The Hold Steady have made their new album Boys and Girls in America available as streaming audio here. It's good. The CD comes out on Tuesday.
Language Log is continuing their series of posts on gender stereotypes; I found this one on personality differences interesting. They look at a Science paper which ranks groups of men, women, and individuals with autism or Asperger's Syndrome in terms of an "empathizing quotient" and "systematizing quotient". Men on average score as more systematizing and women as more empathizing but there's a large overlap between the distributions:
Those are the SQ distributions but the EQ ones look similar from the scatter plot. It turns out that one can take this personality test online. I come up with SQ=69 and EQ=32; perhaps surprisingly I am within 1σ of the mean for the male population on both indices.
It's not entirely clear what these numbers say about me, other than that I'm more likely than most to have an organized record collection (alphabetized by artist, and each artist's records ordered by release date, in case you're wondering).
Backreaction has a substantial and intriguing post about the production of micro black holes in particle accelerators (particularly the LHC). It's a test for extra dimensions: in three-dimensional space it's not possible to generate enough energy to create a black hole with a particle accelerator, but for theories of gravity involving extra dimensions, gravity gets stronger at short distances and this enters the realm of possibility. WIth crude approximations it's possible to estimate that the LHC could produce one black hole per second.
This isn't dangerous, since tiny black holes evaporate almost instantly through Hawking radiation. In fact, it's a nice way to measure some properties of extra dimensions if they exist. However, it's a problem for collider experiments in that information about small length scales becomes inaccessible.
The whole post is worth reading; it's pretty cool even if supervillains looking for a Doomsday Device won't find it useful.
Pirates demanded a new open thread, so I will comply to avoid walking the plank. I have a bunch of CDs to review, but haven't figured out what to say about them. Here's the first one in the queue:
Ratatat: Classics: Ratatat is a band based on the notion that it would be awesome to make songs blending hip-hop beats, techno synth, and arena-rock guitar. Classics is a broader and more layered take on this concept than their self-titled debut album, and finds mixed success. Some of the more intricate songs, like "Lex", hold together well, but others seem to meander while passing by potentially great moments. One of the great things about their previous record was the way songs would focus on a single brilliant riff and spend three minutes examining it, turning it upside down and inside out. There's less of that here as they reach for a more complex sound. "Wildcat" and "Tropicana" can both be played at MySpace; both are decent with the latter being slightly better. The best song title on the CD is "Tacobel Canon", and the track itself is appropriately Baroque-sounding. Rating: 3/5
In 2004 I was critical of liberals who declared their intention to leave the country if Bush was re-elected. However, recent developments have made me see it in a different light—there is something to be said for living in a country where habeas corpus rights are still respected. Note that Canada is not quite far enough away.
Senator Russ Feingold:
One of the most disturbing provisions of this bill eliminates the right of habeas corpus for those detained as enemy combatants. I support an amendment by Senator Specter to strike that provision from the bill. I ask unanimous consent that my separate statement on that amendment be put in the record at the appropriate point.
Habeas corpus is a fundamental recognition that in America, the government does not have the power to detain people indefinitely and arbitrarily. And that in America, the courts must have the power to review the legality of executive detention decisions.
Habeas corpus is a longstanding vital part of our American tradition, and is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.
As a group of retired judges wrote to Congress, habeas corpus “safeguards the most hallowed judicial role in our constitutional democracy – ensuring that no man is imprisoned unlawfully.”
Mr. President, this bill would fundamentally alter that historical equation. Faced with an executive branch that has detained hundreds of people without trial for years now, it would eliminate the right of habeas corpus.
Meanwhile, the torture bill passed the House 253-168. The lists of the 168 Representatives and the 253 America-hating supporters of tyranny can be found here.
UPDATE: Senate bill passes 65-34, which is a wider margin than I expected and underscores the lack of Democratic spine on this issue. The roll call is here.
I haven't blogged much about the torture legalization bill that Bush is trying to get passed, but it's really pretty frightening. On top of making torture the official policy of the United States, it also tosses out habeas corpus for detainees, so the President can abduct someone and torture them in a secret prison, without having to provide any justification. Bush is already doing this illegally, but instead of exercising their ability to hold the President accountable, Congressional Republicans are rushing to give up their power to a lawless executive. Look, if representative democracy is too hard for these guys, and they'd rather live in a dictatorship, maybe they're in the wrong line of work.
As I understand it, the original rationale for denying habeas rights to enemy combatants was the impracticality of providing due process to prisoners of war captured on a battlefield. The Bush administration has already undermined this by applying "enemy combatant" status to detainees who had no actual involvement in combat, such as Jose Padilla. Kevin Drum has the latest amendment to the torture legalization bill, which makes this official by redefining "enemy combatant" to include people who have "purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States". So under this bill the president can accuse someone of supporting terrorists, have him arrested, detained in a secret prison, and tortured, without ever having to provide evidence against him. Of course this is grossly unconstitutional, but there's also a provision that bars courts from reviewing the constitutionality of these procedures.
I can't get over the fact that we as a country are about to legalize torture and arbitrary imprisonment. I thought America was better than this.
Newsweek has an article on the gender gap in science, and looks at Berkeley's physics department in particular:
To get a sense of how women have progressed in science, take a quick tour of the physics department at the University of California, Berkeley. This is a storied place, the site of some of the most important discoveries in modern science—starting with Ernest Lawrence's invention of the cyclotron in 1931. A generation ago, female faces were rare and, even today, visitors walking through the first floor of LeConte Hall will see a full corridor of exhibits honoring the many distinguished physicists who made history here, virtually all of them white males.
But climb up to the third floor and you'll see a different display. There, among the photos of current faculty members and students, are portraits of the current chair of the department, Marjorie Shapiro, and four other women whose research covers everything from the mechanics of the universe to the smallest particles of matter. A sixth woman was hired just two weeks ago. Although they're still only about 10 percent of the physics faculty, women are clearly a presence here. And the real hope may be in the smaller photos to the right: graduate and undergraduate students, about 20 percent of them female. Every year Berkeley sends freshly minted female physics doctorates to the country's top universities. That makes Shapiro optimistic, but also realistic. "I believe things are getting better," she says, "but they're not getting better as fast as I would like."
Overall the description of Berkeley is positive; they highlight some of the female researchers here and mention policies that the campus is undertaking to improve the situation.
From a playlist of songs rated four- and five-stars:
A while back I saw that Blonde Redhead song on a list of the top "fuck you" songs of all time, which was entirely appropriate. Kazu Makino spits the bitter lyrics over sparse and nearly funereal instrumentation. But today I'm more in the mood for "Conventional Wisdom", the best song from Built To Spill's latest album:
Some things never change
Nothing's gonna change that
Some things you can't explain
Like why we're all embracing conventional wisdom in a world that's just so unconventional
While we're on the subject of gender bias: One of my pet peeves is when people employ bogus neuroscience or evolutionary psychology arguments to back up gender stereotypes. This is distressingly common, and especially annoying when it only takes a few seconds to think about it and realize that the stereotype in question isn't even true. Sure, I may know a lot of eccentric people, but I doubt they're genetic mutants just because they don't conform to some "Men are from Mars, women are from Venus" scheme. And of course, these kinds of false or socially-constructed stereotypes are one of the major factors driving the gender gap in the sciences.
Thus it was with some dismay that I learned of the recently-released book The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine, which advertises itself thusly:
Brizendine reveals the neurological explanations behind why
• A woman uses about 20,000 words per day while a man uses about 7,000
• A woman remembers fights that a man insists never happened
• A teen girl is so obsessed with her looks and talking on the phone
• Thoughts about sex enter a woman’s brain once every couple of days but enter a man’s brain about once every minute
• A woman knows what people are feeling, while a man can’t spot an emotion unless somebody cries or threatens bodily harm
• A woman over 50 is more likely to initiate divorce than a man
Unfogged's LizardBreath remarks, "I've reached a point with pop-science accounts of how women differ from men, where I firmly assume that any claim that science has shown a physical cause for behavioral differences between the sexes is bullshit." I've been at that point for a while now, too.
A National Academy of Sciences panel on women in science finds:
For 30 years, the report says, women have earned at least 30 percent of the nation’s doctorates in social and behavioral sciences, and at least 20 percent of the doctorates in life sciences. Yet they appear among full professors in those fields at less than half those levels. Women from minority groups are “virtually absent,” it adds.
The report also dismisses other commonly held beliefs — that women are uncompetitive or less productive, that they take too much time off for their families. Instead, it says, extensive previous research showed a pattern of unconscious but pervasive bias, “arbitrary and subjective” evaluation processes and a work environment in which “anyone lacking the work and family support traditionally provided by a ‘wife’ is at a serious disadvantage.”
The panel included UC Berkeley's chancellor Robert Birgeneau, and the late UCSC chancellor Denice Denton, who committed suicide recently, had also been on the panel before her death.
Back in March we had a pretty good comment thread on this subject.
As a follow-up to yesterday's festivities, here's a study of the number of r's appearing in piratey exclamations, based on Google hits. The author finds a power law with an exponent of about -4. (Via Cosma Shalizi, who advises caution in inferring power laws from log-log plots.)
Via 43 Folders, here's a proposal for improving the signage in Bay Area public transit stations (i.e. BART and Muni). It mentions two issues I had noticed before: Why aren't the BART lines referred to by color, despite being color-coded on the map? (My first experience with a subway system was DC's Metro, which has color designations.) And, why aren't there any signs to the 16th St Mission station? (Obviously it's at the intersection of 16th and Mission, but one at least needs to know which direction Mission St is...)
That website has a number of other interesting-looking articles on SF urban design.
Arrr, mateys! It be Talk Like A Pirate Day once again! Of the holidays celebrated here at Arrrcane Gazebo, few be more highly anticipated.
Though my lists of the year's best music won't appear until December, it is now time to announce the winner of the coveted Arrrcane Gazebo Pirate Song of the Year. And the winner is...
Pretty Girls Make Graves, "Selling the Wind"
I buy these winds
to venge my children and their ghosts
I stole their ships
and every castle from their coasts
Need no advice
nor approval from the queen
I live my life
forever hellcat of the seas
Last year's (unannounced) winner was, of course, The Decemberists' "The Mariner's Revenge Song".
Here be a comment thread fer ye scurvy dogs t' parley with each other.
Miraculously, none of those Justin Timberlake songs got stuck in my head.
Instead, because I mentioned it once in the review, fucking "My Humps" got stuck in my head. If ever there was a song that could make "SexyBack" sound like an intricate and nuanced work of musical genius...
Return to Cookie Mountain is an effective cure for this malady.
It's the album the indie kids are raving about! Pitchfork rated it 8.1/10, and Stylus, well, Stylus gave it a B+, but keep in mind that this is the guy so bland that he wrote the theme song for McDonalds, so that's pretty good. Did they send a wad of hundred-dollar bills with the review copies? Or is the album really that good? The only way to know for sure is to actually listen to it.
So I've started a long automated measurement, and I've got a stream of the album ready to go. (I'm going to assume that I'm not missing any subtle sonic nuances by listening to an internet stream over earbuds, rather than a CD on a proper set of speakers.) But first, let's take a look at the album cover.
The Title: On either side of the slash, you have a decent title for an album. Really, FutureSex would be fitting for, say, an Ellen Allien record. And LoveSounds, while somewhat generic, signals a certain mood for the album (and maybe alludes to the Beach Boys). But to use both titles suggests indecision. One imagines a marketing team sitting around a room, brainstorming names for the record, and being unable to choose between these two. "Let's just use both!" It's an indicator that this CD is targeted to the broadest possible audience. But wait, this is also indicated by the fact that the album cover says Justin Timberlake.
The Album Art: Courtesy Amazon, this is the front cover:
Here we see the artist gleefully stomping on a disco ball. Is this because the record is a stunning artistic breakthrough that will destroy the world of soulless, manufactured dance music? I find this unlikely. Turning to the back cover, we find a pair of mirrored images of the disco ball, with the tracklist extending phallicly above it. Perhaps stomping the disco ball is meant to be an emasculating image—a strange choice given the subject matter of the album, unless Timberlake is actually parodying the notion of the horndog pop star. Or maybe he just felt that it was a beautiful day to be stomping on things.
Taking a look at the background, I find that there's no better way to signal "bland and generic" than to use a completely blank, white room.
Well, I can't put this off forever. Let's get started.
The title of the album is also the title of the first song and the first lyrics, along with some assorted moaning (ew). Were they short on ideas? It goes on like this for about a minute and a half and--wait, that thing with the synth was actually pretty cool. But then it goes away, and we're back to the title of the song.
Hey, that cool bit came back with the chorus a couple more times. Otherwise, I am unimpressed. Rating: 2/5
In future, computers will not have space bars to increase sexy efficiency. This is the big single? It's a chaotic mess. I'm sure it's ubiquitous on the radio, which is why I lined my apartment with tinfoil in order to avoid it. (This is the first time I've heard it.) Indeed, the sexy went somewhere, but I don't think he's brought it back.
Is it still going? This song is about a minute and half too long. Rating: 1/5
3. Sexy Ladies
Justin finds the space bar, and also (apparently) sexy ladies. He's gone to a rapid-fire falsetto, possibly a result of stomping on his disco balls. At first this is a welcome change from the previous track, but it gets old at about 1:27 and now I'm grinding my teeth as the backup singers repeat the word "sexy". I'm going to send Justin a thesaurus. Rating: 0.5/5
4. Let Me Talk To You Prelude / My Love
"Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!" Ok, you've got my attention now. "My love! My love! My love! My love!" This is going to go on for six minutes? What is this, the "My Humps" school of songwriting?
Is that still Timberlake singing? It must take a lot of stomping to reach that octave. But thankfully the lyrics have diversified and there is something that sounds like an actual verse. Following that some digital effect is going "eee! eee! eee!" in the background which is truly obnoxious.
A minute of so of somebody (presumably Timbaland) rapping. It's tolerable, and when verses emerge from this song it's not half bad. However, that eeping thing has got to go. Rating: 1.5/5
5. Lovestoned/I Think She Knows Interlude
Ah! An interlude, excellent. Wait, this track is seven minutes long, I guess there's a song first.
Ok, I'm a sucker for violins. Get rid of Timberlake and this would be a pretty good song. Once again he's only written about four lines of lyrics which get repeated. Then about a minute of beatboxing (but that violin's still around, happily). The vocals return, with the same lyrics of course, but the instrumentation's gone to "cheesy piano". Damn!
This song is so long it needs an intermission, not an interlude. Rating: 2/5
6. What Goes Around.../...Comes Around Interlude
What is that, a shamisen? I was in a Chinese restaurant yesterday where they were playing the Best of Andrew Lloyd Webber on an erhu. Anyway, we're in for another seven-minute marathon here.
"What goes around goes around goes around..." Timberlake is the master of the two word chorus. This song is reminiscent of his N'Sync origins. Because we didn't get enough of that the first time.
There is no excuse for this song being as long as it is. It's like one 30-second clip copied and pasted 15 times. Wasn't I promised an interlude? Oh, there it is. Finally.
In fact, this album is seventy minutes long, with only one song clocking in at under four minutes (and it's 3:58). I'm happy to get long albums from Yo La Tengo or Spiritualized, but does the world really need seventy minutes of Justin Timberlake songs? Rating: 0.5/5
7. Chop Me Up
Timbaland's back. The really good rapper names evoke yuppie clothing retailers. In fact, he's most of this track, with Justin jumping in for the chorus, but it still manages to be one of the blandest tracks yet. Incredibly boring. Rating: 0.5/5
8. Damn Girl
Actually not "Damn girl!" but "Damn, girl!". Hoping for punctuation in this album is somewhat futile, however. Hey, guess what the lyrics are! "Damn, girl! Damn, girl! Damn, girl!" These songs have very low entropy.
There's an electric organ here, which almost sounded cool except that it played a progression suitable for a baseball stadium. Charge! Rating: 0.5/5
9. Summer Love
Mercifully, a four-minute song. Isn't three minutes the canonical length for a pop song? Someone should tell him that.
I think he's under the impression that the word "girl" is punctuation, like an exclamation point or something.
"I can't wait to fall in love/ with you/ You can't wait to fall in love/ with me" I realize not every song can have Belle & Sebastian-quality lyrics, but damn, this is insipid. Rating: 0.5/5
10. Set The Mood Prelude/ Until The End Of Time
"Until The End Of Time" describes how long this song lasts--at 7:33 this is the longest track on the album. The prelude here is two minutes of "ooo ooo ooo", followed by a torturously slow transition into the main song.
Here the lyrics talk about "all the darkness in the world", but exhibit the level of insight into geopolitics displayed by my typical comment spammer. Lots of wailing here. "Everybody sing-- aaaah oooh woooaaaooo yeah!" Did he run out of words?
One minute left and it feels like a year. So slow... this song would be much better if it were sped up by a factor of four. But then JT's falsetto would be pitched outside the range of human hearing... like I said, much better. Rating: 0.5/5
11. Losing My Way
"Can anybody out there hear me, 'cause I can't seem to hear myself?" Yeah, obviously. Here's the sad tale about a guy trapped in a Justin Timberlake song. No, wait, he's a crack addict. Bonus points for having several verses with distinct lyrics, but they are canceled out by repeating the chorus approximately two hundred times. Rating: 1/5
12. (Another Song) All Over Again
Another slow ballad with lots of "woooo yeah". This would normally signal the end of the album except he's already done this two or three times. At least the title is accurate! One of these "I'm asking forgiveness, please give me another chance" songs. In fact, those are the exact lyrics. Naturally there's a sappy piano. An excruciating end to an overly long album, as if he's trying to squeeze every last minute out of the CD format. "Let me start over again," he pleads. Hell, no. Rating: 0.5/5
It's over! At last, blessed silence! Or, blessed hum of mechanical pumps anyway. The first half wasn't as bad as I expected, but the second half was agonizing. And it was so, so long. I think I hit the wall somewhere in track 10. Overall Rating: 1/5
Time to cleanse my brain with My Bloody Valentine.
Via Dynamics of Cats, the "dwarf planet" whose discovery led to Pluto's demotion has been named Eris, losing its previous informal name of Xena. Steinn responds with an appropriate "Hail Eris!", but then wonders if dwarf planets should have dwarf names.
As a sometime-admirer of the Goddess (one of the patron deities of Kaos Alley), I am pleased to see her recognized here, even if it is a dinky little dwarf planet. (At least it has an appropriately eccentric orbit.) In her honor, I suggest going bowling, eating hotdogs (especially tomorrow), or generally doing something chaotic. Initiates can go here, and click randomly in the table of contents.
Via Pharyngula, the Bad Astronomy blog finds a wingnut who thinks that this naming choice is... a vicious liberal attack on George W. Bush. His argument is based on the fact that the Caltech is in California and therefore must be a major liberal enclave. I would like to propose a slightly more plausible theory, in which the game Illuminati is an accurate representation of world affairs, and the Discordian Society has just added the IAU to their power structure.
By popular demand, I will liveblog my review of Justin Timberlake's FutureSex/LoveSounds tomorrow (Friday), starting around 2 pm Pacific, so be sure to tune in. The truly masochistic can even find a copy of the album and listen along with me...
As I struggle with a particularly severe case of writer's block, I am starting to wonder whether, like many writers, I should look for inspiration in personal suffering. And it has been noted that my reviews of CDs and other media tend to be almost uniformly positive, and maybe some negative reviews would be more interesting. So, I am going to consider the interesting and exciting new CDs released yesterday—TV on the Radio's Return to Cookie Mountain, Yo La Tengo's I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass, the Junior Boys' So This Is Goodbye—and then I am going to ignore them, and instead write a detailed review of Justin Timberlake's new album FutureSex/LoveSounds. I'm hoping that the experience of listening to it will provide enough pain, rage, and existential angst to fill a blog post.
Due to time constraints, it probably won't appear until tomorrow, but you may consider yourselves warned. Maybe I should liveblog it?
Sean Carroll has an interesting take on this subject, which I more-or-less agree with.
Many of the science bloggers are competing over the question of who among them is the biggest nerd, apparently starting with this post. I'm going to stay out of this one, since I've been tapering down my nerdy activities somewhat over the last few years in a (possibly misguided) effort to pass for "normal". Besides, there's no way I could compete with entries like Rob Knop's.
On the other hand, being a nerd is more of an attitude than it is a particular subculture, and this is not so easily escaped by diversifying one's interests—I may listen to hipster music (by coincidence!) but my meticulously maintained iTunes library with detailed tagging and multilayered Smart Playlists gives away my nerdish tendencies.
I suspect, however, that my nerd level peaked that time I wore a Starfleet uniform to a Renaissance fair.
Stylus presents a compilation of music videos re-enacted in Lego.
I'm totally working on my talk for this afternoon, and not even connected to the internet, but take note of this article from The Onion (via Cheryl): Caltech Physicists Successfully Split The Bill
PASADENA, CA—Sequestered in a private booth at a Pasadena-area Cheesecake Factory for nearly 25 minutes, a party of eight California Institute Of Technology physicists emerged exhausted but visibly excited Friday evening after successfully splitting the bill.
"This is an important day for us, not only because it marks Professor [Wayne] Newbury's birthday, but because we have accomplished a feat thought unimaginable ever since [late computational physicist Philip] Eisenreich found that it was impossible to calculate how a group of paired bodies, set in motion by the presence of a solid-state check, could come to rest at a non-variable, evenly distributed mathematical constant," said lead party organizer and theoretical physicist Dr. Cynthia Dreyfuss.
Before the arrival of the check, several early bill-splitting theories were proposed, including a simple process of dividing it into eight identical fragments, the Random Contribution Model, and a theory posited by Newbury himself—who insisted that he was bound to treat everyone—which was widely rejected on the basis that it would undermine the whole objective of the evening.
In reality, this problem is traditionally assigned to the youngest non-math-major.
An amplifier whose noise temperature approaches the quantum limit would dramatically improve the sensitivty and search rate of the axion experiment. To achieve that goal, our collaborator John Clarke and his coworkers at the University of California, Berkeley, developed a new amplifier based on a microstrip-coupled superconducting quantum interference device in 1996. Unlike the noise behavior of heterojunction transistor amplifiers at low temperatures, the intrinsic noise of the SQUID is proportional to the physical temperature, the origin being thermal noise in shunt resistors across the SQUID's Josephson junctions. Cooling reduces the noise until it flattens out within 50% of the quantum limit. Newer SQUID designs with micro-cooling fins that enhance the coupling of electrons to the lattice are pushing these devices closer still to the quantum limit.