Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Sesquipedalian

Somebody at the New York Times had little too much fun writing an obituary today. I would invite him to write a guest entry here, but that would un-monologue my blog and thus make its title a lie.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Cascade Mountain

I climbed Cascade Mountain (on the south side of Provo Canyon across from Mount Timpanogos) with my friend Brett yesterday. We didn't quite make it to the summit, but the climb was beautiful anyway. For details, take a look at my trip report and my pictures.





Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Nerds

Tonight one of my friends said that she's the biggest nerd that she knows. As a rebuttal, I'd like to present the first few lines of a paper that I turned in for a class yesterday:
Decision trees are simple models for multi-class classification problems. A decision tree classifies a vector of mixed discrete and/or continuous features by examining the most discriminative feature at each step, narrowing down the classification possibilities until only one remains.

Decision trees can be inferred from labeled data using supervised machine learning. Trees can optionally be pruned to correct for overfitting and thus improve their ability to generalize to unseen data.
So there. :)

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Queuing efficiency

OK. It's time for a little venting about something everyone deals with and no one likes: lines, or queues, for you folks across the pond.

A line is a sign of inefficiency that occurs when the rate of demand for a resource exceeds the rate of supply. As an engineering student who is also interested in economics, I look at lines from a practical point of view. I'm always trying to find ways to shorten or eliminate lines, or at least reduce the amount of time that I spend in them.

I often find myself silently wishing that someone would fix the problems with lines so that I wouldn't have to spend so much time standing around. But how do you fix a social problem as big as line behavior? Maybe I should work on getting it introduced as part of the national first grade curriculum. I could probably save the country $500 billion in productivity losses over the next 20 years. Maybe they'd put my face on a postage stamp—one that you would no longer have to stand in line at the post office to buy.

Failing that, I guess I could just blog about the situation instead.

Here goes.
  • What's the deal with buffets? They seem to be a magnet for questionable queue practices. For example, why does it seem that most buffet lines go down just one side of the table? It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that if the line goes down both sides, it will go twice as fast.
  • Also, who puts the napkins, forks, and cups at the beginning of the buffet line? That plugs up the beginning of the line, and it also slows down the rest of the line because you have to juggle all your utensils while you're trying to dish up your food. Put the accessories at the end, folks!
  • What's with the social stigma against cutting in a buffet line? You know how lots of times everyone is backed up at the liver (or whatever), and there's a giant gap after that at the rolls, and cookies, and baked beans, etc.? If I skip up ahead to the rolls, it doesn't slow anyone else down, but I feel like everyone will think I'm a bad person if I do. That doesn't stop me, though. (Really, a buffet swarm would be more efficient than a buffet line, but it doesn't preserve the first-in-first-out property.)
  • Change of venue: the sidewalk. BYU's hallways and sidewalks get pretty plugged up during class breaks. I hate it when I'm walking down a crowded sidewalk and someone just stops in front of me. If they looked around, they would realize that they had disrupted the vast current of students flowing behind them, slowing down hundreds of people. Next time you need to send a text message, be a little more aware of your surroundings and step off the sidewalk first.
  • For that matter, if you feel the need to talk to five of your best friends, don't do it right in the middle of a really busy sidewalk. There are better places.
  • Back to the buffet: you don't actually have to stand in line—at least not for very long. Most people go get in line right when the event starts, and many of those people have to wait quite a while to get to the front. Why not just wait in your seat where you can have a good conversation with your friends, and go get in line when it dies down? It's a lot more pleasant that way.
  • Have you ever been in a class where a bunch of signup sheets (or assignments to be returned, or whatever) have been passed around? If the pile is big enough, it snakes through the first two or three rows, but it doesn't makes it to everyone before class is over. There's a solution to the problem, inspired by a principle from computer processor design: pipelining. Instead of sending everything around in one giant pile, break it up into several smaller piles and send them around one after the other. The total amount of time that any one person spends going through everything will be the same (after all, there are still the same number of things to go through), but since the piles are smaller, they will move between people faster, and thus hopefully make it to everyone by the end of class.
Thanks for indulging me. Watch for this information coming to a first grade classroom near you.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Waterboarding

Many days, I'm proud to be an American. Today is not one of them.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Prince

Last summer I decided to read a book a month for the next year. It's now several months later, and I haven't done as well as I would have liked. Here's my current score:
You may notice a correlation between the school semester and my lack of reading. My plan at the beginning of the semester was to be in bed by 10p.m. so that I would have time to read before I went to sleep. However, that plan was foiled by something I hadn't planned on: I ended up liking my roommates. I mean, I didn't expect to dislike my roommates, but as it turned out, I apparently like hanging out with them more than I like reading.

In an effort to redeem myself a little, I stole a dusty, yellowing book from my parents' bookshelf over Christmas: Machiavelli's The Prince, a book considered by many to be one of the world's most influential political works. I read it over the last month, and I finished it just before the end of January.

Niccol├▓ Machiavelli, a 15th century Italian statesman, wrote The Prince as a treatise on how leaders should obtain and maintain kingdoms. The book is startling in its frankness and practicality. Machiavelli is firmly planted in the realist camp. He makes occasional references to deity and morality, but he clearly eschews idealism and moralism for what he considers more practical tactics.

One of the most interesting ideas that Machiavelli presents is that a leader must be esteemed as an exemplary person by his people, but that he must sometimes commit contemptible acts in private. He lauds successful hypocrites and double-crossers while faulting simpleminded, morally-driven leaders. In Machiavelli's eyes, results are all that matter, no matter how they are obtained.

I firmly disagree with many of Machiavelli's stances, mostly because I disagree with his definition of success. In my view of the world, acting morally is success, no matter the outcome. In other words, the success is in the journey, not the destination.

Next up: Hamlet. I've been reading it on and off for a few months, and I'd like to finish it this month.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Lone Peak


I climbed Lone Peak with a group from SummitPost last Saturday, almost exactly a year after I climbed the east ridge of the Pfeifferhorn with a group from the site last year, and a little over two years after I climbed Lone Peak in the summer with my friend Hyrum. Lone Peak sits right on the border of Utah and Salt Lake Counties, and last weekend's clear weather offered amazing views of the valleys all the way from Ogden to Nephi.

The climb was a 13-hour, 6.5-mile (one way) snowshoe hike, with a technical snow and rock ridge climb at the end. Thankfully, we joined up with a group from the Wasatch Mountain Club early in our hike, so there were lots of people available to take turns breaking trail. We were making fresh tracks through deep snow the whole way.

We faced high winds on several sections of the ridge that we climbed. The blowing snow and sun made for some beautiful pictures, but my face and neck felt like they had been sandblasted by the time I got back to the trailhead.

The knife-edge ridge at the top was the most fun part of the hike. We crossed on a narrow band of snow punctuated by two large rocks, and topped off by a rock chimney. On one side was a sheer face of snow, and on the other was a 50-foot section of 40┬║ snow terminated by sheer rock cliffs. A mistake on the ridge would have had drastic consequences, so we all (except for one crazy guy...) carried ice axes for self-belay while climbing, and for self arrest in case of a fall.

In one section we had to climb up over a big rock and then jump down four or five feet onto a narrow band of snow that sank a little every time someone jumped down onto it. That section proved to be pretty tricky to get back over on the way back, requiring a partner assist.

I got a little over three hours of sleep the night before the climb. I left Provo around 4 a.m., and we left the trailhead in Draper around 6 a.m. By the time I got back down to the trailhead around 7 p.m., I was completely exhausted. Thankfully, I carpooled with another climber, so I didn't have to drive back to Provo. I hit the sack soon after I got back to my apartment and didn't wake up for 13 hours. That's the longest I've slept in a long time.

For more details on the trip, check out: