I think I'm in pretty decent shape. I go to the gym three times a week where I do machines and aerobics or run a mile. But playing tennis activated back muscles I didn't know were being atrophying. How many muscles can you have? Seriously ...
And playing tennis yesterday brought to mind my previous tennis buddies.
First was Anindya Das, who taught computer science at OU. Because summer evenings in Oklahoma get very hot, we'd play on Saturday mornings at his apartment complex until several of the residents begged him to stop waking them up so early on Saturday. I'm breaking my informal policy of not using friends' names on this blog (after all, they shouldn't have give up their privacy just because I'm writing a blog) to name him because he seems to have dropped off the face of the earth. He left OU to teach in London, Ontario and then apparently left that department. Web searches only show papers written when he was OU, so he must not be a faculty member anymore. Here's hoping that someone who knows him now will let me know where he is!
Then, there was the archaeologist who went with me to Chickasaw and explained the murals and artifacts at the Native American museum there. I remembered writing about him on my "blog", so if you are wondering what my blog looked like in 1997, go read it ... He finished his research, and moved away to a teaching job in the Eastern United States.
And there was the fellow who put himself through school teaching skiing and tennis. Obviously, he was much, much better than me, but he had the patience of a born teacher and the easy-going nature of a kid who spent his summers playing tennis and his winters skiing in the mountains. I loved playing with him even though he would run me ragged and take my serves left-handed. He too moved away, although I do run into him once every couple of years.
And somehow, tennis slowly faded away. I picked up racquetball but that too stopped a few years ago.
My sore muscles today remind me that a little sport is good for the body. And the memories of old playing buddies remind me that it may also be good for the soul. Perhaps it's time to make new friends on the tennis and racquetball courts.
Then ... hand-editing functionality to dealias the velocity data from the phased array radar, because automated methods don't work well on it just yet. We may need to use the human-edited data to create a good dealiasing technique in the future.
Then, an automated algorithm (called LLSD: local least squares derivative) to identify areas of rotation based on the velocity data.
And finally (the newest thing in this list): a multi-product, multi-source interactive, isosurfacing capability.
Put all of this work together, and you get this great picture:
The red is the hail core of the storm. The blue/teal shows where the air cores are rotating (i.e. the tornado) and the grey/black shows the entire thunderstorm structure.
What's my role in all of this work? Only on the periphery of all of this ... I developed statistical methods to verify the calibration of the radar, and techniques to correctly assemble the data as it is adaptively scanned. Also, I designed the system -- WDSS-II -- within which much of this work is done. But nothing sexy, like the isosurface picture!
There are other ways that we could figure it [the number of casualties in a disaster] out--counting death certificates, or crime reports. It's a multivariable equation; as long as you have enough variables, you can solve for the missing ones, and check your answers.A multivariable equation can not be solved. You can solve a system of multivariable equations, but only if you have at least as many equations as you have variables.
She means to say either:
1. There are many pieces of data. As long as you have all these values, you can plug them into an equation and find out the number of casualties.
2. There are many equations, each of which provides a different estimate of the number of casualties. You can do them all, and then check how each method compares.
I'm not sure if she means no.1 or no. 2. Because being precise in stating mathematical things (even in an article on arithmetic!) is not a concern of journalists, there is no real way to tell.
Turned out to be a letter informing me of the "economic stimulus" check coming our way.
Why the IRS would waste money and shock value sending out these letters beats me.
What am I going to do when I get the money? Invest it of course. Maybe in foreign stocks ...
(1) The airlines' websites don't allow you to book two tickets simultaneously. They also don't let you hold a reservation while booking another one (actually, they seem let you do this for domestic flights, but not international ones). So, trying to book a kids' ticket and an adult's at the same time is impossible if the full itinerary is not the same. But of course, we need to travel together.
(2) There are way too many flight options, so the websites prune the list they show you. Somehow, the fact that you are stopping over on the return trip changes the options you are presented on the outward journey. So, I never get the same set of options when booking my trip as I do when booking the kids'.
(3) Flying out of Oklahoma City just increases the number of options because of the variety of hubs that can be chosen.
So, the solution?
First, book out of Dallas. This addresses #3 and reduced #2 enough that it was possible to see the a few identical routes listed for both me and the kids.
But what about #1? I called American Airlines and had them make four bookings for the itineraries that I'd chosen out of Dallas based on getting good web fares. The problem was that even though the web listed fares around $1500, they would not get anywhere near that -- their quotes for trips involving Helsinki were about $3000. Curious, I asked about the kids' trip because their trip is simpler: Dallas to Chennai and back. They offered me tickets for $2000.
"But you're selling it on the web for $1300!," I protested.
"I have no access to the web fares," said the agent, "but let me see if I can get you children's fares on those tickets." That worked. With children's fares, each of their tickets came out to around $1400. More than the internet rate, but not ridiculously more.
I asked her to hold those tickets for me for 24 hours. Then, I got off the phone and went to the web to book our tickets. And wouldn't you know it? The carefully chosen routes were no longer listed!
Disheartened, we'd almost decided that I would simply bring the kids back with me to Helsinki and then back home, to Norman. They would get only a month with the grandparents, but there seemed to be no other decent option.
On a lark, I tried again, late in the afternoon. And the old routes were back! Perhaps the agent ended up blocking a lot of tickets when she made the kids' reservations.
Anyway, I booked the tickets online, called the agent, cross-linked the itineraries and ... hurray!
Except that we have 3 road trips to Dallas coming up. Sigh!
This is our plan for the summer holidays. I fly to India, with the kids. After a month with my parents, I go to Helsinki (work) and then back home. The wife flies over to join me in Helsinki and then flies on to India. The kids come back home with her.
Now, to price the tickets. I went to aa.com -- American and British Airways are partners and British Airways flies direct from London to Madras. My ticket would be around $1600, the kids would be around $1500 and the wife's would be around $1800.
Okay, now to book the tickets. Unfortunately, the website will not let me book the kids' tickets separate from ours -- unaccompanied minors, and all that.
Called the American Airlines reservations desk.
"Book them as adults and call us back and we'll change it to children's fares and do the cross-linking," I was advised.
Back to the site. Plugged in the travel dates. The fares are still there, with several potential itineraries for each fare. But here's the thing. My itinerary and the kids' never matches into Chicago or into Dallas. From Chicago/Dallas to Madras, everything is the same. For example, if I get a fare for the 4pm flight out of Oklahoma City to Dallas, the kids' itinerary involves a 1.40pm flight. Both connect to the same flight to London. But of course, no way the kids are flying alone.
Called up American Airlines again. Told him the problem. He plugged in the details, and said that he couldn't price the ticket. He could only offer me a ticket with an overnight stay in Delhi, and he had to send it to their tariff department for pricing. "No thanks," I told him.
Then called an Indian consolidator I've bought tickets from before. The one big problem is that his tickets all involve stop-overs in Europe and in the Middle East. Two stops. No fun. But, hey my back's to the wall at this point.
"Where is Helsinki?," he wanted to know. He listened to me like I was an idiot. "I don't have consolidator fares to Helsinki," he told me, "the best I can do is to give you a stopover in London or Frankfurt. Buy the Helsinki tickets yourself."
Maybe, I thought, I can book one way tickets but the one-way tickets price out at around $3000 a leg!
Any bright ideas?
UPDATE: Figured out how to solve the problem ...
This is S1 swallowing his fears and giving a short talk in public. He's been willing to go up before a group before, but only if it involved demonstrating something physical. This is the first time he's actually talked in public:This spring break, he attended a spring camp at the Little River Zoo, a small non-profit organization that takes in rescued animals -- we're big fans of the outfit, and it's one of the places that we always take visitors (besides the museums: one "natural" and the other "fine").
He's been having a lot of fun at camp. "If you'd only come 10 minutes earlier," he remonstrated with me in the car today, "you could have held a snake too."
These are his hands after his six hours as "junior zoo keeper". He claimed to have already washed them, so I can only imagine that what copious amounts of mud and dirt he'd been having a ruckus in:
What caused me to reflect on the triviality of my complaint was reading this New York Times article about the experience of a young Colombian woman:
There are bad apples everywhere, even (I'm sure) in the Social Security administration which is perennially at the top of customer satisfaction surveys amongst government agencies. But an indication that this is not just the case of a few bad actors:
The calls from the agent started three days later. He hinted, she said, at his power to derail her life and deport her relatives, alluding to a brush she had with the law before her marriage. He summoned her to a private meeting. And at noon on Dec. 21, in a parked car on Queens Boulevard, he named his price — not realizing that she was recording everything on the cellphone in her purse.
"I want sex," he said on the recording. "One or two times. That's all. You get your green card. You won't have to see me anymore."
The agency says it has tripled its investigative staff since then, and counts only 165 serious complaints pending. But it stopped posting an e-mail address and phone number for such complaints last year, said Jan Lane, chief of security and integrity, because it lacks the staff to cull the thousands of mostly irrelevant messages that resulted. Immigrants, she advised, should report wrongdoing to any law enforcement agency they trust.
In other words, they are so swamped by complaints that they don't even want to hear about it any more.
Those of you who complain about the DMV don't know how much worse a government agency can get.
Our appointments were an hour apart but the INS guys wouldn't let the wife and me into the building together. The guy at the gate told my wife that she could go in, but that I would have to come back in 40 minutes. Not friendly is it? But then, such coarseness is par for the course at the INS. So, the kids and I sat out in the car. Luckily, the weather was in the 50s, so it was not too bad.
Anyway, the wife came out and I went in. The fingerprinting was fast and smooth. They had a sophisticated machine that captured the fingerprints in digital form, quickly analyzed each finger's print and asked for a repeat scan if a ridge line was broken or if the prints were smudged. A whole lot better than the old horror stories of waiting months to learn that the first set of prints were no good, so the whole process would have to be repeated.
When I came out to the car, the six-year-old had a question.
"So were you a good guy or a bad guy?," he asked.
I was puzzled. "What good guy? What are you talking about?"
"When they took your fingerprint, did it match?"
Why is it that expensive? It's not that the surgeon himself makes that much money. Take away the cost of the clinic rent, receptionist salary, nurses, materials, liability insurance, and I would estimate that his take from the operation may have been less than $200. Yet, the operation cost my insurance company $800.
I think that the reason is that there is no economy of scale in healthcare. In a country where retailing is dominated by big box stores, medical practices are run like boutiques.
Nevertheless, it appears that the warning never made it to the hordes of basketball fans in the stadium. The folks at Georgia Dome seem to not have made the announcement. It was fortunate that the game went to overtime, otherwise basketball fans would have been in the parking lot when the tornado stuck. In other words, the problem is not that a warning was not issued but that the dissemination mechanism failed.
We need to have warning applications that will automatically send weather warnings to mobile phones. A while ago, a colleague and I did a proof of concept using a web service and Android's cell-phone-tower triangulation capability. Somehow, though, I don't have much hope that it will see the light of day any time soon. Dissemination is a private sector responsibility and government agencies like the National Weather Service are afraid to tread there for fear of being slapped down by Congress. And since few people are willing to pay for weather information, the private sector seems uninterested in the mass market. Besides there seem to be liability issues that are far above my pay grade to sort out.
The sad thing is that we're probably one disaster away from resolving this. Close calls like the Georgia Dome incident are not going to do it.
Disclaimer: My opinions, not my employer's.
We first played an open pairs event on Saturday night. We came in fourth overall, and second in our division. Pretty good going.
Considering how well we were doing, we teamed up with another pair to play in a Swiss team event on Sunday. Eric, our club's resident expert, warned us that the scoring was different. The open pairs event was scored using match points, the same system that we use at our club games. The team event, on the other hand, would be scored using IMPs.
"What's the difference?," we asked him.
"Bid aggressively," he advised.
We shrugged it off. What on earth does bidding aggressively mean?
We paid for our indifference by getting our heads handed to us. Placing dead last after playing 48 boards over 7 hours is no fun.
"Does the scoring system really matter so much?," asked the wife when I told her that we came in last.
I tried to explain to her and as usual, in the process of explaining it to somebody, I really understand the impact of the scoring system now.
In matchpoints, which is how the open pairs event and club games are scored, you are essentially competing against everybody in the room. And what matters is your rank within the group, not the actual scores. So, there is no point in trying to make wild bids. Conversely, you play very carefully, trying to make as many overtricks as you can.
In IMPs, which is how the Swiss teams event was scored, you are competing against just one team. And what matters is the difference in the scores between yours and theirs. The upshot is that you do make wild bids, because the bonus for a game can easily swamp what you lose by not achieving a part score. To be exact about this: you make bids that have only a 30% chance of making whereas at matchpoints you make bids that have a 50% chance of making.
We played the Swiss teams event carefully and conservatively and got slaughtered. Even though Eric told us not to.
UPDATE: This article explains the difference between matchpoints and IMPs.
S1 and M. share a birthday. For the last few years, they've had a joint party, invited all their friends and arranged a book swap instead of birthday gifts.
M.'s dad has a student playing on the university's hockey team. The kid introduced us to the team's coach who essentially planned a party around the hockey game. We had an ice-skating session for all the kids before the game, then they got to sit in a box and cheer the hockey team. Being mostly boys, they lived for the fights and the goals. And at half-time, the two birthday boys got to ride the zamboni, waving to the crowd: Can you imagine anything cooler than that as a six-year old?
I just finished reading the book "Amish Grace" on the shooting a couple of years ago at an Amish school in Pennsylvania. Since we don't have cable and don't watch much TV news, I missed much of the hoopla beyond the basic facts: a non-Amish neighbor of the school burst into the school, made the boys leave and tried to molest the girls. The police arrived, however, and the gunman shot several of the girls and then shot himself. Within hours of the tragedy, the Amish community said they forgave the killer and extended a lot of help to the killer's family. I also remember the trite columns written in the aftermath of the tragedy: that we should all emulate Amish generosity
, that the Amish had such large families that the death of a few children didn't affect them as much, that the Amish were repressing their anger.
The book, written by three scholars with a long background in research on Amish traditions, goes beyond the triteness. It turns out forgiveness is an integral part of the Amish culture. For example, when children fight, they are taught to say not only "I'm sorry" but to reply "I forgive you." The Amish understand the Lord's prayer differently from most Christians. Many Christians start from Martin Luther's "from Grace alone" to understand the words "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors" to mean that God has forgiven us, so we should forgive those who wrong us. However, the Amish understand the words of the Lord's prayer to mean that "if you don't forgive, God will not forgive you." And because a typical Amish person reflects on or recites the Lord's prayer four or five times a day and because they spend a whole month focusing on Matthew 18 which deals with a parable on forgiveness, forgiveness is an integral part of the Amish makeup. They learn to forgive everyday, and so it was quite easy to know what do in the wake of the shooting at Nickel Mines.
The authors also dismiss much of the trite commentary by pointing out that commentators failed to distinguish between the words "forgiveness", "pardon" and "reconciliation". I didn't realize the difference until they pointed it out. To forgive is to say "I'm hurt (otherwise there is nothing to forgive), I will not forget what you did, however in spite of what you did, I will treat you with love and respect." Thus, after forgiving someone who abuses them, an Amish person may take steps to ensure that the person doesn't get a chance to abuse them again. And that is quite logical. Pardon, on the other hand, is limited to people in authority. An pardoned offense is one that is made to not have happened. Forgiveness is a personal act; pardoning is an official one. Forgiveness may lead to reconciliation (where the offender apologizes and tries to repair the relationship). Forgiveness is necessary for reconciliation, but reconciliation is not necessary.
And finally, forgiveness is not a one-time act. The Amish know that acts of this magnitude will continue to hurt for a long time. They take Jesus' admonishment to forgive "seventy times seven" times. They know they that will have to forgive the gunman in their hearts many, many times.
All in all, an amazing book and well worth your time.
A group of five business men, drinking, at a table. Some one says something that I didn't quite hear.
"Oh, Obama'll fix it.", retorts one. General laughter. Hearing the name made me perk up. Where were these denizens of corporate America saying about Obama?
"I was listening to him the other day," says one, "and he says he'll take all your money and give it away." That is true. What a lot of latte-sipping Obama supporters may fail to realize that he is a liberal. Taxes will go up. Since I paid penalties last year to the IRS because I underestimated my tax bracket, I'm quite aware that if Obama wins, I'll have to start paying more to Uncle Sam. And I would be lying if I said that the prospect doesn't bother me.
"That McCain, he's one hell of a mother fucker," one of them said. And then conversation turned to his accomplishments in Vietnam. His self-effacing stand to being tortured impressed several of the fellows. "He is tough," agreed another fellow, "he's not going to dick around."
This is going to be an interesting election -- both the Democrats and Republicans are nominating their strongest candidates.
As for me, I'm torn. I'm with Obama on a more nuanced foreign policy but with McCain on domestic issues like school choice and earmarks. Obama's pandering on NAFTA turned me off a bit, as did McCain's riffs on bombing Iran and a 100-year occupation of Iraq.
P.S. Am I not jumping the gun thinking it's going be Obama vs. McCain? No ... contrary to innumerate media reports, it's impossible for Hillary Clinton to win the Democratic nomination at this point. Obama leads by 150 delegates and 800,000 in the popular vote. Her "big" win in Ohio netted her 15 delegates and less than a 100,000 vote lead. She needs at least 8 more Ohios. She has just one -- Pennsylvania. The best I can tell, her game plan is to weaken Obama so that he loses to McCain and she can run in 4 years. If Obama were not goody-two-shoes, he'd run advertisements in the general election saying "Vote for me so Hillary doesn't run in 4 years!"
"Your kids are cute," she said.
"They get their cuteness from their dad," I responded.
"And their modesty from their mother?," she enquired.
When someone from the interior came around trying to sell a piece of mystery meat, we'd venture that the meat was either that of a monkey or of a hippo. The thought of a lovable pygmy hippo or capuchin killed for meat was enough to gross out any eight-year old.
Now that I think about it ... piglets, fawns and bunnies play similarly cute and lovable parts in American and European childrens' tales. I'm surprised that their meat doesn't gross out more children. Maybe that's just an African thing, to find it distasteful to eat adorable animals? Maybe Anglo-Saxon kids grow up more pragmatic.
I don't think any of us needs Gallup to tell us that someone from Chad (a land-locked Central African country bordering Darfur) is likely to be less happy with his lot than a Dane. So, in that sense, yes, people in richer countries are happier than those in poor countries. But the relationship is by no means linear.
For example: Venezuelans, Saudis, Brits and Americans are all approximately equally happy with their lives, even though the average American is five times wealthier than a Venezuelan and twice as wealthy as the average Saudi.
Meanwhile, even though China, India and Pakistan all have approximately the same level of wealth, Pakistanis are much happier than Indians who in turn are much happier than the Chinese.
My hunch is that is also cultural. Islamic societies seem to be happier and Eastern European countries more dour than their incomes would suggest. Pacific Rim countries are happier the richer they are -- a nearly linear relationship holds amongst countries such as Korea, Japan and Taiwan.
A few years ago, the University (OU) demolished a rundown apartment complex and built newer condominiums. Apparently, at the back of the apartment complex was a field that graduate students from former British colonies used to play cricket in. The university cricket club appealed and OU, being a nice and multicultural campus, offered to build the students a proper cricket pitch that they could use. The students leaped at the offer and explained the dimensions of the pitch, etc. to the construction folks.
The construction folks went away and a few weeks later, invited the students over to take a look at their new pitch. It was lovely, perfect length and width. Except that it was on one corner of the field and one side of the pitch was raised a bit.
NOTE: For those of you who don't get this, this is what a cricket field looks like. The brown strip in the middle is the pitch. This is what a baseball diamond looks like -- that's what got constructed, except that the pitcher would stand the length of a cricket pitch away!
A couple of folks have, unprompted, asked if it was me. So, he now claims it is a picture of me, mustache, glasses and all. Even the green hair could be arranged, I suppose.
This one is one of my favorites. S1 says it's a picture of some monsters fighting: His pictures all have monsters in them. I have the sneaking suspicion that he must have started out his portrait aiming to draw a monster, only it turned out to look like me!
The American Meteorological Society has a new procedure in place, where you have to click through an estimate of page charges before you can submit the paper. The page charge for my opus? A whopping $2380. My employer pays, but still ... it is interesting that we have just opened up quite a bit of intellectual property but it is worth so little that we have to pay for the privilege of publishing it.
I should probably just say that I have sent in a paper to a vanity press.
This is a post on India's most popular blog:
Who would have thought that Hillary Clinton would be battling for survival when Ohio and Texas went to the polls? How on earth did Barack Obama get so far ... And then there's NAFTAgate. Obama's senior economic advisor, Austan Goolsbee, allegedly told some Canadian officials that Obama's anti-NAFTA talk was just part of his pandering to Midwestern voters, and that he didn't really believe in his own protectionist rhetoric. Obama's campaign has been unconvincing in its denials ... If Obama and Clinton keep fighting like this for another few weeks, it won't matter who McCain faces: Both Obama and Clinton will find it hard to mobilise the base, much of which opposed them bitterly while the primaries were on.
Notice how effortlessly familiar the author is with the ins and out of the Democratic primary. The primary. And the expectation that his readers are equally familiar with it all. The surprising thing is that he is probably right.
"Do you know what A. told me about school?," she asked.
Our six-year old generally doesn't tell us much about what goes on in school. So, we were interested.
"Well, apparently there are three couples in their class. There are these kids who always play together."
"Oh, sure," I said, "if you're going to call that being couples.".
"And two of them got a yellow card," she continued, "for kissing.
My jaw fell to the floor and my eyes were up in the ceiling. Where they still are, a few hours later.