Thursday, September 30, 2004

Potential Posts

I really haven't meant to leave six days between postings, and the last one only a poem (which involves very little effort on my part) and before that just news about myself, and before that a hiatus...

I was going to post something today, but there aren't enough hours.

So here, just so you don't think I've abandoned you entirely, are the next few posts I have planned:

Cubs game: Ken and I finally went today, but I want to post pictures, and I forgot the bring the digital camera, and anyway we lost. So now I'll wait until I get my film developed, then scan a couple in. It's worth writing about anyway. There were some great moments. Part-time pitcher Glendon Rusch's home run; Sammy Sosa's grand-slam-that-wasn't; and being one pitch away from the win in the ninth, before LaTroy let us down... (Now we're half a game behind Houston in the Wild Card race.) And also the train, the fans, the evil security guy, Wrigleyville, the old lady in the baseball-dress, Ron Santo, and dinner afterward, with a side trip to the Music Box.

EIT: That stands for Electromagnetically Induced Transparency, and it has a lot to do with this project I'm starting work on, and related to Ken's (separate) project as well. Working with him, I'm finally starting to understand some stuff, but it will help me if I try to explain it in simple terms for other people. The project itself is an optical gyroscope, and interesting in its own right. The connection is that you can make the gyroscope hugely more sensetive by slowing the light in it down to a couple of meters per second using a side-effect of EIT. I'll probably need more than one post for this stuff, actually.

Presidential Debates: I'm sure everyone else in the blogosphere will be taking these apart in detail, but I don't think I'll be able to resist the temptation to add my two cents' worth.

So watch this space.

Friday, September 24, 2004

As Freedom is a Breakfastfood

It's poetry time again. I have no idea what this means, but it sounds cool. It looks cool. It tastes cools. It's e.e. cummings, which you can probably tell just by looking...

Although, now that I think about it, maybe it's something about how we play pretend, like kids who make believe they're soldiers. We pretend we're better and more important than we are, and that makes us better and more important than we are. Is there any difference between something we pretend is symbolic and something that really is symbolic?

Or maybe it just sounds cool. That's more important, I think.

as freedom is a breakfastfood
or truth can live with right and wrong
or molehills are from mountains made
--long enough and just so long
will being pay the rent of seem
and genius please the talentgang
and water most encourage flame

as hatracks into peachtrees grow
or hopes dance best on bald men's hair
and every finger is a toe
and any courage is a fear
--long enough and just so long
will the impure think all things pure
and hornets wail by children stung

or as the seeing are the blind
and robins never welcome spring
nor flatfolk prove their world is round
nor dingsters die at break of dong
and common's rare and millstones float
--long enough and just so long
tomorrow will not be too late

worms are the words but joy's the voice
down shall go which and up come who
breasts will be breasts thighs will be thighs
deeds cannot dream what dreams can do
--time is a tree (this life one leaf)
but love is the sky and i am for you
just so long and long enough

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Yes, Master

I promise I'll write another real post, which might possibly be of interest to people who aren't me, soon. But in the meantime, I've got more fun mail that I can't resist sharing:

"Just for your information.... For those of you who recently passed all of your qualifier exams, if you have also completed all of your core course requirements plus 2 electives you now qualify for your Master's Degree. If you are interested in obtaining it please stop by my office to fill out the necessary paperwork. If you enter into Master's Candidacy by Sept. 29th you will get your degree in December."

Might as well, right? Although I'm a little disappointed I don't get a Mistress Degree...

I will expect everyone to begin addressing me as "Master Mary."

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

You've Got Mail

Congratulations! On behalf of the Physics and Astronomy faculty, I am pleased to inform you that you have fully satisfied our department's preliminary qualification examination requirement. Best wishes for continued success in your research and studies.

Friday, September 17, 2004

I Am Blogging

I'm emerging from my exam-bunker, now, and have nothing better to do, so you are going to get all of the stuff I've thought about blogging in the past little while in one big lump. After this, I am planning to spend the next few days doing nothing but reading and watching back episodes of the Daily Show on my parents' DVR (for those that don't know, that stands for "not technically a Tivo.")

The first book on my list, which I finished this morning, was Kurt Vonnegut's Mother Night. It's the story of an American who becomes a propagadist in Nazi Germany, sending coded messages for the allies through his anti-semetic radio broadcasts. But he does his cover job too well, inspiring rank-and-file National Socialists, propping up their rationalizations, earning a prestigious place for himself in that society... He absolves most of his Nazi friends of real guilt, saying that they forgot the difference between fantasy and reality, but finds himself guilty of crimes against himself, because he always knew when he was lying. And he has something to say about how societies come to celebrate death. In the book, Hitler sends him a note after reading his translation of the Gettysburg Address: "Some parts of this almost made me weep. All northern peoples are one in their deep feelings for soldiers. It is perhaps our greatest bond." And later, back in America, someone tells him the flags and the closed shops are for Veterans' Day. He says, "This used to be a day in honor of the dead of World War One, but the living couldn't keep their grubby hands off of it, wanted the glory of the dead for themselves. So typical, so typical. Any time anything of real dignity appears in this country, it's torn to shreds and thrown to the mob."

It was in that light that I watched this segment from the Daily Show. In case you don't have Media Player 9 ('cause the Daily Show is now an all-Microsoft shop) here's the beginning:

When Abraham Lincoln was shot, it took an entire century to come up with the Presidents' Day mattress sale. But these days we move a little quicker. So quickly we've already turned the tragedy of Sept. 11 into a holiday: Patriot Day. Hallmark has already gotten into the spirit, creating E-cards like this one. It's all part of America's stages of grief. Denial, anger, depression, acceptance, and finally exploitation."

Patriotic roses, "A tower to celebrate America" of brownies and cookies, discount cottage rentals for the Sept 11th weekend, National Collector's Mint coins plated with silver recovered from ground zero, and Valor the Eagle, whose tag says he was "born on September Eleventh."

Meanwhile (also via the Daily Show) Donald Rumsfeld has forgotten Osama Bin Laden's name. Here are some excerpts from the DoD's transcript of his remarks to the National Press Club: "The leader of the opposition Northern Alliance, Massoud, lay dead, his murder ordered by Saddam Hussein -- by Osama bin Laden, Taliban's co- conspirator." And then: "Saddam Hussein (sic), if he's alive, is spending a whale of a lot of time trying to not get caught. And we've not seen him on a video since 2001. Now he's got to be busy. Why is he busy? It's because of the pressure that's being put on him."

And things are even worse in Russia. In the aftermath of the "bloody outcome of the Beslan school siege," President Putin is asking for constitutional changes. "Curiously, however, the Russian leader's proposals focused largely on electoral changes. Putin said he would propose legislation abolishing the election of local governors by popular vote. Instead they would be nominated by the president and confirmed by local legislatures. He said the change was needed to streamline and strengthen the executive branch to better combat terror. Putin also asked for a revision of the method by which Russians elect their parliament. The entire 450 seats would be chosen from candidates on party lists." (from the CNN coverage)


But not all the news is bad news. Kansas City may be getting a new sports arena. Why do I care? Because Kansas City still feels like my home town, and I'm still angry about what's happened to it. White flight, an infinitely expanding suburban ring where the wealthy people go to be among their own kind, protected from mere mortals. And the city itself dies by degrees. Small businesses can't compete with the chain stores on the outskirts, and anybody who can't afford to live in the new McMansions has a hard time finding a job, and no chance at all if they can't commute out by car. What's left is a place with a hollow heart, all suburbs and no substance. There's no city left in Kansas City. So yay for downtown renewal! Even better, it turns out it's the home to lots of sports architecture firms, who want to collaborate, to make the building a kind of advertisement for the hometown industry. But they have competition, from a group that includes the infamous Frank Gehry, designer of the Experience Music Project and the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, both of which I got to see during construction, and visit almost as soon as they opened. I basically hate the EMP and love the Pritzker Pavilion (because what works for a band shell does not work for a museum. And because the EMP is partially painted pink.) I'm interested to see what he would come up with for poor old KC.

And then there's this obituary which I somehow find more encouraging than depressing, and the stunts pulled by the Fathers-4-Justice, in particular the Batman who climbed Buckhingham Palace. The Tribune had a great photo of him leaning imperturbably on a ledge, meeting the eye of a security man with an expression that said, "So what? I'm Batman." Neither Thomasz nor I could find it online, unfortunately.

Oh -- and since I mentioned Vonnegut at the beginning? You know that "Sunscreen Speech" that he supposedly gave? It was really by Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich, of course, and in a column this week she answered the question, "What kind of sunscreen?" Apparently she recommends PreSun SPF 30.

The next books on my list are the complete works of Lemony Snicket. My sister wants me to read as many of the books as I can while I'm home. I think these will suit my current mood very well.

Friday, September 10, 2004

I'm Not Blogging

No indeed, not blogging. Studying. Only the stuff that's been happening in the lab is too entertaining not to write up, while I remember it. Also, I have more pictures. I'll attach them to this post, after I'm done.

I think the first picture will have to be the bolt that I twisted in half today. See, last time I was putting vacuum stuff together, Ken was still able to tighten everything a lot after I was done. And when he tightens stuff, he looks like he's putting real effort into it. I figured that I couldn't really tighten too much (after all, we're trying to get a really good vacuum) and that even if I could, I probably couldn't, with my girly muscles. I hauled on the wrench with most of my weight and nearly fell over backward when it slipped at one point, but still, when I went back to the ones I'd already tightened, they'd be a little loose again. Because, you see, in tightening the others I'd squeezed the plates closer again. Anyway, I was just about done when suddenly one of them felt really loose.Stainless steel bolt. Six inch handle on the wrench. It's all about the lever arm.

This is not by any means the biggest crisis we've had in the lab, though. Two days ago, we managed to overload a circuit. Ken thought it was just the surge protector -- which really should have blown first -- and didn't realize that all of his pumps had shut off, not just the one gauge which he plugged in elsewhere. When he realized, forty minutes later, what had really happened, he came into the office where the group was meeting looking like he'd just seen someone die. The whole group started tracing wires around the room, looking for breaker numbers, so they could flip the switch back. It took overnight for the vacuum to go back down. Ken was in checking on it at one a.m. (The two post-docs who normally would have been responsible for this stuff were both out of town.) And then after he left, the circuit blew on the other vacuum. That one's still not down to where it was. They're baking it -- that's what the picture of the thing wrapped in tinfoil is.

As for me: I tried to make a mu-metal box to shield something one of the other post-docs is working on from stray magnetic fields. This involved tracing and cutting out patterns, weirdly similar to sewing. I have also spent a fair amount of time waiting for rubidium to boil. A watched rubidium oven never does. And today I was doing dishes. Or anyway, cleaning out the ultrasound machine. Lab techs and housewifes have more in common than I would've thought.

The other pictures are a couple I took with the infrared viewer up against the camera lens. You can't quite make out the fluorescense in the vapor cell unless you know what you're looking for (the IR viewer is hard to focus, when you're not looking through it) but you can clearly see the infrared laser light bouncing off mirrors in the other -- those bright spots are not there at all to the naked eye.

Grr. Take that, stupid bolt!

Baking. Like you'd bake a potato.

The thin line at the center is the fluorescense.

Nothing is glowing when you look without the viewer.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Official Hiatus

I've temporarily unsubscribed from my newsgroups, and I'm not showing up to the lab after tomorrow. I haven't watched the last two or three Cubs games, or the last week's worth of Daily Shows (which is all the TV there really is to watch, in the summer). Ken's making an effort not to invite me to do things with him (except study) because he knows I'll say yes. I've even been taking slightly shorter runs.

In spite of all of this I still seem to be incredibly unproductive. But I might as well try to marshal whatever resources my brain reserves for blogging as well. If I want to stay (and I do!) I've got to pass. If I want to pass, I've got to work. I expect I'll post again sometime in the week after the 16th, when I'll be visiting my parents. In the meantime, wish me luck. And if you see me, nag me.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Labor Day in the U.S.A.

The Chicago Tribune has a couple of interesting Labor Day pieces:

'American Dream' Goes Up in Coal Dust:

" CHRISTOPHER, Ill. -- Twenty-eight years breathing coal dust and diesel fumes wasn't enough to kill Gary Bartolotti. Neither was a falling 1,500-pound slab of shale that pinned him to the jagged floor of a mine shaft, shattered his right ankle and pelvis and ruptured his bladder. He never lost consciousness, never even went into shock. [...] The company that ran the mines he worked went bankrupt, and a federal judge recently granted Horizon Natural Resources' request to cancel the health-care benefits of active and retired employees. By early October, Bartolotti and at least 1,200 other retired southern Illinois miners and their dependents will lose the lifetime health-care coverage they'd been counting on."

Executive Privilege:

"The simple answer is that some CEOs lose their sense of reality and feel entitled to whatever they can get away with, psychiatrists and corporate governance experts say. Instead of thinking about what is fair or right, some chief executives look around to see what their peers at the top of the heap are getting in cash, stock options and perks, such as corporate jets and club dues. They want that--and more.
[...]Of course, no dysfunctional individual exists in a vacuum. In the corporate world, chiefs who are losing their bearings have boards of directors that are supposed to help them maintain perspective. But boards often are stacked with friends of the top guy, which makes it hard--indeed, almost impossible--for them to say no, said Nell Minow, a corporate governance specialist."

(Reading that story reminds me of reading history -- over centuries under the feudal system, monarchs grew more powerful and the aristocracy which was supposed to be a sort of check on that power grew weaker. Monarchs measured their rights by comparison with other monarchs. What we need is a sort of corporate Magna Carta, I think.)

NPR has a good Labor Day story as well, a piece on Studs Terkel, with some clips from his original interview tapes, for the book Working.

The book Ken gave me for my birthday (Chi Town by Norbert Blei) has a cool piece about Studs Terkel too. It's a collection of essays about Chicago, and Studs is so much a part of Chicago history and culture that a story on him is almost inevitable. Blei had the good fortune of sitting in on one of his interviews once -- with Dave Brubeck, another Chicago legend.

One of Blei's other heroes is a new discovery for me: Sydney J. Harris. After reading Blei's ode to him, I did some searching, and found treasures. I've only just started working my way through this remarkable collection, but already I'm coming to worship this guy too.

Here is a sample:

"The fact is that nothing is harder in life than knowing what should be done, for there are dozens of ways to do something wrong, and usually only one way to do it right.

"'It is easier to be critical than to be correct,' said Disraeli, in rebuking his parliamentary opponents - neglecting to add that this was as true for his own party.

"The process of learning consists in collecting 'non-answers' rather than in finding answers. We find out the things that don't work through trial and error, usually repeated many times in different ways, before we hit upon the answer, if we ever do."

And on that note -- I've really got to study some electromagnetism today.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Have a Good Time

What with the Republican convention (speaking of which, I've been meaning to link this article about the latest incarnation of loyalty oaths at Republican rallies) last night, and my little birthday party, and everything, this song has never seemed more relevant. Only my life's not really a mess. Not unless I fail the quals. But this voice in my head....

Yesterday it was my birthday
I hung one more year on the line
I should be depressed
My life's a mess
But I'm having a good time

Oo, I've been loving and loving and loving
I'm exhausted from loving so well
I should go to bed
But a voice in my head
Says "Ah, what the hell"

Have a good time
Have a good time
Have a good time
Have a good time

Paranoia strikes deep in the heartland
But I think it's all overdone
Exaggerating this and exaggerating that
They don't have no fun

I don't believe what I read in the papers
They're just out to capture my dime
I ain't worrying
And I ain't scurrying;
I'm having a good time

Have a good time
Have a good time
Have a good time
Have a good time

Maybe I'm laughing my way to disaster
Maybe my race has been run
Maybe I'm blind to the fate of mankind
But what can be done?
So God bless the goods we was given
And God bless the U. S. of A.
And God bless our standard of livin'
Let's keep it that way
And we'll all have a good time

Repeat and fade:
Have a good time
Have a good time
Have a good time
Have a good time

Words & music by Paul Simon

(And continuing the theme of birthdays and poetry, I also wanted to find a way to incorporate a link to Ted Kooser, the new Poet Laureate of the US. Apparently he's obscure and thus a controversial choice, and from Nebraska, which makes him a "poet of the plains." It turns out he has a relevant work. Not bad, I think. And I think I want to include this link someone posted to AFP. Twenty-four hour watches. These appeal to me a lot, especially the mechanical ones, and the one that shows where it's dark and where it's daylight across the world. Maybe for my birthday next year. Okay, so that's not really on the theme. But how else am I going to work it in?)