Lots of Young Vegetarians

I’m not a vegetarian, but for a variety of reasons I tend to approximate one to first order, as a physicist might say. And I’m highly sympathetic to the ideas and don’t mind seeing them spread, so the following, from an interview with Jonathan Safran Foer, makes me smile a bit:

Eighteen percent of college students are vegetarian now. There are more vegetarians in college than Catholics, there are more vegetarians than any major, except for business, and it’s very close, by about 1%. That’s something I feel very good about.

As I said, I’m not a vegetarian myself, and vegetarianism is not something I would try to actively “convert” people to (most vegetarians I know feel the same way). I do think, however, that quite a few people who aren’t vegetarians at the moment would find that they can live perfectly well without meat, or at least with less meat than they currently consume. So it’s nice to see that people are experimenting with vegetarianism or it’s various approximate forms while they’re still young enough that they haven’t been trained to think of a meatless meal as an empty one.

By the way, sometimes my more meat-and-potatoes friends scoff at vegetarianism as though it were some kind of social ill, and this always baffles me. I can understand mild teasing, the way we tease all people when they do things outside the social norms. But to act like they might be causing some kind of damage to the world strikes me as ridiculous. I think what happens is just that people get “vegetarianism” and “environmentalism” bound up together in their heads (tied up with a hemp string, no doubt) and then convince themselve that, since environmental protection measures tend to cost money and have some downside, vegetarianism must, as well. But I defy anyone to find a net negative cost of eating less meat which we do not commonly tolorate in association with other activities.

Of course, this goes both ways. If you’re one of the annoying vegetarians out there, you should knock it off. Your smug sense of moral superiority makes other people defensive, and in a lot of people this defensiveness causes people to invent reasons that they think vegetarianism is bad. Which of course makes people like you more smug and more standoffish about your opinions on meat-eating. And as usual, self-sustaining polarization rarely leads to social change of any kind.


A Great Day of Tennis

If you weren’t watching the semifinals of today’s Paris Masters tennis tournament: here’s what you missed:

  • Two best-of three matches
  • Six total sets
  • Five sets decided by tiebreakers, one 7-5 set
  • Two tiebreakers where the winner needed more than seven points to win
  • Eight breaks of serve, including three to force tiebreaks and stay in the match
  • Eight match points saved by the eventual winners
  • Seven games with five or more deuce points

I’m just sayin’, you probably should have been watching. Best-of-three tennis doesn’t get much better than that.

“An Awesome Kind of Busy”

That’s how an old professor of mine described grad school to me once, when I asked him whether or not grad students were busier than undergraduates. I’m beginning to discover what he must have meant.

This is partly to say that I apologize for not having updated the blog the last few days. I have several homework assignments I’m working on at the moment and a test to prepare for next week, so while I have several draft posts being saved up, you probably won’t see them until next Monday or Tuesday. Heck, when I tried to throw up a small post late last night just to keep the content slightly fresh, I wound up, erm…wishing that I had chosen to do it in a slightly less-groggy, more proofreading-inclined state, to say the least. It didn’t make me feel as embarrassed as this guy, but fairly close.

To get back on the subject of “an awesome kind of busy,” however, let me at least reassure you that I’m not just neglecting the blog for pointless practice problems. That’s not “awesome busy,” that’s just “busy.”

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Neat Idea, Bad Attention to Details

The tennis blogs have all been abuzz lately with the newest types of shirts* that are available through Novak Djokovic’s website. Most of them are pretty sweet. But then there’s this one, cleverly designed so that the image wraps around to the back:

It’s a neat idea, but try looking at just the front or just the back. They both look a little odd without the other. But here’s the real kicker: Djokovic appears to be just about to hit a backhand, but yet the ball is way off to his left. Which means he was not only lined up completely wrong but is also swinging way, way too late.

Don’t the people who design tennis shirts know things about tennis?


*Authors note: two typos, one very embarrassing, have been corrected here. I bet you can guess what one of them was :-P


Things I Saw in Stony Brook: Solving-A-Great-Mystery Edition

While proctoring an exam last week, I took a quick break for a drink of water and discovered something interesting:

Now, don’t get me wrong, I know this photo is boring as heck. But you have to understand, I was quite, quite excited to see this broken water fountain. With the “push here” bar missing off the front, you could ┬átell conclusively that the trigger which activates the water flow is electronic, not mechanical.

I’ve wondered how those work since I was about 6. No joke, I remember being at the public library back home shortly after a power outage and wondering whether the water fountains there would still work during a blackout. It’s nice to finally know.

A Playlist For The Week: Songs-Named-After-Girls Edition

I wanted to post my new playlist yesterday, but Grooveshark was down. Sorry I’ve kept you waiting so long since the last one. I love putting these together, but they’re time consuming.

So here’s the story: Elvis Costello was on both the Colbert Report and Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me during the past week (man, I am such a lefty elitist sometimes, aren’t I?) and that led me to listen to “Alison” about a million times. This in turn led me to listen to a lot of other Elvis Costello songs (just love that guy) which led me to rediscover another favorite of mine, also named after a girl. You’ll see it later

The whole experience got me wondering two things: first, where can I get myself a hat like the one Costello is wearing in that picture above? And second, given how many songs are named after girls, is it possible I could make a whole playlist of songs named after girls, with one for each letter of the alphabet?

The answer is yes. The results are available for your listening pleasure in the link above. The comments are below the fold.

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1/Sqrt(2) Fischer + 1/Sqrt(2) Heisenberg

Bored? Try playing quantum chess.

It’s chess, but with a clever twist inspired by the principles of quantum mechanics: each of your pieces is a superposition of all of the pieces you have which haven’t been captured yet, which means you don’t know until you pick it up to move it what piece you’re looking at. The whole thing was invented by a student at Queen’s University in Australia.

I confess, when I first saw the game, I was hoping for something slightly different. This particular game depends so much on luck, I think it takes some of the fun out of it. On the other hand, I like the concept of introducing randomness into a strategy game in such a way that it remains deterministic at the top level (just as quantum mechanics tells us the universe is actually probabilistic, but predictable on large, human-sized scales). I’m thinking a cooler variation might simply be to treat the “position” of each piece as a quantum wavefunction, so that when you try to capture your opponent’s knight, you don’t know if it’s in square E5 or E6 or E7, you just know the probabilities of each. That way you would have a bit more control: “boxing in” a piece would help reduce the dispersion of it’s wavefunction, i.e., it would reduce the number of places it might reasonably be on the board.