AC/DC – Back in Black

According to Wikipedia, AC/DC's Back in Black is the second most sold album, behind Michael Jackson's Thriller. Interestingly, it peaked at only #4 on the US album charts, and none of its individual songs ever reached the top 10. To sell nearly 50 million copies without reaching the top of the charts indicates that this album has had great longevity in the last 30 years. This is likely due to its many genuine hits that continue to get played today. As an example, many of the songs off this album are included on the Iron Man 2 movie soundtrack, which continues to reinforce the popularity of this album.

If I'm in the right mood, I like AC/DC. That mood has to be a not very quiet mood, as AC/DC should not be played softly. Overall, I like this album. I had already heard most of the songs on the album, as will have most of my readers (see above). This also means that this album can be safely missed, for the most part, because sooner or later, you'll hear one of the tracks anyway.

Update 7 Dec: I failed to mention that this is the first album I've reviewed that doesn't have the image of the musician(s) on the cover art. The band had their specific reasons for this (see the Wikipedia link above). I find it interesting that contemporary albums often do not have the image of the artists on the cover, but that 30 years ago a band had to have a specific reason to do this.

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Stevie Wonder – Hotter Than July

As far as I can tell, the voice auto-tuner did not exist when Stevie Wonder made this record. However, there are a couple tracks where either his voice has been somehow altered in post-production, or he's doing some weird things on his own. And I mean weird: I think it's more distracting than musically worthwhile.

Most songs on the album are what you would expect from Stevie, mostly Motown, with a bit of influence from Reggae. I have listened to Stevie's "Greatest Hits" album which includes a few songs where he experiments with rapping. Thankfully, "Hotter Than July" does not include any Rap songs by Stevie (he's not a good rapper).

A minor quibble: This album was released in late September 1980, well after the summer heat that is beading sweat on Stevie's face ended. I think that it should have been released earlier (or later) in the (next) year, because listening to this in late November feels a bit out of synch with the calendar. I haven't sweated due to the weather in months!

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Cal-Washington Football Game

Memorial Stadium

Today we went to the Cal-Washington football game. This was the last game held at Memorial Stadium before it is torn down and rebuilt. It's about time - the bleachers are falling apart, the concrete is deteriorated, and it's seismically unsafe. The outcome of the game was not a good one: Cal lost 16-13 on the last play of the game, where Washington scored a touchdown. It rained (and even hailed) for much of the game, which I suppose is kind of poetic.


We ran into Paul (pictured above), an old Cal Cycling friend of mine. Unlike me, he's been to Cal games all season. I've only witnessed their futility on the TV until now. Washington had the ball on 4th down, with half a yard to the end zone, with one second on the clock. If Washington had been stopped, Cal would have won the game and gone to a bowl game. As turned out, Cal could not stop Washington, and finished the season with a losing record, and no bowl game.

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Kenny Rogers – Greatest Hits

This album hits all the typical country themes: a woman leaving a man ("Lucille"), American military ("Reuben James"), inter-class (or perhaps race) love and intolerance ("Long Arm of the Law"), prostitution ("Ruby Don't Take Your Love to Town"), gang rape and revenge ("Coward of the County"), and love (every other song on the album). What strikes me is how similar these topics are similar to those in rap music, but since it's sung by a white guy with an actual tune behind it, it's somehow more socially acceptable. Perhaps it's because most of the non-love songs here are in the third person, while in rap it's often in the first.

Would I recommend this album? Eh, I'm fairly ambivalent about that. The first sentence above notwithstanding, the album isn't actually as country as I'm making it out to be. I'm generally not a fan of country, so this is actually a small amount of praise. It might be worth a listen just so you can say you've heard Kenny Rogers sing about the topics above. Or you could not, and go on with your day with the knowledge you're not missing much.

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TSA Regulations


We're flying to Oakland next week for a whole slew of events with family. I haven't decided if I'm going to opt-out of the advanced imaging scanners (AIS) or not. The TSA and FDA claim the X-ray backscatter imaging machines are safe, however they reference studies looking at a different energy-band of X-rays than are used in the machines. The millimeter-wave machines are likely safer. My decision may depend on which type of machine they're using (if Denver has them yet, they didn't the last time I was there) and how much time we have before the flight.

I am a firm believer that most of what the TSA does is "security theater," wherein they do things that appear to make us safer by responding to specific threats, but it does not (and can not ever) address all the different attack vectors terrorists might use. In particular, the AIS machines and the "enhanced" pat-downs (more like "feel-ups"), which have been introduced ostensibly in response to the "underwear bomber" from a year ago, fail to address "internally" stored explosives, so to speak. Not that I'm hoping for it to happen, but as soon as this fairly obvious attack vector is tried, what will the TSA do then?

I have some ideas.

  • Have passengers to disrobe into hospital-style gowns with open backs. Then they must perform ten deep squats in view of a TSA agent. They have the option of visiting the bathroom beforehand to prevent "accidents" (or get rid of the evidence). This will have the side-benefit of preventing obese and disabled passengers from flying, allowing the airlines to reduce seat and aisle width and legroom even further.
  • Tell passengers to show up to the airport six hours early and give everyone a strong laxative. This may be combined with the above, in order to "facilitate" the discovery or disposal of explosives.
  • Sedate passengers prior and during to each flight period, giving them a 24 hour window over which the flight may occur. This prevents the terrorists from being conscious to set a bomb off, or set a timer beforehand. To prevent the use of air pressure-sensitive triggers, the sedated passengers would spend time in a high-altitude chamber.
  • Good ol' fashioned cavity searches. Anything for security, right?

Sure, the things above sound ridiculous, but so does wasteful security that responds to specific threats, which is what we have now.

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Bruce Springsteen – The River

The River, by Bruce Springsteen, is a double album that reached the number one spot 30 years ago this week. Springsteen is one of my favorites, he ranks first in my list of number of plays on

I can't say that this is one of my favorite Springsteen albums, but I don't dislike it. It's the beginning of the path to Nebraska, an album I definitely have to be in the right mood to listen to. I think that's why this album isn't quite what I normally want out of Springsteen. I generally want upbeat, rocking songs out of Springsteen, and this only partially delivers. But, I'm comparing Springsteen with Springsteen, and all Springsteen in my opinion is better than most contemporary popular music (e.g. recent Black Eyed Peas). Which is to say that, this album should be listened to, unless, of course, you have bad taste in music and actually like current popular music (e.g. Justin Bieber).

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Queen – The Game

This week I listened to Queen's "The Game", which was in second place behind Barbra Streisand's "Guilty" this week. This album has two genuinely big hits on it that still get plenty of airplay: Another One Bites The Dust and Crazy Little Thing Called Love.

One of the songs I like is "Don't Try Suicide" which is simultaneously macabre and sarcastic. Well, actually, it isn't a great song or tune, but I like the idea of a ridiculous song about something so serious. In this way it's similar to "Suicide is Painless" from the M*A*S*H movie and TV show (although the words are missing in the TV show). "Sail Away Sweet Sister" is a harbinger for the future of hair metal power ballads in the 80s. The number one hits mentioned above are still fun, if a bit over-played, still, 30 years later.

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Back in The Saddle Again

Water and Snow-Capped Mountains

Image location

Today was my first official day of my postdoc position. Naturally, like most people would, I skipped out early to go ride my bike. It makes more sense once you know that for the last month and a half, I haven't gone for a bike ride because I haven't had health insurance. Not being insured made bike riding a risky proposition. As a result, I've also been walking to school and back which takes 40+ minutes each way, in comparison to the 10 minutes it takes on a bike. Today was my first opportunity to ride my bike, and it was sunny and relatively warm, so I wasn't going to pass it up. In addition, I've basically been doing this job for over a month already, so the first-day impression came long ago.

Today's ride was a bit of exploration, and very autumnal, as the photo above proves. If you look carefully, you can see some snow on the highest peaks. It was also my first opportunity to use my new Garmin Edge 705, which was a graduation present from various Ruggles. My legs definitely exhibited the effects of no bike riding -; they got tired very quickly.

Finally, happy November!

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Barbra Streisand – Guilty

I've decided to begin listening to the number one album from 30 years ago each week and then write a little bit about it here. Why isn't terribly important, other than it will hopefully be mostly entertaining, always enlightening, and occasionally fruitful. However, here are a few reasons. I recently had my 31st birthday, and birthdays are always opportunities to ponder the passage of time. Presumably, I should have then decided to look back 31 years, but that makes the math harder (and thinking hurts) so I'll keep it at 30 years. Looking at the current top list of albums, much of it is stuff I definitely wouldn't listen to on my own volition. I doubt that in 30 years it will be judged to be any higher quality. In this sense, I could do this exercise with current music. But by going back in time I'm, exposing myself to new music that isn't currently on the radio (for the most part), so it has extra novelty. I already know the general direction of popular music over the last 30 years, so it will be interesting to see the progression in more detail with this foreknowledge.

I haven't fully fleshed out the rules of this. For example, if an album is number one for more than one week, I think I'll drop down to the second place album, or beyond. There will be other rules about if I've already listened to an album (for example if it oscillates up and down from number one).

This week I listened to Barbra Streisand - Guilty. The fact that this is the first album in this experiment made it very difficult to begin. I was not a fan of her work, and my opinion hasn't been improved.

First some observations about this album. The cover shows Barbra with Barry Gibb, of the Bee Gees. They sing duets on two of the nine of the tracks, which seems to be an awfully low ratio for him to be featured on the cover*. Also, he doesn't really sing in his trademarked joyful falsetto, which is more false advertising. To me, that's 100% of his appeal, so without it, who cares? Furthermore, I'm not clear what anyone is guilty of in this album, besides being boring and uninspiring.

A few of songs have enough to them that the could serve as adequate background music during a Roger Moore Bond film, but certainly not during the introduction to a Bond movie. Most songs are Celine Dion-esque and are about strong women looking for love, but probably only appeal to women that are nothing like that. I'm missing the genetics and personality to appreciate it.

I'm planning on at least making a real effort to see this idea through for a while, but this is an inauspicious beginning.

(* Ok, apparently Barry Gibb wrote all of the songs, so his contribution is greater than 2/9ths.)

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Volume Rendered Movies

It's show-and-tell time! Below are two movies I made using the volume rendering tools of yt. I've been using yt for a few years to analyze and visualize the cosmological simulations I make with Enzo, and only recently have I had time to begin to play with the new volume rendering stuff.

The first movie is a slow rotation around the entire volume of a simulation at a contemporary epoch, which means that this image is produced from the state of simulation at its end, 13 billion years after it started. The colors correspond to the density of matter in the volume, from dark blue to white as density increases. The simulation is a periodic cube with dimensions 20 Mpc/h on a side. In comparison, the diameter of our galaxy is somewhere around one thousand times smaller. This means that the whitest areas correspond to clusters of galaxies, and our galaxy would be just a small part of one of the white blobs. Be sure to watch the movie full screen!

Below shows the time evolution of the simulation from beginning to end. This is a thin slab of the center of the simulation (10% thickness) viewed from a corner of the cube. Notice that early on the matter is very clumpy everywhere, but rapidly forms dense knots connected by thin filaments. This is how the real universe looks! After about the half-way point of the movie you'll notice that not much happens. Again, this is how the real universe looks! Much of the large-scale evolution of the universe was finished about 7 billion years ago. This movie uses comoving coordinates, that compensate for the expansion of the universe. If I were to use proper coordinates, which are the kind we use every day to measure normal things with rulers, the movie would show the simulation starting very small and then blowing up. Again, use the full screen option for the best image.

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Eldorado Canyon Hike

Yesterday I hiked in Eldorado Canyon State Park with Melissa, Megan and Megan's significant other Chris. This park is just south of Boulder and like much of the front range offers spectacular views. This time of year the trees are well into changing color and dropping leaves. The occasion warranting a hike is that today is my birthday, and since I am all done with graduate school, I have free time to do this sort of thing.

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Super Awesome Car

I saw this on my walk to school this morning. I don't know if the scoop is operational, or if the exhaust really runs through the pipe below the door. The color isn't doing it any favors. I do like the white-wall tires, which are a nice and subtle touch (but they could use a wash).


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Back in San Diego (Temporarily)


I'm back in San Diego for the next week and a half in order to graduate. I defend in one week on the 27th. The photo above is of a tarantula that lives in the office that I used to sit in, and that I am sitting in again while I'm here. That is its full significance to this post.

If the tarantula isn't big enough above, you can make it bigger by clicking on the image!

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More Bragging

Today I rode "Super Walker" which means that I did the Walker Ranch loop starting from town rather than the trail head. It turns out that the ride really is super, and there is a huge amount of climbing. Over 5000 feet of climbing in 30 miles.

I am going to brag again about how amazing cycling is here, and show some more photos of some of the ride today. You may click on them to enlarge them. Below is South Boulder Creek, which a couple parts of the loop crosses and parallels. The water was moving at a good clip!

Walker Ranch etc

A view looking North-West from one of the ridge lines the trail follows.

Walker Ranch etc

This is looking roughly East, down into the plains South of Boulder in front of the mountains.

Walker Ranch etc

Often times, the warning signs along trails are overly-cautious. It's not that I think they don't apply to me, but once I've ridden a trail a few times, I can judge for myself how technical the trail is, or how fast to take a corner. As long as there is no one else on the trail, and I can see far enough forward to be safe, I go my own speed. On this trail, however, I do not have experience, so I decided to heed the warning.

Walker Ranch etc

This is one case where the warning sign is correct. These are the stairs immediately after the sign that are significantly steeper, with bigger vertical step sizes, than most people find comfortable. It's always tough to tell how steep things are in photos, but trust me, there is no chance I'll ever ride these stairs. The stairs go down to the canyon floor which has been carved by South Boulder Creek, and is very steep and rocky (as can be seen) on both sides. But the scenery is fantastic, so the inconvenience of the stairs is worth it!

Walker Ranch etc

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Busy Times in Colorado

It has been nearly a month a half since my last post about leaving San Diego, and we've finally made it to Boulder! Ok, actually it didn't take that long. It took us two days, with a stop overnight in Saint George, Utah. The long gap in posting is due to how busy I've been here in Boulder, which has been nearly entirely due to getting my thesis done, but also to a good deal of work getting the new apartment put together. Those things deserve their own posts, which may or may not happen.

What I would like to post here are some pictures I took on my bike ride yesterday. I am 99.7% done with the draft of my thesis which I'm sending to my advisors this weekend, so I figured I could take some time to ride my bike recreationally. This is a novelty for me recently. Come wintertime, I'm definitely going to miss the weather in San Diego, but right now, cycling here definitely beats San Diego. It takes less than ten minutes to get out of town onto roads like this:


or this:


or this where it feels like I can see all the way to Kansas over the plains:


I just wanted to share. Hopefully, now that the bulk of the thesis is done, I can enjoy this area a bit before winter hits!

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