Sunday, June 29, 2008

And the music never stops

I happened to glance at my CD rack the other day and realised that I hadn't played any of my CDs for over a year. I remember a time when I was quite proud of my CD collection, and now I can barely remember it exists. The main reason, of course, is the quite dramatic expansion in online music availability over the last few years. It is amazing that access is practically unlimited, at costs approaching zero if you are little inventive and not too hung up on pristine sound quality. I usually either have the streaming grateful dead channel, or my Yahoo customized radio station on. Both are absolutely free, and the latter has an astonishing catalogue. Nor am I plagued with adverts on these. With the Yahoo station, I have a preferred list of artistes (Chet Baker, Dave Brubeck, Stan Getz, Paul Desmond, Louis Armstrong, Modern Jazz Quartet, Milt Jackson, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, you get the drift) and the player throws up random selection from these and similar acts in the genre. Amazing stuff, there is barely any repetition. The best part is, I get to record these off my sound card using a simple piece of software that cost me £20. So now I have a massive mix of miscellaneous setlists for when I am offline. Until last year, I was also subscribing to the MSN music jukebox service. It let me play full albums on demand, at the cost of 1p per track. Actually buying the track cost 30p per, but why would you want to do that when you could play it fo 1p and record off the sound card perfectly legally?! I subscribed and recorded until my hard drive was bursting at the seams!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Eavesdropping on the great and the good

A favourite pasttime of mine, typically when I have a few minutes while biting into my mozzarella sandwich at lunch, is to haunt the websites of great academic departmental and personal websites. There is a vicarious thrill in observing day-to-day life in esteemed institutions - the CVs of legends, nobel laureates scheduled to give seminars, etc. A great examples of this is the website of the mathematics department at Princeton University. You go to the page and scroll down, seeking that one name, and reach a modest space with no photo and a single link to 'bibliography'. That's all there is about the dead-set genius that is Andrew Wiles. Andrew Wiles! The chap who proved the Taniyama-Shimura conjecture, and thereby cracked the seemingly insurmountable last theorem of Pierre de Fermat! One is at a loss for words to describe the magnitude of his achievement. Perhaps Professor Wiles felt similarly tongue-tied, and that is the reason for the information on him extending only to a simple 2 page pdf file of his 22 publications, including among them the modest-sounding, 'Modular Elliptic Curves and Fermat’s Last Theorem, Annals of Mathematics, 141, (1995), 443-551'.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Boys of Summer

This is the time when you get to look heavenward and thank your stars you got to be an academic. The academic year has folded to a close, the campus has emptied out apart from graduate students, and the mind-numbingly boring elements of the profession such as grading, marking and attending examiners meetings are done and dusted for the time being. Three tantalising months of immersion in your reserach questions stretch ahead of you. You actually bound out of bed in the morning, looking forward to that exciting-looking paper you've set aside for reading, or the prospect of getting your econometric estimates to converge satisfactorily during the day. There are no appointments of any kind to annoy and distract, just the developing embryo of your next paper and you. You walk across campus for lunch, absent-mindedly observing the ducks while ruminating on the latest set of estimates. How do I fix that troublesome referee comment I can already see coming? Returning from lunch, a germ of an idea forms - why not try first-differencing the equations? Your steps quicken in light excitement and you can't wait to get back and see what those three extra lines of code might throw up. Certainly a time of the year when you wouldn't want to trade with any other profession!