30 May 2008

Missing, Presumed Fed

It may appear that I've pulled a succession of Lig Lury, Jr.'s these last two weeks' worth of evenings. However, this editor hasn't been out grabbing food every night. I've actually just been trying to recover and catch up a bit from the semester, to get moving on summer research, and to take care of some business I've been putting off for a long time. More to come on that final front soon, I expect.

In other news...

This editor, I just discovered, is awesome. You should read his blog, especially in light of the sad track record of Sunday Judgment recently. All the magnificently nerdy copy-editor talk notwithstanding (my favorite line, regarding Myanmar v. Burma: "In any event, the State Department does not hold sway over our house style."), perhaps the most compelling reason to check out McIntyre's blog is here.

And this is so cool I won't even bother with an introduction, though I'll mention that I was sad it didn't get mentioned here. Friends of mine and I have been talking about taking a "spontaneously generated adventure" one of these days; let me know if you want to join in.

15 May 2008

Toy Story -- Or -- A Radiation Therapy Treatment Planning Code From Which Probably Not Enough Has Been Removed

A few days ago, I handed in my last paper of the semester, a report on my development of TOLSTOY: Treatment Optimization with Linear Scoring TOY. I figure we need more codes named after famous writers (see, for example, CAFCA).

TOLSTOY's not going to answer any pressing research questions. It's a toy code for performing radiation therapy treatment planning calculations, a task I know laughably little about (especially considering I was once on track to become a medical physicist). But that's kinda the point. I think to really teach the concepts involved in doing any sort of complex calculation, you have to radically simplify the task. When we're not willing to do that, we risk spending so much curricular time laying theoretical foundations that we never help students see the forest for the trees.

I've always been especially bothered by this phenomenon, which David Ollis (whose work I've always admired) and some other folks at NC State describe here:

"Virtually all writing guides emphasize the importance of defining at the outset the direction and nature of the story to be told. Paradoxically, engineering curricula almost universally neglect this time-honored advice. Instead, most sentence the new student to math, physics, chemistry, humanities, and social sciences. Thus, one to two years pass by before any engineering courses of substance and example are offered. The student is launched upon a journey without clear definition of the voyage or description of the port of arrival. One result is found in the too-often heard remark, 'I didn’t see what engineering was all about until my final semester, when it all came together in the design project.'"

Thankfully, engineering educators increasingly seem willing to let first- and second-year students get their hands dirty with projects that try to strike a balance between authenticity and accessibility. That's what I was going for with TOLSTOY--a tool that a student could play with to learn something about treatment planning without having to understand every detail of radiation transport and optimization.

One of my favorite David Foster Wallace essay titles involves the CAFCA code's namesake. The essays is called "Some Remarks on Kafka's Funniness from Which Probably Not Enough Has Been Removed," and I kinda feel like those last eight words should get tacked on to pretty much everything I write. But it should also serve as a guide for how we design teaching tools in the computational sciences. Without a kind of pedagogical Occam's razor to shave away as many of the befuddling details as possible, we don't have much hope of actually teaching anything at all.

Anyway, here's the paper. Sorry about some of the formatting; RefWorks wasn't kind to the citations, for some reason, and in my rush to finish my semester I didn't catch all the errors. By the way, the image above plots the dose distribution from a five-x-ray-beam treatment plan for --ridiculously--a spherical tumor in a cubical patient with no sensitive tissues to try to spare. It's a totally trivial example, but I thought it looked really cool.

13 May 2008

Triple Take

In case you haven't heard, there was an unassisted triple play in the Cleveland-Toronto game last night. These have always been really, really exciting to me; I remember watching highlights of one when I was a seven-ish-year-old baseball nut living in Bradenton, FL (where the Pirates spring train, incidentally). I have the nagging sense that someone on the Reds turned it, and that it happened in a dome, but I haven't done the research to confirm either fact.

To give you some sense of how rare these things are, note that this was only the 14th such play in major league history. If I manage to track down some good video, I'll pass it along.

OK, I've been doing runs on TOLSTOY (more on this most recent project of mine soon) all morning and am ready to put myself into exile until the associated paper is finished. Catch you on the flip side.

Thanks to my friend Matt, by the way, for calling me last night with the news. I happened to be in a bar watching the Brewer game with his parents and fiancé at the time, but I never caught the highlight. Soon.

Update: Matt just sent me a little info that I thought I'd pass along:"You were right, the Unassisted TP has only happened one way, every time. It was usually catch, bag, and tag... but a few were catch, tag, and bag. Interesting stuff. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unassisted_triple_play"

Incidentally, I think we need a commonly accepted word that allows you to credit someone with doing some research but that also connotes a bit of flimsiness to that research because, in fact, it just involved finding the right Wikipedia article. How about wi-search? My only problem with this choice is that I'm worried about possible confusion with Nintendo-Wii-related words (e.g., Wiimote). Any thoughts?

Another update: I just did a little wi-search of my own and figured out why I remember that unassisted TP of yore so vividly--it came at the expense of my Pirates: "September 20 - Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Mickey Morandini completes the first unassisted triple play in the National League in 65 years against the Pittsburgh Pirates. In the bottom of the sixth inning, Morandini snares Jeff King's line drive, steps on second to double off Andy Van Slyke, and finally tags Barry Bonds out before he can return to first. It is the ninth unassisted triple play since 1901, but only the second to be pulled off by a second baseman."

And since I'm on a role:

I was just shattered to discover that my mind apparently created what I always thought was a sweet fact about two of those same Pirates. I had in my head that Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, and Andy Van Slyke comprised the starting National League outfield as Pirates in at least one All-Star Game. However, if my wi-search is to be believed (1 2 3), it looks like the intersection of their respective all-star season sets is {1993}. However, by that year Bonilla and Bonds had moved on to the Mets and Giants, respectively. It also turns out that Van Slyke sat out the game with an injury. So much for that special memory from my childhood.

OK, back to TOLSTOY.

07 May 2008

Cleaning House

I'm trying to clean up my del.icio.us tags a bit. Here are a couple links I've been meaning to pass along:

CO2 Saver -- I'm in firm agreement with those who believe guilt isn't going to get us anywhere in solving environmental problems. I think the truth of the matter is that we start to make a difference when we stop feeling guilty and start trying to do what we can (thanks, Natalie and Casey). Here's one thing I think we can all do: install this small power management utility. Of course, we all probably could have handled this task on our own, but the CO2 Saver application does the work automatically. I just installed it and will keep you posted about whether it turns out to be a pain. It seems pretty unintrusive.

In Shift to Digital, More Repeat Mammograms -- A few years back, I wrote a paper on the migration to digital mammography, and when I saw this article I thought it was interesting to see how things are panning out. As you might expect, the transition from film to digital has been a little rocky, but the experts still seem to think it's gonna be worth it in the long run. Anyway, I've been thinking a fair bit about my radiation sciences days lately (partly because I'm trying to finish up my TOLSToy treatment planning code so my semester can be over), so I felt compelled to pass this along.

Pangramaday -- I noticed today that my friend Ryan is taking a week off from his daily pangram-composing discipline. What better time to check out his site and get caught up? I've always admired Ryan's verbal dexterity and have been enjoying this fun, easy read. I thought last Monday's entry was especially graceful.

Poor Union South

Hehe, those of you familiar with the UW-Madison campus may find this amusing:

"For 37 years, Union South has turned a cold shoulder to the campus. And the feeling, unfortunately, has been mutual. Unloved and underutilized, Union South's quirky design, and uninviting Soviet-style architecture will give way to a new South Campus Union that planners expect will be a "people magnet" that will invigorate the area.
Read more: http://www.news.wisc.edu/15204 "

03 May 2008

Taco Town

This New York Times story about taco trucks in LA is just brilliant. A really carefully crafted feature story that's funny but hits on some serious socio-economic issues as it builds momentum. Any article that contains the expression "taco-loving public" should be shooting up the most-emailed list. It's currently at number 10, I noticed.

OK, back to work, but only because I don't have a car to go driving in search of the best carnitas. Seriously, I love carnitas.

I also love "Taco Town."

Update: Man, I'm having a bad couple of weeks w/r/t providing promised links. Should be fixed now above, or click here.