Monday, August 31, 2009

Lego accessories

Yup, that's my new bag. Not just any bag, mind you: a Lego space shoulder bag! Apart from the Lego space logo, there's an actual Lego figure from the 1970s behind a small display. Plus it has a Lego brick as a zipper. Does it get any better than that?

In fact, it does. The Lego shop boasts quite a number of nifty items that would look good in any household. Take for example the pepper and salt shaker set that's putting the other items in our kitchens to shame:

That's where my little collection stops for now, but in the Lego shop the list goes on. Want to impress your friends with Lego-cooled drinks? No problem! Use the Lego ice brick tray:
Of course you'll want to serve those Lego-cold drinks on matching coasters:

You know what would go good with those drinks? Lego cake!

Ok, so you don't like cake. Have some cookies instead!

And to finish it off, here's some Lego cutlery for you:
So next time you're close to one of the few Lego shops and in need of new kitchen accessories, be sure to drop on by.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Cubing away

For my last birthday I got a brand new V-Cube 7. Yes, I know, it's perhaps a bit nerdy, but it's soooo cool. Where the ordinary Rubik's cube is 3x3x3, this baby is 7x7x7. And where the number of permutations of the 3x3x3 was already staggering (4.33 x 1019 to be precise), the possible states of the V-Cube 7 is an absolutely mind-blowing 1.95 x 10160. That's more than the number of atoms in the visible universe! In fact, if you had one cube for every permutation and were to shrink them all down to the size of atoms, you could fill the visible universe up to 1015 times over. Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is a lot of permutations.

Apart from these dazzling numbers, it's also quite a beautifully constructed. Have a look at this amazing stop-motion video of its assembly:

And best of all, it's fun to play with. Where I can solve the ordinary Rubik's cube in just under 5 minutes, the V-Cube 7 takes me almost an hour. But today I had an incredible stroke of luck: I managed to solve it in just one minute! Fortunately, I knew beforehand this was going to happen, and I had my camera at the ready:

Okay, so perhaps I cheated a bit. But how?

As some of you already have guessed, I just played the video backward. That way it appears the cube gets solved, where instead it's just getting scrambled. And yes, I got the idea from Michel Gondry.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

East coast vs. West coast in particle physics

Last year saw the jaw-dropping Large Hadron Rap, explaining the LHC at CERN as best as possible to the layman in five minutes. For those of you forgot, here's the video:

This year Fermilab strikes back! It looks like science rapper funky49 made a proper gangsta-rap about the Tevatron. There's no video yet, but he's posted the lyrics on his website:

"(...) Tevatron, OG atom smasher
say hello to CERN’s party crasher, the
new “Lord of the Rings” LHC, hear me, this
be competitive collaboration baby (...)"

There has been some rivaly between CERN and Fermilab on who discovers the Higgs first. It looks like the rivalry now has entered a whole new domain ... will we see the likes of the East Coast vs. West Coast feud for particle physics?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

My new turntable

Have a look at this beauty:

It's my new turntable, the black matte edition of the Pro-Ject Debut III to be precise. It's actually my first proper turntable. I did have one before, but I threw it away because it's crappy construction and even crappier needle were ruining my records.

You can imagine I was pretty excited when I unboxed it at home, eager to play some records that were gathering dust. Much to my dismay I found that installing the damn thing was trickier than I first imagined. Get it out of its box, put it on a shelve, connect it, and play, right? Not so. Here is an excerpt from the user's manual:

Make sure the surface you wish to use the turntable on is level (use a spirit level) before placing the turntable on it. Remove the two red transport screws (1) which secure the motor (22) during transportation.
Remove the transport lock (18) from the tonearm. Store it together with the two red motor transport screws (1) in the original packaging so they are available for any future transportation.
Fit the drive belt (3) around the hub (4) and the smaller diameter part of the motor pulley (2). Avoid getting sweat or grease on the belt as these will deteriorate the performance and reduce the belt's lifespan. Use absorbent kitchen paper to remove any oil or grease from the outer edge of the hub and the belt. Fit the platter (5) and felt mat over the spindle of the hub (4).

Cartridge downforce adjustment
The counterweight (6) supplied is suitable for cartridges weighing between 3,5 - 5,5g. Alternative counterweights for cartridges weighing between 6 - 9g or 1,5 - 3g are available as accessory parts. Adjust the downforce prior to installing the anti-skating weight.
Pushing carefully, turn the counterweight (6) onto the rear end of the tonearm tube (9), and so that the downforce scale (6a) shows towards the front of the player. Lower the armlift and position the cartridge in the space between arm rest and platter. Carefully rotate the counterweight (6) until the armtube balances out.
The arm should return to the balanced position if it is moved up or down. This adjustment must be done carefully. Do not forget to remove the cartridge protection cap if fitted.
Once the arm is correctly balanced return it to the rest. Hold the counterweight (6) without moving it, and gently revolve the downforce scale ring (6a) until the zero is in line with the anti-skating prong (15). Check whether the arm still balances out.
Rotate the counterweight counter clockwise (seen from the front) to adjust the downforce according to the cartridge manufacturer's recommendations. One mark on the scale represents 1 mN (= 0,1g / 0,1 Pond) of downforce.
Holy crap! That's a lot of work! In fact, it took me close to one hour getting everything right. But it was worth the effort: now I can listen to my records once more in perfect audio quality (cause the Debut III is one kick-ass turntable), and not worry about them getting ruined.

The Debt and Deficit Dragon

As a non-American, I feel a bit hesitant to comment on American domestic politics. Luckily, there's Jon Stewart and his ever vigilant Daily Show:

And I thought Dutch politics is awkward these days ... guess you can always do worse.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Setting up TeXlipse and Sumatra PDF

Update (24-03-2012)
Instead of going through the hassle of configuring SumatraPDF (steps 4-8 below), it's way easier to use the Eclipse PDF viewer PDF4Eclipse. It's specifically written for TeXlipse, and has forward- and inverse-search out-of-the-box.

After raving about how brilliant TeXlipse is, it's perhaps time to describe my actual LaTeX setup on Windows. The key ingredients are:
  • LaTeX distribution: MikTeX. I currently have version 2.7 installed, which has SyncTeX support (important for forward- and inverse-searching in PDF files). I haven't tried TeX Live, but that should in principle also work (it also has SyncTex support).
  • Editor: Eclipse + TeXlipse.
  • Previewer: Sumatra PDF. Yes, that's right, no DVI files for me!
Installation is a bit difficult, but worth the while. Here's how you do it:
  1. Download and install MikTeX 2.7 (or newer if you're up for it). Shouldn't be too difficult.
  2. Get a good version of Eclipse. A bit more difficult, since there are gazillion versions floating on the internet. The standard ones come with support for either C++ or Java, which we don't want. The cleanest distribution I could find is the Platform Runtime Binary. Download it and extract the zip file in C:\Program Files\ or the likes. Also put a shortcut to eclipse.exe on the desktop if you're lazy like me.
  3. Fire up Eclipse and follow the instructions on the TeXlipse website in order to install TeXlipse.
  4. Download and install Sumatra PDF. Also easy.
  5. And now the going gets though: it's time to configure TeXlipse. Luckily the TeXlipse folks also have a page for that. The extra ingredient from me is to add the switch "-synctex=1" to the pdflatex command, which enables PDF syncing. The pdflatex config should look something like this:
  6. Add a new viewer configuration for SumatraPDF, and make it the top of the list so it's the default viewer. Here's how its config should look:
  7. We're almost done. We still need to configure the inverse search for Sumatra PDF. Create a .BAT file in the Eclipse directory (or somewhere else convenient), with the following line:
    java -classpath "%ECLIPSEDIR%\plugins\net.sourceforge.texlipse_1.3.0\texlipse.jar" net.sourceforge.texlipse.viewer.util.FileLocationClient -p 55000 -f %1 -l %2
    There are no hard line breaks here, it's just one single line. Also add a environment variable via Control Panel -> System -> Advanced -> Environment variables -> System variables -> New. The variable name should be "ECLIPSEDIR", its value "c:\program files\eclipse" or wherever you installed Eclipse (both without the quotes).
  8. Configure Sumatra PDF for inverse search by running the command
    SumatraPDF.exe -inverse-search "\"C:\Program Files\eclipse\inverse_search.bat\" \"%f\" %l"
    where you should take care to properly point to the .BAT file you created in the previous step.
And that's it. Now you should be ready to experience all the wonders of the TeXlipse + Sumatra PDF combination. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The perfect LaTeX editor

LaTeX is great. It's math support is the best, and the automatic layout and referencing works perfect. Say if I wanted to write the Einstein field equations, all I'd have to do is type

G_{\mu\nu} + \Lambda g_{\mu\nu} = \frac{8 \pi G}{c^4} T_{\mu\nu}

in a text file (with some appropriate LaTeX specific headers), compile it, and I'd end up with

It's just brilliant.

However, most of the LaTeX editors available are just fancy text editors, with nothing quite special. Sure, they've all got the syntax highlighting and push-button compilation, but I want more. The reason I want more is because I've done some Java coding in the Netbeans IDE. Some of its features are:
  • Automatic code formatting. Any LaTeX enthusiast who has worked with multiple people on one file knows that your co-authors invariably mess up the formatting. Automatic formatting comes to the rescue with just one push of the button.
  • Live parsing. No more trying to figure out where those damn compilation errors are. Live parsing tells you with a red underline, much like the grammar check in Microsoft Word, the exact position your faulty code.
  • Code completion. Try it. Love it. Can't live without it. Why type the whole command when only the first few characters suffice?
  • Build-in documentation. Hover over a function or variable, and a nice documentation popup will appear which tells you all you need to know about that function / variable.
  • Subversion support. It tracks the changes you've made in the file with nice colors in the sidebar. And it automatically merges your changes with those of your collaborators. How cool is that?
The list goes on, but these are the features I miss the most in almost any LaTeX editor. Almost any, because last week I discovered TeXlipse. It's a plugin for Eclipse that adds LaTeX support. And because Eclipse is a modern IDE just like Netbeans, it also has the features above out of the box. Once I got it working (which required some effort I must admit), I couldn't be happier! Here it is action:

Notice the red cross before the line of the error, and the yellow warning sign before the line where there's an underfull hbox. Although it's not visible from the screenshot, the cursor is over the \otimes, causing the popup to appear that describes that particular command.

Although I'm working with it for a only week now, I'm pretty sure I'll stick to TeXlipse. It just makes my LaTeX workflow that much more pleasant.

Higher on the list means more citations

Yesterday, when I was doing my daily routine of checking new hep-th papers on the arXiv, I came across this article: "Positional effects on citation and readership in arXiv". For anyone who will post some papers on the arXiv this is a must-read. The authors confirm that the higher your paper is on the list of daily announcements, the more likely it will get a better long-term citation record:
"We confirm and extend a surprising correlation between article position in these initial announcements, ordered by submission time, and later citation impact, due primarily to intentional "self-promotion" on the part of authors. A pure "visibility" effect was also present: the subset of articles accidentally in early positions fared measurably better in the long-term citation record than those lower down."
How do you get on the top of the announcement list? It's easy: submit a paper right after the deadline of the day before. And the deadline is 16.00 US Easter Time, which is 22.00 here in The Netherlands. To be brutally honest, I don't stay in the office until that late in the evening, but for it is a small price to pay for more citations.

It's a silly mechanism. Luckily, the authors suggest that
"(...) arXiv subject area organization and interface design should be reconsidered either to utilize or to counter such unintentional biases."
As they're both affiliated to Cornell, let's hope they have some leverage to indeed push for some much-needed interface changes at the arXiv.

First post

Look here, my blog! Yes, after quite some hesitations I finally decided to create a blog. Not that I have that so many interesting stuff to say, but my personal branding coach said it would be good for my personal brand. So there.

So what can you expect? My intention is to mostly geek out about computers and physics, mixed up with a few music related post. I realize my audience might be very small, but I don't really care. Right now blogging looks like fun and I'm eager to find out if that's the case.

One last thing before I finish my first post ... curses on the person who has! He's doing nothing with it, and I have to settle for some second-rate URL. Life's just not fair. Sigh.