Where am I?

Yeah, just got the following from campus security here at UMD - that's right, College Park MARYLAND:


July 31, 2008
There have been several reliable sightings of an animal fitting the
description of a cougar on the campus.  The description of the sighted
cat is: light tan and tawny brown, about 4 feet long with a 4 foot tail,
and weighing about 50 pounds.  Several sightings have been reported from
the area of Cole Field House, near the Clarice Smith Performing Arts
Center, and continuing through the wooded areas to the area of the
Comcast Center and Arena Drive Garage.  There has been no report of
aggressive behavior on the part of the animal, but community members are
warned that cougars are a predatory species and that, if seen, the
animal should not be approached.

If you see the animal, please contact the university police at
301-405-3555.  University police are working with other agencies to
remove the animal from the campus area.


A friend of mine has said that she's heard reports from reliable people of cougars in the woods in northeastern PA, and sure, I've been seeing a lot of deer here in College Park when I walk the dog through the "woods", but cougars?  Geez, where am I?

We're thinking of going cougar hunting, since the sightings are in the area of the astro building.


Fucking Squirrels

Back to the peach tree. I was out looking at it yesterday and figured the time was getting close to pick all the peaches, so this morning I grabbed a bit pot in one hand and Sarah in the other hand to go pick them. When I got into the back yard, I saw squirrels scatter and saw a peach on the ground and though "Wow, good thing I'm doing this now."

Turns out I should have done it yesterday. Besides the half-eaten peach on the ground, everything was gone. There weren't even pits left. All of my pretty little peaches became squirrel food. Fuckers.

The good news is that we had picked a few (few=4 in this case) peaches over the last couple of days to try them and they were actually pretty good. Good peach flavor and decent juiciness although they could have been a touch sweeter. Now only to be found in squirrel stomachs.


Store closings

During Kirsten's pregnancy, I took a picture of her every week with my large-format camera to trace how everything was developing. Back when I lived in Seattle, it was a short walk to the best photo lab in town and I built some professional relationships there and have been mailing them my film for the last 7 years. On Friday, I got the box with the most recent pictures of Kirsten back in the mail with a stamp saying "package returned, company out of business".

It's really kind of crazy how odd this seems. The lab had been in existence for 30 years before I started using them and they've processed nearly every one of my photos. (Including the photos that I've taken at different points of all of you.) Now it's just gone and it's almost like it took a piece of my childhood with it.

It's really a very odd experience. And it means that I have to find a new photolab before they all go out of business.


Fun with webapps

Believe it or not, webapps can do more than just let you play games! For example, you can use your computer as an alarm clock using the unfortunately-initialed KuKu Klok. It's a rather simple but somehow entertaining little webapp - you set a time for an alarm to go off, you choose a sound to wake up to, and you hit "Set Alarm." One advantage it has over Online Alarm Clock is that is that it's Flash-based and goes off even if your internet connection cuts out.

Honestly I don't know how/when you'll ever need it, but any webapp that has "Slayer Guitar" in its preferences deserves a mention. Of course, maybe more fun is the pseudo-functional Sleep Blaster where you can yell at your Mac to turn of the alarm. Now if only that worked for the car alarms outside my office that are set off by low-altitude F-16 flybys.


Can you help me with statistics?

I have a statistics question that I need some help with. It's really a question of "what is the statistical importance of a deviation from a fit?"

Let me illustrate with plots:

1. Here we have some data and a line fit to the data. Everyone I'm sure agrees that this is a good fit.

2. Now, the same data and fit, but with one point that's off by 1-sigma. 1-sigma events happen all the time (well, roughly 1/3 of the time) so we'd still assume that the fit matches the data well.

3. Now we have a point that's 2-sigma from the fit. Assuming a normal distribution, that should only happen by chance ~5% of the time, so we start wondering if the deviation of that point is actually a significant event.

4. Now, the real question. Instead of a single deviant point, we have two points. Both of them are 1.3-sigma from the fit. If taken individually, there's a ~20% probability that each one does match the fit. However, we "know" that they're correlated in that the depression of both points is related to something physically going on. How would I determine how statistically significant this depression is?

Needless to say, my real data isn't faked and is more complex than the example, but I need to figure out the same sort of answer. I'd appreciate any help that anyone can offer. And I apologize for using my astronomer's imprecise statistical descriptions.



We continue our series of belated postings with what-happened-to-me-last-saturday.

I went here.

Now in fairness, K said that I didn't have to go if I didn't want to, that she could go with just her sister-in-law and they'd wander about, but I ended up going along with my soon to be brother-in-law.


The Bridal Expo that we went to was held in the SD convention center, and in hindsight it had a lot in common with one of the poster sessions at a big APS (March Meeting, etc, or AAAS I guess?)... imagine a huge airplane hanger filled with row upon row of different vendor booths. That sounds innocent enough, right?

For starters you have to pay $10 or $15 bucks to get in the door (they do have door prizes, so maybe that's fair), and they greet you with "are you a bride or groom"? which is actually a funny question if you think about it, but the fallout of your answer is that they give you a nametag with "Groom" or "Bride" on it, and you're supposed to put slap it on somewhere. Then you play plinko and other little games to win little (and demeaning) prizes before being sent off to wander up and down the rows of Photography people, Cake people, Honeymoon people, three different Mary Kay booths, Floral/decorations people, etc. In one corner of the hanger, I mean, convention center they had a stage and seating - this was the site of a bridal fashion show. It was pretty much what you might think; models strutting up and down with various outfits, girls swooning, guys sneaking off to buy a beer and rest their tired eardrums, etc.

All in all, I'm glad I went if for no other reason than I am more certain now than ever that K and I are a good match and that I'm very glad she's not like a lot of her fellow brides that I saw there. That said gentlemen, when you are faced with such a situation, make sure to (a) stay hydrated, (b) get a good night's sleep beforehand, and (b) bring lots of $5 bills and a few ones for tips to the beleaguered barman at the beer booth.

Best $5 I ever spent was on that lukewarm Bud Light.