9/11! Terrorism!

Five years ago, I was not yet a college graduate. Now I'm beginning my fourth year of graduate school. I have a masters degree in physics, I'm on my way to a PhD, I'm more or less self sufficient and I am in a stable relationship. I can safely say that I've learned much in the last five years.

This cannot be said for the DHS. It is run by a bunch of morons. Take this news peice from today: "Cell phone makers fight resales." People are buying cheap handsets meant for by-the-minute cell plans and shipping them to foreign countries for resale at higher prices. The US is one of the few places in the world where cell phone companies subsidise the cost of the handset, hoping (rightly) to recoup the cost in the monthly service charges. However, because these phones are sold without a contract, and are not yet activated, there's no assurance that the person buying the phone will have to make monthly payments. Clearly, and logically, the phone companies are bothered by this.

So why does the DHS care about this? Why, terrorism, of course! 9/11! Terrorism! All these phones could be used for remote detonation devices. Yeah, and so could a Dale Earnhardt Jr. NASCAR Radio Controlled Car for $9.95 at Radioshack. Seriously folks, if a terrorist wanted a cell phone to detonate a bomb, does he need to buy dozens at once from one store? No. Terrorists want to act on the down low, which means buying perhaps one or two at any one time. They don't want to attract attention because they're doing illegal things. The people buying 20 phones at once don't care about seeming out of the ordinary because they are breaking no laws. It seems the en vogue thing to do that if your business model is in jeopardy, cry "terrorism!" and hope the DHS and their bad logic comes to the rescue. In this case, the DHS proves once again, they are unable to recognize legitimate threats.

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Gohan, South Korea

Gohan

According to the comment on my last post, my brother is not actually going to teach in Jeongseon. He's in Gohan, a few valleys over from Jeongseon. Interestingly, it's the home to the only casino in South Korea that South Koreans can gamble in. It's also going to open a ski resort in December which has made him happy, no doubt.

Hopefully he'll post something about the hamlet soon.

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Jeongseon, South Korea

Jeongseon

My brother is in Korea to teach english for a year. A few days ago he was told exactly where he'll be teaching, Jeongseon, Kangwon-do province, South Korea. Sensing a challenge, I went ahead and tracked down this mountain town.

The image on the left is a Google Earth image of the area around Jeongseon. It's a mountainous area -- the town appears to be jammed in between 1000 meter peaks at a 180 degree bend in the river (what river?). It also appears to be small -- it's smaller than 2 miles from end to end. If you'd like to find Jeongseon, go to 37° 22'36.52" N, 128° 39'54.46" E.

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Top Fuel Cycling

Tour de France

With all recent news about doping in cycling (and everywhere else), including the whole Floyd Landis debacle, I think that it's high time to institute Top Fuel Cycling. What? Top Fuel?!

Here it is: Throw all doping controls out the window. Anything that doesn't kill you (immediately) is allowed. EPO, testosterone, human growth hormone, amphetamines, and many more. Finally, there will be no question about who's on the stuff and on the clear.

On the flip side, there will be a league for cyclists who aren't on anything. In fact, they'll be forced to live like an average american. They'll need to eat cheetos, or maybe the league will be sponsored by the Lance snack company. It will be in their contract that half their calories have to come from Lance snacks. The other half from soft drinks and beer. To top it all off, this league will be followed by a TV crew filming a reality series. Each week someone will be kicked off by a judging panel, made up of Lance Armstrong, Lance Bass, and David Hasselhoff.

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Galaxy Family Tree

Halo Links

Above is a part of what I've been working on lately. It's a small part of the galaxy family tree that I've derived from a large simulation. In the simulation there are several ingredients that are thrown in the "box." Relevant to this are the dark matter particles, which coalesce into consituents of galaxies. The dark matter particles have unique id numbers. Using a some code I didn't write, I process the simulation data and make a list of galaxies along with the particles in each galaxy. Then, using some code I did write, I track particles and galaxies over a number of time steps, which builds a relational mapping. Then, I use Graphviz to make a nice tree, as you see above.

Inside each box are either three or four data values. The top grid shows what percentage of the particles in that group came from no group, the middle grid shows both the number of dark matter particles that are in the group and the position of the group, while the bottom grid shows the percentage of the particles that go to no group. The simulation takes place inside of a 3D box with length 1 on a side and periodic boundaries (which means the distance between 0.9 and 0.1 is 0.2, not 0.8). The colors of the box correspond to its ranking in size, red is the largest, green the smallest. The numbers next to the arrows are what percentage of the parent group goes to the child group.

The goal of this is to get an idea of how the galaxies form over the course of the simulation. Of course the simulation tries to mirror reality, so this family tree may be worth something.

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Security for Dummies


Today a bunch of "Islamic fascists" were arrested in London for plotting to blow up 10 transatlantic flights using liquid bombs. My parents are currently in Wales, and I think they were planning on returning in a little over a week. Who knows if their flight might have been targeted? It's unlikely, but there was (and still is, I suppose) a non-zero probability of something happening to any flight.

After watching the evening news tonight on several networks, I've come up with some comments on airport security guidelines & related topics:

  • On both networks I watched (CBS, NBC) there were dozens of clips of passengers throwing their liquid items into the trash, and then airport workers collecting huge bags full of discarded items & throwing them into dumpsters. If liqud bombs were a real concern, wouldn't the contents of the trash be treated with more respect than that?
  • I subscribe to the Crypto-Gram newsletter written by Bruce Schneier. One of the things he's written about over the last few years is airport security. Specifically, how they (being the "experts" at DHS/TSA) react to security threats. Usually, they act after the threat has been identified, or sometimes, after the second time. Responding after the threat is identified is like taking a final exam a second time, except people die. What's needed is more comprehensive security that responds to a broad range of threats, not silly movie plot scenarios.
  • I can't resist. Here's my movie plot scenario: If a terrorist is willing to die, surely they're willing to undergo some elective surgery. I don't think it would be impossible to implant some explosive device inside a human body. It would not be very comfortable, and would probably lead to infections after a while, but the bomber needs only to be able to tolerate it long enough to get on the airplane. Right now (and until someone attempts this) people are only put through the metal detector. Careful engineering could certainly prevent any kind of detection by that crude device.
  • Airline perks are going to make a comeback. Now that you can't take anything onto the airplane, the airline will have to supply diversions and food, or else they face very bored & unhappy passengers. The alternative is to start filling the cabin with N2O.
  • A coworker today theorized that the endgame in all of this is a plane full of passengers in hospital-like paper gowns handcuffed to the seats. Passengers will be supplied with absorbent underwear for the longer flights. Children will be put in cages. Do you think this can't happen?
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Sun God – 1983

Sun God

Every year in May UCSD hosts the Sun God Festival, which for most students is an excuse to get drunk and skip class. It is held on the lawn surrounding the Sun God, a large bird-like statue in the middle of campus. There are many student organizations that set up tables & other activities, such as inflatable sumo wrestling or pixie bike jumping. Usually, the controversial student publication, The Koala, has some kind of water-based activity. One year ago it was a slip-n-slide, and this year it was a slip-n-side too, but this time with a chute off a small embankment.

All of this, I suppose, is in tribute to, or because of the statue for which the festival is named. After all, the artist who made it was French, until 2002, when she died.

What's not to like about this entry in the Stuart Collection? It was the first item in the collection. It's colorful, simple, vibrant, and not hard to interpret. Perhaps out of all the items in the collection, this is the one UCSD students actually pay attention to most. And that's saying something, if you've ever met an UCSD undergraduate.

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Madison Madness

I've been riding bikes for so long that it's unusual that I learn something new. The last couple weeks I've started learning how to do the madison, easily the most insane event on the track. The madison, named after the arena in New York City, is a team event with two riders per team. One rider is racing, while one rests. In the multi-day race events, often one rider will ride for hours, and then switch off to the other teammate.

Madison

In shorter events, both riders are on the velodrome at once. The one who is resting either rides very slowly or holds onto the railing. When the racing team member wishes to be relieved, usually after a lap or two, the resting rider meets the racer, and they exchange momentum via a hand-sling.

Madison

The thing that makes this event so darned exciting is the sheer number of things going on at once. Firstly, of course, there's a race going on. Then, you've got riders coming in & out of the event. Sometimes multiple riders are coming into the race at the same time, so positioning and timing is very important. Since it is a race where you're only going one or two laps, essentially a racer goes nearly all out, followed by a short rest.

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Expedite my PhD

Six Displays!

Do you want to help me get my PhD faster? If so, go on over to this website and buy me one Zenview six screen multidisplay. I'd also like you to buy me a computer capable of running all the monitors.

It's only your money. We're talking about my education here!

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UNDA – 1987

Tour de France

UNDA, by Ian Hamilton Finlay (1987) is in the vein of the La Jolla Project, another Stuart Collection item. This time, the stone blocks are smaller and fewer in number. These stones are English limestone and have the latin word for "wave" carved into them, unda. To be more precise, the letters are carved out of order with a s-like shape included which transposes the letters to put them back in order to spell unda. According to the official page on this item (linked above) the wave moves through the letters like the waves in the nearby ocean, making a literary "wave" or something.

It seems to me that since the La Jolla Project had been installed three years before this item, putting plain blocks out on a lawn would have been plagiarism. Finlay probably thought to himself, "I've got all these bloody blocks of limestone, but some other bloke already did art with stone blocks. Let's put some latin on them -- and perhaps put it in the wrong order, like the word has been hit by a wave. No! Wait! I've got it!" And the result is what we see today.

This entry in the Stuart Collection is a good one, not a great one nor a poor one. I'm always skeptical of art that I feel is forced (waves upon waves upon undas, bah!) but this is okay despite that. The stone has a nice texture which I'm sure changes by the year due to weathering. The stones were cut roughly so they aren't square and perfect like the La Jolla Project. The stone has character which the unda doesn't ruin. It's worth your time to see.

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Yahoo! Mail Beta still stinks

Seven months ago I wrote a post covering my likes and dislikes (mainly dislikes) of Yahoo! Mail beta. It's time to revisit it and see if Yahoo! has done anything in that time. I had five points of contention:

  1. Fixed-width fonts. There is still no option for showing/composing messages in fixed-width font. Starting off weakly, Yahoo!

    x

  2. Message replying format. It still puts my signature at the top of the message. Again, they should provide the option of putting it where I want it. Uh oh, another red x.

    x

  3. Message quoting. This also has not been fixed yet. Since I use good email etiquette, having no differentiation between what I'm replying to and writing is not an option.

    x

  4. Signature new lines. Finally, something they've fixed. Of course, without fixed-width font, my signature still looks wrong.

    x

  5. Bugs. Perhaps there are other bugs that have gone unfixed, but the one I identified in the previous post has been fixed. So you get a green check, Yahoo!

    x

In sum total Yahoo! is batting .400, which is an excellent baseball average, but it is a poor average for things so simple to fix. Moreover, the list is in roughly descending order of importance to me. Therefore, Yahoo! is batting more like .150, having tackled none of the things crucial to me.

I've tried to tell Yahoo! about these shortcomings. I've submitted feature requests to the appropriate place several times over the last seven months. I can't believe I'm the only one with these concerns. But since nothing has changed, perhaps I am.

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Two Running Violet V Forms

In my opinion, Two Running Violet V Forms by Robert Irwin (1983), is the most easily describable entry in the Stuart Collection. Put simply, it is blue chain link fence raised thirty feet off the ground, arranged in two V shapes, set in the eucalyptus grove in the middle of campus. There's really not much more to say about it.

Two Running Violet V Forms

Um, wait it also has -- nope, um -- uh, yeah. That's really all there is to this art.

Really.

Oh, okay, I do have something to say about this "art." A couple things. First, this is another entry in the list of Stuart Collection art I could have done myself. That's not a good thing. Second, at least this art is easily avoidable, being in a part of campus I rarely go. If I do go there, I just have to keep my eyes low and I go right through it unmolested. Save your time and see something else while on campus. Third, while describing it is easy, understanding it isn't. Do you understand it? If so, can you help a brother out?

I promise that upcoming Stuart Collection posts will be more interesting!

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Something Pacific

Something Pacific

I managed to go by Something Pacific (by Nam June Paik in 1986) numerous times before I ever noticed it. In fact, the first time I expressly looked for it, I couldn't find it. Its entirety is a few foot-high statues watching concrete-filled 1950s televisions, placed in on a lawn. It is a fairly unimpressive work, considering that the artist was a video artist. The televisions don't function. Anyone can put televisions out on a lawn. I'm serious about this. A video artist is worthy due to what s/he has the televisions show. Using the standards of this work, I could be a paint artist by putting empty cans of paint out in the middle of a lawn. See! Paint cans! On a lawn! I'm a painter!

Perhaps the only redeeming quality of this art is that you actually have to slow down to notice it. Overall, this is a sub-par entry in the Stuart Collection, in my opinion.

(p.s. If you go to the official page for this item you'll see that in the lobby of the Media Center there are some functional televisions. This doesn't excuse the lameness of the outdoor part.)

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Untitled

Untitled

This is the most useful of all the Stuart Collection items. Yes, it's just a drinking fountain. Actually, it's a refrigerated drinking fountain, and it's by Michael Asher, done in 1991. The fountain is made of two kinds of granite, and looks exactly like the fountain you'd find in many buildings. I guess there's supposed to be some kind of symbolism in this, with grass surrounding the fountain, & the history of the site as an Army shooting range. However, it feels kind of stretched in my opinion. The irony here isn't very strong. In the end, it's just a drinking fountain, one that's perhaps more interesting than most.

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Bike RV

Bike RV

Bike RV

Bike RV

Here are some photos of a "Bike RV" that my father took in Northern California a few days ago. Notice in the middle photograph that there are at least three derailleurs! Here's what my father wrote:

Found parked alongside US101 on the way to Eureka. He lives in it, has pedalled it all around the US, has been doing this for years. The vehicle weighs 600 lbs or so. The panel above the seat is just a sun/rain shade, not a solar panel. The mechanical details were nicely done but I think the aerodynamics could be improved. On the other hand it's geared low and likely never goes very fast. Small bike wheel in front, fat rubber-tired go-kart wheel in back. I didn't look to see what kind of brakes. All in all it's pretty amazing that the guy could live in and pedal the thing around. I talked to him a bit, and as you might guess he seemed mildly unhinged.

My question is how does he get the thing started? Getting 600 pounds moving is no small task. And going uphill? He appears to have at least three levels of down-gearing. How does he go fast enough to not fall over? Maybe he has to spin the pedals at 120 RPM to even go anywhere. I also don't think the sun/rain shade could be that effective. To me, if I wanted to protect myself against the elements, I would get some kind of acryllic shell to go over the rider's position. It would also be much more aero.

Maybe I'm just more sane that this guy, but if I were to do this sort of thing, I'd get a bike trailer to load all my stuff behind a normal bike. Then I could ride a normal unhindered bike if I wished, leaving the trailer at the campsite. I'd have to sleep in a tent, but that's okay.

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