Life is a Rabbit Pellet

Ramblings of a Zimbrindian's travels, life, and research.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Words aren't like shit. Shit happens. Words don't just happen. You have to make them happen.

Or maybe I'm just verbally constipated.

Moving on to other matters, it looks like the Iranians have elected an engineer with a doctorate in traffic & transport to be their next president. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also happens to have been the mayor of Teheran for the past two years, and implemented conservative policies like requiring male city employees to have beards and long sleeves. (Well, that's fair enough. If women must wear clothing that covers everything, so must men...) Seriously, the Iranian bloggers are upset, and I get the sense that this is a situation where the Ayatollah & other clerics keep an eye out for electable citizens pliable to their views and bring them to office - and that Ahmadinejad is one such citizen. Oh well, the Khatami backlash is here.

There's been a lot of discussion here, thanks to some comments by Matthias during Junming's talk, about whether the graph normalized Laplacian (the D.^(-1/2)*L*D^(-1/2) version) approximates the continuous Laplacian. It didnt seem to, but when Denny and I talked about it later, I observed that a proof might be possible, since, in the limit, nearby vertices - on which derivatives are computed - would have the same degree as they approximated the probability measure at the corresponding point. I'll find out when Denny gets back on Monday if he got this 'proof' passed Matthias. It's not rigorous, of course, but before that we had agreed with M's assertion that this normalized Laplacian was only an analog, not an approximation, to the continuous-case Laplacian on a manifold.

Didn't do much today so far. My sleep schedule is, to put it politely, shot to little eensy-teensy-weensy schmidtereens. Got up at 5. If that sounds normal to you, bear in mind that it's now the middle of my day, and it's the middle of the night. Ich mochte ein bier.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Friedman on CAFTA

Here's one in the eye for critics of sensible NYT columnists (in this case Thomas Friedman - note that 'sensible' does not include David Brooks) who say they'll never criticize Democrats.

In today's post, he criticizes "Democrats who just want to defeat Cafta so they can make President Bush a lame duck have their way and block Cafta ratification. I understand Democrats want to stick it to Mr. Bush, but could they please defeat him on a policy he is wrong about (there are plenty) and not on expanding free trade in this hemisphere, which he is right about."

It's hot here

The biggest obstacle to getting work done now is the heat. It's 30 degrees celsius, and there's no air-conditioning. I'm going to work in my apartment now, and come back to work at 2 or 3am. Maybe it will be cooler then - and hopefully whoever was sleeping in our office (there's a bed in our large office) won't be sleeping there. Well, if they are, today I will wake them up.

Mark SubbaRao has put up a webpage of the AstroViz Workshop last month.

Took the bike for a spin yesterday. Figured out how to get uphill - I shouldn't go to the lowest gears as my fast-twitch muscles don't exist. Cycled a few miles, close enough to Bebenhausen (link is to a gallery of pictures from a local student's bike tour to the place last year) before chickening out - it's seriously uphill on the way back - and then to Kunsthalle and back. Just 30 minutes. After this, I lost the key to my new bike lock, and am now using the spare.

Mingmin and I made the important discovery today that it is possible to play table tennis on the conference table. Even though it's elliptical. Very elliptical. And yes, we even have a net (a real one). Unfortunately she banged her back on a window or some sharp object while picking up the ball, and managed to draw blood. Who said ping pong was safe?

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Bhasikoro!, Pissball

Got a bicycle today, from Rad und Tat, one of Tuebingen's many bicycle shops. 70 euros for a 21-speed 28" bicycle that I will return at the end of August - and they trusted me (or the bike to fall apart) so much that I had to ask them for paperwork to sign.

The problem now is learning how to cycle up the hill where the Max Planck Institute is. I wheeled the bike up half the way here. It will take a few more tries before I can cycle up without stopping.

One of the Spaniards is leaving tomorrow, so a bunch of us went down to a local pub to hang out. At one point, the clique I was in had five people speaking four languages (German, Spanish, French, English) and no common language. Well, the Frenchwoman spoke Lingala and Lari as well, but I'm only counting languages spoken by at least two people in the group. The only person who spoke all four languages was, curiously enough, Canadian.

The pub we went to (the Bierkeller in downtown Tuebingen) has got the best urinals I've ever seen. Whoever does the cleaning here won't have to worry about people with bad aim. They've put little plastic soccer goals in the urinals, with a little red ball on a string. It bobs quite nicely when hit, which is the perfect incentive to aim better. Male reinforcement learning.

[Unfortunately, on a later visit to the place, we discovered that one of the urinals was missing a little red ball. Strong piss.]

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Latin Phrases

Found a good site of Latin Phrases. After all, quid quid latine dictum sit, altum videtur (Anything said in Latin sounds profound). This particular site has such useful phrases as "non sum pisces" (I am not a fish) and "Imperator concidit ut brassica esset." (The Emperor fell down in order to be a cabbage). And the next time you're doing your "Christian in Nero's Rome" impression, remember to say "Eheu, ardeo." (Alas, I'm burning.)

Monday, June 20, 2005

Book Reviews : Al Jazeera (Miles) & A Painted House (Grisham)

I can borrow books from the library at the University of Tuebingen!! They said it wasn't normal, even for Max Planck Institute visitors, but that they would make an exception for my case. So I borrowed four books last Friday, and finished two over the weekend. With my sleep schedule, my weekend ended at 4am Monday morning, but that's another story. For now, the story is that I have two Amazon reviews up.

The first book was John Grisham's A Painted House, a well-written tale of a young kid who will (at 3-1 odds) become a lawyer two sequels from now.

The second was Al Jazeera: How Arab TV News Challenges America by Hugh Miles. My review:

This book was written in 2003-4, and covers the time from Al Jazeera's beginnings in the 1990s to 2004, so it is very up-to-date. Miles' writing is clear and lucid, and I highly recommend this book.

There were many things here that I didn't know about Al Jazeera. I didn't know it was still running at a loss, that 120 of its initial staff came from the short-lived BBC Arabic service, that it had such a grassroots network of volunteer contacts among its viewers, that its staff had been killed by American forces, that it was banned from several Arab countries (and, for a while, by the Palestinian Authority) for criticizing their governments, that it almost interviewed Ariel Sharon, or that several of its loyal Arab viewers think it is American/Israeli-backed.

Given the impressive speed at which Mr Miles wrote this book, it is unsurprising that it has gaps. Questions could have been asked that were not. For example, I would have liked him to have asked whether al Jazeera would be in the black even without the Saudi advertising embargo, as the figures he provides indicate that it would not be. And there are much larger issues, such as why they decided not to show beheadings of Western-oriented hostages when they show horrific footage of nonArab-on-Arab violence from Israel, why they had to interview US Army Spokesman Josh Rushing outdoors rather than indoors, and so on. But time, pages, and one person's perspective (however broad), are finite.

Mr Miles is an Arabic-speaking British journalist who treats Al Jazeera like any other news organization. Of course, for any American who watches Fox (which includes other reviewers of this book), this is very biased. They should go to the English Al-Jazeera website, which I shall now visit more often. As one reviewer here has said, "a TV channel that offends EVERYBODY must be doing something right".

I should also add that I didn't know CNN discussed putting Arab Americans in internment camps after 9/11 (p363).

Now to comment on one of Amazon's featured reviews, which is from the Washington Post Review of Books. Why on earth did WP ask someone (Dennis Ross) who has been (and may still be) a Fox News analyst to comment on a book on a News Channel with a diametrically opposite perspective? I'm not asking for a Guardian reviewer, but at least one from the THES or New York Times. And of course, why did Amazon have to use this review?

For example, Ross asks "Why shouldn't it question what Arabs are doing to themselves, rather than just condemning what non-Arabs are doing to the region? Why doesn't it talk about the failings of education in the Arab world?" Good questions, but he clearly hasn't been to the AJ website, where he would find a special report on In Pursuit of Arab Reform or closely read the book he's reviewing, which describes Qatar - whose benevolent dictator bankrools Al Jazeera - as unusual amongst Arab countries in the high priority it places on education.

Another example: he asks "Why can't it seriously question what the intifada has cost Palestinians rather than glorifying suicide bombers as "martyrs"?" As I don't watch AJ, I don't know if there have been talk shows discussing this, but there probably have been several. As for 'martyr', Ross explains (p357) that that this is standard practice for Arab networks, and that American reporting has its own terminological biases - 90% of US news reports in 2001 used the word 'disputed' or 'contested' instead of 'occupied' to describe the West Bank and Gaza. And that's including the NYT.

Monday, June 13, 2005

More news from the Ethiopian front

I got another email from my cousin in Jimma this morning. She says it's actually describing events from June 10. (Note that these are her opinions and observations, not mine.)

Nice day to start my birthday with - a bomb blast which happened last night at the university campus here in Jimma. no news about anybody getting killed. The police and the military are on the alert now. There has been vigorous checking at the gates of the university. even expatriate staff were checked. In the afternoon, the ethiopian staff were asked to get down from the bus to
be checked at the gates. They didnt check the foreigners in the afternoon. People said that in addis, the streets were deserted and military were everywhere. We thought jimma was better but today, by noon, the military swarmed all over the place. The situation is quite tense but the university hasn't been closed. Classes are still going on for students who come to class. Exams are not postponed yet - though no one can say what will happen tomorrow or even the next minute.

It's the students who are so demonstrative against the government. The local people are angry but are not able to do anything, rather, they dont want to do anything for fear of the police. The country has a rural population of 85%, the educated are only about 15%. The 15% that struggle
against the government are ending up as corpses or filling up beds and verandahs in hospitals. but they are not ready to give up. The ruling govt has been in power for 14 years. The people have seen this country developing in the past 14 years to nothing, and so they dont want it to continue. We have no idea who is right and who is wrong-but if they come to a solution soon with no bloodshed, it will be better for all.

The weekend was quiet mainly because many of the students vacated the hostel because they are having their exams next week and it is hard for them to study in that atmosphere. Many have gone out of campus coz they were not involved in the problem but the police suspect them to be. The students are split into groups now - on the basis of their region. It seems one group has
arms (guns) and the police are supporting those students. It may be that those students might have planted the bomb on the night of June 9. No one has any idea of what will happen tomorrow, or the day after. Bye for now.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Punting in Tuebingen

Florian had his birthday last week, and he invited a bunch of MPI-ers out to the river on a punting expedition on the Necker. Our boat contained one Australian, three Indians, one Chinese, one Turk, and two Germans. We also had a dozen bottles of beer and no beer opener. Fortunately, it's possible to open bottles with a belt - thank you Dilan, for showing us this wonderful technique! - so that humans and ducks could enjoy a swig. Many swigs in most cases.

Here's a good shot - Florian silhouetted against the sky. Well, maybe it's too bright.

After somehow managing to have no-one fall into the Neckar (which is only a few meters deep here - good news for those of us whose definition of swimming involves sinking to the bottom and running), we headed off to a traditional German meal i.e. doner kebab, and then to a drink more beer in the market square.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Students getting killed in Ethiopia

I have a cousin in Jimma, one of the cities in Ethiopia other than Addis Ababa. There's sh*t happening there - here's part of her email:

There is some news from us here-donno what they put on tv but I have tried to put all rumours together to try to get the truth.

Day before Yesterday (june 7) we had a bit of a problem here coz the university students went on a strike of some sort opposing the government. They had elections and the results were to be announced on june 8. the present govt was in power for 14 years and they don’t have much of a support. They have announced that they have won but the opposition says it has manipulated the lections and has asked the govt to give up power. The prime minister is not willing to do so. The students in a university in the capital started protesting and 4 or 6 were shot dead. About 500 students have been arrested. Following that, in the university here in jimma, some students started to protest and they were also arrested. Getting arrested here is not a good idea coz they will torture them a lot-beating on the knees and much more. Yesterday, about 300 to 400 were arrested, of which 50 were girls. Mom saw them being taken to the police station by trucks. Me and mom and the whole community here heard gun shots being fired in the air 5 to 7 times. None of the foreign staff went near the university. The ones who went were also sent back by the military. They blocked all routes to the university so that no one will know wht is going on inside. The whole episode was like hitler being re-enacted. Everyone says the situation has become ok, but no one knows what will happen tomorrow.

Seems many students have been killed in this whole problem. There are rumous that two deaths have taken place in jimma university. Now the clash has changed into that between people from different regions. Lets say like people from tamil nadu and karnataka are fighting-like that two regions of this country are fighting-students of those regions I mean. As such the university is functioning but it looks quite deserted. Everyday, the rumours keep changing that we don’t know what to believe. But all of us here are on the alert. Everyone is praying that the whole episode will get over soon without any bloodshed. Do please pray that we will get out of this mess soon...

Here are links to other posts:
Ethiopian Students International Association

Monday, June 06, 2005

America and Germany

After four days in Tubingen, I have made a few preliminary conclusions about the similarities between American and German cultures. This historically makes sense, considering that English beat German as the official language of the USA by just a vote in Congress a couple of hundred years ago. (I really need to check that 'fact'.)

1) Both say their vending machines have junk food, although the Germans are lying.

2) Both think the French are a little strange and that the English speak funny.

3) Beer, gut