February 25, 2007

371 Years of Treason

On September 22nd, 1776, on his way to the gallows, Nathan Hale proclaimed his only regret to be that he "had but one life to lose for my country." Since then, it has been all downhill for Connecticut in terms of loyalty.

A spy for the Revolutionary forces, Hale was caught behind enemy lines and executed for his role prior to the Battle of Long Island. He was America's first espionage agent, but is celebrated almost entirely for his famous last words -- which differ in their few vague accounts and which most scholars believe to be a repetition of a phrase he did not come up with himself. In any case, for being this sort of fearless, patriotic Christ-figure, Nathan Hale is honored far and wide with postage stamps, statues, and an obscene number of elementary schools.

[Incidentally, the primary witness to this speech was a British Colonel John Montresor. Despite the distinctiveness of this name
and the modest notoriety he achieved for his role in the war he seems to bear no relation to the Montresor of Poe's Cask of Amontillado. Not that this would make any literary sense either.]

Since Hale uttered his celebrated line, Connecticut history has been nothing but a parade of backstabbers and turncoats. In fact, I will demonstrate
that treachery is the state's most basic identity. Let us consider some notable historical figures in the intervening time. Not more than four years later, Benedict Arnold was thwarted in his plot to surrender West Point to the British. That would be the Connecticut-born, Benedict Arnold, synonymous with betrayal.

That one is too obvious, how about something more obscure? The Hale execution story was popularized primarily by one man, William Hull, then a lower-level army officer who heard of Hale's bravery while meeting with a British officer the following day. By the War of 1812 he had worked his way up to the level of general, commanding the northwestern army. Facing what he thought (erroneously) to be vastly superior British forces approaching Fort Detroit, he promptly surrendered THE ENTIRE NORTHWESTERN ARMY. Despite popularizing Hale's all edged speech Hull did not seem willing to regret that he didn't even bother to try losing his life to defend the whole Midwest. Few subordinates believed this action to be even remotely necessary, and a court marshall agreed. Hull was ordered to be shot, and only spared at the last minute by President Madison.

In modern politics, we have Joe Lieberman, Bush's shadow. Go-to guy for really misguided Iraq War ideas and repetition of corrosive "people who criticize the war hate the soldiers" type rhetoric. Who lost the Democratic primary and then stabbed the party that supported his entire career in the back by running as the Independent/Connecticut for Lieberman nominee. Who periodically threatens to break his promise and side with his real soul-mates in the Senate, overturning the intention of the people who voted for him with the expectation that he wouldn't do that. Not to mention the fact that almost none of the positions he espouses are held by the actual people of his constituency in a state that dumped all but one of its Republican representitives last November. Classic Connecticut.

Speaking of which, someone with an excellent sense of humor actually joined Joe's nominal "Connecticut for Lieberman" party. He called the Secretary of State, found out that no one, not even the Senator, had bothered to become a member of the party named after himself. As the only member of the Connecticut for Lieberman Party, Dr. John Orman held a convention at his house, nominated himself for chairman, seconded his own nomination and voted for himself. He then adopted a number of party rules, including "If you run under Connecticut for Lieberman, you must actually join our party."and "If any CFL candidate loses our party's nomination in a primary, that candidate must bolt our party, form a new party and work to defeat our party endorsed candidate."]

Speaking of people who love the President, need I remind you that no one is working harder to further the terrorists' goal of fomenting terror in America and the rest of the world than Connecticut-born George W. Bush himself? Freaking out the country with vague threats, doing the enemy's job by building up the danger they pose and keeping them constantly in the limelight, while at the same time wasting vast resources and efforts fighting people who are not them. Not to mention the obvious stuff like allowing bin Laden to avoid capture and creating a generation of impoverished displaced Muslims who hate America. Whether or not he's actually trying to, it is hard to deny that he's helping the enemy at this point.

Now to more important matter, baseball. Connecticut has always been the least authentic part of New England, or so it seems to the rest of us. In the "real" New England states like Rhode Island and Massachusetts, I think that the source of our unease with Connecticut is their non-allegiance to the Red Sox, and to a lesser extent, the Patriots. We just don't know how to deal with people who call themselves NEer's but don't support the very thing that unifies our region. This intrepid blogger could write a book on Red Sox-Yankees dynamics in CT, and frequently laments the grating fact that the New England Sports Network, which carries the Sox, does not serve Fairfield Country. Is it too much to expect a channel that calls itself the New England Sports Network to operate in, you know, New England?! In any case, it is merely symptomatic of a larger problem, the overflow of fair-weather baseball fans into what is rightly our dominion. Here is how it is supposed to work-

Officially designated Red Sox Area: New England.
Officially designated Yankees area: NY, NJ, remote regions of the country with losing teams and poor baseball knowledge, much of Japan.

Oh, and I forgot, BOS: Dominican Republic, NYY: Nicaragua. But Connecticutters are not content to stick to the pre-arrangement. Instead, many of the weak-willed betrayers of western Conn. took it upon themselves to divide up the state as they wish. The NY Times published a fascinating summary of the boarder dispute last summer.

Which all brings us back to Hale, who was, at the very least, a patriot who has inspired millions to serve our nation with his brave demeanor. But is it surprising, after all this, that Connecticut's official state hero is a spy? Who probably didn't come up with or actually utter the very words for which he was immortalized? And what of Conn.'s familiar appellation: The Nutmeg State? Astute knowers of trivia will recognize that this handle refers to the shrewd practice of peddling fake wooden nutmeg to southerners and similarly dimwitted fellow residents. So ingrained is Connecticut's deceitful nature that the state's nickname itself celebrates their own duplicity! Quad erat demonstratum.

So next time you are enjoying the manatee exhibit at Mystic Aquarium, watch your back.

What shocks me about an electron in a Penning trap is...

via videosift.com

I saw this the other night and laughed fairly hard. It was inserted directly into the middle of an interview, which was proceeding not unnormally up to this point. I wish people really talked this way. I also wish I could find the article it is from.

Seconds later, this happened.

Update: Some goons took down the YouTube video but it is still available here.

Update II: I think that previous update no longer works. Now it is here.

Update II.V: As of Jan 2010 the only place I can find it is here.

Update III: The link in update II may still work, but either way, here is the transcript, courtesy of mettadata.

Jim Carrey: I was just reading this incredible paper on the stochastic phase-shifting of the parametrically-driven electron in a Penning trap; and apparently, a bistability arises dynamically in the specific parametrically-driven systems, because the phase \psi of the electron’s steady-state oscillation can either have the two values separated by \pi.


Conan O’Brien: You know, it’s funny, what shocks me about an electron in a Penning trap is that most amplitude collapses are accompanied by a phase flip. Given that the rate of escape from the trap depends exponentially on an activation energy \textit{E} as the diffusion constant \textit{D} approaches \textit{T}_{n} and \rho approaches \epsilon^\textit{-E/D}.

JC: Absolutely. No question there.

Max Weinberg: I don’t know about that, Conan. Have you considered that the parametric driving force excites a nearly-resonant electron oscillation at the drive frequency, \omega_{d}/3=\omega_{z}+\epsilon? It’s a classic example of the period-doubling that occurs when a linear oscillator is strongly driven.

JC: Max. Did you just say that \omega_{d}/3=\omega_{z}+\epsilon?

MW: Yeah.

CB: (Laughs). It’s actually \omega_{d}/2=\omega_{z}+\epsilon! Wow, Max. Max, you know nothing about quantum physics!

MW: You’re right.

February 24, 2007

Colloquium Drawing of the Week 6

"3 if by air"

Properly viewed by opening this up in a different tab.

February 23, 2007


An unusual thing just happened. For whatever reason the cable TV hiccuped, but continued to broadcast a still image of the screen without sound. This itself isn't so strange, no one can know the ways of the TV network malfunctions, but it certainly led to a bizarre learning experience. When it stopped I just sort of stared at it for about 7 seconds, looked around the room to see if anything was moving, then automatically checked my watch. The seconds were ticking by, confirming my original suspicion that it was the television that had ceased to work properly, not the passage of time.

I know this sounds like I'm just being smart-alecky, but it was my actual, unthinking, reaction. I had a 99% certainty about it being a cable problem, but some part of me wanted to rule out the time-freeze alternative decisively. No matter how sober and evidence-based your style of thinking may be, you can never stop these funny little quirks from slipping in there.

February 22, 2007


This is a lazy post. First, a video of a ferrofluid, a liquid with creepy nanoscale magnets suspended in it. Who ever said physics wasn't evil?

Speaking of evil, here is a famous frog levitating in a magnetic field. Everything is diamagnetic if the external field is strong enough...but only frogs are unlucky enough to get used in these experiments.

February 19, 2007

Silver Lining

In honor of President's day, a reminder that even the worst deciders had redeeming qualities...or at least hidden talents.

Also, no post about lousy presidents would be complete without a mention of the Simpsons tribute to the Mediocre Presidents.

February 17, 2007

Science vs. Faith, a summary

It's flowchart time. This clever one contrasts the scientific method with the, um, non-scientific one.

I love it when people who think they are being open-minded say things to the effect of "science and religion each have much to teach the other." Unthinking reverence for outlandish stories that make no sense? It would certainly make peer-review less painful.

[via BoingBoing]

February 15, 2007

The Dryyyyyy Cracker!

The Matsuzaka Era has finally arrived. "I would like my first batter, if he is listening, please try and not hit the ball." That's a wit as dry as the Asahi he's pitching.

February 12, 2007

ATHF plot

Exclusive behind-the-scenes footage of the planning of that terrorist plot in Boston last month.

February 9, 2007

Colloquium Drawing of the Week 5

February 8, 2007

Two Years

Biennial of this outstanding blog.

158 posts, a bunch of nifty improvements like rotating banners and quotes, and virtually nothing of real substance. I think we all know the appropriate phrase to use here.

February 7, 2007

Too legit to...slow down

I've been meaning to photograph this sign for months.

February 5, 2007

The Moon Rulz

28 day time lapse of Earth's satellite. [Via Backreaction from Wikipedia - Moon]

Seeing the moon like this is so exciting that it just makes me want to ditch NASA's funding of actual science and send manned missions there again!

February 4, 2007

To Err is human

The goal of terrorism is to terrorize. I don't think I have heard a single person point this out anywhere in the news once in the past 6 years. Killing people is the strategy: you murder 100 people to scare 100 million. Then you induce an over-reaction that makes everyone think about you all the time. If you freak out at the drop of a hat and make everyone's life inconvenient you are doing their job for them. Vigilance is half of the anti-terror response, the other half is refusing to be terrorized. Only traitors try to make us afraid of terrorists.

That is why last week's fiasco in Boston is so disturbing. Not merely because our crack police forces shut down the city for an hour because anything with "wires" and "batteries" is an incendiary device (I know if I was making a bomb I would try to light it up and put it in conspicuous places). Or even because as a they are now attempting to scapegoat the two loopy art-house types who planted the ads, to cover up their own incompetence and shame. But because we have now reached the point where we are flying off the handle when anyone even hints at the idea of a terrorist plot--which of course, gives terrorists exactly what they want without even lifting a finger. During last summer's thwarted, and probably overstated liquid bombing freak-out the worst thing I heard anywhere in the news was some guy they interviewed while chucking his souvenir maple syrup saying that it was "better safe than dead." Not only is this an obviously false dichotomy, it is a pathetic, surrendering attitude. You know what the right attitude towards terrorists is? That they should go fuck themselves. That we're not changing anything (other than smart security measures), or obsessing about them. I don't care "why they hate us," or how they decided that violent tactics were a justifiable method of forcing their medieval religious views on us, or what some dipshit retired CIA pion thinks their next target might be. I don't want to hear about how they have a "warped" belief system, that doesn't represent the "real" Islam. All I care about is not giving them what they want, which is for old ladies to be forced to pour out bottles of wine at airports and for everyone else to consider this "necessary."

Nothing is more helpful than broadcasting our reactionary hysteria and fear to show them that they are accomplishing their objective. This might be the best thing I have read on this topic so far. Back after the 9/11 attack I remember thinking that there was something not quite right with all the weepiness on soft news programs. I couldn't put my finger on why it didn't seem quite right then, but I get it now. Obviously some sentimental stories were necessary and cathartic, but generally speaking, your assignment as a citizen after a terrorist incident is to be unshaken and unterrorized, to show the criminals that their tactics are a failue. To be defiant and unmoved. As for sensationalistic news coverage that overstates the danger and importance of these people, you get an F.
This Egyptian magazine article is dead on. "Keep terrorists out of the headlines: If we can agree that the goal of terrorism is to terrorize, nothing suits the murderers’ purposes better than horrific images rehashed again and again on page one. If you work in media, be responsible." Look at how London reacted to that bus bombing, carrying on normally despite their anger. Stiff upper lip and all that.

But back to the phoney incident. It just illustrates how everyone, even all this time after 9/11 isn't getting the point. Oh, and the way the media and the embarrassed Massachusetts authorities are throwing around the word "hoax?" Maybe they should look at a definition of the word, since it has to include, you know, an intent to make people think those lite-brite's were bombs. As a silver lining, it seems that the advertising worked, if not in the way it was intended too, and the whole event has produced some decent comedy. At least this incident might throw some light on the ridiculousness of this type of knee-jerk overreacton...but I'm not holding my breath.

Colloquium Drawing of the Week 4

"Boston Sucks, the Moon Rules!"

Part 4 of my award-winning series. Inspired by recent events.

The Ottauquechee River

To the left of the photo there is a sign that says "No one allowed on Dam." I don't think there is much risk of that anytime soon.

February 2, 2007

Winter of my Discontent

I hate Febuary more than any other time of the year. That is all.

February 1, 2007

Wikipedathon Update

I just wrote about a fun hobby: connecting two random wikipedia articles through other linked articles. Unsurprisingly, this must not be as new as I thought it was, as there is actually an outstanding online program that can find the shortest path for you.

So friends, from now on, you are on the honor system.