June 25, 2009

An extra story in a rare comic book

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:11 PM

Today I held in my hands a copy of the most valuable comic book issue in existence, Action Comics #1 (which contains the first appearance of Superman).

Well, actually I was holding an impermeable plastic capsule containing the book; naturally I couldn't touch it directly or leaf through it. And it was far from mint condition, so this one was worth far less than some of the other remaining copies of this famous issue. But nevertheless it was exciting to see this piece of comics history, a time capsule from 1938.

It goes without saying that the better condition a comic book is in, the more valuable it is—at least on the collector's market. And indeed this is true of most goods. But I felt like the experience of seeing this as a historical artifact was actually enhanced by the fact that it didn't look like it had come right from the printing press. The left edge was cracked from frequent reading, there was a food stain on the cover, and the name "Junior" was written in pencil in the corner. Some kid loved this book. I can imagine him reading it at the dinner table. The book itself has its own story that a mint copy wouldn't have.

June 8, 2008

Arcane Gazebo meets T-Rex (at MoCCA)

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:14 PM

One of the great things about living in New York City is that I'll frequently read on the internet about some event, and then realize, "Hey, I could go there!" For example, the MoCCA1 Art Festival this weekend. I've never been to a comics convention before, but with it being only a few subway stops away I didn't really have a good reason not to go.

My primary goal was to acquire a signed copy of the Dinosaur Comics book, and I was not disappointed in the outcome:
ryan north sketch
I also got a copy of the new annotated Wondermark book, because it looked nice and also because Wondermark is fantastic. Randall Munroe (of xkcd) was doing free sketches, but I foolishly didn't have anything for people to sketch on. He and David Malki ! (who does Wondermark) were next to each other, and each had a sign offering to punch the other for $1. (I even saw it happen while I was standing there.)

Outside of webcomics I knew almost none of the exhibitors (it was very much an independent, small press show), although there was obviously a lot of talent on display. I made sure to walk around and look at everything, but it's hard to know just by looking at covers what's good. I did see Bryan Lee O'Malley, the author of Scott Pilgrim which has recently become my new favorite print comic. (It's kind of a hipster Ranma 1/2 with copious references to classic NES games. Anyone here who reads comics should absolutely check it out.)

Normally when I think of comics shows I think of something like the San Diego Comic Con2 with everyone in ridiculous costumes and big lines at the popular booths. This wasn't at all like that: very low-key, no costumes and you never had to wait in line to talk to anybody (unless it was Randall Munroe, or Michel Gondry who turned up for a signing). Overall it was a fun outing and I need to keep an eye out for more stuff like this going on in the city.

Meanwhile, some of my coworkers are going to the actual Nerd Prom and I am tempted to join them... of course, I'll need a costume.

1 Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art
2 A.k.a. "Nerd Prom"

June 1, 2008

Adventures in fume hoods

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 7:03 PM

I'm still occupied with other activities (like unpacking boxes, and discovering just how many bugs I can inadvertently cram into 100 lines of perl), but in the absence of blogging I invite you to enjoy the latest PhD Comics strip on fume hoods.

This rings especially true since my lab in grad school needed a fume hood only occasionally, and therefore had only one which sat mostly neglected in the fabrication lab. This made it a fantastic storage closet for unknown chemicals until somebody actually needed to use it for science, at which point hazmat teams would need to be called. (Note to Berkeley EH&S: joking!)

In contrast, the most hazardous chemical at my new job is the curry from Teriyaki Boy, a.k.a. "The Yak". (Angelenos: Picture the Japanese-food equivalent to Tommy's chili.)

Permalink | Tags: Comics, Lab, Science

September 10, 2007

Comics and Career Fairs

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:50 PM

Webcomics continue to be too accurate with the latest sequence at PhD Comics. Of course, Jorge Cham's humor has always ranged from "funny because close to home" to "not funny because too close to home". This year the strips in the latter category have been especially well-timed: the series linked above, for example, comes not just when I'm in the same situation, but the week of Cal's major Career Fair. (Identifying other examples is left as an exercise for the reader.)

Anyway, the career fair starts tomorrow; the fraction of recruiters looking for physics PhDs is indeed pretty low (as would be expected for a general campus career fair) but nonzero. (There's an event specifically targeted at masters and PhDs next month.) I'll be attending with copies of my resume in hand, hoping to get someone's attention or, failing that, pick up some good swag. Any advice for this sort of thing?

Permalink | Tags: Career, Comics, Life, UC Berkeley

September 6, 2007

Not funny, Randall

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:52 PM

Yeah, I've been there a few times. In the past my insomnia has usually been driven by anxiety, but my most recent bout (a couple months ago) seemed to be a shift in my circadian rhythm. I was able to resync my internal clock by strictly adhering to my target wake-up time no matter how little sleep I got, but only after several days of total exhaustion.

Since then I've found it easier to make adjustments to my sleeping patterns. I've had a few lazy weeks (ah, flexible academic work hours) but this week I've gone to a schedule where I actually get up strikingly early (by my standards) and (gasp!) eat breakfast, in order to have a substantial block of time in the morning reserved for writing my thesis. Those of you tracking the Project 365 photos will have noticed that this officially started on Wednesday, we'll see how it goes...

Permalink | Tags: Comics, Sleep

August 13, 2007

Assorted entertainment

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:18 AM

Since I haven't posted in forever, here's some of the stuff I've been doing instead:

Permalink | Tags: Books, Comics, Movies

July 17, 2007

Running against the wind

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:45 PM

Stuff I've enjoyed recently:

Permalink | Tags: Comics, Music, Music Videos

April 24, 2007

A pretty accurate re-enactment

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:22 PM

I took my qualifying exam this morning. If you'd like to know it went, click here.

Permalink | Tags: Academia, Comics, Physics

April 19, 2007

Webcomics snobbery

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:10 PM

I'll confess: I'm kind of a webcomics snob. I frequently prune my reading list, look down my nose at comics that don't meet my standards, and generally struggle with the temptation to just quit reading everything except Dinosaur Comics and Scary Go Round. (And Gunnerkrigg Court, which I think of as less a webcomic than a graphic novel released a page at a time.)

Truly offensive are lame ads for unfunny webcomics. These are hard to avoid since they tend to buy space on the sites of actual talented artists. There was one that I used to see a lot called Least I Could Do whose ads made it look really, painfully bad. I don't know if it was actually funny because the ads made me actively avoid it. Another ad I noticed a lot appeared on Dinosaur Comics and other sites using Project Wonderful for ads; there wasn't much (because Project Wonderful uses little postage stamp-sized images) but it was basically just a cheesecake-looking drawing of some girl sleeping, with her chest displayed prominently. If that's the best it had to offer I wasn't going to bother clicking.

Somewhat more reliable is the links section of a comic I already like. It'll be a mixture of strips the artist artistically admires and those drawn by his friends in the webcomics community, but there's a fair bit of overlap between those two sets and most will be worthwhile. Today I noticed John Allison had added a few links to the list at Scary Go Round, including Gunnerkrigg Court, so I figured the others were probably worth checking out too. I clicked on Dresden Codak and, indeed, it's awesome. The gorgeous, surrealistic art is reminiscent of A Lesson is Learned, and the references to physics may invite comparisons to xkcd. It's not geek humor though, but rather it invokes quantum mechanics in service of its dreamlike ambience. Oh, and it's funny. I particularly like this one.

It's a weekly comic, and hasn't been around very long, so its archive is depressingly small and I read through it quickly... only to discover that it's the very comic that advertised with the image of the sleeping woman. Clearly I need to reevaluate my policy relating to webcomics ads.

UPDATE: Just saw the actual dates in the archive listing: turns out Dresden Codak doesn't update weekly, but only every once in a while. The archive is actually two years worth of material.

Permalink | Tags: Comics

March 20, 2007

Gunnerkrigg Court

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:12 PM

During a bout of bored web-surfing, I followed a guest-artist link from Dr. McNinja to Gunnerkrigg Court, where my boredom rapidly evaporated. By somewhere in Chapter 2 I had already decided to blog a recommendation for this webcomic. By the time I finished reading the archives, in one enthralled sitting, it was pretty much my favorite thing on the internet.

The genre is British boarding-school fantasy, but Neil Gaiman is a better point of comparison than J.K. Rowling. (In fact, Gaiman himself has also recommended Gunnerkrigg on his blog.) It's a wonderful exploration of the interface between myths/magic and science/technology. Start at the beginning—it's not a joke-a-day webcomic but an online graphic novel with an ongoing story.

Permalink | Tags: Comics, Internet

February 20, 2007

T-Rex and superfluidity

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 7:05 PM

This post by Mason inspired me to make a Dinosaur Comic:

Noninertial theology (Image is behind the link because it's too wide for the blog template.)

The thesis in question was by Richard Packard, who is a Berkeley physics professor. I can only hope decades from now somebody will be writing Dinosaur Comics about my thesis.

Permalink | Tags: Comics, Physics, Randomness

December 13, 2006

The Man/Volts Relationship

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:59 PM

Today's Scary Go Round was highly entertaining for those of us who have to keep the volts happy:

Permalink | Tags: Comics, Science

June 14, 2006

Incarnations [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:01 PM

First: Today's Dinosaur Comics strip is excellent.

I have several books to review but I'll do one per week to spread them out a bit.

John Burdett: Bangkok 8: I don't read a lot of mystery novels, so I'm trying to remember what led me to pick this one up. I think it was an Amazon recommendation. The novel is set in Bangkok's 8th precinct and revolves around a U.S. Marine who is killed by snakes that were planted in his car. (Snakes In A Car!) Ultimately I found the mystery aspect less compelling than the novel as a cultural study; the city of Bangkok is a rich and interesting setting, and the protagonist, a devout Buddhist working in a thoroughly corrupt police force, was a nice twist on the usual detective hero. This was a detective who saw everything in terms of Buddhist mysticism, detecting the past incarnations of the souls he encountered, and for much of the novel it's an open question whether he really has some supernatural insight or if this is just the way he sees the world. In the end this question is settled somewhat more definitively than some of the central plot points. Rating: 3.5/5

Ellen Allien & Apparat: Orchestra of Bubbles: This is some very good German techno, taut and ominous, evocative of alien landscapes or city lights viewed from far off. It's a fairly coherent album, good for playing all the way through late at night. "Metric" is one of the standout tracks. Rating: 4/5

Permalink | Tags: Books, Comics, Music, Open Thread

May 17, 2006

Total Request Blog: My research in a nearby possible world

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:23 PM

In the requests thread, Kyle asks: If you had to research in a different area than you are now, what would it be? It can be as different as you want, but can't be too similar. At the least you have to be publishing in entirely different journals.

This is an easy one: philosophy of science. I took several great philosophy courses at Caltech (which you might imagine had a scientific focus in its philosophy department) and got really interested in issues of what science is and why it works. I still think about these topics in idle moments and I could definitely see myself doing research in this field if I hadn't gone for something more practical and experimental. Indeed, many of you have had to sit through my digressions on problems like the grue paradox (sometimes presented in Dinosaur Comics form). Imagine if I could get paid to do this—although I'd have to write serious papers, unless there's a Journal of Philosophical Letters as Presented by T-Rex. The downside is that I wouldn't get to play with expensive high-frequency electronics with lots of buttons, and having qubits to experiment on is pretty cool.

Permalink | Tags: Academia, Comics, Philosophy, Science

May 5, 2006

Grad students in popular culture

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:10 PM

The above was the title of a slide in Jorge Cham's talk yesterday (discussed below). The slide cited four films: The Seniors (1978), Real Genius (1985) [this one prompted cheering from the audience], A Beautiful Mind (2001), and Hulk (2003). This is a pretty good list already, but I suspect there are more, and it seems like a good topic for a Friday thread. Make suggestions in the comments. No need to stick to film, either: it was at least implied that Fred was previously a physics grad student in Angel, and there are probably plenty of novels with grad student characters (some of them not written by Neal Stephenson).

For that matter, there are lots of mad scientists but rarely do you see their grad students. It's hard to imagine they're doing all that mad science themselves. Sure, Dr. Frankenstein had Igor, but Igor seems like more of a postdoc. And Frankenstein operates the apparatus himself—what kind of PI does that? A more realistic portrayal would be something like:

[Dr. Frankenstein's group meeting. Igor, exhausted from taking data all night, presents a graph.]
Igor: So the data clearly indicate increased mobility of the subject.
Frankenstein: IT'S ALIVE! [pause] Start writing it up, I want to submit this to Physical Reanimation Letters by next week.

Permalink | Tags: Books, Comics, Culture, Movies, Television

Jorge Cham, New York Times on/as distractions

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:45 PM

Jorge Cham, who writes/draws PhD Comics, is doing a book tour and gave a talk at Berkeley yesterday. (He did his grad work at Stanford and is now an instructor at Caltech.) This is one of those comic strips that hits home a little too often, but in doing so is frequently pretty funny. Cham is also funny as a public speaker, with an excellent sense of comic timing. He sometimes played the straight man with jokes appearing on his Powerpoint slides, and sometimes reversed this dynamic.

The talk was about staying sane under the pressures of grad school, and the main theme was that procrastination is a powerful tool for this, both for taking the pressure off and regaining motivation and creativity when one returns to work. Needless to say, I had already figured this out, as the three-plus years of archives on this blog will attest. It turns out that there is also scientific confirmation of a sort: via Chad Orzel I read in the New York Times that distraction is key for relieving dread.

The first study ever to look at where sensations of dread arise in the brain finds that contrary to what is widely believed, dread does not involve fear and anxiety in the moment of an unpleasant event. Instead, it derives from the attention that people devote beforehand to what they think will be extremely unpleasant.

Grad students in the Berkeley physics department have their share of unpleasant events to devote attention to, beginning with the prelim exams and ending with actually writing the thesis. My personal source of dread lately has been the qualifying exam, and maybe my ability to find new distractions lately is related to this. However, I definitely plan to take it next semester. (I've been saying this for three semesters now, but that's the power of procrastination for you.)

Permalink | Tags: Academia, Comics, Neuroscience

April 27, 2006


Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:22 PM

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

Permalink | Tags: Comics

April 12, 2006

Life imitates art: superhero tryouts

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:11 PM

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

Permalink | Tags: Comics, Culture, Movies, Quantum Information, Television