Friday, December 30, 2005

Some Software Thoughts

For the holidays I pitched in with my brother to buy my mom a mahjongg computer game (her old one has to run under the classic emulator on Mac OS X). This raised some interesting feelings about paying for software. Usually all the open source (or free software if you prefer that term) gurus say make a point that you can technically charge for open source software, but in actuality it's part of the open source culture that you don't charge. In fact the only open source software I've seen costing money is scientific codes, and those would be proprietary, but scientists sometimes require tearing the thing open and looking inside.

So why don't I like it when software costs money, even if I'm not buying it? I think part of is that it feels like someone is being taken advantage of when they buy software. There's almost always a free equivalent out there somewhere, and paying for it seems a waste. I don't mind it much (other than my cheapness) for most big games because most of the cost they are charging for is the art. Another part of it, I think, is money seems to restrict users, but this is less important than the feeling of being taken advantage of.

Anyways, I'm cheap to, so that may color my feelings.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

First Meme

So I guess I'll do one of those blog meme thingamabobs. This one I saw at pharyngula...

Where did you graduate from and what year?

West Windsor - Plainsboro High School South, 2003

Who was your significant other?

umm... none.

Was your Prom a night to remember?

I went to post-prom, having no date, I didn't go to the dancing part. It was pretty good.

What was your favorite song you danced to the night of Prom?

I didn't dance.

Do you own all 4 yearbooks?

No, I only own two (freshmen and senior year)

What was your favorite movie in high school?

Probably The Matrix, though the sequels were disappointing.

What was your number 1 choice of college in high school?

If Reed College in Oregon had been on the east coast, it would have been my favorite. I suppose NYU was my favorite then, and was the only school to outright reject me.

What radio station did you jam out to in high school?

I didn't really listen to radio in high school. Or much music in general. I got into listening to music in college.

Were you involved in any organizations or clubs?

Let's see here, I was in the German club (basically just a place to meet up and goof off after school), and the orchestra.

What was your favorite class in high school?

Probably orchestra. We had a lot of fun in the bass section, and we played in a lot of cool places (we went to Carnegie Hall one year).

Who was your big crush in high school?

I had several. None of them did I approach. Oh well...

Would you say youĂ‚’ve changed a lot since highschool?

Yes, probably many people wouldn't recognize me.

What do you miss the most about it?

The vast amount ofleisuree time.

Your worst memory of HS?

I don't know, the worst thing was the boringness and conformity, and there isn't one thing I can point to as being terrible.

Did you have a car ?

Not my own, I drove my Mom's a lot though.

What were your school colors?

Green and Gold

Who was your favorite teacher?

Both of my physics teachers were good, but myGermann teacher Frauu Dine) was the one I had the best personalrelationshipp with, as she was the onlyGermann teacher, so I had her for four years in a small class.

Did you own a cell phone in high school?

Yes, but only used it for emergencies.

Did you leave campus for lunch?


If so, where was your favorite place to go eat?

Chicken Holiday, good wings cheap.

Were you always late to class?

No, I was always early, and still am.

Did you ever have to stay for Sat. School?


Did you ever ditch?

No. I was a good student.

When it comes time for the reunion will you be there?

I might... If it'sconvenientt.

That wasn't too bad. I might do more of these if any catch my eye, but most are silly and pointless (this one was only pointless).

Wednesday, December 28, 2005


So now I'm back from my visiting my cousins'. I spent the time being indoctrinated by my ultra-liberal uncle, so I'm not happy with the president right now. Of course had I been home I would have written something on the whole Bush-wiretapping thing. Now it seems so late to mention it, but nonetheless I'll say my piece.

President Bush has apparently been performing illegal wiretaps on US citizens without warrants. The information is all over the web if you wish to look into it more. What amazes me is that anyone can defend this. The fisa court (that grants warrants for wiretapping) has only turned down a request a few times (twice I think) and all those times they were accepted on appeal. Not only that but a retroactive warrant can be requested for 72 hours afterward. Given this, why did the president's men not get warrants? There are two possibilities I can think of right now: pure contempt for the law, or they were not spying on terrorism suspects. I lean towards the second possibility, though the two are not exclusive.

Anyways this isn't really a political blog, however this wiretapping thing is at least as bad as what got Nixon almost impeached.

Monday, December 19, 2005


So I'm at my cousins' this week. My younger cousin just had his seventh birthday, and he got the kids version of cranium, which we were playing with him. My uncle was supposed to act out a fictional character he was thinking of (he chose King Kong) my little cousin guessed that "it's god!". I thought it was very amusing that my cousin thinks god is a fictional character (who can blame him). :)

Sunday, December 18, 2005

TSO concert

So I went to a Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert tonight. I know what you're wondering: why is a Jewish atheist going to see Christmas music? The answer is that I got an offer to go, and since I don't go to nearly enough concerts, accepted. I've played most of the music they did (I've played the original, acoustic versions however) so the religious nature of it can't really bother me too much. And I don't have anything against Christian rock inherently, just that it almost never works out right, in fact this does mostly because it has very few vocals, and uses a lot of pre-existing music.

So how was it, you ask. It was quite good, there were things I really liked (like carmina burana, what a good song), but a few things I did not. There were two parts to the show: a narrated story part for the first half and a more freeform show for the second. I much preferred the second. Although I'm a sucker for the idea of playing classical music with rock instrumentation there were a few recommendations I would make to the band:
  1. You have many people in your band, try to make it sound like more than a power foursome (you know, guitar, bass, drums, and keyboard) with many vocalists

  2. Keep up the pace: you have a bunch of songs, none of them (not even flight of the bumblebee) is particularly fast. I like fast.

  3. Cut the silly narrator: It's a fine idea for an album, but it doesn't really work at a live show

So I enjoyed it overall, but it could have been better (well... Better for me, lots of people probably like it more how it is now than how I would like it).

Oh, and I'm going to be in Maryland for a week so I may or may not be posting anything here next week...

Friday, December 16, 2005

Weblogs I read

So to give people a taste of what I'm aiming for here, let's take a look at the weblogs that I read:
  • Cosmic Variance: A group weblog about physics, whenever I want to really geek out, here is where I go

  • Pharyngula: a nice blog full of all good stuff: biology, atheism, cephalapod sex...

  • Unscrewing The Inscrutable: More good stuff with science, atheism, and such

  • Orac Knows: a medical blog, full of quackfighting goodness

  • Bitch Ph. d.: Supposed to be a feminist blog, but I suspect a lot of guys to read it because of her open marriage and related sexual hijinx

Hmmm... I wonder if this reveals anything about me... 3 academic blogs, 4 science blogs, and 3 athism blogs out of five...

Blog anxiety disorder

So I haven't posted much recently, mostly because I want to make sure that there is mostly good stuff on here, and haven't been inspired by anything recently. That and finals.

I was wondering what sort of stuff I should put on here and I decided that it might be interesting to talk about why I'm so reluctant to add stuff of less than top quality. I mean, I have this little weblog so I get stuff off my chest, not to attract readers, so why am I worried about low quality of content? Part of it probably is my eternal need to differentiate myself from the masses of terrible blogs, and the way to do that is to have some good content. Another part is my neurotic need to always be good at everything I do (which is not a bad thing, just it can make me do weird stuff sometimes). My desire for all my posts to be really good contrasts with my internal pressure to post fairly often (because if I don't I know that I'll just end up not posting anything and giving up this blog), and this little conflict leads to me posting less, just worrying about it more.

Anyways, I need to worry about this less, presumably as I post more stuff I'll get more comfortable with this whole blogging thing.

So I just noticed that the default Blogger spellchecker doesn't have blog, weblog, or blogging in it's dictionary. Interesting, no?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

8-bit mastery

I love 8-bit christmas tunes, though I prefered NEScover.

There's just something about 8-bit sounds that I love. I think it might be nostalgia, but considering I never had an original nintendo this is doubtful. It might just be that I love all goofy old synths (especially the Hammond Organ though how that relates to 8-bit sounds is beyond me). It might also be that I love all video game music... whatever.

In any case enjoy the sweet sounds of the 8-bit masters.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

And now for something completely different

Time for some more light-hearted fare.

I've been there, with the lab that doesn't work. From what I've seen of "the real world" you deal with the same things, crappy equipment, ambiguous error-prone data, and unclear goals. The main difference that I see is that in real research you are supposed to talk to other people to figure out what's wrong, whereas in undergrad labs figuring things out on your own is considered a virtue. The main job of a researcher is to talk to other researchers because that's the way to best figure things out.

Anyways, that's enough ranting, just posting a funny link...

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Science and the design hypothesis

In today's environment it's a topic every science blog has to mention, Intelligent Design.

Before we go to biology, where the battle is going on, lets look at my particular field, physics. I recently read an article at The Panda's Thumb called SETI vs ID which talks about the methods the people at SETI try to infer design. This brought up a memory of something one of my professors mentioned from when he was a grad student at MIT. This was when pulsars were first discovered. A call came in from the discoverer of pulsars about his (really his grad student's) discovery, and that they were calling it LGM-1 for little green men, thinking that it must be some alien civilization because it was sending out periodic pulses at times on the order of microseconds. My professor used this as a jumping off point to describe the technique of dimensional analysis, whereby the MIT people managed do decide in about 20 minutes that a spinning neutron star could cause the signal, but this is an example of the design hypothesis at work, and an (almost) legitimate invocation of it. Let us look more closely at it.

Why was the design hypothesis made in this case? Mostly because very exatly timed radio signals on astronomic scales occur very rarely in nature, pretty much only in pulsars (note that they do happen very often at small scales, such things as quartz and atomic clocks, but such things don't really scale up). So it was unlike anything ever seen before, but also it would seem to be something that would be useful to an intelligent life. Also note that the design hypothesis would require no changes to the known laws of physics. So why was this wrong? Simply put because it was unnecessary, it was found through calculation that spinning neutron stars could create the signal. The design hypothesis should only be used as a last resort, all else being equal the undesign hypothesis should succeed.

So let's reenter the battlefield of evolutionary biology, what lessons should we bring from this example?
  1. The design hypothesis can be legitimate
  2. It almost never is
  3. The design hypothesis should be put to extra scrutiny to meet with evidence because extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence

Also I would like to note that ID usually invokes a form of the design hypothesis that is unscientific in that it invokes the supernatural (or at least technology so advanced as to be indistinguishable from the supernatural) to make it's claims. Anyways, ID falls down simply because it lacks evidence, and the data can be better explained using evolution, which is nice since we try to avoid the design hypothesis anyways.

Anyways, thanks for reading

Monday, December 05, 2005

Kids these days

Ok, so I'm 20, I still am a kid, I'm not even old enough to drink legally.
so why am I complaining about kids these days?
It's not the young kids (though they don't look to be any better), it's people my age. Specifically it's Americans my age. Specifically they don't seem to value education. I'm not talking about training, they value that, learning salable skills. However education is not about getting a salable skill (though that helps) it's about preparing yourself for life. There is a lot more to that then any school can teach, however what you can learn in school is how to think. Learning shouldn't be about memorizing facts because facts can always be looked up. Learning is about understanding concepts, and that concept a distressing few students at my university seem to understand.
Part of the problem is that it is so much easier to test memorization of facts then understanding of concepts that students are rewarded for memorization. This starts long before college, in overworked and overpopulated public schools, but the effect is that in college many students worry about grades, not as a means to an end, but as an end themselves. Most students (and parents) are so focused on getting a job after college that they miss one secret of long-term employment (this I admit to having no first hand experience in), learning how to learn.
One example I can think of where this is especially obvious is the computer programming industry. Thousands of college graduates are given a vocational course in (now mostly) Java programming, without really understanding how a computer works, or any of the theory behind the language they are using (sometimes resulting in terrible code). Many can't even compile their code without using their fancy IDE. They'll do fine for a few years, but what happens when Java falls out of favor (and it seems the one constant of the computing industry is that everything falls out of favor)? If they were really prepared they would already know a whole bunch of languages and all the concepts needed to learn a new one quickly, so they would have no problems.
This isn't really meant to be a rant on the sorry state of most computer science majors (there are plenty of good ones, but the number of bad ones is so much higher), as this same idea applies to many other fields. A sad commentary is that the first thing I am usually asked when I mention that I'm a physics major is "What do you want to do with that?". I always respond that I think it's interesting, I'm not worried about a job because there will always be a place for someone who knows advanced math and computers. I'm not even going into the societal effects of not challenging the mind and the profusion of sloppy thinking.
Anyways, thanks for reading, and challenge your preconceptions some time.


Hi, I'm Max and welcome to my blog.
I know it says in its name that it isn't one, I'll get to that in a minute, but first I'd like to introduce myself.

I'm a physics student at Drexel University, I've worked at the Army Research Lab (ARL) for co-op (think internship if you don't know what a co-op is). I listen to lots of different types of music, mostly of the odd variety, and play upright and electric bass. I'm very opinionated, and like to argue with people, thus my love of the internet. I also play with computers in other ways, and program a little in my spare time. I cook and like good food.
There, me in a paragraph.

So why the name for the blog? Well I think that the term 'blog' has become watered down and meaningless. It is used to describe everything from Slashdot to Paul Graham's essays to whiny livejournals. It is used to describe any place that someone post on the internet (except for forums, but where do forums end and blogs begin?). There are few commonalities among blogs, in terms of format (I wouldn't expect any in content). So when I decided to start putting essays on the internet I figured that I could make fun of the overuse of the term 'blog' and make up a catchy title at the same time.

Expect most posts in the future to be on science, music, or philosophy. I like to dabble though, so who can say just what I'll start putting in here.

Anyways, thanks for reading.