Monthly Archives: July 2007

PHYS 732: Particle physics and theories of personality


Everybody is familiar with the usual bouts of anxiety that manifest themselves as dreams (or perhaps, nightmares) of academic disaster. Although dreaming of going to class naked seems to be popular, that never happened to me, whether in dreams or for real. However, numerous times I’ve dreamed of finding at the end of a semester that I was registered to a class without my knowledge. Or that there’s an exam coming and I’m learning about it just 2 seconds before exam time. Or that I’ve been going to the wrong class all semester long. But nothing like the dream I had last night.

I guess new academic roles bring on new possibilities for disaster. At any rate, last night I dreamed that I had been selected for being a TA for a class called “Particle physics and theories of personality.” Good gods! In my dream, my Religious Studies teachers were assuring me that it was in my best interest to teach that class. Of course, to top it off, I had learned about it just 2 seconds before the first class. I felt I was a terrible choice for teaching anyone anything about particle physics. I was also skeptical as to the rationale for making particle physics and theories of personality the subject matter of a single class. Sounds like one of those flashy course titles that end up disappointing.

As for why I had that dream, that’s just the usual anxiety about making sure that I’m at the level I need to be to perform the tasks I need to perform as a graduate student. Luckily, I don’t have such dreams too often.

ReBoot is returning

I came across this article reporting that the animated series ReBoot is going to be “reimagined” (that’s not the term used in the article but it seems to be an adequate buzzword) for the big screen. Yay!

ReBoot is an animated series for children that was broadcasted in the mid-90s. When it was shown on TV, I was definitely older than their target audience but two things hooked me. First, I have for a long time been a fan of computer animation. In those days, ReBoot was as close as state of the art as you could get in an animated series produced for television. So I enjoyed the art. The second thing that hooked me was the nerdy humor of the show. For sure the show was enjoyable for the general public. However, the old story of “good guys vs bad guys” was weaved from computer science concepts that only techheads were able to get.

I hope they’ll be able to incorporate in their new version of ReBoot what made the series great in the first place.

Dell doing good things

I’ve criticized Dell a lot lately. It appears however that they are moving in the right direction regarding Linux support. Two stories at Slashdot: Dell to Offer More Linux PCs,
Dell Asking ATI For Better Linux Drivers.

Thanks Dell, for continuing to improve Linux support. Now if only Dell could pressure other hardware manufacturers with providing good Linux drivers. If only they would sell a Linux laptop that has all the features I want, then I’d be a happy camper.

Broken dreams

3 workers have been killed and 3 have been injured in an explosion at Scaled Composites.

From an earliest age I’ve been a fan of the US space program. I’ve been and still am a huge admirer of the guts and engineering prowess that were required to initiate the conquest of space. Initially, the burden of space exploration was the sole province of governments but in recent years Scaled Composites has been at the forefront of the development of reusable solutions that could one day make spaceflight a reality for the masses. Scaled Composite’s hard work paid off when they won the X Prize.

That success was just the beginning. The people at Scaled Composites have been steadfastly working on their next generation of spaceship. Today, however, tragedy struck: a potent reminder of the risks entailed by pushing the technological envelope ever further.

Strange encounter of the Devanagari type

Yesterday, my wife and I went to a used book store. I was browsing their foreign books section and found a book with Devanagari script on it. The first thing that caught my eye was the word dharmaśāstra (धर्मशास्त्र) written on the cover. I thought “aha! a Sanskrit book”. But above it I saw the word māramana (मॉरमन), which did not ring any bell. (People who read Hindi will already have found where I erred.) I looked at the table of contents and realized immediately that the book was in Hindi, not Sanskrit. But that word, māramana, did not ring a bell. I was trying to figure out whether it was the name of an ancient author, a place, some sort of obscure philosophical view. Then I noticed the ardhacandra over the first syllabe. That’s the half moon diacritical mark above the word. This is not a normally found in Sanskrit so it has to be a modern Hindi word. Since it is Hindi, the last short “a” vowel is not pronounced so it should sound like māraman. Still, nothing came to mind. Then I remembered that the ardhacandra is normally used in transliterating the long “o” sound found in some English words (like in the name “John”: जॉन). Ok, so it is an English name sounding like moraman…. the religion of moraman…. moraman morman… Mormon!

It was an instructional book about Mormonism. It’s been my experience that recognizing English words transliterated in Hindi is pretty hard. Unfortunately, I don’t have to read such transliterated words very often. Here, I had a big fat clue in the ardhacandra but I’m reading much more Sanskrit than Hindi these days and even in the Hindi I read from time to time, the ardhacandra is not very frequent. So it initially slipped my mind. In general, Hindi transliteration of English words is done to represent how the English word sounds to the ears of native Hindi speakers. Hence, it requires quite a bit of mental gymnastics for a reader thinking in English to totally flip perspectives. The reader must no longer be an English language speaker looking at Hindi as a foreign language but must become a Hindi speaker looking at English as a foreign language. Arguably, the same gymnastics sometimes has to be performed with French for instance but because English and French “grew up” together, so to speak, and use the same script, the mental gymnastics involved are usually trivial.

The secret life of Nāgārjuna

Please forgive me for the title. No, I’m not going to write about Nāgārjuna’s biography. I’m sorry. You see, I just succumbed to that disease that prompts academic writers to come up with sexy titles that only obliquely hint at their real topic.

I do not intend to write about Nāgārjuna’s life but about his texts. Or more precisely, I intend to talk about an insidious form of tunnel vision that can develop when studying Nāgārjuna’s philosophy. It is an affliction that has for root an over-reliance on Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikā (MMK) combined with a neglect of Nāgārjuna’s other works. Not without warrant, the MMK is given primary importance in Nāgārjunian studies. This primacy becomes problematic when the MMK becomes the only lens through which Nāgārjuna’s philosophy is approached. I must admit that I have been afflicted by it. I’ve written term papers in which I spent no small amount of effort demonstrating that Nāgārjuna’s philosophy in the MMK entails consequence X. Now I’m finding out by reading his other works that I could have saved myself that effort by simply citing his verse. From the standpoint of personal cultivation, the effort I spent is not lost because there is value in arguing for X on the basis of the contents of the MMK instead of just citing a verse that states X. Arguing requires the ability to see the connexions between the various elements of the philosophy in a way that just citing does not. Still, I need to adjust my lens to include into its scope what I had hitherto neglected and which, blissfully abusing language, I have called Nāgārjuna’s secret life.

I am taking responsibility for my own foibles but I do think however that this disease is one the entire field of Mādhyamika studies has to guard against. It would be nice to see in scholarly publications engaging general Madhyamaka topics more reliance on Nāgārjuna’s other works and less emphasis on the MMK.

Love and age

A White Bear recently wrote about her seekrit vice: the reality show Age of Love. Since I have not watched the show, I do not have an opinion about its contents. However, A White Bear’s observations about the contents of the show are compatible with what I would expect to find, if I were to tune in. One specific passage has struck a chord with me:

But neither groups are particularly ideal. They seem to have gone out of their way to choose 20somethings who are boring, catty, tearful, and unmotivated, and the 40s already have shallow strikes against them, like kids and wrinkles.

I first have to admit that I’m not sure what a “shallow strike” is. Still, 20somethings girls being “boring, catty, tearful and unmotivated” comes close to my experience of 20something girls. I’m not saying all 20something girls I ever met embodied all those characteristics but a good deal of those girls embodied at least one of those characteristics. It’s also been my experience that 40something women are likely to have wrinkles unless they’ve engaged into cosmetic surgery. I do not know the statistics about how many women have had children by the time they are 40 but I’m expecting that to be fairly common. So all in all, their selection of women is congruent my experience. It is precisely because I found 20something girls immature that I found 40something women much more to my liking when I was in my 20s. Maturity is of utmost importance to me because I feel I cannot have an intelligent dialogue with someone who is immature. If I can’t have an intelligent dialogue with someone, I can’t be attracted to them. As for what people would consider to be downsides, in my eyes wrinkles are certainly not a strike against attractiveness and children are not an issue per se.

For sure, I do not represent the mainstream American man but at any rate, I have had the fortune to fall in love with a woman 20 years older than I am. She has qualities that I find in very few 20somethings and whatever other people may consider to be “strikes” against her age are irrelevant to me. Our love has deepened over the 10 years we’ve been together and shows no sign of imminent demise.

Indeed Dell is wasting time in Second Life

I’ve noted recently how Dell is wasting time promoting its wares in Second Life. Well, today I’ve caught sight of an article on Slashdot titled “Are Marketers Abandoning Second Life?“. The article notes that indeed marketers are abandoning Second Life. Why? Because the number of Second Life users put forth by Linden Labs is quite inflated. Maybe Dell should pay attention to what the marketers have found out.

No DST support in WordPress and MediaWiki?

I had problem with getting dates to show up properly in both systems. I searched a bit and found that neither support DST. A bit more search showed that PHP (the language in which both are implemented) has all the functionality to provide DST support. For the developers of WordPress and MediaWiki, supporting DST is simply a matter of performing the right function calls to PHP which in turn relies on the OS for DST support. Basically, neither WordPress nor MediaWiki have to do complicated DST calculations or worry about the various ways various locales deal with it: the OS takes care of all that.

Still, both WordPress and MediaWiki require their users to mess around with manually switching timezone offsets twice a year. Why, oh why do users have to deal with this when it would be so easy to implement an automatic solution?!? Such an omission is mind boggling.

Dosa breakthrough

I’ve been making dosas at home for a while but my dosas have always looked rather fat compared to those you can get from people who know what the heck they are doing. By “fat”, I mean that my dosas were thicker than normal. I thought maybe the problem was my batter or my instruments or whatever… but no… it was me!

A few days ago, I came across a site that hosts video recordings of people showing how to perform various recipes. They did not have anything about dosas but I figured that somebody had probably taken a video and put it online somewhere. So I found a video, watched it and learned what it is I was not doing right. The key is that after putting the batter in pan, you must spread it with your ladle. I had tried it several months ago just out of a desire for experimentation but I found it hard to keep the dosa intact while spreading the batter because the batter tends to stick to the ladle. So I abandoned the idea of spreading the batter. But there’s no way around it: if I want a normal looking dosa, I must spread it. I just have to learn to spread it correctly.

Last night I put this discovery to the test. My spreading technique is not perfect yet but my dosas now look much more normal. My dosas were rather unequal last night but one of them was the best looking dosa I’ve ever made. With a bit of experimentation with cooking instruments and learning how dosa batter behaves I should be able to get better.