This page will look much nicer in a browser that supports CSS, or with CSS turned on.

Uncertain Principles

Physics, Politics, Pop Culture

Friday, March 26, 2004

Take That, Bob Park!

The list of spin-off benefits of the space program has increased by one item: battered seafood:

In January, Long John Silver's offered to give America free Giant Shrimp if NASA found conclusive evidence of an ocean on Mars. To celebrate the success of NASA's Mars Rover project, the company is going to give America free Giant Shrimp on Monday, May 10.

(Via Making Light's comments, where else?)

This is not from The Onion, despite the presence of this sentence:

"NASA is making history on Mars and Long John Silver's is making history here on earth," added [Chief Marketing Officer Mike] Baker. "Our faith in NASA has paid off. Their giant accomplishment calls for Giant Shrimp."

Damn, but marketing people are dorks.

Posted at 9:16 AM | link | follow-ups | 5 comments

Thursday, March 25, 2004

This Inspires Confidence

After months of delay, Niagara Mohawk (our local power company) has finally gotten around to sending tree-trimming crews to our neighborhood. They're two or three houses down from us this morning, chainsaws a-blazing.

While walking the dog, I was watching them work, because it's sort of fascinating. At one point, I saw one of their crack tree removal technicians hanging forty feet up in the air, a good fifteen feet above the power lines, swing his chainsaw around one-handed and lop off a six-foot tree branch. Which he then let fall, directly onto the power lines below.

I'll be shutting the computers down now, thankyewverymuch.

Posted at 9:08 AM | link | follow-ups | no comments

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Snow and Anarchy

The official arrival of spring has gone largely unnoticed by the actual weather, which has been cold and nasty for the last few days. Prior to that, though, it had actually gotten reasonably warm, and most of the enveloping snow has melted away. Today, walking back from a trip over to the campus center, I noticed that the receding snowbanks have uncovered a truly appalling number of cigarettes scattered around the grass just outside the doors of the science building. These are arrayed in a broad ring around the ashtrays/ trash cans that are placed right outside the doors, like debris from some sort of weirdly well-placed meteorite strike.

It's possible that this is the normal state of things, and I don't usually notice it in the deeper grass, or that there's some army of groundskeeping elves during the regular term that sweep the things up. I don't really think so, though-- I think it's just a depressing demonstration that even in New England, snow is an excuse for anarchy.

I mock people in DC regularly for their snow panic, but the tendency of people in the north to think that snow excuses bad behavior is almost as bad. It only takes a half-inch or so in the parking lots (just enough to cover the lines) before people start parking their cars in any damn fool manner they feel like. The number of available parking spaces on campus probably drops by 15% in the winter, as students start leaving four feet of open space between their parents' expensive SUV's.

But the huge increase in littering is even more striking. People just chuck stuff off into the snow, as if it were actually a lake of acid that will dissolve their trash, rather than a temporary covering that will melt in a month or so, leaving behind the accumulated detritus of a thousand morons. The first few weeks os spring are always depressing as hell, because there's garbage everywhere once the snow melts.

And don't get me started on the dog crap. Based on the roads in our neighborhood, it seems that Kate and I are the only people in Niskayuna who continue to clean up after our dog once winter hits.

(Yes, this is cranky and pointless. I'm one of about three people in the building today, and I spent the morning cleaning my office. If I had a cat, I'd vacuum it.)

Posted at 12:30 PM | link | follow-ups | 3 comments

Monday, March 22, 2004

Richard Thompson Live

I missed the tail end of yesterday's big basketball story (UAB's upset of Kentucky) because Kate and I went to see singer, songwriter, and all-around cheery guy Richard Thompson in concert last night. This was a spur-of-the-moment decision, as Kate stumbled across a mention of the show (at the Egg) a couple of days ago, and I said "Sure, let's go."

As appropriate for an impulse buy, the show ended up being surprising on several levels.

Even before Thompson took the stage, it was an interesting scene. As we milled around in the lobby area between the opening act and the main show, I was struck by how oddly familiar the crowd looked. It was a weird mix of people who looked like they belonged in SF fandom, and people who looked like they belonged in academia. (Plus one guy in black jeans, a black shirt, and a beret, because it's a law of nature that there's always at least one dink who comes to a concert dressed just like the main act...)

I'm not sure why this surprised me, given that Thompson isn't really noted for his popularity among the teenage skateboarder set, but of all the concerts I've been to, it's the one where I felt least out of place, being a slightly fannish academic. This, of course, made me profoundly uneasy.

The show itself was also fairly novel, in that I only knew about one song in four. A lot of the others sounded sort of familiar, as he has a knack for writing that sort of song, but there would aways come a point where I realized "Nope. Don't actually know this song." (Annoyingly, several of them fail to turn up on the lyrics search page. I'm not sure if that means they were covers, or if it's just not as good a search engine as it could be...)

This was only the second time I've ever had that happen (the first being the Pietasters at Toad's Place in New Haven, when I was in town looking for an apartment). I don't go to all that many concerts, and when I do go to see a band, it's usually because I've got nearly every album they've ever recorded, and know the words to most of the songs. In this case, I own three albums and a best-of collection out of Thompson's thirty-odd years of recording, so it was a different experience. (I do own (and am presently listening to) his most recent album, so I recognized those songs, and some of the older stuff was familiar, but there's a huge gap in the middle part of his career...)

The stage show consisted of, well, Richard Thompson. With a guitar, a microphone, and an effects pedal or two. And that was pretty much it. As with the John Hiatt show we went to last year, it was really striking how much sound he managed to generate with just one guitar. It was also a wonderful demonstration of what a great guitarist the guy is. You can tell that he's good on the albums, but it wasn't obvious just how good until I heard him playing by himself. I have a better idea now why really talented musicians admire him so much (beyond his obvious gift for lyrics).

(Listening to him perform really drives home how much of an influence he has on the whole "Bordertown" crowd, and Emma Bull in particular. When he played "1952 Vincent Black Lightning", Kate leaned over to me and said "Now I need to re-read Finder again...)

He didn't do much in the way of re-arranging songs, save for singing a few songs that originally had Linda Thompson on vocals. That certainly puts a slightly different spin on "I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight", but it wasn't a radical re-working of the song by any stretch. Some of the new material, "Outside of the Inside" in particular, was slightly less intense in person, probably because of the change in instrumentation, but that's about it.

I was also impressed by the range of stuff he did. He's not noted for being a really upbeat guy, but he did a couple of songs that weren't depressing at all. One was a slightly silly song about Alexander Graham Bell, the other was an incredibly silly song about Janet Jackson, urging her to consider a second career as a wet nurse. His stage patter was also great-- he joked with the people who were yelling out requests (one request, which he heard as "Three Legged Horse" became a running joke), and had a great sense of humor in his song introductions.

Of course, the silly songs made for some major mood swings, as he followed happy, bouncy songs with crashingly depressing ones. It was a little like listening to a stack of his CD's with an exceptionally perverse shuffle play feature. He spanned pretty much the whole range, though, from the Janet Jackson ditty to "The End of the Rainbow", and everything in between. He closed the show on a great note, too, with "Beeswing," which was really quite lovely. That song alone would be enough to get me to buy more of his records.

All in all, a very good show. He played for about two hours, with a couple of short encores, and the crowd ate it up. It's a nice place to see this sort of show, too: the theater only holds about 1000 people, and while the seats we had provided a fairly oblique view of the stage, it's not like there were fabulous visuals that we were missing, and we were close to the stage.

Posted at 3:58 PM | link | follow-ups | 1 comment

Blog Comment of the Month

From a comment thread on movies, theology, and board games at Making Light (where else?), this gem from Jim Macdonald:

I have discovered a truly remarkable heresy which this margin is too small to contain.

I love the Internet.

Posted at 3:00 PM | link | follow-ups | no comments

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Welcome to the Information Supercollider

In between reading depressing stories on the sports pages, I had an Information Supercollider moment this morning, one of those isn't-the-Internet-highly-neat moments where a bunch of different articles all turn up on a related topic.

First, via Arts & Letters Daily, a Joel Achenbach article about string-theory evangelist Brian Greene and his ideas on the nature of time.

Second, via Sean Carroll, a new science blog whose sole substantive post to date argues that string theory is a bunch of crap. (Hey to Aaron Bergman.)

Finally, via a comment at the new blog, a post by Hannah "Pyracantha" Shapero describing the literary category of Science Porn:

Invariably, the author apologizes for not putting mathematics in his book. But if he did, it would cause the enthusiasm of the potential reader to droop. It is part of the ritual of pornography that the encounter fantasy is made artificially easy. The climax of discovery gets a lot more pages than the long years of struggle that preceded it. The gossipy glimpses of life in PhysicsWorld only add to the enticement of the scene. Imagine, talking about the origin of the Universe rather than my usual boring inane conversations about the weather or what I might have for dinner.

It certainly puts an interesting spin on Greene's books, and some of what I do when I'm not obsessing on basketball. Not that I'm offended by the term-- if anything, it's uncomfortably accurate.

Posted at 9:47 AM | link | follow-ups | 3 comments

ΔxΔp ≥ h / 4 π

My stuff
What's with the name?
Who is this clown?
Does he know what he's talking about?
Archived Posts
Index of Physics Posts
RSS, version 0.91
The Library of Babel
Japan Stories

Δ E Δ t ≥ h / 4 π

Other People's Stuff

AKMA's Random Thoughts
Arcane Gazebo
Arts and Letters Daily
Boing Boing
Chronicles of Dr. Crazy
Confessions of a Community College Dean
Cosmic Variance
Crooked Timber
Brad DeLong
Diary de la Vex
Drink at Work
Easily Distracted
Electron Blue
John Fleck
Grim Amusements
David Harris's Science and Literature Hellblazer
In the Pipeline
Invisible Adjunct
Izzle Pfaff
Knowing and Doing
The Last Nail
Learning Curves
The Little Professor
Making Light
Malice Aforethought
Chris C. Mooney
Musical Perceptions
My Heart's in Accra
Michael Nielsen
Not Even Wrong
Notional Slurry
Off the Kuff
One Man's Opinion
Orange Quark
The Panda's Thumb
Perverse Access Memory
Political Animal
The Poor Man
Preposterous Universe
Pub Sociology
Quantum Pontiff
Real Climate
The Reality-Based Community
SciTech Daily
Sensei and Sensibility
Talking Points Memo
Through the Looking Glass
Unmistakable Marks
Unqualified Offerings
View From the Corner of the Room
What's New
Whiskey Bar
Wolverine Tom
Word Munger
Yes, YelloCello
Matthew Yglesias

Book Stuff

Book Slut
Neil Gaiman
The Humblest Blog on the Net
Pam Korda
Outside of a Dog
Reading Notes
Seven Things Lately
The Tufted Shoot
Virtual Marginalia
Weasel Words
Woodge's Book Report


ACC Hoops
College Basketball (2.0)
Dave Sez
Hoop Time 3.0
The Mid-Majority
Set Shot
Tuesday Morning Quarterback

Δ N Δ Φ ≥ 1 / 2


75 or Less Album Reviews
Rotten Tomatoes
The Onion A.V. Club

Geek Stuff

Annals of Improbable Research
Astronomy Picture of the Day
Britney Spears's Guide to Semiconductor Physics
The Comic Book Periodic Table
MC Hawking's Crib
The Museum of Unworkable Devices
Myths and Mysteries of Science
The Onion
Physics 2000
Sluggy Freelance
Web Elements
Physics Central (APS)
This Week's Finds in Mathematical Physics

Useful Stuff

Web Design Group

While it is my fervent hope that my employers agree with me about the laws of physics, all opinions expressed here are mine, and mine alone. Don't hold my politics against them.

Weblog posts are copyright 2003 by Chad Orzel, but may be copied and distributed (and linked to) freely, with the correct attribution. But you knew that already.

If you use Internet Explorer, and the text to the right cuts off abruptly at the end of this column, hit "F11" twice, and you should get the rest of it. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Powered by Blogger Pro and BlogKomm.

Steelypips main page.