new year’s eve ramblings

At some point I’ll have to decide what this blog is really about — part of me wants to make it about work all the time, but I wonder if that would be shooting myself in the foot. It would (a) alienate 99% of the people who read this thing, and (b) could make me go crazy from thinking about work all the time.

I find myself incredibly sore in the right shoulder from playing too much Wii Tennis and Baseball. That being said, the Wii is probably one of the more fun game systems I’ve ever tried.

As an experiment, I have tried to make my favorite Maharashtrian dessert, shrikhand. The basic ideas is to take yogurt, drain it for 24 hours by hanging it in a cloth, and then mixing in sugar, nutmeg, cardamom, and saffron. I think I didn’t tie the cloth tightly enough, since it is a little less thick than when my mother makes it, but sugar + spice + whole milk yogurt is pretty much guaranteed to be tasty.

I’ve resolved for the new year to read more non-fiction, especially some cultural and performance studies things that I used to read but then stopped. On the list coming up is Paul Bové’s In The Wake Of Theory, the classic The Wretched of the Earth, and Impossible Desires: Queer Diasporas and South Asian Public Cultures by Gayatri Gopinath.

I also want to blog more. Which involves using my brain a little more expansively than my recent lifestyle has allowed. As Topato Potato might say, it is time to “spring into action!”

it’s cold outside

The recent “cold snap” has caused Californians to run around like the sky is falling down. No more Birkenstocks and sarongs for you, hippies! Then again, I never imagined that in the Bay Area I’d have to sit in my car and wait for the windshields to defrost. Maybe I should invest in an ice-scraper.

On a more somber note, the cold introduces significant hardships on the homeless population here — shelters are always overcrowded. I used to donate my old clothes to Out Of The Closet, but I think I’m going to start taking them to shelters and other places that provide services — especially the warmer items and blankets, etc.

paper a day : power laws for white/gray matter ratios

I swear I’ll post more often starting soon — I just need to get back into the swing of things. In the meantime, here’s a short but fun paper.

A universal scaling law between gray matter and white matter of cerebral cortex
K. Zhang and T. Sejnowski
PNAS v.97 no. 10 (May 9, 2000)

This paper looks at the brain structure of mammals, and in particular the volumes of gray matter (cell bodies, dendrites, local connections) and white mattern (longer-range inter-area fibers). A plot of white matter vs. gray matter volumes showing different mammals, from a pygmy shrew to an elephant, show a really close linear fit on a log-log scale, with the best line having a slope of log(W)/log(G) = 1.23. This paper suggests that the exponent can be explained mathematically using two axioms. The first is that a piece of cortical area sends and receives ths same cross-sectional area of long-range fibers. The second more important axiom is that the geometry of the cortex is designed to minimize the average length of the long-distance fibers.

By using these heuristics, they argue that an exponent of 4/3 is “optimal” with respect to the second criterion. The difference of 0.10 can be explained by the fact that cortical thickness increases with the size of the animal, so they regressed cortical thickness vs. log(G) to get a thickness scaling of 0.10. It’s a pretty cute analysis, I thought, although it can’t really claim that minimum wiring is a principle in the brain so much as the way brains are is consistent with minimal wiring. Of course, I don’t even know how you would go about trying to prove the former statement — maybe this is why I feel more at home in mathematical engineering than I do in science…

All Wear Bowlers

I saw All Wear Bowlersa at the Berkeley Rep on opening night. It was one of the most entertatining pieces of comedy I’ve seen in a while. The productions I saw earlier this semester (Lorin, Blood in the Brain, and Passing Strange) were good too, but I Bowlers really hit the spot for me in my stressful end of semester dance.

The play is of a piece with Beckett — two hapless fellows somehow get trapped on stage. What’s different is that these two actors, Geoff Sobelle and Trey Lyford, are incredibly skilled physical comedians. Dressed in vaudevillian baggy pants, vests, and coats, the pair clown their way around, messing with the audience (note : do not get seats in the main level, house left corner), and most of all trying to escape. There are wonderful conceits in the play — a silent film rolls and they duck behind the screen and into the film (the mind boggles at the sense of timing), interruptions from the soundtrack, and so on. The piece reminds me a bit of one of my all-time favorite films growing up : Bill Irwin in The Regard of Flight. It has some of the same sensibilities, although Irwin was trying to say more about theater in an overt way, whereas in Bowlers you feel like you’re watching a kind of aquarium show.

I don’t have too many intelligent things to say, except that it’s damn entertaining and its going on tour I think, so if it comes by your neck of the woods, definitely see it.