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.