30 September 2005


One gaping hole in the English language is that there's no universal word for females between the age of "girl" and "woman."

But that's only the most common example of how our uneasy relation with gender is wreaking havoc with an otherwise wonderfully expressive language. Consider the absurdity of saying "anchorman or anchorwoman," or my favorite, trying to pronounce a word I've seen often in print: "Latino/as."

The solution is actually quite simple, and manages to completely avoid the horrors of "womyn."

The answer isn't to stop using "man" to stand for all humans. It's to make "man" universal again! We can assume that when people used "man" more than 50 years ago, this is probably what they meant anyway, so translation shouldn't be a big deal.

Then we need to invent a single new word to describe male members of the species "man."

I propose "he-man," or simply "heman." It's more nearly symmetrical with "woman" and yet still manly (or should I say "he-manly"). Yes, there's an upfront cost of not being able to keep a straight face for the next few years. But future generations of hemen and women will thank us for protecting our language from the likes of chairwoman, firewoman and womanhunt.

(p.s. I drafted this over a year ago! But felt like too much of a dork to post it until I recently realized that I have more drafts right now than actual posts.)

29 September 2005

beyond Bisquick

Two pancake recipes, both tasty.

whole wheat pancakes

  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or whatever)
  • 1 tblspoon baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbl brown sugar or honey
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup oil or melted butter
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 3 egg whites
Mix dry ingredients together and beat wet ingredients together, except the whites, which you should beat heavily, until peaks form. Then mix dry + wet thoroughly and finally fold the whites in. It's not really vital that you separate the egg whites, but it will make the pancakes fluffier if you do it right.

Of course you can (and should) also mix fruit into the batter. Blueberries/strawberries are obvious, but bananas will take things to the next level.

option two: who says you need to have the OJ on the side?

I actually haven't tried these, so let me know if you make them.
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4c oil
  • 2c flour
  • 1/2tsp baking soda
  • 1/2tsp salt
  • 2c orange juice
Mix wet & dry ingredients separately, then combine.

16 September 2005

Lo vs. Wang becomes Lo vs Wang vs. arxiv.org

Every day, people post new papers on the arxiv.org preprint server, and they can update old papers. It's mostly unrefereed, but yesterday a paper titled "A brief history of the decoy-state method for practical quantum key distribution" (quant-ph/0509084) was replaced by the single line "This paper was removed by arXiv admin due to content not conforming to the standards of academic communication."

Fortunately (depending on your perspective perhaps), the arXiv still saves old versions of papers, and the original version is still online. Even non-quantum people should be able to appreciate the human drama contained within. (Quick summary: Lo is widely credited with being the first to do something, but Wang says that Lo's first implementation didn't work and/or didn't contain new ideas and that either he (Wang), or another guy, Hwang, was the first to do it, depending on how you define "it.")

I mention this a) because it's kind of funny when dirty laundry is aired in public, but b) because there are some semi-serious issues at stake. It's kind of tacky when people argue about priority, but let's be serious here - we do care about it, often we care about it a lot. And what exactly are "the standards of academic communication" when it comes to arguing about priority? And of course, who decides?

Right now, I think decorum may be preventing some useful clarifying discussion. For example, who should I cite for the result that N qubits can specify a reference frame to an accuracy of O(1/N^2)? quant-ph/0405082 and quant-ph/0405095 appeared on the same day. The acknowledgments in the published versions don't really clarify things. Do I cite both to avoid offending either group of authors? Or should I just cite quant-ph/0407053, which was definitely later, though also done independently? I might do this partly because I'm more familiar with its methods and partly because, being later, it references all the related papers, so that I only need one reference to explain this (for my purposes) rather tangential point. Frustratingly, it's hard to tell if a consensus emerges when people a) don't directly talk about it, and b) instead often err on the safe side by citing every paper that has made some contribution to the final answer.

Of course the problem is that people doing the citing (like me) care about things like not offending anyone, making the references useful to the uninitiated reader, and keeping the total number of references under control; usually in that order. The only people who care about clearly establishing priority are usually the authors of the papers in question, and of course they're always self-interested. This post is starting to have a pointless feel to it... But at least quant-ph/0509084v1 is a good read!

15 September 2005

travelling again

by Dar Williams

have i got everything?
am i ready to go?
is it going to be wild, is it gonna be the best time?
or am i just a-saying so-o-o-o?
am i ready to go?
what do i hear when i say i hear the call of the road?

i think it started with driving
more speed, more deals, more sky, more wheels
more things to leave behind
now it's all in a day for the modern mind

and i am traveling

calling this a ghost town
and where is the heartland?
and i'm afraid, oh, was there any good reason that i had to go
when all I know is i can never come back.

traveling i made a friend
he had a trouble in his head
and all he could say's that he knew that the bottle drank the woman from his bed
from his bed

he said "i'm not gonna lose that way again."

but sober is just like driving, more joy, more dread,
someone turns her head
and smiles and disappears
he's gotta take it like it is, and it goes too fast
and he is just like me, caught in-between, no sage advisor
does weary mean wiser?
and someday will i sing the mountains that carried me away away
from home and hometown boys like you?

yeah, but what about us?
was it really that bad?
oh it's hard to believe i want a highway roadstop
more than all the times we had,
on little dirt roads
what am i reaching for that's better than a hand to hold?

it really was about driving
not fame, not wealth, not driving away from myself
it's just myself drove away from me
and now i gotta get it back and it goes so fast,

so i am traveling

sitting at the all-nite,
picking up a pen
and I'm afraid, oh, was there any good reason that i had to go,
when all I know is I am all alone

and you are the ghost town,
and i am the heartland
and i can say, oh, that's a very good reason
that i had to go, but now all i know is i can never come back
and i will never go back.

13 September 2005

Meditation at Lagunitas

by Robert Haas

All the new thinking is about loss.
In this it resembles the old thinking.
The idea, for example, that each particular erases
the luminous clarity of a general idea. That the clown-
faced woodpecker probing the dead sculpted trunk
of that black birch is, by his presence,
some tragic falling off from a first world
of undivided light. Or the other notion that,
because there is in this world no one thing
to which the bramble of blackberry corresponds,
a word is elegy to what it signifies.
We talked about it late last night and in the voice
of my friend, there was a thin wire of grief, a tone
almost querulous. After a while I understood that,
talking this way, everything dissolves: justice,
pine, hair, woman, you and I. There was a woman
I made love to and I remembered how, holding
her small shoulders in my hands sometimes,
I felt a violent wonder at her presence
like a thirst for salt, for my childhood river
with its island willows, silly music from the pleasure boat,
muddy places where we caught the little orange-silver fish
called pumpkinseed. It hardly had to do with her.
Longing, we say, because desire is full
of endless distances. I must have been the same to her.
But I remember so much, the way her hands dismantled bread,
the thing her father said that hurt her, what
she dreamed. There are moments when the body is as numinous
as words, days that are the good flesh continuing.
Such tenderness, those afternoons and evenings,
saying blackberry, blackberry, blackberry.

12 September 2005

some black people who look like they might be preachers

If you haven't yet donated money for Katrina, these organizations may be better choices than e.g. the Salvation Army. At first, the clearly political framing of these groups made me uncomfortable, but I'm now pretty convinced that aid is necessarily and inevitably politicized already. Of course another problem is that they might not have the capacity to handle a lot of donations if this page gets too popular. Plus they're not so verifiable, etc...

Also, I wanted to save a quote from a NYT article titled "Gulf Coast Isn't the Only Thing Left in Tatters; Bush's Status With Blacks Takes Hit." (sadly no permalink)

One of Mr. Bush's prominent African-American supporters called the White House to say he was aghast at the images from the president's first trip to the region, on Sept. 2, when Mr. Bush stood next to Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi and Gov. Bob Riley of Alabama, both white Republicans, and praised them for a job well done. Mr. Bush did not go into the heart of New Orleans to meet with black victims.

"I said, 'Grab some black people who look like they might be preachers,' " said the supporter, who asked not to be named because he did not want to be identified as criticizing the White House.Three days later, on Mr. Bush's next trip to the region, the president appeared in Baton Rouge at the side of T. D. Jakes, the conservative African-American television evangelist and the founder of a 30,000-member megachurch in southwest Dallas.

It's good to see the president is finally taking charge of this dangerous PR crisis.