Wednesday, April 26, 2006

I am photographe

I'm still waiting to see my pics in the Physics Photo Contest, but it keeps getting delayed, maybe because I'm the only one that entered.

I've been taking a lot of (mostly crappy) pictures, and instead of deleting them, I came up with a new art form. I start with some random picture (more random the better), turn it into greyscale (hides all the fucked up colours) and blur it up a bit, so it looks kinda dreamy and shit (also hides ass photo taking skills) and then write some cynical phrase over it in a hip font like Century Gothic or Gill Sans.

So here's my portfolio, don't be shocked if you see these in some coffeeshop somewhere.

I'm sure I'll be designing Imogen Heap album covers six months from now.

Modern art! I love it!


Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Weird weekend

Friday I was committed to spending the weekend at the track in London working as a timekeeper. I was doing a favour for someone that had to back out. I swear, this bike referee shit is wearing on me. I agreed when thought I could use the money, but $75 for the weekend, as it turned out, sure wasn't worth it. The work can be stressful as hell. Racing went 'til 10pm Sunday, and started back up Sat. 9 am. When you're in the infield you can't even go to the washroom while racing is on. Even if there is a break in the action, as an official you still have to be doing something.

Normally I would never take a job that far away but I figured I could weasel I ride from someone going to the race. After all my potential rides fell through, I had to take matters into my own hands and I decided to take the bus.

Bus stations are one of the most depressing places around, maybe because only real losers ever take the bus. Some dude even sat around with all his crap and strummed an acoustic guitar:

It was quaint as shit.

Bus rides itself are pretty good. I never have any trouble stewing, even without music or reading material. But, I had a good 2.5 hrs to look over my notes and think about my (school) work without the pressure of being compelled to whip up some irrelevant plots or beat into submisson some stupid code -- on the bus I have no choice but to stew. I did find a list of "Things To Do" I had written in my notebook, and the first item was:

1. get away from the computer.

When I got to London, I had to cab it to the velodrome, and the cabbie (some ethnic type, even in small cities in Ontario the cabbies are ethnics) was on a huge rant about London is shit and everyone here is trash and actually retarded with short arms and weird faces and how I should never come back, or at least never enter the city itself, and how all small cities are crap.

There a bit of truth in that. London, Cambridge, Guelph, Peterborough, Waterloo, Burlington, Hamilton, all these places are exactly the same. There's the Tim Hortons by the 401. Big box stores, like Home Depot and Costco on the outskirts and tattoo parlours and head shops downtown. Amazing thing is almost all these places have a university. But London looked okay to me, and the place seemed to be booming. Traffic was bad as anywhere in Ontario.

Friday night I got to stay with a great family that had just moved to London from Toronto, they fed me and I played with their super-smart little dog. I told 'em the cabbie story and they laughed their asses off, then they told me the same thing. There are some real wackos in London.

I finally got to experience it for myself when I found myself 1.5 hrs early for the bus back to tha T-dot, so I had some time to kill.

Usually I like to slum it up in the diviest shitholes -- with Wildcat on tap and Ragdoll on the jukebox, and there was just such a place by the bus depot, but the blocks around there were filled with some dicey looking freaks. These weren't your Britney Spears/"I wear yoga pants to Spago" white trash, I'm in downtown London; these are the real deal, and frankly I was nervous. So I opted for the gentrified brew pub in the Galleria.

On the ride back the dude next to me decided to strike up a conversation. I've had these kind of encounters before, where a stranger starts telling you an elaborate story about his life and family. A common element is that he's from a rich or influential family. This is the precursor to the Nigerian money scams. It always boils down to this: someone who apparently has ties to money befriends you out of the blue and then when you're sufficiently charmed, hits you up for a favour (ref. Six Degrees of Separation).

Sure, it's plausible the dude really was from a family of wealthy Japanese industrialists, and a Zen Buddhist who was going to be forced into an arranged marriage back in Japan next month, a marriage he is totally against, to a girl he had never met and who was also his second cousin's daughter, and he just happened to be travelling from London by friggen bus with the likes of me and worse, with zero luggage, but who really knows ? Weird.

So it was good when I was finally back in DT Toronto, even with the Pitchfork reading nerds and well dressed Asians that mock people that drive American cars.

The Plant Project:

Last year I potted some basil plants, and they gave me pretty good basil long after the winter had killed all the basil in my yard. But inevitably I neglected them until they turned into dried basil, but I don't think they're dead. Today I took 'em outside and watered them. Hopefully this will be a regular feature, where we can follow the jeuvenation of my basil plants over the next few weeks.

Day 1:


Monday, April 17, 2006

Assbike City

Last Thursday it became increasing harder to pedal my bike. I keep it dirtier than a Colin Farrell sex-tape mainly because I'm always riding in shitty shitty Toronto weather and a clean bike never lasts more than a day. So it should be no surprise that shit wears out at an alarming rate.

If there is any doubt that a chain gets longer as it's used this should clear that up. The old chain (top) is about a centimeter longer than a brand new one (bottom) with the same number of links.

I also noticed that for the first time ever I had worn out the derailleur pulleys. You can see that the teeth are worn down to points.

I had to go to three or four stores before I found one that even had them in stock. It's pretty rare to wear them out, but then again how many people are doing 100 kms in the rain day after day ?

Sadly I still need to replace the cogs since they are skipping in some gears and probably the chainrings too pretty soon. All this shit adds up!

I did find what I need a Urbane Cyclist. And while I was there I spotted this cool hauler:

... and this fixie. Fixies have totally become the new Razor scooter and every cool kid has one. But thees is one too-cool-for-wrds example:

I totally dig the saddle made of metalflake bumper car seat material and reverse curve fork.

Since it was a nice day, I let Greta out in the yard for the first time ever while I worked on my bike. This is her munching on some plants:

... and then she went inside and puked it up ...


I keep rehashing the topic of data displays, I can't get enough of it. I'm totally digging Flickr, and that's where I came across a pretty cool "graphic". There's a lot thats innovative about the site, but one that caught my eye is how they indicate the most popular tags. Instead of a chart of rankings they indicate which tags are the most popular by the size of the font:

It isn't as precise as a chart if for instance you want to know "Just how popular is LONDON compared to MEXICO ?", but that's not even relevant in this context. It gives you a quick way to parse the relative popularity of the most popular tags in the list, and allows for the fact that small differenes in rank are not important. And unlike a ranked list it doesn't influence you into ignoring the lower ranked entries.

Anyways. I stole the pic at the top of this post from Flickr.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Assbike Song: Soledad Bros.

I noticed the Soledad Bros. are playing at the Silver Dollar (in the smelley heart of bumtown Spadina & College) this month. I don't know much about these guys other than I really like this song: Teenage Hearattack (Soledad Bros.). Reminds me of the Violent Femmes.


Friday, April 14, 2006

Assbike Alert

Assbike readers, beware, there is a new menace about: the Lame-o Beardo. The NYTimes claims the bearded man is the sex-symbol for this year -- yeah the first hipster to wear a trucker hat looked cool too. We're in for a rocky summer folks, but hopefully by fall the Lame-o Beardo will have gone the way of Ugg boots* and manpris.

Beardsss: the mullet of 2006.

*Except in Koreatown where they're still hotter than the Kim Chi Chicken

Friday, April 07, 2006

Now I got worry

Okay it's been two weeks since I gave my talk. I worked my ass off leading up the the talk, I was almost at the breaking point. I've eased up since then because the pressure -- or actually the fear of a public humiliation, powerful fuel for the work train is not there anymore.

For instance in the last week I thought of a little something I could do that might help me get a little bit closer to a working project, and I planned and stewed and stewed and planned, for days, more than I had to, and when I finally decided to take the plunge and pushthe button on it I realized some fatal flaws almost immediately.

So my lesson is, when I have an idea I should work on it right away - once you start to actually try to put the pieces together you know if you're little scheme is even possible.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Canonical Figures

Thinking about figures that I show, or that I'd put in my thesis I realized some figures get shown so often, and reused by so many speakers they become canonical. But often these figures are a bit unique and simply the way the data is shown makes it obvious why it should be of interest.

This figure is from Edward Lorenz's 1967 book. It illustrates the flow of energy in the atmosphere.

The circles represent energy "reservoirs", where A is potential energy (warm air) and K is kinetic energy (wind) and the subscripts identify if the energy is stored in the mean component (Z) or in the wavy component (E). The numbers in the circle is the amount of energy in the reservoir in tens of thousands of Joules per sq. metre.

The vectors indicate the flow to/from the reservoirs in Watts per sq. meter. So energy is input at the top left and it is converted into the other forms before it is dissipated.

If you were shown this figure without explantation you would not understand it, at least not within the time it would be typically shown in a talk. This diagram is not intuitive. But becase it is a canonical figure, it is shown all the time, without putting any thought into how novel it actually is.

If you gave someone the data contained in this figure and asked them to come up with a way to present it, unless that person was pretty creative it's unlikely that they would choose to present it like Lorenz does here.

But explained and knowing something about the underlying physics this diagram is a much nicer way to show the data than a table.

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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Click to add title

Here's some more on data presentation. This an excerpt from Ed Tufte's book and shows how something as simple as the choice of aspect ratio can make the data look not only nicer but reveal something about the data you might not have noticed.

Truly inspired is Click to add title, a hilarious Power Point showdown, where the contestants try to come up with the most stomach turning slideshow presentation. The second round is the best, using the Lorem Ipsum Dolor pseduo latin filler text. *Remember to hit F5* for the complete effect with sounds and cheesy transitions!

Monday, April 03, 2006

Presentation of Data: Examples

Following my post on Ed Tufte and the presentation of data I remembered these graphics from Toro Magazine (a wannabe Vice-type mag that comes with the Globe and Mail).

I can't remember ever seeing a pie-chart in a physics talk, but pie-charts are a staple in low-brow business pitches and pseudo-technical presentations, along with non-ironic use of Comic Sans and mortifying clip-art.

So for my talk last week, I really regret not working in a gratuitous pie-chart displaying some completely inane data; the only purpose it's really suitable for -- but given the (lame-o) state of my research I wasn't feeling too cocky either.

...and below is one of my fave types of graphics, a phase-space plot. These plots are really illustrative (seriously), and I think science people should use them more often.

Someday I will have to get off my ass and figure out how to get Matlab to plot words in a 2-D plot.

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Sunday, April 02, 2006

Donut Ride

Today I (and maybe a hundred ? other peeps) did the "Infamous" Donut Ride. It has a reputation of being fast and lawless, which are overstated -- I think. For me there was no surprise, I have a pretty good idea of what my fitness is (mediocre).

For TO based riders this ride is no big dilly, but it is amazing to think that the ride continues even though the organizing body is long gone, that there's quite a lot of people who have the fairly high level of skill and fitness that one needs to do a ride like this once or twice a week. It's something any not-too-old and healthy person can acquire, but it is still pretty decent compared to your average city-dwelling schmoe.

This here is an approx. map of the route (stolen!).

But no one has ever needed it.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Spring Training

Spring cleaning continues. Tonight I rode rode about 100kms, all within the confines of the CNE. It was pretty uneventful other than a sighting of Zanta, but it was remarkably easy to ride a 5 minute loop, for 3 hours ... solo ... without music. It would be sooo easy to escape to a life of just riding and bumming.

It wouldn't be possible without a good pedestal to park my ass on:

(you can see where my fat legs have worn away the black paint on the seatpost clamp)

With bike seats you don't always get what you pay for. I was contemplating biting the bullet and dropping $150 on an Arione, but then this landed in my lap. This is the best seat I've used and I got it for *FREE* from Cyclepath.

So I'm watching Real Time now and apparently Erica Jong is not Chinese, and pretty stupid. Along with Dana Rohrabacher it's a pretty stupid panel tonight. Well Rohrabacher isn't stupid he's just an apologist who's trying to defend the indefensible.

This week's Assbike Song is Spooky by Dusty Springfield (3.0 meg). Brits have always done a good job studying and preserving the work of other cultures, so it makes sense one of the best Motown singers ever would be an Irish girl from London. I even came across a video, which really sucks (production-wise), but if you wonder what she looks like, here it is: