Bests-and-Messes: Bests of 2009

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And continuing the first post, here are some best of the year. I’ll keep the blunders to the last post!

Concept of the Year: Heavy-Tailed Distributions

Medieval people prior to 1660 have no concepts of probability (in fact, the word probability meant something else to them: authoritative, as with probity**), and would be astonished to find the individually random fall of the dice converging over large numbers.

I felt the same way when I first encounter heavy-tailed, non-Gaussian distributions. More on this later in my Thesis Story, but for a taster: the squiggle in the middle of the picture, apparently random noise, is described by a straight line on a logarithmic histogram.***

To my astonishment, chaotic behaviour becomes coherent with large numbers, alluding to generative mechanisms I have never imagined. This opened a whole new way of interpreting the world for me, scientific and otherwise.

Favorite Exercise of the Year: Pistol Squats

Also known as one-legged squats. Anywhere, anytime, works on both strength and balance. Regular work on this makes yoga balancing poses easy! My record this year is 113 / 85 in one workout 🙂 Incidentally, my goal for 2010 is to be able to do 10 bananeira push-ups. Have to work on that, since I can’t even do a single one at the moment…

Balloon of the Year

I’ve made a few nice sculptures this year: stork (Liana-Willow), princesses (Amalis), sailboat (Annie), killer bunny, Darkwing Duck, bat (Halloween), bicycle, gorilla (prize for a student)… but my favorite is this 5-balloon Alien (for another student at Halloween), modelled after Alien-the-Movie. I would hope to have a tutorial for this up soon.

Award of the Year

It’s a tie! I’ve had a few awards this year, and as my time at UVic comes to an end, both the Blue and Gold award (for community service) and Farquharson award (for teaching) were particularly meaningful. A strange place for a baseball quote (esp. from me), but here’s one from Ryne Sandberg:

“I didn’t play the game right because I saw a reward at the end of the tunnel. I played it right because that’s what you’re supposed to do, play it right and with respect… If this validates anything, it’s that guys who taught me the game did what they were supposed to do and I did what I was supposed to do.”

It was a great occasion to write to all the people that had a significant influence on me.

Best Acquisitions of the Year

Macbook Pro, 15″. I can’t rave enough my little Apple. I had one application crash in 6 months. One! (And it’s Illustrator working on a big, complex file.) Exceeds all expectations – and I haven’t even used the dedicated graphics card. Just an amazing, elegant machine.

Mountain Ocarina. What a wonderful pair of pure joy. Pack small, plays large; easy steps, but huge horizons. MOs are palm-sized flutes that weighs nothing, practically indestructable, makes big, beautiful sounds (without expending much effort to acquire and upkeep an embouchure), and has intuitive and responsive fingering. It has an octave and a third, which I (as a flutist) initially find limiting. Rumors is that Karl has prototypes that have an expanded range.

Aeropress. A little espresso maker, with gawd-awful packaging. Like the mountain ocarina, this doesn’t look pretentious, but is elegantly functional. The aeropress uses microfilter to make nice tasting espressos in 30 seconds, and cleans up in 5 seconds. I love things that are artfully chiseled down to its simplest.

** See Ian Hacking 1974, The Emergence of Probability.

*** See Clauset, A., Shalizi, C.R. & Newman, M.E.J. Power-law distributions in empirical data (2007). doi:10.1137/070710111 Python algorithm implemented by Keflavich.


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