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Uncertain Principles

Physics, Politics, Pop Culture

Friday, February 14, 2003

A Gratuity or the Like

I'm tempted to get Derek Lowe in trouble with the Internet Overlords by linking to him with some phrase like "Derek Lowe offers some excellent advice for terrorists regarding nerve agents," but then that would be mean. Then again, I've already posted the phrase, so what the hell. Derek Lowe offers some excellent advice for terrorists regarding nerve agents. (He also plugs Charles Murtaugh's very good analysis of the terror preparedness recommendations I blogged about earlier.) I apologize for any inconvenience. Give Admiral Poindexter my regards.

While you're over at Lagniappe, those of you who aren't terrorists (or "terraced," as our President would say it) might want to scroll down to find good posts on why everybody should learn about quantum mechanics, and genetically engineered microbes that use 21 amino acids instead of the normal 20. The latter is particularly interesting, as there are some wild proposals out there suggesting that the fact that we only use 20 amino acids has a basis in quantum information theory. This has always struck me as little more than numerology, but if the people Derek cites have really made a viable organism that uses 21 amino acids, we may find out. Or, it may turn out to be some sort of home-made alien super-virus. In which case, let me refer any terrorists thinking about using it back to the first paragraph...

On that note, I'm off to work (where, interestingly enough, we'll be having a colloquium on quantum information processing), and then to Boskone.

Posted at 8:09 AM | link | follow-ups | 5 comments

Thursday, February 13, 2003

Quick Hits

I really shouldn't be blogging at all, but I'll note a few quick things:

And that's enough for now.

Blogging will be light to nonexistent through the weekend, as Kate and I will be at Boskone with all the rest of the cool kids.

Posted at 11:48 AM | link | follow-ups | 3 comments

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Poetry for Physicists

We had a "Faculty Colloquium" yesterday, where a member of the faculty will get up and talk about what, exactly, they do in their scholarly work. This is the fourth one of these that I've seen, and they've been generally interesting-- we had a classicist talking about the origins of the theater in ancient Greece, a geologist talking about mountain lakes in Peru and global warming, a historian talking about the opium trade in China, and yesterday, a poet talking about jazz and African-American culture.

Before the talk, they passed out a bunch of poems, for reference, including "You and I Are Disappearing" by Yusef Komunyakaa. Which I read, and found sort of interesting.

When the speaker got to talking about this one, he mentioned, in that "Students say the darnedest things" tone that faculty get, that when he hands this out without any context, about half of his students think that the poem is about the poet's girlfriend or lover. Which is actually more or less what I had thought on reading it quickly before the talk.

This is why, despite being a voracious reader, I didn't end up as an English major. They give you piece after metaphorical piece where the references to "burning" are all a metaphor for lust, or love, or political repression, or some such thing, and then hit you with a poem about an actual woman who is literally on fire.

Stupid poets...

Posted at 7:29 AM | link | follow-ups | 3 comments

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Cooking With Uncertain Principles

The chili recipe that came out of last November's "beans or no?" debate looked pretty interesting to me, but Kate's no fan of spicy food, so I haven't had an opportunity to try it out. We're having one of our intermittent departmental potluck lunches tomorrow, though, which provides a nice excuse to try the recipe out on other people.

I more or less did what Jim said on his blog, with a few small changes:

It wasn't an unqualified success (heh), but it's not bad at all. The basic problem is that bell peppers aren't part of what I usually associate with chili (meat, onions, spices, and beans), so the flavor was a little different than I expected. Not bad, just different-- a little sweeter than usual, which could probably be corrected by adding more chili powder. I should also use cheaper beer next time-- Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was probably too strong a beer to use, but using Bass Ale would've seemed even more wrong (what, exactly, do the British know about chili?), and there's no way the Thomas Hardy Ale was getting used for cooking...

Weaker beer and a little fiddling with the spice mix will probably yield a very satisfactory pot of chili, at some point in the future. For now, it's a very satisfactory batch of something not entirely unlike chili, which is good enough for me.

Posted at 10:09 PM | link | follow-ups | 9 comments

When the Shit Hits the Fan, Rob a Mormon

Another gem from this morning's Washington Post:

Top federal officials yesterday issued their most pointed advice since Sept. 11, 2001, on precautions the public should take against terrorist attacks, warning that every home should be stocked with three days' worth of water and food in case of a strike with chemical, biological or radiological weapons.

They also recommended that families consider designating a room where they will gather in the event of such an attack, and have on hand duct tape and heavy plastic sheeting to seal it, as well as scissors, a manual can opener, blankets, flashlights, radios and spare batteries. The officials said they believe the al Qaeda terrorist network is particularly targeting New York and Washington.

Ranking officials of the Department of Homeland Security told reporters at a briefing that Americans must take some responsibility for protecting themselves, but stressed that people should not feel panicked or abandoned by the government.

I was going to panic, but I'm feeling much better now that my peril-sensitive glasses have gone completely black.

lksfkgherv hsfdkugy jlb bkj.


Posted at 8:25 AM | link | follow-ups | 1 comment

Majority of Americans Want to Have Cake, Eat it Too

In a story about a new poll headlined "Most Support Attack On Iraq, With Allies; Poll Finds Renewed Backing for War," we get two paragraphs that sum up just about everything that's wrong with this country. First:

Nearly 6 in 10 Americans said they would endorse military action to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein over the objections of the U.N. Security Council if the United States is supported by close allies such as Britain, Australia and Italy.

(The actual number is 57 +/- 3%, though you need to look at the full poll data to find that out...)

Second, we have:

Fifty-six percent said they oppose the postwar rebuilding efforts in Iraq if the United States would have to keep troops in the country for several years and spend $15 billion a year, the most conservative publicly available estimates of what it would take to stabilize a post-Hussein Iraq.

So, to recap, people favor war in Iraq, as long as it doesn't involve any long-term committment to actual progress in the Middle East. Happily for them, we're presently ruled by people who seem inclined to give them exactly what they want, good and hard.

Never let it be said that the Bushies are anti-populist-- they're absolutely and perfectly in tune with all the very worst ideas of the American electorate.

Posted at 8:17 AM | link | follow-ups | no comments

Monday, February 10, 2003

Seven Difficult Pieces

I realized yesterday afternoon, while watching the Maryland-Georgia Tech debacle that this was the seventh game that has passed since I last commented on hoops. This whole house/ moving thing has been a real drag on my blogging...

So, scattered comments on each of the games I missed, in roughly chronological order:

Duke. I set the VCR to tape this one, but I had a real dilemma when looking at the tv listings: the game was on ABC nationally, but also listed as part of the Full Court package. I had to pick one or the other, and I got burned once when the local affiliate showed a dire Big East game instead of the Maryland game. So I went with the pay-per-view version...

... and ended up with three hours of black screen. They must've blacked the game out, the bastards. In tpical fashion, Maryland won (their best win to date), bringing their record to something like 5-1 in Duke games that I don't get to see. God hates me.

North Carolina. Played before the wine-and-cheese crowd in the Dean Dome, Maryland won this game. I set the VCR correctly this time, and watched the tape when I got home from working on the house. UNC gave a game effort, but was pretty much out-gunned. Maryland should've put this away early, but every time they built a big lead, they'd start dinking around with the ball, and let UNC claw back. Then they'd re-focus for a bit, and build a big lead again, only to piss it away.

I realize that programming directors at major sports networks probably view this as a Good Thing, keeping the game competitive to the very end and boosting the ratings a bit. It's maddening to watch as a fan, though...

Clemson. Another videotaped game, bringing the team's record in games that I don't see live to something like 17-2 all time. This was capital-U Ugly, as you'd expect from a Clemson game. On the bright side, it's a whole lot less frustrating to watch these games on tape than live-- when I know that the Terps pulled it out in the end, it's easier to cope with the bumps along the road...

This was actually a fairly bad game for Maryland, with the exception of a spurt in which they scored 13 points in just over two minutes. They lapsed backm into a near-catatonic state after that, playing just well enough to eke out a win.

Two Clemson notes: 1) Clemson coach Larry Shyatt looks more like Al Bundy with every passing day. 2) "Olu Babalola" is the best sports name since "Reuben Boumtje-Boumtje."

North Carolina State. Another maddening game to watch, but a good win. State drove Maryland crazy with their "poor man's Princeton" offense, but eventually wore down, and the Terps were able to build and hold a lead.

The game in Raleigh is going to be a tough one for the Terps.

Loyola of MD. I didn't make any effort to catch this one, as it was part of the traditional "play every other school in the state" method of padding out the schedule. I must've incurred bad Fan Karma as a result, though, because this was followed by two of the worst games I've seen from Maryland in years:

Virginia. Virginia coach Pete Gillen's enormous head contains a great basketball mind. First, he lulled Maryland into a false sense of security by suspending his starting point guard, invoking the Dean Smith Rule ("Every team gets one really good game after losing a key player") in the process. Then he baffled them by starting four fowards and only one guard, but chucking up threes from all over the court. The Terps figured that one out, but Gillen was too wily for them-- he had his team play like absolute dogs for about ten minutes, letting Maryland build a lead, and get into their "dink around with the ball" mode, then the Cavaliers snapped back into action, and stormed back to take the lead.

The Terps never knew what hit them.

One note regarding Maryland's front court: I used to get really annoyed, the past few years, watching sweet Steve Blake passes clang off Lonny Baxter's hands again and again. I just din't know how good I had it-- come back, Lonny, all is forgiven...

Georgia Tech. Which brings us to yeserday afternoon, and one of the sorriest displays I've seen from a Maryland team in years. Despite all the comments from coaches and players about how they were re-focusing on defense, they didn't show much ability to stop anything. And the offense was horrific.

Astundingly, they actually managed to make this one close down the stretch, but as I said to Kate at the time, I was actually almost hoping they'd lose, because such a dismal performance shouldn't be rewarded with a win. Feh.

Obligatory "lookist" comment: Maybe it's just the first name, but Ed Nelson looks like a six-eight version of Barnaked Ladies singer Ed Robertson. Just an observation.

In general, the Terps are playing like pretty much what they are: a fairly inexperienced team, with no clear go-to guy. They've got lots of juniors and seniors, but other than Blake, none of them have had to be The Man before, and they're all playing tentatively. And Tahj Holden has caught whatever virus laid Mike Mardesich low a couple of years ago-- nailing his feet to the floor might actually improve his defensive play. If nothing else, it'd counteract his Battier Complex, and stop him from just lying down every time an offensive player takes a step in his general direction.

(To be fair, that's not just Holden-- the whole ACC has been infected with this "draw the charge" thing. It's pathetic-- any time an ACC player drives to the hoop, at least one defender will flop on his back and throw his legs in the air like a porn starlet. Somebody's going to end up getting seriously hurt landing on one of these idiots...)

(Also, I should note that Holden is damned if he does, and damned if he doesn't. When he flops, it's usually a no-call, but when he stays on his feet, he's a foul magnet. I have no idea what it is about the guy-- he's not really more thuggish than Ryan Randle, who doesn't get nearly as many whistles-- but he just can't buy a break from the refs.)

There are a few positive notes: Nik Caner-Medley plays with great intensity, if not always intelligence, and was the only Maryland player to show up for the first half yesterday. John Gilchrist is a pretty solid freshman point guard, too, though he's not as good a defender as Blake, which doesn't really help in the current circumstances.

It's hard to say what they need to do more-- the defense has been shaky at best of late, but then the offense has just been awful. Actually hitting the occasional shot would offset some of the defensive issues, but better defense might lead to some easy shot opportunities. Chicken. Egg. Oyakodon.

Whatever the solution is, they better turn things around quickly, because the schedule shows no mercy. They're at Florida State next, and they never seem to play well in Tallahassee, then they have return engagements with Wake Forest, and down in that pit that Duke calls a gym. The next few games will determine how this season is remembered...

Posted at 2:46 PM | link | follow-ups | 3 comments

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