New Hosting Service

Hello from an entirely new server and address! The old steve.yikes.com (which equalled stephen.kicks-ass.net) is now stephen.phratry.net. The old site was hosted on my father's 933Mhz G4 using his residential cable modem connection (which was throttled to 40 kb/s for uploads). This new one is hosted by Site5 which offers feature-packed deals for not very much money.

You may be wondering what phratry means. According to Dictionary.com it means

  1. A kinship group constituting an intermediate division in the primitive structure of the Hellenic tribe or phyle, consisting of several patrilinear clans, and surviving in classical times as a territorial subdivision in the political and military organization of the Athenian state.
  2. Anthropology. An exogamous subdivision of the tribe, constituting two or more related clans.

Since I wanted to have other family members & possibly friends use this domain & hosting service, I wanted to think of a domain that wasn't too specific to any of us, but was descriptive. Although none of us are a member of a Hellenic tribe, the general idea is phratry refers to an extended family group, which describes the situation. I also kind of like the word because it's not very common and has an odd spelling.

The cool thing is everything is so fast! Downloading photos off of the old hosting situation was pretty painful. This should be much nicer.

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La Jolla Vista View

La Jolla Vista View

The theater (or is it theatre?) arts part of campus is on the southern tip of campus, which overlooks La Jolla, University Town(e?) Center, and farther into Kearny and Clairemont Mesa. Situated here is La Jolla Vista View (1988) by William Wegman. Follow eitehr link and you'll learn he's best known for his photographs of posed weimaraners.

As far as I know there are no weimaraners etched into La Jolla Vista View, but there might be. The large bronze plaque is situated to match the vista in front of you, with mountains and communites named so you can find them in the distance, much like something you would find in a national park. However, the labelling is unorthodox, and that's where this becomes art. "Barren Wasteland," "A Big Development," and "La Jolla Gateway to Hell" are some of the named sites. There are also buildings & business, which are much less permanent than the mountains and communities also named on the plaque. Much has already changed in the two decades since Wegman designed the plaque.

My opinion of San Diego and urban sprawl closely matches the tenor of La Jolla Vista View. I like the small touches, like a tree with "Meow, Meow" coming out of it. The telescope even works for free! Since this piece of art is hard to find and in a far corner of campus, it is perhaps one of the least visited. I encourage you to check it out, it's well worth it, and you'll learn some real & humorous San Diego geography (which are not mutually exclusive) in the process.

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More Yahoo! Mail Beta Thoughts

Following up on my previous post about Yahoo! Mail Beta I noticed that the new beta interface has no space available thermometer bar, like the normal Yahoo! Mail does:

Yahoo Mail

This is either an artifact of the beta not having all of the features of the old Yahoo! Mail yet, or that Yahoo! has something special planned regarding Mail. I'm willing to bet that unlimited mail is impractical and would be abused, but we'll see!

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Die Spam, Die!

The blogging software I use for this site, WordPress, has the ability to add features through plugins. I just added a new plugin, called Akismet that is supposed to keep comment spam from appearing on my website. When I first set this blogging software up, I got a couple spam comments right away (get your viagra here! horny college co-eds!). I didn't feel like fighting it so I turned off comments for all my posts. Hopefully this weirdly spelled Akismet will actually work!

Okay, spammers, give it your best shot!

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Yahoo! Mail Beta

Yahoo Mail

I just got added to the list of Yahoo! Mail users who get access to the new Beta interface. All in all, I actually like it, even compared to Gmail's interface. For a while now I've been hoping that Yahoo! would give users IMAP access to their email, so I could use a good email client with my own computer at home, but still have access to all my messages anywhere. This interface just might curb that desire. It has Gmail's trick of simple keyboard shortcuts, but also has drag-and-drop ability for messages, RSS feeds and cute icons. One really neat feature is you can have multiple "tabs" open. Tabs can have messages you're composing, reading, or your inbox. Very often I am writing a long email when I want to send a quick note to someone else. With tabs it should be very painless.

This new interface has the potential to be just as good as many email clients. I however, have some complaints:

  1. Please, please, please use fixed-width fonts. Email is not supposed to look good. If I wanted it to look good, I'd send a PDF. There are many reasons why fixed-width fonts are a good idea, foremost being ASCII art (of course!). My signature has a cute little cyclist guy nestled between my name, email & web address. With a variable-width font it looks terrible.

    But seriously, though, if I ever wanted to email myself some sort of crontabbed system log, the unix-style of formatting with spaces between items would completely not work. Please, Yahoo!, at least give us the option to have fixed-width fonts. I know I could fix that using site preferences on my browser, but that's not very practical on every single computer I use.

  2. When replying to messages, I like to reply to each of the person's points by quoting what they wrote, and then writing below that. Example:

    ```

    What do you think about the design? Too much? I think less red and more blue.

    Yeah, I agree. Red is pretty much the worst color you could ever choose. ```

    The way the beta does it is it puts the replied to message with about 4 carriage returns above it AND puts your signature above the message. This means that if I reply to a person's message the way I like to, the first thing my message will have is my signature. Dumb!

  3. As far as I can tell, right now there is no way to differentiate between what I've written and what I'm quoting. Usually there are the greater-than signs (>), but in beta there aren't. Some email programs put colored lines. I'm asking for something to tell them apart, Yahoo!, are you listening? Don't take a step backwards!

  4. The signature doesn't seem to recognize carriage returns. That's just silly. I have a three-line signature that gets turned into one very long line. Even if I didn't have ASCII art, it would butcher a simple signature.

  5. Fix the bugs! Editing a replied-to message is buggy. Before I can delete any of the copied message (the one I'm replying to) I need to type something at the very top. The interface could be faster, too. But then again, old Yahoo! mail isn't that fast, either.

I'm sure I can think of more things to gripe about it in the next few days. I'll add to this list as I use it.

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Trees

Stuart Collection Trees

One of the most photographed member of the Stuart Collection is the lead-enacased tree in front of the main library on campus. There are two other trees part of the installation which are hidden inside of a eucalyptus grove southwest of this tree. Together, they are part of the Trees by Terry Allen which were installed in 1986. Apparently the trees encased in lead were salvaged by the artist from a group of eucalyptus trees that were cut down for a new building on campus. The two trees that I didn't take pictures of play music and speak poetry. But that would be hard to photograph, wouldn't it?

This is an excellent kind of art in my opinion. It's not too dense and obscure but isn't too simple. The tree forces the viewer to look up from a distance to take in the whole thing. Up close there are other things to see, too. Of course all the Stuart collection items are meant to be touched, but this one perhaps more than others. The soft lead is very easy to make an impression upon, giving everyone input to the art.

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Nighttime Photo of the Bay Area

Bay Area

While I was in Berkeley for Thanksgiving, I took my camera & tripod out to a parking lot near the Lawrence Hall of Science which has a magnificent view over UC Berkeley, Berkeley, the Bay and San Francisco. A rainy weather system had come & gone recently so the air was very clean and cold making the view even better than normal. As good as these photos are, closer to LHS there is a grassy knoll which has an even better view. The hill slopes off in front of you and there are no trees to block the view. However, it is now fenced off and is only accessible through the inside of LHS. Lame!

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Bear

Bear

The most recent addition to the Stuart Collection is Bear (2005) by Tim Hawkinson. The bear is made up of 8 large boulders weighing 180 tons altogether. It sits in a courtyard in the engineering school with several new and highly angular buildings. If you read the description in the link above the artist was fully aware of the contradiction of a stone teddy bear between high tech buildings.

I very much like this part of the collection. I've been eagerly awaiting it's completion since I heard about it. I always like it when art requires a massive effort, and moving a 100 ton boulder (which is what the body stone weighs) is massive. The bear does seem cuddly, like you could pick it up and take a nap with it. But of course you can't. I also like bigger than life art, which is a fairly popular category in cities around the world.

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Green Table

Green Table by Jenny Holzer (1992) is a large rectangular table with dozens of "truisms" etched into the granite. I like this peice of art because it's something I think I could do.

Green Table

I like that not only can you use the table as you would any other, you can perhaps gain some small nuggets of wisdom. However, some of the truisms are sexist towards men, and others just plain wrong, in my opinion. But I guess that's the point -- these are not truisms. Some are common sense, others are simply cleverly-worded opinion. Truisms on the table contradict other truisms. Read the list linked above and see for yourself.

Green Table

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Standing

UCSD is home to a very unique art collection, the Stuart Collection. As of November, 2005 there are sixteen items in the collection scattered over the entire campus. As a way to practice using my new camera I'll be taking photos of all the items and posting them on this website.

Tour de France

My first posting is of Standing by Kiki Smith (1998). Personally, I think it's a disturbing statue/fountain. The water running from her hands and the nails sticking out of her body aren't a pleasant thing. Although the starfish nails are supposedly placed in the shape of the constellation Virgo, it's hard to tell when you're looking up at it. Also, the hands have rusted a dark red color, something like dried blood.

Tour de France

Tour de France

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Comparison Photos

Continuing on my previous post I'm posting some more photos with my new camera. This time I've made some 4-up comparison JPGs showing my new SLR versus my old pocket digital.

4 up

The main point of the comparison photos is to see how the range of lenses compare. I've scaled down the SLR's photos and cut the aspect ratio of the Canon's shots, so image quality is not the main focus of this comparison. I also didn't play with the advanced features of the SLR because the Canon doesn't have the range of variability like the SLR. But I did take photos in two different modes just to see if I could discern any changes.

S40

Overall the lens supplied with the SLR has about the same range as the Canon, while the telephoto lens & 1.4x multiplier attachment goes where the Canon can't. I took the photos on a partly-cloudy day so the ambient light changed between various shots, which diminishes the comparison value of color & exposure. One thing that is clear is the Canon suffers from the usual problem of depth of field. Even when I'm taking a photo of something close, the background tends to be in focus. In the above photo you can see that the Canon does have the background out of focus somewhat, but not nearly as much as the SLR.

One thing the Canon has going for it is portability, so I don't think I'll be abandoning it yet. It still takes great snapshots, and sometimes all I want is a snapshot.

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New Digital SLR!

My father gave me for my birthday a shiny new digital SLR. It's a Konica Minolta Maxxum 5D digital SLR. I already own a Minolta 35mm film camera, so I have a few lenses and accessories that are compatible with the new camera.

5D

I'm still playing around with all the fancy features, and I really don't know how to use it to it's full potential now.

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My Research

For the better part of half a year now I've been working slowly on a project with Mike Norman, my advisor. I'm basically implementing a test of the efficiency & accuracy of the cosmological simulation code his group uses. I do this by sticking a ring of gas into the simulator and watching the gas spread out. I compare the computer simulation to how it should go if all things were perfect (which the simulation is not). The two plots below are a culmination of my accelerating efforts.

3D Density

Above is a 3D plot of the gas density. The two horizontal coordinates are the x-y position, while the vertical gives the density at that point. I'm doing my simulation in two dimensions right now, eventually I'll go to three.

CurveFit

The white line above (hidden by the red line) is a sideways slice of the density, starting at the center going out. The red line is a best curve fit of the white line. The curve fit is very good because the white line was generated by the same function I'm using for the best fit, but the picture shows my fitting technique works, and that's what matters.

I hope to make further, faster progress! I'll post things here as I go along.

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Cycling Track Nats Addendum

A few more things to add to my post from yesterday about Track Nationals.

Here are some photos I took at Nationals that I posted on the UCSD Cycling website. Photos another rider took which are actually very decent and have a surprisingly large number of photos of UCSD. I don't actually know who took them, but thank you! (Update: They were taken by Steve McFarland of Tufts.)

Choice quotes from the weekend:

"Are you too good for your home?" -- A slightly delirious Ashley trying to fit her rollers in a bag.

"I don't wanna be a cowboy." -- Stephen before both points races (copying Joe Merlone, who probably copied it from someone else).

"Awesome!" -- What Ashley yelled at me almost every lap of the points race final.

I'll edit this entry when I think of more!

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Track Nationals

I just returned from Chicago where I participated in my first national-level cycling competition. It was the 2005 NCCA Championships held at the Northbrook Velodrome (Google Maps), in Northbrook, a leafy suburb Northwest of Chicago. I participated as member of the UCSD Cycling Team.

My goals for the event were fairly modest because of my relative lack of track racing experience. My two individual events were the 3 kilometer pursuit and the points race. The 3k pursuit is a time trial, from a standing start. Alone you try to ride the distance as fast as possible. It's comparable to running a mile in terms of duration. If you go too fast in the beginning you'll be suffering at the end. It's about metering out your effort such that just as you cross the finish line you are at your breaking point. Two weeks ago I raced in San Jose and did a 4:06 pursuit, so my goal at nationals was to simply get below 4 minutes.

The points race is something like a criterium on the road, but usually much more brutal. Every five laps there is a sprint, and only the first four riders across the finish line get points. The field size is usually over 20 so obviously people go very fast for sprints. Each sprint, including the final, is worth the same points: 5,3,2 and 1 point(s) for first, second, third and fourth. The rider with the most points at the end wins. I have raced a bunch of points races this summer locally, and it was my best event, so I was looking forward to it.

I also raced in two team events, the Italian Pursuit and the Team Pursuit. The Team Pursuit is a four man, 4 kilometer race to the fastest time. Each rider takes turns at the front where riding is most difficult. The other three sit in the draft and work significantly less hard. Time is taken when the third man crosses the finish line, meaning only one of the riders can drop out of the race (usually because of exhaustion).

The Italian Pursuit is an interesting race because it's the only race with both genders. There is a minimum of three riders and a maximum of six. One rider has to be female and there can be no more than four males. Each rider leads the group for a lap, or two, and then leaves the race. The next teammate then does the wind-cutting duties until they leave. Time is taken when the last rider crosses the line for six laps. And a woman has to lead for two of those six laps (but it doesn't have to be the same woman). You can see that if a team has less than six riders, someone is going to go for two laps.

The team had a goal of reaching the podium on team rankings, meaning top five of all the teams. The way team rankings work is every race gives team points to each team based on how well their member raced. All the races and all the team points are added up together and the team omnium is decided. We wanted to be one of the five best teams. The team events I outlined in the previous paragraph are very important in the team omnium.

The racing was held for three days, September 29 to October 1, with a morning session at 9 am and an evening session at 6 pm both days. But you need to realize that for each session racers need to show up at least an hour before the start and often leave half an hour after the end of each session. I & my team were getting up at six each morning and retiring after 11 pm, which makes for very long days.

Did I meet my goals? I think I did. I raced a 3:59.4 pursuit. Of course I had aero wheels & an aero helmet, unlike in San Jose, which certainly helped. But it was still me pushing the pedals so I was happy. That time put me in 20th place (out of ~40 riders), which is the lowest place that gives team points, and that is what I was hoping for.

The points races were on the final day. Because so many men signed up for the points race, there were two qualifying races in the morning, and the best 13 of each would advance to the final in the evening. By the third day of racing I had developed a sore throat and persistent congestion, making everything unhappy. Leading up to the qualifying race I was very anxious about my ability to race in my condition, but I raced anyway.

The qualifying race was 45 laps, or about 17 kilometers (on a 383 meter track). Let me point out that the longest points race I had ever done up to that point was 45 laps here in San Diego, on a 333 meter track, or 15 kilometers. Luckily for me, despite my condition, I was still able to read a race. I guessed that the large rider in front of me (~6'-4") was about to make a dash for the sprint with about a lap and a half to go. Thinking that such a big guy makes a nice draft, I grabbed his wheel (figuratively), and sure enough, he went. After he pulled me around for a lap I went around him and ended up taking third on that sprint. It turned out that those two points were enough to advance me into the final.

The final was 75 laps, or nearly 29 kilometers. After racing the longest points race of my life in the morning, I raced one 77% longer 10 hours later. At this rate I'll be doing double century points races. Ouch.

Because I knew that with my sickness I was under full strength, my goal for the points race was to not get dropped and sprint for high placing in the final sprint. The finishing order in a points race is ranked by those who have points first, and then by finishing order. I knew that if I went for points during the race I would get dropped after the huge effort, so I had to save up for the end and get ahead of other guys without sprint points.

My plan worked pretty well because I got lucky, twice. With four laps to go a rider crashed in front of me. He was sliding from my left to my right with one foot still attached to his bike, and his bike was in front of him in the slide (imagine the bike is dragging him by his right foot up the banking of the track). In the microseconds I had to make a choice I aimed for that leg thinking it would be a better target than his body or his bike. Just as I was about to hit his ankle his foot separated from his bike and I went right between. The officials shot the gun twice to halt the race while the crashers were taken off the track, and during the lull in action I advanced about 20 places in the pack and settled in at about 6th or 7th place. When racing resumed I just had to hold on for four laps and sprint hard for the line, where I eventually placed 20th after the orderings were worked out.

If you had asked me the morning of the points races if I would even advance to the final, I would have been doubtful. I'm happy I pushed through my discomfort and did respectably. Now I want to come back and do the race healthy. I think I could do some damage if I was healthy!

The Italian Pursuit was a very successful race for our team. The way qualifying works in this event is the teams race in the morning alone for a qualifying time. Then, the two fastest teams face each other on the track at the same time in the evening for the gold and silver medal, and the 3rd and 4th for bronze. All the teams 5th and lower in qualifying are given that place in the final rankings. This means often your hardest effort is in the qualifying because you are guaranteed certain placing after that. We rode a very good race and qualified second.

In the final we raced a very skilled team from Penn State, which had no fewer than three "ringers," people I who I consider more bike racer than college student. Two of them only register in the fall to race at collegiate nationals. One of them I know for a fact spent most of last year in Australia racing, which is a goodly distance from Pennsylvania. This is to basically point out that we knew we had no chance of beating Penn State in the final, so we didn't race quite as hard as the qualifying race. Additionally, one of our members, Tona, was doing other races during the same session, so we wanted to keep him from over exerting himself. But we were very happy with second, especially because everyone on our team earned the second place.

The Mens Team Pursuit had a similar qualifying system, and we qualified fifth. We raced a very good, disciplined race -- something I'm proud of. Looking back I think we could have gone a bit faster and qualified fourth (0.6 seconds away), and that's something to remember next time we do that race. Qualifying fifth was a good and a bad thing. It was good because it meant we didn't have to race again (this was the same day as the points races), but it was bad because fifth isn't nearly as nice as fourth. We were in a tight battle for second place in the team omnium with Marian College and every little placing mattered.

Speaking of the team omnium, we ended up the weekend in third place overall, behind Penn State and Marian College. After Penn State, we had the most talented riders. Marian had over twice as many racers as UCSD, but beat us 800 points to our 792, a 1% difference. Marian also has cycling scholarships and a velodrome on their campus. They beat us with quantity over quality. This was the first year for UCSD going to Track Nats as a team, and we really made an impression around the country (well, to those who pay attention to Collegiate Track Cycling).

It was a grand adventure and really taught me about how hard I can push myself. Now I want more!

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