September 29, 2005

Arcane Gazebo goes mobile, thanks to Google

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:47 PM

If you have a mobile phone with a browser, you may know that Google will translate your search results into mobile-readable WML. I discovered yesterday that they've improved this service, adding text formatting and form capability. This relieves me of the need to put together a WML version of this blog.

How to read Arcane Gazebo on a WML-capable mobile phone: Go to and search for arcane gazebo. Follow the link on the first result. It actually looks pretty good (on my Motorola V551), blockquotes and italics are preserved, and posting comments should work (I haven't tried it yet myself).

New Pornographers concert report

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:21 PM

The show last night was terrific, of course. However, the fact that indie-rock audiences don't dance is sort of lame. When I have an oscillation amplitude that's above the median, and I'm not moving my feet, something's wrong. (I was really just sort of nodding my head rhythmically.)

The New Pornographers played a pretty long set and managed to hit all the songs I wanted to hear. There was also an unusual level of onstage banter (mainly between Carl Newman and Neko Case) that was pretty entertaining. At the beginning of the first encore they spent about ten minutes just joking around and playing the opening riffs to various highly recognizable songs. (Back in Black and Smells Like Teen Spirit were a couple that I remember.)

The opening bands were Immaculate Machine and Destroyer, the former of which was quite good primarily due to Kathryn Calder on keyboards and vocals. She plays in the New Pornographers as well, apparently since Twin Cinema. Destroyer was less interesting (and didn't destroy anything).

Oh yeah: Nobody cheered at "Going to 16th and Valencia" in Twin Cinema. Possibly because it's a bit difficult to tell that those are the lyrics.

September 28, 2005

Use It Tonight

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:52 PM

In preparation for tonight's show, I'm currently listening to the entire catalog of The New Pornographers, except for the iTMS bonus track to Twin Cinema since I bought the album on CD. Grr. Anyway, if you're familiar with the band you know that the lyrics, while intelligible, are pretty opaque and it's never clear exactly what the songs are about. This isn't really a problem, but it was nice to discover that the official Matador site actually explains the songs. Sort of.

Sing Me Spanish Techno”: In which Newman tries to write a song with a ton of parts and an asymmetrical structure but still a pop song through and through. And succeeds. Title inspired by his girlfriend Amy, and, as he was reading Joseph Campbell's "Hero With A Thousand Faces" while writing it, "there are some veiled references about the hero's journey and different myths, bullshit like that."
Ok, it isn't exactly a scholarly exegesis. But I do have a couple of new to-do items: play "Star Bodies" backwards, and watch for this tonight:
"Twin Cinema": Newman updated this Electric Version-era tune with new lyrics referencing his part-time home San Francisco, hoping that "San Franciscans will hoot and holler at the '16th and Valencia' line when we play it live."

DeLay! Indicted!

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:13 AM
DeLay indicted, will step aside as majority leader

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A Texas grand jury on Wednesday charged Rep. Tom DeLay and two political associates with conspiracy in a campaign finance scheme, forcing the House majority leader to temporarily relinquish his post.

DeLay's attorney Steve Brittain said DeLay was accused of a criminal conspiracy along with two associates, John Colyandro, former executive director of a Texas political action committee formed by DeLay, and Jim Ellis, who heads DeLay's national political committee.

"I have notified the speaker that I will temporarily step aside from my position as majority leader pursuant to rules of the House Republican Conference and the actions of the Travis County district attorney today," DeLay said.

I honestly didn't think it would happen—I figured DeLay was untouchably powerful.

September 27, 2005

Harmonica Solo [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:29 PM

Looks like another busy week for me; I may not get the chance to post roadtrip pictures until the weekend (or later). ("Busy" in this instance entails things like seeing The New Pornographers in concert and going to the opening of Serenity.)

Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, Vol. 1: My brother got me watching these while on the road. This is of course Cartoon Network's show detailing the exploits of former superhero Birdman, who has become a lawyer representing various other Hanna-Barbera characters. One episode has the Scooby-Doo gang fighting marijuana charges, while another has Fred Flintstone as a Mafia don, complete with a Bedrock-style parody of the Sopranos opening. The episodes are consistently hilarious, not just from the parodic aspects but from absurdist twists and lightning-fast sight gags. As an added bonus, The Daily Show's Stephen Colbert does some of the voices.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club: Howl: I had a number of reasons to be skeptical of this album: I thought their previous effort, Take Them On, On Their Own, was mediocre; I kept seeing mixed reviews of Howl; and of course for them to call the album Howl is a bit pretentious. But, it's actually really good! It's a total departure from their previous sound (which was rock in the manner of Jesus and Mary Chain) to an acoustic blend of folk, blues, and gospel styles. Yes, the lyrics are mostly (in the words of one reviewer) "prison and Jesus", and yes, one song features a harmonica solo. But it's all really well-done, and the new sound suits the band much better than their old one. "Ain't No Easy Way" alone is probably worth the price of the album.

Howl's album cover is designed to look like an old LP cover (complete with a meaningless "Side 1/Side 2" division). Unfortunately, this artwork is marred by a big ugly copyright notice informing the buyer that, when inserted into a Windows machine, the CD would only be playable by the accursed Windows Media Player. I discovered this only after I had paid for the CD and was quite annoyed until I put it in my computer and learned that I had inadvertently defeated the copy-protection by having CD Autoplay turned off. Then it was just kind of funny.

I have a backlog of music to review so maybe I'll do another music post later in the week.

September 26, 2005

Shyness and serotonin

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:51 PM

Via Marginal Revolution, Time magazine reports on some recent research into shyness. Apparently a genetic component has been located:

As part of Battaglia's study, he collected saliva samples from his 49 subjects and analyzed their DNA, looking for something that might further explain his results. The shy children, he found, had one or two shorter copies of a gene that codes for the flow of the brain chemical serotonin, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in anxiety, depression and other mood states. Battaglia's lab is not the only one to have linked this gene to shyness, and while nobody pretends it's the entire answer, most researchers believe it at least plays a role. "People who carry the short variant of the gene are, in general, a little more shy and reactive to stress," says psychiatrist Michael Meaney of McGill University in Montreal, who just completed a two-year study of timidity and stress.

Something I've never been entirely clear on is, what is the relationship between shyness and mood states like depression and anxiety? Maybe this is still an open question, but they seem to be linked in some way. I guess in a sense shyness is a kind of anxiety, but shy behavior has a very different character from an anxiety attack.

Ring Ring Ring

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:42 PM

Somebody made a reference to a "bananaphone" song the other day, and I was sufficiently intrigued to Google it. Helpfully, Wikipedia has an article on this topic. Unhelpfully, now that I've heard the song it's proving incredibly difficult to dislodge from infinite loop in my head.

On the other hand, I now understand this Nothing Nice strip.

Permalink | Tags: Music

September 25, 2005

I Have Returned

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:47 PM

Arrived in Oakland this morning, after which I ate lunch, took a nap, and then went running. It turns out that running 14 miles, after spending a week (mostly) sitting in a car and eating fast food, is a difficult and painful experience. I did discover that Tilden Park actually has a lot of rabbits but they only come out around sunset. Unfortunately, that's also when swarms of gnats congest the airspace above the trail.

This week I'll attempt to resume regular blogging. I also have a ton of pictures, mostly taken from cliffs in Arizona, to sort through and post.

September 22, 2005

meteor crater

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:12 PM

meteor crater

Originally uploaded by arcanegazebo.

Another big hole in the ground...

September 21, 2005

grand canyon

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:12 PM

grand canyon

Originally uploaded by arcanegazebo.

We drove a long way to see a big hole in the ground...

September 20, 2005

painted desert

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:07 PM

painted desert

Originally uploaded by arcanegazebo.

We are in the Petrified Forest National Park, overlooking Arizona's Painted Desert, taking pictures every few steps...

September 19, 2005

Talk Like a Pirate Day [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 8:16 AM

Be talkin' amongst yerselves, me hearties. We be raisin' anchor fer our voyage, yo ho!

leaving on tlapd

Rock Songs for Talk Like a Pirate Day

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 7:59 AM

A few from my playlist:

  • The Libertines, Tomblands
  • Mary Timony, Return to Pirates
  • Sleater-Kinney, The End of You
  • The Decemberists, The Mariner's Revenge Song
  • Franz Ferdinand, 40'

Other suggestions?

September 18, 2005

Welcome to Dallas

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:23 PM

I am in Dallas! Here's a picture of... a parking lot.


Note the billboard advertising the "305 HP Texas Titan". There's also a church steeple in the background.

Anyway, I figured there should be a photo of the starting city. Hopefully we'll see something more scenic along the way.

Sunday Dogblogging

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:56 PM

Since I'm in Dallas I'm going to do some petblogging even though it's not Friday.


This is Merlin, the family dog. He's a cranky old dog at 13 years who lays around the house all day and barks at you if he wants your attention. However, he did manage to summon enough energy to steal clothes out of my suitcase last night.

Permalink | Tags: Life, Photos

September 15, 2005

USGS destroys L.A.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:36 PM

Possibly of morbid interest to California readers: Results of a USGS simulation of The Big One hitting Los Angeles. (Via Fark.)

-The estimated fatalities could range from 3,000 to 18,000, with an average of 7,600.

-The total injuries could range from 56,000 to 268,000, with an average of about 120,000.

-The number of displaced households ranged from 142,000 to 735,000, with an average of 274,000.

But did they account for completely incompetent FEMA administrators? Also, I wonder if the equivalent study has been done for San Francisco. Or perhaps the Hayward fault, which runs under through the East Bay and directly under the Berkeley campus...

Ok, you can stop now.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:53 PM

Michael Newdow is still at it:

Judge Rules Pledge of Allegiance in Calif. Schools Unconstitutional

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 14 -- A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the law requiring the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools is unconstitutional and said he was ready to issue an injunction to three California school districts to halt the daily reciting of the pledge.

I heard Newdow speak at Berkeley a couple years ago. He seemed like a good, well-intentioned guy, and I agree with him on a lot of things. But I wish he'd put his quest on hold for a while. This is terrible timing: it'll just create a backlash that'll provide lots of support for whatever theocrats Bush nominates to judgeships. Obviously "under God" in the Pledge is unconstitutional, but equally obviously the Supreme Court won't rule that way after two appointments from Bush. So there's no way to win here.

Not to mention that there are ongoing battles over church/state separation on issues that actually have a major impact, like the teaching of evolution. Insofar as activists have limited resources it's probably better not to focus on purely symbolic issues.

September 13, 2005

The Road to Pretentious Music Geek Hell, Part the Second

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:30 PM

I'm not one of those people who prefers to listen to vinyl records. But after learning that the vinyl edition of the Decemberists' Picaresque will have five bonus songs, I kind of wish I were.

There is actually a record player in the lab, possibly even operational (its radio tuner still works at least). So I could start buying vinyl music to listen to while doing experiments. My advisor's always worried about noise generated by digital electronics, so presumably he'd approve of the analog approach, and there's an abundance of ADCs if I want to get those bonus songs into iTunes. Or I could go with my original plan of just plugging my iPod into the record player's auxiliary port.

Permalink | Tags: Lab, Music

September 12, 2005

Voyage Westward [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:25 PM

Open thread on Monday? Madness!

Next week my brother and I are driving from Dallas to Los Angeles, where he will be taking up residence. (The westward migration of my social network continues!) We leave on Talk Like A Pirate Day, no doubt with many an "Arr!" and "Avast!" to confuse the gas station attendants in roadside Texas towns. I intend to photoblog the interesting sun belt attractions (if any).

Hopefully the power will be back on by the time we get to L.A.

Get Him Eat Him: Geography Cones: Somehow I feel guilty about listening to music by an indie band whose frontman is a writer for Pitchfork, as if this is a fatal indulgence in hipsterism that will condemn me to a special level of hell reserved for pretentious music geeks. On the other hand, Get Him Eat Him is a great name for a rock band, bringing to my mind an image of some ravenous, ferocious animal being sicced on someone. Which is more or less what this band sounds like at its best, when the frantic guitars sound like they're racing each other to some meaty prize. The lyrics occasionally veer into the kind of showy obscurity that make a fraction of Pitchfork's reviews unreadable, but also have moments of brilliance. ("You're so pretty you could destroy the city" somehow seems right even though, thinking about it, it doesn't really make any sense. I guess Helen of Troy was so pretty that she did indeed destroy the city, maybe there's a Homeric interpretation to that song.) My favorite track is probably "Not Not Nervous" unless it's "Mumble Mumble", there's lots of good stuff here.

September 8, 2005

You go squish now!

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 9:44 PM
Critical consensus is that the new A Sound of Thunder movie really, really sucks. That's disappointing, because I remember liking the original Ray Bradbury story. On the other hand, I read that story when I was about ten years old.

This means that the best adaptation of the story remains the segment "Time and Punishment" from the "Treehouse of Horror V" episode of The Simpsons.

HOMER: OK, don't panic -- remember the advice your father gave you on your wedding day.
[remembers Abe with hair and a tuxedo]
ABE: If you ever travel back in time, don't step on anything because even the tiniest change can alter the future in ways you can't imagine.

High Phase Shifts [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:29 PM

My severe tardiness with this week's open thread has already led to one threadjacking. In the spare minutes I've had available for blogging this week there's always been a higher-priority post on my mind. Anyway, here it is, almost in time for next week's open thread.

Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner: Freakonomics: My main complaint about this was: too short. Levitt takes the reader through several very interesting economic studies, with a focus on incentives and correlation vs. causation. There wasn't an overall theme, but a nice variety of topics ranging from detection of cheating among schoolteachers administering standardized tests, to the economics of crack dealing, to Levitt's controversial finding that the Roe v. Wade verdict led to a drop in crime 20 years later, to the influence of one's given name on future prosperity. The book was a quick and easy read, written at a very non-technical level (it was amusing at times when they try to explain something like regression analysis).

I'm now reading Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner, at Phi's recommendation.

The New Pornographers: Twin Cinema: It's hard to listen to this without comparing it to their previous LP Electric Version, which is one of my all-time favorite albums. I discovered The New Pornographers and Electric Version while suffering from a series of foul and dark moods, and the music was a pure shot of happiness that immediately lifted my spirits. With that kind of personal significance it's hard to imagine that Twin Cinema can compete, and instead it takes a different direction and stakes out its own territory.

Cinema has a sound like a more refined version of the band's debut album Mass Romantic, and trades the constant exuberance of Electric Version for a wider and more contemplative emotional range. The better tracks on this one are longer and almost anthemic rather than three-minute triumphant bursts: "The Bleeding Heart Show" was the first track on the album that really made me sit up and listen, and the amazing closer "Stacked Crooked" completely erases any doubts I might have had about this record. The only downside is that this band always manages somehow to write one song that annoys the hell out of me for reasons unknown and mysterious, and in this case it's "These Are The Fables". But aside from that, this is a really great CD.

I'm seeing them live later this month, so you'll undoubtedly be hearing about that as well.

September 7, 2005

Dancing as an ensemble of spins in a magnetic field

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 9:46 PM

At tonight's ballroom dance class, the instructor at one point explained that it's important to finish a particular turn at the appropriate angle, so that when the motion is reversed one ends up at the original angle. Of course, my brain immediately translated this into the all-too-familiar concept of phase coherence and the difficulties of random phase noise. Unfortunately the foot-change doesn't act as a spin-echo pulse to correct the phase variation.

My personal dephasing rate appears to be very high. And let's not even talk about my foot parity non-conservation.

More complications in my mix CD process.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:32 PM

Via a comment on the Scary Go Round blog I learn that Hummer is using a Ratatat song in their commercials. I frantically google to find out which song, because I have two mix CDs in the queue, both of which contain a Ratatat song, and I don't really want people thinking about SUVs while they're listening.

The song turns out to be "Seventeen Years", which does not appear on either mix but is an excellent song nonetheless. It's nice to see the music I like getting exposure, but in a Hummer commercial? Ew. Seems to me that Ratatat parodies the Hummer aesthetic more than it complements it, to the extent that music without lyrics can parody anything.

September 6, 2005

Speaking on Theory, Theory on Speaking

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:36 PM

You may be wondering where I disappeared to, perhaps imagining that I was pursuing adventure and excitement during the long weekend. This was true during the first half, but Sunday afternoon I had to face the fact that I had been assigned the first group seminar of the semester. (In fact, I was due to give a talk towards the end of last semester, but managed to put it off for about five consecutive weeks until I was saved by the end of the term. Unfortunately I was still at the front of the queue when we started up again.)

For a topic I chose to review an 18-page theory paper: partly because I had no better ideas, partly because I wanted to do something relatively impressive, and partly out of sheer masochism. I would have expected such a task to consume my entire weekend rather than just half of it (and much of today), but fortunately the paper was not as daunting as it looked. This was for several reasons:

  1. As theory papers go, this one was not very dense. There was lots of text to go with each equation, and they mostly explained the algebra involved.
  2. After establishing the major equations governing the problem, they confine their solution to a particularly easy special case.
  3. For this special case, they give a "formal solution": i.e., when they get to a difficult integral equation, they declare themselves done with the equivalent of "if we knew how to solve this, here's what it would look like".
  4. Having obtained the formal solution, they set their computers on the problem, leaving the second half of the paper primarily to an avalanche of plots illustrating the numerical results.

My strategy for assembling my talk was to start by putting the numerical plots on Powerpoint slides, so that if I ran out of preparation time I could do the rest of the talk on the whiteboard. It turned out I had time to put everything into Powerpoint, which was nice since my whiteboard handwriting isn't terribly legible. For a denser theory paper, I would certainly use the whiteboard since it's tough to get the pacing right for mathematical derivations in Powerpoint. Also it's annoying to construct equations on the computer; I try to copy them from the PDF of the original article when possible, but sometimes I have to fill in steps or rearrange something into a clearer form.

I've noticed lately that when I'm giving a talk or a speech I seem to go into a kind of trance where I construct and deliver sentences without thinking about them on a conscious level. (This is not normally the case unless I am sufficiently inebriated.) This is absolutely essential because I can shut down the conscious part of my mind and therefore not notice that lots of people are watching me. One might ask why I can't duplicate this in normal conversation, and the answer seems to be that I rely on the prompts from my prepared notes or slides or whatever, and in more free-form circumstances some more conscious thought is necessary. I used to have difficulties with freezing up during the question period following a talk and I think this is the reason. (I've since improved in this regard.)

September 4, 2005

Mankind's Greatest Mistake: Agriculture?

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:06 PM

Something else I meant to post on Friday: Brad DeLong recommends a fascinating article by Jared Diamond (the Guns, Germs, and Steel guy) arguing that many of mankind's historical woes—famine, war, tyranny—stem from a catastrophic event: the invention of agriculture.

Apparently there's a lot of evidence that the hunter-gatherer lifestyle is quite a bit healthier than that of the typical peasant-famer, but agricultural societies were able to dominate since they can support a larger population, albeit at a lower level of nutrition. (Sort of like McDonald's, I guess.)

The article is originally from 1987, so it's not so new, but I hadn't seen it before, and I found it really interesting. Here's an excerpt:

There are at least three sets of reasons to explain the findings that agriculture was bad for health. First, hunter-gatherers enjoyed a varied diet, while early farmers obtained most of their food from one or a few starchy crops. The farmers gained cheap calories at the cost of poor nutrition. (today just three high-carbohydrate plants–wheat, rice, and corn–provide the bulk of the calories consumed by the human species, yet each one is deficient in certain vitamins or amino acids essential to life.) Second, because of dependence on a limited number of crops, farmers ran the risk of starvation if one crop failed. Finally, the mere fact that agriculture encouraged people to clump together in crowded societies, many of which then carried on trade with other crowded societies, led to the spread of parasites and infectious disease. (Some archaeologists think it was the crowding, rather than agriculture, that promoted disease, but this is a chicken-and-egg argument, because crowding encourages agriculture and vice versa.) Epidemics couldn’t take hold when populations were scattered in small bands that constantly shifted camp. Tuberculosis and diarrheal disease had to await the rise of farming, measles and bubonic plague the appearnce of large cities.

Besides malnutrition, starvation, and epidemic diseases, farming helped bring another curse upon humanity: deep class divisions. Hunter-gatherers have little or no stored food, and no concentrated food sources, like an orchard or a herd of cows: they live off the wild plants and animals they obtain each day. Therefore, there can be no kings, no class of social parasites who grow fat on food seized from others. Only in a farming population could a healthy, non-producing élite set itself above the disease-ridden masses. Skeletons from Greek tombs at Mycenae c. 1500 B. C. suggest that royals enjoyed a better diet than commoners, since the royal skeletons were two or three inches taller and had better teeth (on the average, one instead of six cavities or missing teeth). Among Chilean mummies from c. A. D. 1000, the élite were distinguished not only by ornaments and gold hair clips but also by a fourfold lower rate of bone lesions caused by disease.

Seems like this thesis was also proposed by Tyler Durden, although in a less scholarly manner.

September 2, 2005

Blogging by proxy

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:42 PM

I had this collection of things I was going to post today, and then I realized that Making Light already had them all. So just go there and read down the page. In particular, the map of disaster-prone areas in the US, and George W. Bush's impossibly tasteless jokes about Trent Lott's house. (Will people finally realize that he's neither a "good Christian" or a "guy you'd like to have a beer with", but a fucking aristocrat in the grand Louis XVI style?)