July 2008


Just finished 何兆武《上学记》, will try to write about it soon. It mentions 黄昆、杨振宁、张守廉 as 西南联大物理系三大才子.

Shame on me that I didn’t know 黄昆 as the father of Chinese semiconductor “theoretical research on condensed matter physics” (corrected by a nitpicking friend).

I can find very little info on 张守廉 (Sheldon S. L. Chang), though. He’s now a Leading Professor Emeritus of ECE at SUNY Stony Brook. He was EE chairman from 1963 (to ?). SUNY SB ECE’s website doesn’t have anything on him. An apparently old EE page only shows his interests in parallel/distributed computing and CAD. From an investigation report it seems like his research was mainly on laser.

An interview of him by Karl Hartzell (SUNY SB’s “president” for 3 years (62-65) just before the much more influential John Toll) revealed a lot about his life. He studied in Purdue in 1945-47, joined NYU faculty in 52 and got tenure in 58.

His first wife died from suicide (after divorce), and one of their daughters set herself on fire to end a very troubled and tragic life.

I should start a Wikipedia page on him.

It’s quite disrespectful for both respectable players, but it’s too strong an impression to erase, when I saw Serena Williams and Zheng Jie at the net at the end of their game.

143lbs/1.78m vs. 126lbs/1.65m doesn’t seem like such great difference, but numbers can be deceiving.

(long overdue)

My first plan was to name this “Is this the year” again, but the few RSS subscribers of mine out there may think it’s just another mindless update (which I often do).

Then I saw the USA Today piece from Tumotor, and I know I have to use this line as my title.

In case you don’t follow the links (you really should), here’s the quote:

I happened to be at a resort lodge for a family reunion Sunday. The weather was beautiful, the lake inviting. But inside, the crowd was thick around the lobby television as two European men fought through a fifth set.

Some of these folks were not exactly tennis buffs. “This is for the world championship, right?” one woman asked her husband. “And which one is Federer?

What would John McEnroe say?

But she stayed inside, through every serve, every lob, every passing shot. They all did.

The greatest thing about language is its ambiguity. You can get a quick laugh from “which one is Federer”, but if you think more, it can actually mean a lot more, like, is Roger just a prelude to the real “Federer”?

He may be, but I do not want to listen to the main piece at all. Keep the prelude playing as long as can be, please…

Oh, and here’s another quote from the article that beautifully describes the beauty of tennis:

The thought occurred that you don’t need a week of Super Bowl hype or NBA pyrotechnics, or baseball’s heritage to make something so compelling, it is hard to take away your eyes.

Golf isn’t anywhere close, either. Putting is very intense, but for an outsider (I used to be) it seems pretty ridiculous: people make millions of dollars for doing THAT?! The recent US Open playoff was riveting not because of the sport itself, but because of the classic titan vs. nobody story, and Tiger is just too likable. (Digression: I suspect that the superstardom of Tiger and Jordan has some racial subconsciousness to it. White Americans love them as much as they ignore the race problems: see, some of you are doing great!)

Back to tennis. It’s heart breaking to see Roger lose. We started watching tennis when he started his streak, so by our definition tennis equals to Roger winning. It’s viscerally upsetting to see him play poorly and listlessly, and outright bizarre to see him lose a set, as if our living room were rearranged.

So this time we’re on our way to Mars relocation.

But it’s for the good of the game, and for Roger himself, too.

In the last couple of years, his only motivation was to break more records and become the greatest player ever. Grandiose as it is, I don’t think it’d really help at your opponent’s 4th championship point.

What would help, perhaps, is the primitive and instinctive desire of survival by killing the beast across the net.

Some of my more tennis-technical friends pointed out various aspects of the game that Roger must improve, just for Nadal alone: return of close-to-body serve, return of top spin, positioning at volley (lefty’s passing shots are usually the opposite of righty), etc.

Improvement used to be Roger’s greatest edge. He could adjust and improve within a set (recall his first Wimbledon championship). Then it became totally unnecessary.

Now, he has a lot of improvements to work for.

And the tennis world rejoices.