Thursday, June 30, 2005

From the Improbability Files

I just got back from Target. During my excursion, I noticed that there was a bit of a "vivid discourse" taking place at the customer service desk. From what I could glean, the following happened:

1. Someone bought a malfunctioning stick of deoderant
2. This woman cared enough to stand in line to return the stick of deoderant
3. This exchange went bad enough that the woman started to yell

I say "Wha...?"

Tuesday, June 28, 2005


Tonight we had our second "talking about religion in arbitrary locations around town" session at a Starbucks out on Westheimer. Because I had some handy, I brought a tin of fudge with me--sadly, most of the people who showed up expressed skepticism about eating anything the single guy brought (although one person did comment that "it was worth the calories")--I think there's a parable about this, but that's a comment for another post.

One thing about coffee shops in a town with colleges (it just feels wrong to call Houston a "college town") is that people study there. Beside our table was a girl studying something--I don't know what it was, but it was something that was worth spending hours on. Something in my gut told me that she could use some fudge--either divine inspiration or neurochemical imbalance (admittedly, these are not mutually exclusive choices) moved me. Still, it's the kind of thing that you feel like an idiot for doing.

So, as we were packing up our things at the end of the session, I weighed the options. I know it was a choice that almost surely was irrelevant to the lives of everyone involved--it would be nothing more than an epsilon of compassion--but some of the most interesting choices I've made have seemed irrelvant at the time--eating a burrito instead of pasta, making a wrong turn that got me somewhere at just the right time, sitting at this table instead of that table.

If there are two things in life I've learned, it's that it's never wrong to give chocolate to a lady and that epsilon is, in fact, greater than zero. I dawdled around, waited until nobody I knew was around, put the fudge on her table, and walked out the door.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter

I just watched one of the weirdest movies ever. It gave new meaning to the phrase "take up your cross and follow me."

Words fail me, so I'll just leave you with the words of the ending theme:
"He came from Heaven
Two stakes in his hand
To smote the vampires
And free the land"

I've never seen such effort put into making something a B movie...

Saturday, June 25, 2005

You know you're not in East Texas anymore...

I grew up in East Texas. Specifically, I grew up in Hopkins county, where the sale of alcohol is prohibited. I grew up raised in a rather conservative Church of Christ (note my defiant use of a capital "C") where we were constantly reminded of the evils of drink, dance, rock music, and Baptists. I was honery enough to not listen to any of it, demonstrating that my general disdain for authority figures has some positive use.

I am now attending a much more liberal church. We had a class last Tuesday at a local restaurant, chosen specifically for the thematic connection between what we were studying and the fact that the eatery had $1 glasses of wine.

How things have changed.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Immutable Laws

Grad students do not subsist on positive reinforcement. This isn't to say that we don't want it, it's just that it we get it so rarely that we don't know what to do with it.

Fortunately, I am not in such a situation and can devote my mental facilities to unraveling the secrets of the universe.

We can, however attempt to read too much into the actions of others and thus divine some precious few backhanded compliments.

For example, one of the eternal, unchanging laws of grad school is that anything you give your advisor will be changed. I can only hope, however, that the fact that my advisor was content to change the title of my talk, swap two slides, and adjust the font size of my slide titles means that I did not commit any gross violations of the laws of physics, mathematics, or good taste.

You take what you can scrounge.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Grapefruit: The New Beer

Guys, this is something to keep in mind if you ever actually follow the advice they give about picking up women in the produce aisle.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Dustin Ragan, Roving Math Hero

Yesterday I found myself in Borders--I had a coupon and I couldn't let it go to waste--when I happened upon something I hadn't seen in a very long time (admittedly, this is only true because I don't do research in any room that has a mirror)--people using the angle subtraction formula in trig.

Somehow, a group of high school students had managed to calculate that the sine of 15 degrees was 0.

Needless to say, after they had floundered for a few minutes (it is best if people try to solve problems like these themselves) I stepped in and helped.

It was a very geeky and pathetic sort of saving the day (much like my own experiences in trig--I got called "the math slut" because I gave "it"--i.e. homework help--away for free), but I like to think that it counts for something.

And I apologize for the multiple linterjections inside of the parentheses...

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Life Under Control

Three consecutive days of staring in front of PowerPoint has produced a 40 slide presentation, along with rather sore eyes and wrists.


Now why did I put myself through that when I have an entire week before I gotta present?

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Things That Kill Blogging

It is very hard to come up with interesting things to blog about when you spend your entire day writing a presentation that you have to give in front of everyone. There is something about the mortifying fear of self-humiliation that focuses one's efforts.

And once those efforts have been focused, they cannot, of course, be directed elsewhere, especially once the eyestrain kicks in.

So for those of you who thought I was out carousing with some beautiful woman, sorry, no dice.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Something Worked!

I actually had an experiment go as I expected today! This is a rare and wonderous event. I believe I need to engage in a ritual engorging of chocolate!

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Yet Another Sign of the Apocalypse

One of the most sacred rules of grad-studentdom is that you don't give the other students a hard time during their defenses.

That rule was broken on Friday.

I think that if the student had just been an obnoxious twit, people would have laid off on her. Giving a presentation that was an insult to every single student in its lack of clarity, scope, and scientific merit, however, made things rough on her.

I think every student had something that bothered them most; I personally was bugged most by how she thought that when you combine two measurements "don't you just add the errors?"[1]

Really, if I wrote more the post would go rapidly downhill.

[1] For the people who aren't in math/physics, the right answer was "take the square root of the sum of the squares of the errors."

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

A Reality Show I Would Go On

Okay, I couldn't resist watching Beauty and the Geek tonight. The contestants are pairs of attractive women and geeky males. Tonight's contest: a girl has to teach a geek how to give a massage, the geek has to teach the girl how to change the oil in a car.

I'd never make it on, however--the fundamental problem is that if my task were to give a lingerie model a massage, I wouldn't turn ghost white and whine about it.

Oh well, it's just nice to hear women spout pro-nerd propoganda :-)

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

My Own War Against Cultural Decay

Regarding my last post about people doing bookstores, I have begun my own pilgrimage: I am going to visit each Half-Priced Books in Houston this summer.

Call it a quest. Call it a crusade. Call it madness.

It's my one, tiny blow for a better way of life...

Sunday, June 05, 2005

The Declining State of American Culture

Surely it is a time of decadence when people can't walk into a bookstore and simply wander around the hallowed aisles, enjoying the books. I mourn for our society.

[Excessive Naval-Gazing] Leaving on a Jet Plane

I talked with my dad for the last time before he returns to Iraq. It was the longest conversation we had had in a long time.

I'm one of those people who's a worrier, and my dad is off to a very dangerous place. I'm not worried about crazy people with guns--really, I'm worried about heatstroke because I know he doesn't drink enough water.

I'm one of those people who never was as close to his parents as a lot of people. There are reasons, there always are, but that doesn't mean I like it. At least I've come to this realization at a much earlier stage of life than Hollywood stereotype would lead one to believe is possible.

Unfortunately, my dad isn't great at showing emotion, and I am abysmal at communicating those things myself, and so changing things is hard.

Yeah, it's a story everyone has heard.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Stupid Homework Tricks

In my radiation protection class, one of our homework questions is "A proposal is made to test a new dental-hygiene procedure for children that is said to have the potential of greatly reducing tooth decay. Dental X-rays of several thousand children would have to be made periodically during a 5 year study in order to perfect and evaluate the procedure. Discuss the rationale on which a decision could be made either to implement or to reject the proposal."

My answer:
"The procedure could significantly improve quality of life. Some may make the deontological argument that no amount of cavities prevented is worth the possibility of someone developing throat cancer, but as a consequentialist, I might consider the risk worth the benefit, depending on the particulars of the study."

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

[Venting] With Friends Like These...

I watched Hell House tonight. For those who have not seen it, it's about a church that puts on a religious house of horrors each Halloween.

Setting aside certain disagreements over whether certain things are sins (suicide and reading Harry Potter, for example), I was struck by the thought that the entire concept and attitude felt more blasphemous and disturbing than the worst actions that were depicted in the house.

I think what bothered me most was the sheer exaggeratedness of it all. One scene had a girl take a drink at a party. This led to her being raped. Afterwards, she reflected on how she was molested as a child and decided to kill herself.

This isn't showing people God. It isn't showing people love, or grace. It is not even showing people the consequences of sin. It's just absurd.

I left feeling disgusted, and glad that God is more graceful than I.