Ok, the Dem response was better than last year's, but still boring. I'm going back to physics. You can just wire that money directly over here, George.
He's revised the Democratic slogan to "There's a better way". A little punchier, I guess.
The Pentagon is "sacred ground"?
Kaine's going for a "nice reasonable bipartisan" thing.
Tim Kaine has the raised eyebrow thing going big-time.
On to the Democratic response, because I am a glutton for punishment.
C-SPAN commentator: "Well, the president's certainly taking his time leaving the chamber..."
It's over, cue music: "America.... America.... America! Fuck yeah!"
Ok, I just missed a few minutes so I could talk to my advisor. What's he talking about now? I caught something about embryos or something, was that stem cells? Grr. Ok, he's on to corruption--wait, now it's something else. Is he randomly jumping between topics or am I just confused?
More money for physics? Hey, thanks! Maybe this means our grant will get funded.
"Nukular" again. Well, at least he's making reference to alternative energy. But ethanol costs more energy to produce than it ultimately provides. I'll wait until I see how much money actually gets allocated to realistic projects.
"Congress did not act on my proposal to save Social Security" MASSIVE applause. Awesome.
Line item veto? He's never even used the regular veto.
Yeah, better make the tax cuts permanent, otherwise those American families in the top 1% of income might get an unwelcome increase. Oh wait, he left out part of that too.
Hmm, I don't think he's going to mention that the job increases can be accounted for by public sector jobs. Especially just before he criticizes "the government taking a larger role".
Seriously, has he even read the Constitution? I do not think it says what he thinks it says.
"RESPECT MAH AUTHORITAH." If there are people inside our country talking to Al Qaeda, get a fucking warrant.
Mixed reaction from Congress in response to "PATRIOT Act". Seem to recall that happened previously.
"Nukular"! Twice! (I was at a seminar last week where a physicist was saying this... it's spreading.)
"Rule of law, protection of minorities, and strong accountable institutions" Hey, can we get some of that here?
"A duty to speak with candor" I think he takes that about as seriously as his Texas Air National Guard duty.
Here's the part where criticism of the war is undermining the troops, or something.
Bush just gave a rousing argument against isolationism, delivering a stunning rebuttal to... the crazy guy on Telegraph Avenue. Seriously, who's arguing for isolationism that it needed to be addressed? Keep kicking that straw man...
"Enemies of freedom"... there's one! Oh, wait...
Of course there's always the SOTU drinking game, which looks particularly dangerous this year. I would add "unitary executive" and "culture of life" to the phrase list, now that Alito's confirmed.
I usually watch the State of the Union address, and have liveblogged it in the past. I'm not sure I'll be able to do it this year, without throwing things at the screen in a fit of rage. If the members of Congress had any respect for their offices, George W. Bush would be in prison, not standing at that podium.
Ok, I realize that I sound like the crazed anti-Clinton ranters of the '90s. But the difference is that Clinton got a blowjob, while Bush has violated the law, the Fourth Amendment, and his oath of office, and has freely admitted to doing so while claiming that the president is above the law. In effect, he is claiming dictatorial powers for himself, which should by itself be reason for impeachment. Didn't we fight a revolution over this?
Instead the Senate has confirmed to the Supreme Court a judge who agrees with Bush's view of unconstrained executive power. I think Bush actually needs a couple more Alitos on the court before he can put on the crown, but in terms of dramatic timing he should totally go for the Emperor Palapatine acceptance speech tonight.
I'm guessing, however, that we'll get really boring rhetoric about Health Savings Accounts, and probably some saber-rattling at Iran. Hence, I am thinking that I should keep my blood pressure down and just spend the hour reading Cute Overload or something. I can catch the highlights on the Daily Show later.
And while writing this I have learned that apparently Bush will try to position himself as pro-science, maybe even while keeping a straight face. Given Daniel Davies' insight about the success of Bush administration policy initiatives, I think we'd prefer that he stay the hell away from science, thanks.
This was quite a relaxing weekend, but as a consequence nothing got accomplished. At least I will post the open thread on time!
Stars: Set Yourself On Fire: Back in the middle of last year I heard one of these songs on internet radio, and made a note to check out the whole album. However, I didn't actually get around to this until a couple of weeks ago, which means I now have an update to make to one of my previous posts:
Favorite Albums of 2005 (Revised)
5. Architecture in Helsinki, In Case We Die
4. Stars, Set Yourself On Fire
3. The New Pornographers, Twin Cinema
2. Ladytron, Witching Hour
1. The Hold Steady, Separation Sunday
Stars are a Canadian band, with substantial overlap with Broken Social Scene, doing a boy/girl vocal thing reminiscent of the Delgados, only with more synth and violins. The result is spectacularly good. Beginning with the excellent opener "Your Ex-Lover Is Dead", the first nine songs tell spare but evocative stories of relationships beginning and ending. "One More Night" and "Sleep Tonight" are especially good, and "The First Five Times" has been in my head all day. And if the album ended here it would already be a great record, but instead they follow up with three protest songs: the angry "He Lied About Death", the mournful "Celebration Guns" (which is my new favorite anti-war song) and the optimistic "Soft Revolution". And finally they cap it off with "Calendar Girl", a song about mortality and loneliness that manages to be hopeful and, like all the previous songs, beautiful. Definitely recommended.
Fortuitously, Stars are playing the Fillmore in about two weeks (on the 10th), so I will be reporting on their live show shortly after that.
Doug Natelson (via Mixed States) comments on a talk by Caltech prof David Goodstein. Goodstein is mostly known for bad physics puns, but is now brandishing a meathook and predicting the imminent end of civilization. Apparently he's written a book, Out of Gas, on the increasingly frightening subject of peak oil. Anyone know if the book is any good? I'm tempted to check it out, assuming he's foregone the puns this time.
I totally don't know how to react to this NYT article: Democrats in 2 Southern States Push Bills on Bible Study
WASHINGTON, Jan. 26 — Democrats in Georgia and Alabama, borrowing an idea usually advanced by conservative Republicans, are promoting Bible classes in the public schools. Their Republican opponents are in turn denouncing them as "pharisees," a favorite term of liberals for politicians who exploit religion.
On the other hand, the Democrats pushing these bills are obviously pandering to theocratic Christians who want to see more state promotion of religion, and are just being clever by doing this in a constitutional way. Pandering to these sorts of people, or giving them any political influence at all, is bad on general principles. These bills themselves may be good policy, but if they're a big hit with the bible-thumpers I worry about what these legislators will do next.
On the third hand, Republican hypocrisy on this issue is completely hilarious:
"Their proposal makes them modern-day pharisees," State Senator Eric Johnson of Georgia, the Republican leader from Savannah, said in a statement. "This is election-year pandering using voters' deepest beliefs as a tool."
Saying he found "a little irony" in the fact that the Democratic sponsors had voted against a Republican proposal for a Bible course six years ago, Mr. Johnson added, "It should also be noted that the so-called Bible bill doesn't use the Bible as the textbook, and would allow teachers with no belief at all in the Bible to teach the course."
Then it turns out that the origins of the textbook are slightly sketchy:
The textbook they endorse was the brainchild of Chuck Stetson, a New York investment manager and theologically conservative Episcopalian who says he was concerned about public ignorance of the Bible.
The textbook came to the attention of Democratic legislators in Alabama and Georgia through the advocacy of R. Randolph Brinson, a Republican and founder of the evangelical voter-registration group Redeem the Vote.
Mr. Brinson, who said he was working with legislators in other states as well, described his pitch to Democrats as, "Introducing this bill will show the evangelical world that they are not hostile to faith."
Some liberals are unhappy, however. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, argued that "The Bible and Its Influence" was "problematic" because it omitted "the bad and the ugly uses of the Bible," like the invocation of Scripture to justify racial segregation.
Timeo Danaos et dona ferentis.
On the software I use to run our qubit experiments, there is a checkbox labeled "Inverted Pulses". Two or possibly three years ago I added this feature to the software, so that the option is available to operate our readout scheme under the opposite electrical polarity. Normally our readout pulses go to positive voltage, but occasionally it is interesting to see what happens with negative voltage pulses. Ideally the behavior should be completely symmetric, but in practice there are asymmetries that should generate different results.
But when I say "occasionally" I mean very occasionally; to the best of my recollection I used this feature for a couple of days after I installed it, and then never checked the box again. In the meantime I have added many other features to the increasingly bloated software, without caring very much whether they were compatible with the rarely-used inverted pulses. Of course, this has all come back to haunt me now that I again want to reverse the polarity on the readout pulses, and am faced with the question: Does the "Inverted Pulses" box still work?
After some testing it's clear that the answer is "no", and furthermore it's not obvious why it ever worked. (The crucial command to the instrument contained a syntax error!) Or maybe it didn't ever work and I had forgotten this, or it was one of those pieces of software I wrote anticipating a potential experiment and then never actually used. I seem to have fixed the bugs, but there are still some quirks in the startup sequence that should probably be ironed out...
(Since my former CS 1 TA reads this, I will remark that these problems could be avoided with properly documented and tested code. Ha! Unfortunately, the culture of experimental physics does not value properly documented and tested code. The culture of experimental physics values code which can be produced five minutes after a postdoc says, "Wouldn't it be interesting to try [a complicated new pulse sequence while sweeping over three separate parameters]?" And so three years later I'm looking at my own software wondering what the hell that switch does.)
With my first weekend at home since mid-December (I was otherwise in lab or out of town), I was faced with a monumental cleanup task. I'm pleased to say that I got ten, maybe fifteen percent of it done. Sure would be nice if I had floor tiles. But at least I got my rug back (it needed to be cleaned after the flood). That rug really tied the room together.
Belle & Sebastian: If You're Feeling Sinister: Live At The Barbican: I mentioned in the Essential 90's Albums post that the studio version of this is my current favorite album from that decade. It was only after I posted that that I went on iTunes and picked up this live version. (I don't normally buy from iTunes but that's the only place to get this particular recording.) This show was a charity concert (I think as part of the All Tomorrow's Parties festival?) in which Belle & Sebastian played through every track on their second album, in order. Supposedly this was meant to supplant the original studio album, which was not a high-quality recording. It's hard to imagine how a live performance could be suitable for this, but now that I've heard it I can understand. Most of the songs come through with more power and more polish, and it's nice to hear them in the hands of a more matured band. (Also, the sounds of children in the background of the title track on the studio version always annoyed me.) Some of the tracks I was less fond of in the original receive a serious boost: "Stars of Track and Field" and "Me and the Major" in particular; meanwhile most of my favorites sound awesome. "Like Dylan in the Movies" comes out the best here, followed closely by "Judy and the Dream of Horses". On the other hand, "The Fox in the Snow" really should sound thin and forlorn the way it does in the studio version, and doesn't quite have the same effect here. But apart from that it's a terrific take on this material, and I'd recommend it regardless of whether you've heard the studio version.
On a related note, Belle & Sebastian will be touring in the U.S. starting in February, and the New Pornographers will be opening for them. If you've ever clicked on my Last.fm profile you may have noticed that these are my two most-played bands, so needless to say I already have my ticket. Tickets went on sale for west coast venues this weekend; here's the tour information.
Yesterday Chad Orzel speculated about the relative absence of experimental physicists in the blogging community. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to comment until now, because I was busy working in the lab. (Actually we were gearing up for, and then undergoing, a major safety inspection. The inspectors, who were reminiscent of the consultants from Office Space, stood around trying to invent scenarios under which a graduate student could suffer oxygen deprivation folowing sudden helium vaporization in our dilution fridge.)
Anyway, Chad's hypothesis was that theorists spend more time in front of computers on a daily basis, and thus blogging is just more convenient. This seems right to me: I'm one of the few condensed matter experimentalists who maintains a blog (and it probably helps that I'm a grad student rather than a postdoc or on the tenure track), and whether or not I have time to post mostly depends on how much time I'm spending on the computer, versus in front of an oscilloscope or soldering iron (or bolting power strips to desks two feet above the floor to satisfy safety inspectors).
For a period of about 10 months last year, we did not have an experiment running as we were fabricating a new sample. And due to the division of labor among the grad students on this project, I was not closely involved with the fabrication process, and instead spent my time reading papers, writing papers and reports to funding agencies, writing software, designing circuits, and doing simulations. These were all computer-intensive activities, and I was able to get a fair amount of blogging done. For the last two months, however, we've been doing measurements on the chip we made last year, and I've spent a lot of time taking data, looking at scope traces, and reconfiguring wiring. Hence, I think up a bunch of posts over the week and write them up on Saturday night, which is a bit lame.
Fortunately, I do frequently have the ability to post even under these conditions, due to the phenomenon of Joule heating: if a current I is applied to an electrical resistance at a voltage V heat will be dissipated at a rate equal to the product IV. Every time we make a measurement, we apply a current pulse to our device, which produces a voltage and a corresponding amount of heat. If this heat is allowed to accumulate on the chip, it will wipe out the quantum effects we're trying to study, so between each measurement we have to wait long enough for the chip to cool off. In practice, this means instead of taking a million measurements in a second we are reduced to about 2,000. Furthermore, to get good statistics and sweep over an interesting range of parameters we have to take a large number of measurements, so it turns out that to get interesting results we need to measure continuously for at least 12 hours. I've written an overly baroque computer program to automate all this, so once I know what I want to measure, I can push a button to start the experiment, do something else for a while (usually analyzing data from the previous run), and then collect all the data hours later (or the next day). (This is only when everything is working properly; otherwise it's back to the oscilloscope and wiring diagrams.) And in the gaps I can do a little blogging.
These days, the trend in the superconducting qubit community is towards nondissipative readout—i.e., measurements which leave the device in the superconducting state and thus produce no heat. This might threaten to take away my blogging windows, except that it would also enable measurements that require even better statistics and broader sweeps, and so there will still be reasons to do 12- and 24-hour runs. (Actually, our record is about 48 hours, but we don't currently have the battery life to repeat that.)
You may treat this as a beer thread in which to make your own recommendations. (Although this isn't much of a beer-drinking crowd.) I assume people also know about Pyramid, whose Hefeweizen was the first beer I actually enjoyed drinking, and has a brewpub here in Berkeley. What are the good east coast microbrews? I might end up back there at some point.
Less than two months remain before the APS March Meeting, which in terms of blogging means more short posts at odd hours, when I'm not in the lab trying to gather lots of last-minute data. Here's the abstract for my talk:
Abstract: K40.00012 : Variable Coupling of Two Flux Qubits
5:06 PM–5:18 PM
T. Hime, P.A. Reichardt, B.L.T. Plourde, T.L. Robertson, C.-E. Wu, A.V. Ustinov, John Clarke
We report observations of variable coupling of two flux qubits. The qubits are coupled inductively to each other and to a readout Superconducting QUantum Interference Device (SQUID). By applying microwave radiation to the device, we observed resonant absorption in each of the qubits when the level splitting in the qubit matched the energy of the microwave photons. Using the two on-chip flux bias lines we adjusted the bias of each qubit so that the energy levels of the two qubits were equal; we then observed a splitting of the resulting absorption peak characteristic of coupling between the qubits. We varied the coupling between the qubits by changing the current bias in the SQUID in the zero voltage state, thereby changing its dynamic inductance and thus modifying the effective mutual inductance between the qubits. We compare the resulting changes in splitting with our predictions. This controllable coupling should be extendable to many qubits.
I'm trying the social networking thing again, this time on MySpace. My profile is here. I hear this is a good way to find new music, although I also hear that they have sold out to The Man (aka Rupert Murdoch). Regardless, as far as I know only one of my friends is on this thing, so let me know if you have a profile so I can add you.
The semester started this week at Cal, which means very little to me except that I am back to the social ballroom dance classes. Tonight's class was East Coast Swing. Now, I have made several prior attempts to learn swing dancing, and in the process it's possible that I made negative remarks about dancing in general, swing in particular, and my estimated abilities to do either. I hereby retract all such remarks I may or may not have made. Swing is awesome.
This made my day yesterday: the Mario question blocks distributed around the UC Berkeley campus.
This one is at Sather Gate. There was another hanging from a tree by Wheeler Hall, but it either fell or was taken (or somebody jumped and hit it with his head, and then took the item).
My first week back in lab convinced me that I needed more vacation, so I took off to Los Angeles for the long weekend. (Hence the lack of blogging.) I'll be back in Berkeley tomorrow.
Stubbs the Zombie OST: I still haven't played the game Stubbs the Zombie, but I bought the soundtrack after hearing that they had commissioned a bunch of indie and alt-rock bands to cover 50's pop songs—the ones you might find on the soundtracks to Stand By Me or Back to the Future. Some of these stay pretty close to the original: Ben Kweller's "Lollipop" that opens the album, or Death Cab for Cutie's take on "Earth Angel". Cake presents "Strangers in the Night" with just a hint of uncertainty, as if the singer doesn't quite believe what he's saying, and the Raveonettes attach sinister overtones to one of the singers in "My Boyfriend's Back", while maintaining total sincerity in the other voice, for an interesting effect. (That track is from their album Pretty in Black, which is now on my list to investigate.) A few of the tracks stray a little further: "Shakin' All Over" in the hands of Rose Hill Drive becomes a hard rock song, but unfortunately not in an interesting way. The Flaming Lips' "If I Only Had a Brain" is amusing but hard to describe here. My favorite, though, is what Rogue Wave has done with "Everyday", modernizing the song without losing its style. The album as a whole is sort of a novelty—I don't see myself putting more than a couple tracks in regular rotation—but it's pretty interesting all the same.
It's cleanup day in the lab! Those of you who have seen my lab will have some idea of what this entails. I should have taken before/after pictures but I forgot to do one before starting. Anyway, in this spirit I'm also updating my blogroll. Additions include the indispensable physics blog aggregator Mixed States, hardcore superconducting qubit blog Coherence *, and Dynamics of Cats. Mike^2, who comments here sometimes, has a new blog: Teh. And yes, I have been reading Overheard in New York. Finally, note the new address of Uncertain Principles: http://scienceblogs.com/principles
I tend to speak very highly of California, while mocking other, less civilized states, especially if they are below the Mason-Dixon line. However, my beloved state has been known to indulge in abject stupidity on occasion. We made Arnold governor, we continue to allow Rob Schneider to make movies, and now... "intelligent design" has come to California. The new strategy is to claim that it's "philosophy" rather than science. (They're half-right, insofar as it is indeed not science.)
In this case, the parents say in their suit that school officials in Lebec — a town of about 1,300 just west of Interstate 5 in Kern County and about 63 miles north of Los Angeles — designed their course as a way of getting around that decision.
At a special meeting of the El Tejon Unified School District on Jan. 1, at which the board approved the new course, "Philosophy of Design," school Supt. John W. Wight said that he had consulted the school district's attorneys and that they "had told him that as long as the course was called 'philosophy,' " it could pass legal muster, according to the lawsuit.
I know some of you have read it, so I'm putting more detailed comments in this post. My spoiler-free review is in the previous post. Spoilers start below the fold (or possibly right away if you are reading by RSS).Continue reading "A Feast for Crows Spoiler Thread"
I must have been on vacation, because I have a bunch of media to review:
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: Despite my initial skepticism, my curiosity got the better of me and I went to see this. Outcome: the Christian allegory stuff is pretty mild and not nearly as off-putting as, say, talking animals. The movie is a pretty good adaptation of the source material, but it's no Lord of the Rings. Most of the characters were lacking in depth and the plot felt barely-connected at times. (I think these were also features of the book? But it's been a while.) Also, the pacing was a bit off—the movie takes too much time to get the characters into Narnia and then has to make up a lot of ground. Finally, it was appropriate that Peter obviously had no idea how to use his sword (and did anyone else hear the Zelda "you got the item" music in their heads when Peter gets his sword and shield, or was that just me?), but it made the climactic duel between him and the White Witch reminiscent of nothing so much as Xander vs. Harmony in The Initiative.
Guitar Hero: I'm sure I look ridiculous wailing away on that guitar controller, but the game is fun. It didn't really feel much like playing an actual guitar until I tried it on Hard difficulty, but at that point it was quite enjoyable (but, indeed difficult). The game wins bonus points for having volume settings that default to the maximum value of 11.
George R. R. Martin: A Feast for Crows: If you've started the series, you've no doubt read this latest installment already. If you haven't started it, then, DON'T. At least, not yet—wait until the final book comes out. A Feast for Crows is very good, but it seems to have been written on the principle that A Storm of Swords contained too few cliffhangers. If you do read it, remember that there's an appendix in the back with all the family trees, followed by a preview chapter of the next volume, so the book will actually end when it looks like there are still seventy pages left. This is maddening, because at that point you will be very eager to know what happens next.
And that's when you find the author's note explaining that the next book will be about the characters that didn't appear in this volume, which means... the cliffhangers in A Feast for Crows won't be resolved until two books later.
So spare yourself the pain and don't read this until you can pick up (at least) the next two volumes immediately afterward.
(Also: this put the child monarchs of Narnia in a whole different context...)
The Constantines: Tournament of Hearts: These guys did a decent job opening for the Hold Steady, so I went looking for their latest album. It proved difficult to find, but I happened upon a advance review copy in the used CD section of a Berkeley record store that will remain unnamed, since I probably shouldn't be announcing that they are selling CDs marked "not for resale". So, the album: it's a good listen, solid distortion-y indie rock (as was the live performance) but there are no real standout tracks. "Lizaveta" is a good example.
Also, don't miss the ongoing "Essential 90's Albums" thread below, which has broken the comment record. (I feel like there should be bells ringing and a shower of confetti when this happens.)
I'm sure we're all suffering from best-of fatigue by now, and there was certainly no shortage of end-of-year music threads on this blog. Nevertheless, here's a start-of-year music thread related to a New Year's resolution of mine. I recently sorted my iTunes library by year and discovered that there's a serious shortage of music before about 2000. This is unsurprising, since outside of a few specialized genres I only very recently started seriously collecting music. So, I'd like to fill in some of the earlier eras. Rather than taking on all of the music written in the twentieth century (I'm in pretty good shape for music from before 1900) I decided to go by decades, starting with the most recent. Hence, a New Year's resolution: Collect more music that was originally released in 1990-1999. You know, the stuff I would have been listening to in high school, had I been paying attention. The trouble is, I wasn't, so I'll need some recommendations.
So what were the essential albums of the 90's? By "essential" I don't just mean classic or influential, but also personal favorites and obscure gems. To get things started, here are some of the albums I still hear people talking about:
If this effort is successful, (a) I'll do a post on my favorites at the end of the year—yes! Another best-of list!—and (b) I'll do the 80's next year. (Sorry to make you wait, Mason.)
Apparently one of the lessons George W. Bush took away from the Harriet Miers fiasco was that if he wants to appoint unqualified cronies, he should bypass that pesky Senate. Yesterday evening he made seventeen recess appointments, including at least one egregiously unsuited candidate.
It's hard not to see this in the present context of the administration asserting its right to ignore the law in order to torture detainees and spy on US citizens. Bush really does believe that Congress is irrelevant as far as the executive is concerned.
A lot of people are suggesting that Bush is acting like a king. Well, yeah. He's been acting like a king ever since he decided he was qualified to be president solely because his father had held the office. When we elect presidents on a hereditary basis, it should be no surprise that they start thinking they're monarchs...
Despite the best attempts of American Airlines to stop me with delays and mechanical failures, I have returned to Berkeley. Luckily there was no new flooding, but the rain continues. Meanwhile, in Connecticut I saw actual snow. Here are a couple of pictures I took while I was there:
This one is of a reservoir in New Canaan, which was partially iced over. It had been above freezing for several days and the ice was melting away.
New Year's Eve was
on the last night of during Hannukah, and the party I attended (at Shellock's house) celebrated both. The full display of eight menorahs was quite impressive:
I wonder if my apartment flooded again. I'll find out tomorrow when I return to Berkeley.
I'm going to take inspiration from Mason and do an iPod reading to divine my future for the next year. The key is here (fortunately Dynamics of Cats keeps linking to it so I always know where to find it).