October 31, 2005

Halloween Thread

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:41 PM

Consider this a reader survey: what are you guys doing for Halloween? I am sufficiently tired from the weekend that I may not have much to contribute to the holiday; my one concession so far has been wearing my "Alas, poor Yorick" t-shirt which has a nice skull on it. I do have about half a pirate outfit from an unrelated party a week ago that I could recycle should I need a last-minute costume, but I will probably be too tired tonight to go to the Castro or anything like that.

Short version: For Halloween I am going as really lame.

Permalink | Tags: Life

Supreme Court, Oct. 31 edition

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:35 PM

I was in Los Angeles the last three days and thus missed the opportunity to blog on Fitzmas. Instead I can blog on Halloween, with Bush's appropriately scary choice of Samuel Alito as the new Supreme Court nominee. Apparently he has decided to appease the base rather than nominate another crony. Oh well, the Miers thing was funny while it lasted.

I'm still reading up on Alito but as usual Lawyers, Guns, and Money is a good source.

October 27, 2005

Miers back to proofreading memos

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:17 PM

Just yesterday I told someone that Bush wouldn't withdraw the Harriet Miers nomination, due to his inability to admit mistakes. Well, so much for that (although it was done in a way so that Bush didn't have to admit a mistake). If that's the way it's going to work, I would also like to predict that Patrick Fitzgerald won't bring indictments against high-ranking Bush administration officials, and that our lab will fail to produce a working qubit next week. Go ahead, universe: prove me wrong.

It's a little sad to see Miers go, because I was really enjoying watching Republicans rend each other's flesh. Now Bush worship is back in style. According to a couple of sources, it's traditional at this point for the president to present a "fuck you" nomination. If he's blaming the social conservative wing for stopping Miers, this presumably means nominating Alberto Gonzales. That could certainly be an amusing fight, but a little more distressing in light of Gonzales' unusual legal theory that the president should have absolute power.

Or Bush might try to appease the James Dobsons and Ann Coulters, and nominate someone who would vote to overturn Roe and Griswold. (Side question: How long would the Republicans stay in power if they managed to overturn Griswold and started outlawing contraception? It seems to me that this position would be just slightly unpopular. Presumably the party strategists know this, and won't let it happen.)

October 26, 2005

Bewitched [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:39 PM

Should I just move the open threads to Wednesday officially? Or would that cause me to start posting them on Friday?

I failed to post a report on the Iron & Wine/Calexico show, but it was excellent. I do still intend to post a bunch of music reviews, but I continue to be surprisingly busy and/or distracted. Meanwhile, here's one I've been eager to review, and since Halloween is upon us the title is especially appropriate.

Ladytron: Witching Hour: It might seem strange for a dance rock/electronica band like Ladytron to use the folk-magicy title Witching Hour, but then you hear the music and it becomes clear: you can really feel in these songs a sense of mystery and otherworldliness, the sort that arises from the energy of a nighttime urban landscape. (I'm convinced that Ladytron is the perfect soundtrack to Takeshi Kovacs novels.) This album takes everything I loved about Light & Magic and makes it darker and more intense, resulting in an amazing record that I've been playing over and over again, at the expense of many other good CDs that have come out recently. The first three tracks—"High Rise", "Destroy Everything You Touch", and "International Dateline"—are all especially good, and set up an immersive atmosphere for the subsequent songs. In fact these three are so good that it's tempting just to start the CD over when "International Dateline" ends, except then I'd never get to "The Last One Standing", which is not only an awesome song but a shot of determination when I'm ready to give up on some difficult task. If I have one complaint about this album, it's that the lyrics can be a bit dumb. ("Weekend" is pretty much inexcusable in this regard.) But in this sort of music, the lyrics don't really matter—it's all about the sound.

October 25, 2005

Exciting Adventures of a Science Journalist

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 9:48 AM

Today's New York Times profiles a biologist who has been majorly influential in taxonomy through something called cladistics. Also he is slightly obsessed with spiders. More importantly, some of you will be interested in the byline on this article.

Permalink | Tags: Science

October 24, 2005

Squid photography humor

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:12 PM

I find McSweeney's to be hit-or-miss, but Giant Squid Takes Us Weekly to Task is one of the hits. (On a related note, I am finding it difficult to type "squid" without capitalizing all the letters.) (Via Pharyngula.)

Permalink | Tags: Culture


Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:49 AM

Over at Cosmic Variance, Sean Carroll has a great post on spontaneous symmetry breaking. It's a nice treatment for those of us who never got around to taking a Standard Model course.

Carroll is actually in Berkeley today, giving the particle physics seminar, but the condensed matter seminar is at the same time so I won't be able to catch it. I probably wouldn't be able to follow his talk anyway, as it's a bit far afield for me.

October 20, 2005

I'm smiling too

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:27 PM

Looking for something to brighten your afternoon? Here's Tom DeLay's mugshot and arrest warrant. I was hoping for some grim expression on his face but the fake smile is funny in its own way.

October 19, 2005

Intermission [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:43 PM

I saw The Hold Steady last night! It was a great show, although somehow they got away without playing "How a Resurrection Really Feels". The actual Craig Finn took some getting used to, as he looked like some nerdy accountant who stumbled up on stage after a few drinks too many, but he ended up being pretty entertaining. Due to his arrhythmic singing style he was able to change up and improvise the lyrics in interesting ways, and he had elaborate hand gestures to go along with all the songs. At one point during "Charlemagne in Sweatpants" he delivered a long monologue on baseball while the band looped in the background. The Constantines also played at this show, decent indie-rock, and the opening band was Tim Fite, who was a musical personification of WTF.

And tonight I am seeing Iron & Wine and Calexico. Speaking of which,

Iron & Wine/Calexico: In the Reins:I don't know what Calexico sounds like by itself, but when combined with Iron & Wine's Americana/folk sound the result is a really excellent EP. The sound here is more varied than on Iron & Wine's previous releases: the opening track has a southwestern feel, and then there's a country-ish prison ballad, and then "History of Lovers" which is more like a pop song. The only downside is that there are only seven tracks. More, please!

October 18, 2005

Relay Follow-up

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:57 PM

Here's the part where I explain some of the more cryptic statements in Sunday's posts.

improvised window

The Window: We rented two minivans on Friday to shuttle the runners around. Friday evening we loaded them up with various supplies. Sometime during Friday night, someone broke into Van 2 by smashing the front passenger side window, and stole Gatorade, Red Bull, and bananas. Fortunately they left most of our other supplies, so the biggest annoyance was driving around without a window, especially after sunset once it started to get cold. So we got some saran wrap from the restaurant where we ate dinner, and rigged the above window using the duct tape that we (of course) had on hand. This picture is from after crossing the Golden Gate, hence the big patch in the lower left corner where we repaired a hull breach.

Roadkill Tally: I meant to get a picture of this as well. It's apparently a meme among relayers to tally the number of teams passed on the side of the van as "roadkill". We ended up with about fifty I think (although we didn't place particularly high), of which I could claim a few by the end.

Leg 11: This was my first leg, which started out in residential Petaluma (very suburban), moved into commercial Petaluma, and then suddenly became cow pastures with all the associated aromas. This was the least interesting leg of the three I ran, and I didn't see any other runners except one guy who was way ahead of me. [map]

Leg 23: This was the nighttime leg, along Skyline Blvd near the intersection of highway 92 and I-280. The sky was clear and the full moon really beautiful; there was a lake or reservoir along the route that reflected the moonlight. Even better, the course was relatively short (3.7 miles) and had a nice downhill slope the whole way that made running very easy. [map]

Leg 35: I was dreading the hill at the start of my final leg, which rose 300 feet in one mile. What I didn't know was that I'd be running through a dry, dusty quarry under a hot sun. I took the baton (actually a wristband) simultaneously with another runner, who sprinted out ahead of me... for about 200 yards, until he hit the hill. At that point I passed him easily, then another guy, and the desire to maintain my lead kept me going up the slope. All that hill training in Berkeley paid off! After one mile the terrain changed into a really nice redwood forest, and after two it started sloping downhill into Santa Cruz. This was a really steep downhill, and at one point the distinction between running and falling was not terribly clear. I remained upright somehow and was rewarded with a great view of Santa Cruz and the ocean once I came out of the forest. [map]

UPDATE: I had the Leg 35 stuff here earlier but a typo in the HTML prevented it from showing up.

October 16, 2005

Finish line

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 8:47 PM

Finished! Our team took about thirty hours overall. My last leg was great, running through the redwood forest in the hills above Santa Cruz, and then opening up to a view of the ocean. It was a bit hot, but mostly downhill, so I was able to maintain a good pace.

Two out of three

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 8:10 AM

Second leg was awesome. Descending into Silicon Valley next to a moonlit lake... Running at 4 am is not nearly as bad an idea as it might seem.


Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:11 AM

Our window took a lot of stress while crossing the bridge. We were repairing breaches with more duct tape while the driver did his Scotty impression. Fortunately it's holding up. Meanwhile, my phone is putting weird timestamps on these posts so it looks like I'm posting into the future.


Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:13 AM

Getting ready for our van's second leg. We have twenty-four kills tallied on the side of the van; sadly none are mine, but I'll try to pick some up on my next run.

Relay blogging!

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:02 AM

We're headed to the midpoint of the race, at the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge, in a van with a window composed of saran wrap and duct tape. One hundred miles to go, once our runners catch up to this point...

October 14, 2005

The (imagined?) perils of academic blogging

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:10 PM

There's been a bunch of commentary among academic bloggers about whether blogging hurts one's chances of getting tenure. (For example: Sean Carroll, Chad Orzel, PZ Myers.)

Tenure considerations are still many years off for me, but I will admit to having similar worries with regard to the process of landing a tenure-track job in the first place. The job market in physics is very tight, and I hear from people going through the process that candidates are scrutinized very closely. Physics postdocs are expected to devote pretty much all their time to research, and in that regard my having a blog might be interpreted as insufficient dedication (or something). Maybe that's irrational but this is how the worry goes.

Of course, this too is a long way off for me—probably four to six years. Four to six years ago, hardly anyone knew what a blog was, so the culture may be very different by that time. If I wanted to play it safe, I could close the public blog when I graduate (which itself is probably two years off) and if I wanted to continue blogging, do so at some other site under a pseudonym. (The blog will have to relocate in any case, assuming I leave Berkeley.) The disadvantage of this is that I wouldn't be able to talk about my research in any detail without the risk that someone would recognize me.

Most likely I'll just keep on blogging as normal; it's too much fun and a job that frowns on it is probably a job I don't want anyway.

October 13, 2005

Art/Physics collision

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:49 PM

Via Boing Boing, some weirdly beautiful artistic renditions of elementary particles. I like the photon especially.

Can we get the artist to do some condensed matter stuff? I'd love to see Cooper pairs, quasiparticles, and phonons...

CD Commentary Track

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:02 PM

Over at /dev/shm Lemming has begun his track-by-track exegesis of the mix CD I made for him a few weeks ago. The origins of this CD may be found in the comments to this post, and the tracklist may be found in this thread. Lemming plans to address one song per day, and I'm providing my own take in the comments. Clearly I should release a "special edition" of Some Disassembly Required with all of this reproduced in the liner notes. (And it should be on vinyl.)

Permalink | Tags: Music

October 11, 2005

The backlog gets longer [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:17 PM

I've joined a team for a relay race this coming weekend. This would not be especially noteworthy except that the race is 199 miles long, starting in Calistoga and finishing in Santa Cruz. So this will doubtless be quite the adventure and I'll probably do some liveblogging from my phone.

Meanwhile, did I mention that I have a backlog of music to review? I went to the record store on Friday and came out with five albums, bringing the total to 13 I need to review. Here's one of them, and maybe I'll do the rest in batches of four or five.

Clor: Clor: This band has kind of a synth-heavy Brit rock sound. It's another one of those albums that sounds good at the time but later I can't remember what it sounded like. For a while every time one of the tracks came up on my iPod I'd be like, "What is this? Oh yeah, Clor." Or maybe I've just picked up so much new music lately that I'm unable to keep track of it all. Anyway, "Love + Pain" is a nice track.

October 10, 2005

Nobels explained

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:57 PM

Chad Orzel has posted his explanations of this year's physics Nobels: here's the post on Glauber and here's the one on Hall and Hänsch. I don't have much knowledge of quantum optics so this was pretty helpful.

Also, check out last week's open thread here for Jolene's explanation of the chemistry prize; she was a student of one of this year's laureates. I have no way to link to individual comments on my blog so you'll have to scroll past some scheduling chatter to find it.

The economics prize is covered at Marginal Revolution: Aumann is discussed here and Schelling here; Tyler Cowen was Schelling's student.

October 8, 2005

The blogs, they are multiplying

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:24 PM

Regular readers will not be surprised to know that Mason has posted more comments here than anyone else (well, besides me), and his habit of saying exactly what he's thinking has inspired some excellent discussions as well as potshots from anonymous visitors. So I'm pleased to add Mason's new blog, Quantum Chaotic Thoughts, to my blogroll. I for one am looking forward not only to his posts but to the anonymous responses he garners.

However, I do think he should have used a well-known anagram of his name in the blog URL. He'd probably get more hits that way, too.

October 7, 2005

Expensive Solitaire Console

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:14 PM

My advisor has a powerful dislike of digital electronics, partly due to the additional electrical noise generated by such circuits. Another issue is that manufacturers of high-precision digital equipment are often tempted to add dubious "enhancements" to their products. Consider, for example, our Tektronix digital oscilloscope. It has a lot of useful features, most importantly a 1 GHz bandwidth. On the other hand, it runs Microsoft Windows.

Now, this does allow me to play solitaire during an extended measurement. And in principle the ability to run programs like Labview could be very useful, and the scope connects to the network very easily. On the other hand, this means that the software that actually runs the core oscilloscope functions is Windows software.

Recently, when booting up the scope, the aforementioned software has been exiting immediately with an "unrecoverable system error". This effectively converts the instrument into an ordinary PC with a tiny screen (and a $30,000 price tag). This was the first time I have attempted to repair a scientific instrument by reinstalling Windows. Unfortunately, this had no effect on the problem, leading me to guess that it was a hardware malfunction on the acquisition board. Time to run the scope diagnostics... which only exist inside the software that refuses to run.

So we're sending the thing to Tektronix where they will repair it for a hefty fee. Meanwhile, I am starting to appreciate the simplicity of purely analog electronics.

October 5, 2005

Cain and Abel seem to still be causing trouble

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:26 AM

I tend to have pretty harsh words for the Catholic Church, but this deserves applause: Bishops in Britain are actively trying to discourage literal readings of the Bible. Via Pharyngula:

Catholic Church no longer swears by truth of the Bible
THE hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church has published a teaching document instructing the faithful that some parts of the Bible are not actually true.

The Catholic bishops of England, Wales and Scotland are warning their five million worshippers, as well as any others drawn to the study of scripture, that they should not expect “total accuracy” from the Bible.

“We should not expect to find in Scripture full scientific accuracy or complete historical precision,” they say in The Gift of Scripture.

Excellent. Hey, can we get that printed as a warning label on Bibles, like the ones the creationists try to put on biology textbooks?

October 4, 2005

Frickin' Laser Beams

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:43 PM

The physics Nobel was announced today:

Nobel given for laser measurement

Three scientists have been awarded the 2005 Nobel Prize for Physics for laser measurement and quantum optics.

Half of the prize went to John Hall of Colorado University and Theodor Hänsch of Germany's Max Planck Institute.

The laser-based spectroscopy they have pioneered allows the colour of light from atoms and molecules to be determined with exceptional precision.

The other half went to Roy Glauber of Harvard University for applying modern quantum physics to optics.

This is Chad Orzel's field, so I'll wait for him to post his explanation of their findings, and then link to it.

I need to watch the Daily Show this week.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:34 PM

I've been giving careful consideration to Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, and it is my considered legal opinion that this is hilarious. Mere weeks after he gets in trouble for putting a laughably unqualified crony in charge of FEMA, and his nominee is someone distinguished for being the Texas Lottery Commissioner and for saying that Bush is the most brilliant man she had ever met? (That last part should be enough to disqualify her from any public office, ever.) And if this weren't boneheaded enough, he's got the social conservatives frothing with rage because they were expecting the Spanish Inquisition. I think the best advice for Democrats is to grab some popcorn and watch the fireworks.

Wait, there's more! Here's an AP photo of Miers briefing President Bush... on August 6, 2001! Anyone remember the title of that briefing? You may recall something like "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." Clearly her job performance merits a promotion to the Supreme Court of the United States.

We all knew that Bush was going to fuck up the Court, but he is to be commended for attempting to fuck it up in the funniest way possible. Ladies and gentlemen, the Bush Administration has descended into self-parody.

October 3, 2005

Everyone's talking about it [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:08 PM

Apparently the new Richard K. Morgan novel came out when I wasn't looking, and Franz Ferdinand's new album comes out tomorrow. So I've got some shopping to do. Maybe I'll be able to find that Wolf Parade album this time.

Serenity: The blogosphere is swamped with commentary on this movie, so I'll just say that it's really good. My brother came up to Berkeley to see it with me (I introduced him to the works of Joss Whedon, so it seemed appropriate), and we spent the rest of the weekend quoting it to each other. I think Jayne may now be my favorite character.

While on the subject of film: anyone seen Mirrormask yet?

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah: Not an instruction but the name of the band, and of their debut album. There's been a ridiculous amount of buzz about this band from indie rock critics, even when this album was only available from shady internet filesharing services. I always worry that my computer will contract some awful spyware infection from such services, so I waited until the CD was released. On first listen my reaction was a resounding "Huh?" It's not bad, but I haven't yet figured out what all the hype was about. (My first reactions don't correlate well with my eventual opinion of a given band—I had a similar reaction to the Arcade Fire, but after a few more listens Funeral became one of my favorite albums.) Anyway, there are some songs I really like on here, like "Details of the War", but I feel a bit like I'm missing something.

I still have a long backlog of music to review, so there's probably a big music post in the future. I considered doing this as an audio post where I could play songs interspersed with my commentary, or as a series of podcasts, but I'm not sure I have the time to do that properly.