Thursday, June 26, 2008


  • Krugman questions whether we as a country place too much importance on home ownership. It certainly felt strange when I bought my first house...the subsidy given by the government was huge by allowing the deduction of interest and property tax. I had a vague feeling of crossing some threshold from being held down to being helped up. Of course, I think they've since moved the line now!
  • Gizmodo has some cool pictures of a damper...Maybe a good problem for intro mechanics to calculate the motion of an idealized building with such a damper.
  • I'm glad this aura of intelligence associated with Justice Scalia appears to be feeding. Wherever one stands on gun control, Scalia's defense of his latest decision is not defensible.
  • I've wondered whether our IT department monitors our browsing as discussed by the CHE. In part I wonder because I occasionally click on stuff labeled NSFW (mostly from Oliver). Some faculty here are paranoid that such "monitoring" extends such that our emails are being read!
  • Camera update: There were no SLRs sub-$600 that I really liked. I had a film SLR (actually still do), but I'm not sure I'm ready to go back to the bulk and the expense...and in today's digital world, SLRs have two other disadvantages: (i) very susceptible to dust collecting on the CCD and (ii) none record movies which can be handy even if not up to the standard set by cheap camcorders. So then I looked at so-called bridge cameras...high-end cameras with lots of manual control but not interchangeable lenses. The Canon G series has generally set the bar in this category but the current model, the G9, isn't particularly well reviewed. So then I figured I'd wait for a new model, e.g. the G10. But then somehow I got researching a bridge to a bridge a point-and-shoot. Since I started with cameras near $600, a $300 point-and-shoot sounded pretty cheap. I was pretty set on the $300 Panasonic TZ5...a wide angle, good video recording (high def at that!), face detection, and optical image stabilization. I just can't pull the trigger. It's not clear how happy I'll be with the quality of the images, and because it's pocketable, the sensor isn't big so its low light performance won't be great. And it doesn't have any viewfinder. So while I'm debating that, I'm seeing all these deals on the various incarnations of the Canon ELPH series for around $175. Uggh, so difficult.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


  • I've hardly watched any of the NBA playoffs. I started watching some of the New Orleans versus San Antonio series, but it wasn't fun to watch. The home team just kept winning and by big margins. I know some of the theories about the advantages enjoyed by the home team, but I'm not buying them. Especially when I see the refs play such a large role. I'm not saying they're crooked, but they're at least biased...and now I've got some support from Freakonomics (unlike me, they have names, but I don't feel like looking them up).
  • More kid gift ideas:

    • $35 basketball hoop at Walmart for a 4 year old which you can use indoors.
    • $35 EyeClops microscope-like thing which you connect to a TV for a 7 year old.

  • How's this for a new class?
    Physics of Photography--Introduction to the physics involved with photography for nonscience majors. Prerequisites include high school math though experience with (algebraic) geometry and (abstract) algebra are helpful. Topics to be discussed:

    • Light: From geometric optics to second harmonic generation
    • Lenses: Negative indices of refraction and gravitational lenses
    • Holography: Interference to AdS/CFT, and the nature of information
    • Resolution: Film to CCD to spin foam and the Planck Scale
    • Aesthetics: Loops or Strings?

  • You all haven't been the most helpful blog readers, but I'll give you a chance to make it up to me: I want a new camera. I've looked at the SLRs, but none excite me too much. The Olympus E-520 looks nice and compact, but the reviews say it's slow to focus. I don't care about status, size, or variety of lenses...I want:

    • a reasonably fast focusing and shooting camera
    • with good white balance indoors (which rules out most Nikons)
    • pretty good low-light sensitivity
    • a fairly wide angle lens (zoom is fine)
    • RAW capture
    • Update: Price for body & lens under $600

    I'm not shooting sports, but I like to be able to freeze candid reactions of people when I press the button. As I mentioned, I wouldn't think I necessarily need an SLR, but it seems that it is only within the domain of SLRs that one can expect such speed. I was thinking something along the lines of Canon's S5 or G9, but those don't seem to fit the bill in terms of excellent picture quality and speed. Any help?

Tuesday, June 03, 2008


  • Why does my school's online catalog for the library provide less information on books than Amazon?
  • I put the Fedora 9 Linux distribution on a machine the other day and it didn't have tcsh on it! I was able to find Stellarium on there though.
  • While listening to the radio in the car today, a good song came on and I found myself reaching towards the dash to tell the radio I liked that song...too much listening to Pandora I guess.
  • The other day, while walking across campus, I went a bit out of my way to chat up a Dean. Normally, I'd just avoid such an encounter and certainly not make an effort to engage. So perhaps I'm making progress in my sociability.
  • I recently saw the movie Into the Wild. I had heard it was good but expected it to be that kind of good where it deserves a good review, but is otherwise not that enjoyable to watch. In any case, I found it captivating. I completely sympathized with the protagonist's desire to be free and experience life. But I also sympathized with the guy's parents and what they were going through. And of course, I was envious of being in those locales.
    In any case, the movie fits with the motif of success running through my head lately. I've been envisioning a "success test" along the lines of a personality test. You'd plug in your job description, number of kids, committed relationships...heck even the kind of car you drive if that's your thing. Out pops a measure of your success. I just Googled to see if anyone had constructed such a test, but all I find are tests supposedly predicting successfulness. Au contrare, I want to know how successful I am now!
    Continuing with the theme, I was thinking what people might hope for their kids. For example, would you rather one of your kids (or future kids) growup, get some mid-level corporate job with two kids and a house in the suburbs or for that kid not to growup, but instead head off to save the polar bears in the Arctic? Would you rather have a boring A- kid who dutifully does their homework or a wild B- child who never does homework but is passionate about...well anything, but let's just