Blog » 2005 » January

25 Jan 2005

Ah, roommates

Filed under: Personal — paulcook @ 11:13 pm

It would appear that my roommate, yes, even my roommate, does not know of the existence of this blog. Greg just discovered it now. We do talk to each other occasionally, really!

Anyway, while we’re on the topic, I should mention the Ubermeister of blogging, Mike, who has taught me almost everything I know about WordPress. His blog is at http://www.blogwaffe.com:8000.

Otherwise, my mother is over here at the moment, visiting, so we’ve been doing lots of touring. It’s something of an event, so should at least be mentioned here for now.

23 Jan 2005

The tagging revolution continues…

Filed under: Digital revolution,Stuff — paulcook @ 2:37 pm

A new idea in the blogosphere: the ability for anyone to tag blogs or other sites with keywords. These have two uses: firstly, it’s like a non-heirarchical bookmark system for you, allowing you to find sites that you saw at some stage, on a particular topic — and it scales to thousands of sites easily.

But secondly, these tags are all available to everyone else, so it’s a new take on hman-reviewed search engines, in that you can now easily find interesting, non-mainstream sites on virtually any topic you choose. Great for finding that blog about just the thing you’re interested in!

Del.icio.us is offering the service, free, with little applets that make it easy to tag the site you’re currently on.

Also, for an interesting blog article on it, have a look at Joho the Blog: The tagging revolution continues…

I know I’ve had problems trying to find blogs through Google, because search engines only index the actual words on a single page, whereas often one is looking for a theme that runs through multiple pages of a blog — and that’s exactly how people will (hopefully) be tagging stuff!


Filed under: Personal — paulcook @ 2:26 pm

I went skiing with a group of university students from All Saints Church last night. We went to Mountain High, which is about 1.5 hours away, on the other side of the San Gabriel mountains from Pasadena, or Mt Baldy.

Now night-time skiing was something of a strange idea to me, but they have lights all over the slopes, so it’s actually not too unlike day skiing, but without glare from the snow, or quite as many people.

That said, it was still humming with folks. Nearly everyone was snowboarding, and very few skiing. I went for skiing, because I find it easier and less tiring, perhaps because of water skiing experience. Snowboarding, however, seems to involve a lot of sitting on the snow and contemplating your most recent fall. So it tended to make the slopes something of an obstacle course!

My own skiing is getting better but oh so slowly, which was a little annoying. But when it comes right for a while, it’s a great feeling! Lots of fun, and I’m not too stiff today!

21 Jan 2005

“alt” vs “title” tags for HTML images

Filed under: This website — paulcook @ 1:32 am

Turns out I’ve been using the standards on alternate text for images (<img src=””> tags) incorrectly my wrong life. But then I’m in good company, as most browsers do too.

The “alt” tag turns out to be ONLY for displaying when the image is not displayed — for the use of blind or low bandwidth people.

The “title” tag is for extra information about the image, typically rendered as a tooltip.

In its usual pioneering way, Firefox does NOT display “alt” tags as tooltips — thus doing its little bit to force webdesigners to use alt text actually as a replacement for the picture — say an alt text of “[Send]” for an image that is a button with the word send on it, as opposed to something to be displayed as a tooltip.

It has, however, “broken” a number of older sites, and caused endless controversy on the Firefox bugzilla site:

Bug 25537 – (Warning 56k) Alt text is not displayed as a tooltip over <img> (image)

Well, it leaves me with a little editing to do to get up to standards level again…

17 Jan 2005

Shoutout to Rhiannon!

Filed under: Personal,Studies — paulcook @ 10:06 pm

So I’m presenting my understanding of a recent paper (hep-th/0411145, by Suryanarayana, for those who care) to my supervisor tomorrow. This, of course, requires a LOT of reading of previous and other papers, to get ANY idea of what is happening.

I’m in the course of going throug the references when all of a sudden I see, “De Mello Koch, R and Gwyn, R., Giant graviton correlators from dual SU(N) super Yang-Mills theory, hep-th/0410236“, etc. etc.

Now Robert De Mello Koch is my undergrad supervisor, and Rhiannon Gwyn (for those who don’t know) is a very good friend currently doing her Masters thesis in Johannesburg.

Nice one, Rhiannon!

(PS. Please note the optimistic attempt to make this post readable to any of the tons of people, around the world, who read this blog).

Cape Town pics

Filed under: Stuff — paulcook @ 8:50 pm

Some nice pics from a trip to Cape Town, on a blog I read.

Mzansi Afrika

Thing is, it’s a little annoying reading this after spending the whole day stuck indoors, and just before heading BACK to the office again to finish that work!

Anyway, enjoy the pics!

15 Jan 2005

A good meeting with my advisor

Filed under: Studies — paulcook @ 4:57 pm

Jie (the person I work with) and me had the most bizarre of experiences yesterday — a meeting with our advisor that went quite well!

We had been part of some meetings last week about an idea one of the postdocs had, about trying to sum over all possible geometries (curvatures) of space in a 10-dimensional supergravity theory, using some recent work by Lin, Lunin and Maldacena to relate the computation to a 4-dimension system of fermionic particles. The idea is that there is a conjecture of Mathur’s that sums over really complex geometries can give rise to event horizons that look like black holes — and may in fact be black holes. This would avoid the problem of the singularity that appears in “normal” descriptions of black holes.

Anyway, the idea of the postdoc has not been moving along very well, but Jie and me had read some papers anyway, and at our regular update-the-advisor meeting yesterday, it turned out that we had read a paper that the advisor hadn’t, and that was directly relevant to some things that we were talking about. Luckily I’d written a few notes about it, and was able to explain some of the features of the paper in the meeting. Sweet!

Unfortunately, he now wants us to present the paper properly (ie. including the mathematics and background material from previous papers) on Tuesday. So much for having a public holiday on Monday!

13 Jan 2005

The government, taxes and charity

Filed under: Politics and philosophy — paulcook @ 5:36 pm

(Re-posting of a piece I originally posted on http://www.thought.co.za)

Recent forum topics have spoken about what giving to others should involve, and mentioned the government, etc. What I’ve thought for a while is that we sometimes miss the point when discussing these sorts of things, and often accepted ideas of charity are actually not all that useful for really helping people. So this post is about how I see the role of government, taxes and private giving fitting together. There aren’t many new ideas for what we should be doing, but maybe someone will find it interesting anyway. It’s also my opinion, so other opinions welcome!

Firstly, what is wealth/poverty? With the exception of retirement investments, simply having some money is a very poor measure of wealth. Rather, what matters is how much one earns. Very few people have more than a few months worth of income saved, and indeed most people are in debt for houses, cars, etc. In fact, the reason that they are able to have houses is not because they have money now, but because they are earning enough to have convinced a bank that they willl repay the loan. Many new businesses are also financed largely on loans, again because of the earning capabilities of those businesses. This is the economic background to the “give a man a fish vs teach him to fish” argument. Merely giving someone money will help in the short term (which can be crucial), but that person is still poor as they still earn little regular income. Someone can only really be said to have escaped poverty if he/she has a regular income, that can be documented and so used for loans, retirement saving, etc.

10 Jan 2005

Screening of “NUMB3RS” TV show

Filed under: Personal — paulcook @ 10:26 pm

Just got back from a preview screening of NUMB3RS, a new TV serial, running on CBS at 10pm Fridays. The main characters are brothers, one an FBI agent, the other a mathematician at a university modelled on Caltech.

The premise of the show is that the mathematician gets involved in using maths to solve various cases his brother is working on. The episode we viewed saw him developing a formula to predict where a serial rapist lives, based on the assumption that the rapist is “randomly” distributing his victims around, but not near, where he lives.

There were a few scenes filmed on campus, and at the panel discussion with the cast and screenwriters afterwards, we were told that the show is going to model Caltech very accurately, though not by name.

I might even have watched an episode or two, except for the fact that our cable company finally realised that we’re only paying for internet access, and so they shouldn’t also give us cable TV. So, basically, if we weren’t penny-pinching grad students, we would have been able to watch how penny-pinching grad students are supposed to behave.

Exercise for the reader: Calculate where you live, based on the addresses on 12 recent receipts in your wallet. Then arrest yourself.

Rain, rain, rain…

Filed under: Personal — paulcook @ 11:58 am

It’s now been raining continuously here for about, oh, a century. Well, at least pretty much since I got back from Germany. Apparently it’s such big news, it even made it into South African newspapers – IOL: World.

According to the article, “The storms have been caused by cold low pressure off Oregon’s coast colliding with a stream of moist air from the southern Pacific”. Altogether, it’s meant tons more water than usual, and mudslides and such have killed six people already.

But what is also interesting me is that the snow packs in the surrounding mountains are apparently now looking excellent — assuming you can get to the slopes. So I’m thinking… skiing, anyone?