∫ A microwave oven arrived in the mail today…

Here’s what the left side of my kitchen looked like when I got up this morning:

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A second welcome for the “grand opening”

Hello again,

The WLOGblog is finally going “public” today, in the sense that I am finally going to tell my friends and family what it is called and where to find it. On the other hand, I’ve been adding material to it on and off over the course of the last two weeks, so that when visitors like you show up, there would be enough substance to the blog to make it immediately worth your while, because it’s certainly my hope that you will come back.

For this reason, there is already a “Welcome to WLOGblog” post that was the first one to go up, but I am adding this second welcome to make the place feel more inviting to those of you just joining us today. So thanks for stopping by and do make sure to check out all the previous content on the blog; there’s still not much but there’s more than you might expect if you came here thinking I was launching this today.

A few more tips and warnings: first, the blog is still in a bit of a “beta-testing” phase, where I’m playing around with layouts, fonts and text sizes, etc., so don’t be surprised if something changes. Similarly, if something doesn’t work, doesn’t make sense, or would look better in a lighter shade of green, for example, please just leave a comment or send me an email letting me know.

Secondly, please don’t pay much attention to the “time and date” stamps affixed to the posts at the moment. Because I initially tried to host this blog at Blogspot (but found their HTML interface to be too unpredictable) I transferred over much of the content all in one day, meaning that posts which were written all throughout the last week all seem to have been authored yesterday. The timestamp is also inaccurate because I hadn’t correctly set the time zone on the blog’s internal clock before I moved the posts– i.e., mom, if you’re reading this, I wasn’t up at 4 in the morning writing about Roman charioteers.

Finally, because of the multiple copy-paste maneuvers I had to do to bring this content all together, I spent less time proofreading than I might have wanted, so I’m sure you will find some typos. To be honest, though, you’d just better get used to them, because if I’m going to try to keep this up throughout the school year I am probably going to be doing a rushed job of it from time to time.

So thanks for stopping by; I hope you see something you like. If you don’t, check back in a few days. I intend this to be a pretty eclectic collection of anything that I find interesting enough to share with people, so there’s a good chance something in the mix will strike your fancy.

Happy reading,


One class down, many to go…

Walking to the physics building for the first day of class was a lot like this, only crawling with students

Well, I finished my first day of classes, which consisted of exactly one class. I realized, by the way, that this is the 17th year in a row that I’ve gone woken up one morning and had a  “first day of class.”  That’s a lot of “first days”– you would think the nervous excitement would have worn off a little. But it hasn’t!

When I was in college I always used to go out to breakfast with some friends before the first day of class–side note: how weird is it that I can now use the construction “When I was in college”?–but with no real close friends out here just yet and the only breakfast place I know of a shabby-looking Dunkin’ Donuts, I decided just to get up early and make myself a nice big breakfast in honor of the occasion. I knew I was going to do this ahead of time, so I had my freezer stocked with hash browns and sausage links, and I made myself french toast with boysenberry syrup. It was all pretty great, if I do say so myself. But I guess it’s hard to screw up french toast.

After breakfast I put on a blue polo and jeans, and headed off to class. I set my iPod to shuffle my mix of “psych-up”  music, and by a strange coincidence, it settled on “Orange Crush,”  by R.E.M. The song, combined with the bright, sunny morning and the nervous energy I could feel in the air emanating from all the freshmen, suddenly made me flash back to my own freshman year, and I realized that, not only had I listened to “Orange Crush”  on my way to my very first class, but I’d been wearing the same blue polo. I promise it was just a coincidence, but it was a kind of nice, comforting one. It made everything seem familiar and surmountable, while also invoking the same sense of adventure and excitement I had on my first day at CU.

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Just a quick school update

Tomorrow (Monday the 30th) is my first day of classes here at Stony Brook. Now, I only have one class, as it turns out, but it also promises to be a really good one.

People always say that, especially as a graduate student, you shouldn’t necessarily take a course because of the topic, or because you feel like you “have to,”  but because of the professor. They say you should ask around the department, find out who the coolest teachers are, and then just sign up for whatever they’re teaching. Well, here’s one such guy:

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∫ Finally, a math puzzle I can use!

After much thought, I’ve hit upon a math puzzle that will work for my friend’s little neighbor, the aspiring mathematician. Actually, I’m going to give her a two-part puzzle: a more straightforward version of the “littler math puzzle”  posted below, and this little guy that I came up with yesterday while exploring the behavioral sciences building. Incidentally, why do “people scientists”  and “medical scientists” always have such nicer buildings than “hard scientists?”

Anyway, here’s the puzzle:

Most small numbers are pretty close to a prime number. For example, the number 22 isn’t prime, but if I just change the second 2 into a 9, then it is (because 29 is prime). Similarly, 310 isn’t prime, but 313 is. So it seems like often, all I have to do is change one digit in a number and I can make it into a prime number.

Unfortunately, that’s not true for ALL numbers. There are some numbers that can’t be made into a prime number just by changing one (and only one) digit. The question is, what is the smallest of these numbers?

Answer and explanation below the fold, as always.

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If America wants to be like Rome, we have to start paying our athletes more

That’s the message I take from this post by Peter Struck, a professor at U Penn who writes a blog about interesting things from history. Struck is writing in response to the news a year or so ago that Tiger Woods has become the first athlete to earn $1 billion in the course of his career. For comparison, he points us to the charioteers of ancient Rome, who were apparently the absolute hottest attraction in the Roman entertainment scene.

No, this is not a picture of Gaius Appuleius Diocles.

The hottest of the hot, a Spaniard named Gaius Appuleius Diocles, apparently earned so much money that after his retirement–at age 42–a monument was erected to immortalize the staggering amount of his collective winnings. As Struck writes:

His total take home amounted to five times the earnings of the highest paid provincial governors over a similar period—enough to provide grain for the entire city of Rome for one year, or to pay all the ordinary soldiers of the Roman Army at the height of its imperial reach for a fifth of a year. By today’s standards that last figure, assuming the apt comparison is what it takes to pay the wages of the American armed forces for the same period, would cash out to about $15 billion. Even without his dalliances, it is doubtful Tiger could have matched it.

I’m a little skeptical of Struck’s strategy for translating Diocles’ earnings, as it seems to me there are a lot of variables about the size and cost of the armed forces that are uncontrolled for. I think in terms of comparing him to modern athletes, a better strategy might be to ask what percentile of earners he fell into against the percentile rank of Woods and the like. But whatever his actual  “adjusted” salary turned out to be, its pretty clear it would have been far more than what our average athlete makes today. I think it’s even possible that by this metric, he would project out to have made a lot more than $15 billion, quite a feat given the fact that the general public in this day and age probably has a lot more disposable income to put into seeing athletic competitions than the amount that was available when just a few wealthy statesmen were organizing these things.

In other words, the next time someone tells you that the US is on its way to becoming “just a modern Roman empire,”  make sure to include in your rebuttal the fact that we aren’t yet nearly obsessed enough with sport.

Mark Wahlberg and an eggplant teach me to enjoy action flicks

I watched “Shooter” last night while I made eggplant curry. The curry turned out really well–turns out the missing ingredient last time I made it was coconut milk– but the really interesting part of the evening was the experience I had watching the movie. By most accounts, “Shooter” was a pretty bad movie, or at least pretty mediocre, but I really enjoyed it. And I think the reason was, I wasn’t really paying attention.

I’m not trying to rip on the movie. I’ve always believed that the so-called “mindless action flick” was a perfectly defensible art form. It’s just like I always appreciated the music of folks like Justin Timberlake and the Black Eyed Peas. I think they’re geniuses: they are legitimately some of the best in the world at crafting catchy beats, hooks, and melodies. You just can’t go to them expecting depth and introspection. That would be foolish. You go to them when you need to be emotionally manipulated by music on a deep level. And I’m not so snobby as to think there’s anything wrong with that on any level. Sometimes you need to be tricked into feeling happy, sad, hopeful, whatever. We do this all the time by turning to friends, starting leading conversations, et cetera. So there’s no reason to feel bad doing it with music.

For some reason, though, I’ve always had trouble letting movies do this to me.

Action films in particular get on my nerves when they try to provoke an emotional response. They always try really hard to get me to have a gut-level, testosterone laced level of support for the hero, and they often try to get me to join in on the his righteous anger against whatever evildoers he’s battling, too. And for some reason, even though I know the trick to enjoying such movies is not to expect any deep revelations about the state of humanity, and not to expect any magical, arts camera work, et cetera, I always manage to get angry at the shallowness of the movie.

This has made a lot of my friends angry to no end. So many of them got a huge rush out of “Quantum of Solace,” but I was busy being mad that it didn’t live up to the emotional complexity of “Casino Royale.” A good number of them managed to get a kick out of the fight sequences in “G.I. Joe,” whereas I couldn’t get over the fact that it contains some of the most unrealistic science, most incoherent plot “twists,” and most densely-packed clichés of all time.

Well now I’ve learned the trick, courtesy of Mark Wahlberg.

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