Monthly Archives: March 2006

Spammers Destroy Trackback

I turned off trackbacks a while ago due to spam, and I see that two blogs much larger than mine (Marginal Revolution and Brad DeLong, both on my list of daily reads) have done the same. Indeed, looking in my server logs I see that there has been a massive, distributed trackback spam attack underway since last Monday—presumably this is also what’s hitting the other blogs. There’s no way I could have policed this last week, in Baltimore with my computer broken, so I feel vindicated in closing off trackbacks several months ago.
Making Light has a way to prevent individual links from contributing to the Google pagerank of the linked site; this will indeed make this kind of spam pointless, but I don’t think it will act as a deterrent. It’s basically free to post trackback spam and I doubt any spammer will bother to check which sites are tagging links with the “nofollow” attribute. Certainly they haven’t noticed that I don’t even have trackbacks anymore.
Ultimately the result will be the complete abandonment of the trackback protocol, as we are seeing already. I hope this won’t also happen with blog comments, but since the value added to the blog is much higher for comments it’s more worthwhile to police them for spam rather than close them entirely.

Long Form [Open Thread]

My trip back from Baltimore took about 12 hours longer than it should have, but I eventually made it back. Despite attempts to catch up on sleep I still feel like I’m recovering—it was a busy week.
V for Vendetta: This is a powerful movie that mostly does a good job blending action/suspense with a political message. The setting is a near-future Britain which has slid into fascism after the deterioration of Iraq and some high-casualty terrorist attacks. (Meanwhile the United States has fallen into anarchy and civil war.) The plot centers around the masked-and-caped V, who pursues a personal vendetta against certain government officials, while working on a larger plot to overthrow the entire government in the spirit of Guy Fawkes. It wouldn’t be correct to say that V is the hero of the movie—he’s morally ambiguous at best and commits at least one act I found horrifying. However, the government he’s fighting against is so much worse that he sometimes seems good by comparison.
The movie can be didactic at times, and the message is delivered in a heavy-handed way. However, I think the time for subtlety is past: the government we have right now is detaining citizens without trial, torturing innocent people, and asserting unlimited executive power. It’s refreshing to see a movie that stands up and says straight out that we, as a citizenry, should not tolerate these things. I certainly don’t think we need to blow up any buildings, and Guy Fawkes is the wrong model for this sort of thing, but the basic notion that the people have a right to replace an unacceptable government translates well to the ballot box.
As for the film qua action movie, it’s generally well done. There is a thread of paranoid tension running throughout that works well to keep up the suspense—this is one of the ways that the politics reinforce the action. A sequence early-on in which V takes over the state-run television studio is especially good, and the climactic fight scene at the end is the sort of thing the Wachowskis excel at. There are a couple of points where the exposition/recapping becomes excessive and the suspense wanes, but it picks up again afterwards.
Anyway, I liked it. (Remember when I wrote short capsule reviews in the open threads?)
David Goodstein: Out of Gas: This book is Goodstein’s effort to explain the interrelated problems of peak oil and climate change to a non-technical audience, and in doing so he explains the physics of energy and the historical development thereof. He sets forth a mostly pessimistic picture, anticipating oil supply problems in the very near future and associated social turmoil. Unfortunately I think he too quickly brushes off the economic arguments about alternative energies becoming more cost-effective as the costs of fossil fuels increase. I don’t think this solves the problem but it should make the situation better than he expects. (One of the frustrating things about reading peak oil commentary is that physicists are frequently naive about economics, and economists naive about physics.) His treatment of the basic physics issues surrounding energy production is very good, however, and I would recommend it to a non-technical audience for that reason.
In the end, I am still not sure just how worried I should be about peak oil, but the answer is clearly non-zero.
Arctic Monkeys: Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not: This is the hot band over in Britain right now, and musical Anglophiles will find their sound pleasing. Imagine the drunken swagger of the Libertines with the guitar sound of Franz Ferdinand, and you have a good approximation. This CD hasn’t quite achieved the heavy rotation of certain other recent British additions to my collection, but it’s still pretty good. The major single seems to be “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor” but several others are equally good, like “Fake Tales of San Francisco”.

By Popular Demand: The ’90s Movies Thread

A few weeks ago there was a request for a thread on the subject of essential ’90s movies, along the lines of the music thread that ran in January. These threads are nicely self-sustaining so I decided to save it for the next time I was away from the blog for a few days. That time was five days ago, but I had assumed I would be able to turn my computer on. So instead I’m posting it now, since it’s a good Friday thread and I’ll be on a plane for much of the day.
Rules: Suggest movies from 1990-1999 that are essential in the sense of classic, influential, or just generally awesome. Obscure and idiosyncratic choices are encouraged. Also, pick the best overall movie from that decade, and we’ll see if there’s a concensus.
Here are some of my favorites to get you started (with my top pick in bold):

  • Army of Darkness (1993)

  • Clerks (1994)
  • Pulp Fiction (1994)
  • The Usual Suspects (1995)
  • The Big Lebowski (1998)
  • The Matrix (1999)

I’m probably forgetting a few since I don’t have my DVD collection in front of me (should have entered it into listal),
Here are the 10 “Best Picture” Oscar winners from the 90’s:

  • 1990: Dances With Wolves

  • 1991: The Silence of the Lambs
  • 1992: Unforgiven
  • 1993: Schindler’s List
  • 1994: Forrest Gump
  • 1995: Braveheart
  • 1996: The English Patient
  • 1997: Titanic
  • 1998: Shakespeare In Love
  • 1999: American Beauty

my apocalyptic tenor has not been dispelled

my apocalyptic tenor has not been dispelled

Originally uploaded by arcanegazebo.

I don’t know if this will show up, but it’s the T. Rex skeleton at the National Museum of Natural History. I spent the day in Washington DC, and possibly saw Rick Santorum. (I inadvertently walked into one of his campaign events.) Better pictures (of the city, not the senator) to follow when I’m on a connection better than my phone.


I have been in Baltimore for a couple of days now; I would have posted earlier but my computer has chosen an inopportune time to refuse to turn on. This was distressing not just because I had several items to post to the blog, but also because I planned to use my computer for my talk this afternoon.
Fortunately my roommate had experienced a similar problem with his desktop, and had a trick for getting it started: hold down the power button while plugging it into the wall. This sounded crazy, but when I tried this (inserting the battery instead of plugging in the power cord) it booted right up.
So I should be in good shape as long as I don’t shut it down again… Meanwhile, I am still under extended warranty and Dell is sending a technician to my hotel to fix the problem this week.

More Postdoc Commentary

Since this is becoming a theme around here, I’m linking to another perspective on the postdoc experience, this one embedded in a rant about public perceptions of scientists.

This is not reality. If you want to do science, you’re in the lab. You’re in the lab a lot. Sometimes you forget what the sun looks like. You gotta pay your dues. That means laying your intellect bare for harsh criticism for years on end. Committee members and advisors constantly challenging you. Who the hell do you think you are? What makes you think you can succeed in this field?

The underlying point seems to be that the academic career path selects for scientists who are dedicated and intellectually rigorous, although this is not explicitly stated. The author’s “job description” for a neuroscience postdoc is amusing. (Via Pharyngula.)

Friday Random 10

No tarot reading this time, although I’m tempted to divine the outcome of my March Meeting talk.

  1. The Arcade Fire, “Haiti”

  2. Elliott Smith, “A Distorted Reality Is Now A Necessity To Be Free”
  3. Iron & Wine, “Free Until They Cut Me Down”
  4. Cat Power, “I Don’t Blame You”
  5. Mylo, “Musclecars”
  6. Wolf Parade, “It’s A Curse”
  7. Ladytron, “Cracked LCD”
  8. Belle & Sebastian, “Like Dylan In The Movies (Live Version)”
  9. Arctic Monkeys, “A Certain Romance”
  10. Feist, “Leisure Suite”

That’s a pretty good set, actually. Number 11 is Sybris, “You’re Only Confident In Your Insecurities”, which would have been a bad one to draw if I had been doing the tarot version.

Innovations in LN2 Storage

It sounds like an Aggie joke: a Texas A&M chemistry lab had a liquid nitrogen tank with a leaky pressure relief valve, so some clever individual solved the problem by replacing the valve with a metal plug. This ultimately transformed the chemistry lab into a rocketry lab.

The cylinder had been standing at one end of a ~20′ x 40′ laboratory on the second floor of the chemistry building. It was on a tile covered 4-6″ thick concrete floor, directly over a reinforced concrete beam. The explosion blew all of the tile off of the floor for a 5′ radius around the tank turning the tile into quarter sized pieces of shrapnel that embedded themselves in the walls and doors of the lab. The blast cracked the floor but due to the presence of the supporting beam, which shattered, the floor held. Since the floor held the force of the explosion was directed upward and propelled the cylinder, sans bottom, through the concrete ceiling of the lab into the mechanical room above. It struck two 3 inch water mains and drove them and the electrical wiring above them into the concrete roof of the building, cracking it. The cylinder came to rest on the third floor leaving a neat 20″ diameter hole in its wake. The entrance door and wall of the lab were blown out into the hallway, all of the remaining walls of the lab were blown 4-8″ off of their foundations. All of the windows, save one that was open, were blown out into the courtyard.

Fortunately no one was working in the lab at 3 am when it went off, so no one was hurt. However, this certainly redefines the concept of blowing up the lab. I’ll have to keep this story in reserve in case I need to explain an accident to my advisor. “Did you hear about the guys at A&M who plugged their nitrogen tank and destroyed the building? Aren’t you glad I only broke a vacuum pump?”
Via Uncertain Principles.