I’ve got a little list

I make lists.

Many people make lists, of course. Lists are handy things to have if you’re trying to be organized; you can look at them to make sure you’re not forgetting anything, you can check things off of them as they get finished and thereby win a quick burst of feeling accomplished, etc. Useful things, lists.

Except the way I make them.

Because the vast majority of the time, when I make a list (say, “papers I need to finish writing” or “things that want doing before I leave the country for several weeks” or “bills yet to be paid”… I do this a lot, actually) I’ll put time and some mental effort into drawing it up, look at it briefly with satisfaction, and then never glance at it ever again. (Or if I do, it’s several months later and I have to puzzle over my abbreviations a lot.) The things on those lists often get done, though by no means do they always get done, and particularly not in a timely manner.

So why do I bother? Best reason I can come up with is that writing lists down is like writing sums down. I can do arithmetic in my head, with an ease that cows and distresses many of my students, but keeping track of all the details of a calculation of moderate complexity is harder work than I (as a mathematician, and therefore lazy by definition) generally want to deal with. Thus, putting it on paper organizes things in my brain as well as on the page. And once they’re fixed in the mind, why do I need the physical representation?

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Gang aft agley

So the plan for this weekend: go to Kentucky, do math. Simple, right?

Originally, the first part of the plan — go to Kentucky — was scheduled to be a two-day affair; I’d start the drive down Thursday night, stop someplace in southern Indiana to crash, and finish the trip the next morning. This was meant to both maximize the amount of time this weekend that I’m actually in Kentucky and doing math, and allow me to give a colloquium presentation while I’m there (since such presentations don’t typically happen on weekends). Simple, right?

Only then it develops that one of my colleagues is also going to Kentucky this weekend, and the same place in Kentucky, also to do math. (Different math, though.) So the logical thing, then, would be to pool our resources and head down together. The only flaw in this plan (from my perspective) was that rather than making the trip in two days, his intention was to do it in one… starting far too early in the morning on Friday, early enough that it would still be morning when we arrived at our destination some 300-odd miles south. But since my colleague would be doing the driving (leaving me to hold up the dozing-on-the-road duties), this is still reasonable.

…until yesterday, when my colleague mentioned that (since the term’s technically over, really, with only exams left to go) he’d probably stay an extra day and also work with some colleagues in Nashville. This was not a point on which I could be flexible, since people (i.e. students with exams the next day) were expecting me to be around on Monday. But he hadn’t decided yet whether he’d stay the extra day, and could he tell me tomorrow?

So, the dilemma. If I was making the drive (and thus, according to the original plan, leaving in the evening) then I should be sleeping in to make sure I’ve got the energy reserves. If we’re sharing the ride (and leaving way early on Friday) then I should be getting up early to prepare my body for the shock of the next day. Not knowing which was the case, I pursued the game-theoretic solution of splitting the difference.

And it turns out that I will, in fact, be driving out tonight. This has its good points and bad points: I can arrange to stop in Indianapolis on my way back, which might have its uses, but now I have to figure out again how to navigate around this particular large Kentucky town. And secure accommodations for the evening. And so on.

I can’t wait to see how complicated the second part of the plan gets.

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Damned lazy telemarketers

A selection of the typical phone messages on my machine:

  1. “This is an important message for [name garbled]. If you are [name garbled], please press 1 now; if you need to bring [name garbled] to the phone, press 2 now…”
  2. “…hello? Hello?!” [click]
  3. Hold music for about fifteen seconds, followed by (2).

This accounts for about 99% of the messages I ever get that aren’t just hang-ups. This is possibly a sign that I need more of a life, or maybe less of a phone service.

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Changing spots

Upgraded to the new Mac OS version this weekend. Doubting the wisdom of that.

Part of the problem is that they’ve apparently revamped Spotlight (the super find-everything-on-your-computer utility) in a way that requires it to re-index the entire hard drive. As well, there’s Time Machine (an automated backup system); this is a fine idea, but again takes a certain amount of setting up. And if one isn’t careful, then the very first thing that happens is that both of these HD-intensive applications start working through their initial setting-ups at the same time.

This takes a while.

And it takes longer if the computer decides to put the hard drives to sleep (since apparently nothing’s going on).

Besides that, I’m not wild about the interface tweaks – the darker grey reduces the range of angles at which black text on it is visible – and they’ve managed to make Mail even uglier than they’d made it in Tiger. Spaces is a nice touch, but most of the other new applications and/or features seem to apply to people who aren’t me (i.e. people with the built-in web cameras, or people using their Macs in an enterprise-type environment, or people with kids, or…) and so I’m not entirely convinced that this was a needful update. (Except in that it probably won’t be too long before we start seeing nifty little Leopard-only applications hanging around for download; I still use 10.3 on my office machine, and there’s any number of nifty Tiger-based things I’m missing out on.)

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Random conspiracy theory

You know how comment threads at political blogs (e.g.) are often populated by rambling illogical statements fraught with random spelling errors? I say that there’s nothing random about them.

What’s you’re actually seeing is communication between secret agents and their higher-ups. Dead drops in plain sight. The patterns of errors and strange word choices actually encode the secret reports: steganographic messages hidden amidst what appear to be nonsense.

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Two months later

A selection of bullet points, in which the discerning reader may infer the circumstances of my absence from this site:

  • I’ve spent rather two much of the last several weeks sick: not actually sick enough to do something about, in this benighted land, but sick enough in a couple of cases to inconvenience me greatly.
  • My talents of procrastination are such that, even in a semester with less than twenty students all told, I’m mournfully behind on my grading duties.
  • Also behind on: reviewing papers for journals, reviewing papers for Mathematical Reviews, revising accepted papers for publication, revising rejected papers for resubmission, writing new papers for submission, reviewing the literature for a major ongoing project, preparing my next semester’s courses, making travel plans for the upcoming winter break. Note that this is almost certainly a partial list.

I’m still more or less alive, though, and the major circumstances of my life remain unchanged. So there you go.

I intend to start posting more often, since writing in my various blog spaces gives me the illusion that I’m talking to people. We’ll see how this particular resolution goes.

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Apple and the Goldilocks dilemma

This week Apple has announced another redesign of the iPod line: new colours for the Shuffles, a shorter, squatter Nano, and one new model: the iPod Touch, which is pretty much the iPhone without the phone.

Now one thing I’ve heard about the iPhone is that it’s the best iPod ever, and from that perspective the Touch makes a lot of sense. The iPhone market is limited by (among other things) the fact that most people who would want or need a cellphone already have a cellphone, and often that phone is attached to a contract with dire consequences (or at least monetary penalties) when breached. Personally, I’m not the world’s biggest fan of convergence; I don’t need a cellphone that’s also a camera, MP3 player, internet device, and corkscrew, prefering to have multiple tools each of which does one or two jobs well to one tool which does many things half-assedly.

So while the early-adopter in me was tempted by the iPhone, ultimately it doesn’t really suit my needs technically. (It also doesn’t suit my needs for other, more complicated reasons that concern my cellphone habits, but leave that be.) However, I have been thinking I might need a new MP3 player — the old one’s getting a little flaky battery-wise, and replacing the battery on an iPod seems almost more trouble than it’s worth — so the Touch is a temptation in its own right.

And yet… while there are many cool things about the Touch, I’m wondering if they’ve taken too much away from the iPhone. Specifically, I’m disappointed to see that the Touch doesn’t seem to have the “Notes” application; scribbling quick notes was one of the few things I found the old Palm devices useful for back in the day, and it would be handy to have that on the Touch. In general, it’s unclear whether the Touch would be extensible (through widgets or whatever) in the way that the Palms were, or that the iPhone is.

I’m withholding judgement until the Touch ships and I can check one out at the friendly not-exactly-neighbourhood Apple store, but right now it seems like I’m Goldilocks with only the first two choices. The iPhone is too much, while the Touch might not be enough.

(Or I might go for something that’s just an MP3 player without the pretensions of the Touch; such a device would have even less, but my expectations would be correspondingly altered. As would, I imagine, the price.)

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No, not that one

Michael Jackson is dead.

The significant one, that is, the one who wrote so much and so well about whiskeys and beers. I came of age at a time when microbrews and international alternatives to the Big Two were becoming widespread — the first pint of draught been I drank was a Sleeman’s ale, back when Sleeman’s could still be considered a microbrewery — and Jackson’s was one of the early voices that got North Americans interested in such things. As something of a would-be epicure in the domain of alcoholic beverages, I can only be grateful.

RIP, Michael Jackson. I’ll raise one to your memory.

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I discovered by accident yesterday that Johnette Napolitano (formerly of Concrete Blonde) has a new album out. This is exciting, for reasons that I trust are obvious.

So I was listening to it while driving around today. So far I’m finding it hit-or-miss, but that’s probably just my own expectations leading me astray; it’s rather a different sound than the CB I’m more familiar with, stripped down pretty far. But there’s one song I was listening to that seemed somehow… familiar? I hadn’t heard the song before, but I knew I’d heard something like it.

Turns out that it’s a Coldplay song.

Which seems exactly right.

Listen to it, and I dare you not to hear Chris Martin singing along with it. It’s not that Napolitano’s deliberately emulating his voice; indeed, her voice is pretty much unmistakable for anything but her own. It’s the melody that carries the Coldplay-ness along with it, sliding around the same way that Martin’s voice does. And that’s interesting to me, since I’d sort of assumed that all Coldplay sounded alike because of the performance of the songs. It hadn’t occured to me that the songs themselves might really be all the same.

I don’t think this is typical, is why I’m harping on this. If you recognize someone covering Tom Waits or Elvis Costello, without knowing the original song, it’s probably because you’re picking up on lyrical tics rather than musical ones. I can’t think of another songwriter I’d expect to recognize melodically like this.

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Catching up

Things that I had a month ago and that I no longer have:

  • Wisdom teeth
  • An unfinished tenure case
  • An age representable with only five bits
  • A car loan

Now that all that’s out of the way, and with the new academic year started, hopefully I’ll do a better job keeping this place up. Then again, given that I’ve just started yet another blog (this one entirely work-related, and locked down tight for now) perhaps I’m once again indulging in the premature enumeration of poultry.

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