Monthly Archives: February 2006

Fasting and Religious Markets

The Catholicism Cafeteria is getting so popular that even Protestants are dining there. Or not dining, rather: as this Slate piece explains, some Protestant churches are taking up fasting for Lent and other traditionally Catholic rituals of the season.

Over the last few years, more Protestant churches have begun daubing ashes on the foreheads of the faithful on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent in Western Christianity (March 1 this year). Fasting, long familiar to Catholics as a Lenten fact of life, is increasingly popular with evangelical Christians striving for spiritual awakening. A few mainline Protestant churches even conduct foot-washing services on Maundy Thursday—the traditional commemoration of Jesus’ washing the feet of his disciples—that takes place on the Thursday before Easter.

It seems sort of silly at first glance—wasn’t the whole point of the Reformation to get rid of all the arbitrary rules and rituals?—but thinking about it, it makes some sense. Most major religions have an element of asceticism, clearly people find it spiritually appealing, so it’s not surprising that fasting would cross denominational lines. Fasting for Lent has the advantage of being a particularly temporary and limited form of asceticism, so it’s not too much of a sacrifice to adopt.
More interesting was the statistic that one-third of believers change churches at least once in their lifetimes. This number is almost certainly much higher than it once was, as historically people have tended to remain in the sect they were born into. One might expect churches to become more market-driven under these circumstances, and then mixing and matching of rituals like this is a natural consequence. (I suspect one can also attribute the rise of megachurches to the increasing importance of market forces in religion, sort of a Wal-Martization of churches. Or is the Catholic Church the Wal-Mart of churches?)
One more thing—John Calvin deserves some kind of unintentional irony award for this:

In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin criticized Lent as a “superstitious observance.”

Right. As opposed to the empirical science that is Calvinism.

The Power Is On

For a while now inverse’s uptime has been limited by the time between power outages in Birge Hall. Until this morning it had almost been a year. Apparently it was the wind and rain that knocked it out, although this says more about the instability of the power here than it does about the severity of the storm. (I’m sure you’ve all seen the e-mail forward that purports to show storm damage in California, and displays a photo of an overturned plastic deck chair. That’s about right for yesterday’s weather.)
At some point before I graduate I need to move this site out of Birge Hall and to a more permanent host, but I’m only just starting to think about how I will do this. I may continue to maintain my own MT installation (or switch to WordPress), or just move to something like Typepad. I’ll probably put off this move a while longer, though.

A different take on quantum cuteness [Open Thread]

First, a follow-up link to the quantum interrogation post: Sean at Cosmic Variance explains the experiment in layman’s terms. I’m guessing he wrote this post immediately after reading Cute Overload.
Anyway, it’s now time to review the album I’ve been playing incessantly the last three weeks. No, not Loveless, the other one.
Belle & Sebastian: The Life Pursuit: I am hardly an unbiased source on this band, so when I say that the album is awesome you will probably not be surprised. At least I can say how it stands in relation to the other B&S records, which is what I spent the first ten or so plays trying to figure out. In general it has a somewhat different sound from their previous work. There’s still the sunny mood that ran through most of Dear Catastrophe Waitress (in fact the word “sun” appears in two of the song titles), but without the orchestral feel that characterized the earlier LP’s production. From a production perspective, it sounds fairly novel for this band. I’m not sure how I would descibe this new sound, but it’s quite appealing and a good match for the themes of the album.
It feels very cohesive compared to Waitress (in which they seemed to be experimenting with various styles on the different tracks)—these songs flow into each other very smoothly, and when “Act of the Apostle II” picks up the theme from its predecessor halfway through, it feels completely natural despite the fact that the first “Act of the Apostle” played ten tracks earlier. This is not to say that there’s no variety; “Dress Up In You”, which sounds like an old-school B&S song, is sandwiched between “The Blues Are Still Blue” and “Sukie In The Graveyard”, both of which are far peppier than is typical for this band.
On just about every Belle & Sebastian CD I’ve bought, there’s been one song that I’ve fallen in love with and played to excess. Joining “Your Cover’s Blown”, “If She Wants Me”, “String Bean Jean”, and “Like Dylan in the Movies” is “The Blues Are Still Blue” from this record. I’m not sure what it is about this particular song (maybe the cowbell) but I can’t get enough of it. Other highlights are “Funny Little Frog”, “Another Sunny Day”, and “Sukie in the Graveyard”.
The iTunes version of this album offers two bonus tracks, neither of which is particularly essential. “Meat and Potatoes” sounds as if it was written for the Dr. Demento show, and “I Took A Long Hard Look” is forgettable. (Apparently these are also on the “Funny Little Frog” single.) Anyway, this only applies if you bought the CD but were considering getting the extra tracks; spend your $0.99 on “Your Cover’s Blown” (from the Books EP) instead.

Encountered in Berkeley

Sort of like Overheard In New York, but with more sun and audience participation.
Scene: Saturday afternoon. I am walking on campus, on the path that runs along the south side of Strawberry Creek, near Haas Pavilion. I am accosted by a guy walking the other direction, who is not obviously a hobo.
Guy: Hey, do you know where I can find [unintelligible]?
AG: I’m sorry?
Guy: A gas station.
AG: There’s one on Oxford, by—
Guy: Which way?
AG: [gesturing] Over there, down the—
Guy: [indicating my shirt, which is partly obscured by my jacket] Does that say “Mardi Gras”?
AG: No, it—
Guy: Oh, “marathon”.
AG: Y—
Guy: Wanna go smoke a bowl?
AG: No—
Guy: Oh, you don’t smoke weed?
AG: No—
Guy: Mushrooms?
AG: No.
Guy: Can I borrow a couple of dollars?
AG: Sorry. The gas station’s that way.
Weird encounters are pretty common in this city, but this one was notable for combining nearly every weird aspect of Berkeley into a single (one-sided) conversation. I don’t know which of the proposed chemicals he had consumed already, but something was clearly affecting his attention span.

Counterfactual computation

I’ve been neglecting the blog the last few days, in favor of things like data analysis. Although I might have preferred to be doing things like Half-Life 2 instead, the data came out very well, and you will certainly see it if you attend my March Meeting talk.
In other quantum computing news, a group at UIUC has performed a very interesting experiment in which they combined quantum computing and quantum interrogation to get the result of a quantum algorithm without actually running it. (Via all over the place.) So at least one person will have a March Meeting talk that’s much cooler than mine—for us “counterfactual computation” is when our qubits don’t work—but in the spirit of quantum oneupsmanship I will note that my qubits are (allegedly) scalable.
UPDATE: John Holbo speculates about technological advances that may follow from this.

Reissue

I’ve now gotten around to burning new copies of Year of the Phoenix, the mix CD I made with my favorite songs of 2005. I’m sending them to some friends I meant to see around New Year’s but didn’t manage to, and in the process I’m correcting the problems that plagued track 12 in every previous copy, and other tracks in certain batches. So if you got one of the old copies but want a fresh one that plays properly all the way through, let me know. Or if you didn’t get a copy but would like one. The “2006 Rebirth Edition” of Year of the Phoenix is not only remastered but includes a bonus track, “Calendar Girl” by Stars.
Seems I’m taking on several overdue projects this weekend…

Chasers [Open Thread]

When I got home Friday evening, I reflected on the fact that my weekend would be, apart from going running and a few stops in lab, completely empty of any scheduled activities. In the past seven days I had gone to three concerts, a D&D game, a ballroom dance class, and had had several late nights, in lab and otherwise, so naturally I was pretty exhausted. I felt like spending the weekend being introverted and geeky, and I realized this was a perfect opportunity to do something that’s been on my to-do list for a long time:
Half-Life 2: Yes, I finally sat down and fired up this game that’s been on my hard drive for over a year. A review is sort of superfluous at this point, as anyone who’s interested has already played it. Nevertheless, I can say that so far the game has definitely been worth my while. It starts off with a chase scene, running from the agents of an Orwellian police state first on foot and then over water on a kind of personal hovercraft. This is executed very well; in many FPS games one just plods through the early levels carefully clearing every room, but here the player is forced to choose his battles. The sense of being chased is very immersive—I had dreams last night about being chased, although the context was somewhat different—and the moments of running for cover under a hail of gunfire feel very cinematic. It’s also quite satisfying when weaponry is added to your vehicle and you can finally duel with the attack helicopter that’s been hunting you.
Following the initial chase scenes, the game switches gears into a zombie horror scenario that feels like an homage to Resident Evil. (Although Resident Evil lacked the joy of throwing around buzzsaw blades with a gravity gun.) By the end of this level I was swinging my shotgun around in paranoid twitches like Dick Cheney at a quail hunt. That’s about where I am at the moment, but I’ll post a follow-up review once I’ve completed the rest of the game.
The Plastic Constellations: Crusades: This is a bit heavier than what I normally listen to, but that’s not a bad thing. Apparently this band is currently touring with The Hold Steady, which is an appropriate match—the Constellations have more of a post-punk sound than The Hold Steady, but the intensity level is similar. While I liked their sound, I found the quality of the CD a bit uneven; some tracks are really good but others didn’t do much for me. “Ghost In The House” is one of the better ones.

Battle of the [Energy] Bands

Oops, I meant to blog this a little bit earlier, but fortunately it’s not too late: Chad Orzel is polling on the Greatest Physics Experiment from a set of eleven nominees (which have been described in some detail in earlier posts at Uncertain Principles). So go over there and vote! My endorsement is for Cavendish. (Also, I regret not nominating Onnes for the discovery of superconductivity.) Preliminary results are here.

Results of the 90’s music survey

Last month I asked for recommendations of essential 90’s albums, and received an enthusiastic and comprehensive response. I’ve collected the results of that comment thread into a wonderfully eclectic list of 115 albums, which I’ve posted below the fold.
Some commenters went beyond the scope of the original question, either more broadly (by recommending artists without a specific album) or more narrowly (by citing individual songs). I’ve put these in their own lists. Finally, there were a few albums mentioned outside of the 1990-1999 range, which are also listed separately.
And of course, late additions to these lists are also welcomed!

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Pretty Girls Make Graves, on my doorstep

As announced here earlier, Pretty Girls Make Graves played at UC Berkeley tonight. This was extremely convenient, since I could leave the lab at 8:50 and be early for the 9:00 show. I expected it to be out on Lower Sproul Plaza, but in fact it was inside: good insofar as I didn’t freeze to death, bad since the acoustics are terrible in the Bear’s Lair food court. A punk band called the Sweet Nothings opened; I was not impressed, especially not by their closer, which was a reprehensible punk cover of “Eye of the Tiger”.
Fortunately, PGMG made up for it. They played five songs from their upcoming album Elan Vital, which I am now very eagerly anticipating— all the new stuff is very good. The rest of the set was drawn from The New Romance except for their final song, “Speakers Push The Air” from Good Health. Unfortunately one of their guitarists has left the band, so we were deprived of what one critic aptly called “knife-fight guitar solos”, but new keyboardist Leona Marrs was very good, and also played the accordion on one of the new songs. Lead singer Andrea Zollo is just as awesome as she sounds on the recordings.
The first song they played was “The Nocturnal House” from Elan Vital, which can be downloaded for free at their label’s website. The other four new songs were even better than this. Intruigingly, on the last new song the bassist switched to vocals, the drummer switched to bass, and the guitarist switched to saxophone. However, their best song in the live show is also their best recording: “Something Bigger, Something Brighter” from The New Romance.
Since the Stars show last Friday, this has been quite a good week musically speaking. The setlist for tonight’s show is below the fold (to the best of my recollection, I may have the order slightly wrong).
UPDATE: Filled in the missing song titles in the setlist now that I have Élan Vital.

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