Category Archives: UC Berkeley

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.

Continue reading

Climate Control

While the East Coast is buried in snow and Southern California struggles under a scorching heat wave, it’s been 65 and sunny all week here in Berkeley. And we’ll get the same weather in July. With this kind of climate, one might expect that the heating and air conditioning needs of a campus building like Birge Hall would be pretty minimal. And indeed, through efficient design the building is maintained at a pleasant environment with hardly any energy.
Ha! I’m joking, of course. What they actually do here is run the heating and the air conditioning at the same time so that they cancel out. I only discovered this fact this week, when the heat pump broke—leaving the air conditioning running unchecked. Naturally there’s no way to adjust it, and so I end up carrying a sweater to lab with me, so that after walking through perfect weather to get there I can bundle up when I enter the building and avoid freezing to death.
Somehow, you’d think a physics building would have a more efficient solution to the problem of temperature control, but maybe it’s a corollary to the fact that the architecture building is always the ugliest building on campus. It brings to mind a common method of temperature control in condensed matter physics: cool the sample down to 4.2K with liquid helium, and then use an electric heating element to warm it back up to the desired temperature. But I’m not sure it scales up as well as the designers of Birge Hall’s HVAC system seem to believe.

PSA: PGMG @ UCB, OMG

This is a public service announcement for the Berkeley-area readers: the excellent band Pretty Girls Make Graves will be playing a free show on Lower Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley, on February 16. They would be a great band to see two days earlier if you are single and bitter, but they’re playing Moscow, Idaho on that day so that’s not so helpful.
I almost wish I didn’t know about this, so I could have the experience of walking through Sproul on the 16th and thinking, “Hey, that sounds like PGMG… holy shit!” But more likely I’d just miss it entirely if I didn’t know about it, so it’s probably better this way.

The editors wish to issue a correction

The semester started this week at Cal, which means very little to me except that I am back to the social ballroom dance classes. Tonight’s class was East Coast Swing. Now, I have made several prior attempts to learn swing dancing, and in the process it’s possible that I made negative remarks about dancing in general, swing in particular, and my estimated abilities to do either. I hereby retract all such remarks I may or may not have made. Swing is awesome.

The UC and national labs

The University of California, in partnership with Bechtel, has held on to the contract for management of Los Alamos National Laboratory.
My thoughts:
1. I’m surprised the UC won the contract, given the recent political attacks on their management of LANL. However, I didn’t know about the Bechtel partnership, which was undoubtedly a deciding factor. I don’t know much about Bechtel, except that they’re one of those huge corporations that always seems vaguely sinister.
2. Would the UC have been better off without managing LANL? Certainly there’s some prestige that goes with it, but lately it seems more trouble than it’s worth, with the UC having to fend off mostly trumped-up charges of financial irregularities and security breaches. Meanwhile, paranoia over these things is making life more annoying for those of us connected with other UC managed labs. (And I only have to deal with LBL, which is an unclassified lab—I’m sure it’s even worse at Livermore or LANL itself.)

SQUID Handbook sighting

This item is a bit dated, but apparently there’s a prize for “oddest book title” awarded every year:

Rick Pelicano and Lauren Tjaden’s extremely serious manual on how to Bombproof Your Horse is today hailed as runaway winner of the prize for the oddest book title of the past year.
It takes what the Bookseller magazine describes as a staggering 46% of the vote in a poll of publishers and booksellers.
Runners-up in a shortlisted international field of six are Detecting Foreign Bodies in Food, with 27%, followed by The Aesthetics of the Japanese Lunchbox, with 15%.
The British-based Diagram prize – a magnum of champagne awarded by the Bookseller since 1978 – reflects the book trade’s unceasing bafflement and delight at the highly specialised titles which some of its members in Britain and further afield produce.

Also on the 2004 shortlist were Applications of High Tech Squids (VCH Verlagsgesellschaft), Equids in Time and Space (Oxbow Books) and Sexual Health at Your Fingertips (Class Publishing).

(Emphasis mine.) Actually, that’s Applications of High Tech SQUIDs by one J. Clarke. Although it’s nice to see my advisor’s book getting publicity, I think the title is not so odd if the acronym is written properly.

Clarke group research in ScienceMatters@Berkeley

My advisor was profiled in the latest issue of ScienceMatters@Berkeley, an online UCB publication written by Boing Boing’s David Pescovitz. Most of you know about my work on the qubit project; the ScienceMatters article also covers some of the other research in the group.
UPDATE: It’s pretty cool to see one of our figures on Boing Boing, even if it is from the (admittedly more photogenic) MRI project rather than the qubit research.

Notes on Spam

1. What kind of comment spammer only posts links to Google? Someone was seriously posting these all over some recent threads this morning. Testing out new spamming software maybe? I’m mystified.
2. Even my UC Berkeley spam is now advertising Texas Hold ’em. Next they’ll be trying to sell me herbal viagra.
3. I worry about the search engine traffic I’m going to get once Google indexes this post.