August 31, 2006

Yo La Tengo and Hold Steady collecting videos

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:48 PM

Two of my favorite bands are requesting videos from fans: Yo La Tengo simply want a reading of their upcoming album's title, I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass. The Hold Steady have more open-ended instructions: "We want to you know about what you think about the opposite sex, relationships, love, the whole shebang." They're both posting submitted videos on their respective sites.

Video's not really my preferred medium, so I won't contribute to either unless I get really inspired, but I like the concept. The YLT album comes out on September 12, and Hold Steady's on October 3.

Uniformly good [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:43 PM

In which I review something from almost every media category (but I should read more books) and give them all the same rating. Maybe I should go to increments of 0.1 instead of 0.5, so I can make finer distinctions: I would rate Asobi Seksu's Citrus (reviewed last week) slightly higher than The Knife's Silent Shout (in this post) for example.

The Descent: A heartwarming British film in which six women forge strong bonds of friendship during a spelunking expedition. At least, that's what it looks like until monsters show up and start eating them. Hell yes. I mean, we've all been stuck in boring dramas where we wish it would turn into a monster movie and kill off the most annoying characters, and this movie actually does it. Except that it's not boring at all; one thing this film excels at is ratcheting up the tension well before the monsters show up, with a series of plausible but legitimately scary or shocking events leading up to the gory climax. The cave where most of the movie takes place is itself a source of much of this tension, filmed in a way that conveys the claustrophobia and disorientation of the spelunkers. The descent referred to in the title isn't just the literal descent into the cave but also the descent into madness of one of the characters, and this is paralleled in the increasing chaos and confusion as the caving party disintegrates. Overall, a very well-done horror movie. Rating: 4/5

Arrested Development - Season One: I kept hearing that this show was excellent, but didn't really know much about it. Josh was happy to educate me, and we fairly rapidly went through the first season's worth of episodes. The show is best watched in bursts of several 22-minute episodes at a time; it is very self-referential and excels at recurring jokes. Arrested Development centers around the Bluth family, most of whom have freeloaded off the wealthy patriarch George Sr., until (in the first episode) he is arrested for massive fraud. Most of the episodes have Michael Bluth, as the voice of responsibility and moderation, trying to rein in his flakier relatives. It's the quality of the writing that makes the show stand out; the dialogue is very funny on several levels, and a narrative voiceover (by Ron Howard) is used to create an ironic interplay between an omniscient observer and the very self-unaware characters. Rating: 4/5

Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow: The portable Castlevania games have been improving incrementally since Circle of the Moon on the GBA, and Dawn of Sorrow is the latest iteration, a refinement of (and direct sequel to) Aria of Sorrow. As with its predecessors it is a side-scrolling dungeon crawl, and preserves Aria's mechanic of earning new abilities from defeated monsters. There are a few token uses of the DS's touch screen (admittedly, finishing off boss monsters by drawing a magic seal is especially satisfying) but otherwise the gameplay will be familiar to veterans of the series. This installment does an especially good job with an interesting dungeon layout, smooth control, and challenging but not frustrating difficulty. The free-fall boss battle is particularly inspired. Rating: 4/5

The Knife: Silent Shout: The Knife, mentioned in yesterday's post, has a new album out this year. Different in mood from "Heartbeats", it's a dark and ghostly record, perhaps another candidate for a Call of Cthulhu game soundtrack. Indeed, Josh and I listened to this in the car before and after seeing The Descent, and it was creepily appropriate to a claustrophobic horror movie. This one strikes a stronger emotional resonance than the similar atmosphere of Liars' Drum's Not Dead, and is also more danceable. Listen to "Like A Pen" and "Silent Shout" at their MySpace page; in further recent-post-synergy, the latter track appears to be a free download for Facebook members this week. Rating: 4/5

Live: Zero 7 with Jose Gonzalez at the Fillmore: Sure, I panned their latest album, but their earlier work is really good and I love going to the Fillmore. (I am ignoring Jessica's suggestion that I post an entry titled "I Went to Zero 7 with Three Hot Girls", but this might also have had something to do with it.) Jose Gonzalez's opening set was a mellow and competent performance on acoustic guitar; afterwards he did vocals for Zero 7 along with Sia Furler. (The band proper is just two British guys on synths, but here they had a backing band and the two vocalists. The lack of their other singers meant certain songs couldn't be played; "In the Waiting Line", which appeared on the Garden State soundtrack, was particularly missed.) Naturally much of the set was devoted to songs from The Garden, but there was a good fraction of older stuff as well so I can't complain too much. Sia seemed pretty drunk (or otherwise chemically enhanced) and her vocals were much more slurred than in the recordings, which detracted a bit. Fortunately they played a number of instrumental pieces, which tend to be my favorites out of Zero 7's catalog. It would have been nice to hear "Speed Dial No. 2", though. Rating: 3.5/5

August 30, 2006

Fillmore Scene

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:29 PM

At the Zero 7 concert, opening act Jose Gonzalez is covering The Knife's "Heartbeats" on an acoustic guitar.

Guy: Does the original version sound like this?
Me: No, The Knife is an electronica band—it's very different.
Guy: When were they big?
Me: Well, currently.
Guy: That's weird, I've never heard of them.
Me: [realizing] Well, "big" in the sense—
Guy: Oh, in that particular scene.
Girl: Travis, are you a scenester?
Me: No! I just... listen to scenester music... by coincidence.

I don't think she believed me. Will "Travis, are you a scenester?" replace "Travis, are you a math major?" I don't get the latter question much anymore.

(The Knife's version can be heard here [except it may not be working, so also try here] and Jose Gonzalez's version here and also in that cool Sony commercial with the bouncing balls in San Francisco.)

August 28, 2006

Pope considering creationism

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:26 PM

Via Dynamics of Cats, the Guardian reports that Pope Benedict is apparently preparing to give official support to creationism in the form of Intelligent Design. Of course this is not exactly the first time the Catholic church has taken an adversarial stance towards science, but it's a big step backward since John Paul II had effectively accepted evolution. As I've noted before, the current pope approves of the way the church treated Galileo, so this development probably shouldn't be too surprising.

This will make it that much harder to teach evolution in countries where the Catholic church is influential. (In case you missed it, there was disturbing survey data a few weeks ago showing the support for creationism across developed countries, with the U.S. being particularly bad.)

Pacific Film Yarrrchive

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:41 PM

This was on BoingBoing about a week ago, but I didn't see it then—the Pacific Film Archive at UC Berkeley is having a pirate film festival through September and October. Not pirated films, but films about piracy, mostly the arrr, matey! kind (the last installment is an exception). Inconveniently for me, the movies are being shown on Wednesday nights.

August 27, 2006

Science apparel

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:28 PM

Stick figure webcomic xkcd, which was discussed in a recent open thread, is now selling t-shirts. The first one is excellent; I can't decide if the second is cute or just sad (speaking as someone who sometimes needs to make the clarification written on said shirt).

Since this post is too short, here are some other science-oriented webcomic shirts: Music + Science = Sexy from Questionable Content, and Professor Science from Dinosaur Comics.

Easier than actual socializing

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 8:22 PM

I am apparently a sucker for social networking sites—I'm now on Facebook. Previously I've joined MySpace and Orkut, although I don't use the latter much anymore.

August 24, 2006

"Qual Season!" "Prelim Season!" "Qual Season!" "Prelim Season!"

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:40 PM

Gordon Watts and Chad Orzel have some thoughts on qualifying exam season. This confused me until I realized that what other departments call the qual is what Berkeley's physics department calls the preliminary exam. Incoming grad students take the written prelims as soon as they arrive: these are a pair of six-hour exams given on consecutive Saturdays, one on classical physics and one on modern physics. After passing the written exams, one then takes the oral prelims which are an additional two hours (again divided evenly between classical and modern). One must pass the whole fourteen-hour suite before joining a research group.

This is every bit as stressful as the links above describe; the grading is set up so that only about two-thirds of the students pass each round, and officially you only get three tries. (In fact, almost everyone passes by the third attempt.) I don't really have any advice for the written portion, but for the orals I had my faculty mentor give me a practice run that was incredibly helpful (especially since I got asked many of the same questions in the actual exam).

We do have something called a qualifying exam; it's a two-hour oral exam set up on an individual basis, and meant to be taken after two years in research. The first hour is a presentation by the student of a proposed topic for the dissertation, and the second hour is an exam on the subfield relevant to this research. As it happens, I will be taking the qual "soon". Some of you may note that I have been doing research for four years, and have been about to take the qual for two years now. Indeed, it is quite common for students to put off the qual until just before writing the dissertation, where the "proposal" actually becomes a presentation of results. Most departments call this the "thesis defense".

On the other hand, we don't have a thesis defense, so it all evens out in the end.

A different Monte Carlo method

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:00 PM

A recent preprint appearing on the arxiv:

Do superconductors violate Lenz's law? Authors: J.E. Hirsch

When a magnetic field is turned on, a superconducting body acquires an angular momentum in direction opposite to the applied field. This gyromagnetic effect has been established experimentally and is understood theoretically. However, the corresponding situation when a superconductor is cooled in a pre-existent field has not been examined. We argue that the conventional theory of superconductivity does not allow a prediction for the outcome of that experiment that does not violate fundamental laws of physics, in particular Lenz's law. Instead, an unconventional theory of superconductivity predicts an outcome consistent with the laws of physics, through the creation of angular momentum. We discuss how to test these assertions experimentally.


The argument, which I'm not sure I buy, relates to the angular momentum in the body of a superconductor when magnetic fields are expelled in the Meissner effect. But the author challenges me to put money behind my skepticism with this:
Comments: Readers are invited to place a wager on the outcome of the proposed experiment, this http URL

Yes! Now you can gamble on experimental physics! Next: bribing experimentalists to throw the results.

Rough Superconductor

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:53 PM

Niobium is a metal that we frequently use here for its superconducting properties (Tc = 9.3 K). At lunch today we were wondering where it comes from: are there niobium mines somewhere? Perhaps, I suggested, it is mined in Africa under highly exploitative conditions, and we'll find protestors picketing the lab for our use of blood niobium.

Turns out this is disturbingly close to the truth:

Coltan is the colloquial African name for (columbite-tantalite), a metallic ore comprising niobium and tantalum.

[...]

Coltan smuggling has also been implicated as a major source of income for the military occupation of Congo. To many, this raises ethical questions akin to those of conflict diamonds. Owing to the difficulty of distinguishing legitimate from illegitimate mining operations, several electronics manufacturers have decided to forgo central African Coltan altogether, relying on other sources.


On the other hand, it looks like coltan is more important as a source of tantalum, and most niobium comes from Brazil and Canada. So probably our research isn't built on slave labor and exploitation (postdoc salaries aside).

August 23, 2006

Reptiles on an Aircraft [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:18 PM

It has come to my attention that Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Ladytron, and the Hold Steady are all playing San Francisco within days of each other in October. I will go to at least two of the three shows, and maybe all of them... (Architecture in Helsinki, opening for CYHSY, is actually the main draw for that show as far as I'm concerned.)

Snakes on a Plane: This movie delivers everything it promises: the reptiles, the aircraft, Samuel L. Jackson in glorious campy form. I saw it in Berkeley on opening night (not at midnight, however) with a pretty enthusiastic audience. As has been pointed out in comments, this is the proper way to see the movie. The film is well aware of its own ridiculousness and delights in providing implausible but gruesome snake attacks, overblown dialogue, and nods to the standard cliches of horror movies. All good for an evening of fun, but with little lasting value. As Samuel L. Jackson famously said, "It's not Gone with the Wind. It's not On the Waterfront. It's Snakes on a Plane!" Rating: 3.5/5

Asobi Seksu: Citrus: As I indicated last week, I've been enjoying this album of sweet-sounding noise pop. It's a bit of My Bloody Valentine, a bit of Yo La Tengo, and a bit of J-pop (the lead singer is a Japanese woman and the lyrics shift between Japanese and English). The whole album is solid and pleasant to listen to, but three tracks in particular stand out: "New Years" [download here], "Goodbye", and "Mizu Asobi". That last one is very catchy and always gets stuck in my head when I'm done listening to the CD. Now I just need to send the lyrics to Josh so he can tell me what she's saying. In addition to the link above they are on MySpace here. Rating: 4/5

August 22, 2006

Types of laboratory scientists

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:49 PM

Via Syaffolee, an over-the-top but amusing list of personality types one encounters in a science lab. In fact, I believe I've met most of these people. I've put a lot of effort into not becoming #5 (the obsessive perfectionist with no life), but this probably just makes me closest to #1 (the antisocial weirdo)—although my personal hygiene isn't that bad and I've been more social lately. Of course it's not an exhaustive list, so maybe I need to add to it:

7. The Blogger
He seems quiet, but he's actually telling the world about the latest lab mishaps on the Internet. These scientists prefer highly automated experiments so as to spend more time surfing the web. They're good with computers and publicizing results to a broad audience. They are communicative provided the medium is e-mail or IM, and happy to come to parties if there's a proper Evite or MySpace announcement. If the network goes down they are likely to display withdrawal symptoms.

Best Search Requests of July 2006

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:28 PM

I almost forgot to do this. All these are from the old site since the new one has yet to obtain a high ranking in the various search engines.

  • evangelicals who think anthropology majors are going to hell
    Don't evangelicals think pretty much everybody is going to hell?
  • luke and han kill darth vader end episode iv
    Uh, maybe you should watch it again.
  • napoleon dynamite and social darwinism
    Survival of the misfits?
  • jesus licking
    Obviously a Lebowski-related search, but instead made me think "Bible fan fiction".
  • zombie lobster
    I'm searching for an appropriate pun but nothing is coming to mind.
  • stop being vague.
    Was this directed at the search engine? Vague Google: "Some results were found on the internet."
  • my keyboard is spazzing
    Somehow I think this particular query won't turn up any tech support pages.

MetaFilter Half-Life

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:03 PM

My post about the liquid nitrogen incident drew a few links from other blogs, with a majority of hits coming from MetaFilter. This was great fodder for my obsession with site statistics, and the MeFi-driven traffic spike was especially interesting: it looks just like an excitation process in physics, with a saturation region that lasted about half an hour and then an exponential decay with about a 90 minute half-life.

There was a long tail that remained after many time constants; I suspect there are a couple different populations of MeFi readers, one that visits the site about once an hour and another that visits much less often, maybe once a day.

August 21, 2006

Dark Matter

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:03 PM

Recently (I think during my Connecticut visit) I was talking to somebody about whether dark matter is real, or just a kind of fudge factor reflecting something we don't understand about gravity. It turns out there's recent evidence that strongly points to the former case—there really is a lot of weakly-interacting stuff out there that can't be explained by modifying general relativity. Sean Carroll explains at Cosmic Variance.

Zombies on Market Street

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:02 PM

Saturday afternoon a zombie invasion hit San Francisco. Unfortunately I was completely unaware of this, otherwise Josh and I would have gone to see it. I'll have to get on the mailing list for the next one. Naturally the zombies eventually ended up at the Apple Store. (Via Boing Boing.)

August 18, 2006

Bush discovers existentialism

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:10 PM

George W. Bush reading Albert Camus has been the source of a lot of humor lately: this piece in The American Prospect is especially good.

New Hold Steady track

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:29 PM

Pitchfork has it as a free mp3 download, along with high praise for their upcoming album. Verdict: thumbs up.

Permalink | Tags: Music

August 17, 2006

Snakes and Wolves [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 9:13 PM

Ah, finally some good new music. Let me recommend Asobi Seksu's album Citrus in advance of my full review, which will probably appear next week along with Snakes on a Plane. In other media news, I need to clear my schedule for the imminent release of Xenosaga Episode III.

Sunset Rubdown: Shut Up I Am Dreaming: Sunset Rubdown is the side project of Wolf Parade's frontman, and the voice is instantly recognizable, as well as some other instrumental similarities. The sound is more varied: a few tracks could pass as Wolf Parade songs, but most are a bit quirkier and less dense. True to its title, the record as a whole feels like a dreamscape, making slow and smooth transitions between different moods. There's an overall thread of sadness running through the songs but each one has a slightly different take on it. It's not really a CD you'll rock out to, but it's interesting enough that I keep coming back to it. The opening song, "Stadiums and Shrines II", is especially good and is conveniently available as a free download at the band's website. Wolf Parade fans especially should check this out. Rating: 3.5/5

August 16, 2006

Cuts from Team Planet

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:02 PM

It seems that some astronomers, perhaps lacking cryogens to play with, have been wasting their time on one of the dumbest controversies of the modern era: whether Pluto is technically a planet. Personally, I don't care very much. Tiny Pluto with its elongated and tilted orbit always seemed awkwardly tacked on to the list of planets anyway, and if it doesn't make whatever arbitrary cutoff the astronomers pick, I won't miss it.

However, the passion with which Pluto's status is defended in some quarters is astounding. Do people really attach such emotional weight to the issue? Maybe that glorified snowball has kind of an underdog appeal, or perhaps it's a laudable impulse not to throw the weird one out of the clubhouse. As scientists, however, we must be objective (ha!) and this post lays out the very convincing anti-Pluto case.

(Via Making Light, which quotes a sensible comment from one of Berkeley's own astronomers: “I am not attending the I.A.U. meeting, nor do I care about the outcome of any vote about whether Pluto and Xena are ‘planets.’”)

August 15, 2006

Measurements of gravity using cryogens [Updated]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 7:00 PM

This is what Chad Orzel refers to as a True Lab Story:

Condensed matter labs such as ours receive frequent deliveries of liquid nitrogen in one- or two-hundred liter dewars. Unfortunately, most of the Berkeley cond-mat labs are in Birge Hall, which has no loading dock, so that the LN2 dewars arrive on the first floor of neighboring LeConte where they must be wheeled over to their destination by some low-seniority student. Since the Berkeley campus is on a hill, the loading dock at the back of the building is one floor higher than the other entrances to LeConte and all the entrances to Birge. One can push the dewar around the outside of LeConte, but a shorter route is to take the elevator down one floor and go out the side door.

Yesterday the LeConte elevator was out of order, which for most of us would have meant taking the long way around. However, one undergrad, tasked with transporting a full 230L dewar, simply decided to take the stairs.

At about 80% the density of water, 230 liters of liquid nitrogen weighs about 400 pounds, not counting the additional weight of the steel vessel containing it. When rolled onto the stairs, the dewar promptly tipped over and plummeted downward on its side, knocking deep gouges in the marble steps and dragging along the unfortunate student, who inexplicably held on as his cargo began to tumble. Miraculously both student and dewar arrived at the landing without rupturing, but the dewar was still on its side and pressure was building up.

This was the situation when we got the frantic call from the building manager; once enough of us arrived at the scene we were able to pull the dewar upright and release the pressure. This averted any imminent explosion, but now we had a different problem: 400 pounds of liquid nitrogen stranded on a landing between the ground and first floors. Suggestions were floated including emptying the nitrogen out the nearby window, but ultimately we found another dewar which was wheeled to the top of the stairs on the first floor, and the nitrogen was transferred there through a long hose. The empty dewar was then carried up the stairs, a task requiring four men and gouging new (but shallower) grooves in the staircase.

Recalling what happens when a LN2 cylinder does rupture, it's the general consensus that this student is lucky to have survived and LeConte Hall is lucky to still have a staircase.

Photos below the fold [updated with photo of wall damage]:

Continue reading "Measurements of gravity using cryogens [Updated]"

August 13, 2006

Distractions ahoy

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:41 PM

Excuses for not blogging lately:

  1. I've been occupied with a special variant of paper torture in which I redo the same calculations every day with different parameters, hoping that the results will converge on something that will be really impressive in the article we're about to submit.
  2. Salsa dancing appears to interfere with the verbal part of my brain. The evidence for this is that when I try to dance and talk at the same time, I lose not only the beat but any coherence in what I'm saying. A persistent form of this may be resulting in writer's block.
  3. I was busy developing a master strategy for Clarke Group games night (only to get demolished in Carcassonne after too many margaritas).
  4. The news has been just too jaw-droppingly stupid lately to comment on.
  5. Castlevania-related program activities.

This week should be better, assuming this paper gets wrapped up...

Permalink | Tags: Life

August 9, 2006

Corrections large and small

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:41 PM

Last night I was struggling to reconcile several different measurements of our SQUID's critical current when I saw (via Rob Knop) that astronomers are revising their own estimates of the age of the universe.

This made me feel better, because I just had to account for a few hundred nanoamps and not a couple billion years. On the other hand, their percentage correction was smaller...

Permalink | Tags: Science

August 8, 2006

Nedrenaline!

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 8:27 PM

Ned Lamont is the Democratic nominee for senator from Connecticut. I'm sure it was this blog's endorsement that pushed him over the edge.

My guess is that Lamont wins the general, since both the Republicans and Lieberman have been so inept.

Nutmeggers, any thoughts?

August 7, 2006

Climate Control [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:24 PM

Since I tagged archived posts for the past year, I've put the category listing in the sidebar under the monthly archives. I may tweak the formatting some. I'd also like to tag posts further back in the archive—at least as far as the beginning of 2005—but it may not happen immediately.

I guess it's been a while since I posted an open thread, partly due to not having much to review lately and partly due to pure negligence. I need to listen to some new CDs so that I can get back to my usual schedule of posting reviews. (The new Sunset Rubdown album is good on first listen; I'll probably review it next week.)

An Inconvenient Truth: I finally got around to seeing Berkeley's most popular date movie, in which Al Gore delivers a Powerpoint talk on global warming. I'm not someone who needs convincing at this point, but I was curious to see what he had to say. Maybe it's just that I've seen too many scientific Powerpoint talks, but I thought it was rather disorganized—it seemed to jump around between different topics without a clear direction. The film is interspersed with vignettes from Gore's life, to explain why he's taken up this particular issue; I thought these were mostly just distracting, but for a popular audience maybe it helps humanize the issue. Visually the film is sometimes very compelling (especially the section showing various major cities flooding as the sea level rises—there's a GMaps app where you can try this yourself) but sometimes a little too twee (the polar bear, the frog). Gore is optimistic that global warming can be solved through what seemed like relatively minor improvements in energy efficiency and emissions reduction. Maybe this kind of ending is necessary to convince people the problem can be solved at all, but I'm much more pessimistic. Rating: 2.5/5

Metroid Prime: Hunters: I'm catching up on all those DS games now that I can play them. Unlike the Gamecube predecessors in the Metroid Prime series, this installment is focused much more on deathmatch than exploration. In the single-player mode the various maps are often clearly just the deathmatch levels stitched together, and the layout is more straightforward than is typical for a Metroid game. Combat is faster and more dynamic than in earlier Prime games as well. There's a steep learning curve for the stylus/d-pad control scheme, but once I got used to it I was suprised at how well I could move and aim. The game's biggest flaw is the bosses: a game this combat-oriented should have appropriately interesting boss fights, but instead of coming up with eight different enemies it keeps repeating the same two with slightly different capabilities. Apart from this, the single-player game is pretty solid. Now I just need to round up some opponents for the multiplayer. Rating: 3.5/5

August 3, 2006

Long-running experiments, or, sub-optimal thesis topics

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:43 PM

I'm still catching up on my reading—this is from a Boing Boing post yesterday, so you may have seen it already. Anyway: three very long-running physics experiments. I had read about the pitch drop experiment before, but the others were new to me.

Unmentioned is the fact that the flood levels of the River Nile have been measured for thousands of years, providing the lowest-frequency data on 1/f noise in existence.

August 1, 2006

New York City, day 2

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 8:46 PM

This time I went solo and took the train in. The morning was devoted to walking around and the afternoon to Liberty and Ellis Islands.

Weather: Yesterday I said the heat and humidity was "not as bad as it could be". Today the city proved that statement correct by raising the temperature about ten degrees. The heat truly brought out the many fragrances of the city. Meanwhile, the street vendors were primarily advertising ice cold water today. I rode in a Metro North car with an air-conditioning system struggling to stay online, but also a new-looking car on the 4 train that was as well chilled as some of the office buildings I walked by earlier, despite being packed with passengers.

Wandering: After arriving at Grand Central I wandered around midtown a bit, but I think I missed most of the interesting points (we did go through Times Square and Bryant Park yesterday). This time I mainly saw lots of shiny corporate-looking buildings. I then went downtown and had more luck with the random walk, stopping by the stock exchange and Federal Hall (which I think I had previously only seen in Metal Gear Solid 2).

Pizza: Went to a randomly-chosen pizza place downtown, but was not impressed. (However, my standards are fairly high, since Berkeley has multiple world-class pizza restaurants.)

Battery Park: There's a new garden under construction here, so much of it was closed off and there was a lot of dust. However, it is still the point of departure for the Liberty Island ferry so there were plenty of other tourists and the attendant souvenir shops and so forth.

The Ferry: The wind on the harbor provided a nice break from the heat, plus great views of everything. It occurs to me that I've never taken any of the ferries in the San Francisco Bay; maybe I should do that sometime.

Liberty Island: The park around the Statue of Liberty was good just for walking around; it also had excellent views of everything else in the harbor and was a good place to take pictures and admire the statue. The lemonade sold here was very important (and I was surprised they weren't doing more business).

Statue of Liberty Museum: Laaaaame. First you wait in line forever to go through a truly obnoxious bit of security theater, including the questionable new "puffer" machines, plus x-raying absolutely everything in your pockets. Note that the x-ray and metal detector had already been done when getting on the ferry, but they make you do it again. The actual museum is interesting at first, but quickly runs out of material and tries to supplement it with a collection of Statue of Liberty kitsch. Amusing but definitely not worth the wait. The view from the pedestal is only marginally better than the view from the island or the ferry. Skip this.

Ellis Island: The immigration museum was very interesting from both a historical and a political point of view. There are a lot of little details like documents and personal articles and recordings of stories from immigrants that really give a sense of what the place was like. Furthermore there is lots of material on the politics of immigration during Ellis Island's operation, which happen to be much the same as the politics of immigration today.

New York Public Library: I stopped by again before going back to Connecticut and was able to get in this time. It is indeed an impressive building. Lots of marble and some nice murals. There were a couple of interesting exhibits, one on French book art (including some illustrations of French versions of Edgar Allan Poe stories), and the other on the Declaration of Independence, which consisted of several different versions of the declaration in the library's holdings. Most of these are copies distributed by newspapers throughout the colonies following its signing, but there's also one handwritten by Thomas Jefferson.

Overheard: The best one today was probably this:
Guy with foreign accent enters a crowded subway car.
Guy: I've never been this close to a woman before!
[uncomfortable silence]
Guy: Besides my wife!
--4 train

There was also what sounded like a good crazy guy and/or cell phone rant the other time I rode the 4 train, but I wasn't close enough to hear much of it.

Tomorrow: Get up really early and go to the airport, possibly get back to Berkeley in time for salsa class.

Permalink | Tags: Travel

Live from New York

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 7:20 PM

At least, this was posted live on the old site, because I forgot to change my Flickr settings.




Live from New York


Originally uploaded by arcanegazebo.



It's really hot today, but the ferry ride was nice.