Trying to help

Here I have misspelled the name of a certain square in China (e.g. Tianenmen, Tienanmen, Tiananman) and linked them to pages displaying various pictures.

Why? No special reason, really.

Somnambulent oratory, thoroughly uninspired

Ordinarily I don't get too excited about the State of the Union address. Usually one gets a boring, prepackaged recitation of a bunch of bland talking points. I guess in recent years we've been lucky to also get a "rebuttal" from the opposing party, i.e. a shrill and annoying prepackaged recitation of a bunch of bland talking points.

But when I found out that Cindy Sheehan is going to be in the audience, I immediately called my bookmaker in Vegas and laid down $100 at 50-1 odds that she tries to storm the podium and has to be shot down by Secret Service agents firing tranquilizer darts.

(HT: Prof. Reynolds.)

UPDATE: Dammit. I should have taken the 5-1 odds on "she gets arrested and doesn't even make it to the address."

UPDATE: Well, I'll be. Turns out there isn't actually a dress code at the Capitol. I wonder if I can get my $100 back from the DC police.


More news from the math wars

Apparently the LAUSD's recent requirement that high school graduates complete a year of algebra is causing some problems.

I have no problems with the school district requiring that its students master a piece of 1000-year-old mathematical technology in order to graduate. But if 44% of the frosh fail algebra, they should probably hold off on some of them. Stick them into basic (remedial) arithmetic classes and avoid having them fail the same class multiple times because they're unprepared/undisciplined/their minds aren't yet sharp enough/whatever. Maybe by the time they're seniors they'll be able to grasp the (mildly) abstract concept of a variable and have improved their reading comprehension skills enough to be able to solve word problems.


Kickin' it

Having decided that it's impossible for me to maintain a state of controlled caffeine use, I'm attempting to give up the substance, at least for this quarter. We'll see how it goes. (This quarter and last, I had to get up at 6:30 am in order to get ready for a 8 am class. I was never able to use the stuff in a manner that would keep me awake during the day and avoid disturbing my rest at night.)


Note to Google

As any poker player knows, incomplete information is worse than no information when it's being intentionally filtered.

But hey, if propping up the regime is the cost of doing business in China...

UPDATE: Scott Adams is unimpressed.


Been using this textbook for differential equations this term, and to me it seems quite disorganized and disjointed. I was talking with a publishing rep the other day, and he told me a number of other folks in the department feel the same way. I hope we do end up replacing it, perhaps with this text or this text. If any of my students are reading this (I'm pretty sure at least one did after I had put up an earlier edition of this post) and also dislike this text, you have my condolences.

In the meantime, I'll try to write up lecture notes on my own without relying on the text too much. Good craftsmen don't blame their tools.


Down goes Duke

Duke loses to Georgetown, 87-84.

It's nice to see a team play a sound game against Duke. Attack the basket instead of moving the ball side-to-side against Duke's (over)aggressive on-the-ball defense. Cut away from the ball against the full-court press instead of sending three guys back to the ball, inbounding the ball under your own basket and coughing it up. Double-team JJ Redick sparingly. Most of the time, put one solid defender on him (so he doesn't hit open teammates for easy baskets), try to force him into a few key turnovers, and win the other four matchups.

This performance is a capital offense

Here's that guy singing "I Shot the Sheriff".



I wonder why Bilbo Baggins withdrew his authorship of this math paper on the arXiv.

Seriously though, what humorless referee made the author get rid of the joke? I can't think of a better way to advertise a math paper.

One-point compactification

As long as I'm simultaneously taking about mathematics and politics, I'd like to advance the theory that the space of political views is not the real line (left-right), or R^2 (usually consisting of a social axis and an economic axis).

The space of political views might actually be n-dimensional. But it's not R^n, it's a sphere. The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that all forms of political extremism (ill-defined term, I know) are equivalent. Fascism, Nazism, Communism, Christian fundamentalism, Islamic fundamentalism, whatever.


My Homer is not a Communist. He may be a liar, a pig, an idiot, a Communist, but he is NOT a porn star

Lately there's been a lot of talk about the Bruin Alumni Association (an organization of UCLA alumni and friends, not officially affiliated with the University) and their ongoing quest to publicly identify all these leftist crackpot profs who are brainwashing wave after wave of naive undergrads using California taxpayers' money.

For a number of reasons, this figurative witch-hunt is pretty lame and likely to be ineffective or counterproductive. As Eugene Volokh and Stephen Bainbridge have said, digging up internet petitions isn't particularly persuasive evidence that these profs are crackpots (though some of them very might well be) and that they're trying to warp all these young minds. I guess they're also soliciting students to record particularly noxious material in lectures, which is really, really low (not to mention a violation of University policy, as I understand it). Mostly, I think that claiming that students are able to be brainwashed in this manner is really condescending to the students themselves.

Someday they might find out about my Pet Sounds vs. Mall-Wart problem and conclude that I'm a pinko anti-capitalist who believes in a centrally planned economy. The problem is a simple Markov process problem I wrote for a linear algebra class. I actually wrote it while at Harvard, but a copy of it is probably sitting in my UCLA public_html directory somewhere. It's about a hypothetical situation where a small music store competes for customers with a large chain store that just moved into town. Also, I thought it was a mildly clever dig at a certain company's expense.

UPDATE: Looks like three members of the BAA Board have resigned amid the stink about the BAA attempting to buy inflammatory lecture material and republish it. (The headline shouldn't say "Three UCLA Board Members Resign"; that's misleading, as the BAA has no affiliation with the University.)

I was initially surprised to see that Harvard historian Stephan Thernstrom was on the board, but apparently he used to be a professor at UCLA. I read his book "America In Black And White" a while ago, where he argues (not always convincingly, but soundly and with lots of data) at affirmative action and other forms of racial preferences are counterproductive in closing the black-white achievement gap. The BAA campaign to "expose" radical professors is certainly unworthy of having Professor Thernstrom's name attached to it.

I'm also planning on presenting a problem about pollution in Lake Erie in my differential equations lecture tomorrow.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Let me be perfectly clear that I think it is appropriate for instructors at a public university to be scrutinized, but the BAA is in many cases using flimsy evidence and inappropriate methods. The obligation an instructor has to a class is to present the material that is advertised in the course catalog, and to award grades based on merit. A professor's outside political activities are not prima facie evidence of wrongdoing in either respect. Delivering political opinions in the course of a lecture is not wrong either, so long as it is somehow relevant to the course matter. Presenting an entire course from a particular ideological point of view is not necessarily wrong either, as long as it is advertised as such -- one needn't profess sincere belief in Marxist ideals in order to benefit from a course devoted to studying sociological phenomena from a Marxist perspective. What is wrong is pushing aside the advertised course material in order to use the lecture hall as a personal soapbox, and assigning ideologically biased grades if the method of grading is not advertised as such, but I see little evidence of such wrongdoing on the BAA website.


The feds have notched their first victory in the war against spam.

The convicted spammer is from my hometown of West Bloomfield, MI. Outstanding.


Perverts (another one from the log)

Recently, someone from qwest.net and someone from 208.47.91.# stumbled across this site while looking for naked pictures of suspected terrorist Aafia Siddiqui.

Even more schadenfreude

Even though the Patriots lost, my weekend was brightened considerably when the Indianapolis Colts stunk out the joint (their own joint, no less) against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Mike Vanderjagt missed a game-tying 46-yard field goal with :17 left in the game. It couldn't have happened to a more deserving person.

And Peyton Manning still doesn't get it. In the postgame press conference, he said something to the extent that he was trying to be as diplomatic as possible regarding his teammates, but that there were "problems in pass protection." He also said that he was disappointed because he felt like he studied the Steelers a lot over the last two weeks.

Well, guess what Peyton: sometimes quarterbacks have to make plays when something goes wrong.

Certainly the coaching staff could have done a better job of preparing the offense to handle Pittsburgh's blitzes, and certainly the offensive line could have done a better job of pass protection. Manning is by no means the only person responsible for the loss. Still, championship quarterbacks are expected to occasionally create plays when the offense breaks down or the defense makes an unexpected move. If they spring a blitz and there aren't enough blockers, this means that the offense has an advantage downfield, and the quarterback needs to dodge the blitz and either gain yards or get the ball to a receiver quickly. Sometimes he may even have to take a big hit to make a good pass.

Manning might be the best QB in history when he has the right play called, but he's a shockingly average quarterback when he doesn't. The great quarterbacks in history could improvise when they needed to -- Joe Montana, John Elway, Troy Aikman, Brett Favre, and yes, Tom Brady.


Sports news

Only one month until Red Sox pitchers and catchers report for spring training.

In other news, the New England Patriots lose a playoff game for the first time this millennium. Also, the NFL signs a contract with a small Boston technology firm to use their software to triangulate the location of a football being fumbled out of bounds on video replay.


Sushi, kamikaze, fujiyama, nippon-ichi

Here we have a stage rendition of Mike Tyson's Punch-Out. Little Mac dispatches Don Flamenco with ease, but gets pummeled by Great Tiger's spinning punch-dealie. Come on, just block five times, and then he gets dizzy and can be toppled with one hit. Geez.

They also missed Little Mac's bright pink sweatsuit.

(HT: one of the Sports Guy's interns)


Blogging etiquette

As a public service, here is an example of how to properly retract a post.

Slow-witted, again

An exchange from after class:

Student: Are we going to have to know about singular solutions (to differential equations) for the exam?
Me: Of course. They're still solutions.

What I should have said:

Student: Are we going to have to know about singular solutions (to differential equations) for the exam?
Me: What are you, some kind of anti-singular solution bigot? This class is devoted to maintaining an atmosphere of tolerance for all solutions to DEs, parametric and singular. Shame on you.


Must-see TV for 2006

Bill Simmons says he's going to the 2006 World Series of Poker. I hope this means he's actually playing, not just heckling.

I can't wait to see his reaction after Aaron Kanter knocks him out of the tournament by beating his aces full of kings with runner-runner deuces:

  • Chews on broken glass: 2-1
  • Drinks a bottle of Drano: 6-1
  • Drinks a bottle of Absinthe: 8-1
  • Wanders into oncoming traffic: 10-1
  • Electrocutes his nipples: 12-1
  • Gives himself a lobotomy with a power drill: 15-1
  • Bathes in sulfuric acid: 15-1
  • Bathes in liquid helium: 18-1
  • Lights himself on fire: 20-1


Pop music publishers: vestigial and disingenuous

Another episode in the music industry's war against consumers: the US Music Publishers' Association wants to jail people who publish unauthorized lyrics and tablature on the web:

The music industry is to extend its copyright war by taking legal action against websites offering unlicensed song scores and lyrics.

The US Music Publishers' Association (MPA), which represents sheet music companies, will launch its first campaign against such sites in 2006.

MPA president Lauren Keiser said he wanted site owners to be jailed.

He said unlicensed guitar tabs and song scores were widely available on the internet but were "completely illegal".

Mr Keiser said he did not just want to shut websites and impose fines, saying if authorities can "throw in some jail time I think we'll be a little more effective".


David Israelite, president of the National Music Publishers' Association, added his concerns.

"Unauthorised use of lyrics and tablature deprives the songwriter of the ability to make a living, and is no different than stealing," he said.

"Music publishers and songwriters will consider all tools under the law to stop this illegal behaviour."

I can understand the record labels fighting illegal downloads, since illegal downloads have put a measurable dent into CD sales. Similarly, I'm pretty certain that lyrics and tabs on the web have hurt sales of sheet music, so I understand why the sheet music feels it necessary to take action. The infuriating thing, though, is that the publishers obtain exclusive rights from the bands, then choose to publish shoddy transcriptions or choose not to publish because they deem full transcriptions to be unprofitable.

As an example, the only full U2 tabs that Hal Leonard has officially published are for The Joshua Tree, The Best of 1990-2000, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, and the single Beautiful Day. The tabs of these albums over at U2 Station aren't as good, but U2 Station has some decent material for just about every U2 song ever recorded. Hal Leonard has also published simple arrangements for Achtung Baby and a fake book of most of U2's works. Both of them suck rocks, at least from the samples I've seen at Sheet Music Plus. (Perhaps they're waiting to publish a compendium of complete U2 scores in about 25 years.)

I also have to take issue with the claim that the music publishers are acting in the best interests of the artists, though. If money is their only metric of joy, then I guess they're right. But the income that artists can potentially rake in from licensing their scores to publishers must be a drop in the bucket compared to income from record deals and concerts. Only the most hard-hearted bands would value this minimal income over the enhanced enjoyment that having these materials on the web provides to fans. It's really hard to have sympathy for an industry that is actively stifling fans' enjoyment of an artist's music and often chooses to publish inferior products at higher prices.

I've talked about protecting published scores here; it should be self-evident that attempting to protect published lyrics is unspeakably petty and counterproductive.

The music publishers should still be able to get by on the strength of classical scores, which aren't easily produced by ordinary people. But here's hoping that pop music artists will choose to end their licensing deals and allow their lyrics and transcriptions of their music available under public license.

(HT: some guy on Xanga.)



The final score of today's Fiesta Bowl: Ohio State 34, Notre Dame 20. Scott the Hobo had boldly predicted a score of Ohio State 34, Notre Dame 21. I think Notre Dame missed that extra point just to spite him, as well as lots of sports bettors who had bet the over-under (55) and Fibonacci sequence aficionados.

Spawn of Satan

I like Dick Vitale. I mean, he's clearly taking cocaine intravenously, and I can't listen to him for an entire game without suffering gastrointestinal problems, but he's a nice guy. His honest passion for the game is certainly preferable to Billy Packer's smarminess, grumpiness, stubbornness and general douchebaggery.

However, I just realized that Dickie V is a fan of the d00k Blue Devils, Notre Dame, and the Yankees. Granted, he has legitimate reasons for being a fan of the last two (he's Catholic and his daughters went to Notre Dame, and he grew up in New Jersey). But yeesh, that's pretty disgusting.

This realization bring back to mind an email from Sports Guy's mailbag: "Let me get this straight. Jack Nicholson is a Laker fan AND a Yankee fan? Can we just paint a mustache on him and call him Hitler?"

New Year's Resolutions

1. To stop using the phrases "X, and by X I mean Y", "if by X you mean Y" and other phrases. It's only funny if you're talking about a district judge who has it in for you ever since you kind of ran over his dog.

2. To use the phrase "I, for one, welcome our new ____ overlords" more often.