Wednesday, January 31st 2007

I asked for it!
posted @ 11:31 pm in [ ]

Roadblocks to defending have indeed reared their ugly heads. Ugly head #1 is a policy problem. Ugly head #2 answers to the moniker of “anxiety-producing postponement.” I’m trying to argue with the heads, and I’ll let you know how it shakes out.

Monday, January 29th 2007

My man summons The Plow
posted @ 1:21 am in [ ]

First, a shout out to our fine, fine, superfine new State Rep, Cherilyn Peniston. Unlike our federal government, which doesn’t give a rat’s ass about things like whether or not we’d like to have a war sometime around here, we have some mighty fine new blood here in Colorado. Ms. Peniston was a schoolteacher not so long ago, and now she’s helping The Little Guy out (okay, Phillip is a bearish 6′3″, but you know what I mean).

Phillip called her for help last week when he realized he still couldn’t park near his own house and expect to go to work anytime thereafter until the ice all melted. Ms. Peniston, who even answers her own phone, got a call in to a nice man with the Adams County Highway Department, one Skip Fischer. Mr. Fischer called us back as quickly as if we’d said we were handing out free ice cream to the Adams County Highway Department. And then he came by, checked out the sitch, talked to Phillip, and sent out some guys. I wish I’d been around to make the man a cup of cocoa.

The best thing about the guys coming out was, of course, the removal of the ice shelf that was lining the street and could perhaps have been harboring walruses. The very close second-best thing about it, though, was the part where the truckload of guys got stuck, wheels-a-spinnin’, right in front of our house. It was probably only for all of 20 seconds, but it made me feel like we sure weren’t wasting these folks’ time. The huge 12-wheeled grader with the plow blade attached to it also got stuck momentarily outside our house and spun all 12 of those big ol’ wheels before scraping the street down to pavement. The truckload of guys even piled out and broke up the stuff along the edges (no walruses were harmed). Plow and guys stuck around for the better part of an hour and gave us our street back. Woot!

Local government is the nuts. Thanks everybody!

Wednesday, January 24th 2007

Shouldn’t there be a roadblock around here somewhere?
posted @ 11:44 pm in [ ]

So I handed in a draft of my dissertation to my committee chair on Monday, and things seem to be, well, proceeding. He’s going ahead with setting up my defense, and I’m doing some revisions: editing the bibliography and footnotes, making sure everything is consistent with the in-house style guidelines and Turabian (yeah, you editorial types out there, it’s not APA. Wacky, eh?), slugging in a few last references, revisiting Part III now that I have a little perspective on the calculations and all. I’m waiting for any revisions from my chair (probably minor) and my math guy (could be minor, could be major — I got some weird results, but they could just be, you know, weird. This is after all some pretty weird stuff). It’s all very finite and manageable, and after years and years of struggle all seems to be happening pretty quickly.

Shouldn’t I be all relieved and elated? Well, yes, quite possibly. I haven’t done a jigsaw puzzle yet, though. I haven’t busted out the bottle of Laphroaig I’ve been saving. I’ve been pretty quiet about the tentative defense date, too, just in case it has to be postponed or is a total disaster, even though there doesn’t seem to be a rational reason why either of those things would happen. (I did go ahead and set up my groovy little iPod, a wicked thoughtful Christmas gift from She Who Sends Me Thoughtful Technogadgets That Make Me Say, “Where Have You Been All My Life?!” I’m working on filling it up still.) Why am I so tentative about shaking my booty in celebration? Because my friends, I am deeply, deeply suspicious.

Where are the millions of terrible roadblocks? The punishing, soul-crushing, panic-inducing, bank-account-draining, therapy-necessitating, tree-killing, just plain annoying and unnecessary, how-is-this-NOT-hazing roadblocks? Something about this just doesn’t seem right. I feel like a cautious badger inching out of my cage. Someone is going to poke me with a stick any second, right? Then I’ll bite them, and all will be right with the world. Right? Sniff-sniff, where are they? Rrrahgrrrrrrrrr…

Sunday, January 21st 2007

How does it feel?
posted @ 12:28 am in [ ]

It hasn’t really sunk in yet that I’ve finished generating what has sort of been my life’s work for years and years. I’m trying not to get too elated about it, because I’m going to have a lot of revisions and stuff ahead of me. My math could be wicked wrong. My committee might decide they want to see some other sources throughout Part II or they might hate how I revised Part I. I have had so many setbacks in this process, it seems unbelievable that this part might actually go smoothly. Right now, my math guy has Part III, and I’m in the process of printing out the whole thing for my committee chair. I’ll give it to him Monday, and then get crackin’ on the nitpicky formatting stuff while I’m waiting for feedback from those two folks.

On the other hand, I feel lighter somehow. I slept late, and did some knitting, and talked to Lisa on the phone about her extrasuperfabulous website, Placeblogger, which is doing phenomenally well, and of course, the fact that I wrote a frickin’ book, and a bunch of other good stuff. I couldn’t say when the last time I slept late, indulged in a long phone call, or knitted all afternoon without feeling guilty about not writing was.

Incidentally, the real page count is 642. The master document reformatted a bunch of stuff without my permission. Feh!

Friday, January 19th 2007

Poke it with a fork…
posted @ 5:27 pm in [ ]

I finished the diss. Sure, there are some revisions ahead, and I may have to rework some of the calculations and what-not, but it’s all generated and stuff. Once I hit 700 pages, I changed the font, so it’s not quite continuous from the last updates, but first draft totals are: 628 pages and 194,705 words. Next, full draft to the whole committee, followed by the defense a few weeks later.

Monday, January 15th 2007

You went to Jared
posted @ 11:00 am in [ ]

We have a chain of jewelry stores in the Denver area called “Jared: The Galleria of Jewelry.” As you know, I’m not a big fan of jewelry. It’s expensive, and I think most “fine” jewelry is kinda… ugly. I would much rather go somewhere cool if I’m going to drop that kind of money. However, there are folks in my life who really like it, and I’m into giving people the perfect gift, so I’ve done business with them (which, incidentally, I don’t recommend: gift perfect, but service wicked crappy).

Jared also has a thoroughly lame series of ads, all of which tout some dude’s prowess at having gone to Jared. “You went to Jared!” “He went to Jared!” “YOU went to Jared!” You get the idea. One especially stupid moment has a woman at a fancy party finding out that everybody’s husband went to Jared except hers, and dropping her canape in his drink in protest. Like a guy ever understands that a canape in his drink means “I want jewelry.”

On the other hand, the opportunities for “You went to Jared!” abound. Whether it’s a beat-up wreck of a car getting towed to your house or an overflowing toilet, ah, les mots justes! A few weeks ago on The Crittercam Show, there was a hilarious segment about a dung beetle, as part of his courting ritual, bringing his ladylove a big ol’ sh*tball. [Insert excited gasp here] You went to Jared!

Saturday, January 13th 2007

The roads in Denver still suck
posted @ 12:41 am in [ - ]

I thought the roads sucked in my neighborhood, but they’re a lot worse around the Uni. The non-main drags have big ruts carved into 8-inch-deep ice shelves so two cars can’t pass each other, and you get no steering control — they’re like reverse rails. Denver is also not clear on the idea that not removing snow doesn’t just lead to inconveniece and traffic accidents, but it destroys the roads. you would not believe the size of the potholes here now. They’re absolutely New England-esque — one could fill them with water and take a swim. Of course, all this is complicated by the fact that my tires are in that awkward stage between when the tread justs about wears off and when the steel belts are exposed, once again providing traction.

Tuesday, January 9th 2007

Random update
posted @ 1:09 am in [ - ]

I’m simultaneously working on the last chapter and the full draft at the moment. I feel like a marathon runner coming down the home stretch. Oh, it hurts. I focus on how good it’ll feel to be done and not walk for, like, three days. I can’t hear the crowd. I can’t see anything but what I think is the finish line up there, but I’ve been doing this for so long I’m not really sure what the finish line looks like. That might not be it. How many miles have I run already? 20? 12? 25.4? Just get there, get there, get there.

Some of the crappy snow Adams County sees fit not to pick up or move or take away or apply melty substances to did in fact dissolve yesterday and today. I still had to get help, though, to get off my street last night. Now I’m parked at the corner so I can actually go places. A nice soused mountain man type helped us out. Good stuff — both effective and colorful. My tires are at that awkward stage between nearly treadless and not quite bald enough to be down to those nice grippy steel belts, so on big piles of ice, it’s sort of like driving a shopping cart.

I got out today and actually saw friends in person, which was nice. Man, did I need the mental floss! Tomorrow I’m going to start teaching again. Gotta ramp up the social skills while slogging through these last few hundred yards, here. I had planned to be finished by now, but I’m not. I mean, I’m close. Thursday, maybe. But I’m not finished. There were some things I had to wait for responses about, and other things it just took me a day or two to get my head around. This is by far the hardest intellectual work I have ever done. It’s harder than reading for most of my waking hours and trying to be clever about what I read. It’s harder than getting the master’s degree for which I started out woefully unprepared. It’s harder than writing all night. It’s harder than presenting my papers and ideas at conferences — even the unbelievably nerdy one about how the Arrow of Entropy frosts my cachongas and is, in my opinion, wicked wrong (Here’s where I talk about that a little bit, and here’s where I explain the source of the cachonga-frosting). I hope that at some point, people I don’t actually know will think my work is cool.

Friday, January 5th 2007

Check out Placeblogger!
posted @ 10:20 am in [ ]

Earlier this week, our fine, fine, superfine hostess launched a site so groovy, it broke a webcounter! You should check it out, especially if you’re interested in what’s going on in your town, or some other locality in particular–or if you want to be the one saying how it is where you are. Placeblogger rocks!

Wednesday, January 3rd 2007

Youuuu asked for it!
posted @ 1:04 am in [ ]

What the hell am I working on? Well, I’ll tell ya. You may remember from earlier postings that I had originally planned to do three different methods of nonlinear analysis. The first change to that plan came from my math guy. He suggested that if I were going to say something important about some method or another, it would be good to apply it to all the pattern studies, and not just to selected aspects of selected pattern studies. Yeah, I thought, that makes good sense. He also suggested that one method was plenty and I didn’t have to kill myself applying all three to all the pattern studies. I bought into that one right away! So I picked out the method of those three that I thought would best fit the data: Cusp catastrophe.

Trouble is, international relations datasets on conflict, while they abound, SUCK for what I’m trying to do. Cusp catastrophe draws out its chaotic figures with points, not lines, so you need really a lot of points to graph, otherwise the pattern doesn’t emerge visually and just looks like a bunch of random noise. Well, the zillions of datasets available track annual conflict data. 6 datapoints for a 6-year conflict?! No good! So I had to do something else.

I picked symbolic dynamics, which is a method of assigning numbers to qualitative data so you can still see the patterns emerge even if you don’t have a lot of good numbers. It has a lot of nonstandard methods, so I had to pick one that had some kind of track record. Fortunately, my math guy coined one. It’s called orbital decomposition. So what the hell does that mean and what the hell does it do?

Well, orbital decomposition basically analyzes the length of different kinds of interactive patterns. The “orbit” is the pattern, and the “decomposition” is the way it drops off after identifying the optimal length of a possible pattern. It combines a few different procedures, which is cool, because with most procedures in nonlinear dynamics, you have to do a separate test to prove the presence of chaotic behavior, and a separate test to prove the hypothesis (usually a statistical test of reliability, like nonlinear regression, or curve fit). Orbital decomposition includes methods of both these things along with the main symbolic dynamics procedures. I also don’t have to know what the shape of the data is like beforehand — orbital decomposition sorts that out for me, and even gives me a measure of the optimal size of a pattern.

In order to do all that, though, I had to code the data. I went through every violent event described in all the pattern studies (oh yes, there are several hundred all together) and gave it a 5-digit code based on who was doing what nasty thing to whom, and how far along in the violentization pattern each party was. I then determined the frequency with which each kind of nasty perpetration code was likely to occur, and then I had to grapple with yet another stupid problem with decent datasets in international relations: Who the hell can really say whether my data are actually complete? I mean, there is no One True Timeline of any of these conflicts, and every author comes at them with their own agendas, so there isn’t even much tacit agreement about which events are important and which aren’t. How the hell can we really say if my impromptu little dataset is authoritative, or even reasonably okay? Well, we can say it’s as good as anything, qualitatively speaking, and that it’s better than nothing, but one helpful consultee suggested generating a random dataset and statistically checking the datasets I’m planning to use against it, so now we can say it’s also: Better than chance! How d’ya like them apples? Secure in the knowledge that I have the best possible dataset for this project (considering there aren’t any out there), now I’m going to do those wacky aforementioned calculations.

All this has taken longer than I expected, including time to get my head around how all this stuff is supposed to work. I’ll keep you posted…