March 28, 2005

Skyline [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:31 PM

Got back from LA late last night, and have been busy all day. Life may get a little less frantic this month, once I catch up... although we have a ton of visitors to the lab in the next few weeks, so maybe not. The Pasadena trip was a lot of fun, and the gaming was indeed a worthy celebration for completing my March tasks. I didn't take as many photos as I might have liked, but I've collected a few in a Flickr photoset anyway. (Most of them have already been posted.)

Last week someone somewhere linked directly to an mp3 from a post last year, leading to a lot of downloads. This caused me to change my mp3 policy: only the latest song I've posted will be available for download. This is not because of any philosophical opposition to people linking them, but simply because inverse is pretty old and decrepit, and won't function very well as a fileserver for other, higher traffic sites. At some point I should probably upgrade inverse before something dies, but this is not yet a priority.

Thievery Corporation: The Cosmic Game: Spacey, hypnotic electronica. One of several CDs I bought for the drive down to LA, I played this as I merged into the downtown traffic at night, the Los Angeles skyline coming into view through the rain. The skyline itself looks a lot more sinister now that I've watched all of Angel; it was always shown just before a cut to the offices of Wolfram & Hart. Anyway: "Holographic Universe"

March 25, 2005

Friday Ratblogging!

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:52 PM

While staying in LA I have been entertained by my hosts' pet rats. The one shown is named Nick.


Bonus ratblogging: Nick investigates the bongos.

March Meeting Talk Update

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:00 PM

I had thought my talk was too long, so I streamlined it a lot the last few days. I ended up using eight minutes instead of the intended ten, so I could have gone more slowly. Other than that it went well, and unlike last year the question period was not a disaster. To celebrate, I plan lots of gaming.

March 24, 2005

March Meeting Language Update

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 8:38 PM

Best descripition of a physical phenomenon from a speaker today: "Wow, that's like, crazy loud." (This was in reference to particularly strong 1/f noise they had measured in Josephson junctions.)

March 23, 2005

LA Sightseeing

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:46 PM

la traffic

Proof that I'm really here. It rained all the way down the 5, except for a short patch north of the Tejon Pass; you could see the rainclouds surrounding the hills, which looked really cool, but my picture didn't come out. I did capture a rainbow with a pot of gold Starbucks at the end.

More photoblogging as the week progresses...

March Meeting Style Update

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:00 PM

A distressing fraction of bald physicists are wearing hideous combovers. I was tempted to surreptitiously take pictures to post later, but without a camera phone it's tough to be inconspicuous.

March 22, 2005

City of Angels [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:16 AM

Slightly behind schedule, I'm off to Los Angeles and Pasadena, returning Monday. Blogging may or may not occur, so use the open thread if you get bored. Lightning music review:

Bonnie "Prince" Billy and Matt Sweeny: Superwolf: Sort of a slow-paced, rambling alt-country sound which is tough to describe. Not usually my style of music, but it's pretty good. Try "My Home is the Sea".

March 20, 2005

Late Sunday Catblogging

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 7:51 PM

Yeah, I'm delinquent.

late sunday catblogging

Dinosaur Comics (Arcane Gazebo edition)

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 7:41 PM

Ok, after reading the entire Dinosaur Comics archive, I had to try my hand.

Compressed Blog Comics: Arcane Gazebo

(Image is behind a link since it's a bit wide to post on the main page.)

March 19, 2005

Stress-free Links Post

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:26 PM

I have been decompressing this week after a lot of stress suddenly dissipated. It may seem odd for me to be decompressing the week before I give my talk, but that's how it worked out this time. During this period I have neglected Friday Catblogging, but maybe I'll post a late edition this weekend. In the meantime, here are some links I meant to post earlier.

Blogs I'm adding to the sidebar:

  • Pharyngula: Biology and evolution blogging from PZ Myers. He seems so calm and mild-mannered when writing about science, but when he gets going on religion he turns into The Hulk. It's great.
  • Rude Pundit: This guy, on the other hand, never seems calm or mild-mannered. If your workplace blocks profanity, his site will be unreadable.
  • Michael Bérubé: He actually used to be on my blogroll, and then his site went down. It's been back up for sometime, so I'm adding him back. Another entry in the "sharp-witted political blogging from an academic" category.
  • John and Belle Have A Blog: I enjoy their contributions to Crooked Timber (which is down, so no link), so I've started reading their other blog.

Funny shit:

  • Dinosaur Comics: It took me a while, but I now realize its brilliance. Don't be put off by the fact that the art is the same every day (giving it a similar feel to My New Fighting Technique Is Unstoppable); after a while you get into the rhythm of it, which makes it funnier.
  • RTFM T-shirt: You all read Boing Boing, so you saw this already. Some of you know of my fondness for remixed Communist propaganda...
  • Lovecraftian Chick Tract: I gather this has been around a while but this is my first encounter with it. Warning: Geocities page, arm your pop-up blockers. (via Slacktivist)

March 14, 2005

Einstein Model [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:05 PM

Happy Pi Day, and happy 126th birthday to Albert Einstein.

2005 is the 100th anniversary of Einstein's "miracle year"; therefore, during that year Einstein was as old as I am now. There's a humbling thought.

Cass McCombs: Prefection: The first time I listened to this I was driving on the 880 with the windows down, so I mainly heard the percussion and (barely) the vocals (and the occasional organ), which made it sound more hard-rock than it actually is. Later on headphones I realized that there were lots of broadband* elements that I didn't appreciate before. It's interestingly textured. Inexplicably, after the last track plays there's a recording of a car alarm with sounds of traffic in the background. I kept listening to see if anything would happen... for seven minutes. After which the alarm fades out to a radio announcer saying, "Up next, a new treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder." Yeah, very funny. For your listening pleasure, here's "Subtraction".

*This is the danger of allowing physicists to write about music.

March 11, 2005

Friday Catblogging 3/11

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:55 PM

Here's your Omen fix:

catblogging 3/11

I should get some new pictures next week before I go to Los Angeles.

Summer Movie Train Wreck

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:51 PM

It's bad form to keep linking to the same blogger, but I don't have enough time to read a lot of different people these days. It's Kevin Drum again, this time worried about the summer movies. My guesses:

Of course Star Wars Episode 3 is going to suck. But at this point they're good for unintentional humor, so I'll go see it for that purpose.

But Batman Begins actually looks pretty good. I give it an 80% chance of being decent. I'll see this unless I hear it's terrible.

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy will almost certainly suck. Given how often Hollywood screws up adaptations, and how difficult this particular source will be to adapt properly, I give them a 5% chance of actually pulling it off. If I hear lots of good reviews I'll go see it; otherwise I'll pretend it doesn't exist.

Any others that should be on my radar?

March 10, 2005

I should have published that.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 9:26 PM

Kevin Drum points to an interesting economics study showing that most of the wealth in the US follows a Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution (I'm assuming—they just say "the same distribution as the energies of the atoms in a gas"). Only the top 3% follows a more traditional (?) Pareto law. I mention this because it's interesting, but also because I used the Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution to model income for a class my freshman year. I only picked it because it was convenient for what I was modeling, and used some hand-waving justification that I didn't really believe. But it turns out I really was justified! Clearly I'm in the wrong field.

(In his intro to the post, Kevin Drum references one of David Goodstein's horrible physics puns, proving that Drum did indeed attend Caltech.)

Templeton Prize

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:23 PM

Berkeley physicist Charles Townes (inventor of the laser, Nobel Laureate, Caltech alum) has won the Templeton Prize, "which honors and encourages those who advance knowledge in spiritual matters".

PZ Myers is not impressed.

Interesting things I just learned about the Templeton Prize: (from the UC Berkeley press release)

In creating the prize, Templeton stipulated that it always be worth more monetarily than the Nobel Prizes to underscore his belief that research and advances in spiritual discoveries can be quantifiably more significant than those recognized by the Nobels.

I can't decide what's funnier: that he felt the need to establish the superiority of his prize over the Nobels, or that he used a big pile of money to do so. After all, the world's great religions agree that nothing is more spiritually powerful than wealth...

March 8, 2005

Hans Bethe

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:01 AM

Via Preposterous Universe I learn that Hans Bethe passed away over the weekend. I was fortunate to be able to attend a colloquium he gave at Caltech; he was age 93 at the time but still energetic and active in the community. He will be missed.

Talk Advertisement

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:40 AM

Berkeley readers take note: My advisor, John Clarke, will give the Faculty Research Lecture today. Part of the talk will be on work I've contributed to. It's at 5 pm in the Berkeley Art Museum Theater.

March 7, 2005

Blogroll Ratio Adjustment

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:02 PM

There was this discussion a few weeks back among blogs I read regarding how relatively few prominent bloggers are women, and how bloggers seem to link to women less frequently than to men. This made me realize that there are relatively few female bloggers on my own blogroll, so I'm now correcting this somewhat. The embarrassing thing is that I've been reading these women for a while, but haven't linked to them:

If you know any other essential women bloggers I should be linking to, speak up in the comments...

Good except for the baby [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 8:11 PM

I may not be making time to read or see movies this month, but there's always time to listen to music.

Bright Eyes: Digital Ash in a Digital Urn: I was a bit skeptical of Bright Eyes but picked up this album anyway—it sounded more interesting than the simultaneously-released I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning. I felt sort of neutral about the album at first, but it's grown on me. The title makes it sound like a meditation on death but it seems to me that time and the passage thereof is a stronger theme. I'd like to say something about the musical style, but I don't really know how to describe it. Maybe I should just direct you to the tracks posted at Saddle Creek, one of which I'm also posting here: "Take It Easy (Love Nothing)". The only annoying moment on this album is when he includes a crying baby in the middle of "Ship in a Bottle". I'm sure there's some deep artistic excuse for this but it can't possibly be strong enough to justify it.

Continuous and discrete tax codes.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:41 PM

I share Matt's bafflement at the argument that a flat tax code is significantly simpler than a progressive one. In fact back in my Plastic days I commented on this topic. I've always liked the idea of using very small-width or even infinitesimal tax brackets, because as a physicist I find discontinuous jumps unsettling. I have this utopian vision of some economist working out a model for an optimal tax code that could then be perfectly implemented with a continuous differential marginal tax rate. Unfortunately, what would actually happen is that you'd give Congress an infinite number of parameters to adjust, so you'd soon have all kinds of horrible delta functions littering the tax rate, and Senate debates over the value of the 8th Taylor coefficient, so we're probably better off with relatively wide tax brackets.

March 6, 2005

TV censorship

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:05 PM

I was amused by this slightly snarky article on the TV censorship policies of various nations. With the FCC looking to regulate cable channels, maybe the article should have covered the US as well...

March 5, 2005

To cover my nakedness

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:57 PM

This shirt (from Questionable Content) is very tempting.

LOTR abridged scripts

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:21 PM
While tracking down the link for Armageddon in the last post, I found that The Editing Room has recently posted abridged scripts for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Their The Two Towers is best.

                      VIGGO MORTENSEN
            Holy shit! I thought you died! What
            happened to you?

                        IAN MCKELLEN
            Well, I fought the fire demon
            thing, then I watched the ending of
            2001 for a few minutes, then I was
            back here.

This format does work better for truly bad movies, though.

Return of the dream sequence post

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:14 PM

Had a bunch of dreams last night, remembered two.

The first was an Armageddon scenario in which some big asteroid was going to collide with Earth. The asteroid could be seen during the day, and looked like a second moon. It was eerily beautiful in addition to big and scary. There were also a bunch of smaller rocks coming in ahead of the main asteroid. But instead of falling in at some tremendous speed they floated in slowly due to some weird dream-physics. I woke up one morning to see all these big boulders just hanging in the air everywhere. They were still moving forward and occasionally one would hit a building and put a big hole in it. The dream ended before the big one hit.

If I wanted to interpret this, I would call it an obvious metaphor for my March workload. The big asteroid is the March Meeting itself, as the most menacing and unavoidable deadline. All the smaller rocks are the other work that needs to be done by then, some of which I've been procrastinating—until I wake up one morning and find them floating outside my window.

The other dream was about D&D. (This is a statement so geeky that I am reluctant to admit it.) I was playing with the usual group of people, but also with Justin (who in reality left the game in January). The party was going up against a powerful red dragon, and had gone to consult a different dragon (who was neutrally aligned, and something of a mystical guru) about how to kill it. The interesting thing about the dream is that my perspective alternated between the player and the character, so sometimes I was seeing the DM and gaming table, and sometimes seeing the dragon's cave. This dragon was teaching the party a powerful attack spell, and used an illusion to show what the effect would look like: a burst of raw magical energy. My character's not a spellcasting type, and was confused by this. Thinking the energy released was just a form of fire, he said, "But wouldn't a red dragon be immune to fire?" The dragon got a really amused look on his face at this question.

I don't think there's much interpretation to be done here; I'm probably just thinking ahead to my actual D&D game tomorrow. We're not planning on fighting any red dragons, but we did just kill off a black dragon recently.

March 4, 2005

Webcomic query

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 9:49 PM

Scary Go Round readers: Is it a compliment for a woman to be likened to Shelley Winters?

Also: John Allison sure is evil for posting this strip on a Friday. However, I've decided I shouldn't be concerned about the possible death of Shelley, since her last two fatalities didn't slow her down much.

Soldering atrocity

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 9:37 PM

All that soldering talk earlier led to this:

soldering atrocity

This is the second major modification to this board, and I am the third person to work on it. I'm responsible for that clump of blue wires. Maybe I should have used different colors, but somebody before me used black wires for everything so I felt justified. Anyway, I fear I may be punished with parasitic capacitance.

Penny included for scale.

I added a few more notes on this photo's Flickr page; mouse over the photo there to see them.

Music to solder by

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 8:10 PM

(For example:)

The new Iron and Wine EP turns out to be great background music for soldering. You want something interesting to allay the essential boredom of the task at hand, but not something distracting. I tried soldering with my iPod on shuffle once, but some loud dance-y song came on and caused my hands to shake to the beat, so that was no good. Instead I pick an album and play it all the way through, then take a break when it finishes. I'm not yet at the point of assembling a soldering playlist...

Experimental Blogging of Thought Quanta

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 8:02 PM

I'm going to experiment with a micro-post format here in which I blog any random thought that I think is even mildly interesting. This is a way to keep the blog going during the next three weeks at times when I may not want to take the time to write a full post. Let me know if this is really annoying.

I figure most of the visitors here know me personally, so talking about whatever I happen to be doing at the time won't be completely uninteresting.

Especially on Friday nights

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 7:10 PM

Given that the focus of my research is getting large objects to exhibit quantum properties, maybe I shouldn't be so annoyed at this, but I would prefer that items such as soldering irons and wire strippers not tunnel out of the lab when I'm not there to observe them.

Superman is a dick

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:24 PM

Just so I can post a link this week, here's an amazing collection of old comics zen that kept me mesmerized for an embarrassingly long time. The collection is mostly scans of unintentionally hilarious covers from old Superman-related comics. Do not play the suggested drinking game.

Friday Catblogging: Battles with March

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:03 PM

My annual battle with the month of March is more epic than ever. (For my purposes March ends when I leave for the APS March Meeting.) I feared that my blogging would be reduced to sidebar updates on Monday and catblogging on Friday, and nothing else—this may be happening now. Anyway, here's Omen:

catblogging - battles with march

March hasn't been much fun for him either (so far), with the way it rains every night.