this bird wouldn't voom if you put 4 million volts through it

Generals prep.  Migraine.  Wash, rinse, repeat.

I'm looking forward to binging on Minecraft, sleeping 9 hours a night, and generally going back to a normal-human schedule once this exam is done.


pinball machine God

Belief in deity is obviously a complicated thing. You could pick any two aspects of belief and make a pretty diagram, kind of like I have on the right, which depicts the magnitude and method of divine involvement.

The two dichotomies are familiar: Atheism versus the broad sense of Theism, and Deism vs. the narrow sense of Theism.  The reason I want to present the dichotomies this way is so that I can propose a new analogy: the pinball machine God.

Deists love their watchmaker God analogy.  This lovely little world is created with awesome science, and the awesomeness of science proves that God is.  Some deists might edge up the side of the side of the triangle a little.

On the other hand, narrow-definition theists might be offended at the puppeteer analogy.  They'd also probably be offended that I classified Deism as having the same magnitude of involvement.  But look at it this way: you construct and elaborate timing mechanism, flick the switch to place your bomb via an intelligent robot you designed, and then go out and get a cup of coffee, return a library book, and sit at a cafe overlooking a famous river of your choice.  As you're hailing the waiter for the check, the bomb explodes a hundred miles off, destroying your evil arch-nemesis' secret lab.

OR, you fight a half dozen lackeys at the lab yourself, using your super-awesome martial arts moves, place the bomb by hand, light it with a match, and run out, just in time to feel the heat of the explosion on your back as you roll safely onto the grass.

Either way, you still blew up the place; it's just an issue of method.

And even though it doesn't really matter which method God uses, I'd now like to explain my idea of a pinball machine God, which sits pretty close to the center of the triangle.  God constructs this elaborate machine for us: the pinball machine we call Earth.  There are an uncountably many number of targets, bumpers, balls, and flippers.  Maybe we're the balls, but God is certainly the player.  The coin is inserted, and God mutters under her breath: let there be light.  And the machine comes to life.

See, the the pinball machine world, there's a lot of factors.  Every ball starts with a unique trajectory, maybe some special dents and scuffs too, or perhaps they pick them up on the way.  Maybe they have different masses, radii, and densities.  They bounce around making and missing targets, ricocheting off of bumpers and running into each other.  An then, every once in a while: fwip!  They're hit by a flipper.  Maybe some balls are flipped all the time, and maybe some balls are basically never flipped.

The core of the analogy is this: it may be that God constructs the world and influences it certain ways, but that there's a good amount of randomness inherent in the system.  Random here doesn't mean that God doesn't know about or account for problems or peculiarities, but that God can't do too much about it anymore because that's intentionally the way he built the game.  Part of the joy in creation, I'd imagine, is watching something flourish on it's own.  Flourish?  Okay, maybe God the Gardener would have been a better analogy...


nerd sniped: books about distributions

It was decided today that I need to learn more about the Poisson distribution, and preferably not just from Wikipedia.  Thus, I decided a two-pronged approach to build up my intuition: playing with it in R and reading up on it in Johnson et al.'s Univariate Discrete Distributions.

What should have been a quick trip to the library ended up involving me sitting on the floor (bottom shelves always make me stay longer for this very reason) and browsing the books for at least ten, maybe fifteen minutes.  That's not terribly long, you might say, but I'm an incredibly decisive person* and this is a topic that most normal people would spend fifteen minutes avoiding.

{* Aside: As long as I'm the only one making the decision, I'm very decisive.  As soon as other people's opinions come into play, I'm wishy-washy like whoa.  Anecdote: my wedding invitations were selected down to font and ink color probably within 7 minutes of opening the two huge binders full of options.  But, ask me for restaurant preferences for a group dinner and you'll get an annoyingly placatory response. }

So I end up leaving with not just the book that I had intended to check out, but also Severini's Elements of Distribution Theory and Consul's Generalized Poisson Distributions.  Great reading for a Friday night.

While I was there, I also stumbled upon a book called A Folio of Distributions, which, as far as I could tell, consisted entirely of plots for all of its 500-some pages.  It was originally published in 1987, long before the age when a student of statistics could simply fire up R in order to see how a distribution behaves in different contexts.  I almost checked it out, but given the facts that A) I was on foot and B) the computer I was already carrying could produce the same results, I let it be.

The moral of the story: I love university libraries, especially those belonging to absurdly privileged institutions.  If these books don't grow my brain, they'll certainly grow my muscles.


ah, September

The campus is teeming with new students and excited old ones--it makes me feel a bit cantankerous.  I mean, I'm happy, but it's not intrinsically tied up in the rush of starting a new semester.  Durn young'uns.

It was nice to get a change of scenery for the summer (by being at Microsoft Research in NYC, in case you didn't know).  Jake Hofman was an incredible mentor, and I learned about things in a refreshingly different light.  It's always a little sad to leave anywhere pleasant, but I'm happy not to spend three hours on a train each day.

Now I'm trying to find my routine for the semester; I need to be productive and prepare for my General Exams in October.  It's a little scary, but I'm feeling much more confident about my work than I used to be.

There's a lot of non-research I need to do as well, things that I let slip over the summer.  Fixing up my bike, harvesting the last tails of the garden, making dentist appointments.

Nothing is overwhelming yet, and hopefully it'll stay that way.  Maybe that's why everyone likes September so much.


let's live more

It's what I've been saying this for a while, and now more people are starting to agree: let's live more.

Some guidelines that I try to live by:
- don't get directions from a mobile device unless you're starting to feel a negative emotion like fear or frustration from being lost.
- don't use a device for social purposes when you're already in a social context.
- only rarely divert conversations for looking up facts.
- uses devices for recreation only a limited amount.

I just pulled those out of my ear, though.  Just like I did that expression.  I'm sure I could have written a more thoughtful post on this topic, but I'm gunna close my computer and do something else instead.