31 January 2009

Link of the day: Dave Bacon on different types of genius

Dave Bacon, a quantum information theorist, does a nice job summarizing some of the different types of genius, i.e. the different ways scientists can contribute to their field. Unfortunately, some are valued more than others.

28 January 2009

Link of the day: Scott McCloud on understanding comics

While watching a different TED talk, I came across a talk by Scott McCloud called "Understanding Comics." McCloud is an advocate of comics as a legitimate art form. The first part of the talk connects his experiences growing up with a blind father and the idea of creative vision.

According to McCloud, the principles of creative vision are
  • Learn from everyone
  • Follow no one
  • Watch for patterns
  • Work like hell
In the world of art, he divides creative approach roughly into
  • Formalist (thinking, form)
  • Classicist (sensation, beauty)
  • Animist (intuition, content)
  • Iconoclast (feeling, truth)
The second half focuses on comics in the past and future. McCloud doesn't bother talking about comics in the present, assuming that the audience is already familiar with it. The presentation makes the first and second halves feel disconnected; maybe he was cramming too much into the short time frame. The brevity of the talk (17 minutes) made it difficult for him to delve deeply into his topic. I need to go read McCloud's book, also called Understanding Comics.

27 January 2009

Song of the day: "Going through the motions" by Joss Whedon

I feel Buffy's pain.

From Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Once More With Feeling"
Every single night, the same arrangement,
I go out and fight the fight.
Still I always feel this strange estrangement,
Nothing here is real, nothing here is right.
I've been making shows of trading blows
Just hoping no one knows
That I've been going through the motions,
Walking though the part,
Nothing seems to penetrate my heart.

I was always brave and kind of righteous,
Now I find I'm wavering.
Crawl out of your grave, you find this fight
Just doesn't mean a thing

She ain't got that swing.

Thanks for noticing.

She does pretty well with fiends from Hell
But lately we can tell
That she's just going through the motions
Faking it somehow.

She's not even half the girl she...owww!

Will I stay this way forever?
Sleepwalk through my life's endeavor.

How can I repay -

I don't want to be
Going through the motions,
Losing all my drive.
I can't even see
If this is really me
And I just want to be alive!

26 January 2009

Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog review

Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog is an independently produced musical film project originated by Joss Whedon, who created the famous Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BtVS), Angel and Firefly TV shows. Joss and his half-brother Jed co-wrote the music and lyrics. What makes the project unusual is that the film was self-funded without the involvement of a studio and that the film was released via internet channels (iTunes, Hulu). The cast was unpaid, though the production and crew casts were recouped via iTunes and DVD sales.

I am a huge fan of musicals and also a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. After watching "Once More With Feeling" (the BtVS musical episode), I was compelled to watch Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog on Hulu [1].

The story is basically a satire on the comic book superhero stereotype, with a few twists thrown in. I'm not a huge fan of superheros or most comedy, so I wasn't really entertained. I'm not the person to ask though.

Neil Patrick Harris (Dr. Horrible) and Nathan Fillion (Captain Hammer) were very good. I expected no less from Harris, who in addition to being an actor, has sung professionally in Sondheim's Sweeney Todd and Assassins. Harris sings very well, with nice expression in his voice. In contrast, I'm not aware of Fillion having any musical experience. I was pleasantly surprised with singing. He acts very well through his singing. Fillion steals the show as a swaggering Captain Hammer. Felicia Day (who plays Penny, the love interest) has a weak voice and not much expression in it. It was weird to have a love interest played by an alto. Her vocal range overlapped pretty heavily with Harris's tenor. This is definitely not typical in most Broadway musicals.

The music and lyrics were decent (worse things have been put on in multi-million dollar Broadway productions), but not as good as "Once More With Feeling." I enjoyed "My Freeze Ray", "Brand New Day," "So They Say", and "Slipping." A few songs seemed repetitive. I didn't like any of Penny's songs. Fortunately, there weren't too many obviously pastiche numbers besides the Bad Horse songs (where pastiche was done for the comic effect). I would have liked some ensemble songs (think "Into the Woods" or "A Weekend in the Country") and there just weren't any in this musical. I realize that wasn't possible with the small-scale production values and the brevity of the work. The lyrics were good, but nothing remarkable except for Captain's Hammer's amusing posturing.

I don't understand all the internet hype about this musical. It's a decent musical and impressive for the small cast/crew/budget, but who are all these people -- Whedonites? I suspect that Dr. Horrible is a romp for comic book fans (in the same way The Guild is for MMORPG diehards). Maybe that's what I'm missing.

I do appreciate Joss Whedon's efforts to bring musicals and small, independent projects to a wider audience. It's sad but musicals are a dying interest in the US. Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog is a good introduction to musicals for the superhero nerd but non-musical nerd in your life.

[1] The free Hulu viewings expire in two days.

25 January 2009

Link of the day: Tour of David Allen's office

Now you can see how the GTD master, David Allen, organizes his office in this video.

24 January 2009

Link of the day: humble comics

I found out about Gene Yang, who writes Asian American comics! He has a website called Humble Comics [1]. I love his drawings of Monkey King. I used to read Monkey King picture books when I was a kid and my mom has a marker drawing I made of Monkey King hanging in her office.

I was fortunate enough to find a copy of Yang's American Born Chinese comic book at the local library. It's a nice book with a clever twist. I think the target audience was "young adult" (ages 10-14?), so I wouldn't re-read it myself. But American Born Chinese could make a good gift to a young "ABC" [2].

[1] Monkey King is a fictional character from the famous Chinese novel Journey to the West.
[2] ABC = American Born Chinese (popular slang)

23 January 2009

23 January game recap vs Ice Pirates

Score: 6-0
Opposition: Boy were we way over-matched. The opposing team skated way faster than us, had some great puck-handlers, and even cycled against us. It was hard enough to get the puck out of our own zone, much less get shots on net.
Team performance: We played pretty well. It seems like that when we play teams that are better than us, there's less pressure, so we play better. Not a good habit. We need to play at the same level, no matter how good or bad our opponents are. Melissa's line has some good breakouts. And for the first time, our coach played in a game with us! She was a bit rusty at first, but got better as time went on.

My performance: I played pretty well. My linemates were Denise and Mary. Like my previous game, I drank a lot of water in the three days preceding. Everyone keeps telling me how important it is to be hydrated and maybe it helped me. I'll try to keep it up. In a game like this where we had no hope of winning, I played defense most of the time and try to make the most of the limited offensive opportunities. Generally, I felt pretty energetic and kept my shifts short, getting off the ice whenever possible... because chances to get off weren't going to come often during a game like this.

I found myself diving several times to knock the puck away (including one spectacular crash feet first into the boards). I tried my best to do good stick work (lifting sticks, poke-checking). Stickwork is one of the strengths of my game (in my humble opinion, I think I'm one of the best on the team), but even I had trouble which tells you how good the Ice Pirates were at stickhandling. I had a nice, brief charge up the middle of the ice where I took the puck near the defensive blue line and fended off 1-2 people, but somehow lost the puck after that. Also, I executed a nice line change. In one of our rare offensive attacks, I got the puck on my stick, dumped the puck hard around the net, and got off. Overall, I did a good job of staying on my point. It was a little tricky since the Ice Pirates cycled but I think I manged to keep track of them. Once I even picked off a pass between the points. That defenseman must have been overconfident. She didn't even check that I was there! My only gaffe was in the last few minutes of the game. I had burned up gas driving to the net on an attack and just couldn't keep up with my point. She pinched in and one-timed a pass to score. I was a little pissed and threw my stick. Oh well.

22 January 2009

Lifehack tip: Save install files and information

For last few years, I've been saving all my install files on an external hard drive. Doing this has really helped me whenever I have to re-install my operating system. I've had to re-install Windows XP twice, not counting the time that the Lenovo repair depot needlessly wiped my laptop back to factory state.

Starting over from scratch, it's handy to have all my install files on-hand without having to download them again or even remember what I had on my computer [1]. More importantly, if you buy software that's only available online, you can only download it once. If your computer crashes and you have to re-install your operating system, that is not a "valid excuse" for getting another copy of the software. Believe me, I tried.

If the install files require license codes, make sure you save those, too. And don't forget to backup the install files!

[1] Alternatively, you could run Belarc Advisor on your Windows machine to get a list of all installed programs on your computer. Belarc Advisor is also handy for getting hardware model/ID numbers.

21 January 2009

18 January game recap vs Northern CT Edge

My memory is weak on this game, so bear with me.

Score: 4-1
Opposition: They were definitely better than us, but not completely out of our league.
Team performance: We did better than our previous (horrific) game. Our coach had the game videotaped, so we could discuss it later in a team meeting.

My performance: I played well. I seem to get better with every game and the asthma is completely gone. A new thing I tried, on the recommendation of the coach, was to drink a lot of water the three days before the game. I played on a line with Denise and Allison for most of the game. In my first shift, on the attack, I took the puck clockwise around the net and sent a Wayne Gretzy-type pass through two defenders onto Denise's stick. She got a shot on net and Allison was even there for the rebound, though she didn't get her stick on it. Amazing! Probably pure luck, though. I remember getting a nice pass to Denise, though maybe I should have skated it up. I didn't really think about. I just saw Denise and passed to her. Next time, I should check the positions of the opposing players. I also had a nice shift where I was trying to break out on the left board. The puck came around the boards and I lost the puck to the defenseman. But I stayed with her and even though I was a step behind, I lifted her stick and got the puck away. The coach was pleased. She's been trying to get our team to lift sticks for ages. I drew two penalties (though one I'm not completely sure about). In one instance, I was charging into the offensive zone with the puck and somehow got an arm in the head. I thought the penalty was for roughing or interference, but Trudy thought it was tripping. No concussion, though my neck was sore for two days from the whiplash.

20 January 2009

Search beyond Google

I've recently realized that I use websites besides Google to search for information. The heavyweight is of course Wikipedia. I read an article (can't remember where) decrying the fact that Wikipedia articles now frequently come up as the number one search result on Google.

The New York Times finds that many people (especially children) use YouTube as a search engine. I certainly have done that, especially when my searches involve a strong visual element, for instance, an obscure sport. I like using Youtube to bookmark favorite video clips. Even if I own the DVD, it's nice to instantly pull up a favorite scene from a TV show. As someone remarked in a post (forgot where this one came from, too), we don't currently have a standard way to bookmark and highlight video the way we can with physical books and papers. It would also be wonderful to search YouTube videos in more complex ways than just by title, description, and tags. For example, what if I wanted to find all instances of pigs in Youtube?

A couple weeks ago, I mentioned how Midomi allows people to search for tunes. I also used Flickr to look for photos of New York Comic-Con. It's my first big comic convention and I wanted to know what to expect.

18 January 2009

Golden age of television?

I've been impressed with the quality of television shows the last few years and started thinking about whether television has finally matured as an art form. Every type of media (e.g. movies, plays, musicals) starts out as a crude amusement and later evolves into sophisticated, challenging entertainment [1]. Is this the moment for TV?

I found an article called "Welcome to the Third Golden Age of Television," which supports my thinking. It's a little old (from 2007), but does a nice job of arguing why we are living in a golden age for TV.

[1] Movies started with silent film, Charlie Chaplin, and "Steamboat Willie" in the 1920s. Masterpieces like Lawrence of Arabia and Dr. Strangelove came in the 60s. Musicals have their roots in vaudeville. Rodgers and Hammerstein changed the musical from a shabby shell for some songs to a cohesive, organic story. Then Sondheim came along with his groundbreaking Company in 1970. (I feel weird writing footnotes for my posts.)

13 January 2009

Baseball song trivia

I've had an interest in baseball music since I heard "Go Cubs Go" at Wrigley Field. Here are some of the songs I know about.

Chicago Cubs
Victory song - Go Cubs Go by Steve Goodman

Boston Red Sox
Middle of 8th inning - Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond
Victory song - Dirty Water by The Standells

The lyrics "dirty water" refer to the Charles River which has a notorious reputation for being so dirty that if you fell in a few years ago, you had to go to the hospital.

New York Yankees
Mariano Rivera coming out to mound - Enter Sandman by Metallica
Victory song - New York, New York performed by Frank Sinatra

I don't like the Yankees, but you have to include them for historical reasons. I've attended Cubs, Red Sox, and Yankees games.

3D pdf and interactive 3D data in scientific publishing

Prof. Goodman at the Harvard astronomy department published her latest
Nature paper with 3D figure that you can rotate and manipulate inside
the pdf.

The 3D pdf can be downloaded here though the
on the right "PDF 3D version."

A movie demonstrating the features of the 3D PDF can be found on
Goodman's webpage.

I downloaded the 3D pdf and it really does work. (I used Acrobat Reader

This seems like an interesting way to visualize complicated data.

12 January 2009

11 January game recap vs Fighting Saints

Score: 3-1 loss
Opposition: They might have been a little better than us, but we were roughly well-matched.
Team performance: It was easily the worst game I've seen our team play. I watched as our coach became progressively unhappier and unhappier as the game went on. We started poorly and we just couldn't recover. The Saints kept pressing and we kept panicking and losing our composure. It was as if our team lost its collective brain. People threw the puck away constantly. Our coach told us that we should have lost 10-0 or more if it weren't for our goaltender.

My performance: I did pretty well (methinks). I've been having problems with exercise-induced asthma lately, so I played a more conservative game than usual. This time I played left wing with Fran on the right and either Allison or Miriam as center. I think that helped me because I had more energy when it counted. I had a nice idea to redirect Allison's shot on goal. I also had a nice rush up the left boards. I got a shot off at goal. Too bad Fran wasn't quite able to get the rebound. On the forecheck in the last two minutes of the game, I charged the defenseman with the puck and picked it up. As I was battling for the puck behind the net, I think I drew a penalty. The bad. I skated over the puck one or two times. Mary thought I might have been thinking too far ahead. I also need to do a better job of backchecking on odd-man rushes if I'm one of the first players back. Sometimes the center or second defenseman can't get back in time and I need to fill-in.

08 January 2009

Legend of Basara

I was racking my memory trying to remember the anime series my college roommate Neeti and I used to watch. After searching for words like "prophecy" and "twin sister," I finally figured out that it was Legend of Basara.

As I vaguely recall, there is an empire and an oppressed village of peasants. The villagers hold onto the hope of a prophecy that a child will be born to lead them out of poverty. Twins are born and one of them is the child of the prophecy. Unfortunately, the twin brother dies in an attack and the twin sister impersonates her brother to become the leader. The girl goes on adventures and keeps running into a mysterious man, who turns out to be a king. They are mortal enemies, but they have no idea.

People have called Basara a Shakespearean story. Unfortunately, only 13 anime episodes were made. Apparently the series was canceled due to poor ratings. The 13 episodes correspond roughly to volumes 1-5 of the 27 volume manga series.

07 January 2009

Lifehack for separating clean and dirty sponges

A while ago, I learned on Unclutterer about a way to separate clean and dirty sponges.

I tried it today and it worked like a charm. The idea is that as your sponge gets dirtier and nastier, you cut off a corner. The more corners that are cut, the dirtier the sponge. So you can use the dirtier sponges for nasty business like cleaning showers and the cleaner sponges for washing dishes.

06 January 2009

Fun with Midomi

Midomi is a music database that allows you to search for songs by humming or singing a few bars. I heard about it over two years ago on Lifehacker. Then my dad reminded me about the site over the holidays and I went back to look at it.

The Midomi database/software was able to identify popular songs (e.g. "A Little Respect" by Erasure) and it even identified Chinese songs (my sister tried it). If you register for an account, you can contribute to the database by choosing a song you know well and singing into your microphone. I sang "How long has this been going on?" by George Gershwin and my sister gave a stirring rendition of "Twinkle twinkle little star."

Midomi is an example of "query-by-humming" software. There are other research projects underway to improve this software.

05 January 2009

Link of the day: The Atheon

I recently read about the erection of a "temple to science" called the Atheon in Berkeley, California. It sounds pretty cool. The artist used WMAP cosmological data in stained glass windows!

There is also an official site for the Atheon, but there isn't much information there yet.

04 January 2009

Write notes on your cellphone as text messages

I had an idea a few days ago. It's a variation of the email important to-do items to yourself. If you're out and about, you probably don't have a pen and paper, but you do have your cellphone. You can text message yourself and save it as a draft. (Hopefully, you remember to look at the draft later.) If you don't mind spending a few cents or if the content of the message is important, you can actually send the text message to yourself.

Maybe this idea will become anachronistic when cellphone manufacturers decide to put more PDA functions in their phones...