Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

I'm back from Germany and Poland. It was an excellent trip. Doreen and I each came down with a cold right before we returned home. So we've spent the last two days coughing and sneezing, hanging out with the cats, doing some good cooking, and enjoying the warmth of the woodstove. Life could be much worse.

The cats by the woodstove

Doreen and me by the Berlin Wall

There are many more pictures from Germany and Poland on my picassa page.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Disappearing for a little bit

In just a few hours I'm beginning a journey to Berlin, where I'll meet Doreen. We'll hang out in Berlin for a few days and then head to Krakow for a bit. Then back to Berlin and then we fly home right before Christmas.

It was a pretty insane week, but I finished all my narrative evaluations and finished moving my office. Still lots to do, but at least I got a lot crossed off my lists the last few days. I'm really looking forward to not being on email for a week, exploring some European cities, reading, and chilling out.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

An Icy Thursday

A scattered update. No motivation for paragraphs:
  • There's an interesting ice/sleet/rain storm going on. I just wandered outside and noted that my car is completely encased in 1/8 inch of ice. Maine: the way life should be, only icier.
  • Why is it that my "break" thus far as seemed busier than the term?
  • Possibly it's because I have 47 narrative evaluations to write.
  • Happily, I'm done with (drafts of) all but three evals.
  • But to write the next eval I need to look at some assignments, which would require getting up, which would disturb the cat that is sound asleep on my lap.
  • "Area" on my satellite radio is playing a fantastic selection of trance tonight. Perfect for an icy night of coffee and grading. Music like this makes me never want to sleep again.
  • The sleeping cat just stood up, rotated 180 degrees (Pi radians) and went back to sleep on my lap.
  • Started a letter of recommendation that I need to finish in the next few days.
  • The fire is dying and it's getting cold, so the sleeping cat will need to be moved. I think she'll get over it.

Monday, November 24, 2008


Today was a moderately productive but not scintillating day. So I will aim for a moderate-length, not scintillating update. It's gray and chilly and looked quite wintery today. It's supposed to warm up slightly tonight in advance of a windy and rainy storm. I moved some firewood into the mud room and finally put away the lawn mower and weed wacker for the winter. After dealing with recycling, I headed into the big city of Ellsworth to do automotive errands. I was moderately successful. I got my headlight fixed (it was just a broken bulb, apparently), my oil changed, and my car inspected. I was not able to get my snow tires put on. But I have an appointment for Friday. So that means another trip to the big city. Exciting.

Grading progresses slowly. But it's moving along. In addition to writing evals, I've got a bunch of other projects, large and small, that I need to work on the next several weeks. Some I'm pretty excited about, and others are not too inspirational. Tonight I need to do some work on a document that falls into the latter category. Time to grab a beer and see if I can find even a little bit of inspiration so I can write a few paragraphs that are sufficiently peppy and positive.

Friday, November 21, 2008

End of the Term

Today was the last day of fall term. Overall I feel like it was a good term. In both of my classes there was a critical mass of students working hard and interested in the material. I am now faced with very large quantities of grading and lots of evaluations to write. There are also a bunch of other writing projects that I need to work on, as well as lots of errands and correspondence. It's a lot to think about. I'm looking forward to getting some rest the next few days and then getting to work and crossing some things off my list.

Doreen and I had a tasty dinner at Guinness and Porcelli's to celebrate the end of the term. We're now in the living room with a warm fire and three sleepy cats. I'm blogging and web surfing and listening to a Trance around the World epsiode while Doreen reads a Harry Potter book.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Autumn Chills

It's definitely autumn now. The leaves are still bright, but they're falling rapidly. We had a hard frost last night. The lawn was white and frosty in patches. We've been building fires in our woodstove for a few weeks now. Today it was brisk outside and a little chilly in my poorly heated office on campus. In March, this would have felt like a warm day. But it's not March, it's mid October. So it felt cold.

I've been following the election quite closely, and like many have been chilled some by the tone of the rhetoric the last several weeks. Nasty politics is one thing, but the last few weeks have been alarming. The mob-like crowds at some of the McCain/Palin rallies are tough to watch. Quite likely what I see on youtube and other blogs isn't representative of most of the rallies, and certainly isn't representative of most McCain supports. But nevertheless, it's chilling.

I don't really know how to put my discomfort to words. I'm not so much angry at McCain or Palin as I am simply sad or disheartened. There seems to be an undercurrent to the campaign which mocks the very things we should be celebrating. This started at the convention, where two speakers were contemptuous of the idea of community organizing. It continues with this notion that small town America is the "real" america, and that some parts of the country are more "pro-American" than others. And then there's the use of the word Muslim in a way intended to conjure up fear and suspicion.

In the last several days I found two good responses to this madness from two very different sources. The first is from General Colin Power in his endorsement of Barak Obama. It's a powerful response to the divisiveness of the season. It's worth listening to. Powell's discussion of Islam not being anti-American is quite striking and effective. (This is at around 4:45 of the clip.) Yes, I know that Powell is an establishment figure, and he's not exactly a hero of mine. But nevertheless I found his comments quite moving.

I also recently read a graceful post, What a Beautiful World by Tim Burke. He eloquently gives voice to some of what I've been feeling the last few weeks, in a far, far more coherent and articulate way than I ever could.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Random Bullets of Whateverness

It's been a while since I've posted an update here. I've been focusing what little blogging energy I have on twittering and posting over at betweenness, the blog for the Complex Networks class that I'm teaching. I don't have the energy for actual paragraphs or transition sentences. So instead, I'll opt for the genre of the random bullets.
  • Sometimes you hear something so dumb that it makes you gasp or immediately clutch your head for fear that your brain has imploded. These moments cause not only cognitive dissonance, but some sort of physiological response bordering on actual pain. Well, today I experienced at least three such moments, possibly four. It will take days to recover. At this point I believe a full recovery is possible. But this will depend on there not being any other such moments during my recovery period.
  • I have a cold. It's not terrible, but it's annoying. Mostly I have a sore throat, and I've kinda had a headache, too. I've been taking Golden Throat Lozenges. I get them when I'm in China. Some friends of mine and I refer to them as "little pills that make things better."
  • Speaking of which, I wonder if tiaa-cref has some option where we can put our retirement savings in heroin or cocaine. I bet this would be a much better investment than whatever stocks or bonds we currently own.
  • Here is another interesting investment opportunity: fluffy kitties.
  • On a related note, our kittens grow. They haven't broken or destroyed anything recently, and Ancho has stopped licking my face when I'm trying to sleep. Ancho seems determined to eat the flowers off our Christmas Cactus. But this doesn't bother me as much as it bothers Doreen. I figure there are a lot of flowers on their way, and if Ancho really wants to eat a few it's probably ok.

Friday, September 19, 2008

End of Week One

The first full week of the term is over, and so far, so good. So far as I can tell, both of my classes are going well. Calculus is large, by COA standards, at least. So it will take a while to get to know everyone. Calc is always a fun topic to teach, and I'm glad lots of people are interested in it. My new class on complex networks is also lots of fun. It's forcing me to solidify my understanding of certain topics, which is always a good thing. I've already done a lot of interesting reading for the class, and lots more lies ahead.

Speaking of the networks class, I've set up a class blog, betweenness. I'm doing some blogging over there, as are (eventually) all the students.

The week ended with clear, cool autumn weather. Doreen and I had a nice dinner at Havana to celebrate the end of the week. As always, their mushroom spring roll appetizers were incredible. The tofu/mushroom entree was also great. I'm now at home, blogging and reading feeds and listening to trance around the world. Life is good.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Of Root Vegetables and Refereeing

I just finished a referee report for a journal. Unfortunately the paper wasn't terribly good, so my recommendation was to reject. This is the third paper or proposal in a row that I've refereed that was pretty bad. Worse, the papers weren't even bad in an interesting way. Bummer. Reviewing such papers isn't that inspiring.

Another bummer was dinner today, which featured two dishes with root vegetables. They were quite good, but the root vegetables were diced unevenly. This means that they cooked unevenly. Which is to say that some were soft and delicious and a few were crunchy and a little scary.

Nevertheless, I think I'd prefer the occasional crunchy beet or turnip to a long string of poorly written papers and proposals to review.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The kittens grow

The top picture is from May. The bottom picture is from late August. The kittens eat voraciously and seem to be very happy in their new home.

We decided to name the orange guy Ancho, which means "wide" in spanish. He's broad-shouldered and chunky, so Ancho seems to fit.


Sunday, September 07, 2008

Approximately Irrational Road Repair?

There is some road work being done right near our house. I think it's just some simple repaving. As one drives up to the place where the roadwork will start, there is one of those rectangular signs alerting motorists that there will be road construction for a little while. In particular, the sign says:
Roadwork next 1.41 Miles
This raises a number of questions. First, how many digits are really needed? Would alerting drivers that the construction will last for 1.4 miles be sufficient? How can the additional one hundredth of a mile matter?

But maybe the 1.41 arose because they were trying to approximate the square root of two. Maybe the construction follows the hypotenuse of an isosceles triangle whose legs have a length of one mile. The stretch of road is sufficiently curvey that this doesn't seem to be a possibility. Nevertheless, it's a fun thing to think about.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Transition to Fall

We're back from a nice five days in Quebec. And now Doreen hass gone to Amsterdam for some meetings. The weather in Maine has been wonderfully warm. Today was beautiful, warm but not hot, breezy and sunny. Just about perfect. But there are some sure signs that fall is almost here:
  • Some maple trees are already turning just a little bit orange.
  • There is Halloween candy prominently displayed at the grocery store.
  • It was quite dark by 7:40 today.
  • New students arrived yesterday. They then left this morning for their outdoor orientation trips. I spoke to parents of new students yesterday as part of our welcome-to-campus events. I've done this a lot over the last few years, and it's a fun event.
As usual, I have mixed but mostly positive thoughts as the start of the school year draws near. I'll miss the unstructured time I had in August, but at the same time I'm looking forward to getting back into a routine.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Heading North

Doreen and I are heading to the Saguenay region of Quebec for some kayaking and camping and other adventures. We return Thursday night. As usual, we're taking a while to pack and we aren't getting an early start. We will probably spend tonight in Riviere-du-loup and will take the Ferry across to the north shore of the St. Lawrence tomorrow.

Friday, August 22, 2008


It's been a disjointed week: a combination of annoying, productive, tedious, and fun. The fun parts included some great weather and a few really good meals. I made some salads, but most of the cooking was done by Doreen. Thursday night she made an awesome spicy Indian potato dish that was perked up with yummy fresh mint. She also baked some absolutely incredible lemon bars. They were somewhat more delicate than typical lemon bars, probably because of the addition of lavendar. Tonight she made an excellent fritatta type dish with chard and onions and such. Both nights we had nice salads featuring home-grown tomatoes.

The majorly annoying parts of my week I probably shouldn't blog about. Minorly annoying parts included mildly pulling my hamstring.

The Maine Space Grant Consortium meeting was a little tedious, but as I suspected, it was a chance to meet some interesting people doing interesting things. So that part was fun, and, in a sense, productive.

Also productive was doing some ok work on one of my writing projects. Nothing super or terribly deep, but I feel like I actually have some momentum now. I also did some interesting reading about networks and thought a bunch about my fall class.

It's now pretty late on Friday night. Time to watch an episode of the X-files.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Heading to Northport

Today was a beautiful summer Maine day. I mowed the front and the back lawns, did some weeding in the gardens, and fertililzed the vegetables. The garden is doing very well. We've already had a few tasty tomatoes, and many, many more are on the way. A few jalapeno peppers are ready to be picked, and it looks like we'll even get a few eggplants in a week or so. We will also have many tomatillos. After doing yard work we were both pretty hot, so we went for a quick swim at Echo Lake. Not a bad afternoon. This evening I did some reading and a little bit of coding.

Tomorrow I drive to Northport for a two-day board and affiliate meeting of the Maine Space Grant Consortium. I think the purpose of the meeting is to help with MSGC's five-year review and also give input for their next strategic plan. The agenda for the meeting is not very specific, which leaves me quite nervous. The meeting has the potential to be absolutely dreadful. But even if the meeting itself is dull, I expect that I'll get to meet some interesting scientists and researchers from around Maine. I'll be quite interested to see who else is at the meeting. The meeting will be held at Point Lookout, which appears to be a very nice resort/conference center on the coast. So I suspect that it will be pretty comfortable and the food will be good.

Cooking and Stuff

Yesterday (Saturday) I managed to not go online at all, which was a nice break. Friday and Saturday I did a bunch of cooking. Friday I made a leek/beet green pizza. I had intended to use chard, but was cooking quickly and grabbed the beet greens my mistake. The pizza was good, and it was quite quick to make since I used pre-made dough that I got at the store.

Yesterday I made a lentil and chard dish that I served over bulghur, and also a leek and flageolet bean soup. Flageolet beans are dried beans that are skinny and green and have a very delicate taste. A picture of them is here. I learned yesterday, though, that they're basically baby kidney beans. Odd.

Last night I spent a while reading about networks and thinking about my class in the fall. All in all, a nice day. Today it's sunny, so I think I'll mow the lawn and do some garden work.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Bullets of Mild Crankiness

  • My car is wired such that one of the things that makes the "check engine" light go on is the gas cap being not screwed on tightly. Once this happens, I'm not aware of any way for me to make the light go off other than going to a car repair place. Whoever came up with this feature should be shot.
  • I pulled my left quad playing ultimate today. It's not bad, just annoying.
  • In the midst of doing some writing I realized that I didn't understand something that I thought I did. Annoying. Good to know that I don't know something. This is one of the good things about writing. But still annoying.
  • I'm tired.
  • I think there's something else I'm annoyed about, but I can't remember.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Chair Chair?

Apparently the Savannah College of Art and Design is searching for a Chair of Furniture Design. Awesome.


I'm currently at The Maine Grind in Ellsworth trying to get some work done. I've done a little bit of coding and a little bit of writing. I like this place. They have ok sandwiches and coffee, free wireless, and it's a nice place to work. I've only been here a few times, but I've usually been fairly productive here. It's not the hippest of cafes, but, well, Ellsworth isn't the hippest of towns. Nevertheless, it's not bad. If it were closer to home, I could see spending quite a bit of time here.

I came to Ellsworth with the goal of doing a bunch of errands and have been only partially successful. I bought new wiper blades at a car parts place and later got my oil changed. Two successes. I wanted to get cleats at Cadillac Mountain Sports, since my cleats wore out a while ago and I'm getting tired of playing ultimate in running shoes. But they didn't have any cleats that felt remotely comfortable. I think I'll be more comfortable in football cleats, as this is what I've always worn in the past. Cadillac Mountain had only soccer cleats, and apparently soccer players have skinny little feet. I also went to the bank to deposit some checks and was only partially successful. We had two checks from the IRS, but apparently Doreen and I both needed to sign them, as they were made out to both of us. This didn't make much sense to me, since both of our names are on the account into which I wanted to deposit them, and in years past we didn't need two signatures. The bank people claimed that this was a federal law and not their rule. Arg.

Soon I will leave this little cafe and head home via the Ellsworth Hannaford, where I will pick up some groceries and also return a bunch of returnable bottles. I'm on deck to cook dinner tonight, but I haven't yet decided what I'll make. Possibly a thai red curry noodles dish that I like. It's easy to cook and I haven't made it for a while.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Slow Progress

Today was a day of slow progress on some writing tasks. I'm not moving fast, but I might be very slowly gaining momentum. I also did some reading and went for a short run. The last week I've been trying to run shorter distances somewhat faster than I usually do. Fast is relative. I'm still slow. But longer runs were turning into something that wasn't quite a run any more: perhaps a trot. So I'm aiming for shorter, non-trot runs. I also did a load of laundry, weeded the back garden a little, and cleaned up some around the house. Another thrilling day.

Yesterday (Sunday) was a day of visiting with friends and only going on the computer once. We had friends over and I did some major cooking: caribbean red beans, coconut rice, tomato salad, kale, and a sweet potato gratin. All turned out pretty good. The sweet potato gratin was pretty interesting. It didn't have any cheese. Instead the cheesy-ness was supplied by coconut milk and starch from the sweet potatoes. The gratin also had some lime juice, garlic, spinach, some black beans, and a little bit of rice. It was tasty and rich.

There's not a ton of other news. The weather has been nice. Cool and partly sunny. Tomorrow I will spend the day on campus. In addition to getting some writing done, I've got some on-campus errands and I want to continue to clean up my office and organize. I should also start on the two uninspiring documents for which I need to write referee reports.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sunshine and Armin van Buuren

For the first time in a week it was sunny. So I mowed the lawn, which was quite a task, as it had been several weeks since it had been cut and the grass was still a little wet. I also weeded the gardens and did lots of trimming and tidying. I did a load of laundry and was able to dry it outside. Doreen made an Indian eggplant dish and some somewhat-Indian beets. I made a cucumber and tomato salad. The tomatoes and the feta are local, and the cucumbers were from our garden. Delicious.

I'm now listening to Armin van Buuren's A State of Trance while I do some writing. One of our kittens is playing with a toy mouse. Soon I will stop writing and devote full attention to Armin and the kittens.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Dreary and Pleasant

Today was also a slightly lazy day, but for some reason I feel much better about it than yesterday. I got some very good news via email this morning. I'll blog about it in a week or two once things become more official. But suffice it to say that it put me in a very good mood. I worked at home online for a while and then embarked on the task of re-organizing my CDs. There were large stacks of CDs on top of our stereo waiting to be re-shelved. But there was no urgency until a few days ago, when the cats managed to knock them all over. So it was time to restore order. The task took a lot longer than I had originally anticipated. I ended up pulling a lot of CDs out of my car, too, and reshelved them too. This necessitated quite a bit of rearrangement, as we seem to have gotten quite a few additional CDs since my last organizational effort. One fun aspect of this, in addition to the sheer joy of alphabetizing things, was that I re-discovered some CDs of mine. Finds included Be a Bright Blue, by Saxon Shore, day one: ordinary man, and a live Wayne Shorter disc.

It was rainy and dark and almost cold in the afternoon. The rain fell gently and steadily. Tourists mourned while I rejoiced. Well, maybe I wasn't rejoicing, but it was extremely pleasant. I did dishes. I did laundry. Doreen made cookies. Later, when the rain stopped for a bit I went for a short run. Then I made spicy tofu and rice. Soon Doreen and I will watch an episode of the X-files and we will celebrate the morning's good news with a good Belgian beer.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Not much

Today has been a day of working a bunch but seemingly getting very little done. I'm not sure how days like these happen. I tracked down some snippets of code that I need for a chapter that I'm writing. I dealt with a lot of email, pushing my inbox to under 200. Although I didn't really do much; mostly I just filed a bunch of old messages. I did send a few emails, though, and I also downloaded a few references and filed them in citulike. I also decided to switch from using korganizer to google calendar. So I exported from korganizer to ical and then imported to google. It all went smoothly. I also upgraded a lot the software on my desktop at school, and downloaded the latest version of ubuntu so I can install it on my home machines.

All in all, I accomplished very little. It's good to get organized, but there's a lot of other, real work that I need to do. I've got two referee reports to write, one of a paper and one of a grant proposal. Neither of them are at all inspiring. And I have several writing projects of my own that I should be chipping away at. I've been doing some work, but it's going slow. And there are also some things I need to do to get ready for the fall term.

Today was a cool Maine summer day. The tourists probably didn't like it, but it's fine with me. After almost five weeks in Beijing, cool, cloudy weather is great. When I left campus to drive downtown to play in Bar Harbor's twice weekly ultimate game, there was almost a hint of crispness in the air. Perfect. The only downside to the weather is that it's been a little damp. I don't mind rain, but it does make it difficult to dry clothes on the line and mow the lawn.

This might have been the most boring post ever. Oh well. Time to stop rambling. There's half an hour before the Daily Show starts. Perhaps I can get a tiny bit of coding done before then.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Joys of Sendmail

Yesterday I spent a while dealing with some very strange email problems. Starting on Monday, when I got back from Portland, I wasn't able to email from my machine to some other email addresses. For example, I could send email to a gmail account, but anything to bounced instantly. The error message was odd and difficult to interpret. I figured that this wasn't a problem on my end, but that it had something to do with the UMaine servers. (UMaine does our internet access, and email to goes through one of their big servers.) I queried our helpful network administrator, who queried someone at UMaine. They were convinced that the problem was with my email server, not theirs.

I didn't believe them. But I started investigating. The error message that I was getting was really weird. Something about a "server not found" which is odd, because I could ping all the relevant servers I could think of and everybody was alive. After much googling and pondering I figured out what the problem was. It turns out that I am using a version of sendmail with an odd little bug in it. Here's what happened.

Over the weekend the campus lost power. Not a big deal. This happens relatively frequently and my machine has always come back online without trouble. This time, though, things didn't go so smoothly. Once the power was restored, my machine boots up. As sendmail is bringing itself to life, it needs to figure out who it is -- i.e., what its hostname is. To do so, it looks to a nameserver of some sort of figure out the name of localhost. However, the nameserver, or perhaps the network itself, wasn't back online yet. So the server query takes a while and times out, with the message: "connection timed out; no servers could be reached".

So far, so good. Except my version of sendmail is quite literal. It doesn't recognize this as an error. Rather, it now thinks its hostname is "connection timed out; no servers could be reached". Brilliant. Then, when emailing, my machine was contacting the UMaine server and telling it that my name was "connection timed out; no servers could be reached". Quite understandably, Umaine doesn't like this name, and thus refused to talk to me. The mail bounced instantly, with a misleading message about "no servers could be reached". Some other mail hosts also wouldn't talk to me, but others, such as gmail, would.

Once I figured this out, it took a while to fix but it wasn't too bad. I'm not sure my fix is permanent, however. Things could go nutty again if there's another power outage. Something to look forward to, I suppose.

Adding to the fun is that an email I sent to someone at UC Davis tripped some other warning system, causing me to get listed on the Composite Blocking List. It wasn't too difficult to get myself delisted.

This bug seems to be limited to ubuntu/debian versions of linux. See bug reports here and here if you're curious.

Not how I planned on spending Tuesday afternoon. But at least the problem is resolved and my computer is happy and playing well with others.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Complexity-Entropy Diagrams

While I was in China, my collaborators and I finally finished a paper and submitted it to the journal Chaos and posted it to the arXiv. We started this paper in 2002. There's no good reason that it took this long to finish. Some of the numerics were a little tricky, and it took some thought to figure out the best way to present some of the results. But mostly other responsibilities kept getting in the way of finishing the manuscript.

But now it's done, and I'm quite happy with it. In the "micro-field" of measures of physical comnplexity, there has been much discussion of how complexity and entropy might be related. In this paper, rather than discuss things in abstract terms, we took one well understood complexity measure, the excess entropy, and calculated it for a wide range of model systems. (The excess entropy is also known as the effective measure complexity and the predictive information.) The product of these calculations is a set of results showing a range of possible complexity vs. entropy behaviors. I hope that this paper puts to rest claims of a universal complexity-entropy curve and the notion that complexity must always be sharply maximized at intermediate entropy. (Actually, I know that this paper won't even come close to accomplishing this. But this nevertheless remains my hope.)

More generally, I think this paper implicitly suggests that there are complexity measures which are well known and well understood, and so researchers should stop trying to devise new complexity measures, unless there is some compelling reason to do so. (And most such "new complexity measure" papers that I've seen recently don't offer reasons I find compelling.) Also, I hope that this paper prompts others to carry out some calculations for the excess entropy or other complexity measures. The excess entropy isn't that difficult to calculate and is clear and straightforward to interpret.

In any event, the abstract and a link to the full paper on the arXiv follow:

David P. Feldman, Carl S. McTague, James P. Crutchfield, The Organization of Intrinsic Computation: Complexity-Entropy Diagrams and the Diversity of Natural Information Processing.
Intrinsic computation refers to how dynamical systems store, structure, and transform historical and spatial information. By graphing a measure of structural complexity against a measure of randomness, complexity-entropy diagrams display the range and different kinds of intrinsic computation across an entire class of system. Here, we use complexity-entropy diagrams to analyze intrinsic computation in a broad array of deterministic nonlinear and linear stochastic processes, including maps of the interval, cellular automata and Ising spin systems in one and two dimensions, Markov chains, and probabilistic minimal finite-state machines. Since complexity-entropy diagrams are a function only of observed configurations, they can be used to compare systems without reference to system coordinates or parameters. It has been known for some time that in special cases complexity-entropy diagrams reveal that high degrees of information processing are associated with phase transitions in the underlying process space, the so-called ``edge of chaos''. Generally, though, complexity-entropy diagrams differ substantially in character, demonstrating a genuine diversity of distinct kinds of intrinsic computation.

Monday, August 04, 2008


I'm back in the U.S. and back in Maine. Last Tuesday I returned to Maine from Beijing. Due to a long delay in Newark, the total door-to-door time for the journey was around thirty hours. But I made it. After two somehwat jetlagged days at home, I drove to Portland on Friday where I met Doreen, who had flown into Boston that morning from Amsterdam. Then on Saturday we were joined by my brother, sister-in-law, and young nephew. It was very fun to see them, and it was actually the first time that Doreen met her nephew. We drove back Sunday.

It is now Monday morning, and I'm thrilled that I've essentially got three weeks of continuous home time. I have lots of work stuff that I want to do, as well as some organizational projects at home and the office. And I'm looking forward to doing some cooking and getting some exercise.

As an experiment, I'm going to try and blog daily for the next three weeks. I've been having mixed feelings about whether or not I should continue this blog. I've not posted much of late, so maybe forcing myself to post more will reinvigorate things. Or, it will make it clear that I need a blogging hiatus.

Friday, June 27, 2008

In China

My flights were long, but mostly uneventful and I made it to Beijing without incident. I slept a little bit on the plane, and I slept for a long time last night. I'm not over jetlag yet, but I'm making progress.

I'm currently at the WuKe Bingyuan, the hotel at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). Tomorrow, I head out to the Fragrant Villa, the "resort" on the northwest edge of Beijing where we hold the school for the first week. It was fun today spending time in the neighborhood by the CAS. I've spent quite a bit of time here the last several years, so it's sort of like home.

Beijing is, as usual, a little overwhelming. The pollution has been bad the last few days, but I've seen it worse. And it's been surprisingly cool, which is nice. I'm sure the infernos will arrive soon enough.

There's a little sign in the bathroom at the hotel which, presumably, is intended to warn me that the floor might be slippery. But somehow this got rendered into English as "Be Careful of Landslides." Awesome.

I'm too tired to write more. More later when I find the time and energy.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Heading to China

In a little over four hours I'll be on a plane to Newark. Then a few hours layover and then a fourteen hour flight to Beijing. I will try to post semi-regularly in China, but it will depend on whether or not blogger is blocked.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

w r i t i n g

  • I leave for China in less than one week. Yikes.
  • In addition to grading and writing evaluations, I'm working on writing two proposals. They're going well, but slowly. Very slowly.
  • I'm making some good progress tonight, but it's late and I should go to sleep soon.
  • But I'm listening to Armin van Buuren, which usually makes me pleasantly hyper and energized. Good for writing. Bad for sleep.
  • Speaking of sleep, a kitten is sound asleep next to me.
  • Our little kittens are growing fast, but they're still small and very cute. The orange one has a name now, but I'll blog about that later.
  • Back to writing for me.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Links of Awesomeness

Some amusing things I've stumbled across lately:
  1. We do stuff at Huhcorp. "When one of our new-age marketing gurus or design experts or consultants has an idea, the rest of us look at him or her with serious expressions and write stuff down on paper. We also have one of those dry-erase boards on the wall, and we take turns making flow-charts and brain-storming and talking about "injecting creativity into market positioning," and cool stuff like that." Awesome.
  2. Huhcorp has a tech division, duhcorp. Also awesome.
  3. Then there's the Nietzsche Family Circus, which pairs a random Nietzsche quote with a random Family Circus cartoon. More awesome.
  4. And finally there's something which I think actually isn't a joke... Worried that the rapture will come and you'll be raptured away and friends and family will be left behind? Perhaps there are some final emails you'd like to send them, but you won't be able to, because you'll be up in heaven, or wherever it is that raptured pepole go--presumably someplace without internet access. Well, worry no more. will automatically send emails to your friends and family who have been left behind. The emails are sent six days post-rapture. For just $40 a year you can send messages to up to 62 different email addresses. Yet more awesome.
(Items 3 and 4 via Casting Out Nines.)

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Week 11

We just finished week eleven of our ten-week term. Graduation was a week ago. The ceremony was quite nice, as usual. It didn't last too long, there were some interesting and touching talks, and there was excellent food at the reception afterwards. I got to talk to a lot of graduates, their families, and also some alums who had returned for the event.

Week elevens are usually fairly unproductive and involve mostly recovering and regaining physical and mental strength. The day after graduation, Doreen and I headed to Boston to spend a few days visiting my Dad and his wife. He lives in New Jersey, but we sometimes get together in Boston, as it's easier to meet halfway than to have one of us do a very long drive. Boston was fun. We had an excellent meal at The Red House on Sunday, and on Monday we had an absolutely extraoradinary meal at Oleanna. On Monday we went to the Museum of Science, which was good, but not quite amazing. I think it's more set up for kids than adults. Nevertheless, there were some interesting exhibits and I'm glad we went. Doreen and I also did some bookshopping at some of the excellent bookstores in Cambridge.

The weather in Boston was miserable: humid and very hot. On Tuesday it hit 103 degrees. Monday was in the high 90's. I suppose the weather was good practice for Beijing, where it will be equally hot, and much, much, much smoggier. Fortunately, the weather did not follow us home. By the time we were 15 miles across the Maine border the temperature was down to 72 degrees.

The nice weather continued throughout the week. Wednesday and Thursday were long days of work, trying to get caught up on email and lots of little things that have been slipping through the cracks lately. I made good progress, but I've still got a long way to go. I also have a very large pile of grading and I have a few larger projects that I really should finish up before I leave for China.

Yesterday, though, Doreen and I took off from work and did some gardening and took a nice hike in the afternoon. The weather was almost perfect. Warm but not hot, and sunny and clear. From the top of Beech Hill, the view was fantastic. We had a nice dinner which included a salad made from lettuce grown in our backyard.

It is now Saturday, and week eleven is ending and week twelve begins. The recovery week is over. This needs to be a week of much productivity.

Friday, June 06, 2008

The Term Ends

It's hard to believe, but the 2007-08 academic year is over. Tomorrow is graduation. It's been a long year, and one that felt more difficult than usual. Fall term seems impossibly distant -- it seems a very long ways away. I did a lot of teaching this year, and I had some very strong classes. There's a really good cohort of math students on campus right now, which is a lot of fun. But it keeps me busy.

The end of the year is always a mixture of joy and melancholy. Graduation and related events are truly wonderful. It's great to congratulate seniors and marvel at their accomplishments. It's especially fun to meet students' families and share congratulations. Without a doubt, graduation is a highlight of the year. It's sad, though, to be saying goodbye to some students. And it's also difficult to say goodbye to a few faculty colleagues who are leaving COA.

I've got a bunch of things I've been meaning to blog about. Perhaps now that the term is over I'll have some more time and will get caught up. However, despite the fact that the term is over, I've still got a lot of work to do. In addition to grading and writing evaluations, there are a number of writing tasks that I absolutely have to finish before I head to China. My plane leaves on June 25, so I've got around 2.5 weeks. A lot of time, but I'm sure it'll go quickly. Tonight, though, I'm going to try and not think about deadlines and just relax.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Mumbling Messages

Doreen has been away traveling for a few weeks. During this time a number of people have called and left messages for her on our answering machine. I am tasked with relaying these messages to her. Four of the messages over the last two weeks have been incomprehensible for one reason or another. One message was from a plumber calling on a bad cell phone connection, so every other word was chopped off. One message was static-ey and I couldn't tell if it was in Spanish or English or some combination, and the person didn't leave a number. There was somebody else who was mostly understandable and did leave a number to call. She helpfully repeated her number. This was great, except the two numbers didn't match. Most recently, there was a call from someone who kinda sounded Czech, but when she said her name and the organization she worked for it blurred together as one very long word of 20 syllables or so that I can't parse, even after multiple listenings.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

More COA in the News

  1. There's a great article about Howdy Houghton in Orion magazine. And online version can be found here: A Voice for Downeast Maine. Howdy is a great guy and an extremely valuable member of COA and the broader community. It's awesome to see him get some well deserved praise.

  2. And there's a nice article about COA student Margaret Longley in the online version of the San Juan Journal.

  3. And then there's this snarky piece from the Wall Street Journal: Heaven Sustain Us: Environmentalists Have Taken Over the Dorms, by Naomi Schaefer Riley. I must be getting old and grouchy, because I actually agree with some of the points she raises. The WSJ piece reminded me of What’s Wrong With “Social Justice”? by Tim Burke. Tim wasn't writing about COA (this was before he had visited), but he might have been.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008



In the summer of 2005, Doreen and I traveled for a few weeks in Southwest China, including Sichuan, where there was a very large earthquake a few days ago. We spent most of our time on the Tibetean plateau in Qinghai, Gansu, and Northern Sichuan provinces. But toward the end of our trip we took a long bus ride from Northern Sichuan down to Chengdu, which is the capital of Sichuan and is in the central part of the province. This route took us right through the area near the epicenter of the earthquake.

I looked through the photos from the trip and found the picture shown above. I took this during the bus ride to Chengdu. There had been lots and lots of rain, and mud and rockslides closed the road at times leading to large delays. This picture was taken during one such delay, when almost everybody got out of their vehicles. In the distance along the road you can see some small wooden shacks. These were probably temporary housing for workers doing road construction.

The road, so far as I could tell, was the only even remotely major road heading north out of Chengdu. You can see from the picture that the road was built into a pretty steep hillside on which there had been considerable erosion. The road follows a river out of the mountains for most of its descent from the plateau. So it's easy to imagine all sorts of mudslides blocking the road, making it difficult to get resources from Chengdu north to the area that is hardest hit. There are also numerous tunnels through the mountains. Again, I could easily imagine that the tunnels were damaged in the earthquake.

Chengdu itself was a pretty nice city. It's huge--around ten million people--but it's surprisingly mellow for a city of this size. Doreen and I had a pleasant few days there. After a bunch of time on the road and some fairly primitive accomodations, it was nice to be at backpacker hotel with good showers and cold beer. We also saw many pandas at the zoo, which was very cool.

Anyway, the situation in Sichuan sounds horrible. There are lots of stuctures in China, especially outside of the cities, which appear to be rather poorly built. I'd guess that the cities and towns north of Chengdu suffered incredible damage.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Les Chats sans Frontiers


The big news is that on Saturday we got two new kittens! A picture of them is above, and many more pictures can be found here. We got them from an SPCA in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, which is right across the border from Calais, Maine. The New Brunswick SPCA was the first one that had kittens available, so we made the drive. We picked the kittens out a few weeks ago, and I drove and got them Saturday after they were spayed/neutered.

So far they seem to be adjusting to their new home quite well. They seem quite at ease. They play, wrestle with each other, eat, and sleep. We haven't introduced Monster (our big, older cat) to them yet; the kittens have been confined to my office. But Monster can tell that there's something moving around in the office, and she seems surprisingly calm. So I think things bode well.

The shelter got an entire litter of kittens and gave them all names starting with "A". The little gray girl is called Apple, and I think we'll end up keeping that name. The orange guy was called "Archibald", which will definitely go. But so far I haven't come up with anything better than Orange Guy. Suggestions are welcome. But I don't think we'll call him simply "Orange." This seems too obvious.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Spring Flowers


It's cold and grey today, but this was the scene yesterday in our backyard. Colorful finches continue to mob our birdfeeder, and the lawn needs mowing. Spring is here, even if I did just build a fire to take the chill off. I think I'll go exercise, and then make some dinner. I might have some tofu dogs that I bought earlier today. Doreen dislikes tofu dogs, but she's currently in Germany, so there's nobody to stop me from purchasing and eating tofu dogs and enjoying it.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Miscellaneous Thursday Observations

Not motivated enough for actual paragraphs. So some bulleted items, instead:
  • Spring is definitely here. Trees and flowers are blooming, and the leaves are almost out. There are gold finches and house finches at our bird feeder, and I think I will need to mow the lawn this weekend.
  • The weather has alternated between beautiful, so that all I want to do is sit around and savor the warmth and the green, and cold and rainy, so all that I want to do is sit around because it's cold and rainy. So it hasn't been a record-setting week of productivity.
  • Tim Burke visited COA earlier this week. I've been a fan of his blog for a long time, and it was great to get to meet him in person. He gave a talk on Monday titled, "Long Tails, Network Hubs, Creative Destruction: How to make a Liberal Arts college in the 21st Century without trying (much)." His presentation was interesting and thought-provoking. Faculty and students found it to be a very accurate and illuminating view of the challenges and opportunities facing COA. Some of Tim's reflections on COA can be found in his current blog entry, generously titled Brains in Maine.
  • Conversations with Tim and others have highlighted for me some of the challenges and intellectual bottlenecks COA is experiencing at this particular moment in its history. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it is tiring sometimes. But at least we're not giving Phyllis Schlafly an honorary degree. Ug.

Friday, May 02, 2008

More Sky


Here is another picture of a statue and the Parisian August sky. The statute is "Meditation avec Bras" by August Rodin.

(The main motivation for this post is to test using Picasa to post pictures directly to my blog. So far, it seems to working fairly well.)

More Greenness

Looks like thinks COA is one of the ten greenest colleges and universities.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


I did a bunch of organizing of digital pictures today and I came across the picture shown above. I took it last summer in Paris. I was there giving some lectures during the week, and on Saturday I spent a long day wandering around the city. It was slightly cool and the sky was fantastic. It was cold for the Parisians, but it was perfect for me. After a month in hot and polluted Beijing, an unusally cool Paris day was great. I took a lot of pictures of statues that day, trying to get more of the sky than the statue in the frame.

The sky today was kinda like it was that day in Paris. Although after that, the similarities end. No museums or cathedrals or great food today. But I did go for a run outside under the grey sky. The run was very slow, but still somewhat satisfying. I also planted some sweet peas, did laundry and dishes, and did some things around the yard. It rained a little this evening, and it was somewhat cool so I built a fire. Flowers are slowly blooming in our yard. It looks like spring is really here.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

COA Alum in the News

There's a nice interview and article about Juan Pablo Hoffmaister, who graduated from College of the Atlantic last year.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


I'm about to migrate to a new machine. Email and web services may be down for a little while.

Update: 9:50pm and I think everything major is working now. I seem to be able to accept incoming email and email out. And so far as I can tell my web pages are fully accessible, except for some CGI stuff. So far, I'm quite pleased with my new machine.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Random Stuff

  • I think I'm having some mild springtime allergies. I've had a headache and a scratchy throat today.
  • The last two nights I've heard spring peepers both on campus and by my house.
  • I'm more tired than I think I should be. Might be allergies.
  • Lots of bulbs are pushing their way up in our yard. A few early daffodils have bloomed. The rest are at least a week away.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Spring Scent Update

In the unlikely event you were wondering... I have been informed that the grim smell of last week was actually due to a decaying deer head, not a decaying raccoon.

In other scent news: the air smelled like spring today and I thought I smelled something like flowers outside.

Monday, April 07, 2008

The Scents of Spring

It's April, and spring is in the air. Or...
  • Last Friday there was a grim, decaying odor in the main portion of Turrets, the building where my office is and where I teach. Apparently there was a mishap with the beetle box. What's a beetle box? It's, well, a box full of beetles into which animal carcasses are placed. The beetles then eat the flesh, leaving behind bones. And I guess bones are good for science or taxidermy or Halloween costumes or something. Someone put a raccoon in the beetle box, and then put the beetle box a little too close to the furnace, and so the grim decaying odors made it into the ventilation system. Fantastic.
  • Twice last week there was a bizarre smell in the sink near my office. Half of the smell was coffee, but the other half was tough to describe. Maybe macaroni-and-cheese flavored coffee? I suspect that someone in the business office has been experimenting with coffee flavors.
  • Saturday morning in our house it smelled like someone had been burning incense. It was very odd. Neither Doreen nor I could figure out what it was. Fortunately, it only lasted around 45 minutes. I'm not at all a fan of incense. It was kinda Sandalwood-esque, and I don't like Sandalwood. Bizarre, and a little bit spooky.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Some nice COA news

It's been a good week for College of the Atlantic.
  • Two students of ours won Barry M. Goldwater scholarships. This is a highly competitive, merit-based scholarship, awarded via a national competition, to recognize and support students who indend to pursue science, mathematics, or engineering.
  • Two of our students won Udall Scholarships. Two other students won honorable mentions. The Udall Scholarship is a national competition; awards are made to students who have demonstrated commitment to careers related to the environment. Having two scholars and two honorable mentions is pretty amazing.
  • And, in perhaps the most exciting news of all, Nancy Andrews, faculty member in Arts and Design, won a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

"Spring" "Break" Update

Well, spring break has basically come and gone and I haven't posted here at all. So here's a very quick day-by-day summary.
  1. Saturday 15 March. It snowed a few inches. Not very spring-like. But it was actually a very warm snow. It didn't stick on the roads at all. Did some things around the house. Got some good beer in Southwest harbor. Watched a hockey game.
  2. Sunday 16 March. Worked like a maniac trying to finish up lots of odds and ends. Read many COA applications.
  3. Monday 17 March. St. Patricks Day. Admission committee meeting basically all day. Meeting went very well. Applications are up this year, which puts us in a position to be more selective. Worked late on campus after the meeting dealing with email and stuff that I should have dealt with a long time ago. So Sunday and Monday were two big days of work.
  4. Tuesday 18 March. Drove to Portland, flew to Sacramento. Had a good itinerary, but flight to Chicago was delayed. Got rerouted via Washington DC and Las Vegas. Arrived in Sacramento 1:35am. Arrived in Davis around 2:30am. Flight to Las Vegas was weird. Person in the seat in front of me was very ill and threw up a bunch. She only spoke Urdu, so nobody knew how to help her.
  5. Wednesday 19 March. In Davis. Gave seminar at Computational Mechanics Group meeting at UCD. Talk went pretty well, I think. Some very good and interesting questions and comments from the audience. Pleasant day in Davis. Warm. Green grass. Flowers on trees.
  6. Thursday 20 March. In Davis. Did lots of work on a paper draft. Ate some good food. Learned that long-time Davis coffeeshop, affectionately known in my circles as "Scuzzy Roma," has closed and been replaced by a Peets Coffee. Have mixed feelings about this.
  7. Friday 21 March. Did more work on paper in Davis. Almost ready to submit. Took train to San Jose. Met by brother, stayed at his house.
  8. Saturday 22 March. Spent day with Mom, Brother, Sister-in-Law, 7-month-old nephew. Had nice brunch. Walked around Stanford campus some. Their campus creeps me out, but it was still lovely. Beautiful weather. Nephew spent several hours late at night/early the next morning imitating an agitated howler monkey.
  9. Sunday 23 March. Drove to Berkeley. Spent time with Mom. Had yummy thai food and later yummy cold noodles on Telegraph Avenue. Went to several bookstores. Had excellent time. Drove back to Menlo Park. Had good dinner with Brother and Sister-in-Law at kurdish/turkish restaurant.
  10. Monday 24 March. Spent time with Brother. Drove to coast. Some nice fog. Had excellent burrito. Hiked some. Explored San Jose. Went to fun Asian grocery store. Had good lunch at Vietnamese place. Took overnight flight back to Portland.
  11. Tuesday 25 March. Arrived around 10am in Portland. Did some shopping. Very tired, since I didn't sleep well on the flights. Drove back home. Was tired and unproductive the rest of the day. Was nice to be home, though.
  12. Wednesday 26 March. Worked a bunch. Started Calculus grading. Deal with junk in my office. Cooked a big batch of enchiladas. Good, but not great.
  13. Thursday 27 March. Worked. Dealt with more junk and odds and ends. Went for a run outside. Pathetic and slow. But good to be outdoors. Temperature around 45 degrees. Felt warmer.
  14. Friday 28 March. Snowed around three inches. Roads not bad. Did some work on campus. Did some calculus grading. Cooked some Kale and Collard greens. Doreen made yummy sweet potatoes and a good tofu and mushroom dish. Watched several X-files episodes with Doreen.
  15. Saturday 29 March. Snowed a little bit. Kinda cold. Did some calculus grading. Cleaned up equipment in zoology lab left over from winter term's chaos class. Listened to Armin van Buuren's ASOT.
  16. Sunday 30 March. Went for a nice hike. Snowy and slippery. Beautiful day. Finished calculus grading! Made some pretty good curry noodles.
So that's my spring break. It was really only half a break, as I did a lot of work. But looking back, it has indeed felt like a break. It was great to see family in California and enjoy some warm-ish weather and good food. And the last few days have been fairly relaxing as well. Perhaps too relaxing, as I've got a lot of things to do this upcoming week. I'm super psyched for my class spring term. I wish I was as psyched for all the evaluations that I need to write the next week.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Well, I didn't get done most of what I had planned for today. But I did deal with 241 email messages, which might be a record for me. It's satisfying, in a pathetic sort of way.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The long march toward spring

In the past week the light has gotten brighter. The sun is higher in the sky, and the world looks different. There was tremendous rain this weekend and much minor flooding. The net result is quite a bit of erosion and much less snow. That snow which remains, however, is crusty and dirty. In some places the grass is showing some green, although it may just be my imagination.

It will be six weeks, at least, until it starts to be anything like spring. But we're going through the necessary steps: cold, nasty rainstorms; goopy mud, re-frozen mud, and more goopy mud. We'll probably get a few more snowstorms and a bunch of sleet and slush. For me March and April are by far the toughest weather months. But I remind myself that there's no other way to get to May and June.

We're now in our 10th and final week of classes. Students look paler and more tired than usual. Faculty, staff, and students are all fatigued. I think everyone is looking forward to the "spring" break.

Tomorrow I'm going to try and make a bunch of edits and update references on a paper I've been writing for a half decade. But right now I'm going to take my Maudite and watch The Daily Show and then get some sleep.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The worst sentence ever?

I've recently been looking at various physical science faculty job advertisements, because I'm trying to make the case the College of the Atlantic should considering hiring a geolgist of some sort. In an ad for a nanoscience technology position, I read the following:
We're looking for dynamic team players, individuals who appreciate our respect for innovation in the classroom...
Amazing. They're not looking for an innovative teacher. They're not even looking for someone who respects other people's innovative teaching. Nope, they're looking for someone who appreciates other people's respect for other people's innovative teaching. Brilliant.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Saturday Snow

As predicted, we got a lot of snow followed by some rain. It's hard to tell, but I'd guess we got around eight inches of snow before things turned over to rain. There is now much slush, ice, and snow. It was beautiful for a while. But once the snow turned to rain, most of the snow fell off the trees and the magical-winter-wonderland aura was lost.

Doreen and I went to see a student production of the Vagina Monologues tonight at College of the Atlantic. It was very impressive. The monologues are very powerful, and the acting was incredible. There are some very talented students at COA. It was also clear that the cast had a very good time working together; the sense of camaraderie was palpable. All in all, it was quite inspiring.

In other (boring) news: I made some yummy tofu tonight for dinner, I did a lot of dishes, I did a fair amount of grading, and I shoveled some snow. Time to watch X-files and then listen to Armin van Buuren's A State of Trance.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Friday Miscellany

I'm not sufficiently motivated to write actual paragraphs, so instead, some random comments:
  1. It is now the end of the 8th week of winter term. Just two more weeks to go. And the end is now is sight. There's a ton of stuff that I need to do in the next two weeks, but I'm starting to believe that maybe there's at least a chance that I can get it done.
  2. Winter term may be drawing to a close, but winter definitely isn't. The low was zero degrees last night. And we're supposed to get 5 to 11 inches of snow tomorrow, mixed in with a little rain just to keep things interesting.
  3. I seem to have spent more time than usual this week explaining to colleagues relatively simple mathematical things concerning student/faculty ratios and percents.
  4. Meetings on Wednesday were more silly than usual. But it's probably prudent to not blog about this. But it would be very funny...
  5. I made some simple yet satisfying pasta with beans and tomatoes and chard for dinner tonight. I also made a simple yet satifsying salad.
  6. Soon I will shut down my laptop, watch a few X-files episodes with Doreen, and then go to sleep. Another exciting night in Bar Harbor.

Friday, February 22, 2008


Friday. Tired. Jetlagged. Weekend begins. Snowing outside. Dinner at Town Hill Bistro. Tired. Warm fire in fireplace. Busy weekend ahead. Snow. Cold. Grading. Reading. Tired. Vodka. Red Bull. Watch X-files. Bedtime. Tired.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Back from giving two talks at the University of Warwick. It was a great trip and I wish I could have stayed longer. Nevertheless, it's good to be home. I'm super tired, though. Had a bad cold most of the time I was there, which didn't help with jet lag. I'm mostly over the cold now. Still have some preparation to do for my classes tomorrow. But I'm way too tired right now, as it's 4:30am UK time. Will go to sleep now and try and get up early. Having missed a few days at COA there's much I need to catch up on.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Tuesday Observations

Well, I'm back in Maine. My return flights were uneventful. The drive home from the Bangor airport, however, was a bit of an adventure. It was snowy and very windy and the roads were very bad. The drive took around two and a quarter hours; usually it is around an hour. It's great to be back home. I have another trip planned next weekend and early next week. Then I'm around until the end of the term.

In any event, some miscellaneous observations and thoughts:
  1. Sunday morning I got a cup of iced coffee at the Albuquerque airport. The person working at the coffee place put an insulating sleeve on it before handing it to me. I was too groggy to protest.

  2. At a Sbarro's in the Atlanta airport the person in front of me ordered spaghetti. The Sbarro's person then put his breadstick on top of the pasta. The guy was rather upset about this. But rather than just express his displeasure and ask for an untainted breadstick, he muttered loudly but unitelligably. The Sbarro's person tried to understand, but this just led to more muttering.

  3. The weather forecast for tomorrow is classic Maine: in the next 24 hours every possible variety of precipitation is predicted to fall in large quantities, driven by considerable wind. Fantastic. There could be seven inches of snow followed by three inches of rain. I think I will re-waterproof my boots tonight if I can find the energy.

  4. The Morning Glory Bakery is now open seven days a week until seven in the evening. This is an unspeakably wonderful development.

  5. Bob Dylan is playing on the radio. I'm not a huge Dylan fan. But somehow the song fits my mood perfectly right now.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Santa Fe Update

I'm currently at the Santa Fe Institute, reviewing files and selecting students for the Complex Systems Summer Schools. The work is going slowly, but I think we'll be able to get it mostly done by tomorrow. My trip out was uneventful. On both of my flights I sat next to someone who was rather large, so it wasn't the most comfortable of journeys. But I survived.

There was an amazing sunset tonight: blues and purples and pinks and orange with an impossibly thin sliver of a moon. The day was sunny and in the mid 30's, which was a nice change from the grey and snowy weather in Maine. As usual, it's good to be in Santa Fe. In many ways it feels like a home away from home.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Applications Dos and Don'ts

It's the time of year when I'm reading many applications: for the CSSS, for COA undergrad admissions, and also for a faculty search committee. Here are some assorted observations:
  • Last night I read a letter of reference addressed to "Dear Person." I suppose this does include me, as even on my bad days I'm still a person. But it's perhaps too inclusive. The somewhat sterile phrase "To whom it may concern" would be better.
  • Never begin your answer to a question on an application by referencing in a disapproving way how long it is taking you to complete the application.
  • Never, ever, submit a six page reference letter for someone. Especially not for a one-month summer school.
  • I was intrigued to see a section heading on a CV that read "postgraduate curses." While this would be interesting information, postgrad courses is probably what the writer intended.

Friday, February 01, 2008


I tried to go home around an hour ago, but the roads were terribly icy. Eagle lake road, the most direct way to my house, was completely closed. The police officer said that the road is a solid sheet of ice, and the sand and salt trucks can't even get on it. So I went back to campus. The roads were bad enough that rather than take an alternate route I thought it would be better to wait a bit.

So I returned to my office and thought I would try to do a few tasks. I started filling out a recommendation form for a student who is applying to a graduate school in Europe. I filled out the form, signed it, and then noticed that I was instructed to "authenticate the completed form with an Institution stamp." Arg. Is this really necessary? Does COA even have an official institution stamp? If there is such a stamp, it's in the registrar's office and not in my office. I hope I don't need to seal the envelope with wax or write with a quill pen.

Soon I will attempt again to go home. I hope I get farther this time.

Update: The roads were bad, but nowhere near as icy as before. I made it home and am safe and warm next to the woodstove. I am very glad it's the weekend.

Monday, January 28, 2008

New Layout

I'm too tired to work tonight, so I've been messing around with my blog layout. I'm not happy with how it looks, but I think it's not terrible and is an ok change from what it was previously. I also added a few java-script gizmos in the right column. I should probably stop experimenting and go to sleep soon.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sunday Miscellaneous

Last week was insanely busy and also a little bit surreal. I had some very strange meetings, none of which are really bloggable. Wednesday was, predictably, particularly weird. The faculty search that I'm chairing is moving forward. Our last candidate will be on campus the next two days. Classes also march forward: gradient vectors in Calc III, estimating CDFs in statistics, and in chaos class we're actually going to get to chaos. There is also another burst of letters of recommendation to write, both for some students applying to grad school and others who are applying for various fellowships.

Yesterday, I played hockey on Somes Pond. The ice and the weather were almost perfect. There was a large COA crowd and the game was a lot of fun. Unfortunately, but entirely predictably, today I'm feeling very sore and my back is a little messed up.

I expect the upcoming week to be equally insane and busy. After our final candidate's visit the committee seeks feedback on Wednesday, and Wednesday late afternoon/night we'll meet to make our decision. I enjoying being on search committees, but it can be nerve-racking work.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


Yesterday I was at the little gym/exercise room in Northeast Harbor working out on the elliptical trainer. I usually listen to some energetic music (almost always Armin van Buuren) and put something on the TV that I glance at while I listen to Armin. Most of the time this is a baseball or hockey game or something. But no sports were on last night, so I was channel flipping. I was about eight minutes into a thirty-minute workout when I saw that Beauty and the Geek was on.

There is not enough space or time to write about all of the things that are horrifying about this show. But I was curious, since I hadn't seen it before. I had heard a bunch about it however, in part because I know Aaron, one of the "geeks" who was on the show. Unfortunately, it was an episode that Aaron wasn't on. So I went to change the channel. And then I dropped the remote. Oops. The machine I was on was too high off the ground for me to pick up the remote. And if I got off the machine it would reset. So, I was stuck watching Beauty and the Geek for the rest of my workout. It was hard to tell what was happening. At one point it appeared that a bunch of the "beauties" -- all somewhat underdressed -- were debating where Iowa was on a U.S. map.

I survived watching the show and I think I only lost a few IQ points. Then, when driving home I was listening to some commercial pop radio station. Some dude called in and was going on and on about how much he wanted to hear "Ice Ice Baby" by Vanilla Ice. It sounded like the caller was serious. The DJ agreed that the song was amazing. Yikes. (This wasn't a Maine show, btw. It's some nationally syndicated thing.) Transfixed, I was unable to change the station. The song is as terrible now as it was in 1990.

(Update: Aaron was on Average Joe, not Beauty and the Geek.)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Week one almost done

I'm almost done with the first week of classes and I can't believe how busy things have gotten. Today I dealt with 115 emails and taught two classes. I'm tired and a little fried, but nevertheless it's been a fun first week. After the long break it's great to be back working with students and teaching.

Around a week ago there were two feet of snow on the ground, and now it's almost gone. It's been an unusually warm week. Hopefully we'll get a little more rain followed by some cold weather. This might make the rink downtown skatable. Playing hockey would be an ideal form of stress relief.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Almost Ready

Classes start tomorrow and I'm almost ready. I still have some prep to do for my afternoon class, but I think my morning class is all set. I'm pretty psyched for both classes, Calculus III and Introduction to Chaos and Fractals. I've taught them both a bunch of times before, I like the material, and I think I have a good group of students in both classes.

Saturday, instead of preparing for classes or working on some of the many writing projects I'm supposed to be doing, I did a bunch of cooking. I tried out a new recipe: pasta with a celery and leek sauce. Sounds kinda weird, but it was actually quite tasty. And aside from the mild tedium of chopping lots and lots of celery, the recipe is quite easy. I also made a warm spinach salad, which has become a standard of mine. Both were tasty. And, I made some brownies (from a mix, but still quite good), and some vanilla ice cream in our ice cream maker. It was nice to have a home-cooked feast, of sorts, before the term gets too crazy.

In other news, it was warm today: mid 30's. And the next few days it could get into the mid 40's. This means that lots of snow will melt and things will be very slushy. Yesterday, in addition to cooking I dug out Doreen's car, which was under a lot of snow. The car started, but alas, the fan belt has snapped. So it looks like we'll be car pooling tomorrow. But given that COA is supposedly the greenest college in the world, I guess I'm supposed to be car pooling. At least this blog uses recycled electrons.

Time to do a little bit more thinking about my Chaos and Fractals class and then get some sleep. A big day tomorrow: the first day of classes always takes a lot of energy.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Back Home

We're back home in Maine. We arrived on Wednesday the 3rd of January. Our flight from Boston to Bar Harbor was cancelled, but fortunately the subsequent flight wasn't so we arrived with only a few hours' delay. There had been a big storm from, I gather, January 1 until the morning of the third, which dumped around two feet of snow. It took a little while to dig out the car at the airport parking lot. Fortunately I had left a shovel in the car, so it wasn't too difficult a task.

It's been quite cold since then, so the snow is still around. It's quite beautiful and an incredible change from Santiago, where it was sunny and around 90 degrees. Two nights ago the low was -9. Brrr. Now it's a balmy 35 degrees and things are getting just a little bit slushy.

Our winter term begins on Monday, and I'm not really close to being ready. The good news is that I'm teaching Calculus III (multivariable and vector) and Introduction to Chaos and Fractals, both of which I've taught many times before, so I don't really have any new prep to do. Nevertheless, I have quite a bit of work to do just to update old syllabi and plan the first few classes.

I will try to post a few pictures from our Chile trip over the next few days. Right now, though, I should return to work on my classes and/or spend some time trying to free Doreen's car, which is right now covered by an immense pile of snow.