February 28, 2005

Angel, Spike, Kain [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:06 PM

Momentarily surfacing to update the sidebar:

Angel - Season 5: It's Spike! On Angel! This makes me happy. Also, there was an episode with Simon Templeman (aka Kain of Legacy of Kain) guest starring in a very Kain-esque role.

Rilo Kiley: More Adventurous: I told Amazon I liked Universal Audio and it recommended this. Good call! Some of the tracks are pretty girly, but since the music's good I'm willing to overlook this. Fans of The Postal Service may be interested that Rilo Kiley lead singer Jenny Lewis does background vocals on a number of songs on Give Up. More Adventurous itself contains a stylistic nod to the Jimmy Tamborello half of The Postal Service: "Accidntel Deth" (Tamborello's solo work is under the name Dntel.)

How serious am I about my video game hiatus? Xenosaga II arrived in the mail last week, and I haven't taken it out of the envelope. Sometimes I pick up the envelope, look at it, turn it over in my hands. Then I put it down and go back to work.

February 25, 2005


Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:42 AM

Remember when I said that blogging might be reduced due to my teaching position? This is what I was talking about.

February 21, 2005

God as sloppy engineer

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:14 PM

I missed this until everybody linked to it, so you may have seen it: an opinion piece in this week's New York Times Magazine on "intelligent design", which looks at some of the bizarre engineering found in biology:

But if we can't infer anything about the design from the designer, maybe we can go the other way. What can we tell about the designer from the design? While there is much that is marvelous in nature, there is also much that is flawed, sloppy and downright bizarre. Some nonfunctional oddities, like the peacock's tail or the human male's nipples, might be attributed to a sense of whimsy on the part of the designer. Others just seem grossly inefficient. In mammals, for instance, the recurrent laryngeal nerve does not go directly from the cranium to the larynx, the way any competent engineer would have arranged it. Instead, it extends down the neck to the chest, loops around a lung ligament and then runs back up the neck to the larynx. In a giraffe, that means a 20-foot length of nerve where 1 foot would have done. If this is evidence of design, it would seem to be of the unintelligent variety.

Another great example is the wiring of the eye: as I recall, the human eye has a blind spot because the optic nerve connects to the front of the retina and therefore blocks off a patch in the field of view. Maybe this was the only way to make it work? Apparently not, as the octopus eye is wired from the back. (This is all from memory so I may be getting details wrong.)

Counting Down The Hours [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:06 PM

This has got to be the longest long weekend ever. Too much work to do, not enough distractions. Also, it will not stop raining. It's a good thing Berkeley's on a slope, because otherwise I would expect it to be underwater by now.

Giblets has the best post on the death of Hunter Thompson.

In my referrer logs, possibly the weirdest search request to reach this site came from ask.com yesterday: "quantum dead zombie pakistan". I am the third hit for this.

Million Dollar Baby: This powerful film deserves all the praise it's been getting. The day after seeing it I kept thinking back to it and each time brought tears to my eyes. Don't be put off by the premise—a gutsy woman aspiring to professional boxing seeks the attention of a crusty old trainer—which sounds like it should be a cliché-fest; the movie is really about the characters and the relationships between them. I probably shouldn't make declarations like this when I haven't seen three of the four other nominees, but: this film should win Best Picture.

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists: Shake the Sheets: I wasn't expecting to like this, having been unimpressed by Hearts of Oak (with the exception of "Ballad of the Sin Eater"), but after hearing "Counting Down The Hours" I had to give it a try. It's terrific, bursting with infectious, punk-ish energy and intruiging lyrics that are occasionally politically-tinged. Also, I love the album art (which I didn't find on a poster, so I may have to settle for a t-shirt).

February 18, 2005

Friday Catblogging: Tribute

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:00 AM

catblogging - tribute

Here's Omen sitting in his favorite chair.

Wednesday morning my alarm clock was set for 8:00, but I woke up at 7:00 and attempted to go back to sleep. I did drift off again, but I dreamed that I was still awake, and that at 7:30 I decided I might as well get up. I went over to the computer to read my e-mail, and saw several messages in my Gmail account. The top one was from someone named Bast; as I went to click on it, I was awakened from the dream by the aforementioned alarm clock.

A few minutes afterward I recalled that Bast was the name of an Egyptian goddess: in fact, she was a fertility goddess and the patron goddess of cats. So consider this episode of Friday Catblogging a tribute to Bast, since when I have the attention of the goddess of pregnant women I probably shouldn't piss her off. :) And Bast, if you're reading this, please re-send the e-mail, as I still don't know what it says.

February 17, 2005

High Winds

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 8:09 PM

high winds

High winds today toppled this big tree on campus (near North Gate).

The sign that's sliced in half helpfully explains that the path is closed.

Some dude's elbow included for scale.

Quote of the day

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:22 PM

Found while blog-surfing:

First off, following your heart is a really bad idea. This is why we have civilization, so people don't do that.

Hearts are like pirate caves. They are reputedly full of hidden treasures but usually when you open one up a whole lot of bats, spiders, and angry bears come rushing out, and there's no gold.

That's awesome.

February 16, 2005

I am a big dork.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:47 PM

Fark has declared tomorrow "National Take Your Dice To Work Day".

Geeky, yes. But it's tempting, if only so that as I return the first homework set I can claim that d% were used to determine the grades.

(In Mason's course, he can claim that he used a d20.)

February 15, 2005

Oz Definitions [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:25 PM

Is the media post getting later and later each week? Eventually it may be on Sunday and you can consider it early instead.

Sideways: You've probably heard a fair amount about this already since it got an Oscar nomination. The story follows two men on a road trip through California wine country; the trip becomes increasingly disastrous in ways that are sometimes funny and sometimes sad. Like Election (another movie by Alexander Payne), these disasters arise from the personal weaknesses of the characters. I often find myself laughing uncomfortably at this kind of movie, but Sideways did a good job of generating empathy for these guys even as you're laughing at whatever dumb thing they just did, so I ended up liking the film.

Of the films doing the award circuit, I'd also like to see Million Dollar Baby, so maybe I'll do that this weekend if I have time.

Clerks: This was for a long time one of my favorite films, and I suddenly felt like watching it again this weekend. It's interesting how my view of this movie has changed. For one thing, after seeing a lot of Aaron Sorkin and Joss Whedon creations, Kevin Smith's writing seems very clumsy by comparison (with occasional moments of brilliance). Also, the characters: When I was 17 I thought Randal was very cool, but these days I don't see much at all to admire about him. His only good quality is that he challenges Dante's view of himself as perpetual victim, a view which helps Dante assuage the guilt he feels about being selfish and irresponsible. The problem is that Randal is also selfish and irresponsible, but just doesn't care—and his advice to Dante is for him not to care either. Veronica is the only character that shows any selflessness, and she doesn't seem like very much fun, whereas Caitlin seems fun and exciting but ethically is just as bad as Randal. One has to assume all this relates to Kevin Smith's huge Catholicism issues.

The Trip (created by Snow Patrol): This is that Snow Patrol mix CD set I found a few weeks ago. I was pleased to find that I like most of it, and don't hate any of it. I haven't put up any tracks for download, since each disc is clearly meant to be played all the way through: rather than just being a compilation it's professionally mixed, so there's no break between tracks. Going by Oz definitions, the second disc ("Ernie") is more suitable for a gathering1 while the first ("Bert") might be played at a shindig2 or even perhaps a hootenanny3.

1"brie, mellow song stylings"
2"dip, less mellow song stylings, perhaps a large amount of malt beverage."
3"chock full of hoot, just a little bit of nanny"

Blonde Redhead!

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:15 AM

It probably goes without saying that I enjoyed the concert. I was unimpressed with the first few songs—I guess some calibration and warm-up was necessary, as Amadeo and Kazu were both nearly inaudible until the fourth song, "Anticipation". At that point they seemed to hit their stride and it got much better: a really good rendition of "Messenger", followed by a new-to-me song, and then "Misery is a Butterfly" which was completely awesome. "Melody" at the end of the set was also stellar.

Amadeo's singing sounded very clipped compared to the recordings; I wonder if he had a sore throat or something. This also might have been related to why I couldn't hear him at the beginning. Fortunately Kazu sounded great (and made her bandmates look like slackers by rotating between two guitars and the keyboard as well).

Oh yeah, Interpol played too. They were ok. Well, alright, I got into it more than I expected, although I still don't like their earlier songs very much (i.e. the stuff from Turn on the Bright Lights; Antics is much better).

February 14, 2005

Rebuttals to Ev Psych

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:45 PM

Consider this a belated Darwin Day post: I've become highly skeptical of evolutionary psychology, especially with regard to gender roles (I just know too many people who don't fit the EP templates). So I enjoyed reading this LA Times op-ed (via Tapped) which raises a host of objections against the usual stories (e.g. "men evolved to be promiscuous, women evolved to be monogamous"). It's a combination of flawed methodology in the original studies, and new studies that support opposite claims.

The NYTimes op-ed page seems to be a hotbed of EP; the link above references Maureen Dowd, but Nick Kristof ran an EP argument last weekend that humans are genetically programmed for religion. This elicited a nice rebuttal by John Quiggin at Crooked Timber.

All this is not to say that EP is totally worthless; I imagine it's a lot better at the research level than at the op-ed-by-untrained-pundit level.

Cthulhu Threat Advisory: SEVERE

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:27 AM
Tsunami throws up India relics

The deadly tsunami could have uncovered the remains of an ancient port city off the coast in southern India.

Archaeologists say they have discovered some stone remains from the coast close to India's famous beachfront Mahabalipuram temple in Tamil Nadu state following the 26 December tsunami.

They believe that the "structures" could be the remains of an ancient and once-flourishing port city in the area housing the famous 1200-year-old rock-hewn temple.


The myths of Mahabalipuram were first set down in writing by British traveller J Goldingham, who visited the South Indian coastal town in 1798, at which time it was known to sailors as the Seven Pagodas.

The myths speak of six temples submerged beneath the waves with the seventh temple still standing on the seashore.

Ok. So a tsunami uncovers an ancient mythical city in South Asia with six sunken temples... and we're sending archaeologists to investigate it? Doesn't anyone read Lovecraft? This is just such a bad idea. I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit.

BBC Photo of the
uncovered temple
The coming apocalypse
(artist's rendition)

February 13, 2005

Musical Statistics

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:47 PM

In the category of "nifty if it works" (or maybe the popular category "my odd fascination with my own music tastes") we have Audioscrobbler, which collects information on the music you play and promises to make recommendations based on this. Unfortunately the recommendations aspect seems to be non-functional right now (although it works on sister site Last.fm), so all I'm getting is a bunch of silly statistics on my own listening habits. If for some reason you want to know what I'm listening to right now, my user page is here—since I've only been contributing for a week, my charts are still shot-noise dominated.

February 12, 2005

Arcane Gazebo's 2/14/05 FAQ

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:12 PM

Q: So, time for another Festival of Solitude this Monday? Turn off the computer, unplug the phone, cook a steak dinner and watch Kill Bill?
A: No, I have more exciting plans this year.
Q: You're celebrating the more traditional holiday, then? Romance, flowers, lips?
A: Well, no, I don't have a date. I do, however, have a ticket to the Interpol concert.
Q: You're a fan of Interpol?
A: They're ok.
Q: Who's the opening act?
A: Blonde Redhead.
Q: Ah. Suddenly, it all seems so clear. Where is your seat?
A: Row AA, baby!
Q: Any other announcements?
A: Happy Darwin Day!

February 11, 2005

Friday Catblogging: Jumping Puzzles

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:00 AM

catblogging - jumping puzzles

I have accumulated more evidence that in Omen's eyes, I am his favorite platform game.

Exhibit A: I am tending to my plants, a process which Omen finds fascinating. I kneel down to empty some stagnant water, and apparently my leg appears to be a Mario-style moving platform; as soon as its angle is horizontal, he blithely walks across it from the table to his favorite chair. Stage clear!

Exhibit B: I am talking on my phone (because reception is better on the patio), and pacing back and forth. Omen walks up along the wall, and looks at my shoulder with interest. What he sees, evidently, is a horizontal platform moving back and forth at the top of his vertical leap.
Omen: This is the most difficult jumping puzzle yet! [Waits for the platform to stop momentarily at one end of its cycle]
[It stops]
Omen: YAR! [pounces]
Moving Platform: Holy shit!
Omen: I'm going to miss! But I can still catch the edge! [deploys claws]
Moving Platform: Ow! Fuck!
[The side of the platform is not a climbable surface, and Omen falls.]
Omen: [glaring at uncooperative platform] Great, now I have to start the level over.

I don't know what he was planning to do if he made the jump. Maybe there's a 1-up on top of my head.

February 7, 2005

Battles with Angels [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:59 PM

I probably won't be blogging the next few days, so here's an open thread. Your mission: discuss an interesting and controversial topic!

The Delgados: Universal Audio: This is one of those albums (Electric Version is another) that seems to tap directly into the pleasure centers of my brain. I hear the opening chords of "I Fought the Angels" and the rest of the world recedes, I sink into the music like a warm bath. It's strange, because my favorite songs—"Everybody Come Down", or "Sink or Swim"—aren't at all on uplifting themes, but they still give me this happy, contented feeling. Anyway, the CD is awesome, my favorite music purchase so far this year. (Also: what is it with me and bands from Glasgow? The Delgados, Belle & Sebastian, Franz Ferdinand...)

February 6, 2005

Norman Toellner, in remembrance.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:16 PM

I was studying calculus in high school, and something was bothering me. The area under the curve e-x2 is the square root of pi—an important fact in both physics and probability theory—and I had never seen an explanation for this. Where does the pi come from, with no circles or trigonometric functions involved?

He had studied, and practiced, engineering, and his bookshelves had old 1940's textbooks with elegant black or green covers and titles like Radio Physics, Acoustics, Electricity and Magnetism. When I visited, I would browse through them, admiring the compact and straighforward style that has been supplanted by today's glossier and flashier books. Leafing through a volume on mathematical methods, I suddenly found the answer: an explanation, in a few concise lines, of where the pi comes from.

A few months later I was filling out my Caltech application, and I came to an empty box with the directive, "Fill this space with something you find appealing." I wrote there the proof I had found in his book. Here it is:

My grandfather, Norman Toellner, passed away this morning after two months of fighting illness. I always saw his nature reflected in the books on his shelf, an economy of words that signifies a deep and profound understanding. When I use this function, e-x2, I will hear echoes of his name: it is called the normal distribution. "Normal", however, is a word I would never use to describe Norman. He was extraordinary, and I will miss him.

February 4, 2005

Friday Catblogging: Rare Event

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:10 AM

catblogging - rare event

It's rare for Omen to sit still, but I managed to catch him at it this time. He still looks highly annoyed at being photographed.

February 2, 2005

Flickr post: Sunset and Golden Gate Bridge

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 8:45 PM

sunset and golden gate bridge

Another sunset photo. The colors don't look like I remembered them; I'm still not very good at adjusting the white balance. This is the view from just outside the physics building.

State of the Union 2005

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:54 PM

I was going to liveblog this, but it seems I'm just staring slack-jawed at all the empty and misleading rhetoric. I may need a drink.

We have four more years of this?

February 1, 2005

Two Years [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 9:16 PM

The Monday open thread is a bit late, but this allows me to post it on this blog's second birthday; my first post here was on February 1, 2003. Since then I've posted 604 entries and received (exactly!) 1200 non-spam comments. Thanks to all the readers who keep coming back despite my highly irregular posting schedule, and especially those of you who post comments and thereby make the site interesting.

Some random notes:

I am now the GSI for Physics 141A: Solid State Physics. (GSI is how Berkeley spells TA.) This may cause a reduction in blog output until the end of the semester.

There was a flood of trackback spam last night, which I stopped after about 60 pings by closing old trackbacks. I'll go back and delete them all when I get a chance, but I'm not hurrying since people don't see old trackbacks anyway.

Unfortunately we don't have a qubit running right now, as I could use some quantum scheduling: ideally on Sunday I'd be partially at Event A (Super Bowl party) and partially at Event B (D&D game). This is without considering that an Event C is likely to be scheduled for this time as well, and I plan to attend Event C in as many universes as possible.

On to this week's media:

Metroid Prime 2: Echoes: [Follow-up] Even better than the first Metroid Prime, with a nice difficulty (most bosses killed me exactly once), items hidden cleverly but not arbitrarily, and some of Samus's acrobatic maneuvers from the 2D Metroid games returning. I haven't actually fought the final boss yet, since I am crazy enough to try to get all the items first.

The video game section of this blog is now on temporary hiatus, due to a sudden need to Get Things Done. (Shocking, I know. It turns out doing research and teaching takes a lot of time...)

Snow Patrol: Final Straw: I mentioned Snow Patrol recently, which prompted me to revisit their 2004 album. The band's name is pretty apt: the feeling I get from this album is of a cold, grey November evening, when it gets dark too early and snow is falling (or at least it did when I lived in Connecticut). "Somewhere a Clock Is Ticking" came up on my iPod while I was walking to campus yesterday, and the feeling was incongruous on such a clear, sunny California morning...