This is an amazing video that makes me miss the Bay Area. (via Bobak Nazer)

Also via Bobak, we’re number 8 and 10!

Since it’s holiday season, I figured it’s time to link to some profanity-laden humor about the holidays. For the new, The Hater’s Guide to the Williams-Sonoma Catalog, and the classic It’s Decorative Gourd Season….

A Game of Food Trucks. (via MetaFilter)

Larry Wasserman takes on the Bayesian/Frequentist debate.

LCD Soundsystem + Miles Davis youtube mashup.

My friend Erik, who started the Mystery Brewing Company, has a blog called Top Fermented. He is now starting a podcast, which also has an RSS feed.

The ITA Workshop is here! Blogging will happen, I hope, but probably not as extensively as before.

An important look at 6th Street in San Francisco (h/t Celeste).

You got that right, Arnold Schwartzenegger.

Werner Herzog is sometimes off-puttingly weird, but this critique (until around 3 min) is on-point (h/t B.K.).

The Death of the Cyberflâneur (h/t Mimosa). I am looking forward to being a flâneur in Chicago. The mild winter has helped, but I am rather looking forward to the spring for it. For now I suppose I am more of a cyberflâneur… Also, I hate the prefix “cyber.”

The fog in San Francisco (h/t Erin Rhode).

A general approach to privacy/utility tradeoffs, with metric spaces! A new preprint/note by Robert Kleinberg and Katrina Ligett.

Max breaks it down for you on how to use the divergence to get tight convergence for Markov chains.

The San Diego Asian Film Festival starts on Thursday!

Apparently China = SF Chinatown. Who knew? Maybe the fog confused them.

Dinner was great fun, but the part where it took me almost 3 hours to get home, 2.5 of which were spent stalled in traffic to get through the detour onto the bridge was not so fun. Ironically, I decided to drive because a late dinner in the outer Richmond would have possibly meant missing the last BART and having to take the transbay bus back, but given that I got home at 3, the bus would have been faster. Plus, I could have at least read something.

I don’t understand why they don’t post a sign when you go in to the city warning you that construction will be happening that night. Furthermore, it took the cops nearly 2 hours to get out onto the streets to regulate traffic. I overheard a cop talking to a construction guy, and it seems like the cops had no idea of the duration of the construction, which is mind-boggling. Why is this whole process riddled with incompetency? Had I known it what was going to happen, I would have just skipped the whole detour thing and gone down to San Mateo and back over. I would have gotten back in time that way.

Why oh why can’t we have better managed infrastructure upgrades?

On Saturday I saw a sneak preview of Sita Sings The Blues, an animated film by Nina Paley. It was an amazing piece of work. Having seen only some of the musical clips (from waaaaay back in the day), I was not prepared for how many different animation styles she used in the film. The film uses several narrative voices to tell the Ramayana story as Paley understands it.

The film is semi-autobiographical, and the ties between events in Paley’s life and treatment of Sita at the hands of Rama in the story are what lend the film and its implicit critique of Rama their weight. The main story is narrated by three shadow puppet figures, whose lines are taken from unscripted interviews with three Indians who try to hash out how the story goes, with minor disagreements and added embellishments along the way. The figures in this part of the story are painted cutouts that reminded me of the covers of Amar Chitra Katha comic books. As the story progresses there are also a number of musical numbers animated in the style visible in the stills shown on the film’s website. This is where Sita sings the blues in the voice of Annette Hanshaw.

The part of the story that seems to have gotten under Paley’s skin is Rama’s constant second-guessing of Sita. After rescuing her from Lanka, she has to prove her purity, and then after overhearing the dhobi beating his wife, Rama has Sita banished to the forest while she is pregnant. Having tried my own hand at finding a modern critical angle on some Hindu stories, I found this film delightful. Nina Paley is trying to get enough money to print the film to 35mm — hopefully she’ll be able to do that so people can see it in theaters.

KQED‘s Forum program had an hour on Verizon’s new decision to unlock its network and the future of consumer wireless technologies. The first part is more about business and consumers, but the conversation wends its way later to issues of unloading cellular traffic to WiFi networks (much as Blackberries do now, I guess). The whole “femtocell” idea is an interesting one, as is the mesh network that Meraki and others are proposing. Of course, the hardest part is convincing consumers to adopt/use the changes, but there are plenty of research questions in there as well, and even good theory questions.

As an added bonus, a caller towards the end named Rajiv who is a “researcher in mobile internet” called in to say that these changes are not really “new innovation.” At the time I thought, “maybe that’s Rajiv Laroia,” but I doubt it.

On Tuesday R and I saw The Sewers, a production from the New York theater company Banana Bag and Bodice. The play was part of the SF Fringe Festival, and is running through this weekend. I really enjoyed this play — the visual elements, disjointed narrative, and intense performances were exactly the kind of theater I’ve been itching to see:

This show is a conjuring act; an entire, albeit, tiny village by the name of The Sewers mysteriously appears one night in the theatre. All the children are dead. An acid plant in a barn. A triangular shaped love tryst. This show is a tour de force by manipulation.

If you are a fan of Richard Foreman, you will like it for sure, I think — it was done at the Ontological Theater in NY. The best thing about it is that it affects you in a way that is hard to articulate, and the process of trying to express to yourself what you think about it is fodder for hours of thought. Go see it!

Yesterday I competed with my lovely teammates Darcy, Michael, and Val, as team Get on a Raft with Taft in the Shinteki 3 Puzzle Decathlon. We came in 6th, just 5 points (out of 1200) behind number 5, which was pretty good, I thought. Many of the puzzles were designed by Ian Tullis, who is quite adroit at constructing physical clues of the sort that we rarely get at the Mystery Hunt. Shinteki’s tend to emphasize the running-around aspect of things quite a bit (like the Game, which I still haven’t done — shelling out $200 to play would break my already too-large puzzling budget). The theme this year was space and time, or something along those lines. At the start of the race they give each team a Palm (like in MH2K3) into which you can put in guesses or partial answers, and from which you can buy hints (that deduct from your point total). To start a puzzle you have to enter its start code. Partial solutions will open up hints, and after a certain amount of time on a puzzle hints will become free. Each puzzle also has a bonus answer, which can usually be solved by going down the wrong path while finding the solution. The whole thing is timed so that teams will get skipped over a puzzle if they are running too late.

The Decathlon started out with a group event about “string theory” — each team was given a scrabble tile. On the baseball field were several tangled stars of rope, each of which had a letter marked on the end. Each team’s letter was mixed up with two other’s (I believe) in a single star, and you had to run over there and tie the four ends to the belt loops of the four people on your team. Then the teams in each star had to do-si-do and try to untangle the ropes. Once you were done, you had to bunch up the two ropes and run over and toss them from a distance into a basket (if you missed your ropes would be flung as far away as possible and you had to start over). If you did all that you got the solution word to open up the next location…

… which was the amazing Garden of Eden in the Excelsior neighborhood near the Balboa Park BART station. By searching you find an envelope with a bunch of Trivial Pursuit-style clues. Each card had one answer that was the name of a Decathlon puzzle type, and the other answers were synonyms or antonyms. The reverse of each card features the Shinteki 3-circle Venn diagram logo with one segment shaded in corresponding to the color of the clue whose answer is the puzzle type. If you shade in all of the synonyms, you can get each card to yield up a letter (if you squint right). In card order, those give the answer words. The bonus is an acrostic of the puzzle types in order, which spells “WACKO MEETS,” an apt description for this event. The puzzle was very elegant, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the “are these really letters?” step.

The third event was in Golden Gate Park, near Stow Lake, where we had 4 minipuzzles. One was a digital clock-face LED puzzle where you had to take the complement of the lit segments, one was an art installation where you looked at objects which were sort of 3-D representations of letters (a cup for U, a weird bundt-cake pan shaped thing for W, etc.), one was a spiral word chain with trigram overlaps where you read the upcrossing diagonal for the solution word, and one was a stereogram thing that I didn’t understand. Solving these 4 tells you to take two pictures in the park using the camera in the Palm, and then take them to a location in the Botanical Gardens. This gets you the final puzzle, which is a series of two-word crosses with clues whose answers each contain “point”, “line”, “plane”, “space”, or “time,” which are entered into a single letter in the grid. The crossing letters give a cluephrase (FIFTH BASE). Mapping the 5 special words into 0-4 and reading off the numbers for each cross in base 5 gives the answer. The bonus was a message in 0′s, 1′s, and 3′s, which can be interpreted as “dot,” “dash,” and “space” to get a message in Morse. All in all, a pretty fun running-around break from sitting pondering Trivial Pursuit.

Puzzle 4 was near Lake Merced, and was a 3-D PVC tube construction of two “window panes” attached via their 4 corners. Each segment had a hole cut into it, and inside the structure were 8 colored marbles. You had to figure out in which segments each colored marble could go — these paths were disjoint and looked like letters (although lower case r and capital L were similar). In rainbow order these spelled the answer word. This puzzle was a great idea, but it was obvious to us what we had to do and just gathering enough data was mind-bogglingly tedious.

We had to hike out to Mori Point (in Pacifica?) to get the next clue, which was again 5 minipuzzles — a minesweeper, a paint-by-numbers, a diagramless crossword, and a 3-D maze, all of which were in a 4x4x4 cube. For each puzzle you took the “black” squares, which formed a 3-d contiguous piece, and constructed it out of the toy cubes they gave you. These could be put together to form a 4x4x4 cube with a missing piece, which was the missing “5th” minipuzzle. Looking at that shape from three directions gave the letters “HOT,” which was the answer. The puzzle was awesome in its construction but I was incompetent at assembling the cube.

Next was a jaunt over to at a park near the Bay in San Mateo. There were 7 circles made out of sidewalk cement, with two-grooves each way to make 9 sections (a grid on a circle, if you will). In each circle were a set of numbers written in different colors in different orientations. If you stood facing each of the 4 directions, treated the 9 segments as a keypad, and typed into your phone the corresponding keys in the order of the digits, you got a 4 word phrase to clue a word for that pad. The 7 words each had a run of one “key” (so CRABCAKES has ABCA, which all correspond to 2). Taking these gives the 7-letter answer. We rocked this one out, and I liked the concept quite a bit.

We then went to a park somewhere (San Bruno?) and did the easiest event, which made us masters of space and time. Two team members, blindfolded, had to walk 100 feet and plant a flag within a small circle. The other two had to count 100 seconds exactly. You got partial points for however well you did.

We were too late by the time we got to 7, so were skipped over 8 and went straight to 9, which involved going to a video store and requesting some B-movie. Inside the case were 6 squares and 8 triangles with dots and numbers on them, and slits on the edges so you could slide them together. Using some given rules you could construct a cube-octahedron and then trace out a path of dots which were “raised” if you looked at the thing through 3d glasses. Along each edge in the shape were 3 dots from the two faces incident on that edge, which gave a letter in Braille if you thought of the dots as raised. In path order you got a cluephrase for a the answer word. That was nice and thematic, with “raised dots” being Braille, unlike some puzzles where you say “oh I’ll just try every encoding on this.”

We had very little time to finish the 10th puzzle, which was a long clue list with all 9-letter answers, two grids, and a set of trigrams. Solving the clues and eliminating the trigrams from the list gives 3 remaining trigrams, which spell a clue phrase. The rules for entering words into the grid were a bit complicated, but do-able if we only had 20-30 more minutes, which we didn’t. Then again, no other team made it through this puzzle either, since the event had to end at 10 sharp. It looked like a really fun puzzle, though.

All in all, this was a nice set of puzzles which were elegant in mechanism and construction. I particularly appreciated the working in of thematic material, such as the dot-line-plane-space-time thing and the Braille. The downside of course is the driving around — a lot of time is killed just getting from point-A to point-B. But that is the way with all of these runaround games.

This was by far the strongest quake that I have felt since moving here, and the only one that was mildly frightening. Of course it also woke me up, so maybe that adds to the terror factor.

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