January 30, 2004

The hard part of the Movable Type switch is done.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 8:55 PM
As a follow-up on yesterday's post: Using a perl tutorial and a close examination of the LJ server code, I've put together a script to output journals (with comments!) to Movable Type import file format. The probability that I'll make the switch is approaching 1...

January 29, 2004

LiveJournal no longer live, move to Movable Type?

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:02 PM
The following will be of little interest to most of you: I am considering switching the site's software from LiveJournal to Movable Type (during my copious free time, of course). Effects of this change:
  • Site look and feel would be consistent over all pages (comments, etc.). This is doable but annoying under LJ at the moment.

  • I get the Trackback feature, which means that when I link to other Trackback-capable blogs in a post they automatically link back to me. This potentially expands my readership, though I can't imagine why anyone who doesn't know me personally would want to read any of this.

  • LJ has a number of features (friends lists, etc.) designed for a large community of journalers, which simply aren't used here. These would vanish.

  • Similarly, user accounts as we know them would cease to exist. MT's user accounts aren't used for commenting, so they won't be necessary for most of you. If you would like to maintain (or continue to maintain) a journal on inverse, I could give you a new account for this purpose.

  • Past entries are probably importable into MT. This is something I need to look into in more detail. If not, I will probably add an archive section to the site to keep them around.

I'm not completely sure I'm going to do this, since it's a non-trivial amount of work. I am strongly leaning toward making the change, though. Your thoughts are welcome!

As an example of a site using most of the Movable Type features, check out the excellent Pandagon.

January 28, 2004

It's not paranoia if they're really out to get him (reelected)

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:40 AM
Back in October I speculated that Antonin Scalia's recusal from the Pledge of Allegiance case was a calculated ploy to provide George W. Bush with (further) advantage in the 2004 election.

The obvious argument against this relies on Occam's Razor: a simpler explanation is that Scalia felt Newdow's request for his recusal was valid. The plausibility of this explanation depends on whether we think Scalia is the sort of person to recuse himself when a legitimate conflict exists. With that in mind, I'll be watching what he does in this case, in which the defendant is his longtime friend and recent hunting companion Dick Cheney.

January 27, 2004

Thoughts on the Prime Primary, Primarily

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 9:06 PM
The New Hampshire results are not so surprising, although I expected about four or five of Kerry's percentage points to belong to Dean. It's obviously good news for Kerry, but I wouldn't say his nomination is inevitable yet. As Eric Alterman points out, the New Hampshire primary has not been particularly well predictive of the nominee in recent years.

The most important question for me (and many other Democrats) is which candidate is most likely to beat Bush. I think most of the "unelectable" attributes of Dean also apply to Kerry: northeastern, rich, liberal, etc. Kerry does have his war record, but it's not clear to me how much this really matters. Bush's history of not showing up for his National Guard duties didn't seem to hurt him much in 2000, after all. My sense is that electability comes down to style rather than substance, which keeps leading me to the conclusion that Edwards is the guy. (This is not an official endorsement.)

Anyway, the primaries should continue to be interesting at least through next week; I believe Edwards is favored in South Carolina, and Missouri is up for grabs. Wouldn't it be nice if the primaries were still interesting five weeks from now, when California's rolls around...

January 26, 2004

Improbable Cause

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 9:20 PM
The promised weekend media roundup:

  • Startide Rising by David Brin

    Finished it Friday night. First of all, it is an improvement over Sundiver in every dimension. The writing doesn't have the technical feel that its predecessor did, and the plot flows much more smoothly.

    While Sundiver was basically a detective story, Startide Rising is an adventure somewhat in the vein of a good Star Trek movie: the story concerns the crew of a starship, a large and interesting cast, which despite a disabled ship and hostile aliens on all sides still manages to conduct scientific research, and the science is just as interesting as everything else. The setting itself is very intriguing in its own right, and Startide is just one episode in what is potentially a much larger story. I've already started the third installment, The Uplift War, but after that I should probably make a dent in the other authors on my list.

    One semi-complaint I have is that Brin offers no visual description of aliens, at all, except when it's absolutely necessary to convey some action. This is only a "semi-complaint" because I can see the argument for letting my brain fill in the details. All I know about the Tandu, for example, is that they have six legs and hang out in webs, but I've developed a pretty good picture of what they look like based on this. He seems to be more descriptive in The Uplift War so far, so I should be able to figure out which style I prefer.

  • Gazebo Classic Movie: The Guns of Navarone

    Now I know what Samuel L. Jackson meant in Pulp Fiction when he said "I'm the guns of the Navarone." The climactic scene reminded me of that great line from The Editing Room's terrific abridged Armageddon script, "If it could be imagined that it might explode as a result of this nuclear weapon, it EXPLODES." (Replace "nuclear weapon" with "plastic explosive" for this film, obviously. I thought about doing an abridged script style review of this film, but decided I have other things to do with my evening.)

    Anyway, we watched this at Curtis' on Saturday. Despite the excessive explosions and a couple other easily mockable scenes, it was a decent movie. The highlight was definitely Gregory Peck's performance which, unlike the special effects, is still powerful.

    Anyone else think Anthony Quinn looks like Saddam Hussein on the movie poster?

  • The Cooler

    Another film in which the male lead's performance is the high point. In this case it's William H. Macy as a guy with luck so bad that a Vegas casino hires him to cool off its patrons' winning streaks, hence "the cooler". Macy is just as good as you've heard, and Alec Baldwin was also very good (by being very evil) in the role of Macy's boss. Also, Maria Bello was very attractive talented.

    In some ways the plot as implemented was less interesting than the premise; maybe I'm just more attuned to the laws of probability than the average person, but Macy's luck was obviously supernaturally bad, and yet this fact did not attract much interest from anyone in the movie. You'd think with this kind of mutant power he could join the X-Men, or work for the government, perhaps betting on hostile regimes to stay in power and thereby causing them to collapse. But maybe I'm thinking about it too much.

    Some reviews I saw complained about the ending. (I'm going to try to keep this spoiler-free...) I didn't have any such complaints; it seems to me that the ending was highly contingent on the particular mechanics of Macy's bad luck, and given what could be inferred about said mechanics the ending was the correct one - it was internally self-consistent, if you will. The ending the complaining reviewers had in mind would only have been possible with major changes to events in the middle of the movie, and I'm not sure the main themes would have survived. So I think the ending was done more or less correctly.

Anyway, that was my weekend. Maybe next weekend I'll review Super Bowl commercials. (Probably not live, though it's tempting.)

The Diet Coke of evil: just one calorie, not evil enough.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:00 PM
via Norbizness, a few words from John Ashcroft:
Weapons of mass destruction including evil chemistry and evil biology are all matters of great concern, not only to the United States but also to the world community.

What, no evil physics? I can't believe my field has fallen so far behind in the high-profile category of mad scientists bent on destroying the earth. We're even having our March Meeting in French Canada - you'd think that'd be diabolical enough to get a mention from Mr. Ashcroft, but nooooo...

On the other hand, maybe this is what he has in mind when he talks about evil science.

They can bill me!

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:16 PM
The quote that now appears at the top of the page is not meant to be an official motto; in theory, I will change the quote from time-to-time.

You may claim a bonus geek culture point for identifying it; you could of course just Google it, but that would be wrong.

Later today, (if time permits), I'll post a weekend media roundup featuring Startide Rising, The Guns of Navarone, and The Cooler.

January 24, 2004

[insert gratuitous Howard Dean scream here]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:32 PM
Yahoo Movies has the Kill Bill vol. 2 teaser trailer.

I want to see vol. 1 again soon, but it's currently only playing in Milpitas and the complete opposite side of San Francisco. Hmm, maybe I could stop in Milpitas after D&D...

January 23, 2004

Howard Dean, rock star

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:45 AM
An absolutely ridiculous number of Howard Dean remixes are available at deangoesnuts.com. Grab 'em quick before the RIAA finds out.

January 22, 2004

Maybe he can pursue a career in music.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:44 PM
My money is no longer on Dean to win the nomination, since his post-Iowa primal scream seems to be sending his polls plummeting. However, the new dance mix of said scream is soaring to the top of the charts.

January 20, 2004

Arcane Gazebo vs. The State of the Union Address

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 7:34 PM
So against my better judgement I watched the SOTU on C-SPAN's internet feed. I also kept running commentary. Enjoy...

State of the Union Address

6:13 - Surprised he mentioned the Big Brother-esque airline passenger background checks.

6:17 - "Key provisions of the PATRIOT act are set to expire next year" [applause] Another evil piece of legislation I'm surprised to hear him address (and defend, vigorously, at length!). I thought this was the sort of thing they tried to slip by without anyone noticing.

6:19 - "nukular"

6:25 - "nukular"

6:25 - "And one reason is clear..." ...that Iraq couldn't disarm if they didn't have any WMD in the first place?

6:26 - "nukular"

6:26 - "nukular"

6:27 - Here comes the 9/11 card. Hey, maybe we can get back to this war on terror now that we're finished creating a big nest of terrorists in Iraq.

6:30 - Translation: "I have no use for due process."

6:30 - "weapons of mass destruction related program activities" Wow. His speechwriters couldn't come up with anything more compact? (I guess "nothing" wasn't an option.)

6:34 - "God"

6:35 - Oh good, we're going to "confront the allies of terror" in the Middle East. I look forward to seeing new pressure put on Saudi Arabia.

6:38 - One half of the chamber doesn't seem too impressed with our economic growth.

6:40 - Or education.

6:42 - Expand Advanced Placement programs in low-income schools: hey, that could actually be good.

6:43 - "Unless you act, the death tax will come back to life..." ...in 2010. With a $3 million exemption. Oh, the horror.

6:51 - A veto threat? That might carry more weight if he'd ever vetoed anything in three years.

6:54 - Here comes the marriage stuff.

6:55 - Nope, he's talking about drugs (the illegal kind now). Drug testing, to be precise. "We have to violate the Bill of Rights because we love you."

6:56 - Steroid use in professional sports? Who cares?

6:58 - Ok, here's the marriage stuff.

6:58 - Sounds to me like clear support for the evil Federal Marriage Amendment. If the "will of the people" is opposed to same-sex marriage (and if he thinks this he hasn't seen the polls out of Massachusetts), a constitutional amendment is the one thing he shouldn't need. (And where else could these "will of the people", "activist judges" arguments have been employed in the past? Segregation comes to mind.)

6:59 - "God"

7:05 - "God"

Final count:

"nukular" - 4
"God" - 3

Democratic Response


7:17 - Translation: "We do too have credibility on national security."

7:18 - Pelosi's not a terribly good speaker.

7:19 - She also can't decide how she wants to pronounce "Iraq".

7:20 - "nuclear" Ah, I feel better already.

7:21 - I'm happy to hear her attacking the real shortcomings in our national security policy. But will it stick?


7:23 - They expected Bush to talk about space. Oops.

7:26 - He talks as if he's perpetually saying "Don't worry, I'm your friend". It's a little creepy after a while.

7:28 - The "Bush Tax" meme continues to spread.

7:28 - "When I was driving around South Dakota this summer..." ...I didn't hit any motorcyclists.

7:30 - Oh, he's done. I spaced out when he started on pensions. (Not that it isn't an important issue.)

Well, that whole experience was... really unenlightening. I should have gone with the "watch Buffy" plan after all.

1. Inconvenience customers. 2. ??? 3. Profit!

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:13 PM
I withdrew $100 from an ATM today and was stunned to receive it in the form of two $50 bills. This is so massively inconvenient that I considered making future withdraws in $40 quantities. That's when it occurred to me that this may be exactly what they want me to do. It's my own bank's ATM, so I don't pay a fee - but anyone who does will also be driven towards smaller withdrawals by the threat of payment in inconvenient denominations. They will then be forced to withdraw more often, and therefore pay the fee more often. Bastards.

"Nukular": 1 drink.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:03 PM
The State of the Union Address is tonight, and the big question on my mind is whether I should even pay attention at all. Last year's address was so full of lies, distortion, and baiting-and-switching that by the end I was less informed than before. If the effect of watching the speech is to make me dumber, shouldn't I just avoid it altogether?

If I played the SOTU Drinking Game I might be able to forget the misinformation, but at the cost of brain cells. Maybe I'd better just watch Buffy instead.

January 19, 2004

Democratic Four-way

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 8:29 PM
I can take some comfort in the fact that I was not the only one surprised by the outcome of the Iowa caucuses. My money's still on Dean winning the nomination, but it's less money now. It should be an interesting primary season, and I think I'll be reasonably happy with any of the four most probable outcomes (that would be Dean, Clark, Kerry, or Edwards).

"Reasonably happy" means that I still don't think any of them can win against Bush, but they'll at least put up a good fight.

Monster Mash

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:40 PM
Tycho seems impressed with the Van Helsing trailer. The points he raises seem a bit odd for a gamer though. Hasn't the Belmont clan been throwing crosses and battling an improbable menagerie of literary monsters in Dracula's castle since the mid-80's? Give the dude a whip and this is just a Castlevania movie.

I will say that the movie is off to a good start by including not only vampires, but Hugh Jackman. Not to mention inspiring one of the funniest Penny Arcade strips in recent memory.

January 13, 2004

Doing my part to combat grade inflation

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:55 PM
It may be possible for me to take a 10-hour teaching position this term in addition to my research. It's been too long since I've tormented students, so maybe I should look into this...

January 9, 2004

Going where man has gone before (and got bored and left)

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:04 PM
Since hearing about Bush's impending space exploration announcement, I've been wondering if it really makes sense to use a moon base as a steppingstone to Mars. As it turns out, Gregg Easterbrook has the numbers, and the answer is no.

Add me to the list of people who can't figure out what possible use a moon base could have. (A manned mission to Mars at least has some romance to it. If only we could afford it...)

January 8, 2004

Word of the day: psychoceramics

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:07 PM
Ran into this bit of terminology on The Daily Howler:

I have an (admittedly strange) hobby of collecting “weird tales” as it were, called psychoceramics in some circles, which loosely translated means “the study of crackpots.”


Insert Terminator joke here

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:04 PM
In the LA Times, via Atrios:
SACRAMENTO — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger plans to propose a 10% fee increase for Californians attending college at the University of California and California State University and a fee hike of up to 40% for graduate students at the universities, sources familiar with the governor's budget said Wednesday.

At the same time, the budget is expected to contain reductions in college financial aid for students from moderate-income families.

This is on top of fee increases totaling 40% in the last 13 months. Fortunately, my fees are paid by the Army Research Office. However, I have to wonder what Arnold's got against grad students. Maybe one of us will go on to lead the human resistance against our robot overlords?

January 7, 2004

New Year's Resolution: Read books that don't contain equations.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:38 PM
I went shopping yesterday with a couple of Barnes and Noble gift certificates from past holidays, and came back with a decent stack of books. Here's my reading list:

  • David Brin, Startide Rising
    David Brin, The Uplift War

    These are the followups to Sundiver which I finished (and posted on) yesterday. Apparently any one of them can stand alone, though.

  • Neal Stephenson, Quicksilver

    I have mixed feelings about another 900-page tome from Stephenson; Snow Crash was twice as good as Cryptonomicon in half the length. On the other hand, everything I've heard suggests that Quicksilver is better than Cryptonomicon, and the subject matter - the Scientific Revolution - is hard for me to resist, so I decided to give it a try.

  • Richard Morgan, Altered Carbon

    I ran across the Amazon page for this book while working on my Sundiver post yesterday. Sounds like a sort of cyberpunk/noir/crime fiction blend that could be very good.

  • George R. R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

    I played the board game based on this book with my D&D group a few weeks ago. Fun game, but I was the only one in the room unfamiliar with the setting. It must have more political intrigue than the average fantasy, given that the board game was entirely politics...
  • Bram Stoker, Dracula

    Given all the vampire media I've consumed recently (Buffy, Legacy of Kain, Castlevania...), I felt I should check out some of the source material. Josh assures me that it's better than the Francis Ford Coppola film, which would honestly not be terribly difficult.

3,742 pages; this should keep me busy for a while...

January 6, 2004

Sundiver: More laser beams than a Dr. Evil plot

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:11 PM
While in Houston I happened upon my copy of Sundiver by David Brin, which had been sitting unread in my closet for a few years. I don't really know why I never got around to reading it; maybe it was the godawful cover art. Brin was not only a Techer but a Lloydie (I met him once when he visited the campus), and I've enjoyed his essays but never read his fiction. (For a great Brin essay, try this one on the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek.) Anyway, I tossed the book in my bag for the road.

I read about 90% of it during my interminable travel on Sunday, and finished it on the BART this morning. So, a few comments:

It struck me that Brin writes as if his audience is the Caltech science fiction book club. The prose is frequently dense with scientific terminology which I imagine could be troublesome for less technical readers. I kind of enjoyed it but it's definitely not for everyone. (Since this is his first novel this probably changes over time.) This did, however, result in some awkward dialogue.

As far as plot I was expecting (based on the back cover synopsis) a Ringworld-style exploration where a bunch of humans and aliens go somewhere in a cool ship and find cool stuff. There were elements of this, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the book was primarily a mystery novel embedded in a sci-fi novel, a combination I've always found enjoyable. But this, too, was geared to a technical audience; some of the major clues involved physics that might not be as familiar to the average reader as they were to me. I can't decide whether this is a complaint; I do derive a certain amount of enjoyment from solving a mystery based on my knowledge of optics, but it obviously restricts the audience a bit.

I do have one definite complaint: the ending was too neat. Pretty much every conflict, internal and external, was resolved, with a couple of exceptions that are obviously the driving forces for the entire series that begins with this book. It seemed rather unrealistic.

Anyway, not the greatest book I've ever read, but a good companion for hours of plane travel. I'll probably pick up the sequel, Startide Rising, which is supposed to be very good and in a rather different vein from Sundiver. I'm curious where the story will go...

January 5, 2004

Do not adjust your set.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:23 PM
I will be playing with the color scheme for the next few minutes. Please do not be alarmed, even if it looks horribly ugly.

Age before beauty

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:53 PM
Friday evening I violated my romantic comedy rule (which is, briefly, "only on dates") since the Pinneys wanted to go see Something's Gotta Give. It had some amusing moments, though subtlety was not its strong point. I would say, however, that two hours eight minutes is far too long for a movie of this genre. Worse, they could have ended it earlier and also given it a better ending. As it was, the ending just reinforced the same societal double-standards that it purported to lampoon. (Warning: spoilers ahead.)

Jack Nicholson's character is a guy who's had 40 years of shallow, meaningless relationships with young women. One might think that this would make him unable to form a deep emotional bond with another person, and the movie more or less gets this right; as a result, he ends up breaking the heart of Diane Keaton's character. On the other hand, Keanu Reeves plays a young doctor who ignores the bimbos who throw themselves at him and pursues Keaton because he enjoys her company on an intellectual level. In his relationship with Keaton he never treats her badly. So which one does she choose in the end? The 63-year-old emotional midget. Oh, right, he's changed. 40 years of habit gone in six months. Whatever. Even after his supposed transformation he still doesn't bother to show enough interest in Keaton to see her hit play on Broadway. Basically what this movie is saying is that a guy can date 22-year-olds until he is physically unable due to age, at which point he can settle down with some nice intellectual woman for company in his twilight years. And said woman should go with him rather than the attractive young man who actually cares about her. I can only assume that after this experience Keanu's doctor starts chasing the bimbos, and I don't blame him.

More actors in politics

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:34 PM
I don't know how a candidate who appeared in Ninja III: The Domination could possibly be considered soft on defense.

And while we're on the subject, guess who had an uncredited appearance in Return of the Killer Tomatoes?

Return of the Gazebo

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:25 PM
I'm back in California, and (therefore) back in lab. The campus is quiet since the undergrads haven't returned yet. Ants have not overrun my apartment in my absence despite a recurring dream about this. All is well; the forces of chaos are nowhere to be seen... yet.

January 1, 2004

Illusory sense of time

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:44 AM
Brian Greene, author of The Elegant Universe, attempts to explain relativity in a New York Times op-ed. It's hard for me to tell how transparent something like this is to the layperson, but it may be of interest.


Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:28 AM
Happy New Year!

I have a new year's resolution to discontinue the practice of two-word subject lines on my posts here. It was an interesting experiment, but I had to throw out too many good headings, and I started to feel like I was recycling.

I'm also planning some cosmetic changes to the site sometime this month, depending on when I get around to it. The sidebar needs a little work and I may do some of that today. I am retiring the scoreboard; victory unfortunately went to the Rhinemaidens, but we can hope that the Valkyries will do better in 2004 (although I will not be tabulating).

Last year instead of resolutions I set goals for myself to be accomplished by the end of the year. I made the mistake that all but one of these goals were qualitative, and so what exactly it meant to accomplish them was ill-defined. I did achieve the one unambiguous goal and satisfied the others to a non-trivial, but less than ideal, extent. (Sorry, I'm not going to post what they were.) I may do this again for 2004 with better-formulated goals.

If you have a suggestion for improving the site layout please pass it along!