April 2005


An article at Left2Right reminded me of the movie Slam which I saw recently. Compared to the defenders discussed in the article, that one seemed competent and honest, if a bit hopeless and mean. Essentially he told the protagonist to plea bargain or else, which is a tactic, not an argument. But the article is right — don’t blame the PDs, but blame the underfunded system that drives people away and encourages grifters.

In case the old jive filter still amuses you, someone has written Gizoogle. According to its version of my homepage:

This was one of tha first projects I worked on at Berkeley spittin’ that real shit. We present a way of sippin’ a priority queue fo` optical data, where pimpin’ is not feasible.

Actually, I don’t find this sort of thing that funny after about 30 seconds.

The sunlight warming the back of your neck while you stand outside the shower waiting for the water heater to engage.

… and not enough solutions:

  • Matching source and channel models for large sensor networks : I want to characterize when a fully-distributed set of gains can “match” a linear/matrix observation model with a linear/matrix communication channel model. I think it’s a broad class, especially as the number of gains (which is the number of sensors) increases.
  • Dense sensor network scaling laws: under some better constraints, it should be possible to show that the total capacity does not scale with the network size for dense networks.
  • Causal jamming relays: a new take on relays as potential jammers. You can’t trust anyone.
  • Fast distributed consensus: not quite sure where this is going, but it has to do with creating a speedy algorithm for calculating the average of a function on a graph.

There are, of course, other problems, but unless I write these down I’ll be liable to forget them when the next shiny object comes along.

I recently installed Ubuntu on the computer I use at work, and am so much happier than I was running Windows. Ubuntu is a more user-friendly version of Debian, which is a godsend for laptops, since the installation process does all the hardware detection for you. I had tried Debian and getting X to work was a real pain. I then switched to Fedora Core 3 and decided it made me feel like I was in a straitjacket. Ubuntu is “just right” for me I think. Also, the releases have amusing names, like “Warty Warthog” and “Hoary Hedgehog.”

While browsing for extra LaTeX plugins, I came across the following:

arabtex (3.11-5) [universe] — Arabic/Hebrew macros for TeX/LaTeX

Arabic and Hebrew, eh? Maybe we can all get along.

I hacked together a LaTeX template for conference posters for the Wireless Foundations Center. After searching around on the web I couldn’t find a package that was (a) easy to use, (b) allowed for arbitrary layout, and (c) supported many different poster sizes. So I hacked together 2-3 other style file ideas from other people and made this template and associated style file. I’ll try and add features over the summer, but that’s a really low priority right now.

I’m using the package to make a poster for tomorrow’s day conference at Stanford and it’s going pretty smoothly, so I think it’s reasonably usable.

Welcome, Adrienne, to the wide world of (semi)-active blogging!

Ari had a brilliant idea for a way to run chorus rehearsals. Soloist selection will be at random for each piece, but you won’t know if you have a solo until it’s time to sing it.

The corresponding conducting technique is to give the upbeat and then on the downbeat suddenly point at the soloist-to-be. This technique is adapted from a certain conductors-who-will-remain-unnamed’s habit of switching soloists at the last minute. The advantage is that everyone will be looking up out of their music, so it’s not all a wash.

I promised a while back that I would talk about tenors: Peter Pears, Fritz Wunderlich, and Ian Bostridge.

Manu lent me a cd of Ian Bostridge singing Schumann’s Dichterliebe with the (to me at the time) ludicrous assertion that it was significantly better than Wunderlich’s approach to the same song cycle. After long deliberation between the two recordings, I would agree that they are significantly different but the absolute quality depends on what you are in the mood for.

Wunderlich is a master of technique to the point that even the heavy Romanticism of Schumann seems somehow classical. He gives free reign to his vibrato in a natural way, it seems. Barring that effect, the songs are simple yet beautiful. He lets the sonic texture of the music speak for itself. Bostridge, on the other hand, takes a much more active role in the interpretation of the music. At times it sounds too meddlesome — in the song “Ich hab’ in traum geweinet,” he sounds too overwrought to me for such a spare and clinical accompaniment. On the other hand, in songs like “Ein Juengling liebt ein Maedchen,” Wunderlich sounds lumbering compared to the nimble and light Bostridge. It’s a toss-up for me, I think. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to implement my own interpretation of the Dichterliebe, but it lies somewhere between then. But having listened only to the Wunderlich, Bostridge’s interpretation is a breath of fresh air.

Bostridge’s vocal style leads me to talk about Peter Pears, who was Britten’s lover and partner (had they been in MA I’m sure they would have gotten married). Britten wrote many pieces for Pears that highlight what some characterize as an unusual voice. I don’t think it’s unusual at all, but rather a more natural voice than we hear from other classically trained singers. Pears sounds like he comes from the same “warbler” tradition that appears in the flashback scenes of The Singing Detective. He is full of vibrato and perhaps sounds ponderous in his low range, but his tone is agile, for lack of a better word. He glides effortlessly through Britten’s Nocturne, for example, a feat which most other tenors would find difficult to be sure.

All of these singers are worth a listen. It adds a whole different dimension to listen to such wildly varying interpretations as Wunderlich and Bostridge, and it’s worth hearing Britten as sung by his intended tenor to get the feel of his solo voice music.

My father sent me this article recently about the psychology of failure within graduate school. As a child of academics heading pretty much full-speed ahead into the world of academia, it was a good read. I tend to be my harshest critic, as those who know me do know. It’s frustrating to read things like:

Unfortunately, the hard facts show again and again that only a small percentage of doctoral students can achieve the success of becoming a tenure-track professor at a research institution.

I mean, we all know it’s true, but it’s one of those unpleasant things that if you let it get you down will no doubt scuttle your chances of making it.

The most important point that the article makes, albeit more tangentially than I would have hoped, is that there is a culture of desperation surrounding many graduate programs. In particular, students become more and more desperate for some sort of handle on “the job market,” as they progress through their program, and it causes all sorts of stress. People always ask me how long it’s going to take to me to graduate and what my plans are afterwards. My answer is always “I’ll see what things are like when I get there.” It’s a nice lie to myself and makes me look well-centered, but of course I’m just as scared shitless as everyone else that there will be no jobs for me when I get out.

I’m not planning on taking that barista course yet, but who knows? Maybe it will come to that. That or sit on the corner with a sign that says “will pontificate for money.”

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