Saturday, December 20, 2008


  • Signs I'm getting old:

    • As the Community College Dean points out, "I lost the ability to do circular rides without bad side effects somewhere around thirty," though for me it occurred later.
    • I'm usually the last to get cold, and slippers were just for getting the paper in the morning. Now, on cold days, I look for slippers to keep my feet warm.
    • There are more, but I can't remember (a sign unto itself!).

  • Quantum, in modern, common usage, tries to sound like science and therefore should bare some resemblance to its usage by physicists. With that said, it should therefore connote a discrete quantity. But more than that because otherwise you could just use the word discrete. So what it really should connote is a quantity of something that would normally be thought continuous, and therefore it has to be a terribly small, discrete quantity. In that sense, most common usage is just plain wrong. Of course, I still used the term nuke to cook something in a microwave oven (which is far from nuclear both in size/wavelength and the fact that we're not bombarding the food with any nucleons!).
  • Have you heard who won Survivor: Gabon? What skills would the oldest Survivor winner have to possess to win? Oh, I don't know, maybe just intimate knowledge of physics, that's all.

Monday, December 15, 2008

If I were a boy...

  • Nice use of the subjunctive in Beyonce's "If I were a Boy".
  • I'm sure this is a sign that I'm hanging out with the wrong people (i.e. administrators), but I've heard the term "silo-ing" a few times in the past few weeks.
  • Can I take the resurgence of old quarterbacks in the NFL (Favre, Collins, Warner, etc), as a good sign for my importance as I age?
  • I'm sick of going to big conferences and learning more news online than by attending.
  • So TV broadcasts are going all digital. They say that if you've got cable you've got nothing to worry about, but what if you don't want to rent one or more of their cable boxes for each of one's analog TVs? It would seem that the converter boxes would do one no good since they're meant for over the air. But if the cables change all their channels to digital, then analog TVs with their coax input won't get the signal. We're already running into this problem with our Series I Tivo having lost a few channels to digital already.
  • It's a bit ironic that the Iraqi reporter was trying to humiliate President Bush. Like Josh Marshall, I was impressed, and possibly even proud, of our President for his reaction.
  • Finances:

    • So the credit crunch has finally hit me. The other day I got the letter cutting off our HELOC. This line of credit was nice as a safety net in case we needed money. A bit ironic that the lender was mitigating their risk by cutting off the credit and thereby transferring the risk to me (since my risk is still theirs since they hold the mortgage as well). Also ironic was that they were cutting off a secured debt but yet were still offering me a 0% APR for twelve months credit card which is unsecured debt.
    • Every December, I like to run guesses for my final numbers through TurboTax or TaxAct online. That way if any gotchas come up, I have a few weeks to do something about it. So I plug in some numbers and it seems the AMT may be a problem and there's not much to be done. It seems TaxAct has an old amount for the AMT exemption, so I'm thinking I'll be safe. I suppose I should try TurboTax and see what it gives me....the problem is that final versions aren't out yet since the year isn't even over.

  • I've been meaning to comment on something Arjendu wrote recently. However, I've barely even skimmed it. In short, I agree. It's easy to lose confidence, and the business of physics takes all kinds. Similarly, even for those who persevere, it's hard to maintain one's confidence. I struggle a bit evaluating my own abilities. And for many professional physicists, the culture is one of talking down to others and seizing upon mistakes. There are numerous guilty physicists even among the popular physics blogs, and I'm not talking about their comments sections. Of course, a counter-argument to this, is that we don't want to pamper the incompetent, many of whom manage to thrive where meritocracy fails.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Obama will hire a physicist?

I've not been able to surf today so this may not be new news (redundant?), but TPM is saying that Obama might pick Steven Chu for energy secretary. I saw him give a talk recently, and it was a good one. The kind of talk where you think, "Why doesn't the government listen to this guy?". This is cool, maybe enough to break the funk I've been in, though picking out $50K worth of toys with grant money hasn't broken it, nor getting an invite for next semester. What's wrong with me?

Friday, December 05, 2008


  • I am impressed at some of the smartphones coming out lately such as the G1, the iPhone, and new ones by Blackberry. I was an early adopter using my Sprint phone with their Vision service as a modem, tethered to my laptop. Back then, I paid an extra $10/month and got the first few months free. I quickly dropped it, and then dropped down to a prepaid phone so that my cell bill is under $10/month. What I don't understand is why so many people pay so much for their cell service. I suppose if one doesn't have a landline or broadband at home, possibly it makes some sense to spend $50-$100/month for voice/internet on your phone. However, I doubt that most people are in this situation. And for those who can use home services for an entire household, it seems even more difficult to justify huge cell expenses. I look forward to more integrated plans which cover your house, the various cell lines, and all data in one, reasonably priced plan.
  • I got my annual physical today. My current doctor is worse than the folks at the dealer where I get my car service. At least at the dealer, I decide what services I want for my car...picking only those listed in the service manual and not all the extras they push on me. However, with the doctor's office it seems much more difficult to provide input. Do I need an EKG every year if I've shown no circulatory problems? I used to go to the doctor so rarely. With my previous doc, I had what might have been a sinus infection and I had a trip coming up, so I went in asking for antibiotics. My doctor told me I hadn't been in to the office for four years.
  • A good explanation of the time Tivo saves you from Freakonomics.
  • If you were reading a recommendation letter for a postdoc, how would you rank the following: (i) support strongly (ii) sincerely support (iii) strongest support (iv) recommend (v) recommend as one of the best candidates (vi) recommend among the best graduate students I have seen, (vii) recommend without hesitation.
  • Saw the movie The Visitor recently. A socially awkward, senior professor gets thrust into a new situation with foreign immigrants. I enjoyed it, though one shouldn't expect too much, just a captivating story well done.
  • Talk tips: (i) Construct the first couple slides so that you can basically just read them. This gives you a chance to get over initial jitters, but make sure later slides encourage you to talk more freely once you're warmed up, (ii) Make sure your last slide clearly indicates to the audience that you're done so there's no awkward wondering when to start clapping.
  • I am not in favor of the automobile bailout. It's not clear it'll work, it's not clear that we need to, and it's not clear to me where the line should be drawn between industries that should be bailed out and those should not. More generally, however, I just don't get giving money to the top and assuming it'll help the all those workers who might otherwise lose their jobs. How many workers are we talking about? 100,000? What if let the Big Three fail, and then everyone who can show harm and who makes less than $100K/year can file and receive $10K. That may be as cheap as a single billion dollars and has the advantage that the money will almost certainly be spent helping the economy.