scientology is bad

Scientology annoys the hell out of me, as do all cults, but it was pretty disheartening to hear that Beck is also a Scientologist. My anger stems from personal anecdotal evidence from an ex-church member who is my friend’s stepdad. Having just watched a play about the People’s Temple, I wonder if such a play could be made about those Dianetics nutcases. They’re too smart to have a terrible tragedy like Jonestown, but enough stories put together, and it could be an interesting night of theater.


Koetter-Vardy algorithm in MATLAB redux

Pursuant to my previous post, some raw (and possibly now not as functional) code for the Koetter-Vardy and Guruswami-Sudan algorithms is now posted off of my work page. It’s horrendously slow, but I’m sure others can make it better.

Update: I’ve moved and the code is gone, archived elsewhere. I don’t plan to post it again — it’s just a class project, so people should try to do it on their own for educational purposes.

mr. gould, I salute you

Rediscovering lost loves and finding them fresh and new is always a wonderful feeling. This last year my life became engulfed in singing and I stopped listening to a lot of purely instrumental works. This set of albums is the best of both worlds, since you can hear the pianist humming along with the fugue.

Glenn Gould’s Well-Tempered Clavier is astonishing — it makes me want to lie down on my back in a sunny field, go skipping through the library, tiptoe through a dark cave, fight super-villains, and prove this goddamn theorem. Mr. Gould, you created an inspiration, an instigation, and hopefully what will be an incipient instantiation of some real progress. I salute you.

personal updates

I found a place to live, finally. It’s not far from where I live now. If you want the address, send me email — if you want to help me move (read : masochistic), I’ll be doing that this weekend. Feasts! Fun! Frolic!

Research is going terribly — those things I can prove are at the fringes of things that are more exciting. They are like tide-pools, brimming with their own secret and temporary ecosystems, but insufficient to support my thesis aspirations. Time to go skinny-dipping again, academically, I suppose. Hmmm, academic skinny-dipping.

Ranting on causality and a possible new interesting problem to follow.

Bissap Baobab

(Mission and 19th) This Senegalese restaurant is always busy, like it’s neighbors Cha Cha Cha and Charanga, so be prepared to wait. Senegalese cuisine is like that of other West African countries — starches, stews, and grilling things. There’s a DJ on weekends and some pretty tasty cocktails with ginger, hibiscus, and other “exotic ingredients.”

We started with fried plantains with a tamarind dipping sauce. Actually, according to our Senegalese companion, plantains are not native to Senegal, but to Cameroon and Cote d’Ivoire, so that dish was not particularly authentic. We managed to ignore that on the basis of its tastiness. For the main course I had the Yapou Khar, which is a lamb stew with tomatoes and onions over rice. The lamb was tender, but I found the stew a little too watery — I wish they had cooked it a little longer or reduced the liquid more. The centerpiece dish is Thiebou Djen (or Djolof rice for those who know Ghanaian food). This is a spicy fish stew over red rice, and is hearty and tasty.

Bissap has managed to get less and less spicy every time I’ve gone there, and the prices seem to have gone up, so it’s harder for me to recommend it against some of the other places in the area. However, if you have a hankering for these flavors it’s still your best bet.


(Church at Clipper) I’m not sure how they managed to get, but more power to them. This restaurant is a bit out of the way, so I wouldn’t recommend it as a pre-movie meal (unless you trust the J-Church MUNI line to come like clockwork), but it’s the only really good pseudo-Lebanese food I’ve had in the city. The ambiance is nice, although some ongoing renovations make the patio area unusable at the moment.

We split an order of hummus to begin with. It was tangy and flavorful, a moister version than you sometimes get at restaurants, but not at all runny. For the entree, I split the Mansaf and M’sakhan with Liz, both of which were covered with a yogurt sauce. The Mansaf was lamb chunks and rice with a slightly sour/tart (“aged”) yogurt, topped with almonds. A whole plate might have been too much for me, since I found the sauce a bit too aggressive for the lamb, which could have been spiced more heavily. The M’sakhan’s yogurt sauce had saffron and was quite a bit sweeter — a nice complement to the Mansaf. They take chicken and caramelized onions and wrap it in a lavash, grill it, and cover it with the sauce. The spicing in this dish came through much better, in my view.

The dishes are large and dense here, so come hungry! Going “family style” might be a better option for those who get full quickly.

why hang on to books?

Jessica asks an important question:

why do you hang on to books? I try to give the good ones to friends and if i cant send em off i try to give em to libraries. i never understood that, they get so dusty and cumbersome and if i want to reread them they are in the library… i remember you commeted to me once about how you owned way more books to make some point about how you were much more literate than me.

I certainly hope that I wasn’t using the size of my book collection to make some sort of claim to superiority, but if I did or it seemed I did, I apologize.

One might also ask : why have more than two pairs of shoes? You can just wear one pair over and over until they fall apart. It’s of course a different scenario, but (1) it is more convenient to have more than two pairs of shoes and (2) it brings one aesthetic pleasure to be able to dress in different ways. Having hundreds of books is then the wardrobe equivalent of being Imelda Marcos, but the fundamental two points remain — keeping books is convenient and pleasurable (to me at least).

I do lend books to people, and sometimes I just give them outright, in an indefinite loan, or tell them to lend them to others. Sometimes I have a book for years (Civilwarland in Bad Decline comes to mind) before giving it to someone. However, some books I have are relatively hard to find in libraries or so popular that they are invariably checked out. If I donated all of my books to the local public library or the university library, perhaps 10-15 of them would make it into circulation (reference material mostly). Almost all of them would go up for sale in order to raise funds for the library, which is a good cause, but hardly the most desirable result, which is to give that particular copy of the book a wide readership via library circulation.

That being said, I have used BookCrossing and other systems, and I do prune my book collection by selling things back to used bookstores or donating to the library. But I think there are reasons to have books beyond avarice. The only time I find them dusty and cumbersome is when I move — which I am doing this month, so perhaps I will change my tune then (EDIT: no, I haven’t found a place yet, and I think I am going to go insane).

my first baseball game

This probably comes as no surprise to those who know me, but I have never been to a major league baseball game. However, I have been to a few college football, basketball, and vollyball games, so it’s not so much that I am generally sports-illiterate as specifically baseball-illiterate.

Being the baseball nut that she is, Erin insisted that I go to an A’s game while she was visiting, so last night we went with my friend Bobak to see the A’s battle it out with the Mets. It was not much of a battle — the score was 5-0 and Erin called the end time of the game to the minute at 9:30. We had a good time, even though the game was rather fast and uneventful.

The most exciting part was when the Mets were about to score (bases loaded, 1 out, as I recall) and the A’s made a double-play to hold them scoreless. I think that part of the reason I never really got into baseball was the pace of the game — long stretches of nothing, essentially, followed by one or two moments of genuine tension and excitement. It makes for an anaerobic workout. This is, of course, where scoring comes in. Keeping score during a game requires you to pay attention to everything (although depending on the scorecard, the level of detail can vary), and thus you have to be really watching the game. Perhaps I will try it the next time I go.

As it turns out, we should have gone tonight, when bleacher seats are $2 and hotdogs are $1, but I think two games in a row might be a little too much for inexperienced me. But perhaps I will go to another game at some point — I still prefer football and basketball, but baseball has its place too, I suppose.