June 30, 2005

lunch in lucca

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:30 AM

lunch in lucca

Originally uploaded by arcanegazebo.

We are eating lunch on top of the wall that surrounds the city of Lucca...

June 29, 2005

Notes from Italy

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:35 AM

My typical day so far: Breakfast, followed by four 50-minute lectures with breaks in between, followed by lunch. Then three hours free time during which I try desperately to stay awake and mostly fail. In the evenings, a couple hours of workshops before dinner. After dinner, hanging out on the terrace drinking wine.

This hotel is basically in the middle of nowhere, so the hotel restaurant is the only option for these meals. See the comment thread on the previous post for some further remarks on that.

Sightseeing excursions are planned for tomorrow afternoon (Lucca), Saturday (Florence), and Sunday (various sites in Tuscany).

June 28, 2005

Traveling Notes

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:42 AM

Total travel time: 23 hours. Each leg was painful in its own way.

The transatlantic flight: very cramped, I was in a middle seat between two guys of about my dimensions, so sleep was impossible. Luckily it was one of the planes with the individual monitors and a large selection of movies, so I did something I've been meaning to do for years: I finally watched Casablanca. Totally amazing film, I can't believe I hadn't seen it before. I followed up with L.A. Confidential, and then read a large chunk of Kafka on the Shore (which referenced Casablanca, so I could put my new cultural knowledge to use immediately).

The Amsterdam airport was very nice, clean, and efficient. My connection was to Paris, a 45 minute flight, but it was delayed by an hour, which was about how long I had to make my next connection. So I spent that flight on the edge of my seat. Fortunately flights out of de Gaulle airport (not so nice, clean, or efficient) were delayed as well, so I made my connection by about two minutes.

This was a puddlejumper to Florence. I had a window seat, which gave me a great view of the Alps as we flew over. I attempted to take some pictures of this but it's not clear whether they came out. Unfortunately, directly behind me was a kid (approx. 2 years old?) who was in the top three worst-behaved children I've had the misfortune to share an airplane with. Shouting and wailing and kicking the back of the seat the whole way.

And finally a taxi ride from Florence to the hotel, through the Tuscan countryside. So it was nice to look at, but very motion-sickness inducing. On top of this the cab driver had no idea where the hotel is, and kept having to stop for directions. Obviously, I eventually did make it here.

Now I am battling vicious jetlag, with the morning lectures scheduled right when I'd normally be falling asleep in California. The lectures are occupying much of my time, and for the rest of it I am making some attempt to be social. (Novel concept, I know.) Sightseeing comes later in the week and on the weekend.

June 27, 2005

view from il ciocco

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:03 AM

view from il ciocco

Originally uploaded by arcanegazebo.

I am in Tuscany.

June 24, 2005

Another Departure

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:37 PM

After spending most of the week incapacitated by illness, I've been frantically preparing for my trip to Italy. I leave tomorrow, at the crack of 4 pm. (Note to the person who scheduled my 6 am Chicago flight: this is how it's done.) My previous trip to Italy was very good for me romantically, but I do not have high expectations in that regard for this one, as I will be in a relatively isolated area surrounded mostly by physicists.

I'll have internet access in some form, so I'll try to do some travel-blogging and post some photos if possible. If the blog does go silent for a while, entertain yourselves in the open thread, or go outside or something.

I return Friday July 8, after which I will go see Batman Begins and Land of the Dead, and take up some larger projects.

June 22, 2005

chicago skyline

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:41 PM

chicago skyline

Originally uploaded by arcanegazebo.

I took a bunch of pictures while in Chicago, but most of them weren't very good. I uploaded a handful that I did like. The photoset is here.

June 21, 2005

Zombies and Hexes [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:16 PM

Government agents have given me an antidote that slows the progress of the zombie infection. This provides me with some lucidity for spans of a few hours, but between doses I can feel my consciousness deteriorating, and the hunger for brains increasing. Meanwhile, Fafnir relates his own experiences with the epidemic; it seems that he has miraculously escaped infection.

Mary Timony: Ex Hex: I decided to pick up this album after the Sleater-Kinney concert, where Mary Timony was the opening band. The vocals are just okay; Mary Timony's real strength is her guitar, so on songs like "9x3" I've mostly been ignoring the lyrics and just listening to the instrumentation.

I tend to buy actual CDs rather than tracks on iTunes since I like having a physical object, with album art and liner notes. I really like the cover to Ex Hex for reasons that are not clear to me.

June 19, 2005


Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:06 PM

I am back from Chicago, but have been stricken with a dire plague. Fever, chills, congestion, muscle aches: I can only conclude that I have fallen victim to a zombie infection. Within hours I will rise from my sickbed to feed on the brains of the living.

However, I do not intend to let this stop me from blogging. Before I succumb, I will chain myself in front of the computer Shaun of the Dead-style, so that my undead self will continue to maintain this site. Sure, it may become more brains-oriented: brain recipes, brain restaurant recommendations, reviews of CD's consisting of zombie-rock bands shouting "BRAAAAAINS"... but I hope my loyal readers will not be too perturbed by these relatively minor changes.

For those of you that are still healthy, refer to this page for sound advice.

June 16, 2005

Almost killed me

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:38 PM

Beginning hour 10 at the airport, we are back on the plane and may actually take off this time. I hit my head on a cabinet door while boarding, but the bleeding is not too severe.

Air travel suckage

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:51 AM

So I've been sitting on this plane for more than an hour, on the runway in Oakland. They worked on a mechanical problem until they decided a panel needed replacing. Unfortunately there's no replacement here, so they are sending one from San Francisco. In a taxi. Meanwhile, they are showing a movie, The Pacifier, to, uh, pacify us. I got up at 3:45 for this?

Up late, up early

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:45 AM

I am departing for the airport, and thence for Chicago, at the rapidly-approaching and inhospitable hour of 4 am. Any blogging I do tomorrow later today is likely to be in a semi-conscious state. In the meantime, here are some links for your perusal.

Fun: Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith: The Abridged Script. I've linked to The Editing Room before; he's done an excellent job with this one.

Serious: A critique of the morality underlying Orson Scott Card's novels Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead.

June 15, 2005

Pull over, this is the Grammar Police

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:33 PM

So I'm listening to the new Embrace album, and a major lyric is "a light is gonna shine on you and I". Maybe it's just that I'm trying to proofread a paper simultaneously, but damn that's annoying. I thought the British were supposed to be better at this sort of thing.

The first track, "Ashes", is really good though. That was one of the songs I really liked when I saw them open for Snow Patrol.

June 14, 2005

japanese garden

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:10 PM

japanese garden

Originally uploaded by arcanegazebo.

I uploaded a few more photos I took at the wedding last week. Unlike this one, the rest do have people in them. The relevant photoset is here.

Is there hope for the U.S.?

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:48 PM

Finally read that Harper's article on the Colorado Springs megachurch that's been drawing a lot of commentary on the liberal blogs. Result: I am scared. These people are crazy, and militant, and in control of all three branches of government.

Here are some sample thoughts from a man who "talks to President George W. Bush or his advisers every Monday":

So the Catholics are out, and the battle boils down to evangelicals versus Islam. “My fear,” [New Life Church Pastor Ted Haggard] says, “is that my children will grow up in an Islamic state.”

And that is why he believes spiritual war requires a virile, worldly counterpart. “I teach a strong ideology of the use of power,” he says, “of military might, as a public service.” He is for preemptive war, because he believes the Bible’s exhortations against sin set for us a preemptive paradigm, and he is for ferocious war, because “the Bible’s bloody. There’s a lot about blood.”

This is amazing—the notion that the U.S. could become an Islamic state is completely insane. The fact that anyone at all thinks the major threat of Islamic terrorism is that they will take over the country is deeply disturbing. And this isn't just anyone, he's a powerful religious figure who advocates drastic measures based on his hallucinatory delusions. Of course Islamic terrorists are a threat insofar as they could cause massive casualties in a successful attack, but the political threat is basically nil. On the other hand, Pastor Ted has succeeded in raising my concerns about the United States being ruled by religious extremists.

There's a second article in the series, this one on the National Religious Broadcasters, which I plan to read when I get a chance tonight.

Between L.A. and Chicago [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:44 PM

Posting an open thread in the spaces between traveling. This week's destination: Chicago. Soundtrack: The Hold Steady (which I've learned is really good music for driving on the 5 at xx mph).

And, the new music:

Maxïmo Park: A Certain Trigger: This record reminded me a lot of The Futureheads, due to both the music style and the great, unrestrained English accents. They have a longer attention span than Futureheads, though. I really like "Once A Glimpse".

I posted a broken link to the Sleater-Kinney track last week; I'm leaving it up now that the link is fixed so people have a chance to listen. Meanwhile, I am listening to a bunch of metal albums today. I assure you I have a good reason for this.

June 13, 2005

Congressional Committees and Partisanship

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:20 PM

Those of you who read the comments regularly may have seen references to Mason's work on network analysis of congressional committees. The paper (subscription required) appeared in the May 17th PNAS, and some mainstream coverage has appeared in the form of an AP article:

Although the Congress study is incomplete, some early findings have emerged from the labyrinth of line graphs it has already produced. One major trend: Since Republicans took over control of the House in 1994, the connection between membership on various committees has become more defined.

Also, during the 107th Congress in 2002, the mathematicians found great carry-over from membership on the Rules Committee and a Homeland Security panel established after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

No mathematical formula is necessary to explain that phenomenon, explains Rules Committee spokeswoman Jo Maney. In the early days of the Homeland Security Committee, lawmakers most familiar with the rules -- disproportionately from the Rules Committee -- were assigned to get it off the ground.

Science Now had a good writeup, but it is subscription-only. It mentioned an interesting result that didn't appear in the AP report:

Porter's team, which reports its findings online this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also related the network connections between committees to the political positions of their members. To avoid making any prior political assumptions, the group used a different mathematical method called single value decomposition to analyze the roll call votes of each member during a session of Congress. The method pinpoints groups that voted similarly on many votes and assigns each member two numbers that enabled the researchers to rank them from least to most partisan. Combining the partisanship measures with the network map, the team found that not only is the Select Committee on Homeland Security one of the committees most tightly linked to another committee (House Rules), but it is also among the most partisan.

Maybe this helps explain why our domestic security policy is so focused on scaring people rather than taking actual effective measures... or maybe that would be true with any set of current congressmen.

June 12, 2005


Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 8:47 AM

I had set the alarm clock for 9 am, but was awakened 15 minutes early by the fact that the room was shaking.

I believe it's this one.

UPDATE: Here's a news report. Luckily the center was out in the desert, and apparently no one was hurt.

June 11, 2005

beach blogging

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:39 PM

beach blogging

Originally uploaded by arcanegazebo.

We are at Venice Beach right now. It's been too long since I've had warm sand beneath my bare feet.

June 10, 2005

wedding liveblogging

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:02 PM

wedding liveblogging

Originally uploaded by arcanegazebo.

The groomsmen request margaritas! Please deliver to Descanso Gardens. Thank you.

June 8, 2005

I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 9:07 AM

My summer travel begins! I'm about to leave for Los Angeles. In the unlikely event that anything interesting happens on the 5, I will be sure to blog it.

Those of you who may need to contact me should call my cell phone, or e-mail my berkeley.edu address.

June 7, 2005

Faith-based oil exploration

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:07 PM

Don't tell Bush, or this'll be our new energy policy:

US Christian drills for oil in Israel

An American Christian named John Brown believes God promised Israel a wealth of oil, so he's drilling for it north of Tel Aviv.

Brown bases his quest on a Bible verse - Genesis 49:25 - where Jacob tells his son Joseph that God will give him "blessings of the deep that lie beneath."

Brown's Zion Oil and Gas Company has raised seven million dollars - mainly from evangelical Christians - and is now drilling in the area that belonged to the tribes descended from Joseph.

What's this, applied creation science? Well, it's their money. Also: "blessings of the deep that lie beneath" sounds more Lovecraftian than biblical. Don't come crying to me if you dig up an ancient evil relic or something instead of oil.

(via Fark)

Fuel for Theorem-Producing Machines

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:32 PM

Matthew Yglesias points to a review of a book on the history of coffee. The idea that the arrival of coffee in Europe contributed to the intellectual activity of the Enlightenment is new to me, but intriguing.

Wild argues that the creative output of the movement's greatest artists and thinkers might have been significantly less if they'd been fans of sloth-inducing ale instead of energizing coffee. The Royal Society, for example, a group of pals who gathered to slurp coffee and discuss alchemy at an Oxford café named Tillyard's, was later responsible for publishing the works of its chairman, Isaac Newton. The Coffee Club of Rota met in Westminster at the Turk's Head, where luminaries such as Andrew Marvell and Samuel Pepys discussed and promoted new political concepts, including the early adoption of the modern ballot box. In France, meanwhile, Voltaire was reputedly downing between 50 and 72 cups of coffee a day, a habit that many link to the brevity and mania of Candide.

There are times when I worry that my caffeine habit is harmful, but this makes me feel better. Hey, I'm not as bad as Voltaire! Or maybe I should aspire to Voltaire's level. (Right now I'm only at one or two espresso shots a day.) I'm also reminded of this old Brad DeLong post indicating that this tradition continues in modern academia.

(It occurs to me that Neal Stephenson alluded to coffee's role in the Enlightenment at points in The Baroque Cycle.)

June 6, 2005

Hazards of URL Guesswork

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:11 AM

Note to self: when I need to visit the website of my phone/internet provider, the correct address is sbc.com. The address sbc.net belongs to the Southern Baptist Convention.

June 5, 2005

Loud redefined [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:39 PM

This week has had quite an impact on my Audioscrobbler charts. Besides the Sleater-Kinney album, I've been listening to a new compliation of Belle & Sebsastian songs, Push Barman to Open Old Wounds, which collects their older EP releases into one set. It would be tough to put together 25 Belle & Sebastian songs and not end up with something excellent, so it probably goes without saying that this is a really good collection. If my neighbors can hear my music, they may be sick of "String Bean Jean" by now (but I'm not).

Sleater-Kinney: The Woods: If you've been reading here for the past week you've figured out that I really like this album. It's very different from their previous record (One Beat), with a sound that's very dense and loud, even for this band. The songs are less political as well, drawing considerable emotional impact from the personal realm. This is the sort of album that doesn't work for background music; it demands your complete attention. "Let's Call It Love" is amazing, an 11-minute track recorded in one take, whose second half is an improvised guitar solo. I'm also very fond of "Rollercoaster", which was the song that ended up playing in my head after the concert last night.

Seeing them live, I realized that I hadn't been playing Sleater-Kinney at the appropriate volume: namely, the volume at which "Combat Rock" threatens to implode your skull. It was a lot of fun just to watch them: drummer Janet Weiss was a continuous blur of motion, like a cartoon drummer hitting everything at once, Carrie Brownstein wrestled her guitar around the stage as if it were trying to escape, and Corin Tucker just stood at the microphone in an apparent attempt to level the building with the raw power of her voice. Some notes:

I think they played all of The Woods, along with a mixture of older songs. The latter got more crowd response, I assume because the album hasn't been out long enough for people to be familiar with the new songs.

Of the older songs that they played, I was particularly glad they chose "Turn It On", which was the first Sleater-Kinney song I heard. At the time I heard it, I had recently started a major search for new music, and "Turn It On" was the first thing I heard that I really liked, so much so that there was a familiarity to it: "This is what I've been looking for."

The song I most wish they had played was "The End of You", which I think would have fit really well with the rest of the set.

It's impossible to take the cowbell seriously after that Saturday Night Live sketch, so when Janet brought it out for "Sympathy" I just started laughing. The way she just flings it aside when the cowbell part ends was also inexplicably funny.

The opening band was Mary Timony, whose latest album I now plan to buy on the strength of her guitar work. Apparently she went through something of a Dungeons and Dragons period in her musical themes, but by now has returned to more standard subjects. (As much of a fantasy geek as I am, I'm skeptical of rock songs about fantasy... I will probably investigate her earlier work out of sheer curiosity, though.)

Next week, I promise to blog about something other than music!

June 3, 2005

Friday iPod Divination

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:57 PM

Sean Carroll has come up with an exciting twist on the old Friday Random Ten theme: the iPod as a tarot deck substitute. This might seem like an unseemly activity for a rational science-type such as myself, but if uber-skeptic Carroll has done it, it must be ok. I have consulted coldwine (my iPod mini) and obtained the following results: (click the link above for the interpretations of the items)

  1. The Covering: Autechre, Augmatic Disport
  2. The Crossing: Ladytron, commodore rock (live in sofia)
  3. The Crown: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, We're All In Love
  4. The Root: Belle & Sebastian, Legal Man
  5. The Past: The Decemberists, The Bagman's Gambit
  6. The Future: TV On The Radio, Dreams
  7. The Questioner: Matt Sweeney & Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Bed Is For Sleeping
  8. The House: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, Criminal Piece
  9. The Inside: The New Pornographers, The Laws Have Changed
  10. The Outcome: Belle & Sebastian, If You Find Yourself Caught In Love

Hmm, some of these songs are overtly political (especially the Ted Leo), and some are overtly romantic; number 10 is both. So either I'm due for a romance, or I'm going to take up anti-war activism. Or I'll fall in love with an anti-war activist?

Speculation is welcome in the comments, as well as your own iPod readings.

Friday Catblogging 6/3

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:49 PM

It's been a while since I've done a catblogging entry, and I'm going to be away for a large fraction of the upcoming Fridays, so:

catblogging 6/3

The object that Omen is using as a scratching post here is the wood partition separating my patio from the neighboring one.

June 1, 2005

Sleater-Kinney and the Golden Gate

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 7:04 PM

Combining some recent themes on this blog: one of the new Sleater-Kinney songs is about Golden Gate Bridge suicides; according to this interview in the Bay Guardian (via memepool), it was inspired by a thought-provoking New Yorker article.

The article makes a strong case for suicide barriers on the bridge. I'm not sure what the right answer is here. The experience of walking across the bridge would certainly lose a lot of its power—there's an immediacy to standing at the four-foot railing with the bay stretching out in front of you that a barrier would remove. In a macabre sense, the beauty of the bridge provides the perception that jumping from it has a certain beauty as well. And removing the ability to jump almost necessarily mars that beauty. On the other hand, maybe I'm incredibly heartless to be concerned about aesthetics and the quality of my recreational experiences when human lives could be saved. The stories of the jumpers in the New Yorker article (and the song) did impact me emotionally, and made me wonder if there's more that can be done.

However, I do object to the way the article just brushed aside aesthetic concerns by pointing to the cyclone fence on the south end of the bridge. The fence is incredibly ugly, and I suspect the only reason it's tolerated is that it stops at about the point where the view starts to get really good. I can't imagine that a fence stretching the length of the bridge would be similarly accepted.

More San Francisco Photos

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:39 AM

Monday I did some touring of San Francisco with friends from Connecticut. This was my first visit to the very cool Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, where the photo below was taken.

standing on bridge

I remembered to bring my good camera this time and redid some of the pictures I took with my cameraphone at the Golden Gate Bridge earlier. These are all on my Flickr page; a panoramic view from the bridge came out particularly well.