November 30, 2005

perception and reality

my mom sent me back to school after the break with some food for exams and so forth:

it was really nice of her to think of me, but come on--raisins? peanuts? honey?! i'll definately eat this stuff, but who are we kidding here? here is a more representitive sample of my diet:

please note the sea salt and tylenol. that will be all.

November 28, 2005

loose ends

  • 4 years and thousands upon thousands of dollars for my science education and i was unaware of this phenomenon. i'm a sham.
  • i could crank this one out in about 15 minutes. red sox → determinism → new england calvinistic world view → dan shaughnessy's morgage. remind me again what the aforementioned dollars were for when i could much more easily major in nonsense and get the same diploma? not to mention the career that can be made in stating the obvious. now a career of stating the non-obvious about things that most people are not only indifferent towards, but often unaware of? that'll cost you.
  • einstein visited dartmouth at some point. this is a picture of him with college president ernest fox nichols (1909-1916). very little seems to be known about his visit. i can't even tell what building they are standing in front of--it certainly isn't the physics one. plus, einstein didn't even visit the u.s. until 1921, so i don't know. maybe it was taken somewhere else. sorry.

November 24, 2005

the honestest holiday t-giving.

it may not have the clout of a christmas or a 4th of july, but more than any other holiday you know what you're getting into. you will eat a gigantic meal. there will be a football game on somewhere. pie will be served.
thanksgiving makes no pretense of being about anything besides food. sure, there'’s that whole "“giving thanks"” aspect, but it'’s on your own terms. it isn't like you have to buy someone a greeting card to express your weakly held sentiments for you or lie to small children. not to mention that pathetic ball "drop" on new year's. i wish i could say i couldn't think of any worse misnomers propagated upon the american public, but obviously, i can. they should call it a ball "lowering," that thing eases it's way down the poll like an old man getting into a bath.

but i'm getting off-track. the important thing is that thanksgiving is great because it's about food. there isn't a whole mythology about
the birth of santa claus or a flying bell that distributes eggs. it's also another thing that the rest of the country owes us for, which is nice.

the chicken is unrelated, i just couldn't help but think that more turkeys would avoid the gallows if they sported miniature steve austin jumpsuits. na na na na na na na na na.

November 20, 2005

rigorous intellectual criticism

as a casual to semi-casual observer of the country over the last few years i couldn't help but notice that a lot of stuff is being dressed up with orwellian epithets that have nothing to do with the qualities of the program or movement being named. i don't want to get into a whole big political thing here, but you know what i'm talking about: the "clean skies" act, tax "relief," the "patriot" act, the "no child left behind" act, "iraq," and so on. i think the biggest mistake opponents of these things make is actually using these handles--they were designed in a totally superficial way so that people who never paid attention to what was going on in the world would just hear the pseudonym and be in favor of whatever it was. and when people who oppose them actually refer to what they're opposing by its given name they hurt their argument by both disseminating the name and sounding like they're against the thing it describes (kittens or warm milk or whatever).

all the titles i just mentioned were invented by the same group of people, but the whole strategy of naming your idea the thing which it is
not has clearly been catching on in other places. particularly in the ironically-named "intelligent design" movement--a creationism in sheep's clothing. these people just whipped out a thesaurus, substituted "design" for "create," and then added the word "intelligent" to offset the fact that they're crackpots.* what i don't get though, is why so many scientists, smart people who should know better, call it by its contrived moniker. don't call it that folks, you're helping them. that's what they want you to do. it doesn't need to be repeated, but the movement is not a theory distinct from creationism. the name and pseudoscience aspects are a facade. and propagating that facade by using their title and being all semantic about it only acts to their advantage. keeping in mind especially that the "controversy" is being disputed entirely on the rhetorical front (by reporters who don't realize it's ok to look things up) and among no real scientists.

that being said, i think this guy is onto something.

*general rule: any time someone feels the need to add a word like "intellectual," "principled," or a phrase like "rigorous criticism" to something you can prettymuch take for granted that they are totally full of crap. conversely, that goes for people who treat the word "intellectual" as a sneer too. those people are sneering because they're idiots.

November 17, 2005

10 reasons i am a bad physics/astronomy student

10. i pronounce things wrong. davis=davies, euler="yoo-ler."

9. i'm always trying to write papers or give class presentations on topics from my other major. in astro classes try to push my talk towards physics and vice-versa. i get the feeling i might be unconsciously trying to give my professors the idea that the other subject is the one where i'm really an expert. like i can't be bothered to step out of my element as a major of the other subject, so i'm just talking about where this phenomenon intersects my already vast knowledge on the other side of the department. when i talked about quark stars (a theoretical type of neutron star) in an astronomy class, i felt compelled to cover the physics parts of everything. how interesting quark-gluon plasma is, how quark matter would have all sorts of interesting repercussions for field theory. then a year later in a physics class, i thought it would be interesting to see the other side of it: the physics of this theorized state of matter. and i couldn't resist briefly covering how great it would be if there were neutron stars made out of it...

8. i have no idea what is happening in condensed matter physics--probably the largest, most active field of physics research today. i know there's some stuff going on with super-conductors, and probably there's some near-chemistry materials development type-stuff. it just seems that whenever i think of the subject the same image from an electron-microscope photo pops up in my head--the one of the ring of atoms. i'm even taking a solid state class. still, i got nothin'.

7. i couldn't come up with a 7.

there are some things that i think i've "learned" like 15 times. i'm continually forgetting them and looking them up over and over. for instance, regardless of the context i can never seem to recall what ω means. i don't remember the definition, what a realistic value for it would be, or even what the right units are. i am pretty sure that it's somehow frequency-related but it usually escapes whether its regular frequency times 2
π or over 2π. as far as the units and range are concerned ω=-3×10¹³ °K? ω=6.47 J·Hz²? ω=1 eV? they all look prettymuch the same to me. i mean, if i take a few seconds all these things come back to me, but something about those greek letters makes me viscerally uncomfortable. which is probably why i seem to insist upon writing it as "w."

5. same goes for eigenvalues, except that i know their significance and just always seem to make some stupid algebra mistake when calculating them.

4. every class i take is a struggle between homework ryan and exam ryan. homework ryan is a diligent and clever student who labors over details and finds creative solutions to difficult tasks. exam ryan couldn't tie his shoes if you gave him 3 hours--which you do. also, he can't remember how the hell you're supposed to find

3. when it comes to physics, i can't walk and chew gum. more specifically, when i am listening to a professor lecture on something while writing on the board i can't hear a word they're saying. also, the verbiage seems to block my understanding of the equations they're writing. likewise, when i'm really focused on some physics problem i become unable to talk. it feels like i'm one of those old computers where you had to switch floppy disks in the middle of the program. "to activate 'talk' function insert disk 2 into drive a:, disk 1 'math' has experienced a critical error..."

2. until a few weeks ago when i started studying for the physics gre i didn't remember what sin30
° (or the other basic trig functions were) offhand.

1. i am utterly incapable of drawing a circle. there is no limit to the problems this causes. if you don't believe me or understand why, look at this: