July 31, 2005

Tea, Earl Grey, Hot

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:26 PM

I had a number of weird dreams last night; I overdid the cayenne pepper on the tacos I cooked for dinner so maybe that's to blame. I only remember one of the dreams with any clarity:

I'm going for a run in the Berkeley hills, when I come across two of the guys I met in Italy. They join me on my run, and we talk for a while. My route is going steadily uphill, but sometimes the street I'm on becomes too steep and I have to detour around. At one point I miss one of these turns, because I'm following the conversation, and we are climbing a very steep slope. Everyone is looking pretty tired and I explain that I usually take a different route, but I missed the turn. At that moment a car comes up the hill and stops next to us. There's an old British man behind the wheel offering us a ride. We gratefully accept and climb in. This man turns out to be a professor emeritus of philosophy at Berkeley. He's also from a wealthy British family, and owns a large estate at the top of the hill, which is where the car takes us. The architecture of the estate is reminiscent of the older buildings at Cambridge: big stone blocks and so forth. The professor takes us to a room which appears to be a bar, but the bar only serves tea. A number of the professor's friends and acquaintances are seated at tables talking amongst themselves. The four of us sit down at an empty table and place an order (I order Earl Grey), and we sit around talking philosophy for a while. [At this point my memory of the dream fades, although there was more to it, but I think it transitioned into a different dream which involved the characters from Scary Go Round.]

Here's my unlikely but amusing interpretation: The dream is a religious allegory. The old professor is God, and his estate is heaven: it's at the top of the hill, all God's friends are there, there's no booze... The other two runners and I are attempting to gain knowledge of God through the long and arduous process of science, but we are unable to reach the goal this way—only after we die and are taken up into heaven are we able to know the truth. Now, if only I had dreamed that the car had broken down from the strain of driving up the hill, I could say that his Chrysler died for our sins.

(If we are to take this interpretation seriously, there needs to be another level of interpretation—since I don't believe in a literal God or heaven, these things must themselves be metaphors for something else.)

July 30, 2005

The rest of the Italy photos

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:55 PM

Yes! They're only three weeks late. These are photos from my various excursions over the course of the summer school.


Locations: Florence Siena San Gimignano Pisa

Full Italy set

Most of these photos are of architecture, art, or landscapes. There's one photo of me, which in cropped form appears in the poll below. The full version is here. No photos of the other IS3E participants, sadly.

Speaking of which, another student posted his photos (here), and I make a couple of appearances: at the back of this one and the front of this one (but unfortunately I am facing away from the camera). Both of those were taken on the wall in Lucca.

July 28, 2005

Friday Frivolity: Photo Poll

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 9:57 PM

It was suggested in the open thread that I update the photo of me that's at the top of the sidebar. In the interest of democracy promotion, I am conducting a poll. Here are three recent photos of me that could potentially replace it:

Photo 1
This is from my yet-to-be-uploaded Italy photoset, taken in Florence.

Pro: Exotic location!
Con: Lighting is all weird since I was almost directly in front of the sun, and the photo was subjected to clumsy digital processing so that I wasn't just a big shadow.

Photo 2
Phi took this photo back in January.

Pro: One of the better recent photos of me.
Con: Friendly demeanor may seem out-of-place next to my more virulent posts on topics like religion.

Photo 3
I was struck with inspiration a few months back and generated this based on a classic piece of Soviet propaganda.

Pro: Eyecatching!
Con: Confirms my conservative readers' worst suspicions.

Your thoughts?

(If you're not seeing the poll, you may need to turn Javascript on.)

July 27, 2005

Physics Education—Specialization and Fundamentals

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:56 PM

In a post at Cosmic Variance, Sean Carroll makes a side remark that, "Sadly, there are still plenty of physics grad students who have never been exposed to [general relativity]."

I'm one of those students, and I've always had the vague sense that GR is something I should know about, since it's one of the pillars of modern physics and a fundamental part of our understanding of the universe. It's because of the highly specialized nature of most physics research that a lot of students don't take a GR course—it simply isn't relevant to a lot of subfields. Likewise, I could say something like "Sadly, there are still plenty of physics grad students who have never been exposed to the BCS theory of superconductivity."

But the more I think about it the less defensible it is that I've not had much contact with GR. I'll spend at least six years in grad school, and for most of that time I won't be taking any classes, just doing research. Surely I could take a little time to audit a GR course? (In fact, a student who recently graduated from our group did exactly this.) It seems more than a little ridiculous to accumulate all the tools necessary to comprehend one of mankind's greatest intellectual achievements, a profound description of nature, and then not make any attempt to learn it. That's a pretty high level of incuriosity. I think there's a certain amount of information overload the first few years in grad school, that made it feel like such a relief to be "done" with classes and just take some data for a while. But I seem to be past that stage.

And while I'm at it, it would be nice to know more about quantum field theory and the Standard Model...

July 26, 2005

Ambitious Projects [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:34 PM

I totally intended to post the rest of the Italy pictures this weekend, but... well, the reason I didn't is really lame. I may not have an opportunity until this coming weekend, as this week is slightly busier than usual. (But I won't be one of those bloggers who promises to post something and then never does. Despite my doing this in the past.)

Batman Begins: A pretty cool retelling of the Batman origin story, with lots of ninjas as an added bonus. However, I suspect this is redundant information, as it's been out for quite some time and you all have already seen it. The climactic fight scene is ripped from an episode of Buffy, but at least they picked a good one. Also: Free Katie.

Knights of the Old Republic: And you thought I was late with a review of Batman Begins. I finally got around to playing this, and it's not bad. Although I'm playing it on an Xbox it's more of a PC-style RPG, with a streamlined version of the d20 system. There's a good mix of combat and role-playing, and the Star Wars setting is nicely implemented, with decent voice acting (including Simon Templeman of the Legacy of Kain series playing some Sith troopers—although, somewhat distractingly, he frequently sounds like Kain wearing a Sith helmet). Unfortunately, all this just made me want to play Fallout 2. Friday night I finally gave in, dug out my old Fallout 2 disc and install it, figuring I'd get tired of it somewhere in the introductory quests. And suddenly it was Monday morning. (Fallout 2 is addictive for me in a way that no other game has ever been. I have no idea how I passed Ph 12 the term it came out, because I distinctly remember being totally unable to do the homework sets when that game was waiting for me.)

Sufjan Stevens: Illinois: This is the second installment (following Michigan) in Stevens' project to record an album for each of the 50 states, which at the current rate will be finished well after his 100th birthday. The music is predominantly indie-folk in the vein of Iron and Wine (I see that Amazon is packaging the two artists together), although he is often sillier and lighter than Sam Beam. (Just peruse the list of track names for a sense of this.) There's lots to like here, as Stevens manages to fill the CD with 74 minutes of Illinois-themed songs, some of which reflect vast amounts of historical research and some of which are more fanciful (the song about Decatur is pretty much a catalog of rhymes for the city's name). I particularly like "Come On! Feel the Illinoise!", and not just for the title; its instrumentation and pop quality are reminiscent of Architecture In Helsinki.

Spitzer Strikes at Radio Suckage

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:16 PM

Eliot Spitzer nails Sony for payola:

The state investigation found that Sony BMG, which releases music by acts including Jennifer Lopez, Good Charlotte and Beyoncé, had provided stations with entertainers for station-affiliated concerts or paid for station equipment or other bills in exchange for having its songs played. It also provided vacations and electronic goods for on-air giveaways in a direct trade for airplay. And it hired independent promoters to funnel money to radio stations.

In addition, the investigation found that the company had tried to distort industry airplay charts - creating the false impression that a song was taking off - by paying stations to play its songs as sponsored advertisements. It has also used interns and hired vendors to call radio stations with requests.

I always had the impression that this practice is pretty widespread, and indeed Spitzer is planning to go after the other majors as well. Presumably this can only improve the quality of radio, but I'm inclined to think the Internet and/or satellite radio will continue to marginalize it. And what's up with this:
The company also said it would no longer use "spin programs," in which it pays stations to play songs as commercials, to manipulate the charts.

No! The average mass-produced, paid-for song is still better than the average radio commercial. If the record companies want to buy up commercial time to play music, let them—just don't count it on the charts. (Admittedly, I have a slightly irrational hatred of insipid radio ads.)

July 25, 2005

I knew they were hazardous

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:35 PM

What's this? A David Brooks column I actually agree with! His topic: the horrors of children on airplanes.

Anybody who thinks it takes a village to raise a child has never sat near a crying baby in first class. In these circumstances, if it were up to the village, somebody would be stapling the brat's mouth shut and somebody else would be locking mom in the overhead storage compartment.

We proles flying coach would be even less civilized. Speaking of which, as someone who frequently has cram diagonally into plane seats because the distance from my back to my knees is longer than the space provided, it seems incredibly wasteful to see children in first or business class. They'd be perfectly comfortable in my seat.

The most interesting part of the column, though, was this revelation:

The final hour of the flight is aptly captured by Picasso's painting "Guernica." Parents are strewn about in heaps, hardened air marshals are weeping under the strain, the kids look like flesh-eating Beanie Babies, and the pilots emerge to complain that because of the kids' crying they can't hear the air traffic controllers (this actually happened to my family).

[Emphasis mine.] I can't believe they make us turn off our harmless laptops and iPods, while allowing truly dangerous items like screaming babies on board. I assume, however, that the FAA will continue to ignore my recommendations.

July 22, 2005

Friday iPod Divination: Chaotic Edition

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:54 PM

Since the last one worked out so well, it's time for another edition of iPod Tarot. My iPod has been giving me unsolicited advice anyway by serving up certain songs (or even Certain Songs) on shuffle; clearly this is its natural calling.

Technically speaking, one is supposed to ask a question of the iPod oracle before proceeding. Since I got back from Italy, I've settled back into the lab routine and everything has seemed very orderly and low-intensity. I feel like I need more chaos in my life. O all-knowing iPod, where can I find my own Shuffle Songs button?

  1. The Covering: The Reindeer Section, You Are My Joy
  2. The Crossing: Franz Ferdinand, Auf Achse
  3. The Crown: The Duke Spirit, Cuts Across The Land
  4. The Root: Belle & Sebastian, Dog On Wheels
  5. The Past: Sleater-Kinney, Banned from the End of the World
  6. The Future: Caribou, Subotnick
  7. The Questioner: Seelenluft, I Can See Clearly Now
  8. The House: The Libertines, Don't Be Shy
  9. The Inside: Sleater-Kinney, Jumpers
  10. The Outcome: Ladytron, ladybird
(The interpretation key is here.)

A very literal interpretation of this would be pretty grim, given the subject matter of ladybird and (especially) Jumpers, so something metaphorical is in order. The iPod is saying that I need to be more social (um, duh), but is acknowledging that this is not as easy as just saying "Don't be shy", that jumping into a social situation can be as terrifying as jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge (the subject of Jumpers). As for the outcome, the iPod is warning me that some heartbreak is inevitable (but I did ask for disorder and variety, not contentment). Or it's suggesting that I'll turn into a manipulative bastard breaking hearts left and right like the character in the song, but that seems pretty dubious.

As usual, the comments are open to alternate interpretations or your own iPod readings.

July 21, 2005

Thursday Cat-dream-blogging

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:14 PM

I had a dream last night in which I was hosting a party. (My apartment had conveniently expanded to about three times its actual size to accomodate this.) I was out on the patio talking to guests when Omen showed up. As usual, I gave him a cat treat, but when I did so a second cat appeared with a demanding look. So I gave this cat a treat as well—which prompted the appearance of a third cat. Things proceeded in this manner until I had twenty-six cats looking at me hungrily. (Is it significant that I knew the precise number of cats, and that this number is equal to my age?) I decided this had gone on long enough, and put away the bag of cat treats.

That's when the cats jumped me.

July 20, 2005

Roberts and Executive Power; Also, Robots

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:53 PM

I've been thinking this John Roberts guy isn't so bad, but this Slate piece gives me a reason to worry:

The opinion [that Roberts joined last week in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld] says that Congress authorized the president to set up whatever military tribunal he deems appropriate when it authorized him to use "all necessary and appropriate force" to fight terrorism in response to 9/11. While the president has claimed the authority only to try foreign suspects before the tribunals, there's nothing in the Hamdan opinion that stops him from extending their reach to any other suspected terrorist, American citizens included. This amounts to a free hand—and one Bush is not shy about extending. The administration has already devised its own tribunals to review its claims that the Guantanamo detainees are all enemy combatants who are not entitled to the international protections accorded to prisoners of war. As of February, 558 hearings had resulted in freedom for only three prisoners. The Supreme Court has yet to rule on the legality of these tribunals—a question that Roberts may now help decide.

It seems to be something that only civil libertarians worry about, but the Bush administration has made a consistent effort to expand executive power, especially when it comes to detaining anyone for any reason without any judicial oversight. Needless to say, we have ample reason not to trust this gang with that sort of power, and so I'm extremely wary of judges who are inclined to give it to them. This is also why I'd be firmly against an Alberto Gonzales appointment—as White House Counsel he expressed the opinion (in the infamous "torture memos") that the President should have the authority to ignore the law in wartime, a doctrine that should have been put to rest by the Glorious Revolution in 1688. (However, the opinions of judges may not matter in the end: the Supreme Court has already ruled that the Bush administration must bring charges against the Guananamo detainees, and Bush has mostly just ignored them.)

Another disturbing thing about Roberts is that when I saw his picture, my first thought was: Robot Ted! in reference to the Stepford husband played by John Ritter on an episode of Buffy. It's something about the look in his eyes. And really, robot Ted with his 1950's social programming would be the perfect Supreme Court nominee for Bush, wouldn't he?

Supreme Court Nominee
John G. Roberts

Was it Ted? 'Cause I always said there could have been more than one of him. —Dawn Summers

July 19, 2005

Just like flipping coins

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:03 PM

This is the dumbest thing I've read in a while:

Mathematics proves Christ was resurrected by God

Tuesday, 19 July , 2005, 14:57

Melbourne: An Oxford University professor has on the basis of logic and mathematics claimed that Jesus Christ was resurrected by God.

Professor Richard Swinburne has said that it was 97 percent certain that God had raised Christ from the dead.

Swinburne, while giving a public lecture at the Australian Catholic University said that probability calculus showed a probability of 97 percent that Christ was resurrected.

He said that the conclusion was arrived at after a series of complex calculations, which began with the probability of God's existence as one in two, that is either God existed or did not, adding that it was also one in two that God became incarnate.

Also, I will either win the lottery today or I won't. So the probability is one in two! GAH. You may be wondering, as I did at this point, what he is a professor of—it's certainly not math. The article informs us that he is a "leading philosopher of religion". Usually I expect better from philosophers, but he is from Oxford. (Yeah, I'm wearing my Cambridge shirt today, I guess we all have our irrational biases.)

July 18, 2005

Developments in Physics Blogging

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:53 PM

Sean Carroll has moved from Preposterous Universe to a new physicist group blog, Cosmic Variance. Needless to say, I'll be following this one with interest.

I also took the opportunity to update my blogroll, adding a few other blogs I've been reading lately and removing the ones I haven't.

Publication: SQUID with frequency-dependent damping: Readout of flux qubits

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:40 AM

We published the same week as Harry Potter—that's going to cut into our readership for sure.

A quantum computer needs a mechanism to read out the state of each quantum bit (qubit) at the end of the calculation; in our experiments we use a superconducting quantum interference device (SQUID) for this purpose. (SQUIDs are very sensitive devices for measuring magnetic fields.) In quantum mechanics, any measurement affects the state of the object being measured, and this is true for our qubit and SQUID. In the paper we look at ways to maximize the sensitivity of the measurement while minimizing the corresponding back-action on the qubit.

Phys. Rev. B 72, 024513 (2005)

Superconducting quantum interference device with frequency-dependent damping: Readout of flux qubits

T. L. Robertson,1 B. L. T. Plourde,1 T. Hime,1 S. Linzen,1 P. A. Reichardt,1 F. K. Wilhelm,2 and John Clarke1

1Department of Physics, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720-7300, USA
2Physics Department, Arnold Sommerfeld Center for Theoretical Physics and Center for NanoScience, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, 80333 München, Germany

(Received 7 February 2005; published 11 July 2005)

Recent experiments on superconducting flux qubits, consisting of a superconducting loop interrupted by Josephson junctions, have demonstrated quantum coherence between two different quantum states. The state of the qubit is measured with a superconducting quantum interference device (SQUID). Such measurements require the SQUID to have high resolution while exerting minimal backaction on the qubit. By designing shunts across the SQUID junctions appropriately, one can improve the measurement resolution without increasing the backaction significantly. Using a path-integral approach to analyze the Caldeira-Leggett model, we calculate the narrowing of the distribution of the switching events from the zero-voltage state of the SQUID for arbitrary shunt admittances, focusing on shunts consisting of a capacitance Cs and resistance Rs in series. To test this model, we fabricated a dc SQUID in which each junction is shunted with a thin-film interdigitated capacitor in series with a resistor, and measured the switching distribution as a function of temperature and applied magnetic flux. After accounting for the damping due to the SQUID leads, we found good agreement between the measured escape rates and the predictions of our model. We analyze the backaction of a shunted symmetric SQUID on a flux qubit. For the given parameters of our SQUID and realistic parameters for a flux qubit, at the degeneracy point we find a relaxation time of 113 µs, which limits the decoherence time to 226 µs. Based on our analysis of the escape process, we determine that a SQUID with purely capacitive shunts should have narrow switching distributions and no dissipation.

©2005 The American Physical Society

URL: http://link.aps.org/abstract/PRB/v72/e024513


PACS: 03.67.Lx, 85.25.Cp, 85.25.Dq

July 17, 2005

Electronic Instrumentation [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:55 PM

Had a nice, restful weekend to prepare for a busy week of taking data. I haven't made a dent in my list of movies to watch, but here's how I've been occupying myself otherwise:

Donkey Konga 2: This is of course the second edition of the rhythm game played on the Gamecube's bongo controllers. As I had been warned, the songlist is more bland than in the previous version, with emphasis on rock and hip-hop of a more recent vintage. Highlights include the obligatory wacky remixes of classical music and some electronica that's well suited for bongo accompaniment. The low point is that reprehensible remix of the theme from The Young and the Restless which was inexplicably getting airtime on dance music stations a couple years ago. But most of the selections are pretty forgettable.

On the other hand, I find that the bongo parts are more fun to play than in the first game; they seem to flow more naturally with the music. Often I would find that I would get really into the music despite not liking the song, and would be dancing along in the gaps between drum hits. (Although, if a certain Italian lady is correct in her assessment of me, this should not be unexpected anyway.) This effect seems to peak around the 3-5 banana level on Gorilla mode; for songs in the 6-7 banana range it seemed that they couldn't find any way to increase the difficulty other than putting the beats really close together, which is just annoying. Fortunately the 8-banana songs just produce their difficulty from reading complicated patterns very quickly.

Haven't tried any of the minigames, so I can't report on that. This version does seem to have more game modes than the previous one, which may be of interest.

Richard K. Morgan: Market Forces: I do love Richard K. Morgan, but I'm not getting into this book as much as I did the Takeshi Kovacs novels. The big problem, I realized, is that I don't buy the premise. I can accept his libertarian dystopia up until the corporate samurai are dueling to the death in cars to win contracts. This just seemed a little too silly, but last night I discovered that if I imagine the whole thing as the novelization of an anime production it seems to work a lot better. In fact once I started looking at it that way, it seems to draw a lot from the anime aesthetic (although fortunately not obsessing over automotive details the way the racing genre of anime does). Unfortunately Morgan's talent for metaphor and characterization seem mostly to be lacking so far, and I'm waiting for the plot to pick up. I'm not yet to the halfway point, so I can still hope for the action to ramp up in his usual manner.

Caribou: The Milk of Human Kindness: I kept seeing glowing reviews of this, but somehow they did not arouse much interest on my part. Then I happened to hear "Bees" on internet radio, and I bought the album the next time I was in a record store. It's instrument-heavy electronica, with vocals taking a supporting role, but frequently with a light pop-music feel. Highly recommended.

Italy Photos: First Batch

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:35 AM


The first batch of Italy photos is up. I took these at il Ciocco and Lucca. I still have a number of other locations to sort through, so more are coming. The photoset is here.

July 15, 2005

Friday Catblogging: Welcome Back

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:41 AM

Omen showed up the day after I got back from Italy.

catblogging: welcome

"Welcome back—where are my treats?"

July 14, 2005

Decisions, decisions

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:42 PM

Should I go to that Harry Potter release party this weekend? Let's ask... Pope Benedict!

"It is good that you enlighten people about Harry Potter, because these are subtle seductions which act unnoticed and by this deeply distort Christianity in the soul, before it can grow properly," Benedict wrote, according to the excerpt.

I think it's a bit too late for the growth of Christianity in my soul, so I might as well go. By the way, am I the only one who finds this metaphor disturbing? Like Christianity is growing in my soul so that it can burst out of my chest like in Alien? Maybe it's just me.

A bigger worry is that by going to the release party, I will encounter massive spoilers for the fifth book in casual conversation. But I guess I have no excuse when the fifth book has been on my shelf for two years and I still haven't read it.

July 13, 2005

Next: Bullet Bill explains ballistics

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:01 PM

It would be highly uncharacteristic if I didn't post this physics tutorial using Super Mario World sprites (via Boing Boing). Entertaining and educational!

July 12, 2005

Blame Academia

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:14 PM

Did Santorum's office really say that the Catholic priest sex scandal was the fault of... Harvard and MIT? Damn, we Techers had some harsh words for MIT, but they're not child molesters. I'd hate to hear what Santorum thinks Berkeley is responsible for...

July 11, 2005

Reality/Dream/Metaphor [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:48 PM

I'm back! I'll be posting a bunch of photos later, but I have about 200 to sort though, so it won't happen immediately. Maybe I'll post in batches based on location...

Meanwhile, a long-overdue media update:

Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Bose: I actually finished this before I left, while I was stuck at home with that fever. It was a worthy continuation of the first episode, with mostly positive tweaks to the combat system and a hugely superior approach to the mechanized combat (although the original Xenogears still did a better job at that). The end of the game managed to resolve most of the open story threads and still leave me shouting for the next episode. Bastards. Fortunately there's a bunch of extra stuff in the endgame, some interesting and some insanely tedious.

Haruki Murakami: Kafka on the Shore: Another amazing book from Murakami, this one is probably my favorite behind The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. The plot follows two parallel and interconnected stories: the journey of a 15-year-old runaway and the mysterious quest of an old man who can talk to cats. Any detailed plot summary I could give would be woefully inadequate—the real magic in a Murakami novel is the way reality and dream and metaphor all blend together and are equally true, and this is not an easy thing to condense into a paragraph. This one visits some of the same alternate-world territory as Sputnik Sweetheart, and some of the meditations on solitude that were a major theme in Wind-Up Bird.

I always seem to read Murakami when I'm traveling, which just feels appropriate for some reason.

Mercury Rev: The Secret Migration: Sometimes I'm sold on an album after listening to just the first track—The New Romance was like that, and so was The Secret Migration with "Secret for a Song". The song that's really been growing on me, though, is "Vermillion". The album as a whole has a kind of psychedelic fantasy aesthetic; the only thing I can think of to compare it to is the decor in a "coffee shop" I visited in Amsterdam, but this is probably not too helpful. Aside from this the band sounds similar to the Flaming Lips, but if you know the Flaming Lips you probably know Mercury Rev anyway.

July 8, 2005

Return Current

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:07 PM

I'm back on American soil, having just arrived in Chicago in the nursery section of a United flight from Munich. One more flight and a BART ride to go, then I can get some sleep.

July 6, 2005

another tower

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 7:36 AM

another tower

Originally uploaded by arcanegazebo.

I guess I don't need to tell you where I am now... My attempts to climb it were thwarted, as tickets were sold out.

July 4, 2005

Internal Playlist

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 7:46 AM

I didn't bring my iPod on this trip because I was trying to travel light, and I worried that it would encourage me to be anti-social. So I've been stuck with the selections of the iPod in my mind, which are occasionally driving me mad when they play on infinite repeat. It's the wrong day for a Random Ten, but here's what's playing in my head:

1. The Hold Steady, Your Little Hoodrat Friend
2. Mercury Rev, Secret for a Song
3. Belle & Sebastian, Dog on Wheels
4. Sleater-Kinney, The Fox
5. Iron and Wine, Cinder and Smoke (guitar part only)
6. The dialogue from Dinosaur Comics #498, "the devil in: mmorpgs"
7. The Hold Steady, Cattle and the Creeping Things
8. Bright Eyes, First Day of My Life
9. Belle & Sebastian, String Bean Jean
10. Kain from Legacy of Kain saying "Nupraptor's head", over and over again. No, I don't know why. No, it won't stop.

If something is stuck in your head, give it to the rest of us by posting in the comments.

Obscure Physics Humor

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 7:28 AM

One of today's lecturers on Andre'ev reflection: "If we were cosmologists we'd call it 'Andre'ev hijacking'."

[For the non-physicists in the audience: this is a joke about the tendency of cosmologists to give colorful names to phenomena. Condensed matter types are more understated. Andre'ev reflection is a process in which an electron crosses the interface between a metal and a superconductor, and takes along ("hijacks") another electron so as to pair up properly in the superconductor. The hijacked electron leaves behind a hole moving in the opposite direction, which looks like a reflection of the original electron.]

July 3, 2005

wine country

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 9:19 AM

wine country

Originally uploaded by arcanegazebo.

From the tower in San Gimignano. For some reason I am compelled to seek the highest point in each city...

siena city square

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:12 AM

siena city square

Originally uploaded by arcanegazebo.

Yesterday the city of Siena held a traditional horse race around this square; it's a competition between the various sections of the city. Today the winners were celebrating, wearing their section's colors around town.

July 2, 2005

florence from above

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 9:34 AM

florence from above

Originally uploaded by arcanegazebo.

And the same tower, viewed after climbing 441 steps to the top of the Campanile next to the Duomo.

tower in florence

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 9:27 AM

tower in florence

Originally uploaded by arcanegazebo.

As we walk the strada in Florence, this tower is visible in the distance...

July 1, 2005

Out of the loop [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:39 PM

Seems like time for a fresh open thread. I haven't been reading any of my usual blogs this week—what have I been missing?

Actual News Blogging

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:33 PM

I haven't really been keeping up with the news while in Italy, but I did see that Justice O'Connor is retiring. This isn't too surprising, is it? She did appoint Bush to the presidency in the first place, presumably she's amenable to him appointing her successor.

The real question, of course, is what kind of ultraconservative horror Bush will dig up as the nominee. The idea that he might pick a moderate candidate is laughable. I'm betting on the rotting, shambling zombie corpse of Joe McCarthy.

Social Fatigue

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:43 AM

I'd forgotten about this effect, but it used to happen during Rotation at Caltech: after a few days of meeting lots of new people I get mentally fatigued and emotionally drained. This happened Wednesday evening and I became very withdrawn for a while. Fortunately I recovered before the Lucca excursion.

It got me wondering how strong the analogy is to physical fatigue. Certainly if I increased the intensity of my physical activity over several days I would experience something similar, although recovery would take longer. On the other hand, if I were already in good physical condition the same level of exertion wouldn't cause any problems. So, if I were meeting new people on a regular basis, would I be more immune to this kind of burnout? Are more outgoing/extraverted people less susceptible to this? (I imagine so.)