Thursday, October 30, 2008

Waltzing cubes

Lucas, who I know from math and CS, has an absurd number of Rubik's cubes. He has the standard cubes in every size from 2x2 to 5x5. He has combinatorically ridiculous 7x7 cube that probably takes days to solve. He also has variations like square one. In a few weeks, he'll get a package from Japan and in it will be a void cube. (How you would build something like that without breaking the laws of physics is beyond me.)

Years ago, Lucas also made a Rubik's cube waltz. This means: he scripted and raytraced the whole animation in POV-RAY and Mathematica. Props!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Flame wars

An old friend of mine isn't down with the Stanford Review. As he recently flamed:
Of course you know it all started with the Dartmouth Review. Those guys are just neo-con wannabes. So, isn't Anglo-Saxon free-market capitalism dead anyway?
Capitalism is dead? I'm not sold.


I don't think that Dartmouth, the proud home of Animal House, can be a values-upholding conservative flagbearer, either.

More seriously, though, I've found out that there are an incredible number of student-run periodicals here, and if I have time, I will write for one of them that isn't the Review.

My doubts about the Stanford Review were reinforced when I read their asinine article about Palin. Apparently "she can't lose". But I'm very optimistic that, as Hillary supporters used to say, "Yes She Can".

Busy two weeks

I've had a busy two weeks.

First, there was the trial-by-fire midterm week, where I and lots of my friends felt the difference between college and high school in a new, immediate way.

Then, there was the CS106X Boggle assignment, which I'll write more about soon.

There was also a Dave Brubeck concert. The 87-year-old jazz legend could barely walk, so he followed one of his bandmates in as if it were a congo line. He could barely talk, but his intro, filled with jazz inside-jokes, still got a lot of laughs. He then lowered himself onto the piano stool and played the most amazing two hours of jazz I've heard anyone play. It was beautiful. If his tour comes near where you live: don't miss it.

There was too much else to tell here, but no blog posts. That changes now.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Happy Birthday!

to you.


Saturday, October 11, 2008


Here are two from a good friend of mine, from Seattle:

You have two ropes that burn in exactly 1 hour, but do not burn evenly (so half of the rope does not burn in 30 minutes). How do you measure a 45 minute time period by burning the ropes?

There are four kids on one side of a bridge with one flashlight and can cross in the times below:

Alex can cross the bridge in one minute
Bobby can cross the bridge in two minutes
Charlie can cross the bridge in five minutes
David can cross the bridge in ten minutes

If the kids can only cross one or two at a time, and must have the flashlight with them when they cross, how can all four get to the other side of the bridge in seventeen minutes?

Answer in the comments.
And in case you aren't thinking, SPOILER ALERT: answers will be in the comments.

Monday, October 6, 2008


It all began with ( one dictionary's plan to drop twenty-four obscure words from its definition of English.

Then, a friend with way too much time on his hands sympathized with these rare and endangered words, and took up their cause. I read his protest through one of Stanford's myriad mailing lists. It made my day.
As a staunch defender of all things prolix, I take exception to this list. Who doesn't need to indicate the condition of being a woman? I certainly do.

Indeed, it falls to students like us to negate the caducity of such words, to avoid that niddering and olid condition of the vocab naysayer. Why exuviate these treasures, when their fubsy substitutes can only embrangle our youth, and lead them to agrestic, willful ignorance?

No, I say we here commit to abstergent diction; eschew the caliginosity these fatidical rejections cast. Our linguistic librettos are our last periapts, our recourses against the oppugnant, the griseous malisons of the close-minded. When we write, when we speak, we must cast our votes for intelligibility and intelligence -- use these words so that their skirr in our pinnas is the roborant we are after.

So vote. Vote with your mouth. Vilipend these backward redacters with their own recrement. Now is not the hour for the mansuetude of muliebrity! Now is hour of nitid vaticination! To speak well, to honor our heritage in full -- this is not the impossible -- it is the compossible.

What else can I say? I've been nothing if not apodeictic.

Rob Ryan
Apparently, obscure words are like outermost planets. Nobody gives them a second thought -- until some committee decides that we don't need them anymore, at which point certain people take offense. Pluto was always a planet! Compossible was always a word! To the Don Quixotes of our world, they always will be.

I care, too, but in a much more worldly way. How could I pass up a chance for twenty-four Google keywords, however obscure, that are pretty much unique to me and Time?!

Sticking it to the Man

My classmate Ravi had a cool, but not neccesarily original idea. He wants to pay his $50,000 tuition in nickels, starting with the next ~$17,000 quarterly bill.

I love Stanford and if it was up to me, I wouldn't change anything -- except, of course, the tuition. Stanford's endowment grew by 23% to $17b last year, which means that they made about $200,000 for each student in every school. Most undergrads are on financial aid, but those who aren't pay more than $50K a year -- not a particularly large item on Stanford's balance sheet, but huge for a lot of the parents who write the checks.

And it's not just parents. Lots of us, especially grad students, leave with ridiculous debt loads. If I've gotten anything out of the market meltdown that we're in the middle of, it's that ridiculous debt loads are a bad idea.

Financial aid is difficult, too. Need-blind admission does a reasonable job of ensuring that everyone who gets in can come, but it doesn't guarantee fair treatment. At best, it lets smart kids without money or college degrees in their family come to Stanford and become seeds of change, close the poverty gap, and live happily ever after. At worst, it penalizes parents who work hard and save and subsidizes the ones who outspend their incomes.

If Ravi actually manages to wheel-barrow a million nickels to the Registar's Office, I'll be there, blogging the pictures and videos for you.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Scavenger Hunt

I just got back from the annual freshman Scavenger Hunt. Part tour, part bonding event, and part hazing tradition, it was more fun than even I imagined.

Time-staggered by dorm to avoid gridlock, the 1600 took Caltrain into downtown San Francisco. We were preassigned to groups of about six freshman each, and there were far more groups than upperclass supervisors. They left us each with a sheet of tasks and the simple advice not to get arrested.

Some sample tasks:
  • Perform music theatre in front of the Opera House
  • Propose to a stranger. Bonus points for proposing to a stranger of the same sex (SF style).
  • Find a Cal student and convince him/her that you go to Cal and want to take a picture with him. Use your imagination.
  • Shake a stranger's hand through the fly of your pants.
There were about a hundred tasks in this vein.

We named our group the Golden Bears, referencing the Cal mascot as a way of explaining to the public who we were and why we were so blatantly disturbing the peace. We stood out.

Immature? Definitely.

Still, there is a serious side to Scavenger Hunt, and I think it's a great tradition.
It introduced all the new students to the diversity and irreverence of San Francisco, and gave them opportunity to participate. For some of the international students and those from rural America, I'm guessing that today was a major eye-opener.

Today's fun was also a refreshing break from Stanford's sometimes maddeningly bureaucratic administration. An event this big has got to be planned by the Admins with the uppercase A. It's nice to know that they not only tolerate, but encourage freedom of choice, even in cases like this where our choices are probably embarassing or uncomfortable for them.

Finally, Scavenger Hunt pushed people past their comfort zone and made everyone think about the things we consider right and wrong, acceptable and taboo. Do our unwritten rules make sense? What happens when they're broken? What happens when people disagree on where to draw the line?

And the kicker? LoveFest is going on right now in SF. There are whole city blocks where naked people compete with assless chaps for attention and the pot smoke hangs thicker than the fog. The frosh kids who went that route stood out, too -- for conforming too much to society's norms.

Friday, October 3, 2008

President Palin

Matt Damon had a some thoughts on the danger of Palin becoming President in a recent interview.

Then, yesterday, Palin spoke her mind on education.

Say it ain't so, Joe, there you go again pointing backwards again. You preferenced your whole comment with the Bush administration. Now doggone it, let's look ahead and tell Americans what we have to plan to do for them in the future. You mentioned education and I'm glad you did. I know education you are passionate about with your wife being a teacher for 30 years, and god bless her. Her reward is in heaven, right?

(From the CNN transcript of the VP debate.)

Later in the debate, both running mates discussed the possibility of taking over if the president died.

If McCain wins, he'll be the oldest president ever to take office. If he doesn't make it to 2012, Palin will lead the free world in his stead. Scary? Yes. Embarassing? Even more so...

Vote for change.