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.)

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Gas Prices


Fred Clark's post is a lot more like the one I would have written, if I'd written a post about this, including speculation (not his, quoted from a
book by James Howard Kunstler
) about how cities will have to change:

"Our lives will become profoundly and intensely local. Daily life will be far less about mobility and much more about staying where you are. Anything organized on the large scale, whether it is government or a corporate business enterprise such as Wal-Mart, will wither as the cheap energy props that support bigness fall away. The turbulence of the Long Emergency will produce a lot of economic losers, and many of these will be members of an angry and aggrieved former middle class."

"The successful regions in the twenty-first century will be the ones surrounded by viable farming hinterlands that can reconstitute locally sustainable economies on an armature of civic cohesion. Small towns and smaller cities have better prospects than the big cities, which will probably have to contract substantially."

For some reason, I find these scenarios a lot more plausible than the world we actually live in. I keep expecting civilization as we know it to end any day now, but maybe it won't be an apocalypse after all... Or can you have a really slow apocalypse?

Anyway, I'm glad we're planning to go to Europe now, because according to this guy, "The commercial aviation industry, already on its knees financially, is likely to vanish."

I really believe this stuff is going to happen. How can it not? More technological miracles will save us? We've already had more than our share of miracles. It can't continue forever. I just wonder how much of the change will be in my lifetime?


John Scalzi has blogged about this topic in much greater depth. This is the kind of post I probably should have written, if I'd felt like I had time. Only my version of it would have had a lot more stuff about how the suburbs as we know them may be doomed, and how that is probably a good thing. And then I might even have speculated the changes the automobile has caused to our social lives -- how many more people we meet, how that's changed dating and marriage and the whole concept of the extended family. I might have talked about how strange Western society is compared to the kind experienced by the vast majority of the world today, and by everyone, historically... And I might have speculated about the value of plastic rising so that the stupid little fake jewels you see on clothes everywhere today could someday be as valuable as the real thing. (Imagine taking a handful of plastic jewels back in time. Only kings and queens would wear them.)

But for a more realistic and informative summary of the subject, you should probably read Scalzi's post.


Boy am I not an expert on this subject. But I can remember a lot of hand-wringing a couple of years ago when they got above $2 a gallon in Seattle. Now the Shell Oil by my house wants $2.59...

I get the impression that, adjusted for inflation, the prices are still nowhere near what they were in the seventies and early eighties. But that was an artificial crisis, oil witheld, not an oil shortage. And they're higher than I can ever remember, and hardly anyone's reacting, the way I remember people reacting in the past.

With all the talk about "peak oil" I have to wonder -- how do we know the prices are going back down this time? I mean eventually, there is going to be less and less, and it's going to get more and more expensive.

It's inevitable, and our society will have to change. Aside from producing fewer SUVs I mean. (Thanks for the link, George.) Our cities will have to change...

What will happen? And is it starting now?