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The Difference Between You and Me [Apr. 22nd, 2014|07:52 pm]

I respect a person who is able to understand that their life experience adds up to something different than my own. At the very least, I know that this person has contemplated our mutual differences to an extent that they would realize that life experience, in general, matters tremendously in shaping who we are, though I expect many would tend to ignore my experience, completely, in favor of their own. But, at least they are aware of the difference. And maybe they also understand that there is a cause for those differences. At least, one cause among many.

We’re all going to find differences among ourselves. It’s impossible not to, I think. We’re all, within ourselves, introspects, and we are living outwardly among our kind. For reasons that involve simple matters of survival as we live outwardly, we must be wary of those who are different, because differences are always the most dangerous to our personal safety. Sometimes dangerous to our existence.

So, when confronted with someone new, we look for the differences. Each of us, having inherited a survivor's mindset from our ancestry, will use that power to actively seek out the differences we can see in others. And we evaluate those differences. And we obsess about those differences. And, after we’ve obsessed enough, we may, after all, decide to let ‘em in anyway, despite those differences.

As we let more in, our community grows.

That’s all well and good. I understand all of this. But, I also believe that understanding something gives us the power to control it.

So, in my typical fashion, I flip this whole idea on its head and propose that, rather than seek out our differences, we should instead notice how much the same we all are. Why not start taking stock in our similarities? Why not consider that I have two-legs and five-senses, also, and let’s all build on that?

It’s not the differences that really matter. It’s how much the same we are.

Genetically, there’s less than one-percent difference between chimpanzees and humans. If we’re 99% the same as them, how close do you think you and I are?

Would you be impressed if I told you we are at least 99% the same? Would you think that that is worth building on?
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Puzzle o' the Day 382! [Apr. 22nd, 2014|09:57 am]

Surprisingly little is known about the number of times a given number can appear in Pascal's Triangle. The number 1 obviously appears infinitely often, but how about other numbers?

a. (Easy).
i. What's the only number that appears exactly once?
ii. What's the smallest number that appears exactly twice?
iii. What's the smallest number that appears exactly three times?
iv. What's the smallest number that appears exactly four times?

No one knows if there are any numbers that appear exactly five or seven times. David Singmaster found that infinitely many numbers appear exactly six times, though his method doesn't find all of them.

b.i. (Medium). What's the smallest number s that appears exactly six times? Answer in white, so you can do b.ii.: 120.
b.ii. (Easy, given b.i.). What values of n and k yield s = (n choose k) = n!/k!(n-k)! ?

One number is known that appears exactly eight times. No one knows if there are any other numbers that appear eight or more times.

c.i. (The puzzle: medium-hard). What's the smallest (only?) number t that appears exactly eight times? Hint in white: It has four digits, and can be found within the first twenty rows of the triangle. Answer in white, so you can do c.ii.: 3003 = 3 x 7 x 11 x 13.
c.ii. (Medium-easy, given c.i.). What values of n and k yield t = (n choose k) = n!/k!(n-k)! ?

(By the way, I didn't like my original formulation of PotD 381!, so I rewrote it; give it a try!)
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"Busy" [Apr. 22nd, 2014|09:52 am]

[Current Mood |awakeawake]

It's curious that one of the people responding to my previous post laid some of the blame for men's poor sexual performance and general lack of pursuit of sexual pleasure on all of us being just a little too busy.

I'm not. I'm never "busy."

I will often say "I'm busy that day," because that's the phrase we've agreed to use, instead of what's really going on. And what's really going on, worded truthfully, would sound brutal and tragic: "I'm sorry, but compared to getting a little downtown / watching Game of Thrones / playing Call of Duty / drinking alone, you're just not a priority."

And that's what I do, on paper, in my calendar, when people ask me for my time. I look back through my calendar and tally up the amount of time I've had with people recently, and the experiences I want and the pleasures I seek and the education I crave and the downtime I need, and I prioritize. Explicitly. I rank encounters and schedules with an eye toward gratitude and pleasure, accomplishment and camaraderie, and then I decide where I'll go each night, what I'll do, and whom I'll do it with.

Maybe I'm not getting as much writing and coding done as I used to, but I'm having a lot more fun.
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Various things from Minicon weekend [Apr. 22nd, 2014|10:17 am]

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First, I am pleased to say that my essay, “The Apple and the Castle,” will be appearing as one of the supplemental materials in the book, The Reader: The War for the Oaks. Get yours through the Kickstarter if you’re interested in gorgeous photos or me talking about what makes for a lasting fantasy classic, especially in the handling of setting.

Other good stuff happened besides me selling an essay. I was on a map panel that went pretty well, I thought, despite everyone on the panel being pro-map. (Panels often have a little extra frisson if the panelists disagree a bit more.) I want to particularly point out that while three of us writer panelists were traditionally published at one length or another, the two who were self-published-only were models of how self-published authors should conduct themselves on convention panels. They confined their remarks about their own books to the relevant and interesting, and they talked about other people’s work in on-topic ways, just as a good panelist ought. Later in the convention I encountered both of them, and one didn’t try to sell his book to me at all, while the other did–at a launch party I attended of my own free will, knowing that it was a launch party. Going to a launch party expecting someone not to be trying to talk up their book would just be dumb; that’s what they’re for. So as a result, I came away from it with warm positive feelings about both self-published authors, while I have no idea about the contents of their books, and I’m going to link them both here: Ozgur Sahin and Blake Hausladen. Well done, guys; that’s how to do it right. If this is what the rise of the self-published author brings programming at future cons, it’s going to be awesome. (I expect that this is not actually the case and self-published authors are as much a mixed bag as traditionally published authors. Ah well; at least I had a good panel.)

The middle-grade panel was less focused than the map panel, but several good names got discussed–Mer, everybody likes you–and our surprise last panelist got through her first panel ever without too much difficulty. (She was 14. First panels ever are hard.)

Alec’s and my reading went beautifully–not a huge crowd, but not a tiny one either, especially given that it was scheduled over the dinner hour. Timprov was a hero of the revolution in bringing us hot soup so that we were fortified before the reading.

A question came up in conversation at the book launch party, and I wanted to address it here, and that was: why don’t I post reviews of the books I get sent for review but do not finish? The dual entity known as James S. A. Corey was on Twitter just yesterday saying, “Writers: if people are bashing your work online, rejoice. It means someone has noticed it exists,” and I think that was the basic premise of the writer asking why I don’t post negative reviews: that negative press is still better for the smaller writer than no press. This is probably true. An individual post saying, “I stopped reading this on page one due to clunky prose,” or, “Rape scene chapter one, quit reading,” would still bring at least some attention to the book, and not everybody has the same taste in prose or the same distaste for chapter one rape scenes that I do.

However. I do not get paid for my reviews. My time is valuable, and my time is my own. Any time that I spend on writing reviews is my choice, and I don’t choose to spend that on books that didn’t hold my attention to the end. I am not long on time and energy. I would rather spend that time on my own writing, or on reading something else, or on staring at the birch tree outside my office window and willing the leaves on it to bud out, or on making my godson brownies, or…yeah. Things. “How long could it take?” Oh trust me. I bounce off a lot of books. It could take quite some time. Adding in discussion with people in the comments section, especially if those people want to try to talk me into reading a little further? It could really take quite some time.

Reviewers are good for writers, but reviewers do not exist to be good for writers. Reviewers are good for readers, but reviewers do not even exist to be good for readers. It is awfully nice that people send me free books to review. I am grateful. But what they are buying with the free book is the chance at my attention, and if they can’t hold my attention, they don’t get my time in the form of my reading or in the form of my review. Even if it would be useful to someone else.

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My tweets [Apr. 22nd, 2014|07:28 am]


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Most men don't like sex [Apr. 21st, 2014|09:36 pm]

[Current Mood |amusedamused]
[Current Music |Pacific Rim OST, We Are The Resistance]

I have this thesis that I've been discussing with my friends both on-line and off, and most of them, to my surprise, actually agree with the basic premise:

Most men don't like sex

There's some evidence for this, but let's start with the two basic arguments.

First, for most men, who are heterosexual, the outlet for their sexual needs is primarily women. If that's so, then you'd think men would praise women who grant enthusiastic consent, but they don't. No, for women for whom enthusiastic consent is high on their list of priorities, the terms our culture assigns them are "slut," "slattern," and "whore." Our culture treats them like a used candy, a dead rose, a cup of warm spit. There are no equivalent terms among men. If men liked sex, they'd respect the women who would enjoy providing it. They don't like those women, therefore their motives for seeking sex must be something other than enjoyment of it.

Secondly, given that most men claim to "enjoy sex" "with women," you'd think they'd actually be good at it. A man would be willing to read up on it, figure out how to communicate with his partner, how to ask and tell, how to actually discover what his partner likes, and how to get back what he wants. You think he'd be willing to experiment. But most men aren't willing. Most men don't care enough.

At the extreme, let's argue that it's actually the men who want babies. They've controlled women's opportunities to have children throughout the ages, so it's clear our species-wide reproductive success is primarily mens' responsibility. If they wanted to enjoy sex, they would. But I theorize that what they really seek is relief from the reproductive drive. For men, sex is a biologically dominant need that exists only to encourage the reproductive act.

For women, the price of actually having children is high, but since childbirth is months separated from the act of intercourse, there's no reason to believe that evolution has exapted a woman's sexuality to be associated with having children. It just feels good for women, an exapted reward that exists only to discourage a woman from rejecting the man's dark, passionate need to make babies.

I don't think the extreme thesis is strong, but I think the original one deserves closer attention. Do men enjoy sex? Or do they enjoy the relief of having had sex, of having succeeded in their role, of having satisfied a biological urge?

To provide a strong analogy, it surprised me to discover that there are lots of people who don't like to eat. I know that barely a third of Americans like to cook, but it astonished me to learn how many people resent the time and effort it takes to acquire and eat even ready-made meals. There's an entire market dedicated converting the process of eating into "drinking something at your desk" that's meant to convince time-starved nerds they can spend more time programming and less eating.

The happiest countries on Earth are also those with extensive familial and communal food rituals. Sex isn't a daily need, but food is, and even in the ancient porneia, men still cared much more about where their next meal came from, because that was the difference between life and death. Yet here we are where this life-and-death matter, this engine of health and happiness, has become a nuisance, a burden, a timesink. Given that this is even possible for our species, the idea that sex would be even more easily dismissed or neglected by those with the power to dismiss it shouldn't be all that surprising.

The world is full of distractions. Not just in the pursuit of work, but also as substitutes for what men want: video games substitute for any sense of excellence, and porn substitutes for any sense of satisfaction. Compared to the actual struggle of seeing other people, namely women, as worthy companions, in the presence of whom men must be naked and vulnerable, caring and reflexive, in order to enjoy sex... well, I suspect a lot of men would rather not work that hard.

Between the effort of getting there and the payoff at the end, most men look at sex and conclude that, if it weren't for that damned drive, they wouldn't bother. They just don't like it that much.
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Indifference graphs and their construction [Apr. 21st, 2014|11:33 am]

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I just added a new article to Wikipedia on indifference graphs (also known as unit interval graphs or proper interval graphs): the graphs formed from sets of points on the real line by connecting every two points whose distance is less than one.

There are many papers on algorithms for going from the graph to a geometric representation in linear time. The following method for the reverse problem, going from the set of points (or equivalently unit intervals) to its graph must be known, possibly in the context of its generalization to higher dimensional unit disk graphs, but I don't know a good reference for it.

Read more...Collapse )

Update, April 22: It appears that the correct reference for this is Bentley, Jon L.; Stanat, Donald F.; Williams, E. Hollins, Jr.
The complexity of finding fixed-radius near neighbors. Information Processing Lett. 6 (1977), no. 6, 209–212.
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Structures in solution spaces [Apr. 19th, 2014|02:07 pm]

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As I promised earlier, here is the video for my talk on "structures in solution spaces" at the Conference on Meaningfulness and Learning Spaces last February.

It was a wide-ranging talk, about learning spaces, distributive lattices and Birkhoff's representation theorem for them, rectangular cartograms, antimatroids, the 1/3-2/3 conjecture for partial orders and antimatroids, partial cubes, and flip distance in binary trees and point sets. It was also about an hour long, so don't watch unless you have the time. For those with shorter attention spans, I've also put up a pdf file of my talk slides.

The rest of the talks from the conference are also online. For those who like me are interested in discrete mathematics and discrete algorithms, Fred Roberts' talk on when the output of an algorithm is meaningful and Jean-Paul Doignon's talk on polyhedral combinatorics might be particularly interesting.
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My tweets [Apr. 19th, 2014|07:26 am]


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What I'm reading, about to read [Apr. 18th, 2014|10:21 am]


I finished The Round House, Louise Erdrich. I loved it. An Indian woman is violently raped on the reservation, and her son, now grown, narrates the story of how his thirteen year old self dealt with it. There’s lots about family and friendship and of course Indian legal issues. The relationships the kid has with his friends and family feel really true. I loved it even though it has one of my most hated tropes, kids trying to solve a (potentially dangerous) situation on their own. The descriptions of ghosts and the tales his grandfather tells are perfectly done, and fit neatly into the images of the rez and his world where spiritual and practical things meet. There are many beautiful images of people and Indian lives, like a description of older women dressing up and then dancing gracefully at a pow wow.

Not sure what I'm going to read next. Probably the mystery I mentioned in my last post.
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Kickstarter for The Reader: War for the Oaks [Apr. 17th, 2014|02:35 pm]

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If you’ve been wondering why I’ve been neglecting the blog for a while, it’s because I’ve been working on putting together the Kickstarter for the physical book version of The Reader: War for the Oaks. Along the way I had to pretty much learn videography from scratch, so my video ought to be entertaining for that at least.

Today happens to be my 146th birthday – if I was born on the planet Mercury – so today only there’s a pledge category for a 24×16 print for $146. (Kickstarter norm $180, regular price $250.)

We’re at 40% funded going into Minicon, which makes me pretty happy so far. I’ve got promo stuff and will be carrying around a couple of proof copies of the book, so feel free to seek me out at the con.

Originally published at CREATE. EVALUATE. ITERATE.

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If you can deal with the snow and the dog, get on my lawn. [Apr. 17th, 2014|09:11 am]

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Kids these days: they are pretty great and you should buy them an ice cream (sorbet if they don’t do dairy).

Nobody ever sells articles that say this, despite it being true–or at least as much true as a percentage as it ever was–and look, here’s another article, this one from Slate, about how horribly broken the youth of today are, especially compared to my day, which was filled with whimsy and wonder, which, as we all know, is way better than fun and excitement. Sorry, kids, that was a quote from when the Simpsons was a TV show instead of a shambling corpse. Sorry, kids, that was an attempt to slam the Simpsons from before zombies were cool. I’m all better now. Point is: back in my day, we had whimsy and wonder and fun and excitement, although of course not as much as in the Baby Boomers’ day, because they invented all those things. Unless you ask the Lost Generation, in which case, hoo! look out Emperor Nero! And so on until you get back to Hesiod, and let’s face it, nobody had a Back In My Day like that dude.

I’m wandering, aren’t I? It happens with age. Especially Hesiod’s age. Aaaanyway.

Point being: this Slate author Rebecca Schuman teaches college students sometimes, and they do not invite her to join in their reindeer games, which proves that no college students have any reindeer games, due to them sucking, but even that is not because of them because young people have no agency ever (LIKE DUH, keep up), it’s because of us because we ruined them (POSSIBLY PERMANENTLY) with our helicoptering. Also, a survey of what people think are the “weirdest schools” is a totally accurate way to find out what weirdness people are having in their own personal schools and free time and stuff. Because, like, college students in Arizona, if surveyed, will know about my college-age friend’s shenanigans in Massachusetts. They are that epic. Oh, the shenanigans she has. They shenan, and then they go back and….

Sorry, right, the point is: I am friends with actual college students. Not, like, tons of them. But some. Enough to know that sensawunda, as we call it with solemn respect in the science fiction and fantasy writing genres, is alive in their lives. Even if they do not display it on command to random people who teach their classes. You can picture it: “Do you, like, have parties where the admission is a can of moss?” she demands eagerly. “Uh, nooooo,” say her students, thinking, oh God, let me get away from this crazy professor, I have to finish my paper so that I can figure out how to get the layers in my hair dye the way I want them before we yarn-bomb the quad.

“Someone’s got to help these damn kids today goof off more creatively,” she says, and I say: sit the hell down, Rebecca Schuman. The last thing “these damn kids today” need is another intervention from you. They are fine. They are doing their own thing. It is not your thing. Has help with whimsy ever actually helped? Ever? Back. Off.

Oh, and also? I once snapped at a Boomer age friend, “Just because college cost $5 when you went doesn’t mean it does now,” and guess what? The incredibly expensive college costs from when I was in college? That swamped people my age in student loans? Are starting to look like $5 compared to what these damn kids today are paying. So if you’re feeling like these damn kids today are just not doing enough goofing off, maybe hovering over them with narrow notions of whimsy is completely unhelpful, and maybe you should kick in for a scholarship for one of them or buy one dinner so that they have five minutes in which to goof off. Or pay them to do some chores for you or something. Because a lot of the stress you’re seeing is because they are trying to WORK while doing ALL THE CLASSES so that they are not still in debt to the student loan folks when they have to start paying for nursing home care. But yelling at them that they are not doing a good enough job at fitting in their REQUIRED WONDERMENT with their work and classes is not what we in realityland call helpful.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Books read, early April [Apr. 16th, 2014|03:23 pm]


Elizabeth Bear, Steles of the Sky. Discussed elsewhere.

Tobias S. Buckell, Hurricane Fever. Discussed elsewhere.

Dorothy Canfield (Fisher), Understood Betsy. Kindle. This is a very strange thing: an anti-helicopter parenting manifesto kids’ novel from…1917. It’s astonishing how many of the details of the helicopter parenting map pretty exactly. I think that the sort of modern kid who enjoys “old time novels” might still enjoy it? but my main recommendation of it is to modern adults who should find it to be a quick read and may be greatly interested in the details of how much the more things change…. Canfield/Fisher is very careful not to put country living over city living, for example, and although there are a few places where her priorities make me wince, overall it’s really quite good.

C. J. Cherryh, Peacemaker. The latest atevi novel. She keeps writing ‘em, I keep reading ‘em. Honestly, do not start here. Whatever you do, do not start here. Not at all the strongest of the series, by no means stands alone–they get less and less stand-alone as time goes by–but I still do care how Cajeiri negotiates the question of the birthday coat and its consequences as well as being impatient for the Spoiler who still do not Spoiler yet in this book. (Maybe in the next fortuitous three. Or maybe not. Sigh.) This book could have done with more Jago. But I still liked it.

Nancy Hale, Mary Cassatt. A quite competent but not transcendent bio of one of the important (American, female) Impressionists. Recommended if you’re looking for a bio of Mary Cassatt, otherwise not really.

Seanan McGuire, Discount Armageddon. Not my usual thing, but I could see how skillfully she was appealing to the audience she was appealing to, and there were some quite amusing moments. I’ll probably go back for the next one when I’m in the mood for humorous (modern-type) urban fantasy with cryptids.

E. C. Myers, Quantum Coin. Definitely in sequel land, and while I could see where this went all sorts of places an author might be eager to go, I was less eager as a reader to follow. I hope that Myers goes somewhere entirely different with his next work.

Michael O’Brien, Mrs. Adams in Winter: A Journey in the Last Days of Napoleon. Louisa Adams, the wife and First Lady of John Quincy Adams, was with him when he was ambassador to the court of the tsar, and she kept an account of when she had to travel by herself from that court to Paris. (“By herself”: with servants, her sister, and her son. But with no suitable male escort.) These worlds coexisted in my mind but did not really intersect: the philosophical austerity of the early American Republic (largely brought about by the elder John Adams) and the demands of an embassy at a court such as that of the early nineteenth century Russian one. Uff da, not an easy thing to have in collision, and an interesting book thereby.

Helen Oyeyemi, Boy, Snow, Bird. I loved this book! This was so beautiful! Such a lovely amazing book! Um. Except the last few chapters. Other than that, great stuff! Ignore the last couple of chapters. I think the thing was, Oyeyemi had all sorts of interesting things to say about passing and the intersection of African-Americans and ethnic whites in the era she’d chosen, and then she tried to take it an analogy too far. There was a light touch with the fairy tale parallels (seriously, fantasy writers, we could learn from the lightness of touch), there was a richness of historical detail, there was all kinds of good stuff here. But the last few chapters…well, just…no call for them really. I will try again with another of her books. Onwards.

Reader’s Digest Editors, Great Biographies: Charles A. Lindbergh, Thomas A. Edison, Hans Christian Andersen, etc.. Grandpa’s. Again, the biographies are chopped to bits and strikingly laudatory and uncontroversial. One would hardly know that Edison ever had a controversial thought or deed. I am impressed that one can even manage such a biography of Edison. Or Lindbergh, although his was an autobiography focused solely on the Spirit of St. Louis trip, which does tend to limit the debate.

Reader’s Digest Editors, Scenic Wonders of America. Grandpa’s. This was large photos of scenic areas, followed by essays about them, then lists of nearby (“one day’s drive,” which is not all that nearby, by my American standards) places to visit. It was from 1973, and it was kind of nice to see that Grandpa had looked through it and picked out some things that looked interesting and gone to see them–often with me–but it would have been unlike him to use it as a checklist, and in fact he had not. Not really the sort of thing one reads so much as looks at, but in the spirit of my project with my grandpa’s books, I did indeed look at it.

Evelyn Sharp, All the Way to Fairyland. Kindle. Somewhat twee late Victorian fairy tales, not too bad but not the best Evelyn Sharp or the best late Victorian fairy tales. Probably mostly for the specialist in one direction or the other.

Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham, Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line. Had some very fun bits. I was interested to see whether a novel would read more like a season or more like an episode, and for me it was more like a slightly extended episode. Clearly some of the juicier developments are being held back for future movies if it turns out that demand for such things exist, but there were still a few character arc points for the committed fan.

Monique Truong, The Book of Salt. A novel about the Vietnamese chef for Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in their time in Paris. One of the key pieces of advice in critiques–which this is not, it’s nattering about books–is that one is to focus on what the author wanted a book to be, not what one wanted of the book oneself. This is one of the cases where it was a perfectly readable book where the author and I kept having drastic mismatches in what we felt was interesting about the situation and where we wanted the book to go. I, for example, found Binh’s communications (successful and otherwise) with his employers and with Parisians–and in flashback scenes, with his countrymen–fascinating, and felt that Truong missed a lot of opportunities in where she ended the scenes she chose to write. She was a lot more interested in elements like his parents’ sexualities, which…kind of bored me, frankly. So I think this is a reasonably good book for which I was very much the wrong audience.

Greg van Eekhout, California Bones. Every time I read a lovingly detailed book set in Southern California, I think, “Maybe this will be the one that makes it clear why people love this place I so very much do not love!” van Eekhout has probably come the closest so far. He also has some cool fun osteomancy worldbuilding, which is nifty and zips along. It isn’t out yet, but I borrowed a copy from someone else who got a review copy. Out this summer. Good fun. Expect to hear more when they’re actually, y’know, available and stuff.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Puzzle o' the Day 381! [Apr. 16th, 2014|10:13 am]

Given a polynomial f(x), make an infinite set S consisting of all the values of f(x) when x is an integer. Then find n, the greatest common divisor (gcd) of all the numbers in S. For most choices of f, n = 1, but not always!

a. (Warm-up): medium-easy). Let f(x) = x^7 - x. Then S = {f(0) = f(1) = 0, f(2) = 126, f(3) = 2184, f(4) = 16380, ...}. What is n in this case? Can you justify your answer? (Note: f is an odd function, so f(-1) = 0, f(-2) = -126, etc.; these values don't change the gcd.)

b. (The puzzle: medium). Let f(x) = x^49 - x. What's n in this case? Can you justify your answer?

Hint one (in white): You'll probably find this theorem useful.

Hint two (in white): It's possible for n to be composite. Can it be divisible by a square greater than 1?
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What I'm reading, about to read [Apr. 16th, 2014|09:09 am]


Watch the North Wind Rise, Robert Graves. A poet from our time (1949) is transported years into the future, which is now a peaceful, Goddess worshipping world culture where money, technology, and wars have been eliminated and people live in rural villages and in defined social groups. I love utopia/dystopia fiction, and part of what I love is being dropped into this alternate world and figuring out how things work. This one doesn’t have that because from when he arrives, everything is explained to him (and us.) I don’t believe for a second that this culture would work; I don’t have that much faith in humanity, but it’s interesting to speculate. What made it a page turner was the interactions between the protagonist and other characters including a troublesome woman from his past who has somehow appeared in the future with him. But that sort of fizzled out and it was ultimately kind of philosophical musing about Goddess culture and good and evil, which was okay (especially because of my acquaintance with the Goddess) but eh.

Now I'm reading The Round House by Louise Erdrich and really enjoying it. About a crime on a reservation in North Dakota and the narrator, the victim's son, reacting to it. There's a lot of great stuff about family and friendship, not to mention issues about crimes that happen to Indian people.

After that I'm going to read The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths, a mystery somebody recommended.
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more twitturds for the people [Apr. 15th, 2014|03:12 pm]

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[Current Music |Throwing Muses - Fish]

I found a trove dated 2010-01-12.  Some are a little dated already ("whuffie", Google Wave, The Boondocks)

the question is not "should i start pimpslapping people at work?" but "how hard should i slap them?" [should i be concerned that this seems to keep happening to me?]
i just realized that The Boondocks' Uncle Ruckus is what Alan Keyes will become in 10 years
fair warning: i've moved from mild-mannered tolerant agnostic to angry scorched-earth atheist. this is just a phase.
"out of ammo"'s just another phrase for "nothing left to loose"
i just attended my first lacrosse game and we were treated to a halftime show of competitive eating. i felt so very white trash.
i seem to spend an inordinate amount of time flipping off inanimate objects
George Carlin famously said of golf on TV "It's like watching flies fuck" but i think these days it's more apposite to MMA 'fights'
2wanda is driving us home from a party and she just had to stop when she saw the "FREE sewing machine" sign
bizarre Mayan triangle: every time I think of you / I get a shock right through the Popul Vuh
is it bad that upon inspecting Google Wave, the first words that popped into my head were "scuttling horror"?
i am banning myself from using "tweet" meaning "twitter update" because I don't want to sound like a complete dipshit [this didn't last long, sadly]
good news: my Dad has a Weblog now. bad news: he can't figure out what its URL is.
any time someone uses "whuffie" like it actually means something in the real world, i want to slap them
when someone tells you something scary and it gets stuck in your head, that's a #fearworm e.g. finding maggots on your pet
"Big Bang Theory" does for geeks & nerds what "Will & Grace" did for gays: turn up stereotypes to 11 and give squares something to laugh at.
"Dali's Mustache Ride" would be an excellent band name.
Until next time... on TWITTURDS!

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cpt america: winter soldier [Apr. 14th, 2014|03:14 pm]

A solidly fun action movie. But... oh, but...
spoiler cut!Collapse )
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The Reader: War for the Oaks: Kickstarter! [Apr. 14th, 2014|08:59 am]

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The Kickstarter is up for The Reader: War for the Oaks, and Tim has done a beautiful job. You can see some of how gorgeous the photos are on the page for it, but they’re even better in person. There’ll also be essays in appreciation of War for the Oaks in the photo book (possibly one from me–we’ll see what he thinks!). And if you’re so moved, there are gorgeous prints and photo cards for extras. Some of you have gotten examples of Tim’s photo cards in the mail from me–way better than Hallmark, frankly, suitable for pretty much any occasion, festive, congratulatory, consoling, pick your mood yourself.

This has been a lovely project to support, and I would really like for him to be able to do more beautiful nerdy things in this vein. The Kickstarter is starting strong, but it still needs support. Please go look at the page and think about backing it. Thanks so much.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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From when even the cars had moustaches [Apr. 13th, 2014|11:50 pm]

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Every year about this time, my campus holds a spring celebration, with all the student organizations setting up pavilions in the park to sell food and advertise for new members, with the creative anachronists bashing each other with padded swords, and with a car show. Why a car show? I don't know, but I always enjoy seeing the variety of shapes and colors compared to today's mostly-the-same boxes. My favorite this year was a 1950 Chevy Fleetline, found rusting in a swamp in Tenessee; after a lot of work restoring it, its owner decided to cover it in clear-coat, showing off the patina on its metal, rather than just painting it. And then drove it cross country, towing a trailer full of his stuff, to UCI where his girlfriend is a grad student.

The moustache is more visible in this one. And here are the rest of the photos.
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on the nature of short conversation and Facebook [Apr. 14th, 2014|01:01 am]

A friend of mine died very suddenly this week. He was 37, they suspect a heart attack, which seems very odd. On some level, I hope it was due to a heart defect.

I posted about it on my Facebook because I treat it a lot like I treat anything I have access to... it's a way to share myself, my thoughts, my feelings. While I am private about some aspects of my life, most of it I have been very open about all along.

I mused that it was troubling me. Mostly it troubled me because most of the other people in my life who have died... it wasn't a surprise. Theresa Koerbacher down the street? She got cancer as a kid and didn't win. David White? Car accident. My grandmother? She was old as dirt and it was probably for the best. My father? He had COPD and his life quality had severely diminished. Johnny Law? Well, he was a really large guy, we were shocked to find out he just fell down some stairs.

But this? The guy was only a few months older than me. And the thing was, he had such an interesting Facebook. He had taken up photography and his pictures were really good. I mean, I know we all have the amateur professionals in our friend groups, but his subjects and work always kept me interested. And despite all this, in about 2.5 years of being friends on Facebook, it looks like we interacted about twice. And the last time we saw each other was probably when we worked together back in the mid-late 90s.

All this said, I came to look forward to his FB postings because they provided a window into someone else's life. Someone's life that had maybe found a bit of clarity and contentment, even if it maybe wasn't exactly what he wanted. (Then again, how was I to know either way?)

I posted about this and the responses came. And I felt weird because the goal was not to make it about me. I was not looking for sympathy for my feelings. I was looking to connect with people, to interact, to come away with something new. Someone had left my life and it leaves a hole; I wanted to express that and to hear something from somebody else, even if it was just someone they had lost and felt the same way about.

I felt weird about this (the same way I did when I posted about Johnny Law) because I was lamenting more the loss of the person's creative work than the person themselves, being as I wasn't as close to the person as many other people were. It wasn't like a close friend died, it was someone that I actually knew and admired their work, no matter the medium.

So I was frustrated by the "I'm sorry for your loss" responses.

Because one day you're posting pictures of owls (and self-marveling at such) and then a few days later, you're gone.

That's it.

No more pictures of owls. Or dogs. Or sunrises. Or anything else.

Minnebar 9 [Apr. 13th, 2014|12:59 pm]

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Here's how I spent my time on Saturday at the local 900-person "unconference":

Paul Cantrell, "Scheduling Minnebar with Simulated Annealing" Great talk as is usual from Paul. He intro'd by saying that simulated annealing sounds very fancy but really the algorithm is very dumb. For Minnebar, the key metric is whether people can attend all of the sessions they have expressed interest in through the session web tool. So the function being optimized is the mean, over all attendees, of the percent of their sessions they cannot attend due to scheduling. This may mean it's possible to game the system by registering for fewer sessions. Somebody who registers for 6 will have 0.17/N weight for having two sessions scheduled opposite each other, while somebody who expresses interest in just 2 will have 0.5/N weight on their preference. Certainly you should not register for any you don't much care about.

I asked about whether it was possible to do better on assignment to rooms. Currently Paul just assigns time slots first, then greedily puts the session with the largest number of interested people in the largest room. But I think it may be possible to do better than this--- some recurring sessions are known to be very popular and yet do not get placed in the largest venues.

There were quite a few questions of the form "couldn't you find a better/faster solution with X" to which is response was (correctly) "no, we only run this once a year so we don't care very much."

"Pack Your Own Chute - the Personal Decision to Join a Startup", a panel discussion led by Neal Tovsen, with Paul DeBettignies, Liz Tupper, Matt Hardy, and Todd H Gardner. This one was fairly depressing but a good conversation. They talked about the need to set boundaries and have clear communication with your co-founder when forming a startup. How much money are you willing to lose on this project? Where's your bail-out point? What is the worst-case scenario? (They also talked about some of the fun and freedom too.)

What struck me is that everyone on the panel was talking about creating a startup rather than joining one. Nobody talked about taking a smaller plunge by going to work for somebody else's startup first. (I know I found my time at Kealia very valuable when we started Tintri--- and I wasn't even doing the heavy lifting on the corporate/financial/HR side!) But just like you might save up money to make sure you could survive the 18 months it took to bootstrap your startup, it may make total sense to work for 2-3 years in another startup to build connections and experience for your own.

Another issue that was not confronted directly was moving. Relocating is a big cost and one that I totally understand not wanting to pay--- I didn't. But it should be asked: if the only way to make this startup succeed is to move to San Francisco, would you do so?

I learned about Track:js from one of its founders on the panel (and the other seated next to me in the next session!) A good-looking tool for debugging Javascript problems that happen in production systems, and one Tintri might try out.

Reed Robinson, "Lessons from a Failed Startup". The failed startup was Heroic, a local attempt at a recommendation service for home services. (His dad repairs garage openers.) He had a good list which I'll try to reproduce here, but I wish his slides were available:

  1. Validate your assumptions. (Like, "people care about my product", "the team can build the product", and "people will pay for my product.")
  2. Sell it, then build it. Heroic spent lots of time on UX but decided not to ask people to pay right away. For his next venture he wants to sell the idea and find people willing to fund the development. (I am not a huge fan of this model but VC looks like that if you squint at it correctly.)
  3. Acknowledge holes in your team ASAP. He talked about how Heroic lacked marketing, finance, and sales expertise. It's possible to go overboard as well here--- but you also don't want to dig a hole.
  4. See things to fruition. Reed gave an example of promotions that were tried and quickly discarded after only a week or so. Some strategic moves need time.
  5. Do things that other people don't want to do. His father gets ten emails a week from people wanting to partner with him. Very crowded space, maybe focus on something less "sexy".
  6. Intimately know your cash situation. Ties in with holes in the team.
  7. Have confidence, but don't take yourself too seriously. Celebrate successes.

Bridget Kromhout, Monitoring at a SaaS Startup. Talked about her work in ops at 8thBridge, and a wide variety of tools. One thing the Tintri support lead emphasizes is that alerts need to be actionable--- don't wake somebody up in the night for something they can't fix. Bridget reinforced this message strongly. Nagios is old but still a good tool for ensuring alerts are what you want. Some of the newer tools like Sensu are so complicated that ops people fear they need monitoring on their monitoring tool.

She shared a couple stories in which 8thBridged goofed some by not using some of the information they had available. MongoDB's MMS was telling them about a global write lock problem but they weren't monitoring or alerting on it. Etsy has a very good monitoring team and tries to monitor even those things that don't seem to be moving, "just in case they make a run for it."

Tools: Graphite and StatsD for collecting and showing stats (they feed info into nagios from them for actual alerting), Whisper for storing time-seris data, Carbon for buffering and storing stats. Slides with more references here:

Maybe Tintri should look at providing stats directly into some of these tools. She talked about Logstache (?), Kibana, and ElasticSearch as some next-generation tools it might be worth looking into.)

Jeff Lin of BustOut Solutions, "Chasing Ninja Rockstars: Searching for Top Talent and Why We're Doing it All Wrong". I should have given one this a miss. The key problem, as Jeff admitted, is that he doesn't do much hiring. His 13-person team is 5x smaller than the number of hires Tintri made last quarter. So when we asked questions like how to source more diverse candidates, or how to get team buy-in to change hiring practices, he didn't have any suggestions.

He had some good points about team culture mattering, and creativity requiring diversity, but it was not very practical advice on how to get there.

Jeff told an anecdote that pissed me off. At a previous company (not BustOut) his boss took the resumes and filtered out all those with Master's or PhD degrees and said he basically didn't want to hire anybody who had spent too much time in the "ivory tower" because they were out of touch with technology trends.

I'm not sure what Jeff thought the point of this story was (I think it was in support of skills over credentialism) but it directly contradicted much of the rest of what he said about looking for good problem-solvers and people who were enthusiastic learners. Nobody goes for their PhD to get a better salary. (The same may not necessarily be true of MSCS.) I suspect a not-so-subtle side effect is that Jeff's old boss didn't want to pay more for developers.

James Renkin, "Building A Global, Privacy-Conscious CDN On $20 A Day". This talk was pure geeky joy. James located 11 sites throughout the globe that were willing to let his virtual server peer with their BGP (the Internet's routing protocol.) He was thus able to create a content distribution network on his own using BGP anycast to direct users to the "closest" (sort of) server. This is what the big guys do (some root DNS servers use it, Akamai might but usually just uses DNS redirection.) But he did it for an outlay of about $7000/year. About $500 of that is the IP address range (which you have to jump through multiple hoops to get--- he's got an ISP side business which he was able to leverage.) The remainder is running the servers and additional charges for injecting his route into BGP. I learned a lot of this stuff during my PhD work, so this talk made me really happy. I have no intention of duplicating his work, though.

The conference had a couple innovations that didn't work so well. Best Buy let us use their employee parking garage this year instead of visitor parking, but frankly it's a maze (not very well marked, poor traffic flow.) They only had one exit gate opening to leave and more than one person got into the wrong lane.

The organizers brought in food trucks to serve lunch but the lines were long and it was not all that warm a day to be standing outside. I think three trucks was insufficient; it didn't help that it was not clear there were three separate lines, and that one of the trucks opened late.

There was also a keynote from an agile coach that I didn't get much out of. I was amused that he emphasized subtracting things to get more productivity but he's usually called in as an "add" to the team.
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"Love and Math" vs "Flash Boys" [Apr. 13th, 2014|12:03 pm]

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"Love and Math" is by Edward Frenkel. It tries to show the beauty of modern mathematics by taking the reader on an autobiographical tour of Frenkel's career, explaining the concepts and connections he's worked with over the years. Mathematical beauty, he says, ought to be accessible to non-mathematicians in the same way that beautiful paintings are accessible to non-painters.

"Flash Boys" is by Michael Lewis. It tries to show the workings of modern stock markets by taking the reader on a biographical tour of Brad Katsuyama's career and the founding of IEX. Wall Street, he says, is screwing the little guy (and big institutional investors) by delivering their trades into the hands of high-frequency traders.

Frenkel doesn't succeed in making the math simple. I had some undergraduate courses in "modern algebra" (not really modern at all), including Galois theory, and have maintained an amateur interest since then. I found myself flailing about halfway through the book, and never really developed a good sense what the Langlands Program actually was. The analogy he uses is a Rosetta stone tying together number theory, curves over finite fields (which he does a good job explaining), and Reimann surfaces (ditto.) Quantum theory comes in at the end too! But few of the conjectures that tie the different languages together are stated explicitly. Much of the mathematical meat is buried in the endnotes. This makes it harder for a somewhat-mathematically-sophisticated reader like me to follow the flow, but I can't see how somebody with less background than I comprehends the ideas and examples at all. There are a lot of concepts floating around that make me echo Enrico Fermi: "If I could remember the names of all these particles, I'd be a botanist."

Here's an example: I understand finite fields, and curves over finite fields. I kind of understand a manifold, and his glossary provides the definition "A smooth geoemetric shape such as a circle, a sphere, or the surface of a donut." He does a good job developing these ideas. Then later we get "manifold over a finite field" and I'm lost--- finite fields aren't smooth! Google or Wikipedia are no help, I just get dumped into reading about Calabi-Yau manifolds, whatever the heck they are.

That said, I applaud Frenkel for the attempt. I really appreciate having a book about what modern mathematicians are really doing. The sections on being a Jewish mathematician in the USSR are alone worth the price of admission. Antisemitism kept him out of Moscow University (and would have placed further roadblocks on graduate study) but the mathematicians of Moscow created informal networks that trained an entire generation of brilliant students.

Frenkel is also unabashedly Platonist which causes some hair-tearing. Perhaps pure mathematicians should be introduced to the concept of "confirmation bias."

Lewis's book succeeds where Frenkel does not. It not only tells a good story, but it also lays out very clearly how high-frequency trading works and affects institutional investors. This picture may not be accurate or complete--- but it's at least part of the story.

In brief, today's stock market is not a singular location. There are numerous exchanges each with their own rules, practices, and costs. When a broker gets a buy order he typically has to fill it from multiple exchanges (in fact a regulation requires him to go find the best prices!) But a high-frequency trader can monitor his activity on a subset of exchanges (or even one) and beat the broker to other exchanges, buy the available stock and re-sell it immediately at a slightly higher price. This is how high-frequency traders account for 50% of the shares traded--- they're not actually providing any "liquidity", they're just stepping in front of party-to-party sales that would otherwise happen anyway.

There are, of course, numerous criticisms of Lewis's account. Some claim this dynamic was already well known and published in books at the time his protagonist was puzzling it out. Or that the same was true before electronic exchanges. (This is not a positive.) Or that sophisticated investors were already deploying countermeasures before IEX, and IEX is a scam of some sort under the thumb of known insider traders. Or that Lewis is getting only the "buy-sider" picture of the world and HFT provides incalculable benefits in ways that only people who really know the stock exchanges can understand. That the whole book is nothing but an advertisement for IEX, who are less savvy and ethical than actually portrayed.

Some of these criticisms I think miss the mark. It's not important who was first to understand HFT or develop countermeasures; it's important to explain it in a clear and engaging fashion. Frankel likes to think that his mathematics is clear, elegant, and beautiful to an outsider--- but ends up, frankly, in a morass of jargon. Financial insiders like to cloud their basic operation in a cloud of strange terms and vague feel-good explanations--- but where their money comes from can usually be explained very simply.

The silliest criticism I hear is that individual investors ("the little guy") shouldn't care because their trades are so small that HFT can't exploit them. This is an out-and-out lie in two forms. The first is that some individual trades are certainly big enough to suffer. One of the telling anecdotes in the book is a trader with Bloomberg access performing a late-night trade on his personal account, and setting off a flurry of activity which he can observe. The second is that individual investors often put their money into mutual funds which are--- guess what--- big institutional investors who are affected.

Michael Lewis told Salon that IEX has been flooded with resumes and would-be whistleblowers since the publication of his book. Sadly, I think Frenkel's book is not likely to have a similar impact.
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Minicon schedule [Apr. 13th, 2014|06:02 am]

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Here is my Minicon schedule as I finally know it:

SAT 2:30 PM Krushenko’s

Terra Incognita: The Role of Maps in SF&F Literature

A discussion of maps used in speculative fiction, either as endpieces or as part of the story. What are good (and bad) examples of maps of imaginary worlds? Can the inclusion of maps create problems? What can maps tell us of the modes of transportation, natural setting, and politics of the realm? Are maps for modern fantasy novels too modern (i.e. accurate)?

Michael Kingsley (m), Blake Hausladen, Eleanor A. Arnason, Marissa Lingen, Ruth Berman

SAT 4:00 PM Ver 5/6

Younger than YA

Let’s talk about children’s F&SF books aimed at the pre-tween audience.

David Lenander (m), Jane Yolen, Laura Krentz, Marissa Lingen

(Note: I didn’t realize this would involve fantasy also! Even better: I have even more to say about MG speculative fiction broadly than MG SF narrowly.)

SAT 6:00 PM Ver 1/2

Marissa Lingen and Alec Austin – Reading

Our tentative plan is a poem of Alec’s, a co-written story, and a story of just-mine. Come for the fun, stay for the additional fun!

If you look at the programming grid, you may be under the impression that I will also be moderating a panel called Fantastic YA on Sunday morning at 10:00 a.m. That panel sounds lovely, and I did volunteer for it, but at 10:00 a.m. on Easter Sunday morning I expect to be on the first verse of “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today” next to my grandmother, as I have been on every Easter Sunday I can manage and will be on every Easter Sunday I can manage. She is an active, sharp 82. She is 82. Am I going to drag her (and, not so incidentally, the rest of the family) out to sunrise services at 6 a.m. because programming ignored my very clear statement that I need to not be on anything before noon on Sunday? No, no I am not.

I was not thrilled to not have my schedule a week before the con started, and I was trying to be nice and understanding, because it’s hard work to program a con, and I like the people I know in programming and have no reason not to like the people I don’t know well. It was making some family and medical scheduling a bit difficult, but I was trying to roll with it. But when I woke up this morning to a schedule that directly ignored my one hard and fast schedule limitation (which, as I said, had been clearly stated when I volunteered), I have to say that it did not make me very happy. I doubt that the panel will be able to be moved at this late date, so I expect that they will need to find another moderator and panelist. If I’m wrong, I’ll update my schedule later, but so far as I know it this is what I’m doing at Minicon, and I hope it’ll be fun.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Congratulations to Tetsuo Asano [Apr. 12th, 2014|10:07 pm]

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When I last saw Tetsuo Asano, he was giving a research talk at WADS, and openly worrying that it might be his last one. We all thought it was because of mandatory retirement (still legal in Japan). But, it turns out, no. Instead, he's the new president of JAIST. Congratulations, Tetsuo!

I'll probably miss SoCG, in Kyoto this year, but for those who will be going, there will be an associated workshop in honor of Asano's 65th birthday.
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Hurricane Fever, by Tobias S. Buckell [Apr. 12th, 2014|12:36 pm]


Review copy provided by Tor.

The first of Buckell’s thrillers (Arctic Rising) made me sit up and take notice, because there is a distinct stylistic difference between writing a thriller and writing near-future SF. I think a lot of us SF writers look at the sales numbers for thrillers and think, “But that’s basically the stuff we’re doing!” But the differences are crucial. They start with the shorter sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and often books, and they go on from there. The thriller skims the surface of the near-future technological and social changes, focusing on action and adventure. The emotional connections between characters are clear, not murky, whether they are positive or negative–even when someone is in the “friend or enemy?” category, they are clearly tagged by genre conventions to be in this category. It is sharp and accessible and fast.

Buckell has completely nailed this style, as distinct from the style of his previous books. He deserves the sales numbers that go with it, and I hope he’s getting them, because he has married the thriller style to actual knowledge of the Caribbean as something other than a vacation destination and fun extrapolative bits of SF–shark-based bio-paint, awesome!–so that it is a superior grade of thriller. If you’re an SF reader who dips into thrillers from time to time, or if you have a dedicated thriller reader in the circle of people for whom you buy presents, Hurricane Fever (out in July) should definitely make your shopping list.

Hurricane Fever the story of Prudence “Roo” Jones, who is preparing for the increasingly common storms he and his nephew weather on his boat when he gets a message from an old friend. The consequences for Roo, his neighbors and friends, and his nephew Delroy, span several islands and the entire rest of the book. There are multiple storms of varying severity, other strong effects of climate change, a hemorrhagic plague, tailored genes, spies whose governmental support is also varying, Bond villain monologues, neo-Nazis to thwart…the whole thing races along at an amazing clip, and if you like thrillers, you won’t want to miss it.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Using complete binary trees to prove the power of two choices [Apr. 11th, 2014|05:42 pm]

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The power of two choices in load balancing is well known: If one throws n balls independently at a similar number of bins (as in hash chaining), some bin will typically have Θ(log n/log log n) balls in it, but if one draws two random bins for each ball, and places the ball greedily into the less-full of these two bins, the maximum load will be much smaller, Θ(log log n). And if one clairvoyantly chooses which of the two bins to place each ball into (or uses cuckoo hashing to move the balls around between their two bins as later balls come in) it is very likely that one can achieve only a constant load.

The log-log result is originally by Azar, Broder, Karlin, and Upfal, and is well explained in a survey by Mitzenmacher, Richa, and Sitaraman, "The power of two random choices: A survey of techniques and results", which includes three different proof methods. Here's a fourth, which is related to but I think different from witness trees.

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Query letters: a brief example [Apr. 10th, 2014|01:39 pm]


Someone who is fairly new to submitting short stories has asked me about querying when they are overdue, and I actually know something about it, so I figured I would answer where others can see. Querying can be stressful for writers but shouldn’t be. If you aren’t obstreperous about it, editors should not get mad at you, and if they do, it’s not your fault. So:

1. Look into their average response times. This information is available online. Wait a bit longer than their average before you query. So if you’re looking at a publication with a week-long response time, it’s okay to query at three weeks, but if you’ve submitted somewhere that routinely takes nine months to get around to responding to short stories, don’t query until a year or more. Don’t query at their average. Average means average. It means that some things take a shorter time and some things take longer. If you query at exactly their stated response times, they will roll their eyes and be mildly annoyed. If they say, “Please do not query before [stated time frame],” go ahead and query at the stated time frame; they said it, they should mean it.

(I probably wait too long to query, mostly, so don’t ask me exactly how long. It’s not a science. If you think a market takes too long to answer, you don’t have to submit there in the first place. On the other hand, if they’re taking much longer to reply to you than they do in general, they probably know that and should not get grumpy with you for a polite query.)

2. Be brief, neutral, and to the point. Use the salutation you’d usually use in addressing the editor or editors, whether that’s “Dear Editors” or “Dear Dr. Chao” or “Hey Chris.” Here’s the basic form I use:

I’m writing to check on the status of my short story, “This Is Awesome And You Should Buy It.” My records show that I submitted it on 1/2/13[, and your system gave it the tracking number #123ABC]. Is it still under consideration? Thanks. Best, Marissa Lingen

Obviously, if they don’t give tracking numbers or if you didn’t save that information, leave that part out. If you don’t keep precise records, I suppose you could say, “I submitted it in January of ’13,” but the more information you can give them about what the heck this story is, the better chance they have of being able to track down whether they responded or are still thinking about it.

Earlier in my career I felt like I should add all sorts of hedging stuff about whether it had maybe gotten lost in the ether, you know, these things happen, I totally understand, or, like, anything that might have happened like that…yeah. No. You don’t have to do that. Emails do go awry, and so do postal letters. That’s what you’re trying to find out. They know that. Just ask.

3. Try not to read too much into a long response time. I know. Trust me, I know. If they always answer within a week, and it’s been a month…or if there’s a submission tracker that shows that everything around your story has gotten an answer and yours hasn’t…it’s so easy to spin fantasies about how the editor has fallen in love and is just trying to find space in the budget. And sometimes that’s true! And sometimes the editor just had time to read the twelve 3000 word stories that came in around yours in odd gaps of time and did not have enough time to read your 6000 word story. Or yours is the first in a long run of stories they are not getting to. Or else they were absolutely sure they hit send on that rejection letter they wrote, and instead they hit save. Or they are trying to figure out exactly how to phrase their very constructive encouraging rejection letter, because they really want to be constructive and encouraging to a promising young writer, which is important, but, from the standpoint of you, the promising young writer, not nearly so important as the acceptance letter, contract, check, fame, glory, and impending awards ceremonies. Editors take the time they will take. The query is just there to make sure they’re still taking it. Breathe. Be matter-of-fact. Send it.

4. Once they answer, a brief thanks is fine, but you don’t have to get into a long discussion unless the answer is, “Yes, we’re buying this, and here are the edits we want.” “We show that we rejected that two months ago,” should get, “Okay, thanks for letting me know,” or “Okay, thanks for your attention.” Similarly, “Yes, that’s still under consideration,” can get a reply of, “Okay, thanks,” or “Glad to hear it, thanks.” Longer replies give you more of a chance to trip over your own feet. Do not get tempted by them. If the editor says something specific such as, “Yes, my mother was attacked by a herd of rabid moose, and I’ve fallen behind while I help her convalesce,” resist the urge to say, “Moose bites can be pretty nasty, you know,” as every nerd the editor knows will have said it, and in this field that will be a lot of nerds. But it’s fine to say, “I hope she’s back to full strength soon. Thanks for letting me know.” But again, keep it brief, keep it professional.

If the editor is a personal friend and you already know that their mother was attacked by a herd of rabid moose–or if they have been quite open about it on Twitter and you follow them–then wait a little longer before querying about your story. On the other hand, it is still entirely permissible to query about your story. You are still a professional, and so are they, and one of the hazards of the modern internet is letting too much of the window on each other’s personal lives interfere with work stuff. Are they still working as an editor of their magazine? Then query. Politely, briefly, professionally–waiting a bit longer than you otherwise would, to account for the moose attack–but query. The bit above, about how you should address the editor as you otherwise would, can modify your query letter as much as it otherwise would. If you would address it “Dear Editors” or “Dear Dr. Chao,” you should probably not write, “How’s your mom? I hope they hunted down the last of the moose herd, those foaming drooling bastards.” If you’d usually write “Hey Chris,” you can use your own judgment about making things more casual, but if you’re not close with the editor in question, just stick to the business basics.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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well hello there! [Apr. 10th, 2014|12:48 pm]

Been a while. Is this thing on? :)

Things are going kinda great actually, I'm doing less aerials (not currently performing) but feel in shape and strong again, and I'm doing more visual art which was my first and most powerful calling. Starting to get into a groove and find my voice: New art website at More daily life and visual updates are usually on facebook under [].

Changing my name. Tired of that moment of fear in people's eyes when they realize they're not likely to spell/pronounce it right. It gets in the way. new=LaManche, same great backstory, fewer syllables! Will be legal this year, everyone will get used to it and forget it was ever different. This is something I've been meaning to do for years.

so, hey!
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Hints added to PotD 380! [Apr. 9th, 2014|12:19 pm]

Hmm . . . perhaps PotD 380! looked a little too much like math class. It actually has a quite elegant solution -- else I wouldn't have used it for a PotD. Hints as to how to get to that elegant solution have been added.
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My tweets [Apr. 9th, 2014|07:28 am]


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What I'm reading, about to read [Apr. 8th, 2014|08:49 am]


Kay Thompson, Sam Irwin. To refresh your memory, Kay Thompson trained as a singer and pianist, started out as a singer on the radio, and began doing arrangements. She had several radio shows, then moved on to Broadway, where she wrote and arranged songs but never hit the big time as an actress. She went to MGM in the 40s, where she did arrangements and coached singers like Lena Horne and Judy Garland. She was Liza Minelli's godmother. Then she left the studio to sing and dance in a nightclub act with the Andy Williams and his brothers. Naturally, she arranged all their music and choreographed their dancing in a new energetic style - by the way, she and Andy were lovers. The act was a huge hit in New York and Las Vegas. Around 1955 she finally got around to writing a book about the character she'd drop into to make her friends laugh, a little girl named Eloise. She was a huge hit, too, and Kay wrote several sequels. Somewhere in there she finally got a worthy movie role, the fashion editor in "Funny Face". She never got another good movie role and eventually stopped doing cabaret, but in 1973 she directed a legendary fashion show of American designers at Versailles. When Judy Garland died, she stepped up to manage her funeral and Liza says she was the person who stood behind her and her sister with her arms around them. Liza was a loyal friend, too; in Kay’s last years she had her move in to her apartment.
I really enjoyed this biography. Sam Irwin, who started out as Brian De Palma's assistant and went on to direct and produce movies including one of my favorites, Gods and Monsters, was hired to direct a documentary on the history of Eloise, and once he started interviewing people, he realized her story should be a book and that he had the passion to do it. He had no idea how big the project would be! He talked to what seems like hundreds of people - Kay knew everybody in Hollywood and on Broadway - and learned her family history from her niece and nephew. Her journey through radio and on to Hollywood has lots of great stories - she had a feud with Mary Martin, of all people - and while Irwin clearly loves her, he doesn't hesitate to point out when she made bad decisions or was her own worst enemy.
The theme that emerges in Kay's later years is that while she had tremendous musical and acting talent, she was a perfectionist who had to be in control. Noel Coward wanted her for the role of Madame Arcati in a musical version of Blythe Spirit and to star in Sail Away, another Broadway show, but she refused these and other roles. She claimed she had a complex about working on Broadway because of being let go from shows when she was starting out; the truth was she just couldn't commit to anything if she couldn't be in charge. She was almost signed as the friend of Rosalind Russell in the movie version of Auntie Mame but made so many demands that she was replaced by Coral Browne. There are many stories like that. As for her books, Hilary Knight, the illustrator of Eloise, eventually refused to work with her because she was so insistent on doing things her way. It's frustrating that for whatever reason, she didn't make more movies or write more books. I wish I'd known her!
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Belated self-congratulatory link [Apr. 6th, 2014|10:36 pm]

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I meant to share this earlier (and I don't think I already have), but I've been swamped. I'm still swamped, but I want to close some browser tabs. So here's my fifteen five three and a half minutes of fame in the Alma College student newspaper: Physics professor Jensen receives special recognition for effort inside, outside of classroom; students concur.

This was an award from one of our campus sororities, and I was truly touched when the student who nominated me repeated her nominating speech to the assembled group. She had good things to say about my physics teaching and my dedication to helping her and other students learn the subject and be successful, which was great. But the thing that she really appreciated most was the attention that I have given to women's issues in the classroom: I don't do a whole lot (and for the most part I don't even devote class time to it), but she said that I'm the only male teacher she's ever had (here or at her previous college before she transferred) who ever commented on those topics at all (without it being his actual academic specialty, anyway).

It's a shame that "this guy pays the slightest bit of attention" is enough to merit an award, but if doing my little bit is appreciated that much then I'm awfully glad to keep it up.

On a side note, I have no idea why there's a black and white photo accompanying this online article while the printed newspaper had a color one.
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WTFOTD [Apr. 4th, 2014|06:30 pm]


I haven't seen this Bert image macro before:

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Online Pocker [Apr. 4th, 2014|03:47 pm]

So, I've been playing online at Bovada. I put on $100 just to try it out. Depositing using Moneygram was pretty easy, and according to the assembled multitudes at 2+2 cashouts arrive within a couple of weeks.

One interesting thing about Bovada: the tables are "anonymous" so when I sit down I am "Player 4" and the other players are similarly named. So every time you sit down it is like sitting down with a table of strangers, and any notes you take on a player are only good for as long as he stays at the table. Having a HUD or access to an online player database is worthless, which I like since I never got around to figuring that stuff out.
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How hard is it to find an airplane in an ocean? [Mar. 31st, 2014|08:49 pm]

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BINGO! [Aug. 29th, 2013|12:02 pm]

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Last night Peter and I went to Bingo at Ho-Chunk in the Dells. I got a bit frisky and decided to get two packets, playing 18 cards for all the normal games. It's not something I'll do often, but it was kinda fun. I'm acutally surprised I was able to keep up as well as I was. I'm glad Peter was there; he called out the number on the screen sometimes so I didn't have to look up if I was starting to fall behind a bit. Through this madness, I managed to get a bingo. If it wouldn't have been the 28th, I would have gotten it by myself for $450, but since someone had the birthday number marked I had to split it for only $225. Shucks.

Since I got two packets I also got 2 DIY ones to fill out. As usual, my normal numbers didn't do a damn bit of good. I did manage to get 4/8, but that doesn't do any good. The other one I put both Hotballs, and one-off of most of my usual numbers. I got another bingo for $250. Obviously it could have been better - 6 numbers earlier and I'd have had $32,000! I'm not greedy, though. Had a nice profit for the night, and it was an experience I'll never forget.

I'm glad I've got someone to go to Bingo with as much as I do. Poto is a bit more expensive, and there are more people. Granted, they also have much larger prizes, but going alone is no fun, and it's too expensive to do too often anyway. 
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