March 2007


I am going to visit Rutgers-New York-Chicago in the next 1.5 weeks and I am quite excited. I almost feel like more ideas come to me when I am not coming into the office every day, and I am looking forward to it…

Bang 17: Knights of the Round Table, as organized by The Platonic Solids (I am the Dodecahedron), will be happening on April 28, 2007. Be there or be an irregular polytope.

I saw the premiere of The Riches, a new series starring Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver. The show revolves around the Molloys, a family of consummate con artists, headed up by Izzard and Driver. The Molloys are Travelers, and in the premiere Driver’s character has just gotten out of jail. While on the run after a misunderstanding with the new head of the clan, they happen upon a lawyer and his wife who have died in a tragic car accident and decide to take their identities and “go straight.”

The premise and required framework require a suspension of disbelief that beggars the imagination, but the show manages to provide really interest human moments and conflicts that might be otherwise impossible in a conventional story. The Traveler/Gypsy community gets a lot of stereotyping in pop culture, and here they seem to provide a convenient mythos for the story that leaves a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. What seems most interesting to me is the perspective the show can have by putting characters from the outside inside a gated community. Unlike a premise in which poor people win the lottery and move into the expensive neighborhood, shocking the neighbors, here the tension comes from avoiding being “found out.” At the end of the show Izzard quotes the last stanza of a poem by William Stafford:

A STORY THAT COULD BE TRUE
by William Stafford

If you were exchanged in the cradle and
your real mother died
without ever telling the story
then no one knows your name,
and somewhere in the world
your father is lost and needs you
but you are far away.

He can never find
how true you are, how ready.
when the great wind comes
and the robberies of the rain
you stand in some corner shivering.
The people who go by-
you wonder at their calm.

They miss the whisper that runs
any day in your mind,
“Who are you really wanderer?”-
and the answer you have to give
no matter how dark and cold
the world around you is:
“Maybe I’m a king.”
“Maybe I’m a queen.”

Perhaps this poem sums up the main tension in the show — the Molloys are trying to become the Riches to make the story true, but their choice is made deliberately and not a switch of the babies at birth. I have very little patience for TV shows in general, and I don’t know if I will continue to watch this one, but I’ll at least try and see the next one or two episodes, because I think the writing is smart and the acting smarter.

The The San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival is going on right now. I’ve seen two films, which is likely my quota given my workload, but there are a bunch that I want to see.

In Between Days is the story of an alienated Korean-Canadian girl, Aimee, who lives with her single mother in a desolate and snowy Toronto. The film follows her trying to deal with her feelings for her friend Tran, her absent father, and the trials of being in a foreign country. Although it seems to be causing a lot of waves, I felt like the pacing was a bit slow for my taste. Perhaps that was because I was hungry though. This film is a must-see if you are interested in the psychology of assimilation and alienation in Asian youth (Yeti, I am looking at you).

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, an anime, is an adaptation of a young-adult novel about a high school senior who discovers she has the power to jump back in time. Hilarity ensues as she avoids awkward and embarassing situations by haveing do-overs, but she soon discovers that changing some events for the better can have undesired consequences (a typical trope in time-travel stories). This was a touching film, but I felt it sort of left the rails near the ending by introducing a rather improbable plot twist. Anime has a tendency to do this, however, so I lumped it in with the other oddities of Japanese narrative.

SFIAAFF Trailer is very addictive for some reason. The lyrics make no sense at all:

Come with me and we will paint the town together
With our brand new brush made out of patent leather.
We’ll go dancing after we have sandwiches.
Then we’ll fly away…
Through the air with a grizzly bear,
We can make a cake out of snow
But first we need to get on with our show!

Part of it must the calliope circus music, but really, it’s just pure silliness.

As if having the deadlines for ISIT and CISS 2007 so close to each other wasn’t bad enough, the deadlines for the Statistical Signal Processing Workshop and the Information Theory Workshop in Tahoe are both on April 1. In the former case I didn’t mind, since I didn’t have anything I wanted to send to CISS and besides, it’s bad to distract oneself with conference papers. But in the latter case, I have results to send and reasons to go to both. Perhaps going out of town for spring break wasn’t such a good plan after all…

I went to a talk yesterday by Chris Wiggins on gene networks, signal processing, and information. I found it a bit unfortunate that he used the phrase “the mutual information between chemistry and genetics” and wrote up I(c,g) on the board. I eventually figured out what he meant, but it immediately brought to mind the famous “Information Theory, Photosynthesis, and Religion” editorial by Elias in the IT Transactions.

Although I had to duck out of the talk early, at the beginning we got to see the Inner Life Of A Cell video, which is amazing. There are versions with narration from the Harvard multimedia website. I know this has been around a while, but I hadn’t seen it yet. It’s definitely worth a look.

One thing that I could have used when I started graduate school was a good list of survey articles and introductions to different modeling paradigms and mathematical ideas used in communications and signal processing. It would have done wonders to help me get up to speed on these widely-used ideas. As a grad student, you can’t take classes in everything, and a lot of these ideas are important in research but haven’t really made it into course curricula either. Hopefully people reading this will comment and suggest more titles — I’ll expand the list as more material is suggested.

Topics that it would nice to have (preferably at a level for early graduate school) : convex analysis, Fourier analysis, percolation (there’s a book but it’s a bit advanced for many I think), generating functions… anything else, really.

High dimensional convex geometry

Keith M. Ball, An Elementary Introduction to Convex Geometry, Mathematical Sciences Research Institute Publications Vol. 31 : Flavors of Geometry, 1998.
This is a survey article that requires a bit of mathematical maturity, but covers a lot interesting material on high dimensional balls, convex polytopes, volume ratios, and ends up in Dvoretsky’s Theorem. This is less of a “techniques” paper but is good for getting some intuition and facts straight about high dimensional convex things.

Isoperimetric inequalities

A. Dembo, T. Cover, and J.A. Thomas, Information theoretic inequalities, IEEE Transactions on Information Theory, 37(6), 1991.
This is the information-theoretic take on some isoperimetric inequalities.

Markov Chains and Mixing

V. Guruswami. Rapidly Mixing Markov Chains: A Comparison of Techniques, May 2000.
A nice readable survey that gets the main results across.

Game Theory

Robert Gibbons, Game Theory for Applied Economists, Princeton University Press, 1992.
This is a quick read that will get the basic terminology and ideas of game theory. It’s not as useful for learning the deeper stuff, but it’s definitely accessible and well-written.

Auctions and auction theory — used for network congestion and resource allocation

Paul Klemperer, A Survey of Auction Theory, in Auctions: Theory and Practice, Princeton University Press, 2004.
A non-technical introduction to the study of auctions and how they are modeled. Good for getting an idea of what all the fuss is about.
Vijay Krishna, Auction Theory, Academic Press, 2002.
This book covers the basics and reading the first few chapters should let you get a handle on the terminology so that you can read some of the network congestion and pricing papers.

Ryowa
2068 University Avenue
(at Milvia St & Shattuck Ave)
Berkeley, CA 94704
(510) 883-0667

This is a no-frills ramen house, a-la-Tampopo, but minus the comedy. I’ve been here three times now, and will probably keep going back whenever I have a noodle soup craving in downtown Berkeley. Although Cha-Ya is a short walk away, sometimes you want some chashu (pork) ramen, and Ryowa will deliver. This is probably my new standby for a quick pre-Berkeley Rep meal.

I still haven’t tried the butter corn ramen, but the original, shoyu, and butabara bowls are pretty tasty. The sesame broth is light, as is the shoyu, but still flavorful. Unlike some places I’ve tried, I actually find myself trying to drink the broth down, especially after adding in some red pepper powder. I’ve also heard that the kara-age (fried chicken) is really goos, but I’ll have to wait to go there with a bigger group. The menu is pretty much just ramen, gyoza, fried rice, and kara-age, so don’t go here if you want to have a variety of eating options…

Red Box Sushi
581 Eddy Street
San Francisco, CA 94102

This place is so small that it’s easy to almost walk past without noticing it, but it serves up some great sushi in the Tenderloin. The fish is fresh and almost buttery, and it’s the perfect place to go before seeing a show or movie. I went there before seeing the Preservation Hall Jazz Band at the Great American Music Hall with Erin.

We started with some miso soup, which was really flavorful compared to the stuff you get elsewhere. Maybe they put in too much miso paste, but I liked it. We ended up getting a few maki and the sashimi combo (although i thought we ordered the sushi combo…). The sashimi was melt-in-your-mouth good, especially the salmon. The unagi maki was also good, but somehow less memorable to me. There were a number of crazy American-style rolls if that’s your thing (it’s not mine). The standout thing for me was an innovation of the chef that he called “firecracker balls.” These are spicy tuna maki, batter-dipped and deep fried, with what tasted like sriracha, mayonnaise, and tobiko on top. If you like spicy food, definitely get these. All in all, a worthwhile trip. Next time I’ll go with more people so we can try more things.

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