November 26, 2007

Fog-addled Providence

November 23, 2007


As a sick joke, some aimless individuals have created social networking sites with the names "myface" and "facespace" instead of contributing to society in any meaningful way. Some day soon, technology will allow us to live purely ironic lives.

November 21, 2007

Some bubble updates

In keeping with my habit of bringing you periodic bubble-related news, here are a few things

-If you're like me, you've often wondered how life would have evolved on Earth if it proceeded along the lines of competing "asteroid" style bubble arachnids*. This game takes that premise and runs with it. Good for at least 20 minutes of numbing flash-based entertainment.

-I got an email a while ago asking for submissions to Brown's quarterly science-lit magazine. So I thought, hmmm, I might have something appropriate for that. A few days later an editor gets back to me saying, to my surprise, that's it's perfect and they want to use it. Yes! More of that recognition I so richly deserve from elite campus publications. So that's good, and I don't think about it for two weeks. Until I get another email from this editor saying they have discussed it at their editor meeting and someone is concerned that readers will mistake it for a serious piece and take offense. They want to print a disclaimer above my article noting that it is a joke. As in, SATIRE: PLEASE DO NOT BE OFFENDED. I don't know what exactly they wanted to put, but I can assume that it was along the lines of:

The editors of this magazine would like to point out to you, Ivy League University students, that although we are all extremely intelligent and sophisticated, you may be unable to discern the subtle use of satire in the following essay. Rest assured that this absurd piece of writing is humorous in nature, and not intended to suggest in a serious fashion that a causal link exists between an innate female affinity for bubbles and a preference for academic careers in the field of astrophysics.
Needless to say, I wasn't really amenable to this idea. First of all, it's not a joke. And once my grant** comes in, I can prove it once and for all. Secondly, if it was a joke, hypothetically speaking of course, it would be completely ruined by starting it with a disclaimer. Can you imagine if Jonathan Swift had titled his famous essay "A Modest Satirical Proposal"? Things like that are funny because they have the illusion of coming from a position of authority. (Yes, I just compared myself to Jonathan Swift.) I guess there is a certain demographic at Brown that gets offended by prettymuch anything, and the fear of their reaction is enough to strike caution into the hearts of writers here. But I still have to wonder what, precisely, they were worried these people would think. "Hey, this guy is implying that a reason he obviously made up causes women go into an intellectually demanding field instead of an equally difficult one! How dare he! I get riled up by anything addressing gender discrepancy in science that is even remotely lighthearted!"
In the end, it turned out that despite what their initial call for submissions said, they only wanted stuff from undergrads. So we dodged that bullet...

-Zosia, tireless promoter of my theory (Chicago branch), mentioned to me that her boyfriend just published a string theory paper with "bubbles" in the title. This invites an addendum to my hypothesis: female astrophysicists even like guys who work on bubbles or bubble-related issues. Make a note of it fellows.

OK, now that's a bit chauvinistic.

*Instead of being created 400 years ago by Jesus. Riding a dinosaur.

**My research requires 40 metric tons of bubble-blowing solution and salaries for least 500 subjects willing to major in physical sciences for the purpose of the experiment.

[photo credit]

Ignobel Prizes

You know how every once in a while, just to mix things up, the Nobel Committee awards the rare Ironic Peace Prize? As if to say to the recipient: 'please, try to be more peaceful.' Kissinger and Arafat would be your classic examples of this. There are also the ones which are ironic only in retrospect, like American VP Charles Dawes who won it for his work on German reparations following WWI. Of course, we all now know that their severity contributed to the economic hardship and sense of national outrage that allowed extremism to flourish there. Or the one that went to the unfortunately named "Permanent International Peace Bureau" 1913. And then you have all of the awards that just look silly now, like pretty much everything awarded to the League of Nations. For most of these you can at least say that they admired these people or organizations for trying, but I'm not sure why they couldn't tell that the Kellogg-Briand Pact was doomed to failure. This was an international treaty that supposedly "outlawed war as an instrument of national policy." Since it was ratified by the Senate it's law in the U.S., and in basically every other major country, but it's done about as much good as those tags on mattresses that you're not allowed to rip off.

Unfortunate though the Peace Prize's record sometimes looks however, at least you can applaud the sentiment (especially since they've now given it to our delphian former veep for his voice work in Futurama). I have found something much funnier than the Nobel Peace Prize though--the Lenin Peace Prize. An award created as a rival, communist, Nobel to honor people that the USSR considered worthy. And this one had the irony built right in, it was originally titled the "Stalin Prize for Strengthening Peace Among Peoples." Because when you think Strengthening Peace Among Peoples, you think Stalin! The honorees are a rich melange of actual luminaries who simply happened to be lefties (like Pablo Picasso, Nelson Mandela or Linus Pauling), party leaders from around the world who the Soviet Union was trying to elevate the status of, and commie hacks who no one has ever heard of.

Thanks Wikipedia! [cue 'the more you know' graphic here]

November 14, 2007


I was walking along the street just now and I spotted an extremely large hawk sitting on the roof of a building. Providence isn't Manhattan to be sure, but neither is it the kind of place you expect to find birds of prey. Even if it isn't a concrete jungle, the city, and all surrounding areas are seriously built up, and have been for a very long time. But there it was anyway, majestically surveying Hope Street. I stood there looking at it for a few minutes, and no one else walking by seemed to notice this thing. Then as I began to walk off it started making loud 'caw!' noises. It was very cool.

November 13, 2007

Happy Franksgiving!

Some of the best holidays are the kind that you make up yourself. I certainly know this, and commemorate Kneecap Day annually in honor of my connective joints. FDR knew it too, and between 1939 and 1941 tried to get everyone to celebrate Thanksgiving a week earlier to boost retail sales. Had he succeeded, Turkey Day would be this Thursday. Unlike Social Security or fancy cigarette holders though, this is one of his ideas that didn't quite catch on. Everyone made fun of it, derisively referring to the usurped holiday as 'Franksgiving' and sending him tons of hate mail. Evidentially, at the time, the date of Thanksgiving wasn't fixed on the calendars, and a Presidential proclamation was needed to make it official as a public holiday. Roosevelt was asked by some retailers to move it up a week on the logic that people would shop more if there was more time between then and Christmas, and he agreed with this idea. Chaos ensued. Schools that had already scheduled vacations or football games all independently decided whether to keep or alter their plans. Businesses which had based their Novembers around a November 30th Thanksgiving had to reorganize everything. Calendar makers wet their pants. Furthermore, by the time November came around that year a bunch of states had decided to go against the President and celebrate the last Thursday as Thanksgiving, so someone traveling to another state to see their family might have the wrong week off. This national freak-out went on for 2 more years before New England, which gave our nation the holiday, threatened to take it away and the traditional date was reestablished formally by an act of Congress.

Pray for Smart People

I saw a distressing item on the CNN page this morning. A poll asking whether respondents thought that "praying for rain" would be effective. The only thing dumber than a question like this is the fact that it is inspired by an actual thing happening in reality. Third dumbest would be the fact that at this time the percentage of people saying it would help is at 43%, most of whom are presumably capable of turning on their computers and tying their shoes. Evidently, the Governor of Georgia's idea of dealing with drought is to get a bunch of people together and wish that it will resolve itself. I've been trying to fix my lame lack of posting with the same approach over the past few weeks and I can tell him that it isn't all it's cracked up to be.

I don't usually read CNN. Stuff like this reminds me how glad I am that I get my news exclusively from 'alternative' news sources like and the backs of used sugar packets.

November 1, 2007

And That Makes 7

How nice it was to have a post-season free of angst and neurosis. Such a strange feeling. Just a nice normal contest where the better team won, and showed once more that purple vests never, ever, have a place in baseball. The weirdest thing about the series was that all season I never doubted that Boston was the best team in the league, and even when they went down 3-1 in the ALCS I still couldn't imagine them losing it, though I knew a comeback was somewhat improbable. I never freaked out about the away games they'd have to play in low-Earth orbit. A marked difference from 2004, when I saw calamity around every corner. The world is a very different place...

1903, 1912, 1915, 1916, 1918, 2004, 2007. We're coming for you, Athletics.