Month: April 2014

Lecture notes

I’ve added the lecture notes from yesterday’s class. They’re jpegs because the department closed early today and I didn’t get to the copy machine in time, but they look pretty good. There’s even a nice white border around each page. Pretty fancy. There’s also a bit of a grease mark on one of the pages because I dropped a piece of Gouda on the page when I was writing them up. You know how I do! My bad tho.

Probably like two or three of you were disappointed this morning to get the homework announcement with no added bonus supplementary extra nonsense with it. It was a bit late for me to write my customary ramble. In fact, if you check your email you’ll see that it was 4:48 a.m. when I sent that email; that time is significant because 4.48 Psychosis is the name of the last play that Sarah Kane wrote before she took her own life back in 1999. That play was named for the time when Kane, suffering from severe depression, often woke. To be honest, I’ve never actually read the play, but ever since I read about it after reading Kane’s more famous play Blasted a few years back, the name has stuck with me, and every time I happen to be awake at 4:48 a.m. I think about it. Blasted is a terrifying, disturbing, and profound play about war, sexual violence, and human interaction; it premiered in London to great controversy when Kane was just 23 years old, but is now generally recognized as a major work. The U.S. premiere was at Soho Rep. in 2008 and is one of those shows that it still pains me to have missed (others include Sweeney Todd with Patti LuPone and Michael Cerveris and the recent Glass Menagerie with Cherry Jones). One evening I went down to the theater and waited in line for 90 minutes in the hope of getting tickets, but to no avail.

To get back to art about depression , it’s tough to broach that subject without mentioning David Foster Wallace. Two of his better short stories are “The Depressed Person“, from the collection Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, and, especially, “Good Old Neon” from Oblivion. They each delve deeply into the complexities of human thought; the dangers of recursive, inwardly spiralling introspection; and the impossibility of language expressing anywhere near the scope of what goes on in any one person’s brain. If you’re a smarty-pants you should read “Good Old Neon”; it’s challenging in an interesting, engaging way, not the boring way of some of Wallace’s other stories (e.g. “Mister Squishy”) which mostly just annoy me.

Unfortunately, just as 4.48 Psychosis came from a very real place in Kane’s psyche, Wallace knew whereof he wrote. He was somewhat more successful in managing his depression, but in 2008 he, like Kane, hanged himself.

While I’m on the subject of tortured geniuses who hanged themselves, the 2011 exhibition Savage Beauty at the Metropolitan Museum of Art celebrated the work of the English fashion designer Alexander McQueen.


Incidentally, that exhibition also falls within the “Big events that I missed” category. I went to the Met to see it one day, but the wait to get in was three hours! I was like “Umm chill dude that’s wilin”; on the plus side, the rest of the museum was less crowded than usual. There were some spectacular pieces on view, though.

mcq2  mcq3

Sorry this post was a bit of a downer. Let’s close by considering Yayoi Kusama, who is very much alive and whose work is super chill, though her persona is consistent with the theme of this post (she has a book called Manhattan Suicide Addict and apparently has suffered from intense suicidal thoughts for her whole life).


That’s her (and some of her famous polka dots) in a publicity picture from her big show at the David Zwirner Gallery in New York this past autumn that, you guessed it, I am really bummed about missing. I swear I sometimes actually do some of the things I want to do. I’m just modest so I talk about the stuff I miss. Would’ve been sweet to have gotten a selfie in the Infinity Mirrored Room, though, like all the cool kids did! Could’ve been a really original profile pic.


jk that ish is played dawg errybody did it.

“What if everything is an illusion and nothing exists? In that case, I definitely overpaid for my carpet.”



New material / Exam 2 notes / cabbage sale

Last Thursday’s lecture notes are posted in the Documents tab. Perhaps you’ve seen them. Also posted are the solutions to your second exam. Your grades are up, too. If you want your test back you can get it from the box outside my office at any time. There are also a bunch of graded homeworks in there. 

Some statistics from the exam:

75th percentile:     84.25
Median:                  75
25th percentile:     62

Mean:                     70.12
Std. Dev.                19.08

Remember you have a homework assignment due Thursday; it covers material from last Thursday’s lecture. Office hours this week will be as 

If your textbook is like mine and has some sections omitted, you may seek supplementary material. Jim Hefferon has written a linear algebra textbook that is available for free here

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

– Dylan Thomas

Rembrandt knew a thing or two about being an old guy. Here’s a self-portrait of his that is in the Met:


Homework 8 / dirty pop

Your next assignment is posted in the Assignments tab. It’s due a week from today, on Thursday, 17 April 20.

In honor of the announcement of Robyn’s next NYC concert, today’s email is about pop music. I used to catch a lot of flak from my friends for listening to Robyn around the time her Body Talk albums were coming out, because she was seen as a 90s one-hit wonder (“Show Me Love” wasn’t too bad as far as 90s pop goes, but it’s not as good as the song of the same title by Robin S. from earlier in the decade). People have come around, though. Watch Robyn’s brilliant, one-take music video for “Call Your Girlfriend“, and then watch Taran Killam’s version thereof. Then watch them side by side!


I can’t help but enjoy Betty Who, an Australian who makes some of the catchiest music this side of Katy Perry. Her first hit was “Somebody Loves You“, but her latest EP (which just came out this past Tuesday) is better. There’s a very Perry-esque song called “Alone Again” that I like but a good version of which does not seem to exist on YouTube. The lead single is called “Hearbreak Dream“, and it’s also pretty good.

I hear a bit of Charli XCX’s melodic sensibility in “Heartbreak Dream”. Charli’s most recent single “SuperLove” is way more uptempo than her début album True Romance, and in my opinion not as good as the highlights of that LP. I liked True Romance a lot and honestly thought it was going to catch on more in the States than it did, but her new direction will probably raise her profile. She also sings on Iggy Azalea’s single “Fancy“, off of the latter’s début full-length The New Classic, which is coming out in three weeks and will probably be something of a big deal. The music video is a Clueless homage, which is pretty tight.


One of the most annoying things about pop music is how long it often takes after a single drops for the LP containing it to be released. Just as True Romance included songs like “Stay Away” and “You’re Not The One” that were released a year or more before the album, The New Classic will include old songs like “Work” (I quoted from “Work” in Puccini and Leoncavallo’s imagined conversation in the last email) and “Change Your Life“. That’s just the way it goes, though, and I guess it’s mostly just for début albums.

Tove Lo seems to be gaining some traction with the release of her Truth Serum EP. I’m not totally convinced she’s the real deal, but that’s mostly because the Hippie Sabotage remix of her song Habits is way better than the original. That’s not her fault, though. She does seem to have a pretty good voice, and she’s from Sweden, so I’ll be looking out for more from her. Speaking of Sweden, there’s this Swedish artist Snoh Aalegra who’s just a ridiculous babe but in a totally un-Scandinavian way. She’s signed to No I.D.‘s label and he produced her song “The Fall“, which is solid. Here’s another tune of hers called “Burning Bridges” that has an actual music video; the production isn’t as good but it’s more of a showcase for her vocals. Her music isn’t on Spotify so I don’t listen to her too much, but she looks like a cross between Natalie Portman and Eva Mendes and can actually sing, so I’m keeping an eye on her.

Don’t worry, that’s a trick photo; she’s not really a conjoined twin

Closer to home and poised for big things in 2014 is Banks, who has overcome the obstacle of a generic, initially un-Googleable name (a quandary solved by Chvrches with their novel spelling) to build a strong following. Her song “Waiting Game” is in a Victoria’s Secret commercial, so she probably got a bunch of dough for that. Good for you, Banks! Way to live up to your name! Ha, ha, ha!  Her most recent offering is called “Brain“, which is a pretty bold name for a pop song. Actually, Banks isn’t really very poppy. I guess this email kind of got off track from super poppy music to just music by female artists. Sorry about that. Also, confession, I mentioned a few of these artists in emails to last semester’s class. But I didn’t copy/paste anything, so I don’t feel too bad.

Continuing Stateside, Sky Ferreira put out a great album last year, but I still like her old song “Everything Is Embarrassing” best, I think. The LP has some good cuts, though. (Incidentally, Dev Hynes, who co-wrote “Everything Is Embarrassing”, put out an excellent album last year as  Blood Orange, but since he’s a dude he gets reduced to a parenthetical in this email. Sorry, Dev. Go back to boot camp.)

I like Chloë Howl, too, and her hat.


Also I was reading Jack Nicholson’s Wikipedia page earlier and the Pop artist Ed Ruscha was quoted praising Nicholson’s art collection, so here’s a picture of a Ruscha painting that’s in the MoMA, and a postcard of which you may have seen in my office:


And Broad City is a show you should be watching. This scene is really short but really great.

Finally, here’s a cool Web site if you like Beyoncé a.k.a. if you are a human being.

“I believe in making the world safe for our children, but not for our children’s children, because I don’t think children should be having sex.”


I forgot to mention in the topic round-up announcement, but induction is something that could appear on your second exam.

Something that won’t appear on your second exam is a big old spaghetti sandwich:



“We tend to scoff at the beliefs of the ancients. But we can’t scoff at them personally, to their faces, and this is what annoys me.”

Exam 2 information

I’ve posted a practice exam in the Documents tab, along with the solutions. You should go to Slava’s review session today; it’s going to be a hoot, and also very helpful. 

Maybe you caught Sam Smith’s performance on SNL this past week (Louis C.K. hosted; it was one of the stronger episodes of the season, not least because of the continued prominence of the Good Neighbor Stuff crew. Kyle Mooney has been pretty much my favorite comedian for a while now. My friends have mostly gotten used to my forcing them to watch Kyle videosThey’re just so good. Now that Kyle and Beck are on SNL they don’t really update their YouTube channels, but I remember being so excited when a new video would drop. It was like Christmas (sometimes literally!)).

But anyway, Sam Smith is a pretty cool dude. I was hoping he’d play the acoustic version of his breakout single with Disclosure, “Latch,” on SNL but he didn’t, so whatever. It’s quite a lovely tune, though, all stripped down. Interestingly, both videos I just linked feature dudes in shirts with the top button buttoned (and no necktie). It’s a strong look. I like it under a blazer or a cardigan, but I usually get too worked up teaching to be comfortable rocking it during class. Need that neck space, nahmean? Gettin loose with it.

In unrelated news, broccoli rabe is a fairly underrated vegetable:

broc rabe

Exam 2 material / important cheese discussion

Here’s what your exam will cover:

Section 3.1: Determinants: Calculating them, using them to solve systems of linear equations, knowing their properties including special cases in which the determinant is easy to calculate (eg diagonal or triangular matrices), using them to find eigenvalues and eigenvectors, using Cramer’s rule.
Section 3.2: Solving systems of linear equations by elimination: Gaussian elimination, row echelon form, three possibilities for a system: (i) a unique solution (ii) infinitely many solutions (iii) no solution. Finding LU factorization of A aka LU decomposition of A and using it to solve Ax=b. Elimination by pivoting aka Gauss-Jordan elimination.
Section 3.3: Inverse of a matrix: Definition of an inverse, how to prove one matrix is the inverse of another (use the definition), what does it mean when the matrix has an inverse, computing the inverse, properties of the inverse. Eigenvalue decomposition of A aka diagonalization of A — what is it, how do you do it, why is it useful (study carefully pp. 204-207 of the text).
Section 3.4: Iteration: Determining dominant eigenvalue and corresponding eigenvalue by iteration (Example 2 on p. 216), solving Leontief model by iteration using properties of the geometric sum (Example 4 on p. 221, and the preceding analysis). Solution by iteration (p.223). Rewriting Ax=b to be in form x = Dx + c (sometimes c = b, sometimes not — see Example 5 (which we did in class)). Theorem 3 on p. 230.
Section 3.5: Condition number
Also, the fundamental theorem of invertible matrices, which is this
The following are equivalent (for A and n x n matrix, b an n-vector:
(i) A is invertible 
(ii) Ax = b has a unique solution 
(iii) Ax = b has only the trivial solution x = 0
(iv) The reduced row echelon form of A is I
(v) rank(A) = n (i.e., there is no row of all zeros in row echelon form)
(vi) det(A) is not 0

So I’ve got a whole bunch of different types of cheese in my refrigerator right now and I wanted to talk about them. 

First of all, I have three different types from Sprout Creek Farm in Poughkeepsie — Toussaint (raw cow’s milk, aged 5-7 months), Smoked Toussaint (same, but smoked), and a raw goat’s milk cheese whose name escapes me. I also have some aged Gouda and Ewephoria from East Village Cheese that are each almost kicked but still have a bit left. And yet despite this bounty, when on Sunday I found myself on Bleecker Street I just had to stop into Murray’s for more cheese. And I’m glad I did because they had a great sale going. I got:
Chevre d’argental (goat, France)
Brebirousse d’argental (sheep, France)
Boerenkaas Gouda (cow, Holland)
Bleu d’auvergne (cow, France)
Making a good cheese board is all about balance and harmony. The fresh, clean chevre starts things off nice and easy, then the slightly funkier but still stupendously smooth Brebirousse (they’re from the same region in France, as you can tell by the names) gets you a little more revved up. I should’ve gotten a semi-firm cheese to follow up — maybe an Alpine cheese like the oniony Scharfe Maxx or classic Appenzeller — but I demurred. I always like to end with a well-aged, unpasteurized, tyrosine-laden cheese and a good blue, so the latter two fit the bill. All but the Brebirrouse were on sale, so I was pretty stoked; usually when I get as much cheese as I did on Sunday I’m out like $50. Plus they had Tom Cat baguettes (best in the city besides Pain d’Avignon, but much more widely available) on 2-for-1 sale, so that was dope.
Ah! I got some fresh ricotta, too. Been eating it on dem Tom Cats with Bonne Maman strawberry jam. DAAAAAAAAMN!

Homework 7 / Exam 2

Your next exam will be on TUESDAY, 8 April 2014, in class (NOT Thursday 3 April 2014, as was tentatively planned). Questions will be drawn from all the material that we’ve covered from Ch. 3; I’ll send out a detailed list of topics after next class, after which we’ll have covered everything that’ll be on it. 

Your next homework assignment is due Thursday, 3 April 2014. It’s posted in the Assignments tab.

Your next rent check is due Tuesday, 1 April 2014 (note: this only applies to those of you who rent your own living quarters and also has absolutely nothing to do with AMS 210).

Here’s the HW7 assignment:

Section 3.3: 25, 26a, 28, 33ac, 35

Section 3.4: 6bc, 7a (only go up to the 3rd power of D — you may use a computer program (or calculator) to do the calculation, but be sure to show the setup for each part), 14ab

For the system in number 13, do part (a) in the book. Then set up the system in the form x’ = Dx’ + b using the change-of-variables method (as we did in class and as done in Example 5 of the text). Solve this system by iteration as described in Theorem 2, going up to the third iterate of x’ (don’t forget to start at the zeroth iterate). 

Due Thursday, 3 April 2014, in class. Don’t forget to staple, remove ragged edges, etc. Thanks for not bringing up papers in the middle of class today (or doing it really surreptitiously so that I didn’t notice), I appreciate it.

If you weren’t in class today, you missed some quality prattling (is that an oxymoron?). I’m not going to mention the artists I talked about, though. Sorry bud. Take your tears to another rodeo, sad clown!

Speaking of sad clowns, “Vesti la giubba” is one of the dopest arias in the game. It’s from Pagliacci by Ruggero Leoncavallo. The melodic line that comes in at around 1:49 in this recording will make you shudder (don’t just fast forward to it though, ya bum). Leoncavallo was pretty successful (Pagliacci is a standard in the opera repertory), but he wasn’t a real big dog like his contemporary Giacomo Puccini. Legend has it Leoncavallo once told Puccini he was working on a new opera based on Henri Murger’s Scènes de la vie bohème, and offered him a complete libretto (Leoncavallo was one of the few composers who were also librettists) to which Puccini could compose the music. The exchange went a bit like this (translated from the Italian by me, with inspiration from Claudia Cardinale in 8 1/2):

LEONCAVALLO: Hey, Giacomo, I’ve been working on this libretto, I think it’s pretty good. Do you want to write some music to it? I think we could have a hit on our hands! People are really digging the whole Bohemian thing.

PUCCINI: Nah b, I’ve been working on my own ish! Gonna shock the world.

L: Well do you have a libretto yet?

P: Hell nah. I’mma get my man Illica to write it. Maybe let Giacosa get in on the action. That dude is ill with the pen.

L: Hmm. Do you want to take a look at mine? I think it’s pretty good, I really tried to capture the vivacity of the human spirit that shines through in the bleakest of circumstances. These people have so little but they feel so much! It’s really —

P: Walk a mile in these Louboutins! No money, no family! Sixteen in the middle of Miami!

At that point Leoncavallo was really confused so he just went ahead and wrote the music for his version of La Bohème. Of course, Puccini came out with his own Bohème, which became one of the most popular operas of all time, while Leoncavallo’s version is now hardly ever performed. Just another opera-world anecdote that validates Omar Little‘s maxim “You come at the king, you best not miss.”

Puccini’s La bohème is performed so often for a reason — it’s ridiculously good. I was a quite a fan of Rent in my younger days, and I still like it, but now that I know La bohéme so well, a lot of the music in Rent is just silly. Not to mention the fact that Roger and Mark are so stupid for not just taking Benny’s offer of free rent and use of his dope future studio. Are you kidding me?? “You wanna produce films and write songs / You need somewhere to do it” — exactly, Benny! Yet these dudes couldn’t just swallow their pride. I still love Rent, though. What can I say? I’m a sucker for rounds

Anyway, La bohème is great. Listen to some tunes. The 1972 production with Luciano Pavarotti as Rodolfo is my favorite opera production ever. I got that ish on wax, son! I also have the 1946 NBC Symphony Orchestra recording, conducted by the legendaryArturo Toscanini; it’s notable for being the only recording of a Puccini opera by its original conductor. (Toscanini was just 28 when he conducted La bohème’s 1896 premiere at La Scala in Milan.) My copy is not in great shape, though, so I don’t play it too often. Bummer. Toscanini was basically a household name in the  States in the 40s and 50s thanks to his gig conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra. (Incidentally, Brad Pitt’s character (who is not a professional musician, just a regular 1950s dad) in Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life talks about how much of a perfectionist Toscanini was. You should watch that movie. You might not like it, but you’ll probably have a strong reaction to it, and even if you hate it you’ll be unable to deny its moments of rapturous beauty.) They used to broadcast performances from Studio 8H at 30 Rock, which Weekend Update fans will recognize as where Saturday Night Live is now taped.

I find it wonderful that a major network used to air weekly concert broadcasts. I wish they’d bring it back; it would be much preferable to the nonsense that’s on NBC, et al., during daytime on weekends nowadays. What the heck am I supposed to watch while I do my Saturday-afternoon ironing during the college football offseason? Of course, the nonsense is much cheaper to produce, and probably garners similar ratings to what a classical concert would, so I’m not holding my breath for a sea change. Actually, I am holding my breath right now, just for kicks. But I’m not putting off exhaling until live-recorded classical comes back to the airwaves. Okay, I just exhaled.

Uhhh, Pavarotti though —  1:15 on in this video… my goodness. There’s a reason he is one of the few opera stars anyone’s ever heard of. For a more recent take, you can watch this film of the entirety of La bohème, starring Anna Netrebko as Mimì (she sings Musetta’s Waltz (“Quando m’en vo”) in an above link). The past few seasons the Met Opera has been absolutely plastering Netrebko’s face all over their promotional material because she’s such a babe, so you may recognize her if you spend a lot of time in the city.

In honor of Pagliacci and poor Leoncavallo, a relevant Deep Thought from Jack Handey:

“You know what would make a good story? Something about a clown who makes people happy, but inside he’s real sad. Also, he has severe diarrhea.”

Sorry for the crudeness, I was going to put a different one, but how could I end this email with another Jack Handey quotation when that one exists?


Homework 6

The assignment is this:

Section 3.2: 24

For the matrix in #22 of section 3.2: For what value of k does the system have no solution?

Section 3.3: 2af (you don’t have to follow the examples — just find the inverse, or else justify why no inverse exists), 7acf, 8acf, 9a (for the matrices in parts a, c, and f of #7), 18, 20, 24

Also: Prove that (AB)-1 = B-1A-1

Due: Thursday, 27 March 2014, in class.

Please staple your homework. Please remove ragged edges from pages torn from notebooks. Please hand in homework at the beginning of class or at the end — not during lecture. 

I forgot to mention in class that another reason why that spot The Beach in New Orleans is near to my heart. You know how every American over 55 or so remembers where they were when they heard that President Kennedy had been shot? Well, The Beach is where I was when I heard that Nate Dogg had died. The DJ slipped it in between cuts — “Yo RIP Nate Dogg” — and my friend (who’s from Long Beach, so you can imagine how hard the news would be for him) and I looked at each other incredulously, checked our phones to confirm the news, then poured out some of our drinks in silent remembrance.

Since I told you I’m going to Seattle next week, here’s a few hot tracks from Odesza, a duo who hail from the Emerald City (and this remix, which reminds me a bit of “Better Off Alone” by Alice DeeJay, which most of your should be old enough to remember, I hope).

One of Diego Velázquez’s best works (and that’s really saying something, as some (including Manet) believe he was the greatest painter of all time) is the Portrait of Pope Innocent X, which is the masterpiece of the Doria Pamphilj Gallery in Rome. It’s also one of the greatest potraits of all time. Legend has it Il Papa said upon viewing it “E troppo vero!” (It is too true!) but that might be apocryphal:


The collection is among the world’s finest in private ownership, and the palazzo that houses it is one of the grandest. There’s an interesting Pamphilj inheritance battle that was detailed in a Vanity Fair article that came out late last year. (I have the paper copy in my office if you are into physical artifacts.)The short of it is that Jonathan Doria Pamphilj, one of the two heirs to the massive estate, is married to a man, with whom he has two children who were born by surrogacy. Jonathan’s sister Gesine Doria challenged the two children’s right of inheritance based on the fact that they were born of a surrogate. The case was thrown out without a ruling, on the grounds that Princess Gesine (of course she’s princess) didn’t have grounds to bring the suit. In an interesting twist, neither Gesine nor Jonathan themselves are in fact Pamphilj by blood; they were adopted almost five decades ago from England by Orietta Doria Pamphilj, who was at the time the sole heir to the estate.

The great 20th-century Irish painter Francis Bacon (not to be confused with the English philosopher/statesman/scientist Francis Bacon, who was one of the most important proponents of the scientific method, and in 1603 became the first scientist to receive a knighthood) was greatly inspired by Innocent X, and created a number of works that engaged directly with Velázquez’s masterpiece, including this funky rendition:


Bacon was perhaps even more influenced by Sergei Eisenstein’s film Battleship Potemkin, particularly this face, seen during the famous Odessa steps sequence, which appears and reappears in various forms throughout Bacon’s oeuvre:


Brian DePalma paid homage to the Odessa steps in The Untouchables; more hilarious is the parody of DePalma’s scene that opens The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult. RIP Leslie Nielsen.

Incidentally, Francis Bacon’s triptych Three Studies of Lucian Freud recently sold for $142.4 million, a record price for a painting at auction.


Lucian Freud (grandson of Sigmund) was a pretty brilliant painter himself:


Though he caught some grief (for some reason, I distinctly remember this article (or at least the Daily Telegraph quote within), even though it was 12+ years ago and I’m sure I’d never heard of Lucian Freud at the time) for this portrait of Queen Elizabeth II:


“Troppo vero”, indeed.

“Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you’re a mile away and you have their shoes.”