time.

Monday, October 13, 2003

I love Magnolia more every time I see it. Every moment of that movie is perfection for me. And the music is the icing on the cake. I was watching a bit of it the other night, listening carefully through my headphones, and there are all sorts of neat musical details lurking in the background. When I'm in a somber mood, for some reason putting on Magnolia, drinking a couple glasses of wine, and commiserating with the characters always makes me feel better.

I have a quiz tomorrow, and I don't have a mastery of the material, and yet I have no desire to study right now (hence the blogging). I don't know whether to be disturbed by my insouciance or to be happy about it. I really don't need to do better than a B in this class, and I know enough of the material to probably get by on the exam. OTOH, if I think hard enough, I'm sure I can convince myself there is some obscure possibility that doing really well in the class will be worthwhile. Gaaah. I guess I'll try to work some problems and see if it puts me to sleep. I'd much rather be working on research though; I got back in the groove on Sunday, and I am interested in the problems again.

Allright...time to try to do something productive. Go Red Sox!!!

Friday, October 10, 2003

I got my headphone amp yesterday, and I've been trying it on lots of different music. The amplifier is clearly much more powerful than those in either my MP3 player or my laptop. However, at least vs. the MP3 player, I haven't been able to hear an obvious difference when listening through the amp (there seems to be a slight improvement over the laptop). The extra signal processing to make headphones sound more like speakers, on the other hand, is quite noticable and nice. With classical music, I think it really helps to bring out details, as they are more separated in the stereo image. And, reverb seems to come through much more clearly. I really need to do a double-blind test to understand what's going on, but that's kind of a pain to do by myself. And, I'm guessing if I had better headphones, I would hear more benefit. I think I've blown my audio equipment budget for the time being, though.

Just finished reading this NYTimes Magazine article on the Center for American Progress, a newly formed liberal thinktank. The reporter's skepticism is well-founded; throwing a bunch of smart people together and telling them to come up with a new liberal platform might just lead to the same sort of muddled, designed-by-committee message that the Democrats have today. But...I guess it can't hurt. And if they eventually get someone with a great, unifying policy vision in there, at least the mechanisms for getting the word out might already be in place.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Terry Gross interviewed Bill O'Reilly on Fresh Air today, and O'Reilly abruptly ended the interview after complaining of being treated unfairly by Gross (she asked him about the usual stuff, his lies and threats). While I'm no fan of Bill O'Reilly (his social conservatism and rudeness get on my nerves), he was right about the unfairness. I've never heard Gross confront her guests the way she did O'Reilly. It seems that she attacked O'Reilly because she dislikes him, and she should have put that aside in doing the interview. Also, clearly she's not used to attacking guests, and she pretty much sucked at it here. Definitely a worthwhile listen if you have 40 minutes to spare.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

The Philharmonic and Carnegie Hall Call Off Merger: This is a good thing for the music audience in New York, since this way the great concerts by visiting orchestras at Carnegie Hall will continue (it's not clear that Lincoln Center would have been as desirable a venue for them). And, while creating a hall with good acoustics still seems to be something of a black art, I'm optimistic that the Philharmonic will learn from past mistakes and find a way to fix Avery Fisher Hall. Good stuff.
I just voted; the line wasn't very long surprisingly. I guess it might have been worse earlier in the morning. This election cycle has really soured me on the whole direct democracy thing here in California. The recall is a complete joke, and I don't have enough time to really make an educated decision on these other propositions. I think my voting strategy from now on is to default to a no vote on all propositions, only voting yes when someone has really convinced me it's worthwhile.

It's quite disturbing how insecure the electronic voting machines are here in Alameda county. Of course, no one will pay any attention to this issue until some serious tampering occurs.

Monday, October 06, 2003

Got sucked into surfing about headphones and blowing some money on a headphone amp. The explanation of the blobs in your head phenomenon was very interesting; I had noticed it but never thought about it carefully. I'm anxious to see how well their circuitry does in correcting it.

Saturday, October 04, 2003

What a slow day...had intentions of getting back into research, but those were quickly destroyed once I opened up the code I wrote in my pre-deadline work binge over the summer. Yikes! What the hell was I thinking? It will take me hours to decipher what was going on in my head back then, and I was not in a mood to get started today. So, I lounged around, did some reading, watched Decalogue 7 (the first that was good but not great), and basically wasted the day.

Everyone has probably already seen this, but just in case: a study on "misperceptions" that people have about Saddam Hussein and Iraq, and where they are getting their news. The numbers are damning for Fox News, but I'm still not sure if there's any sort of simple conclusion that can be drawn from this work; there are all sorts of factors involved (eg. education level), and the study doesn't cover them all. At the least, the study provides some numbers to show that "fair and balanced" is quite an inaccurate description of Fox News.

Friday, October 03, 2003

The State skit link works again! Check it out along with the recent post on it. Six hours of grading, followed by two pitchers of's been an interesting evening.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Wow...what an ending to the A's - Red Sox game. Plays like that squeeze bunt remind me how great baseball can be. Overall, I think I have to root for the Sox, just to see the city of Boston go absolutely insane if they actually do win it all.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

The New Yorker has an interesting article on the whole Grasso salary debacle. What struck me the most by the article was how it reminded me of this classic State skit (Quicktime) on "monkey torture." Sadly, that video link is broken now, so this post didn't really have the impact I was hoping hor.

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Universities Tighten Rules on Faculty-Student Relationships: interesting dilemma. It seems to me that rules that completely prohibit relationships between faculty and students, such as the one at UC, go too far. The several examples of happy marriages beginning with such relationships are compelling counterexamples to the argument that they are always "wrong." Clearly, these relationships represent conflicts of interest to the professor, who should be forced to recuse him/herself from evaluations related to the student, etc. However, rules that go beyond enforcing these recusals are on shaky ground, especially the vague UC rule that only prevents relationships if the professor is or may "reasonably expect" to be in an authority position over the student. One could argue that since most professor-student relationships do not work out well, these more restrictive rules help to protect students. However, even if data exists to substantiate that assertion, we could just as easily ban all kinds of relationships with a low probability of success by the same reasoning. College students are old enough to be trusted to decide for themselves whether entering into such "high risk" relationships is a good or bad idea.
I just found out that someone has actually read my blog. Woohoo! I feel a little more obligated to update this thing with some regularity now...and to spruce it up a bit. I continue to have work for the class I am TAing piled up on me. I just finished notes for our discussion sections on Wednesday. Hopefully things will lighten up soon, because I need to make some time to polish up a paper that was recently rejected from a conference, for resubmission in November. For the previous deadline, I basically ate, slept, worked on the paper, and did nothing else for the span of three weeks. I learned a lot, but in some ways it was rather unpleasant. Let's hope I don't have to repeat that experience.

In other news, my first New Yorker finally came in the mail last Thursday. What a fun magazine to read; Thursdays will be a day to look forward to from now on. I'm through Decalogue 6 now, and none of them have been a letdown. I saw Sex and Lucia with Martin the other night (the R-rated version that Blockbuster carried unfortunately). It was an interesting film, but it kind of dragged toward the end, maybe because we were getting tired. Ooh, and Mahler 4 last Thursday was amazing; if these SF Symphony Mahler recordings didn't cost $25 a pop, I'd have all of them by now.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Nice article on andante about BBC Radio 3, their classical station. As a fairly serious classical music listener, I'd love to have a radio station that catered to my tastes (Andante Radio was fantastic but it is no longer free), but I realize that such a station would not appeal to most people. The question is, should my tastes be partially funded by other taxpayers, as they are in the UK with BBC? I don't know; perhaps the money would be better spent on music lessons and education for children. I strongly believe it would enrich their lives, and perhaps they'll be hooked enough that they would be motivated to privately fund such a station. In any case, I can listen to BBC Radio 3 over the Internet, so the problem is partially solved for me.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

cs164 is such a timesink. I never realized what an incredible burden teaching can be until now. I spent much of the day working on the next programming assignment for the students. The thing is, these assignments aren't even all that easy for me...I guess that's the point of actually doing the assignments before giving them out, though. It would suck worse to find out that a problem you assigned is super hard right before the deadline. I need to do the written homework tomorrow so I can answer questions in my office hour on Monday...*sigh*.

I went to see Key Largo with my friend Martin at the Parkway Theater in Oakland today. What a cool space! It was great lounging out on a sofa with a pizza while watching the movie. The film itself was kind of disappointing...not as noirish as we were expecting. But, it had its moments, and any movie w/ Bogart can't be all bad. Martin hadn't seen Wet Hot American Summer before, so I saw it for the eighth time (at least); still hasn't gotten old at all.

It's time for me to start getting back into musical stuff. I'm going to Mahler 4 at the SF Symphony this Thursday, and I'd like to also get in on Wednesday if possible for The Magic Flute. I ran into Christian at the grocery store yesterday, and he convinced me to audition for the Oakland Symphony Chorus. It looks like a lot of fun, and they might actually be pretty good. Oh, and there's still the whole private lessons thing that I should start up again. Things will be much happier once I am singing again...

I've been slowly working my way through The Decalogue. It's weird how after every film, I feel like I didn't really understand it, yet I know I just saw something amazing. Hopefully the quality will stay high through the whole thing.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Check out Dahlia Lithwick's analysis on Slate of the court decision to postpone the recall. Even though the recall is a travesty, I'd honestly rather have it over with instead of dealing with this circus until March. I have no confidence that the election will be any more fair or less contested if it is delayed; given that it will happen eventually, let's just get this ridiculous election over with ASAP and try to move on.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Cool article on music and evolution today in the New York Times. Relevant quote: "Dr. Miller sees music as an excellent indicator of fitness in the Darwinian struggle for survival. Since music draws on so many of the brain's faculties, it vouches for the health of the organ as a whole. And since music in ancient cultures seems often to have been linked with dancing, a good fitness indicator for the rest of the body, anyone who could sing and dance well was advertising the general excellence of their mental and physical genes to a potential mate." Nice :-). I also heard about some of this on NPR a while ago: Origins of Music May Lie in Speech.

Saturday, September 13, 2003

Paul Krugman lucidly explains The Tax-Cut Con in this week's New York Times Magazine. Let's just hope more people understand the consequences of these tax cuts, before the country described in Section 7 becomes a reality.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

GreenCine Daily is a really great blog on film; lots links to film news and also longer reviews and articles. Obviously, the guys behind this blog are also behind GreenCine itself. No wonder it's such a great rental site.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

I passed my prelim!! The exam actually went reasonably well yesterday...guess all that studying paid off. Once I dig myself out from this pile of other work and errands that has accumulated, I can actually relax a bit.

I've been listening to Parsifal over the last couple of days...not seriously, just sort of in the background, trying to absorb it just a bit. The music really moves slowly (even for Wagner), but if you're in the right mindset, it feels like just the right leisurely pace. Anyway, it will take me a while to really get inside the work, but it's been promising so far.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

I'll be so, so glad when this prelim is over. Other obligations from the class I'm taking and the class I'm TAing are piling up, so the sooner I get the prelim and the requisite post-prelim partying out of the way, the better.

I finally have all the Decalogue DVDs from GreenCine. I watched the first episode again on Friday (I'd seen the first two before), and it still blew me away. Yet another thing to look forward to doing after the prelim...

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

First, regarding the history of the Middle East, I just remembered this great NPR feature that my brother pointed out to me a couple of months back: The Mideast : A Century of Conflict. I hope to go through the series soon and then have a clue about the history behind current events there.

I took a practice prelim today, and it went fairly well; I'm definitely glad I did it. I think deeper understanding of principles is the key goal of my studying up until next Tuesday. I can memorize a lot of stuff, but eventually I'll be asked a question that I don't immediately know the answer to, and that's when the understanding is key I think. The exam is going to be high-stress, though; looking forward to having it over with (and hopefully passing).

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

First, if you haven't already, check out Magazine Values (thanks to Tina for the pointer). Lots of cheap magazine subscriptions in exchange for occasional spam. I just ordered The New Yorker for a year for $25.

Something to add to the list of things to do after the prelim: spruce up my room! I've been living here for more than a year and the place is still totally bare. My room senior year was awesome, but since then I've been moving so much that I never put any time into the places I've been. I've been here long enough that it's time to make the place more inviting...gotta go out and search for stuff to add. Another item on the todo list is to figure out how to not make this blog not look so horribly ugly.

This weekend has been a really nice balance of work and play. I've been studying all day, and going out in the evenings. If I could only manage this kind of balance in my regular schedule, I'd get more work done and have more fun. If I could just delete the web browser from my work computer...

I'm hoping my schedule gets regular soon, because having to look at my calendar to figure out where I need to be every day just stresses me out. And I really need to find a group to sing with (of course, after the prelim). And a new voice teacher, since my old one (whom I was working really well with) is moving away.

Okay, this entry is basically turning into a todo list in prose, an indication that I should stop writing.

Sunday, August 31, 2003

So, I have caved in and started a blog...woohoo! I was studying for my upcoming prelim exam for most of the day, and around half an hour ago I realized that I had reached a point of diminishing returns. So, I quit the studying, and decided to do one of my infrequent "email a bunch of friends I haven't talked to in a while" things, where I basically write the same note to a bunch of people about what's been going on in my life, changing the questions about them slightly in each one to add that "personal touch." But then I realized, couldn't a blog entry be exactly that, minus the personal touch but adding details that only someone equally motivated to waste time would read? Anyway, here we are (and I'm impressed you made it this far. It's all downhill from here.)

Why is this blog called Raking Leaves? Well, first it's a reference to my favorite Stella skit. If you haven't seen it, go check it out along with some of the others (I recommend Turkey Hunting, Dickfish, and Pizza, in order of increasing weirdness); you might understand half of the random things I say next time we meet. Second, it's an oh-so-subtle reference to my East Coast upbringing and sensibilities. Okay, so I never even really raked leaves when I was a kid. In fact, when I was in high school our lawn was by far the most poorly maintained in the entire neighborhood. We had these ridiculous weeds growing next to the house for a while that were at least 3 feet tall, no joke. Whatever, I suck at coming up with good titles.

Anyway, like I said before, I spent most of the day studying for prelims. I'm not really worried about passing the exam too much (I get another shot even if I don't pass this time), but I still feel like I should cover my bases and try to nail it. I've still got another week, so hopefully I'll be in good shape by exam time. I also read a couple of good articles in the New York Times Magazine. This article on Sofia Coppola and her latest directing efforts was pretty interesting...enough so that I added The Virgin Suicides to my GreenCine queue. I would have never figured that she is so talented given my only exposure to her was her incredibly awful acting turn in Godfather III (the article weakly tries to defend her on that, but I don't see how she couldn't have been attacked by critics). I found this article on anti-Semitism and attitudes toward Israeli policy to also be very thought-provoking. At some point I need to study at least the recent history of the Middle East and actually have an informed opinion on what's happening there.

Well, judging from my previous inability to update a personal journal with any reasonable frequency, I doubt that this blog will have frequent entries. But, who knows.