Thursday, November 29, 2007

Touched by His Noodly Appendage

My sister Laura is a scholar of religion, finishing up her Ph.D. in religious studies. Last week she attended her professional society's meetings, where she had many interviews but managed to find time to attend a session on the religious implications of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a parody religion born out of frustration with "Intelligent Design" advocates. Her account of the session was very interesting, and I encourage you to read it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

In Which a Deer Pulls at My Heartstrings

I was coming home from a productive day of work last night, taking my usual route. I turned left from part D to part C of the map, and I had to stop immediately, because the car in front of me had come to a complete stop. I leaned my body from side to side, trying to see what had stopped him, and I could make out enough to see the body of a deer, lying in the road. But soon I was surprised and horrified to see it get up and attempt to cross the road: surprised because I thought it was dead, and horrified because its back legs had been completely obliterated.

I could see the pain and the fear in the deer's eyes as it dragged its lifeless backside across the road with the strength of its front legs. It collapsed when it got to the middle turn lane, rested a bit, and picked itself up again. I called 911 from my cellphone, and informed the operator of the location of the deer. It would not be suffering much longer.

After I got off the phone, I began to cry. Accidents happen, but whatever motorist hit this deer did not bother to stop, or to call 911, and instead left an animal to suffer. Death is a natural consequence of life, and suffering is far too commonplace for my tastes, but I couldn't help thinking about the situation from the poor deer's perspective. Is that how I would want my final moments? To suffer pointlessly, thanks to the insensitivity of a fellow creature on this earth?

And then my mind drifted to war. Our brave soldiers come home without legs, like this deer, or with their faces completely gone, or their brains damaged, etc., and all due to the insensitivity of their fellow human beings: the lack of compassion of our leaders, who send them into a pointless war; the cruelty of the people who set roadside bombs; the bloodthirstiness of psychopaths on both sides of the conflict, engaged in a Holy War. These soldiers are people's children, caught in the middle of this horror!

I could not, in good conscience, send anyone's children to die except as a very last resort. (I cried over a deer. If my son died, I don't know what I would do! So there's no way I could sentence someone else to that fate.) Some may consider me weak, but I don't think so. There are plenty of more effective methods of conflict resolution. Nonviolent communication, which involves listening and understanding the grievances of the other side, is a good way to start.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


We had a great Thanksgiving. Our friends Adam and Jody came over for Thanksgiving dinner. We made a goose rather than a turkey, which was interesting, but I think maybe next time we'll go for something more traditional.

The dinner menu included the aforementioned goose, giblet gravy made from said goose, apple-raisin stuffing, corn pudding, mashed potatoes, sweet potato patties, broccoli casserole, corn, rolls (that turned out more like hard tack for some reason; where have my breadmaking abilities gone?!), cranberry sauce, apricot sauce, Jody's grandmother's stuffing, and banana pudding, pumpkin pie, and brownies for dessert.

It was a feast of magnificent proportions. The food was good overall, even if the rolls were pretty bad. I was actually pleased by our gravy. I had never had much success making gravy, but this recipe (from The Joy of Cooking) was easy to follow and worked out really well. I really liked Jody's grandmother's stuffing recipe. It was delicious.

We had a good, low-key Thanksgiving, and I'm really glad that we could share it with our friends.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Judgment Day Program

While I was on travel, Nova had a show about the Dover, Pennsylvania Intelligent Design trial. I didn't get to watch it when it aired on television, but I did watch it this evening on my computer. I really enjoyed the program, and gained perspective about the trial and the situation that precipitated it.

It was obvious that the purpose of the members of the school board was to introduce this religiously-based "theory" into the classroom, and I am glad that Judge Jones, a George W. Bush appointee, saw through their shenanigans and ruled against teaching "Intelligent Design" in the classroom.

"Intelligent design" is not science. For starters, it is not testable, it is not falsifiable, and it does not contribute anything in the way of explanations of natural processes. If it has none of the characteristics of science, it cannot be science, and it does not belong in a science class.

Of course it is not unexpected that I would not be on the side of so-called intelligent design, which is simply Biblical literalism dressed in fancy clothes and wearing lipstick. Anyone who believes that the earth is on the order of thousands rather than billions of years old lacks mathematical perspective. And anyone who thinks that we are intelligently designed has evidently never suffered from ulnar nerve entrapment. Because let me tell you, having a major nerve basically exposed, sitting right below the skin of your elbow? That's fucking moronic. Even my orthopedist -- who is not, to the best of my knowledge, omniscient -- figured out a better place to put it.

Adventures in Probability (or, Why I Did Not Gamble in Reno)

As you might surmise, I made it back safe and sound from Reno last night. I had a good time at the conference, but I am very glad to be home.

Reno (like the rest of Nevada, I imagine) is chock full of slot machines, video poker, keno games, and other opportunities to gamble. There were slot machines in the airport terminal. There are video gambling consoles at the bar in many restaurants. They had keno runners in the restaurants, so you didn't have to interrupt your eating in order to gamble. The cost of lodging is relatively cheap, because it is subsidized by the gambling in the casinos.

The casinos felt incredibly depressing to me. They are designed for optimal gambling output, I imagine. They have no windows and the lighting makes it feel like it's the middle of the night, even at noon. You lose all sense of the passing of time.

I am of the opinion that the lottery is a tax on stupidity and desperation. Sure, somebody wins, but the probability of that person being you is lower than the probability that you will get struck by lightning. Similarly, I don't see the appeal of gambling games of chance. Maybe it is because I am not much of a risk-taker. Sure, I take risks, but I mentally calculate the probability of success before I take the jump. And all I have to do is take one look at the opulence of the companies that run casinos to know that gambling is a risk not worth taking!

As I was eating breakfast yesterday, I was offered the "opportunity" to play $1 Keno. In this "game," you pick any three numbers from 1 to 80. The casino draws twenty numbers from that same range, and if your three numbers were all drawn, you can win $35 and a $15 meal voucher.

I did a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation of my odds. Roughly speaking, there is a 1 in 4 chance that any number I pick will be drawn. So the chances of all my numbers being drawn is roughly (1/4)3 = 1/64 ≈ 1.56%. I knew that this calculation was not exact, but it gave me enough information to know that this game was set up in favor of the house.

Every time you play, you pay them a dollar. Once in 64 games, they have to give you $35 plus the meal voucher. If you spent the entire thing, that's still only $50 that they've given out, whereas they've taken in $64, for a net profit of $14.

The exact odds are actually lower. Here's how to compute them:

Let's suppose that you're picking numbers in the range 1-80 and that the casino has already drawn their numbers. The chance that the first number you pick is one that they drew is 20/80, because there are 20 numbers that they drew out of a total of 80. Let's suppose that you got that one right. What are your chances of getting the next one right? Well, there are now 19 possible right numbers out of a total of 79 numbers (because we've picked one of the right numbers and we can't pick it again). So the probability that we got this one right is 19/79. Similarly, if we have been lucky so far and are picking the third number, the probability that we pick another drawn number is 18/78 (because we've picked two of the right numbers and we can't pick them again). So the exact odds are 20/80*19/79*18/78 = 6840/492,960 ≈ 1.39%.

I wrote a little program to illustrate how this keno game works. It's short enough that I'll include my source right here.

#include <stdio.h>
#include <math.h>

int main() {
  long i = 0, ngames = 10000000, nwins = 0, npicked2 = 0, npicked1 = 0;
  int nmatched = 0, ndrawn = 20, nmax = 80, rand0, rand1, rand2;

  for (i = 0; i < ngames; i++) {
    rand0 = rand()%nmax + 1;
    do {
      rand1 = rand()%nmax + 1;
    } while (rand1 == rand0);
    do {
      rand2 = rand()%nmax + 1;
    } while ((rand2 == rand0) || (rand2 == rand1));
    nmatched = ((rand0 <= ndrawn) + (rand1 <= ndrawn) + (rand2 <= ndrawn));
    if (nmatched == 3) {
    } else if (nmatched == 2) {
    } else if (nmatched == 1) {
  printf("Out of %ld games, you won %ld of them, or %f percent\n", ngames, nwins, (100.0*nwins)/ngames);
  printf("You picked exactly two numbers correctly %ld times, or %f percent\n", npicked2, (100.0*npicked2)/ngames);
  printf("You picked exactly one number correctly %ld times, or %f percent\n", npicked1, (100.0*npicked1)/ngames);
  printf("You picked no numbers correctly %ld times, or %f percent\n", (ngames-nwins-npicked2-npicked1), (100.0*(ngames-nwins-npicked2-npicked1))/ngames);
  printf("You paid %ld dollars, and won back %ld dollars\n", ngames, 50*nwins);
  printf("For a profit of %ld dollars (for the casino)\n", ngames - 50*nwins);
  return 0;
And here's the output of my program:

theano:~/misc rebecca$ gcc -o keno keno.c -lm
theano:~/misc rebecca$ ./keno
Out of 10000000 games, you won 139116 of them, or 1.391160 percent
You picked exactly two numbers correctly 1389265 times, or 13.892650 percent
You picked exactly one number correctly 4307469 times, or 43.074690 percent
You picked no numbers correctly 4164150 times, or 41.641500 percent
You paid 10000000 dollars, and won back 6955800 dollars
For a profit of 3044200 dollars (for the casino)

So as you can see, if I play keno ten million times, I pay ten million dollars and earn back nearly $6.96 million (including the meal voucher), resulting in a profit of over $3 million for the casino. So they earn a 30% profit on my "purchase" of keno.

This was the simplest game that they offered, but it is illustrative of all the games in a casino. You can see why I did not play any games of chance.

For keno, they draw actual balls. I wonder what sort of random number generation techniques they use for the video gambling games. I am curious to know, because it might be possible to take advantage of flaws in the random number generation. I've also read about people who used a computer program to defeat roulette. They used their cell phone to gather information about the current velocity and deceleration of the wheel and compute in which quadrant the wheel will stop. They had enough success at it that they made over £1.2 million. Not bad for a night's work!

Without fancy equipment like those three had at their disposal, your chances of overcoming probability are slim at best. My advice: don't bother. Keep your money and spend it on something else.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Conference Blogging, Part Three

On Tuesday, I collected a lot of swag and finished up a lot of hunts. I'm now registered to win a laptop, an iPod, a PS3, and a Wii, and probably many other things I can't remember. The thing is, some drawings you have to be present for, while others you don't. If I were more organized, I would have written these things down.

I also went out to lunch with my classmate from graduate school. And I gave him an invitation to the vendor party I was planning to attend that night. We went to the party together that evening. He had never seen such a thing before. At the front of the room, the vendor had an ice sculpture of their logo. There was a lot of delicious but expensive food, and an open bar. I don't know how much money they must have spent on this party, but it was a lot. Many of my colleagues were at this party, and I also saw some more people I knew from way back when.

After the party, I was going to split a cab with a colleague who is staying in the same hotel as me, but he wanted to go out for dessert with another guy, so I tagged along. While we were out, we met up with a Somewhat Important Guy, who said we could all get a ride with a Pretty Important Guy to go back to our hotel. It was going to be a little crowded but it seemed like it would work out. Unfortunately, a Very Important Guy then decided that he wanted to go in the car, so my colleague and I were uninvited. The Somewhat Important Guy uninvited himself and the three of us took a cab back to the hotel.

Yesterday I worked at our booth. I got a big breakfast at a buffet restaurant in my hotel before heading over to the convention center. The buffet was enormous, and the food wasn't bad. I had wanted pancakes, but unfortunately their pancakes were kind of dried out and not very fresh. But they had a chef making omelets to order, so I partook of that.

Standing on a concrete floor really takes a toll on your feet and back. I think that a massage should be a reimbursable expense if you've spent the day working at the booth! I enjoyed talking to people when they came to our booth, and hooking them up with other people who knew more about the topic they were interested in than I did. It was especially nice because people who came to our booth were generally interested in what we do, rather than on the prowl for prizes. We can't give away fabulous prizes like the companies can.

In the evening, I went out to dinner with four men I work with, before coming back to my room and turning in early. There were parties but I was too tired to go out to them. Also, since I'd already had a really big meal that day (breakfast) I figured I should really just eat a salad for dinner, and they don't usually serve those at parties.

Plans for today: go to some of the technical program talks, pick up good tickets for tonight's conference banquet, and go to the banquet. They're having the Blue Man Group perform for us tonight. If you want to see them live inside the theater rather than on a screen outside, you have to get tickets. I plan to be one of the first people in line.

Tomorrow I leave for home. It has been a fun trip, but I am definitely looking forward to being back at home and seeing my family again!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Conference Blogging, Part Two

Yesterday was the opening of the conference. I caught up with some more acquaintances in the morning. In the summer of 2004, I spent a week teaching minority students in the DC area to use a supercomputer (this is the origin of my supercomputing course). So I saw the woman who coordinated that experience, and she told me that some of the people from that workshop were at the conference.

I first ran into the father of one of the kids who was involved, and then I saw the director of the foundation that these kids participated in. It was really great to hear about what they were all up to. That workshop was really a launching point for them. They put together a small cluster, and they gained more experience with Linux, and they did a lot more work and participated in many competitions and conferences over the past three years.

I heard about the kids, who are no longer kids but rather college students, and was pleased to learn that they were now juniors and seniors majoring in computer science. So I feel good that my efforts that summer made such a difference in their lives!

We had our booth meeting in the afternoon, and after that I went back to the hotel to rest up a bit before changing into the shirt provided by my lab and going to the opening gala event. I mostly wandered around picking up awesome swag and some pretty good food. I wandered around for much of the time with my former boss (who is still my boss for 1/3 of my time). At some point, I wandered down to the booth where my friend from grad school was, and let him know I scored us some tickets for a vendor party tonight. I got to meet some of the people he works with, but I didn't tell them any embarrassing stories about him (mostly because I don't know any).

I really had Vinny in mind as I went around collecting swag. I got an inflatable globe ball, a mini-football, a glowing bouncy ball, a pen/bubble wand, and a light-up plastic martini glass, amongst other things.

I have a few scavenger hunts to do. I can collect a bracelet USB drive by going around to a couple of sites. I can be in a drawing to win a TOMTOM if I visit eight booths (just six more to go). And I entered into a lot of drawings for iPods and other fun things.

Today's plans: there are some interesting talks in the technical program that I plan to attend. Also, I'm going to walk around the floor a lot and finish up my scavenger hunts, while getting exercise! Then, tonight is the vendor party that I'm going to attend with my friend from grad school. I plan on having a good time at the party, and also harassing some people who work for this particular vendor, to make them do what they need to do for our big machine.

The former boss who got me into going to these conferences has now recruited me to be on the committee for next year's conference. He even asked my current boss if he would pay for me to travel to the meetings, and my boss thought it would be a great idea. So, I'm going to be the co-chair for signs at next year's meeting. If you get lost next year, I apologize in advance. Although, as directionally impaired as I am, I think I might be the ideal person to decide where signs are needed.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Conference Blogging, Part One

Yesterday I got up at 4 a.m. so I could catch my 6:50 a.m. flight. First we flew to Chicago and from there we flew on to Reno. There were about a half-dozen people from work who were on these flights. The flight to Reno was packed, and I was seated in the middle of a row, between a man who was also going to the conference, and a 77-year-old woman who was going to spend a week with her daughters at a resort in Reno.

She was a fascinating woman, and as we talked, she mentioned that she had always wanted to learn to do Sudoku puzzles. Well, she was seated next to the right person for that! So we did the easy puzzle in the airline magazine together. I explained the rules to her, and showed her where one of the numbers went, and why. Then I periodically gave her hints as to what to look for next. She was an amazingly intelligent person, and she quickly caught on. (If she weren't 77, I might have tried to talk her into becoming a mathematician or computer scientist. She obviously had the ability for it.) She was so excited about the puzzle! Every time she'd get another number put into the puzzle, she would clap and laugh with glee. She was excitedly planning to call her sister and tell her about it, and also to buy a book of Sudoku for her flight home. I really feel like if I do nothing else this trip, I have accomplished something by giving this woman the knowledge to do Sudoku puzzles.

I took their shuttle bus to the hotel (which, like all the other hotels around here, does not have the word "hotel" in its name; it is a casino first and resort second) and checked into my room. It's pretty nice. I am on the 23rd floor, and I have a nice view of a mountain peak and the city lights below.

I took the conference shuttle to the convention center, and registered for the conference. While I was there, I looked for a dear friend of mine, who was my boss's boss at one point when I was in graduate school, and gave him a huge hug when I finally found him. I knew he'd be around, because he always serves on the committees for this conference, and in fact, he is the one who first clued me into going to this conference as a student volunteer in 2002. We talked for a few minutes, and I introduced him to my boss, who had not formally met him before, but then he had to go to a meeting, leaving me to my own devices for the next few hours before the evening's exhibitor banquet.

I was sitting on a bench, trying to stay awake, when a former classmate of mine from graduate school happened by. We sat and talked for over two hours, before he went back to his hotel. But we are going to get together at some point to go out to dinner. We were talking and neither of us knows how many other former classmates of ours are going to be at this conference. I know of at least two, but I don't think that they are people he knows.

The exhibitor party was held at the National Bowling Hall of Fame. You could bowl if you wanted, but I knew that even when I wasn't so exhausted from a long day of travel, that bowling was probably not the best activity for my elbow. I went to the party and had some food, but I was so tired that I didn't stay for long. I was in bed by 8:30 local time, and then I woke up at about 4 local time, but I kept myself in bed as long as I could stand it. I realized that I am succumbing to the cold I had been trying to avoid, so I need to be careful and take it easy if I can.

Today's plans are to go to our booth meeting this afternoon, and to the opening gala in the evening. I will try to roam around the booths and see if I can find any other friends. I'll try to keep you updated, as I do have free internet access at my hotel (thanks, special deal for conference attendees!).

Friday, November 09, 2007

Conference Time!!!

I'm leaving for Reno, Nevada on Sunday, for SC07, the biggest conference in the HPC field. Does anyone of my vast readership happen to be going to this too?

I love this conference. This will be my third time: I attended in 2002, 2004, and now 2007. You don't go for the groundbreaking research. You go to it for the spectacular showmanship, the free food, and the giveaways! This year, I'm trying to win a PS3, a radio-controlled Porsche, an iPod touch, a Wii, bluetooth-enabled sunglasses, a handheld GPS, a solar power computer charger, a digital frame, and/or a server. Also, I'm betting that Microsoft will have some sort of game or scavenger hunt where you can win an Xbox 360, and other companies who haven't sent me e-mails will also have some good giveaways.

In addition to all these things I'm going to try to win but probably won't, there are lots of free giveaways. I am going to collect a 1 GB flash drive, lots of t-shirts, lanyards, pens, pencils, decks of cards, stuffed animals, mints, tote bags, and more. The weirdest giveaway I ever got was a screwdriver. It's a pretty nice one, actually, and we use it sometimes. The most surreal giveaway I ever got was a cut-out model Earth Simulator. It was made of card stock, and you could cut it out and construct your own 3-D model of the Earth Simulator.

I'm also looking forward to meeting up with old friends, some of whom I originally met at SC02. My then-boss's boss was and still is quite active in this conference, and I am looking forward to seeing him again. My current boss is also on a number of committees for this conference.

And I'm looking forward to the parties. I haven't been out of graduate school long enough to turn down free food!

During the conference I will be working at our booth for part of the time at least. I was asked to man the booth, but I told them that I was unable to do that. Instead, I told them that I would be more than happy to woman it at any time. So I'm going to be womaning the booth for most of the afternoon on Wednesday!

On Competitiveness

My sister Rachel has written a very interesting post about giftedness and competitiveness, which brought up a lot of thoughts. I have written a few things about my struggles with studying after I had been able to coast through school for most of my life, and I've written about overachievement, but I've never talked much about competitiveness.

I wouldn't call myself a particularly competitive person. When I was a 4-year-old, I threw such a fit in Sunday School that they had to call my mother out of the church service to calm me down. I was upset because we were playing musical chairs, and not everybody had a chair, which I didn't think was fair. I wanted everybody to have a chance to sit down when the music stopped!

The times I feel the most competitive are the times when I feel insecure about myself and my abilities. For example, I was pretty jealous of a woman who started karate two years after I did, but we both took the brown belt test at the same time. I felt competitive with her, until I really thought about the situation.

Different people have different talents. She was naturally athletic, whereas I was not. There was bound to be some talent that I had that she lacked. If I compared myself with myself pre-karate, it was easy to see how far I had gotten and how, in a sense, my brown belt was more of an accomplishment than hers. In many ways I am more proud of my brown belt in karate than I am of my doctorate.

If I feel confident in my abilities, I rarely feel competitive. For example, I work with a lot of people who are a lot smarter than me, and who could be considered "better" scientists than I am. Most of these smart people I work with are really nice, and I don't feel competitive with them. That person published ten papers last year? Wow! That's really impressive.

There are a few people who bring out that insecurity in me, though, and it makes me feel like I have to "show them." Many times they are people who are insecure themselves. I've learned from experience that just because somebody tries to make their problem into a problem for you, it doesn't mean that you have to accept it. So usually, I'm able to take a deep breath and unhook myself.

I'm not interested in status symbols or flashiness. That's why I say that my goal is to be the best second-rate mathematician in the world. It is a good description of the degree of my competitiveness and the attitude I have about it. Of course I want to be good at what I do. I'll do my work and my superiors will be pleased by the quality of it. But measures are meaningless, just like the phrase "the best second-rate mathematician in the world."

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Cake-Baking Encore

What happens when you tell all your colleagues about your incredible sombrero-shaped cake, your boss, who was at that party, vouches for your mad baking skillz, and your workplace holds a Thanksgiving potluck dinner?

You bake a turkey-shaped cake for the potluck, of course!

The baking extravaganza began on Sunday evening. Since I had signed up to bring a chocolate cake, I made cocoa devil's food cake, once again from The Joy of Cooking. Incidentally, the current author of that cookbook, Ethan Becker, lives in East Tennessee, although I'm guessing he doesn't live anywhere near my neighborhood. But I digress...

Here are the most important ingredients in the cake:Here I'm mixing the butter and sugar together:
In these bowls are the dry ingredients (left) and the cocoa, vanilla, and buttermilk (right).
After beating the eggs into the butter and sugar,
I alternated the flour and buttermilk mixtures, until I got this nice batter:Here are the cake rounds before
and after baking.

Fast forward to Monday evening. Now it's time to decorate the cake. I begin by cutting up one of the rounds into pieces that will become a turkey:You can see from this picture how I will assemble it:
Now it's time to make the frosting: quick chocolate frosting, again from The Joy of Cooking. The butter and unsweetened chocolate squares melted together in the microwave.
After that, I added some milk and vanilla to the melted chocolate mixture and sifted in some powdered sugar, resulting in this fudgy concoction:I begin frosting the lovely bird. At first the frosting goes on well, but I was actually dissatisfied with a recipe from The Joy of Cooking for the first time ever. The butter seemed to come unmixed from the frosting, and form pools.
I tried to sop it up with a paper towel, and I got most of it, but it sure was a pain. Next time I make this frosting, I will omit the butter (or at least use much less than is called for in the recipe).
Now it was time to decorate. I had candy corn and Reese's pieces for the occasion:
I used the candy corn to make tailfeathers for the turkey:
and then I made a wing,
an eye, and the waddle from Reese's pieces.
ending up with this outstanding turkey cake:
It was a big hit at the party. My cake was the centerpiece of the dessert table. I received lots of compliments on the cake, but the best compliment was that I didn't have to bring very much of it home with me this evening!

Monday, November 05, 2007

I'm #1!

The Google Rank meme has been going around the blogs I read, most recently at Lab Cat's, but also at Thus Spake Zuska.

From the original at World’s Fair: The exceptional “I rank number 1 on Google”:

I’d like to suggest a meme, where the premise is that you will attempt to find 5 statements, which if you were to type into Google (preferably, but we’ll take the other country specific ones if need be), you’ll find that you are returned with your blog as the number one hit…

To make it easier, we’ll let you use a search statement enclosed in quotations - this is just to increase your chances of turning up as number one, but if you happen to have a website with the awesome traffic to command the same statement without quotations, then flaunt it baby! Of course, once you find your 5 statements, pass the meme on to others.

I found several statements for which this site is number one on Google.
  1. adventures in applied math -- apparently there's also a book by (almost) the same title, but I beat it hands down.
  2. cranberry bread secret -- my recipe for cranberry bread is very popular, and you can find it on the first page for best cranberry bread, but you have to add the word secret to boost my recipe up to number one.
  3. pareto-optimal healthcare -- it has to have the hyphen in order for my entry on Pareto-Optimal Healthcare to show up as number one.
  4. ask an applied mathematician -- I knew I would get that one!
  5. "sombrero-shaped cake" -- the first one I've listed that needs quotes. My sombrero cake is a very popular entry. Unfortunately, that search does not lead to the entry where I show how I made the cake.
  6. math pregnancy eye -- (because adventures in applied math was too easy) I get a lot of hits to my entry on math and pregnancy from people who want to know the eye color of their future child.
What searches show your blog as the first hit?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Evolution of Watches

I saw this video, via Greta Christina, and I thought it was so cool that I wanted to share it with you, my vast blog audience.

Suppose that gears, springs, and hands had properties that attracted them to one another like biomolecules do. What would happen if "creatures" consisting of these building blocks of "life" were allowed to mate and mutate, with the "environmental pressure" that the ones best able to tell time would survive to pass along their "genes"?

They would create clocks, that's what would happen!

The author of this movie wrote some code to look at how this would happen. I'm looking forward to downloading his code and checking it out.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Halloween Madness

What do you call this

other than "a perfect excuse to be Bride of Frankenstein for Halloween?"

I got a costume for a "death bride," and Jeff made me up to look dead. Here's the artist's palette:
and here's the final result:
except for the fact that even Dr. Frankensteincouldn't fix my eyesight after death, so I had to wear my glasses
as we escorted our cute little devil
around the neighborhood.

It was a lot of fun, except that the red makeup and fake blood dyed my skin red. So I had very bright pink eyes, a pink streak on one cheek, and a pink line around my neck after I was done scrubbing all the makeup off my face. Yesterday I slathered on the eye shadow pretty thick, wore a sweater that covered my neckline, and hoped that people would just think I had a little rash on my cheek, but today it seems to have mostly worn off.