Monthly Archives: August 2005

I put the CD in OCD

I remember being shocked back in May when Amanda at Pandagon said, “A mix CD takes like half an hour, tops, which means that you can pretty much arrange it, drop the disc in and by the time you’ve finished making your sandwich, it’s done.” My procedure for mix CDs takes about a week and goes like this:

  1. Open iTunes and start a new playlist dedicated to the mix CD. Create a text file with the same title.

  2. Go through my master playlist looking for songs that fit the theme and intended recipient of the CD, which are added to the new playlist.
  3. Switch to the new playlist. Select the leadoff song, and start arranging the subsequent tracks based on what songs will go well together. Sometimes I’ll choose the closing song right away too. There are probably more than 80 minutes worth of songs on the playlist, so I leave the extra ones at the bottom (in case I want to switch them in later) and make a note of where the 80-minute cutoff is.
  4. Note the current tracklist in the text file.
  5. Listen to the playlist all the way through to the 80-minute mark. While listening, make notes in the text file on the overall flow of the CD and the feel of each track in context. I usually mark songs with + or – signs based on whether I like their current position, along with more specific thoughts when appropriate.
  6. Revise the playlist based on my notes, both rearranging the order and replacing songs entirely. Usually the original ordering gets heavily revised, as there will be lots of song pairings that I thought would sound good but sound terrible in actuality.
  7. Repeat steps 4-6 until satisfied. This usually means three or four times. I tend to do one iteration per day so I don’t get too sick of the songs.
  8. Burn a disc from iTunes and play the whole thing through on good speakers to get a sense of overall flow. Usually I have done the previous steps on headphones, so this allows me to listen to it in another context. I tend to be pretty happy with it at this stage. Almost done…
  9. Wait! While walking to work in the morning, my iPod shuffles up a song that has to be on the mix. I don’t know how I overlooked it! Since the CD is already 79 minutes and 53 seconds, I have to pick a song to drop to fit the new one, and this introduces a perturbation into the (unstable!) tracklist equilibrium. Go through another iteration or two of arranging.
  10. With the final tracklist in hand, go to my music shelves and track down the original CD for each song. I buy most of my music on CD rather than through iTunes or otherwise, so I usually have the albums I need.
  11. Rip the tracks off the original albums in an uncompressed format.
  12. Burn a master copy of the mix from the CD-quality files.
  13. Listen to the master once to make sure no glitches were introduced in the rip/burn process.
  14. Make copies directly from the master for each recipient.
  15. Distribute copies appropriately, file master in personal archives.

Amanda’s right that the mix CD is too convenient (compared to the mix tape), but in the sense that it’s too convenient to tweak the mix endlessly. With a tape it’s much more of a pain in the ass to go back and change things once you’ve done the recording. My advisor has the same complaint about how computers have changed the way scientific papers are written.
In fact, it just occurred to me that parts of this process are strikingly analogous to the process of editing a paper for submission to a peer-reviewed journal. Just substitute figures and equations for songs, and a limit of four pages instead of 80 minutes. Somehow the mix CD version is a lot more fun, though.

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.

Parallels and Patterns [Open Thread]

Man, actual science blogging is fun but difficult. There may be more of it in the future, since people seem to like it. If I’m lucky, I’ll get some crackpots to populate the comment threads for extra entertainment!
Meanwhile, I have no intention of neglecting the cultural aspect of this blog. Although the open threads seem to be migrating to Tuesdays…
J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: This is Rowling’s most anti-statist book yet. The wizard arm of the government continues its slide into fascism, as it covers up intelligence failures, suppresses dissent, employs the press as a propaganda arm, scapegoats minorities and political opponents, dismisses expert teachers at Hogwarts and replaces them with ideology-based curricula of no practical value, ignores real threats while pursuing a completely imaginary terrorist plot, and tortures suspects for information. Wait a minute, this sounds familiar.
Harry continued to be a dick throughout the book, but it turned out Voldemort has good reason just to try to kill him off rather than turn him to the dark side. He still might turn evil without Voldemort’s help, but I’m not holding out much hope for this. At least we’ll be spared the passage in which Harry gets up off the operating table in his new magical suit of armor and shouts, “NOOOOOOO!”
I’m going to import the sixth book from Britain, as I’ve read the British editions of the previous five, but while I wait for it to show up I am reading Freakonomics, which is terrific so far. It’s a much easier read than I expected and the findings described are tremendously interesting. I’ll post a full review once I finish.
Four Tet: Everything Ecstatic: I first encountered Four Tet on that Snow Patrol mix CD that came out earlier this year. I’d heard them classified as “folktronica” but this (their latest album) doesn’t sound very folky. (Pretty much my only point of comparison on this is the Caribou album I reviewed recently, which does sound like what I would expect folktronica to sound like.) Regardless of the proper classification, it’s a fun CD with an experimental feel. I like “And Then Patterns”.
Some of you may be interested to know that Bruce Springsteen is using a Four Tet song as his walk-out music on his Devils & Dust tour.
In other music news, The New Pornographers’ new album (Twin Cinema) is out today. I went to lunch near the record store so I could pick it up right away. I’m still getting used to the fact that it sounds different from Electric Version, but it’s good nonetheless. I’ll review this in a week or two after I’ve had a chance to meditate on it.

Follow-up on decoherence

One of the comments on the flux qubit post asked an important question: where does the decoherence come from? I dealt with this a bit in the thread itself, but this post will be a less technical treatment.
In general, decoherence is a result of the fact that the qubit under study isn’t in isolation, but interacts with some larger environment. Through this interaction, information that starts out concentrated in the qubit dissipates out into the environment, and likewise information in the environment mixes into the qubit. Of course, the state of the environment isn’t known beforehand so the information that mixes in just looks random, and averages out over a large number of experiments.
In the case of our qubit, what matters is the electromagnetic environment—the electric and magnetic fields that act on the qubit. Any fluctuations in these fields can produce decoherence, and just about everything produces some level of field noise.

Continue reading

Bart Gets an Elephant

I meant to post this last Thursday but a number of things distracted me. Anyway, the lunchtime conversation that day concerned the latest issue of Nature, which contains a commentary piece proposing that endangered African megafauna (e.g. cheetah, elephants, lions) be “restored” to the American Great Plains (where similar species lived before the arrival of humans). (Slate posted a version of this piece the same day, for those of you without access to Nature.)
This idea is very appealing to the 10-year-old boy in me, but otherwise it sounds like a recipe for disaster. Transplanting species across continents is the sort of thing prone to unintended consequences. And the human inhabitants may not be too excited about this; there’s already been one death-by-tiger in the midwestern U.S. without shipping them en masse.
The authors have to some degree already considered this, as they included a plot illustrating “potential economic/cultural value” vs. “potential economic/cultural conflict” by species. About this I only wish to say that someday I hope to publish a paper in which my data points are represented by little animal-cracker-like pictures of lions and elephants.

Publication: Flux qubits and readout device with two independent flux lines

This paper contains the major results of my graduate research so far, compressed into four pages. Instead of the abstract I’m posting something closer to a layman’s explanation, which is below the fold since it got a bit long.
Flux qubits and readout device with two independent flux lines
B. L. T. Plourde, T. L. Robertson, P. A. Reichardt, T. Hime, S. Linzen, C.-E. Wu, and John Clarke
Phys. Rev. B 72, 060506(R) (2005)

Continue reading

Outsourced Astroturf Blogging

Via Marginal Revolution, this is either a well-done hoax, or an earnest attempt to start a business selling blog posts which are outsourced to China. In their own words,

Our general business model is a two tiered effort to hire Chinese citizens to write blogs en masse for us at a valued wage. The first tier is to create original blogs. These blogs will pop up in various areas of the net and appear to the unknowing reader to be written by your standard American. Our short term goal for these original blogs is to generate a steady stream of revenue through traditional blog advertising like google adwords. We estimate that our current blogforce of 25 can support around 500 unrelated blogs. Hopefully a few of those will be hits. The long term goal is to generate a large untraceable astroturfing mechanism for launching of various products. When a vendor needs to promote a new product to the internet demographic we will be able to create a believable buzz across hundreds of ‘reputable’ blogs and countless message boards. We can offer a legitimacy to advertisers that doesen’t exist anywhere else.

This is hilarious enough, but there’s lots more comedy gold to be mined from that site. This post, for example (all emphasis mine):

On the blog creation front I have been working hard trying to help Jeff make our product more believable. Our initial results have been a little bit below what we expected. To increase our authenticity we are trying to isolate and remedy problem groups. Our design process centers around 3 general groups. They are:
1. Teenage girls
2. Normal Bloggers (yuppies, moms, average college students)
3. Super Bloggers (bipolars, cynics, liberals, outcasts, super-hip)

The biggest problem spot right now is Group 3. Group 3 is the most difficult to reach through traditional media so it has the potential to be our biggest astroturfing area. To create convincing Group 3 product we need to have extensive faux-archives (to give the illusion of a faithfully updated blog) and we need to drop a lot of obscure pop-culture references. The key to good Group 3 is to spend 80% being negative about certain areas of culture and 15% excessively positive. The last 5% should be used for self-loathing because the blogger likes certain ‘un-hip’ culture. Currently I am trying to isolate some popular music to provide to our bloggers for source material. Right now I have:
Group 3 Music Source Material:
Insult: Coldplay, John Mayer, Neptunes, American Idol-related bands, Good Charlotte
Praise: Neutral Milk Hotel, Handsome Boy Modeling School, The Kleptones, Gwen Stefani

Anyway, regular blog readers for the most part already have the ability to filter out crap and find the quality sites among the millions of existing blogs, so (if this isn’t a joke) I’m not too worried that this will reduce the signal/noise ratio. Besides, they’ve got a long way to go if they’re putting Gwen Stefani in the wrong column. (Or maybe they’ve found a client already…)

Bad Science of the Week: Ev Psych

Slate has a nice piece up today pointing out flaws in evolutionary psychology. Long-time readers may remember that ev psych annoys me to no end, as it is usually someone making up some just-so story about life on the savanna to justify preconcieved notions about human behavior. All too often this is in service of some sexist claim or double standard. Hence I always love finding pieces that debunk ev psych. Here’s an excerpt from the Slate article:

EP claims that our minds contain hundreds or thousands of “mental organs” or “modules,” which come with innate information on how to solve particular problems—how to interpret nuanced facial expressions, how to tell when someone’s lying or cheating. These problem-solving modules evolved between 1.8 million and 10,000 years ago, during the Pleistocene epoch. And there the selection story ends. There has not been enough time in the intervening millenia, EP-ers say, for natural selection to have further resculpted our psyches. “Our modern skulls house a Stone Age mind,” as Cosmides’ and Tooby’s primer on evolutionary psychology puts it. The way forward for research is to generate hypotheses about the urges that would have been helpful to Stone Age baby-making and then try to test whether these tendencies are widespread today.
What’s wrong with this approach? To begin with, we know very little about the specific adaptive problems faced by our distant forebears. As Buller points out, “We don’t even know the number of species in the genus Homo”—our direct ancestors—”let alone details about the lifestyles led by those species.” This makes it hard to generate good hypotheses. Some EP-ers have suggested looking to modern-day hunter-gatherers as proxies, studying them for clues about our ancestors. But this doesn’t get them far. For instance, in some contemporary African groups, men gather the bulk of the food; in other groups, women do. Which groups are representative of our ancestors? Surely there’s a whole lot of guesswork involved when evolutionary psychologists hypothesize about the human brain’s supposedly formative years.

Now I am aware that a small fraction of ev psych research is actually worthwhile. But the stuff that gets media attention is almost always total bullshit.

On the March [Open Thread]

I have a lot of energy lately! Fortunately I’ve been able to keep myself busy.
The Aristocrats: This is a very funny and relentlessly obscene documentary on the infamous dirty joke. I laughed until it hurt. It’s not for the squeamish, as the various comedians will violate (and I do mean violate) every taboo subject they can think of. If you can stand it, though it’s well worth it. Highlights: George Carlin, Gilbert Gottfried, Eric Cartman.
Pelican: The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw: Long crashing epic songs that sound like they should be the soundtrack for an army of orcs on the march, driven by hard-rock electric guitar riffs (but acoustic guitar is used as well to great effect). Well, there aren’t actually vocals (despite the album’s title!), so I guess “songs” isn’t the right term. Terrific instrumental rock, though. I’m uploading one of the shorter tracks to save bandwidth: “Sirius”

The senator I don’t like to talk about

I meant to post this yesterday, but somehow it slipped my mind. Anyway, I’ve often posted kind words for California’s excellent junior senator. However, I rarely mention our other senator, Dianne Feinstein. Generally she just doesn’t get my attention as often as Boxer, but when she does I get the impression that… she kind of sucks. It was a post on Eschaton that brought this to mind:

Andrew Raisiej, who’s running for New York City Public Advocate, writes about a response he recieved when he gave a technology presentation to the Senate Democratic Caucus:

First Senator Dianne Feinstein raised her hand and said, “Senator Daschle, the Internet is full of pornography and pedophilia, and until that’s clean up, I don’t think the Senate should be on the Internet.” (And she represents Silicon Valley!)

After banging my head on the desk, I wondered what the chances are we could get a primary challenger. Probably not so good. Sigh…