Monthly Archives: February 2006


I gave that lecture today in math class. I think it went over pretty well. I made light of messy algebra and our textbook’s tendency to make absurd leaps, and I think my derivation was reasonably clear.

I am now working on a homework problem that ends with the statement “(Ben suggested this approach in class.)”. I did, in fact, suggest this approach in class, when he asked how to prove a particular statement. Unfortunately, I have no idea how to make this approach work.

I hope to figure that out momentarily.

My Beard

I’ve had a beard for about the past ten months, over which time I’ve been conducting an informal poll to determine if people like it. And by people, I mean women below the age of thirty.

It’s beginning to look like the majority is in favor of beardless Ben. So comment now to Save Ben’s Beard, or I’ll be back to my old clean-shaven self shortly.

Perhaps a good idea

Today is my mom’s birthday, and it is, in her words, “a big one”. I wanted to give my mother something special, but as I am uncreative and do not have the means to buy her a motorcycle or a merry-go-round, I gave up on tangible things. Instead, I decided to surprise her at home (it’s about a three hour drive). My cell phone isn’t working, so my excuse would be that I couldn’t call her to wish her a happy birthday.

When I got home my mom’s car was in, but the garage door was closed. That seemed peculiar. I wandered through the house but no one was there, so I called Dad at work and asked him where mom was. He explained that she was in Florida for the week, and I should call Holly (my sister, who lives in Florida) to get in contact with her, as she’d turned off her cell phone.

So I looked up Holly in our phone book and called her. Holly gave me Aunt Steffi’s home and cell numbers, and told me that Steffi had lent Mom her cell phone. So I called Steffi’s cell phone and got Steffi, who had borrowed back her phone from Mom while Mom was at Steffi’s house. So then I called Steffi’s home phone number, and got Mom.

Mom was happy to hear from me, and surprised that I came home. We talked for a while, and I learned that she bought an apartment/condo in Florida. It was worth coming home just for the conversation.

Afterward, I called Dad and we went out to dinner. I should do that more often. We talked about algorithms on microcontrollers.

I love my parents.


I had a Chorallaries rehearsal last night until midnight, so I was up until 3 AM working on a problem set for 18.104. I was also scheduled to give a half-hour lecture in that class (on the Stirling approximation to the [tex]\Gamma[/tex]-function, if you must know).

I arrived early today and found a note on the door:

Class cancelled.
Homework due next week.

Very frustrating, these sorts of notes.

Incidentally, when I biked over the bridge this morning the river was partially frozen again. It’s probably thawed by now, though.


I have a beautiful view out my window of the Charles River. I bike across it every day, and as a former rower take a deeper look at it than most passersby. Over the past four days, I have observed as
Eights rowed by,
the river froze,
the river thawed,
Eights rowed by.

It is a sort of dance between the crews and the weather.


There are these moments, at MIT, when one suddenly realizes just how much work one has, and just how little time to do it.

I have just had one of those moments. It was not pleasant.


Low Productivity

Academically, I have achieved very little today. Instead, I have:
1. Spent time with friends.
2. Recorded the bass-line to Time Like These for the Chorallaries.
3. 1 and 2 simultaneously.

I suppose there are worse ways to spend a day.


Last night (or really, the night before last) I attended a lecture by Walter Bender on the One Laptop Per Child project. This project, also referred to as the $100 laptop project, is an MIT spinoff non-profit whose goal is to produce enormous quantities of low-cost hardware targetted at the educational market, especially in developing countries.

Four years ago, the idea of a $100 laptop seemed audacious, even absurd. Today it seems rather reasonable. After all, you can get one from Dell for $449, and you can get a portable DVD player for $80. There is a reasonable question: are they wasting their time trying to achieve the inevitable? Walter had a great response to this: OLPC is merely trying to accelerate the inevitable.  They hope that once they’ve built 10 million $100 laptops as a nonprofit, the rest of industry will jump in and turn it into a competitive market segment.

When the OLPC project declined to use Microsoft Windows despite Bill Gates offering it for free, Gates responded by publicly suggesting that the children in question might be served better by high-powered cell phones.  Walter countered this suggestion in a way that I found especially convincing.  He claims that there is an enormous difference between “phone culture” and “computer culture”.  The point of OLPC is to create a culture of creativity, and cell phones don’t seem to encourage that.  People who write programs for their computers write them on their computers; people who write programs for their phones don’t write them on their phones.  In Walter’s words, “phones don’t come with compilers”.  This rings especially true to me, as my entire academic career can be traced to the inclusion of the QBASIC interpreter in MS-DOS 5.0, which came with the 386 my grandfather bought me at the age of 7.

OK, I really need to go to sleep.  Incidentally, I’ve just upgraded my weblog software, so if something has gone haywire, let me know.


I got into Stanford Applied Physics. This means the only people left to hear from are MIT Physics.

And who wants two degrees from the same department, anyway?

This also means that I’m (probably) going to California around April 7.

Who wants to meet me in CA?

Beautiful Day

The weather today was wonderful. Warm air, cold snow, and a deep, clear blue sky.

Something about the temperature and visibility made it an excellent day for watching contrails. Two stuck out over the course of the day, both probably departures from Logan airport. One was so crisp that all four engines left distinct contrails behind the plane. The two inner trails seemed to point toward each other, while the outer pair spread further out.

The other one, perhaps left by a plane in a holding pattern, was a perfect S curve. It reminded me of a skier’s parallel tracks in the snow.