All entries for March 2009

March 30, 2009

Periodic Table Songs

I'm currently trying to assemble a collection of songs, whose names are all elements of the periodic table (one song per element). At the moment, I have "Hydrogen" by Thea Gilmore, "Helium" by Skyclad (there's another one by Front Line Assembly but it's rubbish), "Lithium" by Evanescence and "Oxygen" by New Found Glory. And then "Kryptonite" by 3 Doors Down, which is probably the closest I'll get to Krypton.

Does anyone know any others?

March 29, 2009

Pi Day and more

Accoring to Wiktionary, this is the definition of a blog:


blog (plural blogs)

  1. personal or corporate website in the form of an online journal, with new entries appearing in sequence as they are written, especially as dealing with reflections or opinion, and typically incorporating links to other articles.
  2. An entry in a blog.

And according to UrbanDictionary:

1. blog 2345 up444 down love ithate it
Short for weblog. 
A meandering, blatantly uninteresting online diary that gives the author the illusion that people are interested in their stupid, pathetic life. Consists of such riveting entries as "homework sucks" and "I slept until noon today." 

Both definition seem to suggest that the entries in a blog should look like journal or diary entries. Hence, I apologise for the lack of details on personal events in my life. To make up for it, I'll write a small blog on what's been going on recently. It's not that I particularly enjoy writing such posts - indeed I'd much rather write something on the book behind Slumdog Millionaire, or an Anosmia FAQ - but I feel that posts like these ought to appear from time to time on a blog. Here goes.

Saturday 14th of March: start of Easter Break. And more importantly, International Pi Day! Given that the 14th of March would be written as 3.14 in American, this day has been chosen as an annual holiday in celebration of the mathematical constant pi. I had a Programming project due the following Monday, but I still managed to find the time to buy ingerdients and bake a pie (as any self-respecting mathematician would on Pi Day). I then proceeded to offer a slice to anyone still lurking around in Knightcote, and was very disappointed by how few people knew about this day. Some even thought it was something I'd made up myself. I must've loo ked like a lunatic. Anyway, here's the pie:

Pi Pie

Other Pi Day activities include learning digits of Pi, and doing the Pi Dance. One year, hopefully, I'll manage to gather enough other mathematician (or pseudo-mathematicians, like physicists, computer scientists or, God forbid, statisticians), so that we may have a true Pi Day Celebration.

Thursday 19th March: Going home. That is, back to Brussels, Belgium (is that still home? I honestly don't know any longer). The inexistant stalker who's been attentively reading every post of this blog, may wonder why my home is not somewhere in Denmark. Well, having Danish parents makes me Danish, but I was born and raised in Brussels. Danish is still my mother tongue. And no, I don't speak "belgianese". I speak French, but not Flemish.
So anyway, going back to Brussels means getting a bus to Coventry (20min), getting a train from Coventry to London (1h30min), walking from Euston to St-Pancras (5-10 min), waiting an hour or more in St Pancras because you're too early, getting your train from London to Brussels (2h30min), and then lose one hour because of time zone differences. But I'm not complaining, I actually quite enjoy riding trains.
This time, though, there was a problem at St-Pancras. I'd taken the wrong tickets with me. Don't ask. I'll spare you the details, but I managed to get a duplicate of my ticket got on the train just in time. Even though I'd walking around idly for more than an hour, doing nothing. Oh yes, I spent some time looking for a god-damned bin, in the entire St-Pancras train station, and concluded that there wasn't one. Minutes later I noticed that people were actually hired to walk around with wheeled bins. For anti-terrorism purposes, I presume.

Thursday 26th March: Finished watching Neon Genesis Evangelion. Fortunately, I was prepared for the rather quizzical and open ending. And you know what? To me, the ending was just as I wanted it! I have my own interpretation of what happened after the attack of Tabris, the meaning and goals of Seele, the goal of Gendo Ikari, and why the Angels attack. What I especially like about the ending is precisely how open it is: it is up to the viewer to come up with a coherent and consistent explanation to various events and statements in the series; while in the same time, hints are scattered through the anime as to what the "true" explanation is. All that being said, I shall probably watch The End of Evangelion one day, and see how that ending fits with my ideas.

29th March: Finished reading The Discomfort Zone by Jonathan Franzen. It's an autobiography, and it's the first biography I've ever read that I actually enjoyed. Alright, I've only read two or three, but that's because biographies usually don't appeal to me, I need some fiction. But this one was a delight to read! Chances are that the reason I liked it is because I can relate to what he says, so I guess reading a biography is a very personal experience. Still, the book in itself is quite nicely written, it's both reflective and funny.

Next book on the list: The Long Walk by Stephen King (under his pen name Richard Bachman). Maybe I should use this blog to write book reviews...

March 28, 2009

The No Longer Missing N

Follow-up to The Missing N: Genesis from The Missing N

I knew this time would come eventually.

A kind soul named Matthew - sorry, Mathew - Mannion (I assume he's working for the IT department or something) read my first post, and informed me that I could get the url of the blog corrected and that the Student Records Office should be able to fix the typo in my name. I am, of course, talking about the N that was missing in my surname.

I followed Mathew's advice, and everything is now in order - except my email, which I don't want to change at this stage anyway. When I post comments my name is correctly spelt, when I log on to my.warwick my name is correctly spelt, etc. I won't cry victory too early, but it would seem that I've managed to eradicate the issue about the missing N. Which is really cool!

As a consequence, the name of my blog has now become meaningless and cryptic. Which was actually the way I wanted it to be in the first place... :)

March 27, 2009

Vicious Circle

Alexander's Alternative Definition

Vicious Circle (noun): Phenomenon occurring when playing WipeOut on Phantom Speed Class. You hit a wall, causing you to glance quickly at your energy bar. If you don't look at the track for a second, you are bound to hit yet another wall. This in turn forces you to check your energy bar energy bar again to make sure you still have enough to complete the race; and so on ad destructum.

March 07, 2009

Google Trends

Google Trends is a marvellous toy!

For those of you who don't know, Google Trends is a tool that allows you to get an idea of how often a word has been searched for since 2004. More precisely, it plots the search frequency of the term relative to its average frequency, over time. In other words, you type a search term, hit enter, and you can see at what moments in the last few years people on the Internet have been searching a lot for that term. For example, if you type "umbrella", you get the following graph:

Google Trends: Umbrella

In this case, there's a clear peak in 2007, when Rihanna's hit 'Umbrella' came out, and everyobody went online to search for the lyrics.

I've been playing around with Google Trends and have discovered a few things I thought I'd share with you. Now, usually when you search for something, it returns a chaotic graph with no clear trends, apart from a spike here and there. But if you know what to search for, you can get some pretty neat results.

First, the yearly cycles. The obvious ones are words like "Christmas", "Easter", "Valentine's Day", "Talk Like A Pirate Day", etc., which obviously peak at a very specific point every year. The word "gift" also peaks in December. More generally, when searching for other typical presents, there are usually more hits before and after Christmas. Words like "gloves" and "snow" are a lot more prominent in winter, whereas the graphs for words like "sunglasses" and "bicycles" are higher in summer. All this sounds a bit dull and rather obvious, but the amazing thing is how similar the years look. For example, "cheap flights" are above average in the summer, with a peak in July, and then decline all the way to December, before experiencing a sharp rise just after Christmas, before settling down to average. And it's like that every year! Try some other words out for yourself (More on "cheap flights" further down).

Second, there are the increasing curves. These are when you search for companies or phenomena that have gained more and more popularity over the years. Examples include Hotmail, Gmail, Wikipedia, XKCD, YouTube and iTunes (the last one incidentally also happens to peak around Christmas). The graph I'll include here is the one for Facebook, because it is such a perfect illusration of an exponantial curve. Makes you wonder if the Facebook succes is going to keep increasing like this. I'd like to point out that the MySpace curve is nowhere this neat.

Google Trends: Facebook

Other Internet phenomena and memes can also be explored in the same way. For instance, "2girls1cup" has a peak in late 2007, and so do all its alternate spellings. You can also get a pretty good estimate of different animes' popularity, and compare them. Or see how HappyTreeFriends searches have declined in recent years. Loads of possibilities.

Now, we get to the point where I'll explain why I went on Google Trends in the first place: to see if there were any early signs of the actual economical crisis. The short answer is 'not really'. "Financial crisis" doesn't kick in until late 2008. Economic depression only appears beginning of 2008, dies out in the summer, and comes back about the same time as "financial crisis", when everyone suddenly woke up and realised that the economy would lie in ruins within a few months. Searches for "unemployment" started in 2008. "Recession" is slightly more indicative: something started happening in mid-2007, and then in 2008 it immediately went berserk. That's better, but still not early enough to be noteworthy. "Cheap flights" (mentioned earlier) has been steadily decreasing since 2004, because people have had less money to go on holidays I presume, but the decline has been too slow to make people aware of the looming crisis. "Debt" has stayed average over the years, and is of no use whatsoever. So much for the warning signs. As my IQE lecturer said: "No-one, and I mean no-one, could have predicted this crisis." And he said it without realising the obvious corollary: Macroeconomics doesn't work.

Now, what surprised me is what happened when I searched for "Great Depression". I was expecting a curve that would suddenly skyrocket in 2008. This is what I got:

Google Trends: Great Depression

Of course, there's a clear boost summer 2008, but what about the years before that? Yearly cycles?! Are people more predisposed to search for "Great Depression" in spring?? Why is there always a minimum during the summer? Even the quick drop-and-rise around Christams appears every year! I have absolutely no idea why the search history looks so repetitive, but it must mean something. Any ideas?

Anyway, try out Google Trends for yourself, it's great fun. And maybe, in a few years, it'll have become an important research tool... Who knows?

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