April 30, 2006

Ted Leo

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:26 PM

Ted Leo

Originally uploaded by arcanegazebo.

Got up close for an excellent show by Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. Now I'm going to find some shade.

Coachella, Day 2

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:19 PM

Coachella, Day 2

Originally uploaded by arcanegazebo.

Coachella: awesome. Today we are starting with Mates of State, then Ted Leo, at the Outdoor Theater. Hopefully I can post this before the network gets flaky--the cell phone infrastructure here isn't quite equipped for this many people.

April 29, 2006

Greetings from Coachella

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:55 PM

Greetings from Coachella

Originally uploaded by arcanegazebo.

Greetings from Coachella, currently the ironic t-shirt capital of the world. After spending two hours between the freeway and the gates, I have arrived in time to catch The Duke Spirit on the main stage.

April 28, 2006

Friday Non-random 18

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:46 AM

In conjunction with my weekend plans, and the long drive required to get there, I have made a mix CD using bands that will be appearing at Coachella. I prioritized recent music since this is most likely to be played; as a result none of the songs here are older than 2004. I also tried to avoid songs that have appeared on some previous mix CDs. A couple tracks are unrepresentative: Devendra Banhart sings in English most of the time, and TV on the Radio normally use instruments. A few of these have been posted here with recent music reviews. Here's the tracklist:

High Noon Sun (Coachella 2006)

  1. The Go! Team, "Junior Kickstart"
  2. Sleater-Kinney, "Wilderness"
  3. My Morning Jacket, "Off The Record"
  4. Mylo, "Zenophile"
  5. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, "Cheated Hearts"
  6. Bloc Party, "Banquet"
  7. Wolf Parade, "You Are A Runner And I Am My Father's Son"
  8. Devendra Banhart, "Quedateluna"
  9. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, "In This Home On Ice"
  10. Franz Ferdinand, "L. Wells"
  11. Cat Power, "Love & Communication"
  12. Mogwai, "Glasgow Mega-Snake"
  13. Ted Leo & The Pharmacists, "Me And Mia"
  14. TV On The Radio, "Ambulance"
  15. Sigur Rós, "Gong"
  16. Dungen, "Panda"
  17. Ladytron, "Beauty*2"
  18. Animal Collective, "Turn Into Something"

Copies available on request. (Those of you who are going to Coachella with me are likely to be handed copies whether you want them or not.)

As Lemming has already noticed, Sleater-Kinney and Bloc Party are playing at the same time. Originally I was simply planning to decide between them, but then I realized that I have a quantum mechanical solution available to me. I just have to stop by the lab before I leave...

April 27, 2006


Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:22 PM

I ran across the brilliant webcomic Wondermark the other day. The old-timey clip art is reminiscent of Married To The Sea. Just start at the front page and keep hitting "Previous Comic" until you run out.

Permalink | Tags: Comics

April 26, 2006

I don't even have a sock drawer!

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:07 PM

There were a ton of LaRouche disciples on campus yesterday, with their card tables set up in Sproul Plaza and huge stacks of LaRouche literature to hand out. At one point I think there was some kind of LaRouchie a capella performance. What's up with this? Is it a big recruitment drive? (There are always a few hanging around but this was far more than usual.) It's not well timed on their part since this week is also ASUC elections, and the campus is already crammed with placard-bearing students who want to annoy you about politics. The LaRouchies are nearly lost in the crowd. Fortunately, there are a number of secluded pathways through campus for those of us who merely want to walk to lunch unmolested.

I've always wondered where LaRouche manages to find all these intense, aggressive young people that are always shouting from their card tables. They're very passionate about a guy who is obviously batshit insane. (Dave Barry once remarked: "Where you have a brain, Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr., has a Whack-a-Mole game.") I'm guessing they snap up gullible college freshmen and indoctrinate them early, hence this big campus appearance. They've also been capitalizing on anti-Bush sentiment, although they seem especially obsessed with Dick Cheney (maybe he figures in the grand LaRouche conspiracy theory).

Ideally the LaRouchies and the ASUC campaign people will end up shouting at each other, and the rest of us can slip by unnoticed.

April 25, 2006

The physics of Built To Spill

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:44 PM

And while I'm thinking about timescales, yesterday iTunes reminded me of the relevant Built To Spill song, "Randy Described Eternity". The song starts out like this:

Every thousand years
this metal sphere
ten times the size of Jupiter
floats just a few yards past the earth
You climb on your roof
and take a swipe at it
with a single feather
Hit it once every thousand years
`til you've worn it down
to the size of a pea
Yeah I'd say that's a long time
but it's only half a blink
in the place you're gonna be

It's a cool metaphor, but the physicist in me has a few questions for this Randy guy if I ever run into him:
  1. Wouldn't the gravity of the metal sphere crush the Earth into a thin paste? Or crush itself into a neutron star? Jupiter's diameter is 142,984 km, so the volume of the sphere in the song is about 1.5x1027 m3. Assuming the metal is iron near room temperature, and without accounting for gravitational compression, the mass of the sphere is 1.2x1031 kg, or 6 solar masses. I believe this is actually a little bit above the threshold to become not a neutron star but a black hole. On the other hand, maybe "size" means volume rather than radius, so that the mass is only 6% of a solar mass. In this case I don't think it turns into a neutron star, but gravity at the surface is still formidable. A quick calculation yields about 338 times Earth's gravity (at the surface of each object), unless I made a mistake.
  2. Even ignoring the gravitational binding, would a swipe from a feather be enough to knock a non-zero number of atoms off the sphere? Maybe I could model this but it seems slightly difficult. Someone should do an experiment with a feather, some iron, and an atomic force microscope (or similar instrument).
  3. Suppose the feather does knock some atoms off the sphere. Where do they go? If the metal sphere has gravity, of course they'll accrete right back onto the sphere. But if not, won't they pile up on the Earth? Given the size of the sphere that could be a problem. On the other hand, if there's magically no gravity from the sphere, maybe the individual atoms won't be affected by Earth's gravity either and they'll fly off into space.
  4. Won't the momentum imparted by the feather strikes affect the motion of the sphere over time, as well as the motion of the Earth? Will the thousand-year period change after enough swipes?

Clearly this song raises more questions than it answers. If I ever teach an elementary physics course, I should totally assign a problem based on these lyrics.

Slow and fast timescales

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:58 PM

Having just finished reading Spin (which I reviewed below) I found myself thinking about timescales. The novel did a good job of bringing long timescales into perspective, but what about short ones? In the book, the ratio between Earth time and solar time was about 108, one hundred million years outside the earth to each year in the Spin, or 3.17 years every second. This was an enormous ratio, with any timescale relevant to human civilization passing by in less than a day. It was mind-boggling to read about in the book. But I realized that I was sitting in the lab doing a diagnostic measurement in which I watched the response of a SQUID to an applied microwave field, and my software was acquiring about one point every second, at nanosecond resolution. That's a ratio of 109, ten times greater than the ratio in Spin. I usually don't think much about how long a nanosecond is, but it's really astonishingly short—as far removed from normal human timescales as stellar lifetimes.

It's not just in my lab—with gigahertz processors in wide usage, much of modern technology runs on nanosecond timescales. (And Windows still manages to be frustratingly slow at times, with billions of clock ticks in a second to work with.) Faster timescales are a bit harder to get to, at least in semiconductor electronics. The pulse generator I use in qubit experiments has a time resolution of 5 picoseconds, which always impresses me until I remember that the accuracy is only 250 ps. There's some research into a faster electronics technology using superconducting circuits and flux quantization, called Rapid Single Flux Quantum (RSFQ), which I believe gets to picosecond timescales. Berkeley professor emeritus Ted Van Duzer has been involved in this.

Anyway, I'm not sure I have much more insight into fast timescales than slow ones, but at least they're more accessible.

April 24, 2006

Serial psychoceramics

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:06 PM

How not to earn credibility for your crackpot physics theories: spam them to physics graduate students, in paragraph-sized pieces sent every few hours, with subject lines like "Stephen Hawking died Today". And ask for monetary donations. For your amusement, here is the latest installment in the continuing series:

Subject: Stephen Hawking died Today (4-24-06)

The number two search Yahoo (4-24-06) result for "wave-particle duality" http://alpha.qmul.ac.uk/~zgap118/ states that:

"Light is a deformation of electric (E) and magnetic (B) fields in an area of space."

Maxwell states that light is not a substance but a process going on in an ether which forms an electromagnetic wave structure of light (Maxwell, vol 2, p. 765). Maxwell's ether does not exist in a vacuum yet light propagates in a vacuum which is proof that Maxwell's structure of light does not physically exist.

Maxwell's structure of light is represented with a continuous electromagnetic field structure where the planes perpendicular to the axis of propagation form a continuous electromagnetic field structure. A finite segment of the electromagnetic plane, of Maxwell's structure of light, forms an infinite number of positions. Each position, on the electromagnetic plane, forms an electric field; consequently, an infinite number of electric fields forms an infinite total energy. Maxwell's structure of light is not physically possible.

Maxwell, James. "The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell". Dover Pub. vol. 2. Edited by W.D. Niven. 1965.

I think at a minimum one should try to pass calculus before trying to overthrow Maxwell. I'd be eagerly awaiting the next episode (due sometime this evening) but I already instructed Thunderbird as to the appropriate destination of these messages.

Spin echo [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:17 PM

I'll be going to Coachella this weekend, and I will definitely be blogging about it afterwards. I may try to do some liveblogging by phone barring technical problems.

Robert Charles Wilson: Spin: Next time Zifnab recommends a book I'm just going to clear my weekend schedule. This novel was nearly impossible to put down and I devoured it in two sittings over the last two days, mainly at the cost of sleep. The central premise is very compelling: an unknown entity enshrouds the Earth in a bubble that alters the flow of time inside, so that for every year that passes on Earth a hundred million years elapse outside. The efforts of human scientists to understand and work around this, and the reaction of society to the event and the threat of the expanding sun, were what kept me turning the pages. Unlike the last sci-fi novel I read, this one had thought through the science a little more carefully, and most of the issues that came to mind related to slowing down time on the Earth were addressed in the book. (I suspect there are some problems related to general relativity with the way the Spin worked, but I've not studied GR.) I also felt that the author had an astute political eye; depictions of societal development under the Spin were entirely plausible.

On the other hand, I didn't like the characters very much. I'm not sure they were meant to be likable—one of the recurring themes is the psychological stress imposed on the generation growing up under the Spin, and the Spin itself makes a good metaphor for the emotional difficulties of the protagonist. But the fact that I found him annoying meant that I didn't care very much about the more personal storylines, and preferred to read about the large-scale effects of the Spin and the central mysteries of the book. Fortunately, there was plenty of interest to be found there.

The book has some comments to make on sustainability, and even though the ending seems optimistic, it was only optimistic in the context of the fictional universe, whereas back in the real world we're still pretty much fucked when the planet runs out of resources. It's sobering to come away from the novel and realize that we may really be facing the end of the world in a few decades, albeit via resource exhaustion or global warming rather than an expanding sun. Rating: 4/5

Pretty Girls Make Graves: Élan Vital: Like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, PGMG have calmed down a bit, but in this case it has led to their best album yet. Their tone has moved from angry to confident, while mostly preserving the dark elements of the music. I was unimpressed by "The Nocturnal House", which was released early and appears as the opening track, but it is followed by four excellent songs. "Pyrite Pedestal" is my favorite of this set and of the album, but labor anthem "Parade" is nearly as good. The second half of the disc (after an interlude) is not quite as strong as the first, but is notable for "Pictures of a Night Scene" and "Selling the Wind", the latter featuring an accordion and sufficiently piratey lyrics to be added to my Sept. 19 playlist. I feel like there's a bit of a fall-off in quality for the final two songs, but the initial quality level is very high indeed. Rating: 4.5/5

April 21, 2006

He don't even break the branches where he's gone

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:32 PM

I felt like posting some filler, so here is a Friday Random Ten.

  1. The Shins, "Mine's Not A High Horse"
  2. New Order, "Who's Joe?"
  3. Orange Juice, "Falling And Laughing"
  4. Sleater-Kinney, "Hot Rock"
  5. The Boy Least Likely To, "My Tiger My Heart"
  6. The New Pornographers, "Breakin' The Law"
  7. Cat Power, "Werewolf"
  8. Belle & Sebastian, "Meat And Potatoes"
  9. Warren Zevon, "Numb As A Statue"
  10. Dungen, "Sluta Följa Efter"

Number 11 was the "Legend of Pai Mei" dialogue from the Kill Bill, vol. 2 soundtrack. My iPod seems to like Orange Juice and Dungen more than I do, since these bands come up on shuffle more often than they really should. The best song in this list is definitely the Cat Power.

April 20, 2006

Life imitates Mel Brooks

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:33 PM

So far today I've seen:

One more for the trifecta...

The pro wrestling school of abstract composition

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:25 AM

Via Christine Dantas: Now this is an abstract. From astro-ph/0604410:

Occam's razor meets WMAP Authors: Joao Magueijo, Rafael D. Sorkin
Using a variety of quantitative implementations of Occam's razor we examine the low quadrupole, the ``axis of evil'' effect and other detections recently made appealing to the excellent WMAP data. We find that some razors {\it fully} demolish the much lauded claims for departures from scale-invariance. They all reduce to pathetic levels the evidence for a low quadrupole (or any other low $\ell$ cut-off), both in the first and third year WMAP releases. The ``axis of evil'' effect is the only anomaly examined here that survives the humiliations of Occam's razor, and even then in the category of ``strong'' rather than ``decisive'' evidence. Statistical considerations aside, differences between the various renditions of the datasets remain worrying.
Yes! I need to write more papers which use words like "demolish", "pathetic", and "humiliations" when describing the effects of my research on competing theories. Also, I am not sure whether I am amused or horrified that there is an "axis of evil" effect in astrophysics. (According to the paper this is "the embarrassing statistical anisotropy exhibited on the largest angular scales" in CMB data.) Who knew Bush was making contributions to this field?

April 19, 2006

On salsa

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:34 PM

We interrupt the infinite series of religion posts to bring you a ballroom dance update. Salsa dancing has won me over; in addition to being fun, this is by far the sexiest dance I've attempted. (However, I haven't tried tango yet.) The 90-minute class seemed much too short, and that was immediately following a 90-minute class on cha-cha. I may have to check out the weekly salsa classes at Shattuck Down Low at some point. (Unfortunately, they conflict with UCBD's Wednesday social classes.)

Permalink | Tags: Life

April 18, 2006

Yet more religion blogging: Genocidal gods

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 9:19 PM

I don't mean to be obsessed with religion lately, but I keep seeing opportunities to blog about it. Blogger Mark Kleiman sometimes posts notes from his Tanakh study group; I usually skip these posts, but the latest was of interest. It discusses one of the most disturbing passages in the Bible, 1 Samuel 15. I'm particularly interested in this passage because it's the first place I go if I want to argue that the Bible should not be regarded as having any moral authority.

The Samuel of the book's title is a Hebrew prophet, and this chapter occurs during Saul's reign as king of Israel. Now, God is pissed off at another tribe, the Amalekites, for how they treated the Israelites during their escape from Egypt, which was hundreds of years prior at this point in the Bible. So he has Samuel instruct Saul to do the only thing consistent with a just, moral God: kill every man, woman, and child in the Amalekite tribe. Also, Saul is to kill all the livestock to show they mean business and aren't just after spoils. So, Saul takes the Israelite army and commits divinely mandated genocide, wiping out the tribe—except that they spare the Amalekite king and some of the livestock. Naturally God gets angry with Saul and strips him of his kingship, because his genocidal instructions were not followed to the letter. Samuel's so angry he personally grabs a sword and messily executes the Amalekite king.

So, you see the problem here. No god that orders such an atrocity is worthy of worship; in fact, basic morality requires that one actively oppose such a god, even if this results in being smited into ash. I was curious to see what Kleiman's notes would say in regards to this passage; he seems disturbed by it and looks for some justification in the text, but finds little:

We found nothing to say in defense either of the genocidal attack on the Amalekites (except that HaShem's actions are not taken as guides for human actions) or of Samuel's final bit of brutality (which lacks the excuse of a Divine commandment). We hoped that the text might mean that Agag was beheaded first and then the corpse chopped up — as disgusting as that would have been — but the text doesn't say so, and the more natural reading would seem to be Samuel sliced Agag limb from limb while he was still alive.

I don't buy this bit about "HaShem's actions are not taken as guides for human actions". For one thing, it's humans that are actually carrying out the genocide on God's orders. And furthermore, it's not clear why I should hold God to a lower moral standard than I hold mortals. Now, one approach is to say that God is the one who gets to define morality—after all, he's the one handing down the stone tablets—so by definition nothing God does can be immoral. If that's the case, then fuck morality; I am going to adhere to a different system of ethics, which I call "schmorality", that holds (among other things) that genocide is always wrong. Come on, this one doesn't pass the laugh test.

Another important point, and this is sort of a Humean argument, is that even if it's ok to commit genocide when God commands it, one should never obey apparent commands from God to commit genocide. After all, if I hear a voice claiming to be God and instructing me to murder a bunch of people, I am going to consider several possibilities. Maybe it's actually God, or maybe I've gone crazy and am hearing voices in my head, or maybe it's a malevolent being impersonating God. This goes double if it's not a voice in my head, but some dude named Samuel. Then I'll consider how probable it is that it's really God and not one of the other possibilities, and weigh this against the enormity of the crime I am going to commit. Probably it's not God, and even if it is, the worst that can happen from disobeying is that he smites me and tries to get someone else to do it. Whereas if I'm wrong about it being God, I've just killed a bunch of people for no reason. So basic morality demands that one disobey these sorts of commands.

A different defense one can take regarding 1 Samuel 15 is to say that it's not an accurate description of events, but is fiction. If one still wants to preserve the rest of the Bible as a moral authority, one then has to decide if it was rightfully included as a kind of metaphorical tale or parable meant to teach a lesson, or if it was mistakenly included and is merely Bronze Age tribal propaganda. If I were religious, I would reject the former possibility out of hand. It would seem to me the foulest of blasphemies to ascribe such behavior to God. Whatever lesson this is supposed to impart, it's the wrong one, since one should actually disobey these commands from God. On the other hand, if it was wrongfully included, the judgement of the mortal editors compiling the Old Testament or Tanakh is therefore suspect. Clearly these guys had no moral or spiritual authority themselves, or they would have recognized that this passage did not belong with the other books. And this in turn undermines the authority of the rest of the Bible: if you can't trust the inclusion of this book, why trust any of the others? And so I think this chapter is a huge problem for any religion that claims the Old Testament as a holy text.

Quantification [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:58 PM

I've added the movies I've seen since January 1 to my Listal page. This didn't take long, since there are only four. (They've all been reviewed here, the latest one in this post.) I've also been keeping the music list updated. I'll fill in the other three categories at some point, but it's not a high priority item. I see that the ratings are now visible, but inexplicably scaled by a factor of two. I'm reserving the five-star rating for items that are extremely close to perfect; a few items in a given year should attain a 4.5 rating. 2.5 indicates neutrality. Hmm, maybe I should post these with the reviews on the blog. I'll try that this week.

Thank You For Smoking: An amusing movie that looks into the mind of a lobbyist for the tobacco industry. Aaron Eckhart plays Nick Naylor, who seems to undertake the defense of cigarette manufacturers as much for the challenge as for the paycheck. As the movie progresses he puts his talents for debate and persuasion to myriad uses, and trains his son in the arts of oratory. Meanwhile, William H. Macy does a terrific job (as usual) playing a Vermont senator pushing anti-tobacco legislation. Sam Elliott has a small role as the original Marlboro Man. Also, Katie Holmes is hot. The movie is pretty funny throughout and, refreshingly, doesn't moralize. There are a couple strikes against it: the use of voice-over was excessive, and the eloquence of the younger Naylor was extremely hard to believe. But overall it was a fun movie. Rating: 3.5/5

Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Show Your Bones: Karen O, the lead singer of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, seems a lot calmer on this record. That's unfortunate, because the best part of Fever To Tell was the intensity and versatility of her vocals, and that's not nearly as prevalent on the latest release. As consolation, Nick Zinner's guitar takes a larger role, and it's pretty good. However, the album doesn't have nearly the punch that Fever To Tell did. I like "Gold Lion" and "Cheated Hearts", but "Dudley" is sort of annoying. It's my opinion that the band should wait until Karen O has more angst in her life before recording the next album. Rating: 3/5.

April 16, 2006

The true spirit of Easter

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:59 PM

Warning: this post is profane and blasphemous. Well, more so than usual.

I rarely promote a religious message on this blog, but today I would like you all to consider the spirit of Easter. No, not Jesus and brightly colored candy; the true spirit of Easter: fucking. After all, it is commonly thought that the Christian Easter was an assimilation of pagan fertility rites, which undoubtedly entailed lots of wild pagan sex. Now, my exhaustive research based on one or two Wikipedia pages indicates that the fertility goddess Eostre was actually invented by some dudes well after the fact. But this just puts it at the same epistemological status as Jesus coming back from the dead, so I don't see any problem.

So let's bring Easter back to its apocryphal orgiastic origins, and put the erection back in resurrection. I'd like to encourage everyone to celebrate the day by grabbing a hot specimen of your preferred gender and screwing like (Easter) bunnies. You're single? No problem, this isn't goddamn Valentine's Day. Just go out and find a willing participant for some casual, no-strings-attached sacred springtime rituals. Lots of people will be hanging around churches today so you might start there.

Just don't take the "fertility" part too literally—if I end up on a plane with a screaming baby as a result of this post, I won't be pleased. Besides, you can annoy many sects of Christianity even more by using birth control.

And what will I be doing to celebrate the holiday, you so weren't going to ask? Well, actually... I'll probably be in the lab. But in the spirit of Easter, I'll be measuring a pair of coupled qubits. And you know qubit sex is pretty hot, when they can take on all possible positions simultaneously. Don't think of me as a physicist, think of me as a quantum porn photographer.

April 13, 2006

But is it an arcane menu?

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:44 PM

I was walking down 4th Ave in San Francisco today, just south of Golden Gate Park, when I saw these ads:

(Low quality because taken with my phone camera.) I should eat there sometime. Hey, does anyone know if those Chinese characters say "gazebo" or some approximation thereof?

Thoughts on neurotheology

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:08 PM

I don't mean to repost all of Pharyngula's links, but here's an article about neuroscience experiments into religious experience. One scientist claims to be able to produce religious sensations in 80% of subjects by applying magnetic fields to their brains. This doesn't surprise me very much; more amusing is that he gave the test to hardcore atheist Richard Dawkins and it had no effect. The article speculates that this might be evidence of a kind of "talent for religion", but I wonder if it could be the opposite: since Dawkins never goes to church, he doesn't exercise that part of his brain so it becomes less sensitive. I know I've seen experiments that show that certain types of mental exercise will have a measureable effect on brain physiology. But you neuroscience people can correct me if I'm just making this up.

One issue that I haven't seen raised is that, at least in my experience, the sensations one has in a religious context aren't unique to religion. Back when I was a believer and a regular churchgoer, I would have feelings of oneness and a kind of glowing happiness that I thought at the time came from the presence of God. But I also get these feelings while out running, or at a good rock concert, or when I have some new insight about physics (either through my own experiments or hearing about some new and interesting result). So is this the kind of feeling that the neuroscience experiments are inducing? The article also mentions a "sensed presence", which I've never had in church or elsewhere (except for sleep paralysis experiences, but I think that's a bit different). So do most people get the sensed presence in church, and I'm just insensitive to it like Dawkins? It's an interesting thought, that the experiences of most religious people might be qualitatively different from those I had when I was religious.

April 12, 2006

The many faces of John McCain

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:14 PM

I'm not convinced by Jacob Weisberg's argument that John McCain's not really a conservative. The idea seems to be that, sure, if you look at his voting record he's an ultraconservative, but if you look at his offhand comments you see that in his heart he's really a progressive. He just has to throw a little red meat to the base every once in a while, consisting of almost every vote he's ever made in his Senate career.

Even if he does have more liberal personal views than his voting record indicates, it's the votes that actually matter. The fact that he'll make moderate statements about abortion or gay rights doesn't do a lot of good when he's voting the other way. The only way this argument could work is if there's reason to expect him to be more moderate as president. But the political pressure from the Republican base doesn't go away the day after the election—just look at the trouble Bush got into with Harriet Myers. In fact, there's no reason whatsoever to think McCain would make policy differently as President than he does as Senator.

Let's consider the reverse hypothesis: McCain is actually an ultraconservative, but is trying to play to the moderate center in order to boost his presidential prospects. This actually explains the data better—the meaningless public statements placate moderates, while the ultimate policy decisions are still very right-wing. Now, I'm sure there is still some calculation going on in his recent appeals to the religious conservatives; no one as intelligent as McCain is going to view Jerry Falwell as anything other than loathsome. But in fact Falwell is so loathsome that cozying up to him goes beyond just political calculation: it's just plain unprincipled. I'll pass, thanks.

Life imitates art: superhero tryouts

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:11 PM

Via Pharyngula, these tryouts for Stan Lee's new superhero reality show remind me of nothing so much as the hero recruitment drive in Mystery Men. Perhaps I could use my quantum coherence research to develop a superhero persona, but my powers would only work if no one observes them. (Maybe this is just a secret identity requirement.) However, the field is probably rife with potential supervillainy.

April 10, 2006

Colloquium Blogging: Silly Edition

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:05 PM

Today's colloquium was Steve Chu, Nobelist and director of Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, giving an account of his biophysics experiments. However, rather than report on this I'm going to share a thought I had in the middle of the talk. At one point he was describing a standard optical tweezers technique in which ribosomes are engineered to stick to a tiny glass bead, which can then be manipulated with a laser beam. I was thinking there was something familiar about this, and I realized you could make a game out of it in which you have a biological sample with lots of components designed to stick to the bead, and then roll the bead around with the laser beam to pick them up... yes! Optical Trap Katamari Damacy!

On the other hand, I don't think the King of All Cosmos would be impressed by a 3 μm katamari.

Brought to you by the letter L [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:33 AM

In order to clear out my music backlog, here are three CD reviews. The Ladytron CD actually doesn't come out until tomorrow. (In the age of the internets it is trivial to find leaked tracks pre-release, but I have this one legitimately, having picked it up at Popscene's release party on Thursday.)

Ladytron: Extended Play: This disc collects five remixes of tracks from Witching Hour, along with three new songs that appeared as b-sides on the U.K. singles. The remixed tracks are "High Rise", "Weekend", "Sugar", "Destroy Everything You Touch", and "Last One Standing". Most of these are interesting takes on the source material but lack the punch of the versions on Witching Hour. I could definitely dance to these mixes of "High Rise" and "Sugar", though. On the other hand, "Destroy Everyhing You Touch (Catholic Version)" is a minimalist approach with the melody being provided by an organ(!). Of the new tracks, "Tender Talons" is a quite good instrumental piece, "Nothing To Hide" isn't bad, but "Citadel" sounds like a filler track. Overall this will mostly be of interest to the dedicated Ladytron fan, but I definitely recommend "Tender Talons" if you're shopping for single tracks.

(There's also a DVD in this package, with videos for "Sugar" and "Destroy Everything You Touch", and a concert video. But I haven't watched it.)

Liars: Drum's Not Dead: I have found the soundtrack for my next Call of Cthulhu game. There's a kind of primitive and occult feel to this music, with its booming drums and haunting chants. One definitely feels an ambience that's appropriate for dark rituals under a full moon. On the other hand, while it really does a good job of constructing this atmosphere, it's a bit inaccessible and I don't really feel connected to it. Maybe I should try playing it louder, and at midnight.

Lilys: Everything Wrong Is Imaginary: This album gets bonus points right away for the title and for using Maoist propaganda as the cover art. The actual music is also very good, with a noise-pop sound that reminds me a bit of Yo La Tengo mood-wise. I've actually been really into noise pop lately so this album is well-timed. The first few songs are fairly easygoing, but it turns sinister on "Where The Night Goes" with terrific results. The following track, "The Night Sun Over San Juan", is vaguely annoying to me for some reason I can't pin down, but it's the only point where the album stumbles. The title track on the CD is probably my favorite, an instrumental piece that winds up the tension and then lets it spring out in an upbeat melody. The album then finishes up on a slightly melancholy note, with the final track "Scott Free" being another highlight. Overall, one of the strongest albums I've heard so far this year.

April 9, 2006

Lacrosse Culture

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:07 PM

Slate has a piece on why lacrosse players are an especially obnoxious breed of jock. Those of you who went to high school with me already know this; I was in one of those communities in the Northeast where lacrosse was a big sport, and indeed several guys from my school went on to play lacrosse for Duke. (I have no idea whether any NCHS alums are among the current ignominious Duke lacrosse team.) Fortunately after a couple of years in California I had forgotten that the letters "LAX" denoted something besides an airport.

The Gospel of Gazebo

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:42 PM

I had a bit of writer's block with regard to the blog the last few days, so it's been quiet. But when I need inspiration, I can always turn to Jesus—or rather, writing inflammatory posts about Jesus. Specifically: everyone seems to be talking about this Gospel of Judas that has been discovered, and is now being promoted by National Geographic. This is of course not something that has much relevance to me personally, but it's interesting to see some of the reactions.

Consider, for instance, this post by conservative blogger Stephen Bainbridge:

If you don't read the news accounts relating to the much ballyhooed Gospel of Judas carefully, you might come away with the impression that it is a legitimate alternative to orthodox Christian theology. Indeed, National Geographic is essentially billing it as such. In fact, however, what we know about the document suggests that it is yet another example of the Gnostic heresy.

The Gnostic heresy! Sounds pretty sinister. But if Bainbridge is worried about mainstream publications promoting heretical ideas, there is a much larger example of this that someone should bring to his attention. After all, Protestantism is chock-full of doctrine declared heretical by the Catholic church, and it gets a lot more media attention than Gnosticism.

But it's easy to see why Gnosticism is actually a more dangerous heresy than anything Martin Luther came up with. After all, Protestants may differ from Catholics on certain bureaucratic issues and arcana like transubstantiation, but they still use basically the same Bible and interpret it the same way. On the other hand, Gnosticism is a radically different interpretation of Christianity that actually makes a lot more sense. Well, that's not really true: there were lots of variants of Gnosticism in the ancient world and the various corresponding doctrines are mostly impenetrable. However, one of the general themes is that the world we live in is a flawed world created by an evil god, referred to as the demiurge. So already they've addressed the problem of evil. But in a stroke of brilliance, at least one Gnostic variant associates the demiurge with the god of the Old Testament, and has the god of the New Testament as a different god who will save humanity from the flawed world.

This neatly solves a big literary problem in the Bible where the god of the Old Testament has a vastly different character from the god of the New Testament (as well as changing his mind on a number of issues, which is an odd thing for an omniscient eternal being to do). Until Jesus comes along he's all about the smiting and the plagues and the wars, and afterwards he's suddenly a god of love and salvation and forgiveness. (Ok, and the lake of fire for nonbelievers, so some things haven't changed.) The Gnostic interpretation makes the New Testament god more plausible by disassociating him with the Old Testament, correctly judges the Old Testament god to be evil, allows one to throw out all the silly tribal laws associated with the evil god, and explains the problem of evil. If I were a Christian I'd convert to this instantly.

So one can understand why the church would worry about this. On the other hand, just because some interpretation of the Bible is more plausible doesn't mean it'll catch on. After all, my preferred interpretation is more plausible yet than the version above, but somehow the notion that it's all a bunch of made-up stories doesn't seem to be very popular in this country.

April 5, 2006

Best Search Requests of March 2006

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:19 PM

Should I make this a regular feature? As usual, the boldface items are search requests that led to this blog last month, and the italics are editorial comments.

  • the gazebo of power Damn, they've uncovered my secret identity!
  • ann coulters legs This one is just disturbing.
  • popular things of the 90s Between the music and movies threads we've nearly got that covered at this point.
  • proof of simpson's rule Anyone got a sarong?
  • quagmire is awaiting me I suspect this is Rumsfeld contemplating invading Iran.
  • superconducting qubit funding Funny, I'm searching for that, too.
  • how does dos equis is digested The syntax of this query suggests the author was investigating the problem experimentally as well.
  • masons use superconducting quantum interference device to watch people squid You can prevent this by wearing an aluminum RF shield on your head! However, we are still reading your search requests.

356 searches for the word "gazebo" last month, almost double that of February. One could probably track seasonal demand for gazebos this way. (But what about seasonal demand for Gazebo?)

April 4, 2006

Innovations in Masculinity Quantification

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 9:33 PM

Chad Orzel directs us to Dylan Stiles, who demonstrates what bored Stanford chemists do with laboratory equipment. The Man-O-Meter Challenge is unlikely to catch on in this lab, since most of our pressure gauges are permanently attached to vacuum systems, and don't measure overpressure anyway. However, considering my winning record at Lloyd House blow-pong, I expect I would do quite well at this. (This is probably not something I should admit.) I wish I had a comparable story to tell from our lab, but while we have been known to misuse tools such as the implement we refer to as the Grabby Hand of Science, we've never accomplished a repurposing quite as interesting as the Man-O-Meter.

Also, I don't think I'd heard the term "manometer" before; we always just say "pressure gauge". Is that nomenclature a chemistry thing?

Permalink | Tags: Lab, Science

Snakes on a CD [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:39 PM

I'm starting to develop a backlog of new music to review... maybe I'll do a double-feature next week.

Mogwai: Mr Beast: A decent Mogwai album that is overshadowed by one awesome track: "Glasgow Mega-Snake". If you like that track, you will also like... well, Pelican's album from last year (The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw). But the rest of Mr Beast doesn't quite measure up to this standard of huge crushing post-rock. There are a few other above-average songs: notably "Folk Death 95", and the last track, "We're No Here". The rest of the record is standard Mogwai fare, but nothing spectacular. I'll still try to see them at Coachella, though.

April 3, 2006

And there was much rejoicing

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:45 PM

Tom DeLay is leaving Congress. I feel like I should have a bottle of champagne reserved for this occasion, but I honestly thought he would attempt to keep his seat even from a prison cell. Maybe I should throw a party when he officially resigns.

Ah, memories. DeLay was an important factor in turning me into the staunch Democrat I am today. I think the first time I heard of him was in 1999, when he was majority whip and blamed the Columbine shooting on the teaching of evolution. (I was just starting to follow politics around that time.) I figured something had gone seriously wrong with the Republican party if they were willing to put a guy like that in a leadership position. And that was before I knew about all the corruption.

Someone call Seattle

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:46 AM

Tell them we have their weather, and they should come pick it up.

Rainy-day records were also broken in Oakland with 22 days of rain, San Rafael with 24 days and Santa Rosa with 25 days. Oakland International Airport had 7.22 inches of rain during the month, breaking the previous mark of 5.69 inches set in 1958.

Well, maybe April will be better? No such luck:

I'll have to go back to Los Angeles just to remind myself what the sun looks like.