Monthly Archives: April 2007

Coachella 2007: Verdicts

(Posted first so it’s up while I work on the detailed report.)
(And here’s last year’s.)
Obviously, this only applies to the artists that I saw; I’m sure I missed a lot of good stuff.
Instruments category:
Best vocals: Win Butler (Arcade Fire)
Best guitar (electric division): Mike Stroud (Ratatat)
Best guitar (acoustic division): Rodrigo Sanchez (Rodrigo y Gabriela)
Best bass: This has to be Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers), right?
Best synth: Hot Chip
Best violin section: The Arcade Fire
Best brass section: Lily Allen
Flair category:
Best audience participation: The Decemberists
Best band name: Travis
No, seriously: !!! (“chk chk chk”)
Best costumes (general): Of Montreal
Best costumes (cetacean division): The Decemberists
Most endearing display of modesty: Thurston Moore introducing the band and the lead song as if no one had ever heard of Sonic Youth, Daydream Nation, or “Teen Age Riot”.
Most endearing display of immodesty: Carl Newman (The New Pornographers): “Bow before our new album cover!”
Best celebrity cameo: Scarlett Johansson with the Jesus and Mary Chain on “Just Like Honey”
Organization category:
Best stage: Outdoor Theater
Best day’s lineup: Saturday
Most agonizing schedule conflict: !!! vs. The Decemberists
Song category:
Best cover: Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” played by Rodrigo y Gabriela
Bands playing songs that appear in Guitar Hero:
Satellite Party covering “Stop”
The Willie Nelson Family Band covering “Texas Flood”
Rage against the Machine playing “Killing in the Name Of”
(Did RHCP play “Higher Ground”?)
Best performance of a single song: The Decemberists, “The Mariner’s Revenge Song”
Band category:
Best band I’d never even heard of: The Feeling
Best band I’d heard of but never really looked into before: Hot Chip
Best band at the festival: Arcade Fire
Best overall performance: Of Montreal

Been through the desert on a camera with no screen

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?

Humans evolved for marathoning?

Here’s an interesting theory that humans evolved for distance running:

Modern humans and their immediate ancestors such as Homo erectus sport several adaptations that make humans, instead of some ferocious, furry, or fleet creature, the animal world’s best distance runners.

Specifically, we developed long, springy tendons in our legs and feet that function like large elastics, storing energy and releasing it with each running stride, reducing the amount of energy it takes to take another step. There are also several adaptations to help keep our bodies stable as we run, such as the way we counterbalance each step with an arm swing, our large butt muscles that hold our upper bodies upright, and an elastic ligament in our neck to help keep our head steady.

Though those adaptations make humans and our immediate ancestors better runners, it is our ability to run in the heat that Lieberman said may have made the real difference in our ability to procure game.
Humans, he said, have several adaptations that help us dump the enormous amounts of heat generated by running. These adaptations include our hairlessness, our ability to sweat, and the fact that we breathe through our mouths when we run, which not only allows us to take bigger breaths, but also helps dump heat.

This ought to settle the long-standing distance running vs. sprinting debate I recall from high school track. We distance runners can just wait for a hot day and then persistence-hunt the sprinters into submission. However, as much as I like this theory, I have to question this statement from its proponent:

“Humans are terrible athletes in terms of power and speed, but we’re phenomenal at slow and steady. We’re the tortoises of the animal kingdom,” Lieberman said.

Um, surely the tortoises are the tortoises of the animal kingdom?

Could it be… SATAN?

Lots of people have come out of the woodwork this week making asinine statements about the supposed root cause of the Virginia Tech shootings, and pretty much every one of them has been incredibly stupid. Of course, some people distinguished themselves with exceptionally moronic scapegoats: video games, co-ed dorms, the teaching of evolution… but I think the winner has to be this bit from Fox News (of course):

Could Cho have been possessed by the Devil? Could that explain the massacre at Virginia Tech?
Dr. Richard Roberts, president of Oral Roberts University, shouts an unequivocal “Yes!”
“Based on what I’ve seen in the news,” Roberts said in an interview, “there’s no doubt that this act was Satanic in origin.”

Congratulations, Dr. Roberts and Fox News. This is the stupidest thing I’ve heard all week, and it’s been a long and stupid week.
On a related note, I remembered this piece from David Brin in 1999 arguing for a law that changes the names of attention-seeking criminals to something mocking:

[A]ny criminal sentenced for a truly heinous crime could be renamed as part of his punishment, with a moniker that invites disdain. New history books might state: “Robert F. Kennedy was slain in 1968 by Doofus 25 *.” The asterisk is there to let anyone find the assassin’s former name in a footnote, if they are truly interested, so no one is actually suppressing knowledge.

Cho Seung-hui seems like an excellent person to start with. (We can’t really punish a dead man, but who knows, it might help deter potential copycats.) Why not refer to him by the title of his (reportedly awful) play, “Richard McBeef”? Or if that’s not silly enough, one of the remarkably similar names from the MST3K episode Space Mutiny. Crunch Buttsteak! Roll Fizzlebeef!

Webcomics snobbery

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.

No new neutrinos

The Standard Model wins another round: the MiniBooNE experiment, searching for neutrino oscillations to confirm or disconfirm the anomalous LSND result, found no new physics. Heather Ray explains in a guest post at Cosmic Variance.
Given the author’s last name, her use of “awesome-o” in a section heading is suspicious.

Colloquium blogging: Lawrence Krauss on the future of the universe

Today’s colloquium speaker was Lawrence M. Krauss, who is somewhat well-known for doing a lot of public outreach and having written several books aimed at the general public. (One of these books was The Physics of Star Trek, which I received from three or four separate people as birthday gifts when it came out in 1995.) He’s also done political advocacy, perhaps most notably fighting “intelligent design” creationism in Ohio. Today’s colloquium was about neither Star Trek nor politics, however, but about the “dismal future” of the universe.
The talk was basically a series of extrapolations from the fact that cosmological observations show a universe that is not only expanding, but expanding at an exponentially increasing rate. The most direct consequence is that eventually everything that isn’t gravitationally bound to our galaxy cluster will be receding away at faster than the speed of light, not only inaccessible but invisible. This won’t happen for many billions of years, so it’s not of any particular concern to us personally, but will be an issue for the future of life itself. As a result of being isolated to a single cluster, the amount of energy available becomes limited: I think the estimated number was 3×1067 Joules, for what it’s worth. Consequently, the amount of information that can be processed also is limited, to on the order of 10120 bits. One of the more interesting numbers quoted was that, if one assumes that Moore’s Law will continue to hold on the rate of information processing, civilization would run through this capacity in just 400 years. (Since at the moment we are limited to the amount of energy here on Earth, I expect Moore’s Law will fail rather sooner than this, which is why I’m skeptical about Singularity talk.)
Another section of Krauss’ talk was devoted to what cosmology would look like to a far-future civilization in one of these “island universes” created by expansion. Since these future scientists would be unable to observe the universe outside the cluster, they would be unable to infer the expanding universe or the Big Bang, and would conclude that the universe was static. (They could, however, estimate the age of the universe from abundance of various elements.)
Finally, on long timescales everything disappears, as dark matter halos evaporate and galaxies dissipate.
Krauss, being a more public figure than most physicists, was a very good speaker who gave an entertaining talk. He was deliberately provocative, declaring at the beginning that he would alienate most of the audience, and particularly targeted advocates of the anthropic principle. I was hoping for more fireworks in the question session, but it was somewhat tame. A video of this talk will appear at some point here on the department website.