Monday, December 26, 2005

Boxing Day

I got footware, fancy boots and running shoes, from the only person in the world who could possibly buy these things for me without me being there to try them on. I have my mother's feet, right down to our pinky toes. The running shoes have survived two wintery runs of about four miles each, and no blisters. I also got slippers from my sister, who knew I needed them, with wooden floors and my old ones lost and the $1 pink pair I bought at the grocery store not really fitting. And she got me a hat/glove/scarf set that matches the boots, and the blouse and necklace my parents also got. I dressed up in it for the Christmas day Bears game, at Ken's dad's house. And we shared Amazon gift certificate from Patrick, and I got books from Ken's dad, and a shirt, and a chicken soup dinner, at half-time.

I won't list everything Ken got me, but it included oil pastels and grease pencils and a spirograph kit and a globe that goes from earth to star-chart depending on the light level in the room, and a crank-powered flashlight/radio, and a handheld sewing machine, and Nancy Drew's Guide to Life, and a hoodie for those winter runs... He knows me too well, buys better gifts than I would have thought to buy myself.

And I won't list the things everyone else got (even though I think all of it is pretty cool stuff) except to link to the custom M&Ms page, where I ordered my sister's gift, because this possibility is too neat not to share. Unfortunately, they didn't arrive by Christmas, even though I ordered almost a month early, so be warned.

The mood here is pretty good. The Bears are in the playoffs, and we get a semi-vacation from work, because the cooling water is shut down for maintenance which means we can't turn on the lasers. We still have to go in to check on the vaccuum system (which is "baking" -- wrapped in heater wires and tinfoil and slowly heated, to vaporize any microscopic gunk that may be stuck the walls, so that the pump can pump it away) and make sure the building hasn't burned down, but otherwise we are free to spend our days playing with our new toys, books, and video games, watching sports and game shows and mindless reality TV (the guilty pleasures of those without cable), and working our way through "24" on DVD before the start of the new season. We might even leave the apartment at some point! It's like being an undergrad again.

This also probably means more blogging. I promise the next one will be about a topic besides my personal life. The more time I have on my hands, the more opinionated I get.

(Oh, and in case you were wondering -- yes that is the Millennium Falcon on our Christmas tree.)

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Weird News

I know, a lot of other people already read weird news. But if you don't, you wouldn't know that there has been a weird rash of finger bitings-off this week.

"Woman Allegedly Bites Off Officer's Finger",
"Woman Allegedly Bites Off Beau's Fingertip",
and "Taxi Driver Bites Off Customer's Fingertip".

But in trying to find the URL again for one of those, I did at least find one touching story of people helping to re-unite a woman with her finger. (She didn't even realize she'd lost it, at first.)

With all that finger-biting, you can see where people wouldn't want to encourage our children's cannibalistic tendencies with a hilarious looking zombie video game. (Ken points out, "Zombies aren't cannibals. They don't eat other zombies.")

Other stories I like this week:
The same lottery numbers drawn twice in a row.

Man in traction fleas hospital.

Drunk tank painted pink. (The jailers were inspired by a University of Iowa coach who painted the visitor's locker room pink.)

So anyway... Watch your fingers.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

So Much Sci-FI!

I thought about doing a sciency post today, but it seemed like work. I did a little searching on uninspired topics (in the course of which I did learn that the sky is really violet (scroll down)) but figured I was too confused to write about it. I'm more in the mood for mindless entertainment, so instead, you get an entry about sci-fi television.

I will be the first to acknowledge that not all sci-fi TV is mindless. I do know the difference between the good stuff and the bad stuff (I even know the difference between sci-fi and SF). But the thing about me is, I like them both.

So I decided to search for sites about the stuff I grew up watching, first in syndication and then on the Sci-Fi Channel. I figured maybe I could find some hilarious merchandise like this:

and put together a sort of holiday gift list.

But what shows to include? Well, obviously the Bionic Woman, and the Six Million Dollar Man

And Wonder Woman

And MacGyver

(Is that Portuguese?)

And Quantum Leap

(I read all of those!)

And The Incredible Hulk

(This and Quantum Leap were by far my favorites of all the shows listed here.)

And I have to include Knight Rider

But what about all those great Irwin Allen TV shows? Time Tunnel, Lost in Space, Land of the Giants, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea?

I'm beginning to think this post is going to be even more work than the sciency one would've been, what with all the searching and uploading and formatting. And I haven't even scratched the surface!

What about Mission: Impossible?

And the shows I never watched regularly, but which definitely belong to the same class, like

Battlestar Gallactica
Forever Knight
Space: 1999
The Powers of Matthew Star

And what about the anthology shows

Twilight Zone,
Ray Bradbury Theater
The Outer Limits

And the British shows?
Dr. Who
Red Dwarf
Blake's Seven
The Prisoner
The Avengers

And the new bad Sci-Fi (I am, of course, not including big, almost mainstream shows like the Star Treks, Buffy, Angel, Babylon 5, Farscape, Firefly, and Alias -- the last of which Ken and I are currently working our way through on DVD). But...

Stargate (both versions)
Mutant X
Land of the Lost
Cleopatra 2525
She Spies
Space, Above and Beyond
Seaqest DSV/2032
The Invisible Man

I've watched all of these too, some regularly. I have a deep knowledge of the backstory on many of them, and can name cast members... And I don't have the excuse of having been a kid at the time. These aren't old enough to justify watching for kitch value or nostalgia. I just like them.

And I can think of half a dozen others, too, which I'm not listing mainly because either I can't remember the name (what was that show that got cancelled about the guy in Seattle who was an expert in every field, but couldn't remember his name? John Doe? Something like that) or I don't think anyone else will remember them (Nowhere Man?) or I don't really know anything about them (M.A.N.T.I.S? Robocop? Swamp Thing? V? Never watched)

Enough! I must either draw the line, or decide to write a book.

I can't believe how much TV I watch. I can't believe how many shows like this get made. And I can't believe you can find episodes guides and merchandise for all of them on the internet... This is the power of the internet.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Belated November Poem

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


Solemnly, mournfully,
  Dealing its dole,
The curfew bell
  Is beginning to toll.

Cover the embers,
  And put out the light;
Toil comes with the morning,
  And rest with the night.

Dark grow the windows,
  And quenched is the fire;
Sound fades into silence,--
  All footsteps retire.

No voice in the chambers,
  No sound in the hall!
Sleep and oblivion
  Reign over all!


The book is completed,
  And closed, like the day;
And the hand that has written it
  Lays it away.

Dim grow its fancies;
  Forgotten they lie;
Like coals in the ashes,
  They darken and die.

Song sinks into silence,
  The story is told,
The windows are darkened,
  The hearthstone is cold.

Darker and darker
  The black shadows fall;
Sleep and oblivion
  Reign over all.

Thursday, December 01, 2005


The season of Advent began last Sunday. I'm sure my mom lit the first candle on her Advent wreath (right, Mom?)

Advent is not supposed to be the same thing as the Christmas season. It's supposed to be more somber, more a waiting hush, bated breath... With the celebrating to come after Christmas morning. If you're already tired of the retail Christmas Carols, the idea probably sounds appealing.

I am one of those apparently rare individuals who enjoys the commercial Christmas carols. For that matter, I enjoy the Christmas commercials. And Christmas episodes of TV shows, and sappy movies, and city lights displays. I'm in favor of all the gaudy, tacky, overblown celebrations that both serious atheists and serious religious people oppose. This is because I am not a serious person. But even I can overdose on all this, and find myself wishing for more understated, sincere rituals of anticipation. Like lighting candles. And opening the doors on an Advent calendar.

I'm easily amused and love surprises, so the tiny pictures revealed behind each door on the traditional calendars I grew up with are treat enough for me. But some offer stickers, chocolate, candy or toys.

Nowadays there are web-based Advent calendars, offering a new page of an illustrated story each day, or facts about Christmas around the world. Or, for an unholy marriage of the secular and religious traditions, there's the advert calendar.

But I think the traditional ones are probably more to the point. Understated, you know. Some can be beautiful.

Happy Advent.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Lunes Links

I haven't had any original thoughts this week, so you get some entertaining links.

Via Ken's dad: A dramatic optical illusion.

Via Making Light: The Grand Illusions Magic Shop. And the rest of their site, which has more optical illusions.

From the same source: How to Read a 12 Digit UPC Barcode.

From Human Under Construction (a blog I just discovered and now read regularly): Grover: the Muppet Behind the Myth.

And from my friend Carol: The remake of the Poseidon Adventure. Let me just say that as much as I love Adam Baldwin, he is no Gene Hackman.

If you've never seen the original, perhaps IMDB's plot keywords will give you the idea: "Capsize, Rescue, Survival, Underwater, Water Disaster, Christmas Tree, Tidal Wave, Heart Attack, New Year's Eve, Obesity, Escape, Ex Prostitute, Fall From Height, Sea Sickness, Self Sacrifice, Corporate Greed, Haberdasher, Mediterranean Sea, Renegade Priest, Swimming Underwater, Disaster Film..."

Yeah, I'd say they about cover it. If you go to their page, you can click on the words, and find other movies featuring, for instance, sermons.

Happy Monday.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Birthday Gift

Whoever sent the Bears win for Ken's birthday yesterday, thank you. It was much appreciated.

More Lab Pictures

This is a seventies era argon ion laser. You can just about see the orange case at the bottom, even though the cover is off. We were told to figure out if it would still work. The first time it was tested (Ken and I were safely in Europe, fortunately) it blew a fuse.

The fuses are those white cylinders sitting horizontally in the middle. They're bigger than a roll of quarters, maybe the size of a roll of half-dollars. The blue cylinders at the top are capacitors as big around as my forearm. I can't remember how many thousands of volts I was told this thing needed for initial discharge, unfortunately. It was a really impressive number.

Looks like it works. But those are some weird error messages... Turn it off!

Liquid nitrogen is less dangerous. The thing it's spraying from is an ion pump, for the vaccuum system. Liquid nitrogen cools parts of this thing, and then the rubidium vapor condenses on them, like water condensing on the inside of your car windows when they're cold. This gives a higher vacuum. Or so I'm told.

This was sent with one of our orders from Thorlabs. They are now my favorite optics company.

Saturday, November 12, 2005


Via AFP:

Type the word "failure" into Google and hit "I'm feeling lucky." See what you get.

Monday, November 07, 2005

George W. Bush is Not A Conservative

On last night's debate episode of the West Wing, Alan Alda reminded us what the best conservatives used to believe in. Personal freedom. Individualism. Equality of opportunity.

Tax Panel Could Shrink Mortgage Benefit (AP)

AP: DeLay's staff tried to help Abramoff get a high-level Bush administration meeting for Indian clients, an effort that succeeded after the tribes began making a quarter-million dollars in donations.(AP)

AP - The government wants to offer [wealthy] airline passengers the chance to avoid extra security checks.

FBI Patriot Act Plan Concerns Lawmakers (AP)

President George W Bush promises his Brazilian host to work towards eliminating US agricultural subsidies.

(The Republicans also used to be the party of farm subsidies. It's supposed to be a security thing -- we don't want cut-off-able supply lines. And a "way of life" thing, of course. Republicans were big on both.)

Alan Alda's character, of course, is not supposed to be a social conservative. Bush is. But the social conservatives I know (admittedly mostly Catholic, who have more complex political loyalties) don't like him much either. He may be anti-abortion, but he's also pro-death-penalty and pro-war.


And wishy-washy on torture I'd have more respect for him if he defended it. You can make a case for torturing one person to save the lives of thousands. Every season of "24" provides ethics thought-experiments that put anti-torture viewers (meaning me) in a tough position. But Bush doesn't make that case. Instead he twists the language in Orwellian ways.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

New Aaron Sorkin / Tommy Schlamme Show

Just a quick note to pass on the news: "Studio 7 on the Sunset Strip"

Daylight Savings Time

Personally I am saving my extra hour for tomorrow morning, and thus my watch says ten to three. Unfortunately my computer clock and television schedule are not cooperating.

I wish the changover were on Sunday night instead, so that we could all have an extra-long breakfast Monday morning before going to work. But the "spring forward should be Friday afternoon, so that everyone gets to go home that much earlier.

Having "spring forward" on Saturday night caused me to be an hour late for my Sunday job at the Botanic Garden in Durham, once, but according to my coworker, it was all right, as she hadn't expected me to be aware of the change-over anyway. How do you react to that?

For more Daylight Saving Time Incidents and Anecdotes check out that link. Ken found it. There's a bit that says every year a bill is introduced in Congress to extend it through Halloween, for the safety of trick-or-treaters. I wonder why it hasn't passed yet? One more week would do. Perhaps trick-or-treaters would just way until dark regardless, though...

Anyway, these are anecdotes that you can repeat in conversation and expect a nice, "Huh. Really?" in response.

Friday, October 28, 2005

White Sox Win

UPDATE: I missed a link in reconstructing my post: The Baseball Almanac. Which not only tells you how long it's been since the Cubs won the World Series, but also that they were once called "The Chicago Orphans." (And the "Chicago Colts" -- which has slightly different conotations than the Houston "Colt .45s" -- and, of course, "The Chicago Whitestockings." Yes, the White Sox were also known as the White Stockings for a while, shortly after the Cubs gave up that name.)

I had a whole post written, mostly about how, Cubs fan that I am, I do not hate the White Sox. I am happy for their fans. But I'm happy in the way that I would be if a cousin of mine won the lottery, which is of course completely different from the way I'd be happy I'd be if I won the lottery.

In the text of this little essay, I tried to artfully incorporate some links to coverage of the story that I liked. But that post disappeared into the ether, and I don't have the patience to try to be artful again (not that I was so successful the first time). So I'll just list the links:

Ticker tape parade with pictures, from a Sox fan at Chicagoist.

More Chicagoist coverage with comprehensive linkage.

Ryne Sandburg, Hall of Famer and former Cub, says Cubs fans should not be bitter.

His fellow Yahoo Sports analyst Tom Verducci says the Astros' manager let his team down in more ways than one.

Blogger and University of Chicago alumnus John Scalzi says he's glad the Sox won, because Cubs fans are a bunch of Sushi-eating, latte drinking, Volvo driving liberals yuppies, with a sense of entitlement and a fetish for losing. But there are some good responses in his comments.

Anyway, the Chicago Sun-Times says Soxs fans are demographically almost identical to Cubs fans. This is likely to upset fans of both teams...

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

October Poem

A Calendar of Sonnets: October

The month of carnival of all the year,
When Nature lets the wild earth go its way,
And spend whole seasons on a single day.
The spring-time holds her white and purple dear;
October, lavish, flaunts them far and near;
The summer charily her reds doth lay
Like jewels on her costliest array;
October, scornful, burns them on a bier.
The winter hoards his pearls of frost in sign
Of kingdom: whiter pearls than winter knew,
Oar empress wore, in Egypt's ancient line,
October, feasting 'neath her dome of blue,
Drinks at a single draught, slow filtered through
Sunshiny air, as in a tingling wine!

Helen Hunt Jackson

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Autumnal Images and Brotherly Birthdays

I like autumn. I like it better than "fall" because the word "autumnal" exists, but there's no corresponding adjective for "fall." "Autumnal" is such an evocative word, poetic, wistful, reminiscent. It brings to mind scenes like these from Lord of the Rings. (Those are all different links.) You know, endings...

It's the end of the baseball season, for one thing. The Cubs weren't even in it, but if the White Sox win their game today, Chicago will nevertheless host a World Series this year. I find that exciting, even if some people I'm married to (naming no names) say I shouldn't care. It's also football season, and the Bears, believe it or not, are first in their division as of today, in spite of having lost more games than they've won. I'm trying, for Ken's sake, to care about that.

It's also horror movie season. I've watched seven Friday the 13th movies (all in one day!) and two Halloween movies, plus Nightmare on Elm Street, and I'm sure there will be more to come. This is the first time I've seen any of them. I never knew, before, what they were.

The villains can always be outrun or even outfought by high school students, provided the high schoolers know they are being hunted. The main protagonists are nearly always young women, and they are usually more than a match for their supernatural stalkers, which I find positively inspiring. And the victims are always the cool kids that you wished would drop dead, back when you were in school. This poetic justice, I think, is the biggest appeal of this kind of movie. The actual violence is too cartoonish, and the characters too paper-thin, for any of the death scenes to really get to me, emotionally. On the whole, I would say slasher flicks are female-nerd empowerment stories (the ones with boyfriends always die first, of course), and how can I not approve of that?

So this Halloween, I'll be carving the masks of Michael Myers and Jason Vorhees into pumpkins, and watching a lot of sequels. Also, dressing up as Natasha from Rocky and Bullwinkle.

Where was I? Ah yes, aside from Halloween, horror movies, baseball playoffs, football optimism, and Rivendell (that one goes to a page of paintings, and incidentally says that Rivendell is based in part on the real-life Lauterbrunnen Valley, which is one of the places Ken and I went on our honeymoon), autumn is also the season of apples, Oktoberfest and other parties, garage sales, and all kinds of fall festivals. Doesn't the color of the sunlight, and the smell of the air, and the trees, and the temperature, make you want to go on a hayride right now?

Finally, it's a good season for family, 'cause Thanksgiving comes at the end, and right in the middle, today, in fact, comes my brother's birthday.

Happy birthday, Patrick!

Monday, October 10, 2005

Science is Made out of Metal

Hardly anything in fantasy is ever made out of metal, except swords. On the other hand, there's a lot of metal in science fiction. That might be a practical rule for distinguishing between the two fields.

And the difference between science fiction and real science? Real science involves physical chunks of metal, not just descriptions of it. The ideas that appear in our theory papers are just science fiction until we take our designs down to the machine shop and build something. That's what the scientific method means.

All the magic in our modern world is made out of metal, and before I started working in this lab, I took all those tiny, shiny things for granted. But someone has to make them. Even if they come from a factory, someone had to make the prototype. Look at the spring on your clickable ballpoint, and imagine trying make that. Now think about the parts inside the computer you're using. The ball-bearings on the fans.

We have a need for lots of "simple" things that don't exist, can't be bought off the shelf. Boxes, flanges, mirror mounts, but made out of vacuum-safe or magnetic-field-proof materials, at specific sizes, to hold custom made mirrors and lenses and cells. The sheer amount of skill, patience, and practical knowledge that goes into the creation of these things astounds me.

So anyway, I'm going to be taking a shop class this quarter. I'll probably blog about it. But it doesn't start until tomorrow, so I don't have any interesting experiences (finger amputations, brushes with death) to report just yet. Stay tuned.


The class has been cancelled.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Freeman Dyson and Richard Feynman

Freeman Dyson is a physicist who also writes gracefully, a rare beast. I would rather be Freeman Dyson than Albert Einstein or Isaac Newton, I think.

(Aside: I am reading Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle right now; Ken got me the first one for my birthday. It makes being Isaac Newton seem very unappealing indeed. That link goes to a picture of the longhand manuscript.)

Via Not Even Wrong, I see that Freeman Dyson has written an article about Richard Feynman, in the guise of a review of a new collection of his letters.

Book reviews aren't usually quite as long, and are rarely so touching. This is the tribute of one great man to another, honest admiration, with no hint of envy or self-service. It is full of insight.

"Great scientists come in two varieties, which Isaiah Berlin, quoting the seventh-century-BC poet Archilochus, called foxes and hedgehogs. Foxes know many tricks, hedgehogs only one. Foxes are interested in everything, and move easily from one problem to another. Hedgehogs are interested only in a few problems which they consider fundamental, and stick with the same problems for years or decades. Most of the great discoveries are made by hedgehogs, most of the little discoveries by foxes. Science needs both hedgehogs and foxes for its healthy growth, hedgehogs to dig deep into the nature of things, foxes to explore the complicated details of our marvelous universe. Albert Einstein was a hedgehog; Richard Feynman was a fox."

I like that. I am a follower of the foxes, myself.

Dyson gives a brief summary of the important role of Feynman diagrams in modern physics, of the textbooks and popularizations that are really just edited transcriptions of his lectures, because he didn't like to write.

He has an anecdote that illustrates: "After Feynman's work on the diagrams was done, a year went by before it was published. He was willing and eager to share his ideas in conversation with anyone who would listen, but he found the job of writing a formal paper distasteful and postponed it as long as he could. His seminal paper, "Space-Time Approach to Quantum Electrodynamics,"[4] might never have been written if he had not gone to Pittsburgh to stay for a few days with his friends Bert and Mulaika Corben. While he was in the Corbens' house, they urged him to sit down and write the paper, and he made all kinds of excuses to avoid doing it. Mulaika, who was a liberated woman with a forceful personality, decided that drastic measures were needed. She was one of the few people who could stand up to Feynman in a contest of wills. She locked him in his room and refused to let him out until the paper was finished. That is the story that Mulaika told me afterward. Like other Feynman stories, it may have been embellished in the telling, but to anyone who knew both Mulaika and Feynman it has the ring of truth."

This is the Feynman his fans already know. But "In spite of his pretense of being illiterate, the letters are written in lucid and grammatical English. They rarely mention his work as a creative scientist. They say nothing about his current research. In these letters we see Feynman as a teacher. He spent much of his life teaching, and he threw himself into teaching as passionately as he threw himself into research. He wrote these letters because he wanted to help anyone who sincerely tried to understand. The letters that he preferred to answer were those which posed problems that he could explain in simple language. The problems were usually elementary, and Feynman's answers were pitched at a level that his correspondent could understand. He was not trying to be clever. His purpose was to be clear. Every one of the letters is personal. He responded to people's personal needs as well as to their questions."

I could quote the whole article here, with its wealth of Feynman stories which were mostly new to me, even though I've read all the collections of Feynman stories I can find, but it's probably easier if you just read it yourself. They depict a more sensetive, kind, generous man than I imagined before. Dyson was Feynman's friend, as well as his admirer.

I'll get the book too, eventually, but I wish I could read it over Freeman Dyson's shoulder.

Call of Cthulu

My friend Jennifer appears in a new version of "Call of Cthulhu." Now I feel connected to greatness, because I once created a character for the Call of Cthulhu RPG that she tried to organize. (Unfortunately, everyone's schedules prevented us from meeting to play more than once.)

Now, she is a part of Cthulu mythology.

Anyway, the movie looks really cool. According to the makers, "The story is brought richly to life in the style of a classic 1920s silent movie, with a haunting original symphonic score. ... From the cultists of the Louisana bayous to the man-eating non-euclidean geometry of R'lyeh, the HPLHS brings Cthulhu to the screen as it was meant to be seen."

I already ordered my copy. Get yours here.

Monday, September 26, 2005

September Poem





He has reared his hut by the stream in the valley,
-- That large man, so much at his ease.
Alone he sleeps, and wakes , and talks.
He swears he will never forget [his true joy].

He has reared his hut in the bend of the mound,
-- That large man, with such an air of indifference.
Alone he sleeps, and wakes, and sings.
He swears he will never pass from the spot.

He has reared his hut on the level height,
-- That large man, so self-collected.
Alone, he sleeps and wakes, and sleeps again.
He swears he will never tell [of his delight].

From the Shi Jing (Book of Odes)

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Dr. Jones

So, we've seen "The Young Indiana Jones." Sean Patrick Flannery was an early crush of mine. But what about the slightly older Indy? He got a PhD, right? What about the adventures of Indiana Jones, grad student?

Indiana Jones picked up a bone fragment in one hand and a toothbrush in the other. He hated this. He knew what archeology was supposed to be about. He'd watched his father. He'd done some... studying on his own. But the longer he stayed in school, the more he wondered if he was right for this field. His professors and future colleagues struck him as pompous, stuffy frauds. His advisor was a little better, but he hardly noticed Indiana's existence -- and when he did, he called him "Henry." As for his research, not once since he got to grad school had it involved jumping from a moving train, or dodging bullets. What it did involve was reading a lot of incredibly long, jargon-filled journal articles, or cleaning and classifying things.

Indiana wasn't a big fan of cleaning or reading. How could he have known archeology would turn out to be so dry, so dusty, so dull? Indiana liked to think of himself as a man of action. He was beginning to think academia might not be the right place for a guy like him.

He went to work with the toothbrush. He might as well be a dentist. At least then, he'd get paid for this. Presently, he was being paid as a teaching assistant, which meant he really shouldn't even be in the lab. He should really be grading papers. But that was even more tedious. At least cleaning and classifying let him handle real bones.


Indy started, and banged the bone on the edge of the desk. He swore under his breath. He'd chipped it. He'd have tried to claim the damage was done by wild animals, or grave robbers, except that his advisor had definitely seen it happen. He sighed.

"Yes, Dr. Pennington?"

Pennington was looking pointedly at the bone fragment. "I need you to make some copies for me."

"Yes, Dr. Pennington."

And now he wouldn't be allowed to handle the bones anymore. Oh well. Only five more years 'til graduation...

(I don't know anything about archeology, but I bet that's still a more accurate depiction than any other Indiana Jones story.)

Saturday, September 10, 2005

I've Got Cavities

I haven't written about science for a while. That's because nowadays it's hard to say anything about the topics I'm learning without writing about work, and we all know that blogging about your workplace is a bad idea.

Also, many of those topics are boring. I don't even want to think about the mess of cables, oscilloscopes, amplifiers, local oscillators, function generators, piezoelectric crystals, etc that I've been training to use, much less explain what they do.

But there's still some stuff worth typing about, I guess. So here's the short version.

When you shine laser light through a one-way mirror onto another mirror, it gets trapped in the "cavity" between the two, reflecting back on itself over and over again. (Over-simplification warning: we don't have true "one way mirrors." But we have things that are close enough.) Now say the further mirror lets one percent of the light pass through it, out of the cavity.

You look at this output. What do you see? Guess.

Okay, the answer is -- not much, unless the wavelength of your light is exactly right. As you adjust the wavelength of your laser (And by the way, this is why you need a laser. Ordinary white light has waves of all different lengths. Even light of one color, say red, still has too big a range of wavelengths, unless it came from a laser)... As you adjust the wavelength of your laser, the output of your cavity goes from really dim to really bright. If you go past the right wavelength, it gets dim again. What's the right wavelength? One that fits in the cavity so that the reflections line up on top of each other, peaks on top of peaks, valleys on top of valleys. Then all those waves add up, so that even one percent of the light inside is really bright. This is called resonance.

So what's the point? Well, number one, if you didn't believe light was a wave before, you will after seeing this. Number two, it gives you intense, trapped light, which is what you want if you're going to do quantum mechanics experiments. It makes everything simpler. Number three, it allows you to measure wavelengths or distances (if you know one, you can measure the other) to like, nanometers. Number four, you need cavities to create laser light too, and it turns out laser light has a surprising number of applications.

So Ken and I are building cavities. For different reasons, which come under the headings of complicated and boring and talking about work. His are four centimeters long and mine is one meter. We're fighting problems like "thermal drift" (things expand and contract as the temperature changes, by enough nanometers to ruin your resonance) and vibration (I had to build a semi-sound proof box) and Ken's case, making everything teeny-tiny, and out of materieals that can go in a vacuum chamber.

This is where all the amplifiers and piezowhatsits come in, so this is where I'll stop.

Anyway, that's the kind of science I do, lately.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Looking Back

Now that it's over, I don't know where to begin.

If I just start in chronologically, I won't be able to give you the feeling of the whole experience. You may have gone on a tour yourself, seen this sight or that site, but it can't have been anything like this, unless you went with someone like Ken, and there is no one exactly like Ken.

The main thing about him is, he's good company. I mean, there's more than that to why I married him -- intelligence, honor, honesty, sense of duty, pride, commitment, besides (I hope I am not embarrassing him) great bone structure and an irresistible smile. But from before our first date, from the days spent learning the lab from him and hanging out on the patio, I was attracted to him because he's such good company. Friendly, funny, teasing, insightful, enthusiastic, a great listener.

I just spent a month with him in a place where no one else spoke English. In that month we shared nine-hour car rides (this was, in the end, a road trip) and tiny hotel rooms, and a tent. Of course, we did get on each other's nerves a little, once or twice, but looking back, those moments are sorta sweet, each of us nervous that the other was somehow disappointed...

That was in Switzerland, which was a disappointing place because we camped the whole time, outside of Lauterbrunnen, which turned out to be an annoying resort town, all over-priced sporting goods and luxury hotels, like ski towns in Colorado, with nothing to do but extreme sports and nowhere else to go (though we tried, contending with narrow mountain roads, construction, signs that made no sense. We were defeated, and then defensive.)

Still, our tent looked out along the floor of the spectacularly green valley to the Monk, the Jungfrau, and the EIger, snow capped and huge, hanging in the sky. Clouds snagged on them, and the moon sped over them, unnaturally fast, before they finished glowing from the sunset.

And we watched the sun rise over the valley wall, late, sending a bright shaft across to the opposite side, making rainbows on the Staubbach falls (a wispy trick of water, but so, so tall) and then slowly angling toward us. When it was finally day time on our side of the valley, the season changed. The bitter cold which had kept waking us up in the night (we ordered glasses of whiskey and water, no ice, in the campgrounds bar before going to sleep, just to warm us up) melted away. We went into town, to this little bakery where we got breakfast and coffee, and when we got back it was summer. We worked on our tans.

We went for a couple of runs, along the road, which is probably a lot older than the town, and along the river path, which must be. We saw cows, and people raking hay from steep fields, and trees and bridges and buildings that looked like they got there by accident, and felt better.

So that was one end of the spectrum. Amsterdam was the other end. A city so packed with people that they crowded the cars off the roads. They kept crowding me, on foot, into the path of the cable cars, which were also packed. You'd stop to avoid being hit by the hundreds of bicycles suddenly turning the corner in front of you, and be rear ended by halter-topped teenage girls, who would decline to notice you were there. You'd step over the wares of some street vendor only to put your foot down in a rotting banana peel blown from one of the overflowing trash cans. On our way to the hotel through all of this, laden with all our bags, we saw break dancers. Amsterdam was wild.

But we never ran out of things to do there. Medieval churches and the multimedia Heineken Experience. We kept having to take the Metra (Worst. Light Rail System. Ever.) out to the park-and-ride where we left the car (because I kept forgetting things) so we'd work our way across town to Central Station, then get off on the way back at Wterloo Plein, by the flea market.

That was one of our favorite attractions in Amsterdam, along with the Royal Palace (once a combination courthouse and capital building, decorated in a fearsome and awe-inspiring symbolic style) with a room especially for issuing death sentences, and one designed to evoke the sky. And the Holland Casino, where Ken turned twenty euro into fifty-three euro at the Black Jack table. We found a McDonalds to eat at, because there's a whole conversation in Pulp Fiction about McDonalds in Amsterdam. But not only did this one not have beer on the menu, it also didn't have large coffees (Ken spent the entire trip longing for a twenty ounce cup) or Diet Coke (only sickly-sweet Coca Cola Light, and I am not addicted enough to drink that). It did have the worst egg McMuffin sandwich Ken ever ate, though.

I pretty much insisted on being back in our hotel room by five every night. The crowds scared me even during the day. I can't imagine what it must be like when everyone gets off work. But neither of us is really a party person, so we retreated.

The hotel room was hilarious. It was a "small single." It had one bed, the size of a cot, and this bathroom, the size of a bathroom stall. The bathroom had a sliding door (no room for the swinging kind) with the inside handle broken off. It contained a sink, a leaky toilet, and a shower-head, but no separate shower as such. Everything got soaked, including the floor of the room outside. There was no ventilation, so everything stayed wet and smelled musty. We did try opening the window one night, and the next morning, found a half-dozen giant spiders on the ceiling and behind the furniture. It was a basement room, see, so the window was at ground level. There was one chair, and nothing on TV but snooker. We watched a whole tournament. And hung out together. Ken is good company. We had a great time in Amsterdam.

To tell the truth, we were just glad to be back indoors, even if the hotel room wasn't exactly the honeymoon suite. After Switzerland, you see, we'd had only one night of hotel in Germany, before embarking on four more days of camping. The hotel was in Koblenz, which we barely saw by daylight. That was the end of a long day of driving, so we showered and ate and rested before venturing out, after dark, to watch fireworks across the Rhine, above the castle.

We had to watch sitting down, from an out of the way spot, because the crowds were so thick and the air so smoky from everyone's cigarettes that I felt faint. But we could still see, and the fireworks were different from anything we'd seen before. A lot more spiral patterns and spheres insight spheres, interlocking rings. And the kind that burst, and then each point showers into a little shower of shimmers as it falls.

Before and after the fireworks we watched the people, everyone happy and friendly and incredibly '80s. Denim jackets and big hair. I think it's like that in every city in Germany.

The next day, we left Koblenz for Cochem, and set up our tent again. Cochem is a small, wine-growing town on the Moselle. Its biggest tourist attraction is its castle, a real medieval fortress built on a high mound above the river. We climbed up to it twice, and the second time, took a tour (secret doors, deep wells, and 5-liter wine jugs) had a meal, and watched the falcon show. A falcon landed on my head and then Ken's shoulder.

The other highlight of Cochem, for us, was the Rewe-Center superstore. We got some little pans of charcoal there, disposable grills, and Ken cooked up fresh bratwursts from the deli. We'd been wanting to do this back in Switzerland, but were shocked to find European campgrounds don't give you fire pits. Thanks to the superstore and the Einweg Grills, we ate better in Cochem than anywhere else on our trip -- even though they did make you pay for your plastic bags.

It rained or threatened rain the whole time we were there, so at one point I was holding an umbrella over the coals, and we had to pack up our tent while it was still wet (again. It's rained on us everywhere we've ever camped.) But in the intervals we covered a lot of ground, and went for a run along the river, which brought us into town and out the opposite side, back among the grape vines.

We managed to run in each place we visited, including twice in Amsterdam's Vondel Park, which I forgot to mention. It was big and lush and very clean, compared to the rest of the city.

In Paris it was just quick laps around the Georges Brassons park, but we got to see their vineyard, and their badminton players (people played badminton everywhere in Europe, in places where Americans would play frisbee) and a ridiculous aerobics class.

By the time we left, we felt pretty at home in the park, and home in the supermarket down the street, at home in our room, Paris was a really comfortable place, for us. We mastered the metro system; we learned the streets, and we saw all the sights. Eiffel tower, Arc de Triomphe, Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame, the Louvre, you name it. Oh, and the science museum, Palace of Discovery, or something like that. The exhibits were all labeled in French so we stuck to the physics and math rooms, where we kind of knew what the labels were supposed to say. Then we went to the planetarium show, also in French, and I nearly fell asleep.

We walked so much in Paris, from one side of my map to the other. But we were trying to notice street signs, traffic lights, which roads were one way, because a the end of our five days there we had to pick up the rental car, drive it to the hotel, and then get to a highway.

Driving in Paris is scary. The streets are the furthest thing from a grid. Many are one-way. Some are dead ends. And these motorcycles keep zooming up from behind you to cut you off when you least expect it. Once, toward the end of the trip, a half dozen of them came screaming down the white line between the lanes, just as Ken was being forced to merge. These people are suicidal.

Oh, I forgot to mention -- at our campground in Cochem, there were a bunch of "trikers." Guys with three-wheeled motorcycles towing tricked-out campers. One, black and chrome, said "The Addams TRIKE Family." I'm thinking they lived on the road full time.

But back to Paris. Ken did all of the driving, and I tried to navigate, hampered by the fact that the highway Multimap calls "E5" is known on road signs as "A6."

We had to get onto, and off of, the highway which rings Paris at least three times, to change direction, looking for a sign that didn't exist. It took us a lot of wrong turns, traffic circles, and dead ends to find our way back to it each time.

But Ken handled it, and all the highways that followed. The Swiss motor ways (forty euro toll, paid on entry) and the Amsterdam park-and-ride, and all the way across Belgium, with three stops at gas stations, to fill up on diesel (!) and look for souvenir shot glasses to prove we'd been there. We settled for a souvenir Belgian beer glass (Duvel.)

That highway, and the French tollways, and one more nightmare trip around the Perpherique ringing Paris and connection A3 to A6, brought us finally to our last stop, the Loire valley. I was pretty stressed out by then, and my maps didn't even show the town we were going to at all. Onzain. An empty white patch.

We found the campground anyway, though, in the middle of nowhere, threatening rain. We set up our tent and then the rain came, and came down all night, and drizzled on still when the roosters (there were three, at the campsite) started crowing around six. I knew roosters crowed at dawn, but I never knew they kept crowing all morning long. With no hope of falling back asleep, we knocked the giant snail off our tent ("They eat your kind here!") and waited two hours for the camp's store to open. We sipped overpriced vending machine coffee and wondered how everyone else could possibly sleep.

As soon as registration opened, we paid an outrageous ten euro for half an hour of internet access, and searched for a hotel in Blois, a city which had looked stunning as we passed through the night before. The deal we found seemed too good to be true, but we took a gamble, and paid in advance.

It was true, a studio apartment, which was ours for four days, complete with kitchenette, right by the train station, across from a an abandoned chocolate factory. (We did have some trouble parking, since there were doing construction on the street in front of it, and we had no cash for the meters at the train station, and had no idea where to find an ATM. Ken ended up dodging not one but two steamrollers, and then not moving the car again until we checked out.) We bough all our favorite microwavable foods at the local supermarket, including little fresh pizzas, and lived like normal people for the last few days.

Blois was as beautiful as it had looked from across the river, in a gentle, old-fashioned way. Hauntingly beautiful, otherworldly. Its medieval churches were still used as churches. No entrance fees, no other tourists, just the smell of incense from a funeral earlier in the day, and organ music, and relics (were those bone?) and stones that looked _old_.

Its chateau was more authentic than any other castle or palace we visited, mostly empty, no velvet ropes or electric light, but painted in dramatic Renaissance colors, gold and blue and burgundy, and paneled in wood. Of all the places we went, it was the only one in which you could imagine ghosts. We stayed two hours, and still didn't see everything. We lingered too long, I think, over the display of locks and keys and iron pots, spurs and fireplace pokers and all the metal minutiae of daily life in a distant time.

But we had tickets to a magic show at the Robert Houdin house, a 19th century museum of smoke and mirrors and clockwork, in honor of the man after whom Houdini named himself. The magic show was not in French: it was like a live cartoon, or a silent film, a farce set to very strange music. Two stage workers making each other's lunch disappear, and so on. It was great.

As we left the building, four gold dragons emerged growling musically from the windows. How can you possibly see something like that coming? Mechanical monsters, elegant automata. Really, they were So. Cool.

Blois was all steep, twisty medieval streets and mysterious stone walls, and half timbered houses, and parks, with old people playing Bocce Ball. It was a charmed city, and my favorite part of the trip.

(I wanted to get a birthday present for my sister there, but all of the clothing in the stores had nonsensical English slogans on them. "Same, Same -- but Different" or "Please Please, this shirt was manufactured especially for ME." Nothing in French. I gave up on getting her a shirt, but I did eventually find something else, which I can't reveal yet.)

On the last day, we stayed in bed until nearly three, trying to sleep, and then set off to see Chambord, the most visited chateau in the Loire valley. It was more spectacular than Blois's on the outside, but utterly without ghosts. They had filled it with modern art installations and taxidermy.

Then onto Charles de Gaulle airport, to spend the night. The beginning of a 50 hour, three airplane, five airport odyssey which taught me a lesson about non-refundable tickets.

We all but kissed the ground in Chicago. And then we went home.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005


Staubbach falls, Switzerland


Royal Palace, Amsterdam

Cochem's castle

Sacre Coeur, with gargoyles

Tuesday, August 09, 2005


Yes+ Um, whereös the exclamation mark_

Okaz, I found a fun kezboard...

We are in Swityerland. Land of QWERTZ kezboards.

We drove nine hours to get here, partlz because of mz shortcut through the alps. Also, a lot of that was, um, mastering Paris.

It is unbelievablz beautiful here, and zou all should be verz jealous. We think we are right under the Eiger, although we donät know which one that is.

Time remaining, 39...

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Funny Symbols

£€¬! Actually, this is an English keyboard, so that's all we get. Lame, I know.

Coming to you from an internet cafe on Montmarte. We are supertourists. We have already seen Notre Dame, the Louvre, the science museum, the Eiffel Tower, and the Arc de Triomphe. And today, Sacre Coeur.

To our families: we are not dead.

Au revoir!

Sunday, July 31, 2005

What Lab Work is Like

"Dr. X and his assistants would gather around whichever subsystem was believed to be farthest out of line and shout at each other in a mixture of Shanghainese, Mandarin, and technical English for a while. Therapies administered included but were not limited to: turning things off, then on again; picking them up a couple of inches and then dropping them; turning off nonessential appliances in this and other rooms; removing lids and wiggling circuit boards; extracting small contaminants, such as insects and their egg cases, with nonconducting chopsticks [Ken actually did have an insect in his vacuum once. It was freeze dried by the time they found it] cable-wiggling; incense-burning; putting folded-up pieces of paper beneath table legs; drinking tea and sulking; invoking unseen powers; sending runners to other rooms, buildings, or precincts with exquisitely calligraphed notes and waiting for them to come back carrying spare parts in dusty, yellowed cardboard boxes; and a similarly diverse suite of troubleshooting techniques in the realm of software. Much of this performance seemed to be genuine, the rest merely for Hackworth's consumption, presumably laying the groundwork for a renegotiation of the deal."

-The Diamond Age, "Hackworth in the Hong of Dr. X"

Neal Stephenson is clearly a man who knows.

I also meant to post a link to Google Moon as long as we were mapping... Make sure to try zooming in. Today, the moon, tomorrow, the whole solar system.

And that's it. The next post here will either be from an internet cafe in a country with funny symbols on its keyboards, or will be at the end of August.

Quick Links

I've still got one more post I want to get to (a quote from the copy of Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age, which Ken's dad lent me) but real quick:

Multimap is a great thing to know about if you have just decided to drive through Europe instead of taking the train, on account of it's cheaper and you can bring more camping gear and take more day trips. Man, we are going to get so lost.

Mental Multivitamin a blog I just discovered through Jaquandor, has Sydney J. Harris quotes. Since the archive of his essays I linked to once has vanished (I'm glad I had transcribed the one we used at our wedding) the quotes may be the only sample you can find.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

July Poem

August Moonrise
by Sara Teasdale

The sun was gone, and the moon was coming
Over the blue Connecticut hills;
The west was rosy, the east was flushed,
And over my head the swallows rushed
This way and that, with changeful wills.

I heard them twitter and watched them dart
Now together and now apart
Like dark petals blown from a tree;
The maples stamped against the west
Were black and stately and full of rest,

And the hazy orange moon grew up
And slowly changed to yellow gold
While the hills were darkened, fold on fold
To a deeper blue than a flower could hold.

Down the hill I went, and then
I forgot the ways of men,
For night-scents, heady, and damp and cool
Wakened ecstasy in me
On the brink of a shining pool.

O Beauty, out of many a cup
You have made me drunk and wild
Ever since I was a child,
But when have I been sure as now
That no bitterness can bend
And no sorrow wholly bow
One who loves you to the end?
And though I must give my breath
And my laughter all to death,
And my eyes through which joy came,

And my heart, a wavering flame;
If all must leave me and go back
Along a blind and fearful track
So that you can make anew,
Fusing with intenser fire,
Something nearer your desire;

If my soul must go alone
Through a cold infinity,
Or even if it vanish, too,
Beauty, I have worshipped you.

Let this single hour atone
For the theft of all of me.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Temporarily Back

Just got back from camping in Wisconsin, to test our equipment and abilities, before camping for half our trip in Europe. It rained. Better than 104 degrees in Chicago. Too tired to type much. Have a couple of posts I'll try to put up before what will probably be a month long hiatus.

Cubs are leading the Cardinals by one run in the 9th -- fasten your seatbelts! The series is tied.

Ken says eventually, instead of calling the game, the announcers will just read a list of sponsors. If Walgreens just donated a hundred dollars to JDRF's walkathon, a Cub was just walked. If Chevrolet made a donation, they got a home run. If All State did, then it was an "insurance run." And if Jiffy Lube promises you a quick oil change, it was a pitching change. But currently, no one sponsors strike-outs.

Two down...

Two strikes, no balls...

Walk -- And he steals second on a bang-bang play! (Bad call? I don't know, it's radio.)

Base hit -- play at the plate -- safe? Tie game.

Another hit, another full count, out at first. Extra innings. Too much drama for me. And now it could go for a while.


Bases full of Cubs, top of the tenth...

Barret strikes out, two down...

AND Chevrolet is going to make a big, big, big, BIG! donation to WGN's neediest kids fund -

- Neifi Perez grand slam!

Okay, enough with the live blogging. If we don't win now, I'm not going to want to talk about it. Look up the score yourselves.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Buckminster Fuller Quotes

"There is something patently insane about all the typewriters sleeping with all the beautiful plumbing in the beautiful office buildings —and all the people sleeping in the slums."

"I set about fifty-five years ago (1927) to see what a penniless, unknown human individual with a dependent wife and newborn child might be able to do effectively on behalf of all humanity…"

"I do not look upon human beings as good or bad. I don't think of my feet as a right foot and a wrong foot."

"The physical is inherently entropic, giving off energy in ever more disorderly ways. The metaphysical is antientropic, methodically marshalling energy. Life is antientropic. It is spontaneously inquisitive. It sorts out and endeavors to understand."

"Every time man makes a new experiment he always learns more. He cannot learn less."

"Dare to be naïve."


"People should think things out fresh and not just accept conventional terms and the conventional way of doing things."

"I am convinced all of humanity is born with more gifts than we know. Most are born geniuses and just get de-geniused rapidly."

"Parents are usually more careful to bestow knowledge on their children rather than virtue, the art of speaking well rather than doing well; but their manners should be of the greatest concern."

"I look for what needs to be done. After all, that's how the universe designs itself."

"I'm not a genius. I'm just a tremendous bundle of experience."

"Let architects sing
of aesthetics that bring
Rich clients in hordes to their knees;
Just give me a home,
in a great circle dome
Where stresses and strains are at ease."

"By 2000, politics will simply fade away. We will not see any political parties."


"A self-balancing, 28-jointed adaptor-based biped; an electro-chemical reduction plant, integral with segregated stowages of special energy extracts in storage batteries, for subsequent actuation of thousands of hydraulic and pneumatic pumps, with motors attached; 62,000 miles of capillaries..."

"Children are born true scientists. They spontaneously experiment and experience and reexperience again. They select, combine, and test, seeking to find order in their experiences - "which is the mostest? which is the leastest?" They smell, taste, bite, and touch-test for hardness, softness, springiness, roughness, smoothness, coldness, warmness: the heft, shake, punch, squeeze, push, crush, rub, and try to pull things apart."

"I think I am a verb."


"We have a habit in writing articles published in scientific journals to make the work as finished as possible, to cover up all the tracks, to not worry about the blind alleys or describe how you had the wrong idea at first, and so on. So there isn't any place to publish, in a dignified manner, what you actually did in order to get to do the work."


"When I'm working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I think only how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong."

(Lots of sources. Any of these may be apocryphal though; I didn't check attributions.)

Books online at the Buckminster Fuller Institute

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Thank You

I want to thank everyone, especially Ken's parents, who had to fly a thousand miles or so each, and my parents, who paid for the dress, the flowers, the reception afterwards, our plane tickets, and a night at a hotel that I'm surprised even lets people like us in. As if that weren't enough, both sets of parents gave us money too, and Ken's dad is buying plane tickets for the honeymoon.

To my talented sister and brother: without you, we couldn't have done this. I'm saving the rest of my mushiness for the real thank-you notes, but Becca, you were the best maid of honor I could have imagined, and Patrick, I owe you big time.

Michael, you made a great best man. Ken's probably told you how much it meant to him that you came, but I want you to know how much it meant to me. It wouldn't have been much of a party if you weren't there.

Thanks to Dayton for doing the flowers, and to Dean Tollefson for a wonderful service.

For anyone who wants to know, our readings are here, here, and here. Becca took the picture of us above, which is one of our favorites. (I'd put up more of hers, except I'm still wary about having too many pictures on the internet which identify me.)

And Ken, I want to thank you most of all. But I'm not going to do that over a blog.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Life and Death

How can I post about my own happy problems when everyone else is writing about what happened in London? Then again, how can I write about what happened in London? With all the talking heads on the news going 24/7, telling us to be afraid, very afraid... I want no part of that.

Here are a couple of posts by people who are not trying to scare you: Theresa Nielsen Hayden (who is from New York, and knows whereof she speaks) and Andy Nelson (who links to another site, in a much more positive spirit).

As for my happy problems: we have arranged everything there is to arrange. I've hugged a lot of family members, and Ken's learned a lot of names. All that remains is to get everyone (all six guests, and our two attendents) to to the site, and say the magic words.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Made It

We survived the trip to Colorado, tuxedo intact. I haven't tried on my dress yet, but it's waiting for me upstairs. Can't find my parents' USB camera cable either, but I'm going to download those pictures if I have to go buy a new one, even. Need the camera space.

I think I'm going to stick to these little life updates for the next little while, instead of trying for essays or hunting for links. Boring, I know, but I don't want the blog to go dead. Life updates are both filler material and an excuse for not writing other stuff. See, busy! Besides, if there was ever any time my life was going to be interesting to read about, it would be now.


Sunday, July 03, 2005

Ooh, Skyflowers

Fireworks -- Ooh, Ah. Will post pictures when I find my USB cable.

George A. Romero movies -- gory and clever.

Work -- stressful.

Getting married a week from tomorrow -- finally!

Blogging -- hard.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

The Great Minimum

by G.K. Chesterton

It is something to have wept as we have wept,
It is something to have done as we have done,
It is something to have watched when all men slept,
And seen the stars which never see the sun.

It is something to have smelt the mystic rose,
Although it break and leave the thorny rods,
It is something to have hungered once as those
Must hunger who have ate the bread of gods.

To have seen you and your unforgotten face,
Brave as a blast of trumpets for the fray,
Pure as white lilies in a watery space,
It were something, though you went from me today.

To have known the things that from the weak are furled,
Perilous ancient passions, strange and high;
It is something to be wiser than the world,
It is something to be older than the sky.

In a time of sceptic moths and cynic rusts,
And fattened lives that of their sweetness tire
In a world of flying loves and fading lusts,
It is something to be sure of a desire.

Lo, blessed are our ears for they have heard;
Yea, blessed are our eyes for they have seen:
Let the thunder break on man and beast and bird
And the lightning. It is something to have been.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Archy And Mehitabel

Way back in December, after I saw the "Series of Unfortunate Events" movie and read all of Becca's Lemony Snicket books, I wrote: "I need to look up some of the references which went over my head -- 'Morel' Behavior in a Free Society, Archy and Mahitabel, Comyns, and Carl Van Vechten."

And yesterday I was reading a series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan-fic (A Raising in the Sun, Necessary Evils, and A Parliament of Monsters, professional quality stuff recommended by a professional SF editor on her blog, Making Light) when I came across this:

"Buffy propped her chin on her fist and frowned. 'Did you know Spike likes poetry?'

This proved sufficient to distract Willow from the mutilation of her napkin. Her brows quirked. 'He never told me so in so many words, but he was helping me catch up with my Western Lit when I was out of school for that week, and no one knows that much about archy and mehitabel if they don’t like poetry.'"

(This is a nice touch by the author, I think. We viewers know that Spike wrote terrible poetry before he became a vampire, because we've seen the flashbacks. But that tough, evil, vampire Spike still puts on reading glasses in his crypt sometimes and scans some Shelley? That, he hides well.)

Okay, anyway, that's two pop culture references to Archy and Mehitabel. I had to Google it. (And this time, I spelled Mehitabel correctly.)

I suppose lots of my hypothetical readers already know all about them, but for those as ignorant as me, here's what I found:

Archy is a cockroach who can only hit one typewriter key at a time, and so can't do capital letters:

" expression is the need of my soul
i was once a vers libre bard
but i died and my soul went into the body of a cockroach
it has given me a new outlook upon life
i see things from the under side now
thank you for the apple peelings in the wastepaper basket
but your paste is getting so stale i cant eat it
there is a cat here called mehitabel i wish you would have
removed she nearly ate me the other night why dont she
catch rats that is what she is supposed to be fore
there is a rat here she should get without delay

most of these rats here are just rats
but this rat is like me he has a human soul in him
he used to be a poet himself
night after night i have written poetry for you
on your typewriter
and this big brute of a rat who used to be a poet
comes out of his hole when it is done
and reads it and sniffs at it
he is jealous of my poetry
he used to make fun of it when we were both human
he was a punk poet himself
and after he has read it he sneers
and then he eats it"

(read the rest here).

It turns out that a cockroach has a unique point of view. No human writer could say:

"i once heard the survivors
of a colony of ants
that had been partially
obliterated by a cow s foot
seriously debating
the intention of the gods
towards their civilization"

I am very pleased to meet Archy and Mehitabel both.


Monday, June 13, 2005

Feynman Diagrams on a Postage Stamp

... Along with Feynman himself. Via GirlHacker: the US Postal Service has released a series of stamps featuring American scientists, including (in my opinion) the only really great American physicist, Richard Feynman.

The Feynman diagrams which are pictured on the stamps are a reason I personally like the guy. He took some ridiculously complicated math, and turned it into a simple pictorial recipe. The pictures tell you want equations to write down -- then it's just plug and chug. And they make a really ugly subject much more intuitive.

Plus, he played bongos in Brazil and cracked safes and had this thing about a place called Tuva... There's a couple of books just full of Feyman stories, not to mention a Matthew Broderick movie that I love.


Monday, June 06, 2005

Brandeis Used Book Sale

Yes, it's my favorite holiday -- the annual used book sale by the Brandeis University National Women's Committee. If this one is half as good as the one in Kansas City, then it's like Christmas in June...

But don't go until I've had a chance to go pick through everything.


Sunday, May 29, 2005

A May Song

I need a May poetry post. Let me see, what can I find on the American Poems archive? I'll look at poets who were young in the '20s and '30s. I like that period, for some reason.

Oh, Gwendolen Brooks was born in Topeka, moved to Chicago, and became poet laureate of Illinois? Nice. Let's hope she has something interesting... Oh, I like these. And, this one seems very appropriate:

The Crazy Woman

I shall not sing a May song.
A May song should be gay.
I'll wait until November
And sing a song of gray.

I'll wait until November
That is the time for me.
I'll go out in the frosty dark
And sing most terribly.

And all the little people
Will stare at me and say,
"That is the Crazy Woman
Who would not sing in May."

Yes. I'll post that.


Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Only a Sith Speaks in Absolutes

I've seen Revenge of the Sith twice already. Ken kidnapped me away from work on opening day, and then we went again on Friday.

I'm not gonna write a review. Obviously I loved it. I was always going to. I liked the other prequels too. I don't think dialogue or acting has ever been the point. Spectacle and melodrama are respectable art forms too -- look at opera, or ancient Greek dramas. Critics may think Star Wars was made to a formula, but if it were easy to make something larger-than-life on this scale that doesn't collapse under its own weight, it would have been done more often. Star Wars isn't literature. It's architecture.

Anyway, I found it thought provoking. First of all, and I'll leave this vague for spoiler reasons, I want to know if we're supposed to consider the question of Anakin's parentage resolved. The hint was too subtle for me (Star Wars isn't supposed to be subtle!) but Ken thought it was obvious, and intentional, and if so, it makes me like the Phantom Menace much better. The virgin-birth-via-midichlorians thing was always my least favorite part.

Secondly, I've been thinking about Anakin's incredibly sudden change of heart in his scene with Mace Windu. I've decided that when he was lecturing Mace on the Jedi way, he wasn't really stating his own beliefs about good and evil (which then suddenly change.) He was reminding Mace of what the Jedi are supposed to believe. I think by this point Anakin has convinced himself that the Jedi are hypocrites. They've asked him to spy on his own government, his own friend and mentor. They say they defend democracy, but their own heirarchy is rigid, and closed to him. They took him away from his mother. He has had to keep his relationship with his wife a secret. When he goes to them for help, to save her life, they seem not to care. They preach about peace, but they are warriors, and have trained him for war. And they may say they don't want power, but they do definitely have strong opinions on how the galactic government should work, and are willing to use violence and deception to achieve their ends. Whatever ethical problems they may have with a clone army, ultimately, they use it.

Anakin has never really believed in those things the Jedi profess. As Ken points out, he didn't have a problem with dictatorships, in the second prequel. He did the very thing he's telling Mace Windu not to do, at the beginning of this movie. All he's trying to do is appeal to the principles Mace claims to live by, to stop what's happening... And when Mace shows himself a hypocrite, Anakin finally decides, I think, that there really is no difference between the Jedi and the Sith.

Orson Scott Card says Anakin's not wrong. But I don't judge the Jedi as harshly as Card does. Their redeeming virtue, in my opinion, is that they know they're hypocrites. I see Obi Wan's line, "Only a Sith speaks in absolutes," as an admission that the Jedi don't always know, can't always know, the right path either. Their fortune cookie maxims have exceptions.

In the end, everyone who has any principles betrays them sometimes, for the sake of the people they love, for the sake of their other principles. The Jedi know that just because you have to violate your principles sometimes, that's no reason to give them up entirely. Anakin doesn't understand this. That's why Anakin becomes a Sith. Only a Sith speaks in absolutes.


Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Google Cool

Some free advertising for Google...

Ken tells me about Google sets (try putting in "Xander" and "Willow" or "Scooby" and "Shaggy" or a couple of Kevin Bacon movies...) and Google suggest (you only need to type "Mary Mes" to find me...) and Google scholar (for those of us who still have homework to deal with...) He was also playing with Google ridefinder which Chicagoist is apparently just now discovering. They've also got links to all kinds of other super-neat Chicago-centric things to do with Google maps, like househunting, looking at crime stats, checking traffic, locating an El station (though I haven't gotten that to work yet) and photoblogging.

You go, Google.


Sunday, May 15, 2005

Real ID

There must be a huge debate about this "Real ID" act somewhere, but I've missed it. Seriously snuck in under my radar. Probably that's just because I've been busy. Probably this received the huge news coverage and public debate it deserves. Right? Anyway, C|Net seems to have a nice summary.

What does it mean for me?
Starting three years from now, if you live or work in the United States, you'll need a federally approved ID card to travel on an airplane, open a bank account, collect Social Security payments, or take advantage of nearly any government service. Practically speaking, your driver's license likely will have to be reissued to meet federal standards.

What's going to be stored on this ID card?
At a minimum: name, birth date, sex, ID number, a digital photograph, address, and a "common machine-readable technology" that Homeland Security will decide on. The card must also sport "physical security features designed to prevent tampering, counterfeiting, or duplication of the document for fraudulent purposes." Homeland Security is permitted to add additional requirements--such as a fingerprint or retinal scan--on top of those. We won't know for a while what these additional requirements will be.

You said the ID card will be electronically readable. What does that mean?
The Real ID Act says federally accepted ID cards must be "machine readable," and lets Homeland Security determine the details. That could end up being a magnetic strip, enhanced bar code, or radio frequency identification (RFID) chips. In the past, Homeland Security has indicated it likes the concept of RFID chips. The State Department is already going to be embedding RFID devices in passports, and Homeland Security wants to issue RFID-outfitted IDs to foreign visitors who enter the country at the Mexican and Canadian borders. The agency plans to start a yearlong test of the technology in July at checkpoints in Arizona, New York and Washington state.

Will state DMVs share this information?
Yes. In exchange for federal cash, states must agree to link up their databases. Specifically, the Real ID Act says it hopes to "provide electronic access by a state to information contained in the motor vehicle databases of all other states."

Oh. So, that's scary.

And it's already been passed by the House and the Senate, and Bush has said he supports it...

'Cause, you know, it's so consistent with those Republican principles of small government and limited federal power.

I want to immigrate to 1998. I know some of my Republican friends will tell me about the moral problems of the Clinton administration, but I can't see how Bush and Delay and Cheney and Co. have actually improved any of the situations they've objected to. My Republican friends have been betrayed.

And I'm getting tired of being an advocate for the Devil, with my Democratic friends.


Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Obligatory Links

You've probably already seen these links, if you're interested at all, but to keep my geek credentials valid, I must post about these things...

Star Trek is ending I don't really mind. I'm only really fond of the original series, which ended well before I was born. Orson Scott Card doesn't mind either, because he wasn't fond of any of it.

The Serenity Trailer is out. Yay!

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" is in theaters now. And it's awesomer than I thought it would be. Even though I knew it would be pretty good after I read this interview. It's by one of the screenwriters, who also wrote "Chicken Run."

Saturday was Free Comic Book Day. Yeah, I know that would've been more useful information if I'd got around to posting before Saturday. I got a Star Wars comic.

(And Sunday was mother's day. That's a little late notice too, for anyone who forgot...)

And I went to Wrigley field on Friday to watch the Cubs lose their seventh in a row. Curse you LaTroy! I'd write up a nice little report, but someone with a life that is scarily like mine went on Sunday and did a better job.

Man, talk about your old news. That's what I get for putting off posting.


Friday, April 29, 2005

Physics Filibuster

So, you know how Democrats have been filibustering some judicial nominees and Republicans want to shut them up?

Well, it appears some physicists are filibustering to show support for the Dems. By reading from a Griffiths book.

Griffiths rules, by the way.


More on Gas Prices

For non-rss readers: I updated this post with a link to this post which in turn links to this fascinating article. It's worth reading.


Thursday, April 28, 2005

Conversation Galante

I observe: "Our sentimental friend the moon!
Or possibly (fantastic I confess)
It may be Prester John's balloon
Or an old battered lantern hung aloft
To light poor travellers in their distress-"
She then: "How you digress."

And I then: "Someone frames upon the keys,
That exquisite nocture, with which we explain
The night and moonshine, music which we seize
To body forth our own vacuity."
She then: "Does this refer to me?"
"Oh no, it is I who am insane."

"You, madam, are the eternal humorist,
Eternal enemy of the absolute
Giving our vagrant moods the slightest twist!
With your air indifferent and imperious
At a stroke our mad poetics to confute-"
And -- "Are we then so serious?"

T.S. Eliot

(typed from memory, 'cause I just recited it at Andy's fledgling poetry recitation group "SpeakMuse," and then corrected from Bartleby.)


Tuesday, April 26, 2005


This is the busiest I've ever been in my whole life. It's not just that I don't have time for TV and internet. It's tough finding time to eat and sleep.

And as busy as I am, Ken's busier. He doesn't have to teach labs (I've got three this quarter, as opposed to two normally, and one of them is at 8AM) but he is moving, and he's got a talk to give. The rest of the stuff -- I don't even want to list it all -- we share.

Anyway, blogging and phone calls are suffering. I apologize for that.


Monday, April 18, 2005

Slow Light

Phew. It's finally finished.

I gave this talk for my advisor about "slow light". Because the experiment we recently finished involved slowing light down, and he wanted me to learn about how that worked, and then prove to him I understood it. (Of course, light slows down when it travels through any medium, including air, water, glass, etc. It's why lenses work. But we slowed it down a lot more.) When and if that data ever gets published, I'll add a couple of slides to my talk showing that this theory actually describes reality. I'd also like to clean up my references, and make sure the solution I got for the differential equation I used actually matches the one I found on-line. (But I know it will.)

And, for the benefit of those who haven't studied differential equations, I'd like to write a layman's-terms version which introduces the ideas of absorption and energy levels and electromagnetic waves, and answer everyone's favorite question, "What's it good for?"

But I'm going to put off doing those things for a while, 'cause I'm tired of working on it, to tell you the truth. Anyway I think what I've got, as it stands, could be useful to some people... Undergrads maybe, or people like me, starting out in optics research. So I'm going to make it available on the internet, and anyone who isn't interested in physics, but is curious about what I do at work all day (hi, Mom) can take a look too.

Ken worked with me on every step of this, coming up with answers to my questions, asking me questions that forced me to clarify my ideas, teaching me what he knew and learning with me. So really this is a joint effort (though any errors, of course, are my own). Every scientist should be so lucky.

Here it is, as a PDF:
An Introduction to Slow Light

(n.b. They took away our webpages! I'll upload this somewhere else, when I get around to it.)