Friday, March 30, 2007

Friday music mix: Simon and Garfunkel

Simon and Garfunkel have been among my favorites since childhood. They recorded five albums between 1964 and 1970, and much of that music still sounds fresh 40 years later. Their third (and IMO best) album, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme, was the first album I bought with my own money (25 cents at a neighborhood garage sale when I was 11) and is the only album I have owned on vinyl, cassette, and CD.

They had two brief reunions after their breakup: one in 1975 when they recorded the song "My Little Town", and circa 1981 for a concert in Central Park. Art Garfunkel never did anything musically significant without Paul Simon; he played Lt. Nately in the movie version of Catch-22 but never caught on as an actor either. Paul Simon has had a successful solo career; his most recent album is 2006's Surprise.

It's hard to pick only ten of their songs for a playlist, so here are all of their songs that I have given five-star ratings to (sorted by album):

Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. (1964):
Bleecker Street

Sounds of Silence (1966):
Sounds of Silence
Richard Corey
I Am A Rock

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme (1966)
Scarborough Fair/Canticle
Homeward Bound
The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)
The Dangling Conversation
For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her
A Poem On The Underground Wall

Bookends (1968)
Mrs. Robinson
Hazy Shade Of Winter

Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970)
Bridge Over Troubled Water
The Boxer
The Only Living Boy In New York

Thursday, March 29, 2007

What is the dispersion relation for the Alfvén-ion cyclotron wave?

What is the dispersion relation for the Alfvén-ion cyclotron wave at arbitrary propagation angle?

I've looked in most of the textbooks. The ones that give any dispersion relation at all assume parallel propagation, or at minimum (in the case of Stix) propagation not too close to perpendicular. That assumption is not valid for what I have in mind.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Aptitude, schmaptitude

Via Uncertain Principles, here is an excerpt of an essay, allegedly in English, that was written for the SAT:
A major reason why cooperation is a preference to competition is because competition induces civil struggle at a time of crisis while cooperation reduces tension. In the 1930’s, American businesses were locked in a fierce economic competition with Russian merchants for fear that their communist philosophies would dominate American markets. As a result, American competition drove the country into an economic depression and the only way to pull them out of it was through civil cooperation. American president Franklin Delenor Roosevelt advocated for civil unity despite the communist threat of success by quoting ‘the only thing we need to fear is itself,’ which desdained competition as an alternative to cooperation for success. In the end, the American economy pulled out of the depression and succeeded communism.

The essay from which this paragraph was taken (see the article to download) doesn't get any better than this. In additional to the above historical revisionism, there is a complete misrepresentation of Brian Jacques' Redwall Chronicles and an incoherent personal anecdote. Yet the essay in question received the highest possible rating from the readers, who thought that the essay demonstrates "reasonably consistent mastery" as well as "strong critical thinking, generally using appropriate examples" and that it "effectively develops a point of view". In fact, the essay was a piece of intentional nonsense written by a student coached by MIT writing professor Les Perelman.

The A in SAT stands for "aptitude". That's clearly not what the test is measuring.

Additions to the pile: Week of 26 March 2007

Papers of interest published last week in AGU journals:

Gosling, J. T., S. Eriksson, T. D. Phan, D. E. Larson, R. M. Skoug, and D. J. McComas (2007), Direct evidence for prolonged magnetic reconnection at a continuous x-line within the heliospheric current sheet, GRL 34, L06102.

Zeng, W., and J. L. Horwitz (2007), Formula representations of auroral ionospheric O+ outflows based on systematic simulations with effects of soft electron precipitation and transverse ion heating, GRL 34, L06103.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Friday music mix: Spring

What a difference a week makes. The snow is melting, and soon I'll actually be able to take advantage of Daylight Savings Time.

Pink Floyd -- Signs Of Life
The Beatles -- Here Comes The Sun
Aaron Copland -- Appalachian Spring
Cat Stevens -- Silent Sunlight
Elton John -- Your Song
Enya -- Aldebaran
The Guo Brothers and Shung Tian -- Springtime on Parmir Mountains
John Dowland -- Clear or Cloudy
Henry VIII -- As it bare out one morn in May
Nikolai Rimski-Korsakov -- Russian Easter Overture

"As it bare out one morn in May" tells of the meeting of Robin Hood and Maid Marian (but does not mention Robin's difficulties with the Sheriff of Nottingham).

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Why is software so #$%^&#% bad?

There is a tremendous amount of bad software out there, and it seems to be getting worse.

Take, for instance, the backup software that came with the hard drive I bought last week. The default behavior is to back up certain types of files that many people have, and only those files. If I want to back up other types of files (because I use other kinds of software, some of which is decidedly not rare) with this program, I have to manually add the other file types, and not miss a file type. This is exactly backwards.
The point of a backup is so that, if the worst case scenario occurs, I can restore my files to the state in which they were at the time of the most recent backup. Thus the default behavior should be to back up any and every file type. Optionally, it can let me choose to not back up certain file types or certain folders, but it certainly should not fail to back up a file type that I forgot to add to the list.

I've also been having trouble with my income tax software. I have been using TurboTax, because when I first started doing my taxes on the computer TurboTax was the only Mac tax package which would allow me to do New Hampshire income taxes.* In past years TurboTax has worked reasonably well. This year, however, one of the forms I use sent the step-by-step interview into a loop that had to be broken by manually going to the next stage. Now, Intuit seems to be confused about whether my return has been accepted: I e-filed Monday evening and got an e-mail timestamped 04:14 EDT Tuesday saying the return was accepted, but the program thinks that Intuit doesn't know yet whether the return has been accepted. Not good quality control on Intuit's part here.

I haven't even gotten into Microsoft Office yet--I'll save that for another rant.

*Yes, New Hampshire has an income tax. See RSA 77:1 and 77:3.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

British mailing addresses

Brad DeLong, trying to subscribe to British newspaper Financial Times, asks:

Did that form from really just ask me to type in my "house name"?

From which I infer that Brad doesn't publish in Elsevier journals. Their complete postal address: Elsevier Science Ltd., The Boulevard, Langford Lane, Kidlington, Oxford OX5 1GB, United Kingdom.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Additions to the pile: Week of 19 March 2007

Papers of interest published in AGU journals last week:

Teh, W.-L., B. U. Ö. Sonnerup, and L.-N. Hau (2007), Grad-Shafranov reconstruction with field-aligned flow: First results, GRL 34, L05109.

Gonzalez, W. D., E. Echer, A. L. Clua-Gonzalez, and B. T. Tsurutani (2007), Interplanetary origin of intense geomagnetic storms (Dst < -100 nT) during solar cycle 23, GRL 34, L06101.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Friday music mix: Winter

Snowstorm tonight, 6-10 inches forecast. So this week's theme is songs about winter or snow.

Soundtrack to Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back -- Main Title/The Ice Planet Hoth
Midnight Oil -- Antarctica
Alan Parsons Project -- The Cask of Amontillado
Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians -- Air of December
Fleetwood Mac -- Landslide
Simon and Garfunkel -- Hazy Shade of Winter
Jethro Tull -- Skating Away on the Thin Ice of a New Day
Pink Floyd -- Terminal Frost
Mannheim Steamroller -- Wolfgang Amadeus Penguin
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky -- Waltz of the Snowflakes (from The Nutcracker)

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Only be sure always to call it, please, research

The old Tom Lehrer song about Lobachevsky describes a technique for advancing an academic career which, although frowned upon, probably happens more often than we care to admit:

I am never forget the day I first meet the great Lobachevsky.
In one word he told me secret of success in mathematics: Plagiarize!

Let no one else's work evade your eyes,
Remember why the good Lord made your eyes,
So don't shade your eyes,
But plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize...
Only be sure always to call it please, "research".

It looks like the people who run the preprint server the arXiv are doing something about the problem. The current issue of Physics Today includes an item about a plan to check new submissions to the arXiv for plagiarism.

They have figured out a way to deal with a large fraction of false positives:

In the study, about 10% of arXiv manuscripts had text blocks that overlapped with other documents. After removing instances of authors reusing parts of their own text, different collaborators on a single project using the same text in separate conference abstracts, and other apparent false positives, less than 1% of manuscripts were still suspect, says [Cornell computer science graduate student Daria] Sorokina.

The item also quotes Paul Ginsparg, creator and overseer of the arXiv and a professor of physics at Cornell:

The surprising thing is that people submit to the same database where they found [what they copied]. It's mind boggling, given the existence of Google, given the existence of searching on full text, that people wouldn't have an intuition that they would be caught.

Ginsparg shouldn't be so surprised. I've caught one set of authors plagiarizing from my work: A paper I reviewed in 2005 for the Journal of Atmospheric and Solar Terrestrial Physics copied multiple paragraphs verbatim from an article I published in the Journal of Atmospheric and Solar Terrestrial Physics. Nor did getting caught deter these authors; two weeks after the JASTP editor rejected their paper, the authors submitted essentially the same manuscript to Annales Geophysicae, which published it.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Additions to the pile: Week of 12 March 2005

Papers of interest published in AGU journals last week:

Avinash, K., and G. P. Zank (2007), Magnetic structures in the heliosheath, GRL 34, L05106.

Lobzin, V. V., V. V. Krasnosekskikh, J.-M. Bosqued, J.-L. Pinçon, S. J. Schwartz, and M. Dunlop (2007), Nonstationarity and reformation of high-Mach-number quasiperpendicular shocks: Cluster observations, GRL 34, L05107.

D'Amicis, R., R. Bruno, and B. Bavassano (2007), Is geomagnetic activity driven by solar wind turbulence?, GRL 34, L05108.

Lorentzen, D. A., P. M. Kintner, J. Moen, F. Sigernes, K. Oksavik, Y. Ogawa, and J. Holmes (2007), Pulsating dayside aurora in relation to ion upflow events during a northward interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) dominated by a strongly negative IMF BY, JGR 112, A03301.

Mac hard drives don't speak Vietnamese

From the Help Desk column of Macworld, April 2007 dead tree edition, page 89:

Adobe's Vietnam Danger Do you use the $599 Adobe Photoshop CS2 ... or $499 Adobe Illustrator CS2 ...? Check the /Applications/Adobe Photoshop CS2/Legal.localized and /Applications/Adobe Illustrator CS2/Legal.localized folders for a file called Tiêng Viêt.html. If you find this file, delete it immediately. OS X can interpret the special characters as illegal file names, resulting in damage to your hard drive's directory that even Disk Utility's First Aid feature (/Applications/Utilities) can't fix.

The offending characters are ế and ệ, where the second accent indicates tone. Note also that if you navigate with the Finder the folder in question will be called "Legal".

I have both programs installed on my desktop and laptop. The desktop is OK. The laptop has some damage, and Disk Utility won't repair it. Unfortunately, the external hard drive to which I backed up yesterday (which took all afternoon) promptly went south and won't even mount.

UPDATE: The external drive mounted on my desktop Mac, but it's hosed beyond Disk Utility's ability to repair it. Time for a new backup drive.

LATER UPDATE: The Research Computing Center people were able to fix the laptop drive. As for the backup drive, I'm backing up the backup to my office machine (which has plenty of free space) so that I can erase the backup drive and, if all goes well, get that working and save myself a trip to Best Buy tonight.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Friday music mix: The so-called "Definitive 200"

Via Salon's Audiofile, I see that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the National Association of Recording Merchandisers has released a list of the definitive 200 albums.

Naturally, "definitive n", where n is arbitrary, is purely a matter of taste (or lack thereof), so I'll offer my comments on where their list overlaps my personal CD collection and some of the CDs I own that I think should have been on their list.

1. The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)

2. Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon (1973)

It's hard to argue with these two choices. Personally, I would have put Dark Side of the Moon in the number 1 slot, but I can understand the argument for Sgt. Pepper.

12. The Beatles, Abbey Road (1969)

22. The Who, Who's Next (1971)

25. Pink Floyd, The Wall (1979)

Again, no complaints here. All of these deserve their top 25 ratings.

35. The Eagles, Hotel California (1976)

Their best known. It should definitely be somewhere on the list, although not necessarily that high.

70. Billy Joel, The Stranger (1977)

We're getting into guilty pleasures territory here, but most of the songs on this one hold up well.

74. Phil Collins, No Jacket Required (1985)

This one is definitely in the guilty pleasures category. "Take Me Home" holds up pretty well, but the rest of this album is just so 1985.

83. Paul Simon, Graceland (1986)

One of the groundbreaking albums in terms of incorporating world folk music into Western popular music. Should be much higher on the list.

89. Dire Straits, Brothers in Arms (1985)

Also should be much higher on the list.

112. Simon and Garfunkel, Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970)

Although this one deserves a place on the list, Bridge Over Troubled Water is only the fourth best of Simon and Garfunkel's five studio albums. Their best is Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme (1966), while Bookends (1968) and Sounds of Silence (1966) are also better choices.

119. The Police, Synchronicity (1983)

There are several good songs on this album along with a couple of real clunkers. A case can be made for including it, but it should be lower on the list.

126. Journey, Escape (1981)

This one is extraordinarily uneven. Half of the songs would make a great album side; the other half are mediocre to atrocious. Frontiers (1983) would have been a better choice.

132. Enya, A Day Without Rain (2000)

It's hard to argue with putting this one somewhere on the list, but Watermark (1988) should be included also.

Now for some of the conspicuously absent albums, in addition to the few I mentioned above:

  • Wendy Carlos, Switched-On Bach (1968)

    An exploration of the possibilities of the then-new Moog synthesizer. If you've never heard Bach before, this is a good place to start.

  • Soundtrack from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)

    The first installment of the Star Wars saga was truly groundbreaking in its use of original classical music as a soundtrack. This one should have been in the top 50.

  • Suzanne Vega, Suzanne Vega (1985) and Solitude Standing (1987)

    Suzanne Vega was the first of the 1980s urban folk singers to hit it big. At least one of these albums should have been on the list.

  • Peter Gabriel, Security (1982) and Us (1992)

    Peter Gabriel knows how to create soundscapes. At least one of these should have made the list.

I mean, this list includes Christina Aguilera at number 127, the Footloose soundtrack at number 134, and Avril Lavigne at number 162. Surely they could have done better.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007


A record report out of Portland, which is about 45 miles northeast of here:

Statement as of 7:00 am EST on March 7, 2007

... Record low temperature set in Portland today...

The temperature at the Portland International Jetport dropped to 6
degrees below zero as of 7 am today. This broke the old record low
of minus 3 for March 7th which was set back in 1989.

On Tuesday, March 6th, the temperature at the Portland International
Jetport only reached 18 degrees. This was the coldest high
temperature recorded for March 6th since records began. The previous
record cold high was 26 degrees set in 1972 and 1999.

The low temperature on Tuesday was zero degrees, not a record.
However this low and the high of 18 gave Portland an average
temperature of 9 degrees for the day, which set a record for the
coldest average temperature for March 6th. The old record was 10
degrees set in 1948.

Additional records for low temperatures, cold high temperatures and
cold daily averages may be broken at Portland as cold Arctic air
remains over the region today and Thursday.

Temperature records at the jetport began on November 25th, 1940.

Why Portland? There is no NWS office in New Hampshire. Cheshire and Hillsborough Counties get their forecasts from the Boston NWS office, and the rest of New Hampshire gets their forecasts from the NWS office in Gray, ME. (And never mind that the Manchester airport happens to straddle the boundary between Hillsborough and Rockingham Counties.)

Scooter Libby, Jan Hendrik Schön, and Woo-Suk Hwang

The verdict in the Libby trial has been released: guilty on four of the five counts. Finally, somebody is being held accountable for the fraudulent casus belli in Iraq.

One of the things I have found particularly frustrating about the Bush 43 administration is the fact that even though they were caught in a massive fabrication of our reasons for going to war in Iraq (remember the WMD programs? They didn't exist) they have been allowed to continue dominating our foreign policy discourse. In my line of work, getting caught fabricating on even a fraction of that scale is a career-ending scenario. Two cases that come immediately to mind: Jan Hendrik Schön with molecular resistors, and Woo-Suk Hwang with stem cells.

Both Schön and Hwang published ground-breaking papers which, had they actually done the research that they claimed, would almost certainly have resulted in Nobel Prizes in physics and medicine, respectively, by the end of the decade. However, other researchers noticed in both cases that published figures that should have been different were in fact identical. Investigators looking for supporting data in lab notebooks failed to find any. The papers in question were withdrawn. Schön resigned from Bell Labs, and his Ph.D. degree from the University of Konstanz in Germany was revoked. Hwang resigned from Seoul National University, and he was later indicted for fraud and embezzlement, having used some KRW 2.8 billion (about US$3 million) in research funds for purchasing ova used in his experiments (in violation of Korean bioethics law) and for personal purposes.

This, quite properly, is what happens to scientists who are caught in large-scale fabrications. Unfortunately, this does not happen in politics.
It was widely suspected before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and known for certain within a few months afterward, that the US government's claims about Saddam's WMD programs were basically invented out of whole cloth.
One of the most devastating critiques of the pre-war intelligence fabrication was Joseph Wilson's New York Times op-ed of 6 July 2003, "What I Didn't Find in Africa." Wilson stated that the Bush Administration's claims about Iraq seeking uranium from Niger were false, and that they knew or should have known that the claims were false.

Just as the Korean government rose to Hwang's defense when the initial accusations of misconduct surfaced, the US government chose to attack Wilson. Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, had been employed by the CIA under non-official cover. Somebody in the government (it is not known for certain, and for reasons discussed below may never be known, exactly who) let reporters know that Plame was a CIA agent, and Robert Novak published this information in his column of 14 July 2003. Shortly thereafter, the CIA asked the Department of Justice to investigate whether this disclosure of an undercover CIA agent's identity violated the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act (50 USC 421-426). In the course of the investigation I. Lewis ("Scooter") Libby made statements to investigators and the grand jury for which he was indicted on charges of obstruction of justice, making false statements, and perjury. Libby has now been convicted on four of the five counts in the indictment.

The resolution is not entirely satisfactory yet. Libby successfully obstructed the investigation into whether, and by whom, the Intelligence Identities Protection Act was violated (this was one of the counts on which he was convicted). The people responsible for the initial fabrication of the casus belli in the Iraq war are still running our government. But this is a start.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Additions to the pile: Week of 5 March 2007

Papers of interest published in AGU's journals last week:

Ridley, A. J. (2007), Effects of seasonal changes in the ionospheric conductances on magnetospheric field-aligned currents, GRL 34, L05101

Singh, N., and I. Khazanov (2007), Scattering of long wavelength shear Alfvén waves by a localized density cavity, GRL 34, L05102

Kuo, S. P., and D. Greco (2007), Determination of the height of the modulated electrojet region generating ELF radiation, GRL 34, L05103

Trávníček, P., P. Hellinger, and D. Schriver (2007), Structure of Mercury's magnetosphere for different pressure of the solar wind: Three dimensional hybrid simulations, GRL 34, L05104

Saturday, March 3, 2007

No eclipse watching tonight

We were supposed to be able to see part of the lunar eclipse tonight, but the weather didn't cooperate. Cloudy skies, chance of rain or snow this evening.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Friday music mix

In honor (?) of today's mixed slop storm, some rainy day music.

Suzanne Vega -- Tom's Diner
ABBA -- The Day Before You Came
The Police -- King Of Pain
America -- Rainy Day
Peter Gabriel -- Red Rain
Carly Simon -- Do The Walls Come Down
Enya -- Storms In Africa
Maynard Ferguson -- Swamp
Simon and Garfunkel -- Kathy's Song
The Who -- Reign O'er Me