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

Uncertain Principles

Physics, Politics, Pop Culture

Friday, January 14, 2005


Over on the LiveJournal side of things, there's been a rash of people providing lists of movie quotes, and letting people try to guess the sources. Normally, I let these "memes" go on by, but this is so much up my alley that I really can't resist.

So here are some movie quotes. I won't say it's an accurate picture of my tastes in film, as there are some movies that it's hard to come up with a good, quotable line from (that isn't too obvious), and other movies that are quotable, but not that good. Also, these are from memory, so I can't promise absolute accuracy.

Posted at 8:23 PM | link | follow-ups | 23 comments

A Great Day for the Species

The title is Derek Lowe's description of the Huygens landing, and it's tough to really argue. It'd be absolutely fantastic if the images being transmitted showed the probe splashing down in a liquid methane hazard just off the 17th green of some Saturnian golf course, but that's probably too much to ask. And really, anything at all that it transmits back will be pretty exciting.

If you're into Big Event Live-Blogging, Unscrewing the Inscrutable is the place to look (here's an item permalink, to stave off linkrot).

Posted at 9:20 AM | link | follow-ups | no comments

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Back Off, Man

I was killing time in the hall, gossipping with some of our majors, and waiting for a student to show up for an appointment, when one of my colleagues came up to me. "There's a problem with the high-speed camera," he said, looking harried.

The camera in question is a very fancy high-speed CCD owned by one of the senior members of the department, who uses it for pedagogical research. This week, we've been using it for a lab on projectile motion. We film a plastic ball being fired into the air from a spring-loaded launcher, at 250 frames per second, and go through it frame-by-frame to establish the time of flight of the ball very accurately, which the students can then convert into a measurement of the velocity of the ball. They compare this to a couple of other measurements, and learn a bit about error handling, and the difference between random and systematic error. It's a nice lab, if a bit long.

Anyway, the camera isn't mine, but its owner had left an hour earlier, and I'm the guy who put the lab together, so I was the next in line for tech support. "All right," I said, "Let's see what we can do."

Of course, I had only the vaguest idea of how to work the camera, and the problem he was having was nothing I'd ever seen before. Nobody ever calls me to help with anything simple.

I was just about to say "Look, I have no idea. Why don't you just skip that part of the lab?" when I stopped myself.

"Dude," I said internally, "You're a scientist. You can figure it out. It only has six buttons, fer Chrissakes." Sure enough, a couple of minutes of poking at it got it back into the mode we usually run in. By the end of it, I even understood how it had gotten there, and how to use some of the other features that I've never worked with before.

And, you know, in a certain sense, that's the whole key to being a scientist. It's not so much a matter of training, as a habit of mind. It's a willingness to poke randomly at a selection of buttons on somebody else's camera, in hopes that it might shed some light on the problem.

It's a habit that's all too easy to fall out of, too. It's easy to start relying on colleagues and technicians and reference works for information, and stop poking at things on your own.

Sometimes it takes a broken intro lab to remind me just what it is that I do.

Posted at 10:19 PM | link | follow-ups | 10 comments

Original Basketball Content

Despite not buying the pay-per-view package this year, I did manage to see a couple of games recently. Sadly, one of them was the Maryland at North Carolina blowout. Well, OK, I watched the first half, then went outside to run the snow blower over the driveway, and then I showered to get the two-cycle engine exhaust smell off me. By the time I got out of the shower, it was clear that there really wasn't much point in watching the rest of the second half.

While last night's UNC-GaTech game made it clear that Carolina really is That Good, it still looked like the Maryland players pretty much folded early in the second half. That was uncharacteristic, and more than a little troubling. But then, that was a pretty impressive display from the Tar Heels, who've piled up a few years worth of motivation to run it up on the Terps.

Unlike some people, I'm not ready to declare that all is lost for Maryland basketball. They've got some issues, and they're not really surprising issues, but two big losses on the road in conference to two of the best teams in the nation is not a sign of complete collapse. They drop a home game to Miami or VaTech, and then we'll talk.

(As an aside, it's hard to imagine a sports site more carefully targeted to piss me off. From the first-person plural to the ridiculous expectations, to the weird Gary Williams hatred, it's just a big old freight train of irritation, running off the tracks. It reminds me of why I stopped reading the Duke fans were insufferable, and the few Maryland fans who did post were mostly idiots.)

The other game was Syracuse at Notre Dame, and for a little while there, it looked like it was going to be the same deal. Syracuse held a narrow lead at the half, which they promptly lost. And for ten minutes or so on the game clock, they just looked awful.

Then, for no clear reason (they didn't change defenses or personnel, and neither did the Irish), they went on a big run, and won by nine. I'd love to be able to pin down some sort of reason for the turnaround, but I can't. They sucked for ten minutes, and then they looked fantastic for the last five or six. Go figure.

Maybe it's a question of experience-- at one point, I noticed that all five players on the court for the Orange had played in the title game two years ago. And while Hakim Warrick was pretty quiet, other than one very cool dunk in the first half, Gerry McNamara certainly looked like a point guard with a national title under his belt.

I could've done without the everything-old-is-new-again free throw shooting (10-24, starring Josh Pace as Stevie Thompson), but they did win the game. I wouldn't go so far as to say that they've justified their distressingly high pre-season ranking (as one of guys I play hoop with noted, "When's the last time that a Syracuse team rated this highly in the preseason did anything?), they did look like a pretty good team.

If there's a Syracuse-oriented blog that's as annoying to me as Turtle Soup, I haven't found it. Don't feel obliged to point one out to me, either.

Posted at 8:23 AM | link | follow-ups | 1 comment

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Basketball Links Dump

A couple of days back, I decided that I'm not actually going to plunk down the money for ESPN's Full Court college hoops package. I jokingly told Kate that I was going to donate the money to charity instead, but the truth is, I just don't have the time, nor do I have much inclination to watch the cavalcade of ugly Big Ten games they've offered up in the last two years.

Of course, that was before I realized just how far the slow death of ESPN has progressed, and that the Maryland game last night would only be on the pay-per-view (leaving time for two hours worth of blather about the NBA on ESPN2-- not even a game, mind, just talk). I've been a big fan of ESPN for many years, but I'm starting to think that an alternative network that actually, y'know, shows some sports now and again would be a good idea. And no, Fox Sports Net doesn't count, as they seem to be testing a new format consisting of nothing but "The Best Damn Sports Show Period," 24-7.

Anyway, I was good, and resisted the temptation to call up and order it (aided by the fact that I didn't really expect Maryland to beat Wake on the road, coming off a drubbing in Chapel Hill). I wasn't actually any more productive (I was completely drained after teaching two lab sections, and went to bed early to read The System of the World), but at least I wasn't tempted to stay up and watch some small-conference game from Hawaii at 2 am.

Lacking the pay-per-view this year, I'll need some new sources of information, and as always, the Web contains many weird and wonderful things. Such as Hoop Time v3.0, a blog devoted to Patriot League basketball.

A somewhat more wide-ranging source is the College Basketball weblog (which turns up at a couple of different addresses, I'm not sure how). I don't really like the lots-of-bulleted-items-in-each-post format, but he certainly comments on a bunch of different games and topics, and he's got links to a number of other sites.

If you like basketball, but find yourself wishing it was more like baseball, with dozens of arcane and complicated statistical measures of, well, everything, then Ken Pomeroy's Blah Blah Blah is the site for you. He's got more novel stats than you can shake a stick at.

Winning the race for "", we have, well, a blog about ACC basketball. And Dave Sez takes a somewhat ACC-centric slant on sports in general, with mostly basketball stuff at the moment.

All in all, the best find of my quick troll through the college hoops blogosphere is probably The Mid-Majority. It's the best written of any of the sites I've looked at, and the author's project to attend and write up 100 games this season seems to promise some interesting reading. It's the kind of thing that really ought to lead to a book deal. The most recent piece, on the Morgan State- Delaware State game and race relations in the MEAC is great stuff.

If you're only going to look at one college-basketball-themed weblog this year, make it The Mid-Majority.

Posted at 8:47 AM | link | follow-ups | 5 comments

Monday, January 10, 2005

Obscure Band Update

I'm not feeling especially inspired, and I need to save my energy for my two labs tomorrow, so here are some comments on some recent iTunes purchases. These are mostly bands I heard on KEXP, so some of these will only be familiar to hard core alt-rock geeks. I'll try to give the titles of some representative songs, for anyone who'd like to check these out.

Posted at 9:17 PM | link | follow-ups | 4 comments

I Feel Safer Already

Porter Goss, the new CIA head, has eliminated daily briefings on counter-terrorist activities by the CIA, FBI, DOD, and Homeland Sceurity, in favor of a three-mornings-a-week briefing involving a smaller group. Not to worry, says a nameless official:

"They are still very much focused on terrorist issues," the official said. "If something exploded, [Goss] would get briefed right away."

I feel sorry for Fafblog-- it's a full-time job to stay a step ahead of this crew's descent into self-parody.

Posted at 8:00 AM | link | follow-ups | 2 comments

Sunday, January 09, 2005

A Week Without Cute Dog Pictures... like Christmas Eve dinner without a food fight.

Emmy says: "I've got a toy!"

And again: "I said, I've got a toy!"

Eventually, it becomes "PLAY WITH MEEEE!!!!"

And then, you know, I have to stop fooling around with the computer, and go play with the dog. Back in a bit...

Posted at 8:54 PM | link | follow-ups | 8 comments


Via email from Nathan Lundblad, a disturbing story:

The family of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Eric Cornell said he's lost his left arm and shoulder to an aggressive bacterial infection, commonly known as a flesh-eating disease.

It's an old story, and a bit of Googling turns up some better news (registration required, or use

Throughout his seven-week hospitalization, his family issued updates marking milestones of his recovery. A written message indicated he "still had his sense of humor" in mid-November. He stood on his own about a week later, and he ate a solid meal to mark Thanksgiving with his family in the hospital.

To the relief of his colleagues at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, where Cornell is a senior scientist, and JILA, a joint NIST-University of Colorado laboratory, the bacteria seemed to have been eradicated and Cornell was released from the hospital Dec. 16 to recover at home.

I can't claim to know him well, but Eric was a fairly regular visitor to my old research group at NIST, and we were always happy to see him. He's a brilliant physicist, a geek's geek, and one of the best public lecturers in the business. I hope he makes a full and complete recovery.

Posted at 3:12 PM | link | follow-ups | 7 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.