Saturday, November 27, 2004

Fun With Marketing

Got something to sell? Want to advertise to your neighbors? Or just judge them by their purchases? Find out what kind of stuff they like to buy:

Demographics by zipcode

Isn't it handy that people can be so neatly divided into categories? Check out the full list, and find the stereotype that fits you best:


(both links via Making Light, a long time ago.)

But perhaps you're too busy to mess with door-to-door, or direct mail. Perhaps you'd prefer the convenience of bulk e-mail. In that case, you're going to need some names to put in the "from" lines:

Random Name Generator

(via Electron Blue, where there's an interesting article about it.)

Or perhaps you'll call people up during the dinner hour? Whether you do that or take the spam route, you'll want to give people a way to call you back to place their orders:

What does your phone number spell?

(via Ken, who is already brilliantly marketed. [the Harley Davidson guy at the bottom of the page is the best likeness.])

On the other hand, maybe you'd better go with something a little more cutting edge. Like viral marketing -- the flu's a big fad this season. Everyone's getting it, and it comes in a fetching green. (via someone on AFP.)

Friday, November 26, 2004


I'm thankful for:

The beer our landlord left for us as a reward for keeping the house nice.

The great dinner we had at Ken's dad's house last night, especially the delicious cherries and chocolate dessert his step-mom made. And for the opportunity to play with his little sisters. I miss babysitting.

The snow. And the forest preserve by Ken's apartment, which glittered yesterday.

The fact that Jewel Osco is right across the street, and offers thirty minute photo developing.

The Afghan restaurant on Devon, that left a menu on my doorstep this morning, and provides free delivery.

The cell phone my dad still pays for, which allowed me to talk to him, and my mom, and my brother, and my sister, and my grandpa, and my aunt-Mary, and my cousin (in a complicated way) Lynette, before they sat down for Thanksgiving dinner.

The fact that the circus is coming to town! We're going to try to go this weekend.

The blankets my mom bought me when she visited. My room is freezing.

The four day weekend, and the end of the academic quarter.

The public library, high speed internet, the Chicago Tribune, and CLTV.

Christmas lights.

My mom and dad, my sister and brother, all my aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents, and the new family I'm going to be getting, and the man I'm going to marry.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

November Poem

Has it been a week? But I've got three or four posts I'd like to put up, only I have the links bookmarked on a different computer for one of them, and I don't want to write the QFT one until the quarter's over, and I don't quite know what to say in the last, which was going to be about how it feels to be running out of classes to take. (It's a funny feeling.)

So for now I'll just do the easy thing and choose a poem for November. I find I'm in the mood for Browning, and for something sort of sad...

Youth and Art
by Robert Browning

It once might have been, once only:
We lodged in a street together,
You, a sparrow on the housetop lonely,
I, a lone she-bird of his feather.

Your trade was with sticks and clay,
You thumbed, thrust, patted and polished,
Then laughed "They will see some day
Smith made, and Gibson demolished."

My business was song, song, song;
I chirped, cheeped, trilled and twittered,
"Kate Brown's on the boards ere long,
And Grisi's existence embittered!"

I earned no more by a warble
Than you by a sketch in plaster;
You wanted a piece of marble,
I needed a music-master.

We studied hard in our styles,
Chipped each at a crust like Hindoos,
For air looked out on the tiles,
For fun watched each other's windows.

You lounged, like a boy of the South,
Cap and blouse--nay, a bit of beard too;
Or you got it, rubbing your mouth
With fingers the clay adhered to.

And I--soon managed to find
Weak points in the flower-fence facing,
Was forced to put up a blind
And be safe in my corset-lacing.

No harm! It was not my fault
If you never turned your eye's tail up
As I shook upon E in alt,
Or ran the chromatic scale up:

For spring bade the sparrows pair,
And the boys and girls gave guesses,
And stalls in our street looked rare
With bulrush and watercresses.

Why did not you pinch a flower
In a pellet of clay and fling it?
Why did not I put a power
Of thanks in a look, or sing it?

I did look, sharp as a lynx,
(And yet the memory rankles,)
When models arrived, some minx
Tripped up-stairs, she and her ankles.

But I think I gave you as good!
"That foreign fellow,--who can know
How she pays, in a playful mood,
For his tuning her that piano?"

Could you say so, and never say
"Suppose we join hands and fortunes,
And I fetch her from over the way,
Her, piano, and long tunes and short tunes?"

No, no: you would not be rash,
Nor I rasher and something over:
You've to settle yet Gibson's hash,
And Grisi yet lives in clover.

But you meet the Prince at the Board,
I'm queen myself at bals-paré,
I've married a rich old lord,
And you're dubbed knight and an R.A.

Each life unfulfilled, you see;
It hangs still, patchy and scrappy:
We have not sighed deep, laughed free,
Starved, feasted, despaired,--been happy.

And nobody calls you a dunce,
And people suppose me clever:
This could but have happened once,
And we missed it, lost it for ever.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Wish List

What do I want for Christmas? An end to hunger and injustice and indignity, and while you're out, peace on earth and good will toward all.

Thanks to the Hunger Site, it's occured to me that you can buy me some of that and some nifty playthings at the same time. The Hunger Site works by donating food (a little more than a cup of rice or wheat) to charity, for every day you look at their ads. They've been my homepage for a long time now, so I've seen a lot of their ads, and I want some of this stuff. For each of these items that you buy, you donate another fifty cups or so of food, and help keep the Hunger Site in business as well.

So you get that good feeling, along with the neat stuff, like recycled silk scarves, gloves, shoulder bags, and throw rugs. Or wooden Jacaranda hand-turned bowls, salad sets, and birch bark boxs (I like the oval one).

Those links just go to pictures. I can't figure out how to link directly to the catalog descriptions, so you'll just have to go to the store and search, I guess.

I'd rather have practical stuff than decorative stuff (I'm looking forward to a tiny but empty apartment in not so many months...) The Hunger Site is, unfortunately, a little short of that. As are Oxfam and Ten Thousand Villages even though I like their stuff as well, and they too offer the "good deed with every purchase" deal. (They also don't seem to have online catalogs, so you have to find a physical store.) But I figure someone must be selling dishes and blankets, so I searched a little and found that the Fair Trade Federation has a whole list of fair trade importers with online catalogs. (The one that I linked from the word "dishes" up there, "A Greater Gift," has a particularly large selection.)

This way you can get people unique, handmade, practical gifts, and also help people in third world countries support themselves. This is a longer term solution than mere donations. These countries need something they can sell to the west for a fair price, and handicrafts -- time and labor intesive -- could become a major export. Because if there's anything third world countries have, it's a labor force with time on its hands.

Buy this stuff, make a market for it. Most of these people would like nothing better than to earn their own living by working hard, taking pride in their craftsmanship. Start your Christmas shopping now, and make the world a better place.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Quantum Field Theory

Have I mentioned that Quantum Field Theory is kicking my butt? And the more I don't understand what he's talking about in class, the more discouraged and depressed I become about the whole thing, the less motivated I am to do the work I really need to do to keep up.

I have two main problems here. The first is the math. I'm completely lost by his notation, at this point. P's and P-slashes and a gagillion different gammas. I haven't got a clue what any of these symbols mean any more. Some of them are tensors (and incidentally, nobody has every formally taught me anything about tensors, beyond the ordinary matrix kind) and some of them are functions and some of them are operators, which might mean matrices or differentials or... Who knows. Sound hard? That's cause it is. But it really doesn't need to be. You can't convince me that there aren't clearer, unambiguous ways to write this stuff. You could start by actually writing all of it down, for instance, and not just assuming that there are greek indices "implied" or that we all know the expression you just wrote is supposed to be divided by 2m. You could write the steps that get you from one line to the next, instead of saying "I hope you're all filling these missing steps in." You could refrain from throwing terms out that we've never heard, in the service of some hideously complicated by irrelevant criticism you have of the someone else's work on the theory... (Although it is reassuring, somehow, that our professor knows the people who developed the theories we're learning now. We're starting to catch up. At least it's 1960s physics that's kicking my butt now, and not 1760s...)

And you could interpret things. That's my biggest wish. Just tell me what this is a model of. Tell me what these waves are supposed to represent. Tell me what the numbers I put in here measure. This is supposed to be our best description of the physical world, and we've lost contact with the physical world altogether.

I'm starting to develop my own interpretations, which I might post here, with lots of disclaimers, if I can word them a little better. I believe that anything which can't be put into layman's terms isn't real science. It has to answer questions that are independent of its formalism -- laymen's questions. So I want to make an effort, but I'm warning you now, I don't know what I'm talking about...

Quantum Field Theory is kicking my butt. Now I have to go to class.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

October Poem

I seem to have missed my monthly poem in October.

Normally I try to choose a poem that reflects my mood. This one doesn't. (I'm not that upset about the election results.) But I like it very much, and am going to post it anyway.

The World's End

Those who have visited the North Pole
Or other pubs beyond a two-mile limit
WIll know, at least by hearsay, this one, too.
Here is no glory of the Star and Garter,
Nor the obscure theology of the Goat and Compasses,
But a somewhat plain home truth,
That the world lives by labour and barter,
And all things, in the long run, end up shabby.

Here is the ash of history. But we recall
When fire came down from heaven and the house rocked
(A sensation mildly exhilerating to those in love with life)
And we remember tracer-bullets and the white flares,
And a general atmosphere of form and colour,
With possible extinction giving flavour to the stewed pears.

Well, here is the World's End, or so it seems,
But Oh, my love, tenacity is all:
'Her years of pain and glory' are not ended.
Silent, invisible, the bombs explode,
The dead and wounded walk the cancelled streets,
Colour and form run through the brittle pages,
And Time can crubmle all, but cannot touch
The book the burns, faster than we can read.

By Michael Roberts.

(I suspect it is about the London Blitz.)


These are sort of obligatory:

The New Star Wars Teaser Trailer

The Further Adventures of Alice and Bob -- Chad Orzel finds a paper which takes Eve the Eavesdropper's side.

Neil Gaiman is coming to town.

Multilingual Jabberwocky.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

I Voted

And I would like to thank The Chicagoist, the Chicago Tribune, and the Daily Northwestern for doing the research for me, along with the Cook County Clerk's office for letting candidates put up statements. This is how I make my choices for offices like Recorder of Deeds and Water Reclamation District Comissioner. I really like being able to vote corrupt people out of "minor" offices, and incompetent judges off the bench. It's exciting, knowing that a vote for Republican Richard Cox (I'm always glad when I can vote for a Republican or two, just because I don't want anyone to take my vote for granted) is a vote to dismantle the Recorder of Deeds office altogether, eliminating some conspicuous abuses of public funds, not to mention one six figure salary -- Cox has promised to take only a dollar.

It occured to me, as listened to my students talk yesterday about how futile it was to vote in Illinois because it wasn't a "swing state," and how the electoral college sucked... that the "swing state" thing really has very little to do with the electoral college. If we got rid of it and used the popular vote alone, then there would be no uncertainty in any state, in most elections, and everyone would feel like their vote was futile. Turnout would drop even lower than it already is. The real problem is all the advance polling, which is the only reason people feel like Illinois' results are a forgone conclusion.

I also wanted to remind the students that there are other elections, besides the presidential and senatorial ones. I wasn't a part of their conversation and anyway I'm the TA, so I kept my mouth shut. But I think they need to feel a little more local responsibility. I think they have a duty to vote out the current Cook County Recorder of Deeds.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Baseball, Lunar Eclipses, Homecoming, Fireworks, Bicycles, Pumpkin Patches, Oktoberfest, and Halloween

Back when I used to be less busy, I would write up experiences I partiularly wanted to remember. I'd write them in a diary or I'd write them for a website, or I'd write them up for a class or even a contest or school literary magazine, once upon a time. I haven't been doing that so much lately. And I think I'm missing things. it's too easy to forget all of the great moments and remember only the stress, which is not momentary.

Maybe I can still sketch some of the things that happened a while ago, as well as the more recent ones:

Ken and I went with his roommate Brian, and Brian's little boy Isaac, and Brian's Mom and brother, to a pumpkin "patch" which was really more like a pumkin theme park, with camel rides and ponies and a petting zoo and haunted houses and a really lame hay wagon and every kind of gourd you can imagine. It was a perfect bright fall day and I got free kettle corn because I complained that the bags were too big. Isaac went on the camel and the ponies and cried for his grandma, and Ken and I stuck our faces into the holes in a big wooden copy of American Gothic, and got our pictures taken. Brian bought $60 worth of pumkpins, and let me carve one of them with a Picasso punk, a cubist profile with a mohawk and both eyes on the same side of his head.

We put candles in them for the Oktoberfest party, an annual celebration in which Brian invites everyone he knows to drink lots of German beer. Beer of other nationalities is allowed if and only if it is a special Oktoberfest recipe. He's serious about this. I saw him send back a four pack of Guiness. He's saving the bottle caps to embed in the bar-top he's going to build. He also made T-shirts, and hung a couple of thousand streamers from the ceiling like a sort of shag carpetting, all red, black, and orange. Ken sat in a chair and as people arrived they dragged up chairs, forming a circle of followers. Everybody wants to be Ken's friend. All the guys who knew him in high school like to tell stories about him, legends, really. It was like watching a king with his courtiers.

He told them that he had just learned to ride a bike, and they all gave him a hard time. But he's impossible to tease. He just grins. He told them all it was great, it was fun, he was only a little sore... And it has been fun. We started off in a parking lot on campus, moved to an alley, and lately have been practicing in the forest preserve by his apartment. I go for my daily run, and he bikes along in front of me. There's deer, and migrating geese, and a pond with a weeping willow. Earlier there were amazing colors too, the trees all red and gold against a blue sky, but now they're bare. I took a jump rope out last time, and he watched me do the kind of jumps where you cross your arms. We skipped stones, and he practiced shifting gears on the way back.

That was just the other day, Halloween. We used the hour we gained from daylight savings time to do the bike ride, and then went back to his apartment to watch zombie movies for a while. I've finally seen "Dawn of the Dead" and "Dead Alive." Neither of them was even a little scary. We had apple cider and beer and worked on quantum field theory while we watched. Quantum field theory is kicking my butt.

We end up combining a lot of our fun with work. QFT during the Halloween movies, and little breaks from grading at 11PM on a Friday to go outside and watch the homecoming parade -- three bands, of which the high school band seemed the best drilled, and two Ghostbusters floats, of which the second was far superior, and Rocky Horror float with men in drag -- or fireworks, on one wonderful occasion a few weeks ago, a full fourth-of-July style show from the north campus beach, just for us. We assume they were just for us. There weren't that many other people around, after all, and we never heard of any other reason. They waited for us to come outside.

I don't think we were grading the day of the lunar eclipse, which was also the day the Red Sox won the World Series. (It had an all-around apocalyptic feeling.) We went to the Society of Physics students “bonfire” out by the lake. I had s’mores and he had coffee, and we watched the Earth’s shadow eat the moon. And Dr. Schmidt borrowed a guitar and played ‘60s folk songs, and I tried to sing along. We talked to some of our students. And then we went and watched and inning or two of the game in the student union. We ran into Carol and Paul who were doing the same, and they were good company. Paul is from Boston, and was holding his breath for the Red Sox. They went out to look at the eclipse between innings. We stayed until the top of the eighth and then went to the observatory, to see if we could watch the moon reappear through the telescope. The telescope is about a hundred and fifty years old, one of the biggest you can make that uses lenses instead of mirrors, and the observatory itself is wooden and red-lit and atmospheric, with a big rotating dome. Observatories are romantic places.

I’ve got pictures of most of this, but I don’t think I’ll try to post all of them. Maybe one or two. The moon pictures should be back soon.