For my September 2008 diary, go here.

Diary - October 2008

John Baez

October 13, 2008

Not much here lately. As usual, the amount I write in this diary is inversely proportional to the amount I'm doing.

Whoops - that's not true! As a mathematician, I should be more precise about these things. Here's the actual truth: if T is the number of hours I spend per day writing my diary, and t is the number of hours I spend doing other things, then:

T = 24 - t

This is the First Law of Blogging.

Anyway, today we've been hit by Santa Ana winds. They're no big deal here — at least not yet. But further west, north of Los Angeles, they've been spreading wildfires:

Residents evacuating their homes this morning.
Photo by Dan Steinberg/Associated Press

October 14, 2008

I remember being electrified by Laurie Anderson's song "O Superman" as a college student... and I've enjoyed her work ever since. I hardly ever go to concerts, but tonight Lisa and I went to a concert by her at UCR: part of her Homeland tour. The concert consisted mainly of dark reflections on American politics: even the few humorous songs like "Only an Expert" sank quickly into the grim spirit of political life here. The most cheerful moment came at the end, when her husband Lou Reed came out to join her, playing scalding electric guitar and singing along on "The Lost Art of Conversation". You can see a mellower version here — but unfortunately he doesn't sing on that. His voice is instantly recognizable to anyone schooled in rock, so it was great to hear him!

October 23, 2008

I'm visiting Matt Ando and Eugene Lerman at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Today I gave two talks: a math/physics seminar on classifying spaces for 2-groups, and a colloquium talk on the number 8.

Right now I'm lying in bed trying to keep from getting a cold, watching the news. (Only in hotels do I watch TV in bed.) The news is solidly about the presidential election 12 days from now: every tiny portent is carefully analyzed. The wind is blowing in Obama's favor, both in big ways and tiny ones.

Big ways: election projections based on state polls are down to giving McCain a 0.0% chance of winning! Last night it was 0.1%.

And tiny ways: the latest news blips involve outrage about Sarah Palin's $150,000 wardrobe paid for by the Republican National Committee, and McCain's article in the Washington Times lashing out against George Bush:
"Spending, the conduct of the war in Iraq for years, growth in the size of government, larger than any time since the Great Society, laying a $10 trillion debt on future generations of America, owing $500 billion to China, obviously, failure to both enforce and modernize the [financial] regulatory agencies that were designed for the 1930s and certainly not for the 21st century, failure to address the issue of climate change seriously," Mr. McCain said in an interview with The Washington Times aboard his campaign plane en route from New Hampshire to Ohio.

"Those are just some of them," he said with a laugh, chomping into a peanut butter sandwich as a few campaign aides in his midair office joined in the laughter.


He rejected Mr. Bush's use of issuing "signing statements" when he signs bills into law, in which the president has suggested that he would ignore elements of the bills, labeling them potentially unconstitutional.

"I would veto the bills or say, 'Look, I don't like it but I'll obey the law that's passed by Congress and signed by the president.' I think the signing statements was not a correct implementation of the power of the executive. I think it was overstepping," he said.

And Mr. McCain emphatically rejected Mr. Bush's claims of executive privilege, often used to shield the White House from scrutiny.

"I don't agree with that either. I don't agree with Dick Cheney's allegation that he's part of both the legislative and the executive branch," he said.

Too bad he didn't say this earlier and more often. As this point, it comes across as desperate.

Since I don't want a Republican choosing the next two Supreme Court justices, pandering to the rich and the "religous Right", and trying to drill our way out of the energy crisis, I'm very happy. But since the Democrats have lost the last two elections against one of the worst candidates in history, I'm not counting my chickens until they've hatched.

October 30, 2008

Greg Egan is back from Iran! It was his first trip outside Australia. He'll probably have more to say about this himself, later. I'm sort of jealous — but I'm glad he let me show you some photos he took.

Here's a tiling with five-fold symmetry from the Friday Mosque in Isfahan:

Tilings of this general sort were discovered by the mathematician Penrose, but it turns out Penrose was beaten to the punch: you can see them in Islamic architecture from the 1600s! In week247 of This Week's Finds I showed some examples — like this, also from Isfahan:

From the Darb-i Imam shrine in Isfahan, Iran.

I found that photo here:

Lu and Steinhardt also discuss the mosque Egan visited!

Here are some photos he took in the marvelous ancient city of Yazd:

The second one shows a bad gir, or windcatcher — a natural cooling system based on the Bernoulli effect. They're especially effective in conjunction with a qanat — an underground water tunnel, commonly used for irrigation in the Middle East. I gave a detailed intro to qanats back on August 31. Here's how people combine a qanat and a windcatcher:

I love the idea of this sort of system, since it doesn't use any external power source — just the wind, water and the laws of physics. Green technology, centuries old!

Here's a picture of Yazd from an Iranian tourist website:

I wanna go there! I was a bit scared of the Islamic morality squads, but Egan says everyone he met was friendly: "Really, unless you felt compelled to wander the streets half-naked drinking alcohol and behaving lasciviously with your wife, I don't think you'd find anything the least bit arduous about visiting the place."

For my November 2008 diary, go here.

I am new enough on the national political screen that I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripe project their own views. As such I am bound to disappoint some, if not all of them. Which perhaps indicates a second, more intimate theme to this book — namely how I or anybody else in public office, can avoid the pitfalls of fame, the hunger to please, the fear of loss, and thereby retain that kernel of truth, that singular voice within each of us that reminds us of our deepest commitments. - Barack Obama

© 2008 John Baez