August 30, 2004

Orcs and shotguns

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:08 PM

Last week's quote (We should have shotguns for this kind of deal.) was of course from Pulp Fiction. The new one is difficulty: Formidable, 4 points.

I usually update the Media Room (bottom of the sidebar) with the quote, but since my DSL hasn't been connected yet I'm using a weak wireless signal that I'm picking up from somewhere--weak enough that I would rather spare myself the annoyance of doing this on an intermittent connection and do it later. If you're really curious, I'm on to the second season of The West Wing, listening to (among others) Light and Magic by Ladytron, and re-reading Altered Carbon for RPG purposes (although it's not as if this is a chore). Haven't had time to see any movies (or play Doom 3), but Hero is next on the list.

August 29, 2004

Developments in Personal Environmentalism

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:52 PM

As I carried one of my larger plants into the new apartment, it occurred to me that I was, at that moment, quite literally hugging a tree, and this was truly an appropriate way to inaugurate my official residence in the City of Berkeley...

August 26, 2004

Margaret Cho on shyness

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:10 PM

This post on Margaret Cho's blog is ultimately about Bush and the Republican convention, but more interesting to me were her comments at the beginning on her struggle with shyness:

I am a painfully shy person.

This poses many challenges of course, especially because I have put myself in a very un-shy profession, which forces me not only to speak in front of thousands of strangers daily, it constantly brings me into the company of people I have never met before.

It is difficult for me to have conversations, which is something that I am actively seeking to change. Whenever I am put in a situation where I am sharing a space with someone I don't know, I try to get to know them, almost aggressively, as if I could make up for all those years of self imposed isolation.

It is strange how we can be solitary in the midst of crowds of people. I have lived this way for my entire life. Aloneness is not an uncomfortable thing for me, in fact, it feels a bit too much like home. So I attempt to venture out as much as I can. Of course, there is a natural resistance to it, but fighting my own nature in this case I believe is a positive thing. Besides, I am learning a tremendous amount.

A lot of this is very familiar (and may sound familiar to my regular readers). I've found that the aggressiveness she talks about is an important part of the strategy—not in the sense of having an aggressive tone in conversation, but being aggressive in seizing opportunities to interact with people, where I would ordinarily be restrained by shyness. There's a snowball effect during even a moment of hesitation wherein my doubts multiply to overwhelm my self-confidence, but it I jump into the situation I'll end up concentrating on what I'm doing rather than dwelling on these self-defeating thoughts. The trick is recognizing that shyness is about to kick in, and having the courage to run ahead of it...

Third year in a row

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:51 PM

This year's income study from the Census Bureau is out. Guess what:

The number of Americans living in poverty rose by 1.3 million last year, to 35.9 million, while those without health insurance climbed by 1.4 million, to 45 million, the Census Bureau reported today.

It was the third straight annual increase for both categories.

As I did last year, I thought of David Brin's prescient letter to Slashdot from 2000. This is the natural result of the Bush administration's tax policy, and it's getting harder to believe it isn't intentional. (I'm recalling that footage from Fahrenheit 9/11—"Some people call you 'the elite.' I call you 'my base.'")

But why worry about these issues, when we can be discussing whether John Kerry really deserved that Purple Heart?

August 25, 2004

Soulless Veteran

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:46 PM

As you may have heard, Max Cleland attempted to deliver a letter to George Bush's Crawford campaign prop ranch, denouncing the ads questioning Kerry's military record . While Cleland was unable to get the letter through the roadblock, apparently the Bush campaign asked another Vietnam veteran, Jerry Patterson, to exchange letters with him. Patterson had this to say:

"I tried to accept that letter and he would not give it to me," said Patterson. "He would not face me. He kept rolling away from me. He's quite mobile."

(Via Talking Points Memo.)
This reminds me of someone else...
Angelus: As long as there's injustice in the world, as long as scum like you is walking... well, rolling the streets... I'll be around. ("Innocence")

Angelus: Well, maybe next time I'll bring you with me, Spike. Might be handy to have you around if I ever need a really good parking space. ("Passion")

Angelus: Don't worry, roller boy. I've got everything under control. ("Passion")

Angelus: Things change, Spikey. You gotta roll with the punches. Well, actually, you pretty much got that part down, haven't you? ("I Only Have Eyes For You")

Hey, Angelus is a charming guy, but I'm not sure the Bush campaign should be emulating him.

August 24, 2004

Unattractive fantasies

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:13 PM

Time for another entry in the never-ending series on small perturbations in my attractiveness. Via Sarah Weinman I learn that my choice of reading material doesn't poll well with women:

Penguin books quizzed 1000 females about the holiday reads they would look for in a mate.

They found fantasy fiction like JK Rowling's series, JRR Tolkien's Lord Of The Rings and Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels put girls off.

Sex and relationships expert Tracey Cox, from BBC2's Would Like To Meet, said men escaping into alternative realities appear to have less grip on the real world.

She added: 'They usually are so immersed in the world they're experiencing through their book, they forget about real life.

'This guy isn't going to be trendy or particularly rich.'

Hey, just because I once wore a Starfleet uniform to a Renaissance Faire doesn't mean I don't have a grip on the real world!

Cardboard boxes: Not just for sneaking around.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:50 PM

I am in the process of moving to a new apartment, at least when I can sneak away from lab (where there has been no detectable decrease in the sense of urgency since the review meeting). Realistically I don't expect blogging to be any more sporadic than usual, but it may become less topical since I haven't had as much time to keep up with the news. Also, I may become crankier as the stress dials up. I'm sure I'll be back to my usual cheerful (ha!) self by next week.

August 23, 2004

Last George R. R. Martin quote for a while.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:03 PM

Last week ("Why come back?" "I dreamed of you.") was from A Storm of Swords—I won't say where so as not to spoil it, but it's one of my favorite scenes in the book.

New one is difficulty: Easy; 1 point.

August 21, 2004

Emphasis on "traffic".

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:43 PM

Sign observed on the back of a truck: "I may be crazy, but I'm no Berkeley traffic engineer."

Berkeley traffic patterns appear much more rational when one considers that they may be deliberately engineered for inefficiency. One way to encourage people to use bicycles or public transit is to make driving really annoying... it convinced me.

August 20, 2004

Damn Digestive Disorder

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:47 PM

Someone remind me why anyone takes the Catholic Church seriously:

Church Denies 8-Year-Old's Non-Wheat Communion

An 8-year-old girl who has a rare digestive disorder and cannot consume wheat has had her first Communion declared invalid because the wafer contained none.

Now, Haley Waldman's mother is pushing the Diocese of Trenton and the Vatican to make an exception, saying the sacrament should be changed to accommodate the girl's condition.

This sort of absurd Bible-lawyering on the part of the church is hardly a surprise; what is surprising is that in 21st century America there are people who will try to get the decision changed, rather than simply telling the church where to stick their unleavened-wheat communion wafer. What further demonstration do people need that these guys wouldn't know spirituality if it bit them on their collective ass?

(Via Fafblog, which is really the only blog that can address this at an appropriate level.)

August 19, 2004

Orlando Notes

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:53 PM

Destruction: Thanks to Hurricane Charley, our terminal at the Orlando airport was missing a roof. Ok, this is an exaggeration, but there was enough damage that water from the recent rains was falling from the ceiling as we stepped through the gate, and ceiling tiles that absorbed too much water had been falling to the floor.

Outside we saw plenty of uprooted trees and freeway signs ripped from their posts, but no scenes of apocalyptic devastation.

In-flight Movies: Total offered: 4. Total watched: 0. They were:
Mean Girls: I'd actually heard this was good, but I spent the flight finishing A Storm of Swords.
Starsky & Hutch: Or, I could sleep.
Johnson Family Vacation: I didn't watch it, but based on the reaction of the woman sitting next to me, it's almost as funny as catching Dorothy and her little dog, too.
Jersey Girl: I'd been warned about this one, and avoided it.

In-flight Reading:
A Storm of Swords: This is a damn good fantasy series. Unfortunately, I'm now in the miserable category of Waiting for the Next Book. And it's going to be a long wait. I'm writing down some notes about what the characters are doing so I can remind myself in a year.

Battle Royale: This was my reading material for the rest of the trip. Very much a pulp novel and the writing is at about the quality of The Da Vinci Code (this is not a compliment). But in this case that could be a problem with the translator rather than the author. Decent airplane reading, although I had trouble at times keeping track of all the characters--maybe I, too, should have been checking them off the list.

Annoying Children: Needless to say, if Orlando isn't the world capital of loud, obnoxious kids, it's at least in the top five. During the shuttle ride from the airport (30 minutes that felt like a year) I was crammed in with some typical specimens, and I spent the ride inventorying the items on hand to determine if I could, on the spot, undertake irreversible surgery to prevent me from ever spawning. Although if there had been sharp objects on hand, I'm not sure I would have been so restrained as to use them only on myself. The father was just as bad, pointing to every billboard that advertised a theme park (which meant, in fact, every billboard) and saying, "Look guys, there's [name of ride]". Maybe they came from a state with no advertising, I don't know.

I also got to share my return flight with the Whiniest Kid in the Universe, who cried for pretty much the entire flight over some trivial issue (he dropped a cup on the floor, and couldn't retrieve it? It was something like this), and then, in a brilliant tactical manuever, switched to crying about how his "parent" (I use the term loosely) was making him cry by not rectifying the situation. Having just read all that George R. R. Martin I immediately thought of Robert Arryn, but since I was sitting in the exit row, I was the one with the Moon Door*. I suppose I would have been prevented from flinging him out the exit door, but it was a nice thought. (As an aside, while my position on screaming infants on airplanes is well-known, I at least understand their point of view. When the kid is old enough to know better, that's less excusable.)

*Did I get the name right? I'll check when I get home.

Arcane Gazebo vs. Dihydrogen Monoxide: I engaged in an epic battle against the hotel shower, and lost. The design flaws were combined too well to really be flaws; I suspect the designer was deliberately trying to cause trouble.

The Talk: I walked up to the podium, clipped on the microphone, and set up the Powerpoint slides. Then I turned around and saw that I was looking at a big room filled with important people who were all looking at me. My brain sort of froze at that point, but some automatic trigger went off and I heard my own voice over the speaker introducing the talk. Once I had started, I had to concentrate on what to say next and this caused me to put the whole being-stared-at thing at the back of my mind. I felt like my delivery was better than it was in March, and the feedback I got later was very positive. Plus, my talk was given as an annex to John's, so I stuck him with all the questions. So it was pretty successful.

Beer, then sleep. Blog later.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:26 AM

Please excuse the lack of updating this week; I just staggered back in from Orlando where I barely had time to eat or sleep, never mind blog (or, for that matter, step outside the hotel). A more detailed report should follow tomorrow, and then I will try to catch up on the news.

August 15, 2004

Dreaming of a new quote

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:23 PM

Last week's quote (I'm not randomly hostile. I'm hostile when hostility is called for.) was another one from The West Wing. This time it was from episode 1x15 ("Celestial Navigation"), from Josh Lyman as he is about to give the press briefing in place of CJ.

The new quote is difficulty: Severe; 5 points. I kept dreaming about people I know this weekend, so it seemed appropriate.

This week's travel destination

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:18 AM

Tomorrow I'm off to the Army Research Office's Quantum Computing Program Review. The conference will be held here:

Yes, we will go to Earth's far-flung future, a post-apocalyptic ruin, to seek out any surviving quantum computers... if the deathclaws don't find us first. Then, we will return to our own time, and use the newfound knowledge to try to avert the impending catastrophe, incurring any number of paradoxes in the process.

No, wait--that's actually a photo from Florida. The conference will be in Orlando. My mistake. (The NSA won't authorize us to use their time-travel technology until the next round of funding anyway.)

August 12, 2004

On the mass annulments in SF

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:08 PM
State high court invalidates SF's same-sex marriages

San Francisco's attempt to legalize same-sex marriages, which made the city a magnet for gay and lesbian couples from around the nation and the focus of a nationwide political uproar, ran into a roadblock Thursday at the California Supreme Court.

The justices ruled unanimously that Mayor Gavin Newsom overstepped his authority when he ordered the marriage licenses issued on Feb. 12 in defiance of a state law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

I hate to say it but the court did the right thing here. Unconstitutional laws should be challenged through the courts rather than just disregarded by local officials who disagree with them. In this case I agree with Newsom's goal, but I can't help envisioning alternative scenarios where more conservative towns reject state law for more harmful purposes. If a California mayor instituted (say) mandatory school prayer under this kind of argument, I'd want the courts to stop him as soon as possible, and I feel I should hold Newsom to the same standard.

The sort of legal action that led to same-sex marriage in Massachusetts seems like the right way to do it, barring a successful ballot measure or act of the legislature (neither of which is likely). Of course conditions have to be right in the courts, or the result could instead be a pretty damaging precedent.

August 11, 2004

Is my name hot or not?

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:45 PM

Hey, I've got at least one thing going for me:

Pleasing names make faces sexier
Linguist Amy Perfors of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, US, placed photos with fake names on a website called “Hot or Not”, which allows viewers to rank strangers’ photos for attractiveness.

She found that men labelled with names including “front vowels,” such as the “aaa” sound in Matt were rated as more attractive by website viewers than photos labelled with “back vowel” names, such as the “aw” sound in Paul. The opposite was true for women’s names.

(Via Maaatt Yglesias)

I'd forgotten about Hot or Not. On the timescale of internet memes, that was eons ago...

August 10, 2004

Scorched-earth anti-spam tactics begin.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:48 PM

Since spammers persist in mass posting of unspeakably vile advertisements, I have disabled HTML in comments. This is retroactive, so if a comment doesn't make sense it probably contained a link originally. Or it was one of those comments I posted after five beers.

Now I have to hope the spammers realize I did this, and go away.

UPDATE: Fuck! I went through all 450 entries in the archives and deleted all the comment spam, and while I was doing this a bunch more got posted. I'm going to block IP's as well; the guy posting the majority of these is just cycling through a small number of addresses. Unfortunately the easiest way to get the IP addresses is to view the e-mails I get when a comment is sent, which means viewing the comments, which is not something I can really do safely while in the lab...

UPDATE 2: Ok, I think I got all of it for now. If anyone comes across spam that I missed, please let me know. This would have been much more annoying without Firefox's "Find As You Type" feature to locate the desired post on the edit page. My new policy will be to block promptly the originating IP of every spam comment, which would have saved me a lot of trouble had I done this earlier. It's unfortunate that I had to disable HTML in comments, but if this annoyance gives me more time for actual blogging as opposed to fighting spam, it's worthwhile on balance.

The difficulty here is obviously that it's a lot less effort for spammers to attack than it is for me to clean up after them, and a lot easier for them to switch IP addresses than it is for me to ban them. The strategy I have in mind is to pursue these measures in the short run, while hoping that in the long run I get taken off whatever list I'm on of Movable Type blogs that allow HTML comments. The whole point of the blog spamming exercise is to increase the spammer's Google PageRank, so if I'm lucky they'll decide I'm not worth the tiny effort involved if they can't post links.

After stress comes hostility.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:46 PM

Belatedly I get around to updating the quote. Last week's quote (That's just the stress talking, man.) was from The Big Lebowski, said by Walter to The Dude. The new one is difficulty: Moderate; 2 points.

August 7, 2004

Hardware Inadequacies

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:21 PM

My trusty laptop computer Aelia does not meet the "minimum system requirements" for Doom 3. Her shortcoming is the graphics adapter; while Aelia's Radeon 9000 is supported, she has the 32MB version, and this is Not Recommended.

This did not deter me from installing the game; the framerate is highly suboptimal but playable. As others have said, it's very immersive and quite spooky (with the occasional cheesiness like the floating skulls). I have yet to try the multiplayer.

My trusty desktop computer Tentacle also fails to meet the minimum system requirements. Its graphics adapter has 64MB, but is an older, unsupported Radeon. This can be remedied at moderate expense, but Tentacle also falls 100MHz short of the minimum processor requirement. The question I have been asking myself is whether the game would run better on a slower computer with a better graphics card...

Of course I could make some more massive upgrades, but I haven't been playing enough computer games lately to justify this.


Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:37 PM

June 24, 2004: "I hesitate to make any endorsements related to this measure, as my position could leave me open to smart-ass remarks in the comments. However, since I'm not likely to move to Berkeley before November, I won't have the opportunity to vote on it anyway."

August 2, 2004: "A move to Berkeley is looking more and more probable."

August 7, 2004: I have leased an apartment in Berkeley. Expect the local politics section of this blog to get a lot wackier.

August 5, 2004

According to Brad, it's a beautiful day upstairs.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:28 PM

Brad DeLong sits on Strada's heated porch and contemplates summer in Berkeley:

It is 3 P.M. on an August day at the coffeehouse La Strada, at the corner of Bancroft and College. The sun is shining. The espresso machines are humming--Italian technology being operated by Spanish-speaking immigrant workers processing water from the Sierra Nevadas, milk from Marin County, and a ground-up roasted bean originally from Ethiopia now grown in Central America under shade canopies by small farmers interested in sustainable agriculture. It is a beautiful day.

The overhead heat lamps are on.

I repeat that: the overhead heat lamps are on to take the chill out of the air, so that we can comfortably sit in the sun, sip our coffee, and discuss the Great Intellectual Issues.

"Paradise" is derived from the Old Persian word for the wall around an enclosed, irrigated garden. Xenophon mistook the word for the enclosing wall for the word for the garden-park itself, and here we are. In some ways all of Greater San Francisco is a paradise: the sea-breeze off the cold Alaska current to keep us cool when it threatens to get hot, heat lamps to warm us outside when it threatens to get cool, lots and lots of water from the Sierra Nevadas to irrigate and let us grow green things during the nine months of the year when it rarely rains (and the five months of the year when it never rains).

If only I didn't have this sneaking feeling that there is something unnatural about having to turn on the heat lamps in the middle of the day in August. It has been a relatively cool summer.

To his "if only" I will add mine: If only the lab weren't in the basement...

August 4, 2004

Kerry vs. Dracula

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:11 PM

I may stop by the comics shop on the way home:

Kerry fights "Dracula" in Vietnam

Set aside the question of whether all politicians are bloodsuckers, and check out John Kerry in the latest issue of "Sword of Dracula" (Image, $2.95). The Democratic presidential candidate turns up for a sighting of the fanged one in an unusual place: Vietnam, 1968, where Kerry served in the U.S. Navy.

Kerry doesn't drive a stake through Nixon's heart, and his appearance as a swift-boat skipper in the Mekong Delta is just a flashback within the modern-day "military horror" story — in which writer Jason Henderson reimagines Drac as the world's foremost terrorist.

This I gotta see.

I'm published

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:06 PM

in the August issue of Review of Scientific Instruments.

Review of Scientific Instruments -- August 2004 -- Volume 75, Issue 8, pp. 2541-2544

Low-noise computer-controlled current source for quantum coherence experiments

S. Linzen, T. L. Robertson, T. Hime, B. L. T. Plourde, P. A. Reichardt, and John Clarke
Department of Physics, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720-7300

(Received 10 February 2004; accepted 2 May 2004; published online 26 July 2004)

We describe a dual current source designed to provide static flux biases for a superconducting qubit and for the Superconducting QUantum Interference Device (SQUID) which measures the qubit state. The source combines digitally programmable potentiometers with a stabilized voltage source. Each channel has a maximum output of ±1  mA, and can be adjusted with an accuracy of about ±1  nA. Both current supplies are fully computer controlled and designed not to inject digital noise into the quantum bit and SQUID during manipulation and measurement of the flux. For a 275  µA setting, the measured noise current is 2.6 parts per million (ppm) rms, in a bandwidth of 0.0017–10  Hz, from which we estimate dephasing times of hundreds of nanoseconds in the particular case of our own qubit design. By resetting the current every 10  min, we are able to reduce the drift to no more than 5  ppm at a current of 750  µA over a period of 3 days. The current source has been implemented without thermal regulation inside a radiofrequency-shielding room, and is used routinely in our quantum coherence experiments. ©2004 American Institute of Physics.

August 3, 2004

Gossips 4, Wonks 3

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 7:04 PM

Everyone's talking about the Campaign Desk quiz, so who am I to argue? I answered seven questions correctly, missing questions 6, 7, and 10 (although I knew the number of private sector job losses).

Soda tasting

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:19 PM

Failing to obtain either the vanilla or classic varieties from the Evans Hall Coke machine, I went in the bucket, pushing the button for C2, the new half-sugar version. The taste was surprisingly close to the classic formula, though a bit subdued and with a hint of artificial sweetener. I'll probably continue to pick Classic over C2, but I'd drink it again (whereas I stay away from Diet). Of course, Vanilla Coke remains the champion.

August 2, 2004

Not dead yet...

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:51 PM

Last week's quote (He's the deadest man in Deadonia.) was another Buffy; episode 4x20 ("The Yoko Factor").

The new one is difficulty: Moderate; 2 points.

Weekend notes

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:53 AM

Forced Relocation: Days remaining to move - 36. A move to Berkeley is looking more and more probable.

Marathon: Good weather for running: cool and overcast, with some light rain early on. Despite the nice weather I was still really slow, averaging 10:30 miles for most of the race and dropping to a walk for significant portions of miles 23-25. Anyway, the important thing is that I finished (at 4:50, ten minutes before the course closed).

UPDATE: Here's a photo from (I think) the beginning of mile 26:

Atkins Peanut Butter Cups: They were handing these out after the race. I suppose the idea is to simulate the Reese's version, but this implementation more resembles mud injected with cut-rate artificial flavoring. Avoid at all costs.

Terror Alert: Wolf! Wolf! Ok, I should give them some credit for actually being specific this time.

Golden Dynasty: Pretty good Cantonese cuisine in El Cerrito. I'm probably moving out of El Cerrito this month, so this discovery is of limited usefulness.

Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle: I was expecting more Dude, Where's My Car? fare, and it was, only much funnier. On top of that it's a commentary on racial identity and race relations in America. Highly recommended.