September 25, 2011

Paris Notes

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:40 PM

Eiffel Tower

  • Technologies: One would think that at this late stage of globalization, all developed countries would be at the same technology level. But as in a game of Civ, France is behind America in some areas and ahead in others. For example, Europe has switched over to chip-and-PIN credit cards, forcing Americans with obsolete magstripe cards to buy their Métro tickets from a surly clerk at the ticket booth instead of the vending machines. On the other hand, automatic subway door-opening technology lags behind America, with most lines requiring the rider to pull a latch to open the door when he wants to get off. (I assumed this was an energy conservation measure for the climate-controlled trains, until I noticed that they weren't actually air-conditioned and the windows were open. Maybe it's just for the winter, but then why is it that newer lines do have automatic doors?) Finally, Europeans still have yet to figure out that if they mount the shower head on the wall, they can have both hands free when showering.
  • Speaking French: My 1.5 levels of Rosetta Stone turned out not to be so useful; they usually spoke too fast for me to decipher it, and when I tried to speak it they looked at me as if the sounds I made didn't even resemble human language. (Which is entirely plausible.) There was one place it was very useful, though: the opera. I've been spoiled a bit by the Met, which has individual subtitling screens on the back of each seat with a selection of languages. The Opéra Bastille has the more common setup of a single supertitling screen above the stage, in French only. Fortunately, through a combination of my meager French, my dimly-remembered Latin, knowledge of the story, and contextual clues, I was able to figure out a lot of what was going on. Otherwise I would have been very confused at the end of the opera when the female lead starts passionately kissing a severed head. Really.
  • The French health care system: I have a trick for translating technical terms and proper names that don't appear in normal language dictionaries: go to the English Wikipedia page for the thing you're trying to translate, then click the link on the side for the target language and use the title of the page it links to. I normally use this to get the standard katakana spellings of Western names for my Japanese homework, but I was also able to use it in France to tell the triage nurse that I had a kidney stone: calcul rénal. I found that French hospitals were not the socialist, dystopian nightmare that I've been warned about by Fox News, but calculs are pretty annoying in any country or language. On the other hand, I definitely recommend seeing Versailles while buzzed on painkillers.
  • Stairs: My friend Caroline (who lives in Paris, and whom I saw for the first time in years on Wednesday) related to me one of her rules for sightseeing: if it can be climbed, she has to climb it. I wasn't quite so thorough, and was content to enjoy the Arc de Triomphe and Notre Dame cathedral from the ground level. I did, though, climb to the second platform of the Eiffel Tower (the stairs don't go all the way to the top) and to the dome of the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur. The latter doesn't have as many steps as the Eiffel Tower, but they more than made up for it by putting it at the top of a giant hill, then putting the Métro station at the foot of the hill, then burying the train platform itself deep beneath the Earth's crust at the bottom of a long spiral staircase. Sure, there's an elevator in the station, but that would be cheating. By Friday night, after I had also traversed a number of the many, many staircases in the Louvre, my legs were informing me that they were not going to climb any more steps, and I was to pick an altitude and stick with it.
  • Art: An anonymous American tourist I overheard in the Louvre expressed it more poetically than I ever could when he said, "These are some awesome-ass pictures, man!" There are too many masterpieces to properly appreciate without weeks to spend in the museum, and so I just wandered the halls slack-jawed with amazement, trying to take in as much as I could before the guards threw me out at closing time. I went to the Louvre on Friday, when it stays open until 9:30 at night, and the evening was a great time to be there: it's very quiet and peaceful and not at all crowded. I also wanted to see some modern art, but the Palais de Tokyo (which houses the modern and contemporary exhibits) was under renovation: only three rooms were open on the modern side (but admission was free) and only one room on the contemporary side. The former did have some great Picassos on view, and the latter earned its 3€ admission with a fascinating installation called The Tragedy of the Commons, basically a gigantic ant farm with various food and scent stimuli supplied to the ants to direct their trails.
  • Food and drink: Excellent of course, with one exception: the andouillette. On the one hand, it's just a sausage; on the other hand, it's made entirely of coarsely ground tripe, and no amount of delicious mustard sauce is sufficient to hide this fact. I did however eat many tasty pork dishes that weren't derived from the gastrointestinal tract, and never needed to resort to that other French delicacy, the Royale with Cheese.
  • Traveling solo: I picked Paris for my vacation because I expected it to be a good place to visit on my own; this worked out in practice as well as in theory. Some people did ask me if this was a romantic trip, but that's certainly not the only aspect of the city. Exploring the museums in solitude allows the visitor to set his own pace and focus on his particular interests. And the cafés of Saint-Germain-des-Prés are ideal for taking a table for one and watching the passers-by. Since I was traveling by myself, without a backpack or giant camera, I apparently looked like a local: the hawkers of souvenirs left me alone, but attractive Parisian women would ask me in French for directions. Of course, those women moved on quickly once I revealed my true nature as a tourist, but the disguise was nice while it lasted.
  • Photos: Photoset on Flickr
Permalink | Tags: Travel

September 5, 2011

World of Wordcraft

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:23 PM

In a week I'm headed to Paris for a sightseeing trip. When I originally planned the trip, I didn't know any French beyond what I have picked up in pop culture, which consists of:

  1. Fetchez la vache!
  2. Garçon means "boy".
  3. You're a good guy, mon frère. That means "brother" in French. I don't know why I know that. I took four years of Spanish!
So, it's clear that I'll be relying on the ubiquity of English to get around. Nevertheless, it occurred to me that it might be fun to learn a bit of French before I go, so a few weeks ago I got a Rosetta Stone subscription and started working my way through the basic levels.

Something I don't have a good sense for is just how much study of a language is required before it starts being useful. On the one hand, if I know nothing (as is the case here), learning just a few words has almost no value because almost all sentences I encounter will still be unintelligible. And on the other end of the spectrum, if I'd been studying French for years, there'd be diminishing returns where learning a little extra on the margin wouldn't affect the quality of my experience any. So the utility as a function of time spent studying must have an S-shape where it starts out nearly flat, takes off at some point, and ultimately levels off again. The important question for this project is how long it takes to get to that first knee in the curve: the point at which I start to understand some of what I hear in the new language. I don't really know the answer to that, so this is something of an experiment.

It's interesting to see that Rosetta Stone is basically a video game: the user proceeds through a series of levels, each of which is further subdivided down to the level of individual screens, and on each screen the user needs to click in the right places (or speak the correct sentence) to advance to the next one. At the end of each section the user gets a percentage score based on how many errors they made. You could call it "Language Hero". At the end of each level there's a speaking test called a "milestone" which is basically a boss battle. There are even achievements! (The program calls them "stamps".) It's a direct application of the Reality is Broken thesis to language learning. (I haven't actually read that book, so hopefully I'm not misstating it here.)

The only problem is that language learning takes a lot longer than mastering most video games, so that I feel as if I'm playing some game that requires a lot of grinding for each minor advancement. On top of that, it's an inherently social game in which I'll get much more out of it if I seek out partners to practice with. Fortunately, I can meet such people through the online component of the course, for which I pay a periodic subscription fee. Wait a minute, all this sounds strangely familiar: Rosetta Stone isn't just a video game, it's a MMORPG! And I thought I swore off that whole genre years ago...

April 14, 2008

New York photos

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:32 PM

While waiting for approval of my apartment application on Thursday, I took a walk around Manhattan (mostly downtown) and crossed the Brooklyn Bridge on foot. I've posted a few photos on Flickr, in my New York City photoset (which also has some recently-uploaded pictures from a trip I took in August 2006).

My route included the length of Wall Street; as the famous line says, it runs from a graveyard to a river:

wall street and broadwayeast river

I'm considering starting another photography project after I move, similar to Project 365 but with a lighter update schedule (probably one per week) and with New York City as the subject; that way I can document my exploration of the city. (It also gives me a replacement for the out-of-date Project 365 sidebar section; actually the whole sidebar of this page needs some work.)

Permalink | Tags: New York City, Photos, Travel

November 26, 2007

I'm back (but not really)

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:15 AM

Just a post to keep the page alive—I'm back in Berkeley from Thanksgiving (in Vegas) and my high school reunion (in Connecticut), but now I really need to finish my thesis very soon. A couple notes from yesterday:

An easy way to get the full-service treatment from the TSA is try to get through security with an expired driver's license (even if it only expired three days ago). This also entailed filing some kind of form with my name on it so I'm probably on the watch list now. However, as I learned Thursday, flying on the day it expires is allowed. Now I have to fit in a trip to the DMV, and renewing my license now will ensure that I end up taking a job in some other state, requiring me to do it again in a few months.

I had to make two stops on my way back from Connecticut: my actual connection in Philadelphia, and an "unscheduled fuel stop" in Denver. (I myself sometimes make unscheduled fuel stops in my car, but when the airlines do it I find it somewhat worrisome.) With computer use prohibited during all the takeoffs and landings I had lots of time when I was forced to do something other than work on my thesis, and I took the opportunity to finally read Philip K. Dick's classic novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (which as you probably all know was the inspiration for Blade Runner). I liked it, and while it was a short novel with a light prose style, it was extremely rich and coherent thematically. The book is concerned with the nature of the distinction between "real" and "artificial", and addresses this from many directions at once, with almost every principal element of the plot and the setting illuminating a different aspect. I'm inclined to write a full review, but I don't have time so I'll stop here and get back to work.

Permalink | Tags: Books, Travel

April 30, 2007

Been through the desert on a camera with no screen

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 9:35 PM

I'm back from Coachella, where the weather was hot and the music was awesome. I'll post a full rundown later. In the meantime, the Project 365 photoset has been brought up to date with the last five days of photos. I have a few more Coachella photos to post later as well. (I took many more but the broken screen on my camera was particularly troublesome, and most didn't come out.)

I've been completely away from internet and sources of news for five days; did I miss anything?

Permalink | Tags: Coachella, Travel

March 5, 2007

March Meeting report: it's on fire!

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 9:12 PM

As some of you know, I am in Denver for the APS March Meeting. I haven't been liveblogging since I couldn't get on the network at the convention center (it doesn't seem to have the capacity for N thousand physicists with laptops) but I may post a few updates.

Meanwhile, someone has pulled the fire alarm in the hotel. The fire alarm takes the form of a recording that says:

May we have your attention please. This is the building management. An alarm has been activated. The fire department has been notified and is responding. For your safety, the elevators will not operate until the alarm is investigated. Please stand by for further instructions.

...over and over again, with no delay between loops. I might evacuate just out of annoyance.

Permalink | Tags: Travel

January 23, 2007

How's their frequent-flyer program?

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:55 PM

AirTran is my new favorite airline.

Toddler's temper ousts family from plane

ORLANDO, Fla. - AirTran Airways on Tuesday defended its decision to remove a Massachusetts couple from a flight after their crying 3-year-old daughter refused to take her seat before takeoff.

AirTran officials said they followed Federal Aviation Administration rules that children age 2 and above must have their own seat and be wearing a seat belt upon takeoff.

"The flight was already delayed 15 minutes and in fairness to the other 112 passengers on the plane, the crew made an operational decision to remove the family," AirTran spokeswoman Judy Graham-Weaver said.

(Via Steinn.) AirTran should publicize this, there is a market for airlines that have low tolerance for obnoxious kids. Bonus reason to fly AirTran: "The father said his family would never fly AirTran again."

Permalink | Tags: Travel

December 29, 2006

Back east

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:19 AM

Ok, so I took an unannounced blogging vacation. I'm now in Connecticut. A couple travel notes:

I shared an airport shuttle with a guy in an MIT baseball cap. He gave directions to the driver in the form "if the light is red, it's faster to go right; if it's green, it's faster to go left". The driver apparently didn't have gambits turned on, so this had to be abbreviated to "go right".

At a Starbucks in Ridgefield, CT I saw a disturbing piece of corporate art: a reproduction of Edward Hopper's painting Nighthawks in which the diner had been turned into a Starbucks (and the patrons were noticeably less depressed). I wish I had taken a picture of this since I can't seem to find one with a Google search.

Permalink | Tags: Life, Travel

December 18, 2006

Kip Hawley is still an idiot

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:00 AM

I'm flying to Dallas tomorrow for the Newton's Birthday holiday, and right now I am packing my quart bag of three-ounce bottles of liquids and gels. This, of course, is because of TSA's ridiculous rules about carrying liquids on airplanes. Now would be a good time to recall that the supposed terrorist plot that inspired these rules was basically just made up by the British and Pakistani governments to scare people. The case against the main suspect was recently dropped due to lack of evidence. Here's an article about just how plausible the explosive mechanism is. Here's the Wikipedia page about the "plot".

If this was all bogus, why all the silly rules about three ounce bottles of liquid on planes? Maybe the government just likes to see us line up complacently for arbitrary, inconvenient, and humiliating searches in the name of security. It's not working though—I just end up being really angry by the time I'm through the checkpoint.

Tomorrow I'll post on what happens when the TSA reads your blog and flags you for the "thorough" search.

[Post title is a reference to this.]

Permalink | Tags: Travel

November 27, 2006

Lessons learned in Dallas

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:47 PM

I've returned from Thanksgiving in Dallas, where I did the typical turkey-and-family thing. It was not especially eventful, although I did learn a few things:

Readers are encouraged to share their own findings from the weekend.

Permalink | Tags: Life, Travel

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.

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

Permalink | Tags: Travel

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.

Permalink | Tags: Photos, Travel

July 31, 2006

New York City, day 1

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 9:02 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Permalink | Tags: Travel

July 26, 2006

Escape to New York

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:32 PM

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

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

Permalink | Tags: Travel

June 29, 2006

Personal Advice from the Internet

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:36 PM

I had been debating whether to fly out to Connecticut this summer to visit friends, and if I do so, whether to take some extra time to tour New York City. Fortunately the internet came to the rescue with a trio of relevant posts:

Needless to say, after reading these my decision was much easier...

Permalink | Tags: Life, Randomness, Travel

June 12, 2006

Cabo Photos

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:08 PM

A few photos from my Cabo San Lucas trip are up. Uncharacteristically for my photos, there are some people in some of these. (They would be my relatives.) The full photoset is here.

rocks (close)

Permalink | Tags: Photos, Travel

June 9, 2006

Weather Downgrade

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 9:53 PM

I have returned from Mexico, where I was so lazy as to not even open my computer the entire time, hence the lack of blogging. I went from a hot, clear day in Cabo San Lucas to a fogged-in and chilly Berkeley; often what happens is that I'll return to much better weather than I had on vacation, but not this time.

I tried to post from the Phoenix airport (which had free wi-fi) but was prevented from doing so by a problem with the network switch in my office in Berkeley. Fortunately I did get the chance to delete the 45 spam comments that had accumulated just before the site went down.

I like to take Murakami with me when I travel internationally; for Japan it was Sputnik Sweetheart and for Italy it was Kafka on the Shore. This time it was Norwegian Wood, which I finished this morning. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle remains my favorite of his novels, but Norwegian Wood is the one that most resonated with me; I saw a lot of myself in the main character and parts of me in many of the other characters, too. Anyway, I always thought people who initiate conversations with strangers on the BART are weird, but today I joined their ranks. A woman sat down next to me and opened a book. I glanced over from my own book (I had moved on to Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town by Cory Doctorow), read one line of dialogue, and recognized it as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. So I had to take off my earbuds and tell her that it was one of my Favorite Books Ever. (Her favorite Murakami novel, as it turns out, is Norwegian Wood.) Maybe some of that extraversion from the paternal side of my family rubbed off on me this week.

So, since I've been completely out of touch for five days: what did I miss?

Permalink | Tags: Books, Life, Travel

June 4, 2006

A noise in his head [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:23 AM

I'm off to Cabo San Lucas today, so here's an open thread. I'll be back Friday, but I expect to have some form of internet access at the hotel so I may check in here. My poolside reading list: Sheri S. Tepper, Grass (80% complete); Jon Burdett, Bangkok 8 (50% complete); Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood; Cory Doctorow, Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town. (I will also note that the bookstore I went to yesterday was very good at not having specific titles recommended in the summer reading thread, despite having other books by the same authors.) Double music review this week due to the absence of one last week.

Snow Patrol: Eyes Open: I was disappointed in this album on first listen—it's not as good as their previous full-length Final Straw, and doesn't have any track as good as "Run" or "Chocolate". But after hearing it a few more times I realized that it's still pretty good. Most of the songs are clean-sounding, heartfelt anthems, more in the style of "Run" than "Tiny Little Fractures". Occasionally this gets boring ("You Could Be Happy") but most of the time it works. "Set The Fire To The Third Bar" is one that worked better than most. Rating: 3.5/5

Art Brut: Bang Bang Rock & Roll: As I noted when I saw them at Coachella, this is a very funny band. Somewhere between the Hold Steady and Monty Python, the band features excellent rock instrumentation beneath lyrics half-sung and half-spoken with goofy sincerity by Eddie Argos. The opening track, "Formed a Band", declares, "Look at us! We formed a band!" and announces their intention to appear on Top of the Pops; this latter becomes something of a recurring theme. I can identify with the character in "My Little Brother" who has "just discovered rock and roll", and in "Good Weekend" the singer's glee at having a new girlfriend is infectious. ("I've seen her naked—twice!") It's tough to pick a favorite track here, but I might go with "18,000 Lira" which describes a group of inept bank robbers preparing for a heist. I'd heard the album was good when it was only available as an import, but I held off for the U.S. version which included three new tracks: among them, "Really Bad Weekend" is one of the best songs on the record. Rating: 4/5

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

May 26, 2006

Life imitates Overcompensating

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:41 PM

On the first leg of my plane trip I was seated next to a guy named Kerry Edwards. Someone alert Jeffrey Rowland that he may have a primary challenge from someone else who is trying to save money on bumper stickers.

Permalink | Tags: Phone Post, Randomness, Travel

May 23, 2006

Interlude [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:53 PM

I'm back from Pasadena, and will be in Berkeley for three whole days before making a quick trip to North Carolina (for a wedding). In the midst of trying to take useful data during this period I'll see about ensuring that this page does not completely empty out, starting with this standard open thread.

The Duke Spirit: Cuts Across The Land: The first of two Coachella-motivated CD purchases. (The second, Art Brut's Bang Bang Rock & Roll, will be reviewed here in a couple weeks.) The title track of this album, a terrific garage rock song with powerful vocals, is what got me interested in this band originally and I was hoping to find more like it on the album. The good news is that there are several: "Love Is An Unfamiliar Name", "Fades The Sun", and "Lion Rip" are highlights. This band is very good at strong, driving rock songs, but when they try to slow things down it doesn't work as well and yields the weaker tracks on the album. During the peak songs, though, this album comes close to what I was hoping for (but didn't find) with the latest Yeah Yeah Yeahs release. Rating: 3.5/5

Permalink | Tags: Music, Open Thread, Travel

May 19, 2006

Far above th' ocean, deep under th' sea

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:04 AM

As it did last year, my summer travel begins with a drive to L.A. I remember selecting CDs for the drive last year and kicking off the trip with the Bright Eyes album I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning. The thing about Bright Eyes is, one has to be in an appropriate mood to enjoy it, otherwise he just sounds whiny and self-absorbed. And indeed, my mood underwent a major shift during my travels last year, and my traveling music correspondingly shifted to Mercury Rev's The Secret Migration, especially the revelatory "Secret for a Song".

For this year's travels I've again turned to Mercury Rev. They are at their best when singing about travel and movement, and their 1998 album Deserter's Songs is full of these themes. The best track on the album is "Goddess on a Hiway", and it is terrific driving music—the first time I heard it I was driving over the Bay Bridge watching the setting sun light up the East Bay, and it was perfect. The lyrics are a bit opaque, but I suspect they are about peak oil.

Instead of a Friday random ten, here are ten CDs I am bringing with me for the drive:

Permalink | Tags: Life, Music, Travel

May 17, 2006

Caltech Reunion Coordination Thread

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:42 PM

It's Ditch Day!

The remainder of this post will primarily be of interest to the people who are going to be in Pasadena this weekend. I'm posting this thread to facilitate planning and meeting up while I'm in town. I'll be arriving around 4pm on Friday and staying through Monday afternoon; Saturday evening I'm planning to see Josh's performance in Antony and Cleopatra.

I failed to register for the "official" reunion dinner on Friday, so maybe we should make dinner plans for that night. Saturday is also open for me before the evening, unless I decide to go to the seminars.

Mohi and I were discussing making a beach trip on Sunday (weather permitting) followed by games (video or otherwise) in the evening. Is this a good plan? Post your thoughts here, and let us know if you can make it so we can keep you in the loop.

Permalink | Tags: Caltech, Travel

May 12, 2006

Summer Reading Thread

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:47 PM

It's another media thread, but at least the medium under discussion is different. As I mentioned in an earlier comment thread, I will be traveling quite a bit over the next four weeks. The first trip, to Pasadena for Caltech's alumni weekend next week, will merely involve a lot of driving, but the others will require air travel. And while the Nintendo DS remains tempting, I'm also looking for some entertainment that doesn't run on batteries and can be used during takeoff and landing. So, anyone have summer reading recommendations?

To narrow the field a bit, a few preferences (but feel free to violate any or all of them in your recommendations): recent books preferred to older ones, paperback preferred to hardcover, fiction preferred to non-fiction. (Not that I have anything against non-fiction in general, but I'm not usually inclined to read about Middle East foreign policy when I'm sitting on the beach.) Sci-fi and fantasy are the genres I usually read, but other genres or non-genre fiction are ok too.

Since I should provide some recommendations of my own: the best book I've read so far this year has been Spin by Robert Charles Wilson, and my favorite book from last year was Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami (which I read during last summer's travels).

Permalink | Tags: Books, Travel

April 28, 2006

Friday Non-random 18

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:46 AM

In conjunction with my weekend plans, and the long drive required to get there, I have made a mix CD using bands that will be appearing at Coachella. I prioritized recent music since this is most likely to be played; as a result none of the songs here are older than 2004. I also tried to avoid songs that have appeared on some previous mix CDs. A couple tracks are unrepresentative: Devendra Banhart sings in English most of the time, and TV on the Radio normally use instruments. A few of these have been posted here with recent music reviews. Here's the tracklist:

High Noon Sun (Coachella 2006)

  1. The Go! Team, "Junior Kickstart"
  2. Sleater-Kinney, "Wilderness"
  3. My Morning Jacket, "Off The Record"
  4. Mylo, "Zenophile"
  5. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, "Cheated Hearts"
  6. Bloc Party, "Banquet"
  7. Wolf Parade, "You Are A Runner And I Am My Father's Son"
  8. Devendra Banhart, "Quedateluna"
  9. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, "In This Home On Ice"
  10. Franz Ferdinand, "L. Wells"
  11. Cat Power, "Love & Communication"
  12. Mogwai, "Glasgow Mega-Snake"
  13. Ted Leo & The Pharmacists, "Me And Mia"
  14. TV On The Radio, "Ambulance"
  15. Sigur Rós, "Gong"
  16. Dungen, "Panda"
  17. Ladytron, "Beauty*2"
  18. Animal Collective, "Turn Into Something"

Copies available on request. (Those of you who are going to Coachella with me are likely to be handed copies whether you want them or not.)

As Lemming has already noticed, Sleater-Kinney and Bloc Party are playing at the same time. Originally I was simply planning to decide between them, but then I realized that I have a quantum mechanical solution available to me. I just have to stop by the lab before I leave...

Permalink | Tags: Coachella, Concerts, Lists, Music, Travel

March 31, 2006

Warning: mutant hillbillies, next 35 miles.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:34 PM

And on a related note, I will be making a lightning trip to L.A. this weekend. I'm hoping to get there late tonight; I'll try not to stop at the Wrong Gas Station. (There are a few of those near I-5; I had to stop at one once with a nearly empty tank.) While on the road I will be unable to delete the comment spam that has been annoying me the last few days, so try to ignore it. (It's mostly on posts from a week ago anyway.)

Instead of a Friday Random Ten, here's my playlist for the road:

These are CDs that are actually in the car; I'll also have my iPod so I really have more options than just this list.

Permalink | Tags: Music, Travel

March 20, 2006

Photos from Washington, D.C.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:21 PM

washington monument and flag

I managed to upload a batch of pictures while they were still current. These are from my D.C. visit last week and are mostly from the National Mall (particularly the WWII Memorial, which I hadn't seen before). The other photos are here.

Permalink | Tags: Photos, Travel

March 15, 2006

my apocalyptic tenor has not been dispelled

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 7:09 PM

my apocalyptic tenor has not been dispelled

Originally uploaded by arcanegazebo.

I don't know if this will show up, but it's the T. Rex skeleton at the National Museum of Natural History. I spent the day in Washington DC, and possibly saw Rick Santorum. (I inadvertently walked into one of his campaign events.) Better pictures (of the city, not the senator) to follow when I'm on a connection better than my phone.

Permalink | Tags: Phone Post, Photos, Travel

March 14, 2006


Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 8:16 AM

I have been in Baltimore for a couple of days now; I would have posted earlier but my computer has chosen an inopportune time to refuse to turn on. This was distressing not just because I had several items to post to the blog, but also because I planned to use my computer for my talk this afternoon.

Fortunately my roommate had experienced a similar problem with his desktop, and had a trick for getting it started: hold down the power button while plugging it into the wall. This sounded crazy, but when I tried this (inserting the battery instead of plugging in the power cord) it booted right up.

So I should be in good shape as long as I don't shut it down again... Meanwhile, I am still under extended warranty and Dell is sending a technician to my hotel to fix the problem this week.

Permalink | Tags: Technology, Travel

March 7, 2006

Preparations [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:47 PM

The March Meeting is next week, so I'm currently getting my talk ready. I'll be in Baltimore all week, with at least one day in DC. If I have time I'll put together a post to go up concurrently with my talk explaining some of the results therein; otherwise I'll do it after I get back. The next open thread will be posted either very early or very late.

Mylo: Destroy Rock & Roll: This is fun electronic/dance music, reminiscent of Daft Punk. It's been out in Europe for quite a while now and I first heard "Drop The Pressure" (one of the better tracks) on that Snow Patrol mix CD that came out last year. (That CD actually yielded four or five new finds that I really liked.) There's a kind of iconoclastic glee in the title track, whose lyrics consist of commands to destroy various classic rock artists. But at the same time it's all in good fun. Another one I like is "Zenophile", which pulls in an acoustic guitar for a nice effect.

Permalink | Tags: Music, Open Thread, Travel

December 26, 2005

Roadtrip Photos

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:49 AM

I finally uploaded the photos from that roadtrip back in September.

grand canyon and me

Mostly it's Painted Desert and Grand Canyon shots, with some of the meteor crater. Photoset is here.

Permalink | Tags: Photos, Travel

December 7, 2005

Sing along, you know the words [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:42 PM

This is brilliant: Now That's What I Call Blogging! Some of these have been heard on occasion around here...

My body may be rebelling against my intent to make it run 26 miles this weekend. I can only assume this is why I seem to be contracting a cold at this precise moment. Anyway, I'll be traveling this weekend since the race is in Dallas. Then I go back to Berkeley for about ten days and then back to Dallas again, followed by Connecticut. Maybe I should throw in a visit to Pasadena?

Spoon: Gimme Fiction: I kept hearing "The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine" on internet radio, and liked it better each time, so I finally bought the album. Pretty straightforward and well-executed indie rock; "They Never Got You" is another excellent track. I hear their older stuff is good too, so I should look into that. (The clerk at Amoeba recommended Kill the Moonlight.)

Permalink | Tags: Internet, Music, Open Thread, Travel

November 26, 2005

Vegas Notes

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:49 PM

What happens in Vegas is supposed to stay there, but I should say a few words about what I did instead of blogging the last few days:

Cirque du Soleil: I saw "O", which is their water-oriented show done at a special theater (in the Bellagio) with a pool taking up most of the stage. Mostly the show consists of fantastically beautiful acrobatics into, out of, and above the water. They use fire nicely too. I wasn't really into the clown acts, but those at least provided a recovery period before something interesting happens again.

Blue Man Group: Another awesome show. I'm not sure how to describe it—comic performance art? You've probably seen them in Intel commercials and stuff but the real thing is about a million times better.

Food: Good. But expensive.

Gaming: I did best at video poker but felt classiest playing blackjack. I find slots pretty boring, where the only variety is found by pulling the lever instead of pushing the button. I prefer to have something to strategize on (even if the perfect strategy for the game is known, as in both of the aforementioned games).

Carpets of Death: The carpet at the Venetian could have powered the slot machines from the electrons it was stripping off my feet. I found myself bracing for the shock every time I touched a machine, which provided a deterrent from spending much money there (although that's where I happened to win the most). The carpets at the Bellagio did a bit of this but much less than at the Venetian.

Overall, a good use of my Thanksgiving break.

Permalink | Tags: Games, Life, Travel

November 21, 2005

Demon monks. Shoulda gone to Vegas. [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 9:02 PM

Tomorrow I am leaving for my Thanksgiving vacation—but I will be dodging the traditional extended-family-and-turkey version in favor of losing money at blackjack. Yes! I'm headed out to a spiritual retreat in Las Vegas. Blogging may or may not occur, so here's another open thread in case I get distracted by the lights.

Recommendations for what to do/see are welcome!

Permalink | Tags: Open Thread, Travel

September 25, 2005

I Have Returned

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:47 PM

Arrived in Oakland this morning, after which I ate lunch, took a nap, and then went running. It turns out that running 14 miles, after spending a week (mostly) sitting in a car and eating fast food, is a difficult and painful experience. I did discover that Tilden Park actually has a lot of rabbits but they only come out around sunset. Unfortunately, that's also when swarms of gnats congest the airspace above the trail.

This week I'll attempt to resume regular blogging. I also have a ton of pictures, mostly taken from cliffs in Arizona, to sort through and post.

Permalink | Tags: Berkeley, Life, Travel

September 22, 2005

meteor crater

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:12 PM

meteor crater

Originally uploaded by arcanegazebo.

Another big hole in the ground...

Permalink | Tags: Phone Post, Photos, Travel

September 21, 2005

grand canyon

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:12 PM

grand canyon

Originally uploaded by arcanegazebo.

We drove a long way to see a big hole in the ground...

Permalink | Tags: Phone Post, Photos, Travel

September 20, 2005

painted desert

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:07 PM

painted desert

Originally uploaded by arcanegazebo.

We are in the Petrified Forest National Park, overlooking Arizona's Painted Desert, taking pictures every few steps...

Permalink | Tags: Phone Post, Photos, Travel

September 19, 2005

Talk Like a Pirate Day [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 8:16 AM

Be talkin' amongst yerselves, me hearties. We be raisin' anchor fer our voyage, yo ho!

leaving on tlapd

Permalink | Tags: Open Thread, Photos, Pirates, Travel

September 18, 2005

Welcome to Dallas

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:23 PM

I am in Dallas! Here's a picture of... a parking lot.


Note the billboard advertising the "305 HP Texas Titan". There's also a church steeple in the background.

Anyway, I figured there should be a photo of the starting city. Hopefully we'll see something more scenic along the way.

Permalink | Tags: Photos, Travel

September 12, 2005

Voyage Westward [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:25 PM

Open thread on Monday? Madness!

Next week my brother and I are driving from Dallas to Los Angeles, where he will be taking up residence. (The westward migration of my social network continues!) We leave on Talk Like A Pirate Day, no doubt with many an "Arr!" and "Avast!" to confuse the gas station attendants in roadside Texas towns. I intend to photoblog the interesting sun belt attractions (if any).

Hopefully the power will be back on by the time we get to L.A.

Get Him Eat Him: Geography Cones: Somehow I feel guilty about listening to music by an indie band whose frontman is a writer for Pitchfork, as if this is a fatal indulgence in hipsterism that will condemn me to a special level of hell reserved for pretentious music geeks. On the other hand, Get Him Eat Him is a great name for a rock band, bringing to my mind an image of some ravenous, ferocious animal being sicced on someone. Which is more or less what this band sounds like at its best, when the frantic guitars sound like they're racing each other to some meaty prize. The lyrics occasionally veer into the kind of showy obscurity that make a fraction of Pitchfork's reviews unreadable, but also have moments of brilliance. ("You're so pretty you could destroy the city" somehow seems right even though, thinking about it, it doesn't really make any sense. I guess Helen of Troy was so pretty that she did indeed destroy the city, maybe there's a Homeric interpretation to that song.) My favorite track is probably "Not Not Nervous" unless it's "Mumble Mumble", there's lots of good stuff here.

Permalink | Tags: Music, Open Thread, Pirates, Travel