Monthly Archives: March 2005

Einstein Model [Open Thread]

Happy Pi Day, and happy 126th birthday to Albert Einstein.
2005 is the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s “miracle year”; therefore, during that year Einstein was as old as I am now. There’s a humbling thought.
Cass McCombs: Prefection: The first time I listened to this I was driving on the 880 with the windows down, so I mainly heard the percussion and (barely) the vocals (and the occasional organ), which made it sound more hard-rock than it actually is. Later on headphones I realized that there were lots of broadband* elements that I didn’t appreciate before. It’s interestingly textured. Inexplicably, after the last track plays there’s a recording of a car alarm with sounds of traffic in the background. I kept listening to see if anything would happen… for seven minutes. After which the alarm fades out to a radio announcer saying, “Up next, a new treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder.” Yeah, very funny. For your listening pleasure, here’s “Subtraction”.
*This is the danger of allowing physicists to write about music.

Summer Movie Train Wreck

It’s bad form to keep linking to the same blogger, but I don’t have enough time to read a lot of different people these days. It’s Kevin Drum again, this time worried about the summer movies. My guesses:
Of course Star Wars Episode 3 is going to suck. But at this point they’re good for unintentional humor, so I’ll go see it for that purpose.
But Batman Begins actually looks pretty good. I give it an 80% chance of being decent. I’ll see this unless I hear it’s terrible.
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will almost certainly suck. Given how often Hollywood screws up adaptations, and how difficult this particular source will be to adapt properly, I give them a 5% chance of actually pulling it off. If I hear lots of good reviews I’ll go see it; otherwise I’ll pretend it doesn’t exist.
Any others that should be on my radar?

I should have published that.

Kevin Drum points to an interesting economics study showing that most of the wealth in the US follows a Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution (I’m assuming—they just say “the same distribution as the energies of the atoms in a gas”). Only the top 3% follows a more traditional (?) Pareto law. I mention this because it’s interesting, but also because I used the Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution to model income for a class my freshman year. I only picked it because it was convenient for what I was modeling, and used some hand-waving justification that I didn’t really believe. But it turns out I really was justified! Clearly I’m in the wrong field.
(In his intro to the post, Kevin Drum references one of David Goodstein’s horrible physics puns, proving that Drum did indeed attend Caltech.)

Templeton Prize

Berkeley physicist Charles Townes (inventor of the laser, Nobel Laureate, Caltech alum) has won the Templeton Prize, “which honors and encourages those who advance knowledge in spiritual matters”.
PZ Myers is not impressed.
Interesting things I just learned about the Templeton Prize: (from the UC Berkeley press release)

In creating the prize, Templeton stipulated that it always be worth more monetarily than the Nobel Prizes to underscore his belief that research and advances in spiritual discoveries can be quantifiably more significant than those recognized by the Nobels.

I can’t decide what’s funnier: that he felt the need to establish the superiority of his prize over the Nobels, or that he used a big pile of money to do so. After all, the world’s great religions agree that nothing is more spiritually powerful than wealth…

Blogroll Ratio Adjustment

There was this discussion a few weeks back among blogs I read regarding how relatively few prominent bloggers are women, and how bloggers seem to link to women less frequently than to men. This made me realize that there are relatively few female bloggers on my own blogroll, so I’m now correcting this somewhat. The embarrassing thing is that I’ve been reading these women for a while, but haven’t linked to them:

If you know any other essential women bloggers I should be linking to, speak up in the comments…

Good except for the baby [Open Thread]

I may not be making time to read or see movies this month, but there’s always time to listen to music.
Bright Eyes: Digital Ash in a Digital Urn: I was a bit skeptical of Bright Eyes but picked up this album anyway—it sounded more interesting than the simultaneously-released I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning. I felt sort of neutral about the album at first, but it’s grown on me. The title makes it sound like a meditation on death but it seems to me that time and the passage thereof is a stronger theme. I’d like to say something about the musical style, but I don’t really know how to describe it. Maybe I should just direct you to the tracks posted at Saddle Creek, one of which I’m also posting here: “Take It Easy (Love Nothing)”. The only annoying moment on this album is when he includes a crying baby in the middle of “Ship in a Bottle”. I’m sure there’s some deep artistic excuse for this but it can’t possibly be strong enough to justify it.

Continuous and discrete tax codes.

I share Matt’s bafflement at the argument that a flat tax code is significantly simpler than a progressive one. In fact back in my Plastic days I commented on this topic. I’ve always liked the idea of using very small-width or even infinitesimal tax brackets, because as a physicist I find discontinuous jumps unsettling. I have this utopian vision of some economist working out a model for an optimal tax code that could then be perfectly implemented with a continuous differential marginal tax rate. Unfortunately, what would actually happen is that you’d give Congress an infinite number of parameters to adjust, so you’d soon have all kinds of horrible delta functions littering the tax rate, and Senate debates over the value of the 8th Taylor coefficient, so we’re probably better off with relatively wide tax brackets.