Blog or Not?

A statistically improbable polymath's views on politics and culture.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005
Needlework for Nerds, Part Two
A crocheted hyperbolic plane.

It's purdy.

Monday, January 24, 2005
The Vegan Experiment is Dead. Long Live the Vegetarian Experiment!
The Vegan Experiment ended last night around midnight, when prompted by hunger pains I wolfed down a protein bar that I knew had milk solids in it. Screw giving up dairy--I don't have any ethical quandaries about dairy or eggs, and my body functions better with animal protein*. But since I do have unsettled ethics regarding the consumption of mammals and birds, I've decided to go ovo-lacto-(and perhaps pesco, as I don't think fish have moral agency)vegetarian until Thursday.

Lunch: One and one-half Boca Burgers with piece of Cheddar cheese, mixed greens with walnuts, tofu, olive oil and balsalmic vinaigrette, whole-grain bread, milk, coffee, Diet Pepsi

Mid-afternoon snack: Some kind of protein smoothie juice drink thing.

*Apparently this is partially hereditary: In his Commentaries, Pope Pius II notes that the common people of Scotland eat much meat and fish, but little bread or wine (in contrast to the common people of Italy). I'm predominantly of Irish and Scotch-Irish blood--I don't do well on high-carb regimiens.

Sunday, January 23, 2005
The Vegan Experiment--Meal One
Whole wheat pasta with spinach, olive oil, garlic salt, pepper, and this "Parma!" stuff made from walnuts and yeast. Applesauce. Sugar-free soy milk, cappuccino flavored.

I had tried to find tofu at three different small grocery/convenience stores in Hyde Park--the Maroon Mart, University Market, and Harper Foods--and was unsuccessful. At University Market I encountered a deli clerk who didn't know what tofu was, which reminded me that veganism is a classist exercise. Pretty much anyone at any income level can become an ovo-lacto vegetarian, or even a lacto-vegetarian--eggs, milk, and cheese are inexpensive when compared to meat--but the myriad protein substitutes required for a healthy vegan diet are expensive, and not covered by food stamp programs.

I was discussing this with a vegetarian friend* when preparing the above meal, and he asked if I was going to be vegan for a long time. When I replied, "only until Thursday", he then launched into his Rant on Vegans, the core of which is "Vegans are sanctimonious and want to convert everybody"; offshoots include "Vegans claim that they invented vegetarianism in Berkeley" and "They're out Gandhi-ing Gandhi". Admittedly, the vegans I met with this morning do seem infused with a missionary-esque zeal... but I shall withhold further judgement until dinner on Monday.

*Who shall remain nameless, as he may show up for free food during Vegan Week.

The Vegan Experiment--Introduction
Currently it's Vegan Week here at Chicago, meaning that the Vegan Society is even more aggressive in its campaign for an animal-free lifestyle. They make it really tempting--they give you free food from Cedars of Lebanon, the Chicago Diner, and other cool places, plus free product samples. All you have to do is pledge to be vegan for a week.

So today (after brunch--cheese ravioli, ham and cheese omelette, salad with bleu cheese, cow's milk), because I felt guilty about taking free samples of non-dairy "Parmesan" topping and Dr. Brommer's soap while still eating meat--I pledged to be vegan for the rest of Vegan Week (until Thursday). Now, I'm probably not the person best adapted for going vegan. I'm slightly hypoglycemic, and I try to eat low-glycemic carbohydrates. At the dining hall, this usually translates into eating a rather good quantity of meat. I appreciate the vegetarian rational for not eating meat--given the right resources (read: really good cheese), I could see myself easily adapting to an ovo-lacto lifestyle with the occasional humanely-farmed steak--but I really don't see the moral injunction against drinking milk from well-treated cows on a family farm somewhere in Vermont.

However, I do have a stockpile of soy milk (it was on sale at the Co-op), beans, brown rice, frozen spinach, olive oil, whole-grain or low-carb pasta, and various spices. If I buy a packet of tofu and some canola oil today, I might be able to do this.

Friday, January 21, 2005
Needlework for Nerds
The worlds of mathematics and crochet intersect when British mathematicians crochet a Lorenz manifold model.

Via SuperNaturale

Wednesday, January 19, 2005
Finally, the truth about sex-based differences in mathematics revealed!
This is a short outline of a rather neat little hypothesis I've had cooking for awhile, reawakened by the Summers controversy. Enjoy.

1. The only area of brain function remotely related to science or mathematics where men consistently out-perform women is in three-dimensional spatial reasoning. I'm not sure how much of a role this plays in biology, chemistry, and physics, but as a mathematician I can state with a high level of confidence that the skill remains utterly unused until multivariate calculus--a level of math usually reached (if at all) in college*.

2. The (incredible shrinking!) gender gap in mathematics begins to appear around middle school; hence, three-dimensional imaging cannot be used to explain the gender gap.

3. One factor which does impact mathematical performance is iron levels; a study shows that mildly anemic teenage girls scored lower on math exams than their peers. Often such anemia occurs due to menstruation.

4. The mean age of menarche in the United States is 12.43--right about middle school!

The hypothesis suggested by 2, 3, and 4--that lower math test scores in adolescent girls are primarily the result of menstruation-related iron deficiency--fits the evidence we have so far quite nicely, whereas Dr. Summers's vague incantation of "innate gender differences" seems--dare I say it?--unscientific.

*[But doesn't this affect college students in math?--ed.] In my experience, probably in multivariable calculus and linear algebra, but not to a degree where computer visualizations couldn't help. In more theoretical math (as well as more theoretical physics), everything you know about the planet Earth goes out the window. However, an area of science that seems to me quite reliant on spatial reasoning, the molecular and chemical biosciences, is full of female Ph.D candidates.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005
I have never felt happier about the U of C
Yes, it's freezing, and difficult, and people mistake us for UIC all the time. But at least our university president isn't horribly embarrassing:

The president of Harvard University prompted criticism for suggesting that innate differences between the sexes could help explain why fewer women succeed in science and math careers.


Summers said the comments were made ``in the spirit of academic inquiry'' and his goal was to underscore the need for further research to understand a situation that is likely due to a variety of factors.


``It's possible I made some reference to innate differences,'' he said. He said people ``would prefer to believe'' that the differences in performance between the sexes are due to social factors, ``but these are things that need to be studied.''

Why am I suddenly reminded of those "studying too hard will atrophy your ovaries" arguments produced during the nineteenth century? (Or the related arguments which said that mathematicians and physicists required robust, manly bodies.)

He also cited as an example one of his daughters, who as a child was given two trucks in an effort at gender-neutral upbringing. Yet he said she named them ``daddy truck'' and ``baby truck,'' as if they were dolls.

You mean we can cite personal anecdotes to support general arguments about all of humanity? Sweet! You know, I won the American Mathematics Competition in my high school when I was a junior--I beat out people who had the equivalent of one and a half years of math instruction on me. And yes, Dr. Summers, my school was co-ed.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a logic problem set to complete.

(Maureen Craig is a third-year undergraduate student majoring in mathematics at the University of Chicago)

UPDATE: Hanna Gray, President Emerita (and one of my professors), believes Summers was misinterpreted. That may be the case, but Dr. Summers really should have reflected upon the fact that although he was explicitly speaking as an independent economist, his thoughts implicitly reflect on Harvard University.

Sunday, January 16, 2005
UPDATE: More on Prince Harry's Nazi Costume
(Via Josh Cherniss by way of Phoebe Maltz): Apparently Harry didn't originally want an Afrika Corps uniform*--he wanted an SS uniform.

Is there a way for Parliament to remove someone from the succession for being "deeply, deeply embarrassing"? I mean, if they can bar Catholics from it in one go....

*a uniform which, despite being used by an evil, evil regime, was worn by soldiers in Africa who did not directly participate in the Holocaust; furthermore, this costume would have been more appropriate to a "Colonials and Natives" party.

Thursday, January 13, 2005
It's the Reg!
Gapers Block has just posted a rather unusual view of the Reg, one which actually makes it look--oh, wait, it still looks like a Stalinist prison. But an elegant Stalinist prison.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005
Reason #101, 263 why limited monarchy is a Good Idea
Witness Prince Harry's fine sense of political acumen as he wears a Nazi costume to a fancy-dress party.

Now, I don't think this is an indication of anti-Semitism on the Prince's part--there's a certain style cachet to the uniforms of evil empires (witness the Sovietski catalog*). But a civilian without a government position can get away with this sort of thing--he's representing himself, not a nation. Besides, if my great-uncle were a well-known Nazi sympathizer, I'd try to distance myself from that sort of thing no matter what my position.

Sadly, Harry may become King of England (and Scotland, and Wales, and...) one day, as William's reluctance to lead a royal life is well-known. Yet William shows better political judgement than his brother, as shown by his choice of a "lion and leopard skin print top and tight black leggings" for the party. What? The Tudor men wore tights, and don't even get me started on Prince Albert's proclivities for tight white trousers without underwear (as documented in Victoria's diaries during their courtship).

*Although the USSR was only truly diabolically evil during Stalin's reign.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005
Northsiders. Can they ever see beyond their own backyard?
Apparently not.

Gapers Block claims that "[i]f you ever shopped at your very own grocery Co-op, well, you probably didn't do it here [in Chicago]." Funny, what about the Hyde Park Co-Op Markets? Okay, so they're not that great, and they're not all granola-y, but they're still a co-op.

So what group of people wants to make this "new co-op thing" a reality in Chicago? The residents of the "Logan Square/Humboldt Park/Wicker Park/Ukrainian Village area". Is it just me, or do those neighborhoods make Lincoln Park seem outwardly focused?

Sunday, January 09, 2005
The "Grammer Police" Award
I, Maureen Craig, do hereby nominate myself for Feministe's 2005 "Grammer Police" award on the basis of the following:

1. My status as a grammar god

Grammar God!

2. My tendency to have footnotes regarding grammar and gender


Wednesday, January 05, 2005
Wouldn't a nice gift certificate do?
Via The Morning News, I see that Harper's has re-printed an 1992 article from Handgunning magazine complaining about how damned difficult (and illegal) it is to surprise a loved one with a shiny new Colt .357 magnum under the Christmas tree. Now, there are a lot of Christmas gifts you can't put under the tree--the actual trip to Hawaii, the Lexus, the--oh, wait, I guess you could put "performance art" under the tree after the kids go to bed. So I'm not sure why people are so upset about this. But I'm from Tennessee, and I know that many people are concerned about this issue. So here goes.

This may surprise some of my readers, but I have held and fired guns. I have watched people buy guns. And although I've no intention of ever buying one myself, I've figured out that buying a gun is a really personal thing. You've got to figure out how it feels in the hand--you want something where the balance fits your hand, not the hand of your brother-in-law. (Rather like shopping for pens at Levenger in Marshall Field's on State Street, come to think of it). It's like buying a bra as a gift, except more expensive and you can't pull the trick of buying the same gun in a different color.

But let's say you want to buy someone a gun that you know they're going to like (because they keep trying it out at the gun store/shooting range). You can just give the store the money for the gun and have them keep it until they pick it up after Christmas. Then you can take a picture of the gun, put it in a pretty box, and watch the delight upon your loved one's face on that special occasion as they see a picture of their new shotgun waiting for them tomorrow at Hank's Firearms. It's just like dropping the Lexus keys in the stocking, except with a few more legal forms.

Monday, January 03, 2005
Lamest. Update. Ever.