Friday, August 31, 2007

Craig! Craig!

  • I've been forgetting to mention this news...You know that corrupt politician? No, not that one. No, not that one either. No, not either of the two arrested in the bathroom. Ah, right him! Well, turns out that Senator Stevens of Alaska has somehow brought the NSF into the fold.
  • Someone's post recently had the melodious word in the title "tarball." I like that word for some reason. Which reminds me of something I very often do that makes me suspect a mild form of dyslexia. I type fast. Probably, faster than most anyone you know. And I often switch around letters (I even do this on a chalkboard). What's strange is that I somehow know I've made a typing mistake (but not necessarily that I switched letters, just that there was some failure). This happens a lot with options to commands in which the order doesn't matter. So my standard is to type "tar xzvf junk.tgz junk". No real point here, but I thought it was interesting.
  • I'm a bit reluctant to comment on the quickly polarizing arguments traversing the physogosphere. I think I'm pretty much in the middle, thinking I can see both sides...a surefire way to be criticized by all, I'm sure. I'll use bullets to gain an air of authority and objectivity:

    • Some actions by males can really contribute to an unhealthy environment for women. Grabbing some women's backside, for example, would certainly be way over the line. That these comments occur in the context of a public forum on physics (despite his claim to being his private thoughts) puts them certainly on the same spectrum whether or not they are over the line.
    • With that said, it's not clear to me at all that the comments are over the line as so many seem to believe. Do they make women
      uncomfortable being in the realm of physics (at least moreso, than some initial, knee-jerk, PC reaction)? It's hard for me to see that they do.
    • In either of these cases, I'm confident that he meant no harm, and if indeed, he crossed some line, he did so barely. In the limit that women are no less comfortable being physicists than men (maybe we'll reach that point in the next couple of centures), I think any harm from these comments approach their vacuum value, so-to-speak.

  • The IP reads 100% of the things I write. Now, that's the kind of devotion I expect...neh, require! Seriously though, I have also noticed that there seems to be an ideal SNR for a blog. Some folks post lots and gets lots of readers, but presumably don't get read as closely. As the saying goes, "You say nucular and I say nuclear."
  • The NYT just reported the death of P.B. MacCready. I only know he is because I just finished watching a Scientific American Frontiers all about him and his flying machines this morning. What a coincidence. It's a bit dated, but I still liked it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Alberto! Alberto!

Another resignation, another post...

  • I've seen a couple ads for a new show with the apropos title "The Big Bang Theory"...apparently it's a sitcom believe it or not.
  • Gizmodo roundup:

    • Yet another supercomputer pix
    • A new and more robust Roomba is out. We really liked ours, but we haven't enjoyed the significant effort of cleaning it. And a couple of the parts have "somewhat" broken. So a more robust one is welcome though I'll wait till cheaper ones can be had.
    • For some reason, I really enjoyed this picture of a yacht falling vertically into the ocean. It's somehow surreal, yet Gizmodo assures the picture is in fact just real.

  • The new Science Times is out, but you might take a look at lask week's article on "Sleights of Mind" features Teller of Penn & Teller and makes for a good read.
  • There's been a big scare with children's toys painted with lead paint, and so I was interested to read a couple articles about why lead is used at all:
    NYT and Slate.
  • Not sure what to make of this new site tried it?
  • The IP has a new series on faculty job searches, the second of which can be found here. I began this blog in part to comment on some of my job searches...they cause so much stress, frustration, and exhaustion. They also seem to bring out the worst in people. I suppose if I had to boil things down to their fundamentals, that one vital homeopathic essence, it is to kiss up. No matter how bad you are at it, no matter how obvious you might think you're being, do it. Get good at it. Be able to do it without showering right afterword. Once, I only realized in hindsight that one person with whom I interviewed was looking to get back into a field and needed someone to work with. Once, I didn't ooh and awe enough. Once, the decision was literally being made by one guy who as much as admitted that the chosen one showed initiative by sucking up. The bottom line is, in all seriousness, that you need a few people who will not only vote for you in committee, but will actively fight for you.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Karl! Karl!

  • Slate has a somewhat interesting take on the mathematics of counting sexual partners.
  • The NYT has a short article on some solipsistic ideas. (More commentary on this week's Science Times)
  • Also in the NYT, a nice fluff piece on the Veyron (if you wonder what it is, you're probably not interested). I actually debated mentioning it here but the kicker was the line ``like an antiproton in a particle collider.''
  • From Gizmodo:

  • The FSP is upset about a crude and offensive conversation she overhead between two male ministers. I certainly don't defend what was said, but I would hate to be judged by various conversations I've had! I think I can objectively say I'm fairly progressive, but in the confines of good friends, it can be a bit exhilarating to say verboten stuff. Of course, you could argue then I must be a cretin even to be able to say them in private (even though I don't really think them). Perhaps, but I can sense my primitive, ``animal'' roots within...sort of like one might say "he/she is in touch with his/her female/male side."
  • Julianne at Cosmic Variance has some weird eating habits that she suspects typifies science geeks (Sean is not going to be happy about such generalizations of science-types). I find this a bit strange. I don't do such things, but food for me is fairly sacred. Nor do I do crossword puzzles (we just saw the reasonably captivating documentary Wordplay). In fact, I've never been any sort of puzzle person. I'd read all the popular physics stuff I could find. And I'd take apart anything I could...that I couldn't get it back together again was always a nuisance. Oh, one other geek thing I did was to construct an elaborate string-crane system by which, without leaving my bed, I could maneuver a paper clip anywhere in the room and retrieve things (well lightweight things).
  • I've been trying to understand why Bush supporters piss me off so much. Intuitively I've known, but it's hard to put into words. It's not that they disagree with me or my positions...such diversity is good. No, instead it's a bit reminiscent of the classroom environment of Bart Simpson...sort of like Martin Prince piping up asking for the assignment to require more pages and that it be typed. Or imagine aliens come invade and enslave the Earth, only to find some resident of say Albania helping the aliens. You could accept them working to further Albania's interests, but not the aliens'. In the current environment, support for Bush is essentially unforgivable. Sort of like those people who make it profitable for spammers and like people who support inane and inflammatory talk radio/tv (speaking of, it sounds like Imus is coming back).

Sunday, August 05, 2007

More of the same

  • Cool crystals and scary skateboarding fall.
  • From Slashdot, the physics of beer bubbles.
  • From Gizmodo, a big truck to assemble telescopes.
  • Sean's three-part series on what it takes to get a theory paper out got me thinking that there can be much more stress to it. It's not always (often?) that one simply chats with colleagues or has epiphanies in upscale bars (my epiphanies usually come in the shower). What's missing from his discussion is the stress, the drive, the stubborn refusal to let some issue stand in the way. I'm working on a problem right now that is ostensibly easy. But as I got close it became clear that I needed to change how I was computing something. Fine, I knew how to do that. But the method didn't quite work as expected. A certain instability was preventing getting a result. A few hours later, I remembered another trick that should overcome that problem. I still have to implement and then I should be on track least until something else creeps up and tries to block me. That's the thing with research. You have to have an attitude that you'll get to the end, otherwise you'll just move on to something easier (and presumably less significant). You can't just go home 5pm, show up at the office at 9am and say to yourself, "Ok, let's see what we can do about that problem today." It's mostly self-driven and most people outside of research don't have much of a clue. But more importantly this type of stress can make personal relationships tough. I don't have any hard numbers, but it seems academic physics research has more than its share of divorces.