May 2004


Thankfully, someone has written a PHP-based document database program for BibTeX. This will allow research groups to create a shared bibliographic database so that you don’t have to pass around some “master bibliography list,” or, worse yet, re-type in from scratch references that are used over and over again.

Unfortunately, it will require me to get my own server with a PostgreSQL database on it (ergodicity.net doesn’t have one). I know if I try to suggest it to the computing support people here they’ll be uninterested, even though you can create several instances of it on a single machine, so if they put it on the main server every group could make their own database. It’s not worth my time to argue the virtues of it to them, especially since I am no expert on the software and they will have fifteen reasons they shouldn’t do it, most of which rhyme with “understaffed.” One thing I definitely miss about MIT was the integration and depth of tech support. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a lot better organized than it is here.

Perhaps, if I am lucky, we will get a machine for the group on which I can install the software.

He wrote a new speech which is long but worth reading.

More disturbing still was their frequent use of the word “dominance” to describe their strategic goal, because an American policy of dominance is as repugnant to the rest of the world as the ugly dominance of the helpless, naked Iraqi prisoners has been to the American people. Dominance is as dominance does.

Dominance is not really a strategic policy or political philosophy at all. It is a seductive illusion that tempts the powerful to satiate their hunger for more power still by striking a Faustian bargain. And as always happens – sooner or later – to those who shake hands with the devil, they find out too late that what they have given up in the bargain is their soul.

Sometimes he borders on the melodramatic, but I found it articulate and well-written. However, I’m not sure I’d want to hear Gore give it, given his sleep-inducing delivery.

I got a piece of spam today that my filter missed:


Date: Wed, 26 May 2004 12:16:31 -0400 (EDT)
From: Richard Longly
To: asarwate@mit.edu
Subject: You don’t know it, but you’re incompetent

I think my computer purposely let this one through. They’re all against me, but one day I’ll show them. Then we’ll see who’s incompetent…

The UC Berkeley Music Library does not circulate CDs except to graduate students in the Music department, so I go to the Berkeley Public Library in its recently-renovated beautiful building downtown. Like the Urbana Free Library, my old haunt back home, the classical music selection is rather extensive, especially if you browse the shelves of LPs in the back. I realized that I have the habit of enjoying pieces in concert and then never listening to them again, so I’m trying to rectify that and also improve my knowledge of the Canon of Western Music™
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Noam Chomsky now has a blog. No comments though, which can be taken as (a) he doesn’t want to hear your bloody comments, or (b) not worth his time to deal with trolls and spammers. From the trouble Kevin Drum has over at Political Animal, I’m betting more on (b).

Music I’ve been listening to lately:

  • I — The Magnetic Fields
  • Fantasma — Cornelius
  • Black Angels — George Crumb, performed by the Kronos Quartet
  • String Quartets Nos. 1 & 2 — Charles Ives, performed by the Lydian Quartet
  • Mingus Moves — Charles Mingus

Go read Susan Sontag’s essay in the NY Times Magazine. Well worth the read, and points out things that I didn’t even realize about the Abu Ghraib photos. For example, the photos we saw in the papers were significantly cropped. Sontag also makes explicit the connection between pornography and these photos, which is something I had been mulling over for a while. The real kicker is her comparison to other visual recordings of torture. These photos are not like those of the Nazis, who did not place themselves in their photographs of atrocities. They bear a much closer resemblance to photographs of lynchings, “which show Americans grinning beneath the naked mutilated body of a black man or woman hanging behind them from a tree. The lynching photographs were souvenirs of a collective action whose participants felt perfectly justified in what they had done. So are the pictures from Abu Ghraib.” Indeed, as Sontag says, those soldiers are us.

To quote the Shins, “we are a brutal kind.”

I waste an inordinate amount of time, but today I decided that if I couldn’t focus on work I’d at least do something useful, so I made a template for publications. Of course I’m using CSS, so the style is completely configurable to your colorscheme preferences. Thanks to John Owen’s advice page for the reference to CMU’s Robotics Institute style, which I stole and CSS-ified. I’m a scripting ignoramus, but I think with a little work I’ll be able to make a PHP script which will let you enter the information in and then generate the HTML for you automatically. Naturally, it’s not the perfect format for all people, but it has enough in its barebones-ness for the “busy researcher.”
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I made two good dinners in the last two days and now I have leftovers. Sunday was pan-seared tuna with a soy-kaffir-lime glaze, soba with wasabi vinaigrette, and eryngii mushrooms (I think that’s what they were) simmered in mirin. Tonight I lucked out and found this shiitake and asparagus risotto, which I had all of the ingredients for, thanks to the Berkeley Farmer’s Market, with the exception of the wine. I went to the corner store and got a Bella Sera pinot grigio, simmered away, and had a tasty meal.

And to top it all off — fresh cherries at $0.79 a pound from Oakland Chinatown. Delish.

For someone who takes great care to declare his identity separate from Mother India, a country of which I have only been a tourist, I found myself overjoyed at the recent elections there, in which the Hindu fundamentalist BJP was thrown out government by an irate electorate. The Congress party, which some of my relatives support, is only the lesser of many evils, but since they can’t form a majority government either, they will be forced to work with others on the left.

The BBC characterized the elections as a demonstration of India’s “anti-incumbent” trends, but Sudhanva Deshpande thinks this is bunk. I’m a little dubious myself of the economic policies that will be formulated by the new govenment. I find myself unconvinced by the old-school return-to-pastoral-life attitude of Mahatma Gandhi, but the free-for-all globalization that went on in the last few years (including an Enron power plant in Maharashtra) was clearly not the way to go.

All in all, I am hopeful, but not too hopeful. And Congress is so much better than the BJP that it makes me do a little jig, even in these times of no good news from abroad.

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