July 31, 2006

New York City, day 1

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 9:02 PM

Today was day 1 of my New York City tour; Shellock and I went to the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum and the Museum of Modern Art. Some comments:

The Intrepid: A very cool museum built in an Essex-class aircraft carrier that was active in WWII and Vietnam. I'm not much of a military buff but I can definitely appreciate the feats of engineering involved in the design of an aircraft carrier, or of the various planes on display. One highlight was a mock-up of a submarine built in 1774 (!) and used against a British ship in the Revolutionary War; it is basically a barrel with a couple propellers and a pump (all hand-operated).

MoMA: Spectacular. I like the SF MoMA but it doesn't even compare to New York's collection. Lots of famous pieces by all the great modern artists, I especially enjoyed Hopper, Van Gogh, Matisse, Magritte, and a bunch of others I'm leaving out. However, the blank white canvas in San Francisco is better than the one in New York. Also, the museum cafe is quite good (but pricey).

New York Public Library: Closed Mondays, apparently. I may try again tomorrow if I'm in the vicinity.

Weather: Hot and humid but not as bad as it could be. Still, air conditioning and cold drinks were both in demand. Hence:

Random Chocolate Shop: I forget the name but it was near a bunch of Italian restaurants on the west side (something like 44th and 9th). We indulged in some "iced drinking chocolate" there which was quite good.

Overhearing: I kept an ear out for something worthy of submission to Overheard but haven't heard anything yet. However, I had the experience of saying something and realizing a second later that what I had just said would be a prime candidate for Overheard. I'm not sure whether it would be cool or disturbing to see it actually turn up there.

Tomorrow: I'm not sure yet, but I'm thinking about Ellis Island.

Permalink | Tags: Travel

July 28, 2006

Friday Random 10, plus book answers

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 9:09 PM

I meant to post some filler-type stuff before I left, but lab priorities took over that time. Anyway, my flight to New York was uneventful and I can post the filler now that I'm here. A Friday Random 10, and below the fold, the key to that post from last week with the first lines of favorite books.

  1. Fischerspooner, "Invisible"
  2. Feist, "Inside And Out"
  3. Belle & Sebastian, "I Love My Car"
  4. Björk, "I Miss You"
  5. Jawbreaker, "Sluttering (May 4th)"
  6. Franz Ferdinand, "Come On Home"
  7. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, "Restless Sinner"
  8. Nirvana, "Lithium"
  9. Ratatat, "Breaking Away"
  10. Pixies, "Here Comes Your Man"

This one might have made for an interesting divination. Anyway, the books from last week:

Continue reading "Friday Random 10, plus book answers"

July 26, 2006

Escape to New York

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:32 PM

I'm off to the East Coast on Friday! Currently I'm planning to spend Saturday and Sunday in Connecticut, and Monday and Tuesday in New York City doing touristy stuff. Even though I lived pretty close to NYC for five years I never really hit many of the major tourist spots.

Anyway, the tourist attractions are mostly pretty obvious, but what else should I do when I'm in New York? I know some of you are familiar with the city—where should I go to eat, drink, shop, hang out, overhear?

Permalink | Tags: Travel

July 25, 2006

Mars, bitches!

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:32 AM

Politics is everything with the Bush Administration, and in the latest effort to bring the government in line with the new political correctness, we have:

Earth dropped from NASA mission statement

NASA has reportedly eliminated the promise "to understand and protect our home planet" from its mission statement.

That statement was repeatedly cited last winter by NASA climate scientist James Hansen, who said he was being threatened by political appointees for speaking about the dangers posed by greenhouse gas emissions.

But NASA officials told The New York Times the elimination of the phrase that was used by Hansen was "pure coincidence." The statement now proclaims the agency's mission is "to pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research."

I suspect the change is not directly related to Hansen, but rather, as the article mentions,
One observer noted results from NASA's increasing involvement in monitoring the Earth's environment have sparked political disputes concerning the Bush administration's environmental policies.

In other words, it's part of the "ignore it and maybe it'll go away" approach to global warming. (Via Warren Ellis.)

They should make GM screens out of these

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:21 AM

Both Justin and Iskander directed me to this amusing compilation of RPG motivational posters (such as the one Zifnab linked in the recent quotes thread). Somewhat reminiscent of the much-missed Gamer Jargon site.

Of course I have to post this one:

Permalink | Tags: Games

July 24, 2006

Santorum on scientists

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:51 PM

Relatively few scientists are Republicans, but there are days when I wonder why there are any at all. Here's a quote from the reliably asinine Rick Santorum:

“[M]ost scientists unfortunately, those that certainly are advocating for this [embryonic stem cell research], and many others feel very little moral compulsion. It’s a utilitarian, materialistic view of doing whatever they can do to pursue their desired goals.”

I'm used to hearing that atheists are amoral, but hearing this said about scientists is new to me. Well, maybe Santorum doesn't think there's much of a difference. However, it's a pretty sure bet that scientists have a higher approval rating than he does at the moment.

(Via Rob Knop via Mixed States.)

Things that don't exist

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:30 AM

Scott Aaronson has a great anecdote from a philosophy talk. The speaker makes up for the sheer implausibility of his claim with the cleverness of his response to an obvious counterargument.

Salsa Dancing at Club 16000

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:51 AM

I posted a handful of photos over at Flickr from Saturday's festivities. The occasion was Pi Approximation Day Jonathan and Frances getting married, so many of my friends from my Caltech days were in town, including some I hadn't seen in years. The wedding was held in Menlo Park, at the height of what passes for a heat wave in the Bay Area. (Attention Catholic Church: please use some of your enormous wealth to air-condition your buildings.) For some reason this blog was a frequent topic of conversation at the reception.

Following the reception a general consensus emerged that salsa dancing was called for. We initially looked for a suitable club in San Francisco, but having a party member under 21 limited our options. Luckily, it turns out that Lemming's parents (being dance instructors) have a dance floor at their house in a converted two-car garage. This was commandeered for our use as an exclusive, invite-only salsa club, and after a brief lesson for the uninitiated we proceeded to dance the night away.

Only a small number of pictures from Saturday were any good; here's one from the salsa after-party.

club 16000

Discussion topic for the comments: suggest an appropriately nightclubish name for our private dance hall. Also, here's Lemming's take on the day's events.

Permalink | Tags: Life, Photos

July 21, 2006

Friday Non-Random 10 (Literature Variant)

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 9:32 PM

I found this meme over at LiveJournal: pick 10 favorite books and list the first lines of each. Here's my list, in alphabetical order by author's family name.

  1. The gale tore at him and he felt its bite deep within and he knew that if they did not make landfall in three days they would all be dead.
  2. When I was about eleven or twelve I set up a lab in my house.
  3. A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy.
  4. It was love at first sight.
  5. The call from dispatch is such a provocation it causes him to jerk the cruiser off the street and into a parking lot, slam the transmission into PARK, and just sit there, working up a major case of the red ass.
  6. Veldt to scrub to fields to farms to these first tumbling houses that rise from the earth.
  7. Two hours before dawn I sat in the peeling kitchen and smoked one of Sarah's cigarettes, listening to the maelstrom and waiting.
  8. When the phone rang I was in the kitchen, boiling a potful of spaghetti and whistling along with an FM broadcast of the overture to Rossini's The Thieving Magpie, which has to be the perfect music for cooking pasta.
  9. The Deliverator belongs to an elite order, a hallowed subcategory.
  10. The Creator sat upon the throne, thinking.

Guess the sources in the comments. Many of these will be easy for this audience. #9 is definitely the easiest; the hardest may be #4 since the line itself is pretty generic. Googling is obviously cheating but checking your own bookshelf probably not.

Friday Catblogging: Vague Omen

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:05 PM

I said I didn't get any pictures of Omen when he came by on Sunday, but one of my attempts actually sort of turned out, albeit a bit unfocused. I haven't seen Omen since, mainly due to not being at home myself. Next week is equally busy, and then I go to New York, so it may be a while until the next Friday Catblogging. Meanwhile: here is Omen doing the please give me treats look.

friday catblogging: vague omen

Friday Lab Blogging: Proper Laboratory Attire

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:01 PM

Safety is a major concern in any lab, and in this group we are very dedicated to maintaining a safe environment. We are so dedicated that our last safety warden left to become a Buddhist monk. We'll see how long the next one lasts.

Some processes, such as silvering glass dewars, are sufficiently hazardous to alarm even the most reckless among us, and so we have assembled an appropriate set of gear, modeled below by Iskander:

safety boy

The stylish yellow lab coat, with detachable hood for the emo hoodie look, is flame- and acid-retardant, perfect for handling the fulminate byproducts of the silvering process. The face shield adds that edgy "riot gear" touch, but since a face shield only qualifies as secondary eye protection it is complemented by an elegant pair of safety goggles. Heavy gloves complete the outfit, removing any possibility that one might handle something delicately and thereby avoid the inevitable explosion.

Chemists in the audience are welcome to mock our misplaced concern and/or one-up us with stories of yet more elaborate lab outfits.

Permalink | Tags: Lab, Photos

July 20, 2006

And I feel fine

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:13 PM

I was pretty sure this was going on, but Harper's actually mined some apocalypse-oriented message boards for quotes from crazy people who are ecstatic about the war in Lebanon, because it is apparently a clear sign that the Rapture is approaching. Not the band, which would be equally fearsome, but that peculiar item in some flavors of Christian eschatology where God kills off spirits away all the believers and children, leaving the rest of us poor bastards to endure the tribulations that follow. To prevent us from making smartass remarks about the potential upsides of all the hardcore conservative Christians vanishing from the Earth, this version of the end-times calls for demons and plagues and rivers of blood for the infidels. So you can see why it's something to be joyful about.

But wait a minute, exactly what prophecy is being fulfilled here? Basically, the book of Revelation makes the bold statement that there will be violent conflict in the Middle East. So a war breaks out involving Israel, something which has happened approximately every fifteen minutes since the dawn of time—surely this is a sign of the apocalypse! Really, these guys should at least wait for Jesus to appear on a tortilla (or, um, God on an alligator) before they break out the Rapture champagne sparkling cider.

Another episode of life/Onion convergence

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:50 AM

I picked up the latest Onion this morning and noted the front-page story:

Scratch 'N Win Ballots To Debut In November
WASHINGTON, DC—In an effort to increase voter participation while generating additional revenue, several state election boards announced plans Monday to introduce new Scratch 'N Win ballots in November, giving citizens the chance to win the right to vote in the 2006 elections.

The ballots, which will retail for $1 and go on sale the morning of Nov. 7, are small three- by two-inch cards with a "prize area" obscured by a thin silver coating. Voters will scratch off this area and can win by matching three vote amounts, which will range from one to 1 million.

Ha ha! What a surreal and implausible notion! Then I stopped by Marginal Revolution and thereby found this USA Today article:
Voting for dollars?
North of the border one of Mexico's U.S. neighbors is weighing a novel way to get more citizens to participate in the democratic process: Offer them a chance at winning $1 million.

In an effort to improve voter turnout in Arizona, Tucson political activist Mark Osterloh gathered more than 185,000 signatures to put his Arizona Voter Reward Act on the state ballot this November as Proposition 200.

If Arizona's voters approved, one lucky voter would win a million bucks, financed by unclaimed prize money from the state's existing lottery. Citizens would qualify by voting in the primary or general election; vote in both and they'd be entered twice. Osterloh's slogan: "Who wants to be a millionaire? Vote."

It's really sort of the converse of the satire piece, but still, the Onion writers need to work harder to keep ahead of the silliness of actual news.

July 19, 2006

"There is the group that goes to the pub..."

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:09 PM

Last week Lawyers, Guns, and Money linked to an article about simulations of crowd behavior:

McKenzie has devised Crowd Federate, a model that will add a crowd component to a variety of defense simulations. “The intent is to provide a real-time, realistic, psychologically based crowd model to provide interactions with control forces.”

Based on extensive psychological research, Crowd Federate works at several levels. At the smallest, the model tracks individual people, although only for navigation within the city at this point. The psychological aspects kick in at the group level, with groups typically composed of 10 people.

“There are different types of groups,” McKenzie said. “There is the protester group which protests for a cause. They’re the ones holding the banners. The agitator group is there to cause trouble. The bystanders are just there and don’t want to get involved. Then there is the curious group that will move toward anything interesting and stick their noses in. If something violent should erupt, they will probably run away.”

This has obvious applications for both police and military. So why is it that my very first thought was: This would be perfect for modeling a zombie outbreak!

I bet it's much more sophisticated than this one.

Bush vetoes stem-cell bill

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:37 PM

What an asshole. He finally locates his veto stamp halfway through his second term—I'm guessing he was carrying it around in his ass like the watch in Pulp Fiction—and he uses it to crush the hopes of people suffering from illness, all in the name of a completely incoherent claim about morality. (Not to mention the damage to scientific research in the U.S., but in that area it's just the latest in a long line of offenses.) The description of the event makes me physically ill. From the CNN article:

Attending the White House event were a group of families with children who were born from "adopted" frozen embryos that had been left unused at fertility clinics.

"These boys and girls are not spare parts," he said of the children in the audience. "They remind us of what is lost when embryos are destroyed in the name of research. They remind us that we all begin our lives as a small collection of cells."

All this does is emphasize the total incoherence of Bush's position. Unused embryos are destroyed all the time at fertility clinics. If Bush really believed what he claims to believe here, he'd close all these clinics down. It's certainly good that he's not doing that, but it means that this veto isn't a principled moral stand but a crass sell-out. Fuck you, Bush.

Democrats should make sure no one forgets about this veto. Stem-cell research is very popular and any Republican who opposed this bill should never hear the end of it. I can't say I'll be surprised if the Dems don't take advantage of this opportunity, but I can always hope.


Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:33 AM

I rewrote the comments-feed.xml template and it now appears in Google Reader again. Hopefully this didn't break anything elsewhere. Any other issues with the RSS feeds?

Permalink | Tags: Website

July 18, 2006

Fixing the internets [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:16 PM

I'm going back through the archives and fixing internal links and images, as well as tagging old posts. This is proving to be a time-consuming process, but the category pages will gradually fill up. I also need to fix the archive templates so that they display the tags on each post, and set up the list of tags on the sidebar. Meanwhile, Google Reader continues to ignore me.

Zero 7: The Garden: I'm willing to defend Zero 7 against charges that they play glorified elevator music. Their previous album, When It Falls, may have been mellow and calming but was filled with interesting emotional undertones. Unfortunately, their new release doesn't measure up: while I'm not ready to consign them to the elevator yet, these songs really are fairly boring. Generally I warm up to new music over time, but this is one of those CDs that I find myself liking less every time I listen to it. The tracks that aren't merely forgettable are actually annoying. You can listen to samples at their website or a few full tracks at their MySpace page; "Seeing Things" is better than most, but skip "Pageant of the Bizarre". Or, just listen to the older tracks: "Somersault" from When It Falls is recommended. Rating: 2/5

Has Bush completely lost it?

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:25 PM

Seriously, there's no way I can keep up with the President's ridiculousness over the last few days. Besides telling Putin that Russia should emulate the flourishing democracy in Iraq, there was the bizarre press conference about the pig, and then talking to Blair with the mike on, and now he's groping the German chancellor.

WTF? Is he drunk? Is this some extension of the madman theory of international relations? Or is it some deep strategy in the War on Terror: if representatives of the U.S. act like total clowns at international summits, the terrorists will decide we aren't worth attacking?

Even his dad had more dignity when he was vomiting on the Japanese prime minister.

July 17, 2006

Putin and his robot army battle Cthulhu

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:08 PM

When he's not getting advice from Bush on how to emulate the free and stable democracy of Iraq, Vladimir Putin is addressing the important issues of the day:

Asked about the possible awakening of the giant mythical octopus Cthulhu, the fourth-most popular question among the more than 150,000 sent to Putin, he said that he believed something more serious was behind the question. Cthulhu was invented by novelist H.P. Lovecraft and was said to be sleeping beneath the Pacific Ocean.

Putin said he viewed mysterious forces with suspicion and advised those who took them seriously to read the Bible, Koran or other religious books.

[The original article seems to have gone behind a subscription wall; excerpt via Majikthise.] It's good to see that some world leaders are concerned about this issue. Someone should ask Bush about his Cthulhu policy, although I suspect that he too would say, "Read the Bible." (Or possibly, "I thought you were going to ask about the pig.")

Putin wonders how we won the Cold War

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:24 PM

This has been mentioned everywhere already, but since I posted a series of dumb quotes by public figures last week, I would be remiss if I left out the champion:

During a joint news conference Saturday in St. Petersburg, Bush said he raised concerns about democracy in Russia during a frank discussion with the Russian leader.

"I talked about my desire to promote institutional change in parts of the world, like Iraq where there's a free press and free religion, and I told him that a lot of people in our country would hope that Russia would do the same," Bush said.

To that, Putin replied, "We certainly would not want to have the same kind of democracy that they have in Iraq, quite honestly."

I used to imagine, when Bush talks about how well things are going in Iraq, that he's just lying. But it's clear that he really thinks democracy is flourishing in Iraq.

Is unbelievable cluelessness considered grounds for impeachment?

July 16, 2006

The SoaP backlash begins

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 9:59 PM

In this otherwise misguided article about Snakes on a Plane, there's a familiar-sounding anecdote:

True story: My friend Jenny is in law school, and one of her classmates went to a movie in April. When the coming attractions started, the first image was of dozens of unsuspecting plane passengers sitting in the cabin of an airborne 757. The moment he saw this, the mischievous law student yelled, "Snakes on a plane!" presumably to amuse and unify the other patrons. Unfortunately, this turned out to be a trailer for United 93, which significantly reduced the hilarity of his outburst.

I understand this is not an uncommon occurrence. Anyway, the rest of the article accuses us internet hipsters of claiming an ironic affection for a deliberately bad movie, but this could not be more wrong. I, for one, would like to see some snakes on a plane, and I feel fairly confident that Snakes on a Plane will deliver. I've been hoping to see a Snakes on a Plane trailer at the last few movies I've been to, but no such luck so far.

Permalink | Tags: Movies

What's missing from Guitar Hero?

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 9:32 PM

Stylus offers a list of songs overlooked for inclusion in Guitar Hero. Despite one selection that is clearly crazy and a fixation on hair, it's a respectable list. But the real reason to post this is to start a thread on the subject. What else should have been on the Guitar Hero setlist? I'd like to see some of the dueling guitars of Pretty Girls Make Graves ("Something Bigger, Something Brighter" would be good) or Sleater-Kinney ("I'm the Drama You've Been Craving"?) for the two-player game. Or anything by Built To Spill.

Omen returns!

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 9:11 PM

Longtime readers may have wondered what happened to Omen, the stray cat who would periodically vist my patio and appear on this blog on Fridays. I wondered this too, since he just stopped showing up sometime last year. It turns out he's alive and well, and came by this evening looking for cat treats. I had to explain how I don't keep them on hand if he doesn't visit for an entire year.

Readers may also recall that I used to be Omen's favorite platform game. It's possible his real purpose in dropping by was to clear that level he never managed before. This time when he pounced I had learned my lesson—if I try to dodge he just deploys the claws. He landed gracefully on my left shoulder, and then decided to walk around to the right shoulder. Does he think he's a parrot? Is there really a 1-up on my head? This would be kind of endearing if I weren't actually allergic to Omen.

I didn't get a picture since he was so jumpy, but maybe he'll be back. His return does feel like, well, an omen...

(For new readers, the best Omen post ever was this one.)

July 14, 2006

Another way to wake up naturally

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:37 PM

Lifehacker has yet another post with an elaborate way to get out of bed in the morning. When I moved in to my current apartment, this was a problem for me: my previous location got a lot of sunlight in the morning, but now I live in something more like a hobbit-hole. Waking up warm, comfortable, and in near-total darkness made it very tempting to just go back to sleep.

However, I have since discovered a reliable way to wake up naturally at about 7:30 every morning. The secret is to have an upstairs neighbor who owns a treadmill, and adheres to a strict workout regimen. The noise isn't loud enough to wake me from deep sleep, but when I reach the end of my sleep cycle I reliably regain consciousness. Unfortunately, I rarely have any intention of waking up that early, which is why I keep earplugs by my bed.

It has occurred to me that instead of just going back to sleep, perhaps I should take this as a cue to go running myself. In the summer I prefer to go running in the evenings, but maybe after daylight savings time I'll synchronize my workout schedule with my conscientious neighbor. (The real question is, how does he(?) get himself out of bed every morning? Especially to run on a treadmill, which is one of the most boring workouts in existence.)

Permalink | Tags: Life, Sleep

Google Reader is not listening

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:49 AM

So I added my own feed (the version with comments) to Google Reader to see how it behaves. The answer seems to be "very badly"; it hasn't shown an update since Wednesday even though the feed was updated several times, and queried by Google's feedfetcher (according to the server logs). So, I don't know what's going on.

I've set the comments feed to be generated dynamically now; for those of you reading it directly I'm hoping it will now show an update whenever a new comment is posted. Unfortunately, it will also be a little slower to load. Let me know if this breaks anything in your RSS reader.

Also: as several of you have noticed, comments don't always show up immediately upon posting. I don't know what's causing this but it looks like the page rebuilds are just delayed (maybe due to server load); if your comment doesn't show up immediately wait a few seconds and check again.

UPDATE: Dynamic updating didn't work out for comments-feed.xml, so I switched it back to static.

Permalink | Tags: Website

Friday Random 10: I Like Traffic Lights

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:36 AM

In another instance of iPod/real world synchronicity, I was listening to the end of Sleater-Kinney's song "Jumpers", where they repeat the line Four seconds is the longest wait, when I arrived at an intersection and looked over to see the crossing signal count down: 4, 3, 2, 1...

I take this as a clear sign I need to do a Friday Random 10 today.

  1. Pretty Girls Make Graves, "The Magic Hour"
  2. The New Pornographers, "The Mary Martin Show"
  3. Mogwai, "Golden Porsche"
  4. Yo La Tengo, "Return To Hot Chicken"
  5. Pretty Girls Make Graves, "Parade"
  6. Belle & Sebastian, "Your Cover's Blown"
  7. Sleater-Kinney, "Rollercoaster"
  8. Kojak, "You Can't Stop It"
  9. Autechre, "Iera"
  10. Lilys, "Still In All The Glitter"
Several of these songs are really good (and my iPod seems to be on an Élan Vital kick) but the best is "Your Cover's Blown"—in fact, that song is a trump card in almost any set of 10 from my library. According to Last.fm it's my second most-played song after My Bloody Valentine, "To Here Knows When".

Say what you want and leave your shyness home
Do what you want and write a little poem
Leave it for her and live another day
Leave it for her the girl around the way

July 13, 2006

Eulogy by the Medium Lobster

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:11 PM

It takes a true master of bullshit to out-do the quote in the previous post for sheer ridiculousness, so naturally it would be a reverend at the Ken Lay funeral who pulls it off:

The Reverend Dr. Bill Lawson compared Lay with civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesus Christ, and said his name would eventually be cleared.

Words fail me. (Via Pharyngula.)

UPDATE: Via Lawyers, Guns, and Money I find that there's more:

Lawson likened Lay to James Byrd, a black man who was dragged to death in a racially motivated murder near Jasper eight years ago.

"Ken Lay was neither black nor poor, as James Byrd was, but I'm angry because Ken was the victim of a lynching," said Lawson, who predicted that history will vindicate Lay.

As far as I can tell, the only thing Lay had in common with the other three is that they all died.

The new Bush Doctrine: Infallibility

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:58 AM

Where does George W. Bush find these people? Here we have Stephen Bradbury, Acting Deputy Attorney General, explaining his views on constitutional law:

BRADBURY: The President is always right.

People who believe that should be barred from holding public office, no matter which president they're talking about—but especially if the president in question is GWB. (Via Atrios)

UPDATE: Fafblog returns just in time to provide the definitive word on this doctrine. Giblets:

That's why George W. Bush has to take this case to the highester court in the land: the court of George W. Bush. It's a tough bench alright, but Bush can win this one as long as he exercises his constitutional right to ignore the Constitution. The legal technicalities are pretty complicated but Giblets believes it involves filing a writ of neener neener according to the precedent of I Can't Hear You v. I'm Not Listening.

July 12, 2006

Life is random

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:13 PM

When I started using Google Reader I complained about the way it mixes all the feed items from different blogs into one column. But as I used it for a while I realized that this has certain advantages, and the perfect metaphor occurred to me: it's like listening to music on shuffle!

Not all of my feeds are blogs, and it's a little weird to have the Physical Review Letters feed mixed in with a bunch of political commentary. But in fact I never used to read the PRL feed at all (even though I was checking it in my aggregator) because it would update in batches of 30 abstracts, 29 of which would be uninteresting to me. But when it's mixed in with everything else I can scan each item as it comes up and star it if it looks worthwhile (like the singing sand paper I posted about). Likewise, Overheard In New York is actually much better when it's shuffled in with the other blog items, rather than reading 20 quotes at once. So I've come around to this style of reading blogs.

Connecticut Senate Race: WTF?

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:51 PM

I don't think I've blogged about the Connecticut Senate race, which is odd since I usually claim to be from that state. But it will probably not come as a surprise that I'm delighted to see Ned Lamont put up a serious primary challenge to Joe Lieberman. I've disliked Lieberman since back in the '90s when he was condemning video games as agents of moral decay. He's always struck me as someone who just wants the damn kids off his lawn. But what really made me think it's time for him to go was last year when he chastised his fellow Democrats for criticizing Bush, appealing to the extremely un-American notion that the commander-in-chief should have unconditional support during wartime. This statement made it clear that Lieberman has forgotten what his job is as a senator, and indeed as a citizen in a democracy.

There are also lots of secondary reasons, like Lieberman's vote for cloture on Alito, that reinforce my conviction that Lamont would be a much better senator. So I know how I'd be voting if I still lived in the Nutmeg State. However, I am somewhat sympathetic to the one reasonable counterargument, the idea that it might be a bad idea strategically to have this primary fight, because it means that what was a safe Democratic seat is now a possible loss in the general election, especially with Lieberman's decision to run as an independent in case he loses the primary. There are a couple ways the Dems could lose the seat: either Lieberman could win the general as an independent (with a grudge against the Democratic base), or (less probably) Lieberman and Lamont could split the vote in a way that allows the Republican candidate to win the seat. So far Lieberman has been campaigning in such a completely inept fashion that it's tempting to imagine he would make an extremely poor showing without backing of the party, but the incumbent advantage is doubtless considerable.

But now the race is getting weird, because there's a fourth candidate entering: Diana Urban, an anti-war Republican from the state Assembly, is preparing to make a Senate run as an independent. How this changes the strategic considerations I don't know, but it definitely makes things more interesting.

Avast, scurvy dogs! [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:02 AM

I guess some comments are being posted anonymously even when the name is filled in? I've tweaked the template but I'm not sure if this solved the problem; I'm keeping an eye on it. Meanwhile, this blog now has a LiveJournal feed here.

It seems like it's been a slow period for new music lately (hence no music review this week), but the new TV on the Radio album is coming out soon. There's been a ridiculous amount of buzz about this album, but they were awesome enough at Coachella that the hype might be accurate.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest: I put on my eyepatch and bandana Friday night and headed out for some good piratey escapism. Unfortunately about the first hour and a half of this movie were insufficiently interesting and I found my mind wandering back to the real world. Doubly unfortunately, as a result of the unfreezing process the guy directly behind me had no inner monologue and was having trouble controlling the volume of his voice, so we were regaled with an endless series of "UH-OH!" and "OH NO!" and laughter at inappropriate moments. What I really wanted to do was turn around and say "Arr, matey, still yer tongue or I'll cut it out and feed it to th' sharks" but somehow I restrained myself. Um, anyway, the extended action sequence at the end of the movie acheived an acceptable level of swashbucklery, so I wasn't entirely dissatisfied. And of course Johnny Depp is awesome. But the first movie was better. Rating: 3/5

Jonathan Lethem: Gun, With Occasional Music: (Thanks to Jolene for recommending this.) After seeing Brick I was ready for more noir in unusual settings, and this book delivered with a detective story in a near-future dystopian Oakland. The fun thing about a book set in the East Bay is that many of the locations are familiar, so when the protagonist visits the El Cerrito hills or 59th and Telegraph I can visualize it exactly. Except with Uplifted "evolved" animals walking around. Also, it is illegal to ask questions without a license, hence P.I. is "private inquisitor", and the government encourages the use of designer drugs to keep the population docile. The setting is obviously not intended to be a realistic possible future, but rather to instill a sense of confusion and alienation in the reader while fitting in with noir conventions. A very nice touch was that late in the narrative, a twist occurs which puts the detective in the same position as the reader with respect to the oddities of the future society. Any good noir story should have the narrator employ colorful and witty language, and Lethem is very good at this; I kept turning the pages looking for the next clever line as much as for the next plot twist. Rating: 4/5

July 10, 2006

Best Search Requests of June 2006

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 8:05 PM

I need to leave the old server up just so I have more of these next month.

  • how to make a real shuriken
    I assume this person is trying to acquire real ultimate power.
  • games with jesus
    Don't play him in Battleship, that omniscient bastard totally cheats.
  • physics phd for strangers
    Physics is strange, when you're a stranger...
  • alvin and the chipmunks porno
    All together now: EWWWW.
  • physics of a burger
    It's a superlattice... of FLAVOR!
  • planes for gazebos
    I just wish this one had been "Gazebos on a Plane".
  • every female hotmail addresses
    I've heard of the shotgun approach to online dating, but that seems a bit excessive.

My favorite is the last one, for its sheer ambition.

Singing Sand Solved

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:58 PM

An interesting paper appeared in PRL a few days ago on the phenomenon of "singing sand" (I've also heard it called "booming sand"). Sand dunes in certain locales are known to produce sounds at particular frequencies, with the frequency apparently depending only on the size of the grains of sand. One can take a sample of sand out of the dunes (perhaps in Capt. Sparrow's jar of dirt) and reproduce the sound from it. This was a classic modeling problem in Caltech's Ph 11 class, but in this PRL the researchers actually did some experiments and found that the sand produces self-synchronized waves.

Song of the Dunes as a Self-Synchronized Instrument

S. Douady, A. Manning, P. Hersen, H. Elbelrhiti, S. Protière, A. Daerr, and B. Kabbachi

Since Marco Polo it has been known that some sand dunes have the peculiar ability to emit a loud sound with a well-defined frequency, sometimes for several minutes. The origin of this sustained sound has remained mysterious, partly because of its rarity in nature. It has been recognized that the sound is not due to the air flow around the dunes but to the motion of an avalanche, and not to an acoustic excitation of the grains but to their relative motion. By comparing singing dunes around the world and two controlled experiments, in the laboratory and the field, we prove that the frequency of the sound is the frequency of the relative motion of the sand grains. Sound is produced because moving grains synchronize their motions. The laboratory experiment shows that the dune is not needed for sound emission. A velocity threshold for sound emission is found in both experiments, and an interpretation is proposed.

Some things never change

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:04 PM

If quotes are too verbal, you can vote on your favorite fundamental constant at Uncertain Principles. Naturally I put a word in for Φ0.

Permalink | Tags: Science

New quote needed

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:18 AM

The time has come to change the quote at the top of the blog. I still like the Milton quote, but it hasn't seemed as relevant lately. I'm on the lookout for something worthy to replace it. Suggestions are welcome for quotes that capture the spirit of this blog and look good at the top of the page. (This is probably also a good opportunity for subtle mockery.)

In the meantime, I will continue looking through classic literature and song lyrics.

Welcome to the new Arcane Gazebo!

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:46 AM

It may look like the old Arcane Gazebo, but it's running on a new host with an upgraded version of MovableType. And there are a few changes, some of which were noted in the style/layout thread:

  • URL: The URL is now http://arcanegazebo.net. http://www.arcanegazebo.net takes you to the same place. However, http://inverse.physics.berkeley.edu will not redirect, so be sure to update your bookmarks.
  • RSS feeds: The RSS feeds now contain the full posts rather than the first 40 words, and there is also an RSS feed with the comments as well as the posts. For the posts only, use http://arcanegazebo.net/index.xml and to get the comments, use http://arcanegazebo.net/comments-feed.xml.
  • No more pop-ups: Clicking on the comments links will open the page in the current window rather than in a pop-up.
  • No "Recent Entries" list in the sidebar: This listed the last ten or so entries, but they were usually on the main page anyway and I found people would go to the latest monthly archive for older ones. This is to make room for the categories listing which I plan to start using.
  • No mp3 downloads: This is so as not to annoy my new hosts. For future music reviews I'll try to link to band pages with freely available mp3s, or failing that, to MySpace pages or YouTube videos where one can listen to the music.

Some things are still broken:
  • Internal links in the archives: Internal links to old posts will now point to the wrong place. I may go back and fix this but it will take some time. This includes any images I've posted (except the ones on Flickr).
  • Possibly some templates: I haven't checked everything yet; it had to be upgraded by hand to the MT 3.2 template tags and this wasn't always a smooth process. Let me know if you find a problem somewhere.
  • Category Index: Once I start using categories I'll put an index on the sidebar, but I haven't put the index up yet since I haven't tagged any posts (besides this one).
  • LiveJournal feed: Rather than posting directly to my main LiveJournal account I'm going to try to get it set up as an LJ syndicated feed.

I think that's it. Comments on the new site are welcome! Don't forget to update your bookmarks and blogrolls.

Permalink | Tags: Website

July 9, 2006

French Combat Soccer

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 9:32 PM

I didn't watch any of the soccer game today, but Yglesias is right: that headbutt is awesome. Obviously I should have watched the game so I could have seen that moment.

(This is obvious filler while I finish getting the new site ready. I hope to move things over tonight, where "tonight" may technically end up being "tomorrow". But there have been lots of distractions the last few days.)

July 7, 2006

Style/Layout Request Thread

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:12 PM

I'm working on the templates and stylesheet for the new incarnation of the site. So far I've just been duplicating the current look, but post a comment here if there's something I should change to make the blog more readable or just better-looking. One change I have already made is that comments will open in the current window instead of in a pop-up. (If there's a strong preference for the pop-up style I'll change it back.) I am also incorporating some requested changes to the RSS feed: it will contain the full post rather than a 40-word excerpt, and there will be a second feed that also contains comments.

Permalink | Tags: Website

July 4, 2006

Highlights [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:48 PM

I saw the last two minutes of the Italy-Germany game, which turned out to be a very efficient use of my time.

In other news, the network outages plaguing this site may be easily fixable, but the database crashes are probably due to hardware limitations, and so I'm finally preparing to move the site to an external host. I'm aiming to have the new site up by Saturday, but these things always take longer than one expects. In the meantime, I'll still be posting at the usual address (assuming the server stays up).

Superman Returns: Bryan Singer continues his streak of solid superhero movies; while this one was not as good as Singer's excellent X-men installments, it's nevertheless a worthy successor to the Richard Donner Superman (which is heavily referenced). The film wisely ignores the third and fourth Superman movies (even if Superman III was underrated), and picks up after Superman II. Kal-El returns to Earth after a five-year interstellar hiatus, and tries to get back into the superhero business, while Lex Luthor pursues another large-scale real estate scheme. Kevin Spacey has fun as Luthor, who seems to be a bit of a crackpot. The movie does run a bit long at the end, spending too much time on the denouement, but until then the pacing is pretty good. I recommend watching the Donner version first and then trying to catch all the references. Also, look for product placement by Virgin Galactic. Rating: 3.5/5

The Futureheads: News and Tributes: I was a little disappointed by the new Futureheads record. While it's not a bad album, I didn't feel that there were any standout tracks like "Decent Days and Nights" or their cover of Kate Bush's "Hounds of Love" on the debut. The band also seems to have slowed down a bit, and (except for the aptly titled "Return of the Berserker") the record doesn't have the manic energy of its predecessor. It's not all bad News, though: I liked the tension underlying "Burnt"; "Back to the Sea" has an appealing chorus; and "Favours for Favours" is especially well-done. Rating: 3/5

Independence Day

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:51 PM

I've seen this on a couple blogs already, but it's so good I want to repost it. Frederick Douglass in 1852:

What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer, a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy--a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the old world, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the every-day practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival....

Fellow-citizens, I will not enlarge further on your national inconsistencies. The existence of slavery in this country brands your republicanism as a sham, your humanity as a base pretense, and your Christianity as a lie. It destroys your moral power abroad; it corrupts your politicians at home. It saps the foundation of religion; it makes your name a hissing and a byword to a mocking earth. It is the antagonistic force in your government, the only thing that seriously disturbs and endangers your union. It fetters your progress; it is the enemy of improvement; the deadly foe of education; it fosters pride; it breeds insolence; it promotes vice....

Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented, of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country.... While drawing encouragement from the "Declaration of Independence," the great principles it contains and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age. Nations do not now stand in the same relation to each other that they did ages ago. No nation can now shut itself up from the surrounding world and trot round in the same old path of its fathers without interference.... A change has now come over the affairs of mankind. Walled cities and empires have become unfashionable. The arm of commerce has borne away the gates of the strong city. Intelligence is penetrating the darkest corners of the globe.... Oceans no longer divide, but link nations together. From Boston to London is now a holiday excursion. Space is comparatively annihilated. Thoughts expressed on one side of the Atlantic are distinctly heard on the other.... No abuse, no outrage whether in taste, sport or avarice, can now hide itself from the all-pervading light.

July 2, 2006

Weirdness and the outsider in Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:49 PM

My intention for the short capsule book reviews in the open threads is simply to say whether or not I liked the book in question. For Cory Doctorow's novel Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, I wanted to comment further on some of the themes present there, so I've put this commentary in a separate post (i.e. this one). Specifically, many of the characters in the novel have supernatural origins and are trying to fit into mundane human society; however, their inherent weirdness tends to leave them feeling like outsiders. One of the things that makes this novel appealing is that the approaches the various characters take to their outsider status are familiar to those of us who are weird in ordinary, non-supernatural ways: indeed, the characters nearly provide an exhaustive list of the ways weird people deal with mainstream society. I'm a total amateur when it comes to literary criticism, but this was a particularly interesting topic to me as someone who has taken several of these approaches over the years.

Some spoilers below the fold.

Continue reading "Weirdness and the outsider in Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town"
Permalink | Tags: Books, Life