30 May 2008

Two cool sites I found from a third cool site

FiveThirtyEight.com has some impressive analysis of polls for the presidential election.  According to his latest numbers, if Clinton were somehow nominated she'd have about a 63% chance of beating McCain, but Obama and McCain are a toss-up.  That's just the opposite of what I'd been hearing; in particular, I thought the aim of Rush Limbaugh's Operation Chaos was to help Hillary win in the hope that she'd make a weaker opponent for McCain, but apparently the goal is subtly different.

Anyway, if the Democrats are most interested in beating McCain, the superdelegates might be best off strategically voting for Hillary.  Of course, if we used approval voting in the general election, no such problem would exist; both Clinton and Obama could face McCain in November without splitting the vote and the candidate with the most universal appeal would win.  Ron Paul could run too!

On a seemingly unrelated note, here's a visual history of how the Oakland Athletics came by their 2008 team.  It's like baseball genealogy.

The third cool site is Baseball Think Factory.

26 May 2008

Party of principle?

Yesterday the Libertarian Party nominated Bob Barr for president.  Barr was chosen on the sixth ballot over Dr. Mary Ruwart, my first choice.  I think the LP is making a mistake; the Libertarian nominee can't win the election, so it's more important for him (or her!) to be a principled and passionate advocate for liberty than to be a compromising waffler with a questionable past.  When in Congress, Barr was one of the most determined drug warriors and an opponent of same-sex marriage and abortion rights.  He also voted for the USA PATRIOT Act and the Iraq war.  It was only after the LP helped to get him out of Congress that he changed his mind and became more consistently libertarian.  I admire that, but I'd have preferred someone like Ruwart, who has always been principled and is an excellent speaker and author.  She also has a Ph.D. in biophysics and is a loud opponent of government intervention in the drug industry.  Barr's only advantages over Ruwart are name recognition and perhaps fundraising ability.

It's also a shame that Wayne Allyn Root, another former Republican (with unfortunate initials!), got the VP nod over Steve Kubby, a long-time cancer patient who has controlled his symptoms with marijuana and has been persecuted by the federal government for it.  It's hard to believe that the LP could nominate two people less consistently libertarian than Republican hopeful Ron Paul, who's still my candidate until he officially drops out.

At least we Libertarians fund our own convention and this year's vote was fairly tight and exciting.  I think it's so stupid that DNC chair Howard Dean declared that Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama must drop out of the race well before the convention.  He basically admitted that the convention itself is completely meaningless.  So why are we taxpayers helping to pay for it?  (The convention may cost more than $100 million.)

Besides, I very much doubt that the fight between Obama and Clinton will significantly hurt the eventual nominee.  They may be using campaign funds against each other, but once the nominee is decided almost all supporters of each will surely prefer the other to McCain.

Speaking of McCain, today I finished reading Trail Fever, an account of the fight for the 1996 Republican nomination by the author of Moneyball.  Most of the Republicans featured in the book seem like typical politicians, unprincipled and opportunistic, but McCain comes off as a true independent and genuinely good guy.  He now seems less independent than he used to be, though, and forced to choose among him and Obama and Barr, I think I'd go with Barr.

14 May 2008

Grad gripes

Every spring semester Wash. U. spends what must be a ton of money re-landscaping the campus to look green and pretty for parents attending graduation, then the rest of the year they bother with only minimal maintenance in comparison.  It reminds me of Pencey Prep in The Catcher in the Rye:

"We always had the same meal on Saturday nights at Pencey.  It was supposed to be a big deal, because they gave you steak.  I'll bet a thousand bucks the reason they did that was because a lot of guys' parents came up to school on Sunday, and old Thurmer probably figured everybody's mother would ask their darling boy what he had for dinner last night, and he'd say, 'Steak.'  What a racket."

I'll be graduating on Friday.  Until recently, doctoral graduates from the School of Engineering & Applied Science received a D.Sc. (doctor of science), but now we get a Ph.D.  The problem is that we have to go through the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, since they have a monopoly on Ph.D. degrees here, and we have to play by their rules.  Two things in particular make me wish I'd stuck with the D.Sc. option.

First, my doctoral hood (along with the red and green for Wash. U.) is blue (for philosophy) instead of orange (for engineering).  Everyone who gets a Ph.D. at Wash. U. has to have a blue hood.  Boring!  Generic!  I'd prefer orange not only because it's particular to my academic discipline but because I thought it would make for a more interesting combination with the red and green.

Second, my diploma will be in Latin instead of English.  I'm curious to see how they'll translate "computer science" into Latin; I don't think the Romans had much need for the term.  They also translate "Washington University" into Latin, which I think is silly as it's a proper noun (though the French are fond of doing this).  My B.S. and M.C.S. diplomas are in English and I've have preferred to keep them consistent.

Oh well.  The one advantage of the Ph.D. over the D.Sc. is that I won't have to explain to anyone what it means.

07 May 2008


One of the many projects I'd like to get back to now that I've completed my Ph.D. requirements (and the grades for the class I TA are turned in) is fooling around with composing music.  About ten years ago I wrote a handful of weird little MIDI pieces in the ABC language, and I still enjoy listening to them, but MIDI doesn't allow for much fine-tuning or experimentation with different timbres.  Actually, it sounds pretty awful.

This past weekend I finally got my MIDI keyboard (which O gave me two Christmases ago) to work.  That is, I was able to set it up so that playing a note actually produced a sound I can hear.  The sparse documentation that came with the keyboard should have included a "how to just get it to play a note" section.

Now if only I can get it to play in different tunings, I'll be set.  Specifically, I'd like to tune it so that frequencies are in small-number ratios, as in just intonation.  For example, when I hit a middle C I'd like it to play at 264 Hz (so that it's in a 5:3 ratio with A at 440 Hz) instead of 261.626 Hz (as under equal temperament.  Equal temperament, the standard for modern instruments, has good perfect fourths (4:3) and fifths (3:2) but its major thirds (5:4) are quite sharp and its minor thirds (6:5) are too flat).  I plan to do most of my actual composing with Csound, but it'd be nice to be able to test out justly intoned chords and melodies in real time.  Unfortunately, the keyboard's sparse documentation did not include a "how to get it to play a just note" section either.  It would be really cool if I could play the keyboard and have it automatically produce appropriate Csound code, but I don't see how that could be possible.  I wonder whether I could get the keyboard to play timbres created with Csound, though.

Actually, many of my compositional ideas are algorithmic in nature, which has led me to write programs in some other programming language to produce the music code—I used to use C to produce ABC code.  I'm trying to decide between Python and Ruby to use with Csound.

Well, I'm off to play racquetball.  The weather today is just perfect for indoor sports.  More on music later.