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Uncertain Principles

Physics, Politics, Pop Culture

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Called Out

Since Dave Munger called me out by name, I can't very well continue to resist commenting on the music "meme" that's been making the rounds of LiveJournal and various blogs. I'm a sucker for this sort of thing, anyway.

Total volume of music files: iTunes has it at 6714 songs, 18.2 days, 34.38 GB. I haven't yet hit the point where I have to edit down which songs are on my 40 GB iPod, but the day is coming.

Last CD bought: I'm not sure I could name the last physical CD I purchased, but I went on an iTunes binge last weekend, picking up albums by the Mountain Goats, the Libertines, the Eels, Stereophonics, Rilo Kiley, Weezer, Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, Nic Armstrong and the Thieves, and the Fruit Bats, plus a handful of assorted singles.

Song playing at the moment of writing: I type slowly, so while it's "You or Your Memory" by the Mountain Goats right now, it was "All I'm Thinkin' About" by Bruce Springsteen," and will shortly be "I Can't Do This by Myself" by By Divine Right. And a half-dozen other things before I finish, ending with "Dinu Lipatti's Bones" by the Mountain Goats.

Five particularly meaningful songs: (I'm picking this version because I did songs I'm currently listening to not long ago, and "all-time favorites" is too hard to cut down to five. These aren't in any particular order.)

Pink Floyd, "Wish You Were Here." I was a big Floyd fan in high school, and this was my favorite song of theirs. Heretic that I am, I tend to prefer the live version off Delicate Sound of Thunder to the original album cut, because David Gilmour has a better voice than Roger Waters, and also because that's what I heard first.

Afghan Whigs... There's got to be a Whigs song on here, as they were the Best Band in the World for several years. I'll go with "Bulletproof" off Black Love for this one. It's an uneven album, but this might be the best angry pathetic dumped guy song ever ("Every time I dream about you baby, your hands all over me, I never forget anything, don't forget that I'm asleep"), says the guy who was angry, pathetic, and dumped at around the time it came out.

Old 97's, "Big Brown Eyes." My first year teaching, Too Far to Care was one of a very few discs that would play on the tempermental boom box I kept in my office, so I listened to that record a lot. This is probably my favorite track off that album.

The Miracles, "Tracks of my Tears." I remember drunkenly singing this on a porch in North Carolina at the end of my senior year in college, and despite the violence we did to it, it's still a great song. I'm not sure it was appreciated by the people trying to sleep inside, but they were philistines, anyway.

The Beatles, either "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," or "Octopus's Garden." Not because they're really stand-out entries in the Beatles catalog, but because some of my earliest memories are of dancing around the living room of my parents' apartment to those two songs. (I realize this is going to make a few readers who can remember buying the album with their own money feel really old, but the Beatles broke up before I was born.)

I'm not going to call anyone else out on this because all the people I'd pick have either done it already, or don't have blogs. But you know where to leave the comments.

Posted at 8:08 AM | link | follow-ups | 2 comments

Friday, May 27, 2005

Heal Thyself

Despite not teaching this term, I seem to be falling into the same basic rut as last year, where I'm getting cranky about everything. Maybe it's the weather.

Anyway, I was complaining last night about the Internet's failure to amuse me (Kate is way too tolerant of this sort of thing), which is kind of dumb, given that I'm not doing anything to alleviate the boredom, either. I have been awfully busy thanks to brilliant decision-making ("I need to reclaim some optical table space, and if I just move this bit over here..." I spent most of yesterday not quite getting back to where I started, only with more free space), but I've also had time to bitch to Kate about how tedious the Internet is at the moment, so I guess I ought to be posting something... I'm still sort of fried, though, so you're just getting a geeky links dump. How tedious.

Via a chain of fellow geeks (Michael Nielsen and Dave Bacon), I learned that quantum information guru Ben Schumacher has claimed a great geek-blog name. He also has a nice post describing what happens when mathematically inclined people write books that get sold on Amazon.

Ben, in turn, points out another great geek-blog name, this one claimed by Donald Crankshaw, who provides a nifty picture from MIT. Of course, he also has a whole category of posts on Christianity, and a long list of evangelical blogs, so somebody should make sure he and PZ Myers never come into direct contact, just in case.

Finally, if you've ever found yourself thinking "Gee, I wonder where I could go to get the latest unsourced academic physics gossip?", well, wonder no more. (Indirectly via a Peter Woit post, touching on a subject I plan to rant about when I get a chance to catch my breath.)

OK, it's not exactly scintillating, but at least it's something.

Posted at 7:30 AM | link | follow-ups | 3 comments

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Baby We're the Same

Through some sort of weird coincidence, my schedule for today is packed full of food-related events: we're taking our senior majors out for lunch, then there's a farewell party for one of the guys I play basketball with, who's leaving to take a position at some obscure school in Cambridge, then there's the Sigma Xi induction banquet. We're all about free food here at Chateau Steelypips, but it'd be nice if it were spaced out a little better.

In the world where I have job security and infinite time (you know, tenure), I plan to do a blog post highlighting the most interesting talks at DAMOP, with links to the abstracts, and the relevant research groups, and so on. In this universe, well, I need to order a bunch of stuff for the summer projects I'll have going on, and I've got a ton of lab work to do, so that will have to wait a little while.

Lacking time to chase links, I still want to comment on a few aspects of the meeting, mostly on the social side of things. For one thing, I had at least four people mention to me that they read this blog from time to time, one of whom I'd never met before. Even though I know I get readers (the silly dog video was downloaded 70 times!), it's always weird to actually meet them.

The really interesting social thing at the meeting, though, was exemplified by the last two dinners I had. On Thursday night, I went out after the poster session with a sort of impromptu young faculty crowd-- a bunch of people who were grad students in other groups at the same time I was, who are now mostly in tenure-line jobs at major universities. It was a lot of fun-- good Indian food and really interesting conversation (provided you're interested in atomic physics, student research, or academic committee work, at least).

Parts of the conversation really drove home what a different world I'm in from the typical research university. These people run research groups with multiple grad students, post-docs, and annual budgets greater than my total funding integrated over the last four year plus the next three of the NSF grant. They think big (which is why they've got those jobs), and they've got the resources to work on some really fascinating problems.

Of course, I'm operating with small numbers of undergraduate students, a budget of whatever I can scrape together, and I'm finally getting close to getting some results on a fairly small question. It's enough to make a guy start to feel inadequate.

But then there was Friday's conference banquet, at which I wound up talking to a bunch of other small-college people, which made me feel a whole lot better, because we've all got the same issues to deal with. When they talked about the problems of building a lab with undergraduates only, and getting research done with a heavy teaching load, and explaining the slow pace of physics research to the people from other departments who staff tenure committees, well, they said all the same things we do in our department meetings. Even the guys from small colleges with much better resources than we've got talked about the same problems.

(If anything, what I'm trying to do is probably more ambitious, apparatus-wise, than what most of my small-college colleagues are doing (though some of them are getting into the BEC game, which is bigger physics than I'm doing). One of my colleagues here has been telling me that for years, but I'm only just starting to believe him...)

Late Friday night, well into the open bar period after the keynote speaker got everyone all riled up, somebody suggested that we ought to start a small-college group within DAMOP, or maybe just have a pizza-and-beer reception along the lines of the Precision Measurements Pizza thing (only, you know, not feeding the entire meeting). There's probably something to the idea, given the large set of common concerns that we have that don't fit in the context of the larger meeting.

Of course, much as I like free food, I don't have time to organize it...

Posted at 8:05 AM | link | follow-ups | 2 comments

Monday, May 23, 2005

The Perils of DVD Extras

DAMOP was very good, but also very tiring. Selected highlights may follow later, or they may not.

In an effort to sort of ease back into what's going to be a hectic week, we spent much of yesterday loafing, and watched the last two episodes of Firefly last night (with a little bit of the Fox broadcast of Attack of the Clones sandwiched in between). They were both very good-- "Objects in Space" was a bit better than "Heart of Gold," mostly because the bounty hunter guy was interestingly creepy.

Had we just called it a night then, everything would've been great. There was some laundry still in the dryer, though, so Kate suggested that we watch the "making of" documentary included on the last disc of the set. Big mistake.

I agreed to watch it because I wasn't really all that sleepy yet, and also because I generally like "making of" sorts of things. The doumentaries on the Lord of the Rings special edition DVDs are absolutely fascinating. Sadly, the Firefly version contains very little actual "making of" information, and very little in the way of funny anecdotes about filming. It mostly consists of people talking about how brilliant Joss Whedon is, in a manner that's just about perfectly calibrated to drive me up the wall.

Now, I liked the show. It's got a great look to it, and the stories are way better than average for SF on tv. I'm just not prepared to buy it as a transcendant work of genius, and talking about how absolutely wonderful it is in every respect just makes me want to start picking at the holes in it. And there are holes aplenty, starting with the fact that nobody involved seems to know or care what scale the setting is on ("planet" and "moon" are used almost interchangably, and both "galaxy" and "system" are used at various points to describe the collection of planet/moons). And if everybody knows Chinese in the future, why don't they use it for anything other than cursing?

The manner in which they praise the show perversely makes me think less of it (for those who share my Usenet background, it's sort of like listening to Graydon Saunders talk about Bujold), and the fact that the people doing the over-praising are the people who made the show in the first place just makes it that much more annoying. And then I get annoyed that I've allowed myself to become irritated by the mutual back-slapping to the point of picking apart something I enjoyed, and there's a runaway positive feedback loop.

Look, it was a good show. They did a great job giving the future a lived-in look (though the concept isn't original to them-- two words: "Ridley" and "Scott"), and the snappy dialogue is terrific. It's probably the best SF show ever on tv-- certainly the best I've seen.

But "best sf show on tv" is not that high a bar to clear, and in the end, it's still a tv show. It suffers from all the normal constraints of the medium, starting with the too-consistently-snappy dialogue, and ending with the usual idiocies required by the combination of a serial format, a limited cast, and weekly gun battles.

I also have absolutely no trouble understanding why Fox ditched it. I can't really see a casual viewer following all of what's going on in a typical episode, and the central "Western-in-space" conceit is just a little too cute to really go over well. At the first transition from spaceships to horses, some large fraction of the viewing public is likely to say "This is stupid" and change the channel-- they nearly lost me, to be honest (and another pass through the extras probably would lose me). Much as it pains me to make anything within shouting distance of a "fans are slans" argument, this is a show that only a certain SF-fan type of person will really appreciate.

In the end, it was a very good show, and I'm looking forward to seeing what they do with it as a movie. I'm happy I borrowed the DVDs and got a chance to watch the original episodes. But watching the "making of" documentary was an absolute disaster.

Posted at 7:25 AM | link | follow-ups | 11 comments

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