January 29, 2005

Flickr post: SF skylines

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:02 PM

san francisco, from mission dolores park

Took this one in San Francisco; I also took one from Berkeley. I've uploaded both to my Berkeley photoset along with Phi facing off with a cat.

(Phi's photostream has some related pictures.)

January 28, 2005

Friday Catblogging: Good Omens

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:05 AM

catblogging - good omens

It's not my prerogative to name a stray cat, but in order to have a way to refer to him, I've been calling him "Omen".

In some video games such as the Soul Reaver series, the main character has the ability to climb certain vertical surfaces, and climbable surfaces have a special texture to indicate this property. I assume that to Omen's eyes my legs appear to be a climbable surface, as he is rather insistent on scaling me. I wouldn't object, except that where he touches bare skin I break out in hives within minutes—I seem to have inherited my father's cat allergy.

January 26, 2005

Our situation has not improved.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:56 AM

I was pretty happy when Rod Paige resigned as Secretary of Education: he once referred to the NEA as "terrorists", and under his superintendentship the city of Houston covered up dropout rates in an Enron-style fraud. Unfortunately, Bush got to choose his replacement, too.

Margaret Spellings took over as Education Secretary on Monday. So what did she do on Tuesday?

Answer: she wrote a letter to PBS complaining that an episode of one of their children's shows included a passing reference to a gay couple[.]

It's going to be a long four years...

January 25, 2005

Yesterday's Links

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:13 AM

What I might have blogged yesterday, had the network been available:

The 50 Most Loathsome Americans, 2004. Warning: it's not very polite.

SFGate has a recording of Tasmanian devil grunts. The first thought of Boing Boing readers is "This may be the worst sound ever emitted by a carbon-based life form.", and the second is "We should make a ringtone out of this," which they do.

Someone wants to name a New Haven, CT highway after George W. Bush. This is not a terribly popular idea in that area: "We should name a traffic jam after him, not a highway," said DeStefano, a Democrat running for governor.

I think Bush himself would prefer people not be reminded that he's from Connecticut, as the Texas thing seems to work for him. It's an understandable position: when people ask where I'm from originally, I frequently say "Connecticut" despite my Texas roots...

Slate's obit on Johnny Carson talks about his skepticism of Uri Geller types, something I was not aware of.

Berkeley freshmen are more liberal than ever. This doesn't really translate to more credibility for liberalism because, well, they're Berkeley freshmen.

It's not my fault!

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:00 AM

You may have been wondering if this site was simply hiding from the most depressing day of the year. Actually, what happened was that when I arrived at my office yesterday morning, there was an e-mail from the operations manager waiting for me that said:

If you are in Birge you are likely cold and without network connection.

Yes, both the building heat and network were down. (This lends credence to my Murphy's Law hypothesis about 24 Jan.) This made it difficult for me to read this e-mail, but fortunately I was able to pick up a weak wi-fi signal from somewhere.

I've started using my Livejournal page for site status updates during unexpected outages like this, so next time you can check there if you're curious what happened. It's the second google hit for "Arcane Gazebo" after this site.

January 23, 2005

PC Load Letter [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:58 PM

I guess my Google pagerank has increased: I am now result #22 for gazebo (right behind the Wikipedia entry!), which leads to many hits from misguided people.

The West Wing - The Complete Third Season: I just started watching this, so I'll have to post a follow-up once I've seen the whole thing. It starts with a special episode they did after 9/11, which honestly wasn't very good: overly didactic, it was set up as a lecture on radical Islam delivered by the cast to high school students. However, it did have Samir from Office Space. The first regular episode is more in the show's usual vein, fortunately.

Smilla's Sense of Snow: Something else I've only just started, so I don't have anything to say about it yet. But I figured I should mention it, since I'm adding it to the sidebar.

The Futureheads: With 15 short songs (almost all are under three minutes) this CD is like musical popcorn (which is not a bad thing). The best part is definitely the band's awesome accents. I'm particularly fond of "Robot".

Weekend Filler: Random Sampling

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:30 PM

This was a big blog trend like two weeks ago; I'm late to the party.

Fire up your favorite music player (I used my iPod), load your entire library, and hit shuffle. Then post the first ten songs.

1. Ladytron: cracked LCD (Light and Magic)
2. Stereolab: The Man With 100 Cells (Margerine Eclipse)
3. Blonde Redhead: Ballad of Lemons (Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons)
4. Black Lab: Keep Myself Awake (Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Album)
5. The Shins: Mine's Not A High Horse (Chutes Too Narrow)
6. Christophe Beck, Jesse Tobias, & Joss Whedon: The Mustard (Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Once More With Feeling)
7. The Killers: Smile Like You Mean It (Hot Fuss)
8. Muse: Futurism (Origin of Symmetry)
9. The Libertines: Campaign of Hate (The Libertines)
10. Pinback: Non Photo-Blue (Summer in Abaddon)

Fairly representative, except for having two songs from Buffy soundtracks—I really have only those two CDs, it's not like my iPod is full of Buffy music. ("The Mustard" is just David Fury singing "They got... the mustard... OUT!"; it was very funny if you saw that episode. The Black Lab song sounds like something you'd play at a prom. Actually, maybe that's where it appeared in the show.) The Pinback song is definitely the best of this selection.

Post yours in the comments!

January 21, 2005

Consumerist Link Post

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:06 PM

No feline visitations this week, so no catblogging. Instead I offer an assortment of unrelated links:

I kept encountering links to Mark Dery's blog, so I read them. It's pretty good—start with the post skewering "Not One More Damn Dime Day".

There's a new Haruki Murakami book out, Kafka on the Shore. It's likely to be moved to the front of my reading queue.

By way of Amazon's (nifty) new Watch List feature, I find a pair of mix CDs compiled by the excellent band Snow Patrol. I'm unfamiliar with most of these artists, but the TV on the Radio song is great, and the presence of The Shins is a good sign as well. (I guess "Fear Divide" is actually "Weird Divide" from Oh, Inverted World.) So maybe I should check it out.

Still more merchandise: Steve Jackson Games is selling games in PDF form online.

A follow-up on the Larry Summers post: Preposterous Universe has an illustrative graph of female physics faculty by country.

January 20, 2005

Senator Boxer

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:10 PM

I was looking for something to cheer me up on Inauguration Day, and I found this interview with Barbara Boxer on Salon. She's awesome—can we clone her and elect her as our other senator too?

January 19, 2005

Look out!

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:47 AM

Apparently January 24 is the worst day of the year. They've got math and everything to back it up. (Via Warren Ellis.)

January 18, 2005

Ghost Council [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:56 AM

I'm late with the open thread, but hey, it was a three-day weekend.

Space Ghost Coast to Coast: Volume 1: This of course is Cartoon Network's hilarious talk show, hosted by 60's Hanna Barbera superhero Space Ghost. A typical episode involves Space Ghost conducting absurdist interviews with celebrity guests who appear to be under the influence of controlled substances, while various cartoon mayhem rages around them. The best episode so far is "Girlie Show", in which Space Ghost decides to give a tribute to women, and so invites Fran Drescher, Carol Channing, and "rock and roll riot grrl Alice Cooper".

Iron Council: (Follow-up) Although I didn't enjoy this as much as Perdido Street Station or The Scar, it was still a good read. It did pick up toward the end, moving toward a climactic boss battle (to use video game terminology) that was the high point—but there were about a hundred pages left after that, so the pacing was a bit weird. Still, the ending was satisfying. There were lots of sly references to Station throughout the book, which was fun, but I would have liked to see some follow-up on Scar as well—perhaps a sighting of my favorite Miéville character, Bellis Coldwine.

Funeral: This album got a lot of buzz in indie-rock circles last year, so I finally just picked it up. And hey, it's pretty good! Intense and passionate, and multilayered; "Crown of Love" sounded like a standard (if well-done) love anthem until I read the lyrics closely and realized that some of the lines I couldn't make out put it in a rather different light. My favorite song is probably "Rebellion (Lies)" . (Apparently their live show is pretty good as well.)

January 17, 2005

Women in the Sciences

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:56 PM

Matt Yglesias has a funny yet insightful post on the recent infamous comments from Larry Summers:

Now in my experience with any dorky, male-dominated activity, the problem is this: Every time a woman begins to participate in the dorky, male-dominated activity, she is immediately pounced upon by dozens of dorky, unappealing men. Some people have sufficient commitment to electrical engineering (or blogging or philosophy or whatever) to press forward nevertheless. The faint of heart, however, are driven away by the nerds never to be seen again.

I'm impressed that a Harvard alum could so eloquently summarize the Caltech gender dynamic. After you read his post, follow the link to PZ Myers' equally good remarks on the subject.

January 16, 2005

Flickr post: Tilden Park

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:11 PM


Yesterday I went hiking in Tilden Park. (It's like 2 miles from where I live--why haven't I done this before?) I came back with a number of photos (posted to Flickr here) and one weird story.

So I'm walking up Meadows Canyon Trail, and I see two women coming the opposite way: one is blindfolded, a hand outstretched, and being led by the other. As I approach, the latter develops a slightly evil smile and starts making hand signals at me which I find difficult to interpret. It turns out she's telling me not to speak, which is something I excel at anyway. She leads her companion up to me, and I start to understand; the blindfolded woman senses something in front of her and retracts her hand, but the other takes her wrist and places her hand on my shoulder. I've got the idea by now and am holding my breath so as not to give away the game. She seems confused by my denim jacket, moves her hand past my collar and to the bare skin at my neck. Jumping back, she yelps, "oh my god it's a person!" and I release my breath in a burst of laughter. The guide (also laughing) leads her down the path and thanks me as we pass.

Anyone know what this was about? Under what circumstances does one find oneself being led blindfolded down hiking trails?

Quantum scheduling

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:35 PM

I was thinking about schedule conflicts today, and it occurred to me that as a physicist working in quantum coherence, such things shouldn't be a problem for me. I should be able to build some Miévillian device to go to multiple events at once. And then I realized that I already have such a device: the qubit we currently study has this capability.

Consider what I hope will remain a purely hypothetical situation: a friend's wedding in Los Angeles being on the same day as my brother's graduation in Chicago. I'd like to go to both places, so I go into the lab and prepare to measure the qubit. A measurement of a qubit can have two possible outcomes, which I will call 0 and 1: these correspond to clockwise and counter-clockwise currents in a loop of superconducting aluminum. Ahead of time I decide that the outcome of the measurement will dictate which event I go to: if 0, I go to Chicago; if 1, I go to LA.

Next I apply a pi/2 pulse to the qubit. This is a pulse of microwave radiation tuned to the qubit's resonance frequency, over a time duration designed to rotate the qubit 90 degrees (pi/2 radians) on the Bloch sphere, which puts it in a superposition state of 0 and 1. So the qubit is in both states simultaneously. Now I make the measurement.

According to the many-worlds interpretation, what happens when I make the measurement is that there are two parallel universes: in one I measure 0 and go to Chicago, and in the other I observe 1 and go to LA. Success!

(Unfortunately, another way of looking at it is that there are two parallel universes, one in which I don't go to Chicago and one in which I don't go to LA. On average I've still only gone one place. If only I could entangle myself with the qubit without causing decoherence...)

January 14, 2005

2005 APS March Meeting

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:53 PM

The bulletin for the 2005 APS March Meeting is up. Here's the abstract for my talk, scheduled for 11:39am on Friday, March 25.

Abstract: Y16.00003 : Quantum Coherence in a Superconducting Flux Qubit

Authors: T. Hime, B.L.T. Plourde, P.A. Reichardt, T.L. Robertson, C.-E. Wu, John Clarke, (University of California, Berkeley)

We report observations of quantum coherence in a superconducting flux qubit. As the flux applied to the qubit was swept through the degeneracy point, $(n+1/2)\Phi_0$, we could resolve the change in qubit screening flux produced by the reversal of the qubit circulating current. By applying microwave radiation to the qubit, we observed resonant excitation when the qubit level splitting matched the energy of the microwave photons, corresponding to a change in the qubit screening flux. We varied the microwave frequency and mapped out the dispersion of the excited state transition which fit well to the expected hyperbolic dependence. With high-resolution spectroscopy, we measured anomalous structure and splittings on the excited state line, which may correspond to coupling to defect states in the junction tunnel barriers. We performed coherent manipulation of the qubit state by applying microwave pulses of fixed amplitude and frequency, but variable width. This resulted in Rabi oscillations with a Rabi frequency which scaled linearly with the amplitude of the microwave pulses.

The Clarke qubit group is giving three other talks in this session as well:
Y16.00002 Flux Qubits and Readout Device with Two Independent Flux Lines
Y16.00004 Measurements of Dephasing in Superconducting Flux Qubits
Y16.00005 Measurements of Relaxation in Superconducting Flux Qubits

The meeting is in Los Angeles this year, so I will be dropping by Pasadena: certain readers should consider themselves warned.

Space Exploration

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:00 PM

Via several people, the Huygens probe has landed on Titan. Very cool.

UPDATE: Liveblogging (with photos!) can be found here.

Friday Catblogging Returns!

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:29 AM

I have convinced another stray that I am not a threat, by moving real slowly like Robert Redford in Sneakers. Once he* decided I was friendly, he immediately demanded to be let inside. He refused to sit still for a picture, so every shot I took was blurry except for this one of him eyeing a comfortable spot on my couch:

friday catblogging

*Again I use "he" generically, since I have respected this cat's privacy.

January 13, 2005

I demand clockwork horrors

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:58 PM

What? Leonardo da Vinci's hidden laboratory was opened, and yet there were no fatalities from ingenious clockpunk traps? This is so disappointing. (Via Fark.)

January 12, 2005

Flickr post: dilution refrigerator

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 9:05 PM

There was some interest in pictures of equipment I actually use, so I've uploaded a couple of the fridge.

dilution refrigerator

A dilution fridge works by diluting one isotope of helium (helium-3) into another (helium-4), a process which absorbs heat under the right conditions. Excess helium-3 is then pumped off the top of the mixture and run in a closed cycle back into the dilution. I've used Flickr's notes to label various parts of the apparatus; click on the image here and then mouse over it on the Flickr page to see the annotations.

Technology marches on

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:54 PM

Via Warren Ellis:

Samsung Develops World's 1st 'Motion-Recognition' Phone

SEOUL, Jan. 12 (Yonhap) -- In the latest of a series of innovative product developments, South Korea's Samsung Electronics Co. said Wednesday it has developed the world's first mobile phone with motion-recognition capability.

Using a six-axis sensor that it says can interpret simple human motions, the SCH-S310 phone allows users to dial phone numbers by writing the numbers into the air instead of pressing buttons, Samsung Electronics said in a statement.

The new device also enables users to delete unsolicited commercial text messages by shaking the phone up and down, the company said.

I would buy it just for that feature.

Flickr post: monochromator in monochrome

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:01 PM

monochromator in monochrome

I love old scientific equipment. This is sitting in the hall right now awaiting disposal. No idea what it does.

I got a Flickr subscription, so starting with this one all photos will be uploaded in their original resolution. (Of course you still need to click the "all sizes" button to get the high-res version.)

January 11, 2005

"It's Only Divine Right," The New Pornographers

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:46 AM

Wonkette speculates as to what's on Bush's iPod.

* "Brilliant Mistake," Elvis Costello
* "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," U2
* "Search and Destroy" By Iggy And The Stooges
* "Oops I Did It Again," Britney Spears
* "Party At Ground Zero," Fishbone
* "Give Me Another Chance," Big Star
* "If I Ruled The World," Nas
* "Long Distance Drunk," Modest Mouse

There's more. It's silly, but between the death squads and the Homeland-Security-funded inauguration party we have to take our laughs where we can.


Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:33 AM

Crooked Timber is discussing Iron Council today, with the author participating. I should hurry up and finish the book so I can read this!

January 10, 2005

Matt warned us

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:10 PM

I knew things could get worse in Iraq, but I didn't think they could get like this:

The Pentagon is intensively debating an option that dates back to a still-secret strategy in the Reagan administration’s battle against the leftist guerrilla insurgency in El Salvador in the early 1980s. Then, faced with a losing war against Salvadoran rebels, the U.S. government funded or supported "nationalist" forces that allegedly included so-called death squads directed to hunt down and kill rebel leaders and sympathizers. Eventually the insurgency was quelled, and many U.S. conservatives consider the policy to have been a success . . .

Death squads... I feel physically ill.

January 9, 2005

Last week's resolution implemented [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:08 PM

This week's media:

House of Flying Daggers: Of course this movie had lots of stylized kung-fu acrobatics, and shots of various missile weapons in flight, but what sticks in my mind is the last fight scene: no graceful dancing, just two pissed-off guys who really wanted to kill each other, it was simultaneously beautiful and horrifying. Recommended for this alone.

Raiders of the Lost Ark: This classic movie needs no introduction. The DVD is a faithful reproduction; there are no Ewoks in this version. I'd forgotten that Sallah is played by John Rhys-Davies; presumably the line Asps. Very dangerous. You go first. was to be followed by Well, this is a thing unheard of. An elf would go underground, where a dwarf dare not. Oh, I'd never hear the end of it.

From a Basement on the Hill: If you've heard about this album then you probably know the story behind it: Elliott Smith committed suicide before completing it, and it was collected and published posthumously by friends and family. As a result, it's an unpolished but emotionally powerful album. The songs reflect the artist's deep unhappiness, but I found them moving rather than simply depressing. It's the kind of album that I queue up intending to listen to just one track, and end up getting lost in for a while until I remember that I had something to do. The lyrics I chose for the sidebar are from "Don't Go Down" which is a good representation of the themes of sadness that run through this work.

January 8, 2005

Flickr post: rain over the bay

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:20 PM

rain over the bay
I was experimenting with my camera's photo stitch mode; I used it to capture the rainclouds-to-blue-sky transition visible from the roof of my apartment building. It's almost 180 degrees with the center facing approximately west (so that's the bay in the distance).

(The Flickr page has a larger version.)

More Saturday reading

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:42 PM

Via Unfogged, a very nice rant (a month old, so you may have seen it) from Heather Havrilevsky (formerly of Suck).

This is how you find the man/woman of your dreams, stupids: You refuse to waste time on the man/woman of your loneliness-fueled spreadsheets. And if you can't get worked up over anyone... well, Jesus, what is wrong with you? Can you get worked up over anything at all? Here in LA, lots of people wax romantic about movies, but when it comes to their real lives, they're fucking numb and alienated and don't see the raw thrill, the breathtaking drama of every little minute. Blahblahblah boringcakes, motherfuckers! The girl who made you your coffee this morning has beautiful green eyes, and she paints weird portraits of her customers and keeps chocolate and rope stashed in her nightstand and she reads books about gardening and she knows what she wants. You could spend the next two months in bed, honkwinders, getting tied up and eating chocolate and watching old movies in the middle of the night. You could be swooning and sighing and feeling like the world is opening up like a flower. So why are you watching "Survivor" with that guy who bores the shit out of you, and pisses you off, and doesn't give a flying fuck about how you feel, ever, and mostly just wants you to get to the point and stop crying? Why are you heating up canned soup and wondering about the long-term viability of negotiating a reasonably satisfying coexistence with someone 3,000 miles away?

The mixture of cynicism and idealism here is very impressive. Part of me wants to mount a defense of the cost/benefit analysis but it would just pale by comparison.

Physicists at play

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:33 PM

If the UCB physics holiday party were like this, I'd actually go.

It's long been a tradition at the Physics and Astronomy Party to plug wires into a dill pickle and set it aglow. It's a simple trick that takes place on the back-deck table, and at this year's gathering a student was given the job of sinking the wires into either end of the vegetable. "The tough part," my father joked, "is not to get electrocuted." The young lady set down her beer, securely lodged the wires, then plugged in the cord. The pickle turned an alien yellow, began to hum like a spaceship, and started cooking from the inside out. For 30 minutes the students played this game, laughing and rearranging the wires, adding more pickles, pouring beer over them, and somehow managing not to fry one another.

January 6, 2005

Another look at the problem of evil

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:44 PM

The problem of evil has been a subject of discussion here before, so this (somewhat technical) Crooked Timber post on the subject may also be of interest. It's prompted by, but not focused on, discussions of the tsunami disaster.

(While I was reading it, the Ladytron song "evil" came up on my iPod playlist. Coincidence, or a message from beyond?)


Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:52 AM

It seemed fairly straightforward: we sent one of our instruments to a vendor to have an option installed. Unfortunately, the vendor broke the device when attempting the installation, so they sent it to the manufacturer for repair. Months pass. We get the instrument back, and it is (a) still broken, and (b) doesn't have the option installed. So we return it to the vendor, who reports that they find nothing wrong with it, and send it back. Well, it's working again, but the option still isn't installed.

My dilemma at the moment is how to compose a polite business e-mail whose content is equivalent to: What the fuck?

January 5, 2005


Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 8:30 PM

Uploading images to Movable Type is annoying (it looks like Typepad is working on something better), so I opened a Flickr account, here. This is a nice site, and I may have to get a paid account so I don't have to go through resizing all my images to stay under the upload limit.

So far I've put up just the photos from my New Canaan trip, which are mostly nature photos from (a) Sherwood Island State Park and (b) a reservoir area in New Canaan itself. There are a few photos with people in them as well. Another thing I'd do if I had a paid account is divide these into separate sets.

January 4, 2005

New Format [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:15 PM

I'm back in California, so here's the long-awaited sidebar update. I'm bored with the weekly quotes so for now I'm using my favorite of the previous quotes, which was from Paradise Lost. The previous quote was from The Simpsons, "Treehouse of Horror II", as Mr. Burns transplants Homer's brain into a Frankenstein-like robot.

If I'm not changing the quotes I need some filler for the open thread posts. My plan is to do mini-reviews for new sidebar items, since I should be saying more about them anyway.

Hero: Finally saw this on DVD. Loved the color-coded cinematography, liked the martial arts, hated the message (which was: Ruthless dictators are great, because they bring peace and order (after they conquer everything).). Also, loved Zhang Ziyi. Resolved: I will see House of Flying Daggers this week.

Metroid Prime 2: Echoes: Plays just like the first Metroid Prime with some new and clever additions, which is to say it's excellent. The feeling of exploration and discovery is very powerful, and I find myself using the scan visor on everything in sight to learn more about the world.

Iron Council: The third of China Miéville's Bas-Lag novels is also the most political, with strong Marxist undertones. But I'm not reading for the dance of revolution; I'm reading for the weird-ass monsters and magics, and in this regard Iron Council is less interesting and less gripping than its predecessors. I'm at about the halfway point, and hoping it will ramp up rapidly as the other books did.

Dear Catastophe Waitress: Belle & Sebastian create orchestral pop songs to which I have become quite addicted. The first two tracks are a bit overly cute, but the album really gets going with "If She Wants Me" . My other favorites are "Wrapped Up In Books" and "Piazza, New York Catcher" which despite the name is actually about love in San Francisco. The weakest song is "Lord Anthony", a fairly boring high-school-angst ballad.

Be sure to check out the 2005 Open Thread below which has lots and lots of media recommendations from commenters.

January 1, 2005

2005 Open Thread

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:19 AM

Happy New Year everyone!

Blog-related New Year's resolution: install MT-Blacklist to battle the spammers who have learned to post to recent entries. I have to disentangle my MT installation from mod_perl first, since they are incompatible; I hope this doesn't wreck the whole thing.

Will update sidebar/quote/etc. when I get home (Tuesday).

What were your favorite media of 2004? What's on your list for 2005? Any New Year's resolutions?