Monthly Archives: February 2010

Pinoy Twee

I was looking in vain for YouTube footage of Orange Juice playing “Moscow Olympics” and discovered that there’s a band named after the song.  You’d guess such a band would be pretty good, and you’d be right.  But you might not guess they’d be from the Philippines!  I didn’t know before tonight that there’s a healthy scene of Filipino bands making pop records that sound like they were made 15 years ago in Sweden — see and hear, for instance, The Wentletraps.  (I like the instrumental “Vignettes.”)  I’d like to hear their cover of “Just Like Honey,” but I can’t find it online.  OK, maybe you knew there was a Filipino twee pop scene — but did you know there was a Filipino Christian twee pop scene?  These guys can’t be the only Christian pop band in the world called “Grace Period” but I’ll bet they’re the best.  (Listen:  “Can’t Get Away From You.”)

Anyway, if this is all too bright and sweet for you, cleanse that palate with a really disturbing ukulele version of “Helter Skelter” by Karinne Keithley.  OK, I’ll concede this is bright and sweet too.  But in a “Helter Skelter” kind of way.


Update:  Hey, here’s the Wentletraps playing “Just Like Honey”:

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Compressed sensing in Wired

My new Wired piece, about compressed sensing, is now online. For a more technical but still gentle introduction to the subject, see Terry’s blog post.

Update: Igor at Nuit Blanche has a great post clarifying what kind of imaging problems are, and aren’t, currently susceptible to CS methods.

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The postdocs crawl in, the postdocs crawl out

Though it messes up my nice conservation law, I should certainly also mention the two UW postdocs in number theory who leave us this fall, in both cases for tenure-track assistant professorships:  Amanda Folsom is moving to Rutgers, and Riad Masri to Texas A&M.

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I’m happy to report that both of my graduating Ph.D. students have settled on plans for the next few years.  Guillermo Mantilla-Soler will be a postdoc at UBC; Ekin Ozman will spend a year on an EPDI fellowship in Barcelona, Paris, and Bonn, and then will return to the US for a postdoc at UT-Austin.

Meanwhile, by the law of conservation of promising young number theorists, we have two new postdocs joining us at UW as part of our new RTG in algebraic geometry and number theoryDavid Brown, who just finished his Ph.D. under Bjorn Poonen at Berkeley, and Bryden Cais, a former student of Brian Conrad who comes to us from a CRM postdoc at McGill.


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Wisconsin math conquers Britain

This year’s winners of the Churchill Scholarship have been announced — and of the fourteen US undergraduates who will spend 2010-11 at Cambridge studying the sciences, three have studied math at UW!  Daniel Lecoanet is the first UW undergrad to win a Churchill in 30 years; he was my research assistant for two years, carrying out experiments on low-height points on P^1 over cubic fields that were essential to the production of this paper.  Two other winners, George Boxer from Princeton and Maria Monks from MIT, are former participants in Ken Ono’s star-studded REU program in number theory.

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Irrational likred

Deane Yang asks in comments:  “What athletes do you especially like?”  That’s actually what I was going to post about today anyway.  A short list, excluding people who play for teams I follow:  Rickey Henderson.  Manny Ramirez.  Barry Bonds.  Jim Thome.  Nomar Garciaparra.  Edgar Martinez.  Randall Cunningham.  Ricky Williams.  Jake Plummer.  Gus Frerotte.  Surya Bonaly.  Arantxa Sanchez.

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Irrational hatred and the Super Bowl

I had never seen Peyton Manning play football until the last five minutes of tonight’s Super Bowl.  But I always rooted against him.  Just didn’t like the guy, while not knowing anything about him.  I have the same sour feeling about some other athletes — Tiger Woods, Derek Jeter, Jim McMahon, Nancy Kerrigan, Michael Phelps — but these are all people I’ve seen play.

I found the last five minutes of the Super Bowl extremely satisfying, justifiably or not.

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Getting that A, by means fair and foul

This week’s Capital Times leads with a story on grade inflation at UW-Madison.  I’m with ex-chancellor John Wiley on this:  “Grade inflation is one of those topics that initially seem clear and simple, but become murkier and more confusing the longer you think about them.”  I more or less stand by what I wrote about grade inflation in Slate in 2002.  The discussion on grade inflation has improved since then, actually:  I think people generally understand now that our moral standing doesn’t rest on whether our shorthand for “student did fine, showed they basically learned the material, is about average among classmates” is “B+” or “C.”  The Cap Times focuses on the more important question of whether different grading standards between departments creates weird incentives for undergraduates.

“I’m trying to get into medical school and it’s frustrating,” says Sheala M_____, a junior majoring in pharmacology and toxicology.  “I can work my butt off and come out of school with a 3.5 in my major, and a women’s study major going pre-med can come out with a 3.9 due to a much easier schedule. All of my courses have very strict policies — some where only 10 percent or 20 percent can get A’s.”

If you like statistics and large .pdf files you can look directly at the source of the article’s numbers: the registrar’s data for GPA in every department in Madison in 2008-2009, broken down by course number and class year.  For instance:  Sheala M_____ is required to take statistics, pathology, and biochem, which have average GPAs around 3.  (All give well above 20% A’s.)  The courses in her major, on the other hand, will be  in the pharmaceutical sciences department, where the average undergrad GPA is 3.43 and 46% of the grades are A.  The corresponding figures for women’s studies are 3.5 and 48%; not much of a thumb on the med school admission scales.  (Remember, the women’s studies pre-med has to take orgo too!)  That said:  I think the weird incentives are real and I think they’re bad.

Meanwhile, at my alma mater, Winston Churchill HS in Potomac, MD, up to 50 students may have broken into the school computer system and changed their grades.    The description of WCHS’s current reliance on computer-graded multiple-choice tests is sort of depressing.  But the worst part is I now have to stop making fun of my friends who went to high school with Blair Hornstine.

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