October 31, 2006

Hello, I'm Johnny Cash

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:58 PM

halloween costume 06, originally uploaded by arcanegazebo.

Recorded for posterity: my Halloween costume for this year, put together from clothes in my wardrobe. I considered the Zombie Johnny Cash version of the costume, but didn't have the time/energy to do the zombie makeup. I did learn chords for "Ring of Fire", "Folsom Prison Blues", and "I Walk The Line", and played them so poorly I might have summoned the real Zombie Johnny Cash.

I went to a small party mostly attended by physics students, where much fun was had and Corpse Bride was watched. From the comments I received, I conclude that I should dress like Johnny Cash every day.

Permalink | Tags: Life

Halloween Thread 2006

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:42 PM
Buffy: Great. I was gonna stay in and veg. The one night a year things are supposed to be quiet for me.

Xander: Halloween quiet? Oh, I figured it'd be a big old vamp scareapalooza.

Buffy: Not according to Giles. He swears that tomorrow night is, like, dead for the undead. They stay in.

Xander: Those wacky vampires! That's why I love 'em! They just keep you guessing!

Last year's Halloween thread was a success so here's another one. Anyone wearing a costume tonight (or right now)? What interesting costumes have you seen?

I've seen a few costumes on campus so far today, but have been without my camera. It seems a bit too cold today for that American Indian costume I saw. Meanwhile, motivated by laziness I have devised a costume for myself which merely requires dressing in black and carrying my guitar around.

Permalink | Tags: Life

October 30, 2006

Monday distraction inventory

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:45 PM

This week's distractions (projected):

  • War of the Flowers by Tad Williams.
  • The two envelope paradox.
  • Halloween (and the necessary preparations).
  • Obnoxiously loud mechanical pumps.
  • Skill at board games as a function of alcohol consumption.

I'm finally done with Valkyrie Profile 2, which has dominated this list for the last few weeks.

Permalink | Tags: Life

October 25, 2006

365 Photos

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:32 PM

I'm intrigued by this idea (via Lifehacker) of taking a photo every day for a year to compile a year-long photographic record. I'm thinking of doing this (starting either on 22 November or 1 January); the challenges would be remembering to take a photo every day, and finding sufficiently interesting subjects for the photos. (Similar to the challenges of blogging regularly, which I don't quite achieve as often as daily.)

Naturally I would post the photos on my Flickr page; I could also post them here, but it might get annoying for those who come for the text (one photo post per day would become more than 50% of the content). So it might be better to put them on a separate page, and only post highlights here.

October 24, 2006

Stuff I saw while driving yesterday

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:27 PM

Unfortunately my camera was in the back of the car.

  • The intersection of Fountain and Fairfax in Los Angeles, which provides the title to an excellent Afghan Whigs song (unless they have a different city in mind). However, the intersection itself was spectacularly uninteresting.
  • A deer running across I-5 almost right in front of me (and through some moderate traffic); after reaching the median it turned around and went back across, and apparently survived. Are the deer fraternities hazing their pledges or something?
  • A confused truck which claimed to be carrying "unportable water". That's strange, it looked entirely portable to me. Language Log has also noticed instances of this.

Yes, the LA-SF drive is pretty boring...

Permalink | Tags: Travel

October 22, 2006

NYT Magazine on science fraud

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 7:29 PM

The New York Times Magazine has a piece about another instance of scientific fraud, this time by a clinical researcher:

Poehlman pleaded guilty to lying on a federal grant application and admitted to fabricating more than a decade’s worth of scientific data on obesity, menopause and aging, much of it while conducting clinical research as a tenured faculty member at the University of Vermont. He presented fraudulent data in lectures and in published papers, and he used this data to obtain millions of dollars in federal grants from the National Institutes of Health — a crime subject to as many as five years in federal prison. Poehlman’s admission of guilt came after more than five years during which he denied the charges against him, lied under oath and tried to discredit his accusers. By the time Poehlman came clean, his case had grown into one of the most expansive cases of scientific fraud in U.S. history.

I was initially surprised by this passage describing the alteration of data from one experiment:
The fall that DeNino returned to the lab, Poehlman was looking into how fat levels in the blood change with age. DeNino’s task was to compare the levels of lipids, or fats, in two sets of blood samples taken several years apart from a large group of patients. As the patients aged, Poehlman expected, the data would show an increase in low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which deposits cholesterol in arteries, and a decrease in high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which carries it to the liver, where it can be broken down. Poehlman’s hypothesis was not controversial; the idea that lipid levels worsen with age was supported by decades of circumstantial evidence. Poehlman expected to contribute to this body of work by demonstrating the change unequivocally in a clinical study of actual patients over time. But when DeNino ran his first analysis, the data did not support the premise.

When Poehlman saw the unexpected results, he took the electronic file home with him. The following week, Poehlman returned the database to DeNino, explained that he had corrected some mistaken entries and asked DeNino to re-run the statistical analysis. Now the trend was clear: HDL appeared to decrease markedly over time, while LDL increased, exactly as they had hypothesized.

From this it sounds like Poehlman took potentially interesting data that went against existing hypotheses, and changed it so that it lined up with the conventional wisdom in the field. In other words, he fabricated data to make his results less interesting. This is the opposite of how scientific fraud usually works—consider the Jan Hendrik Schön case in condensed matter physics, where Schön invented spectacular and unexpected results that other groups were unable to reproduce.

But reading further in the article, it makes sense: this is how Poehlman was able to present fraudulent data for so long without getting caught. His results seemed solid enough to be impressive, but not surprising enough to draw too much attention.

The length of time that Poehlman perpetrated his fraud — 10 years — and its scope make his case unique, even among the most egregious examples of scientific misconduct. Some scientists believe that his ability to beat the system for so long had as much to do with the research topics he chose as with his aggressive tactics. His work was prominent, but none of his studies broke new scientific ground. (This may also be why no other scientists working in the field have retracted papers as a result of Poehlman’s fraud.) By testing undisputed assumptions on popular topics, Poehlman attracted enough attention to maintain his status but not enough to invite suspicion. Moreover, replicating his longitudinal data would be expensive and difficult to do.

It's a pretty sad story, and I wonder what medical discoveries might have already been made if this guy had not been obscuring these issues with fabricated data.

Permalink | Tags: Science

October 19, 2006

Protest Signs at Birge Hall

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:54 PM

protest signs
Originally uploaded by arcanegazebo.

Both UCB Chancellor Birgeneau and and UC President Dynes are members of the physics department. This is perhaps good for departmental prestige but also draws protestors. Yesterday a rally for higher custodial wages made a stop at Birge Hall. (In fact, neither Dynes or Birgeneau are typically in the physics buildings--the only time I've seen Birgeneau in the department was the day Smoot won the Nobel.)

Not pictured: my office window, which is two windows to the right of the frame. I was down in the lab at the time, and missed it.

Killer Photos

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:39 AM

They are The Hold Steady
Originally uploaded by TedRheingold.

I went to Flickr looking for photos of last night's show. I'm in the bottom right corner of this one.

October 18, 2006

Killer Parties

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:20 AM

Live: The Hold Steady with Sean Na Na and Black Fur at the Great American Music Hall: I arrived about ten minutes before the nominal start time of 8 pm and found about ten other people there. This did not give me confidence in the opening band; I was unaware that Black Fur were even on the bill and was expecting Sean Na Na to be the first act. In any case, the lack of people on the floor when I arrived allowed me to get very close to the stage. Black Fur did come across as unprofessional, with problems such as forgetting to plug in the guitarist's pedals and some indeterminate flakiness in the bassist's amp, and their drummer was a jackass who at one point spat beer into the audience. But despite this I actually enjoyed their set (once they got their equipment working). Certainly they sucked far less than the opening act at last year's Hold Steady show. They were followed by Sean Na Na, who didn't make much of an impression on me and I can't really even remember what they sounded like.

The Hold Steady then came on and proceeded to play an outstanding set. Maybe it's just that I was closer to the stage this time, but it felt like they had a stronger stage presence than last year and there was more interplay with the audience. All the songs sounded terrific, although during the first few Craig Finn was almost inaudible until they turned up his mike. Highlights: Of the new songs, I probably enjoyed "Massive Nights" the most—it was in the middle of the set when they were well warmed up and they gave it a great treatment. At the beginning of "Don't Let Me Explode", Finn told the story of the martyrdom of Saint Barbara, who is apparently the patron saint of Not Letting Things Explode (really), hence the line in the song: Saint Barbara I'm calling your name. As the second to last song they played a blistering rendition of "Your Little Hoodrat Friend", during which a string broke on the bass, and the rest of the band improvised while the bassist replaced it, after which they picked up where they had left off.

This was all eclipsed by the encore, where "Hornets! Hornets!" was followed by "Most People Are DJs" during which the crowd was whipped into a frenzy. The song then transitioned smoothly into "Killer Parties", the lead guitarist pulled someone out of the front row and put him on guitar, and then the band members started pulling people on stage as fast as they could. And did I mention I was up in front? As the show ended I was up on the stage with the Hold Steady and a crowd of other audience members, all dancing and singing along to the last lines of the song: I remember we departed from our bodies. We woke up in Ybor City...

It seems to me that any concert that ends this way should get a perfect score. Rating: 5/5

Hold Steady setlist below the fold (I was close enough that I could read it off Craig Finn's copy):

Continue reading "Killer Parties"

October 17, 2006

Between Stations [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:16 PM

Hmm, maybe I should have bought tickets to see one of Yo La Tengo's shows this week as well, they've got three consecutive nights at the Fillmore. But that would give me no time to devote to Valkyrie Profile. Tonight I'll see the Hold Steady, almost exactly a year after the last time I saw them.

TV on the Radio: Return to Cookie Mountain: This album has been widely hailed as a breakthrough record for TV on the Radio, a substantial leap over their previous work. Basically, I agree with all of that, so I can outsource my review to the various glowing pieces that have appeared in music publications. The opening track, "I Was A Lover" is a bit weak, but is followed by "Hours" which is the first of a number of awesome songs. My other favorites are "A Method", "Dirtywhirl", and especially "Wolf Like Me" on which David Bowie makes an appearance (listen here). One of the best CDs of the year. Their live show is also spectacular; they were my favorite act from Coachella this year. Rating: 4.5/5

Live: Ladytron with CSS at the Fillmore: CSS is a band I'd heard of but not actually heard before last night. They are from Brazil and are nearly an all-girl group, with a 1:5 male/female ratio. The music was competent dance rock with a synth and usually three guitars (sometimes two guitars and two basses). Their singer was very bouncy and jumped into the crowd several times, quite the opposite of Ladytron's reserved demeanor. What I could make out of the lyrics sounded pretty amusing, as if Art Brut songs were rendered in broken English.

Ladytron started out with "High Rise", a perfect opening song but performed somewhat anemically. They didn't sound warmed up until they played "Evil" a couple songs later, but from there they were able to keep the energy level pretty high. When I saw them at Coachella the band members maintained an air of aloofness, but here they were a bit more relaxed and interactive, Helen Marnie even dancing around the stage during her singing parts. The bands I've seen at the Fillmore are always overwhelmed by the history and prestige of the venue, and Ladytron were clearly not immune to this.

The setlist was fairly straightforward, most of Witching Hour plus older singles. The only thing really out of left field was a cover of "Send Me A Postcard" by Shocking Blue, a perky song that one wouldn't ordinarily associate with Ladytron, but they did include the original on their compilation CD Softcore Jukebox. "Soft Power" was a highlight: the band had a collection of lights on stage which might have been primarily intended for this song, red arc lights and warm yellow bulbs suggestive of candlelight. The combination of the eerie lighting and the strength of the musical performance really brought out the witching hour aspect of the song, making it feel like an incantation drawing out magical energies. "Beauty*2" came close to this effect as well. They saved "Destroy Everything You Touch" for the very end and pulled out all the stops for a spectacular ending to a strong show. Rating: 4/5

Ladytron setlist below the fold:

Continue reading "Between Stations [Open Thread]"

October 16, 2006

Pre-emptive excuses for not blogging

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:36 PM

or, Sometimes I Actually Have A Life.

Here's how I'm spending my non-lab time this week:

Monday: Ladytron with CSS @ The Fillmore
Tuesday: The Hold Steady with Sean Na Na @ Great American Music Hall
Wednesday: Salsa dancing @ Shattuck Down Low
Thursday: Beat Valkyrie Profile 2
Friday: Drive to Los Angeles

Ok, maybe I can fit in some blogging time on Thursday... plus this should give me something to write about. Tomorrow I'll post an open thread with a review of the Ladytron show and their setlist.

Permalink | Tags: Life

October 13, 2006

Friday Random 10: Emergency Filler

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:43 PM

I just noticed that I've only posted four times in the month of October. Um... here's a Friday Random 10! (If only I had some cat pictures...)

  1. Stereolab, "Percolator"
  2. TV on the Radio, "Ambulance"
  3. Radiohead, "No Surprises"
  4. The Decemberists, "The Engine Driver"
  5. The Arcade Fire, "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)"
  6. Nirvana, "Stay Away"
  7. Radiohead, "Paranoid Android"
  8. Sleater-Kinney, "The Remainder"
  9. Pixies, "Where Is My Mind?"
  10. Franz Ferdinand, "Evil and a Heathen"

This is from the four-and-five-star playlist, which accounts for the very high quality of the selection.

Purify the colors, purify my mind.
Purify the colors, purify my mind,
and spread the ashes of the colors
in this heart of mine.

October 12, 2006

Dating as an auction

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:41 PM

Frequently Tyler Cowen's dating commentary is the most entertaining aspect of Marginal Revolution. In one of today's posts, he compares dating to auction strategies:

In terms of dating, if you run an English auction you go out with many people, if not simultaneously then relatively closely bunched in time, and you stick with the one who offers the most. If you run a Dutch auction you signal clearly your standards (lowering the standards over time if need be), and stick with the first person who bites.

It's an interesting model. I am suspicious of the "Dutch auction" approach in that it's more difficult to evaluate prospects that way. (This may be what Cowen has in mind when he says "hidden but not too hidden qualities encourage English auctions.") On the other hand, it's easier for shy people who might have difficulty with the "English auction" style. Of course, my own forays into dating have been too sporadic to be described by anything resembling a strategy.

Permalink | Tags: Dating

October 10, 2006

Unplanned Absences [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:48 PM

Remember when I used to update my blog? You may be wondering if I have been detained by the Bush administration, but in fact I have been distracted by things like science and Valkyrie Profile 2. However, I have once again been getting calls for an open thread, and I'd better start reviewing CDs if I'm going to get through my backlog before the end of the year. Also, I've been playing some video games lately:

Xenosaga Episode III: Also Sprach Zarathustra: The Xenosaga series was originally meant to run six episodes, but this was overambitious and the sequence was truncated here. This meant that some threads had to be wrapped up hurriedly, and the plot picks up after skipping an entire episode's worth of developments. Fortunately the database from Episode I has reappeared and so the player can at least read about what happened; likewise, one character's backstory is presented mostly in database text where it might previously had been slated to occupy most of an episode. The main storyline is left to play out at double speed (by the standards of this saga, but perhaps normal speed for another console RPG).

As the spiritual successor to Xenogears, Xenosaga labors under certain expectations, especially in its last chapter. Both draw heavily from Gnosticism in their themes, and lay out the plot in a style appropriate to a mystery cult, where the player is in the dark about the true nature of the universe until it is made plain in a series of final revelations. Part of the genius of Xenogears was the way it drew together the threads of Christianity, Gnosticism, and Nietzsche—it was one of the most literate console RPGs ever—into a coherent plotline. (Especially appealing to my philosophical sensibilities was the way it ultimately deferred to a kind of scientific materialism.) Unfortunately, Xenosaga doesn't reach these heights, and in making the competing philosophies more explicit, it loses the coherence in the story. The major revelations near the end thus fall into two categories: the kind that the observant player figured out two episodes ago, and the kind that don't actually help the story make any more sense.

This is probably a consequence of the shortened scope of the project and the departure from Monolith Soft of major contributors to the narrative aspects of the game. It's a disappointment for those of us who came to the series in part because of the strength of it's predecessor's storyline. At a smaller scale things generally work better&dmash;several of the set pieces are very well executed, in particular the chilling weapons test scene that occurs early in the game.

But in some sense all these things are secondary considerations: this isn't a movie, it's a video game, and the actual gameplay is a lot of fun. The battle mechanics depart from the previous episodes somewhat (moving in the direction of Final Fantasy X) but maintain the same crystalline turn-based feel, with good strategic depth but less frustration. Meanwhile the mech battles now resemble a streamlined version of the Xenogears system, as big an improvement over the second episode's approach as that episode was over the first in this department. The dungeons are visually spectacular, satisfyingly intricate, and generally a joy to explore. The biggest disappointment was the lack of any bonus dungeons like the ones in the previous episode. On the strength of the gameplay I'm giving this a high rating even if the conclusion to the story wasn't to my satisfaction (and even if it's not the best dungeon crawler to come out in the last two months—it's hard to compete with tri-Ace in that department). Rating: 4/5

Sonic Youth: Rather Ripped: I assume the venerable noise-rock band needs no introduction. One doesn't generally have high expectations for 25-year-old bands, but they've put out a decent album here that's more accessible than much of their catalog. Their trademark fuzz, distortion, and atonal singing is certainly present but it's put into the service of some catchy tunes, especially "Incinerate" and "Rats". They might be well past their peak but they can still write some good songs. A stream of "Incinerate" seems to be available at Geffen Records. Rating: 3.5/5

October 3, 2006

Think of the children!

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:51 PM

It's one of those times when the boundary between real life and political satire collapses. NRCC chairman Tom Reynolds holds a press conference and, to avoid explicit questions about the Mark Foley scandal, brings along a group of small children.

Reporter: Congressman, do you mind asking the children to leave the room so we can have a frank discussion of this, because it's an adult topic. It just doesn't seem appropriate to me.

Reynolds: I'll take your questions, but I'm not going to ask any of my supporters to leave.

I find this equal parts pathetic and hilarious. I particularly love the way he refers to them as his "supporters". Will the Daily Show cover it, or would that be redundant?

Berkeley Physicist wins Nobel

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 8:50 AM

UCB cosmologist George Smoot won the Nobel Prize for Physics today, for his discovery of anisotropy in the cosmic microwave background. He shares the prize with John Mather of NASA Goddard. Here's Berkeley's press release, the Nobel press release, and the AP article.

UPDATE: This, of course, was the Science: It Works, Bitches measurement whose data appeared in xkcd.

UPDATE II: Other bloggers writing about the prize: Sean at Cosmic Variance, Chad at Uncertain Principles, Steinn at Dynamics of Cats, Stefan at Backreaction, Andrew Jaffe, Rob Knop at Galactic Interactions, Janet Stemwedel at Adventures in Ethics and Science (whose mother worked with COBE and shares some anecdotes).

Maybe I'll try to get some pictures at the champagne reception later today...

UPDATE III: From the physics department reception, when Smoot is asked to make some remarks (this is paraphrased):

Smoot: I've been making statements all day... but now I can say what I'm really thinking, because there's no press.
[Berkeley Chancellor] Birgeneau: There's always press.
Smoot: Yeah, I'm worried about bloggers.

Wouldn't want to disappoint... I did forget my camera, though.