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.