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Uncertain Principles

Physics, Politics, Pop Culture

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Saturday Self Promotion

Over at Cosmic Variance, Sean Carroll bemoans the lack of science-professor bloggers:

There are a lot of good science bloggers out there, but overall we are way behind other areas of academia in the realm of scholarly blogging. Social scientists and law professors, in particular --? that is, disciplines that regularly interact strongly with the larger social context --? seem to have taken to blogging more readily, including at least one Nobel laureate (economist Gary Becker).

Of course, it's not terribly surprising to discover that science faculty are way behind the blogging curve. Many science departments still haven't really caught on to the idea of the Web, period, let alone this newfangled "blog" thing.

Back when I was job-hunting in 2000-1, it was really depressing to see how many physics departments had webpages that had last been updated in 1998 or so. The situation really hasn't improved in the intervening five years. Research labs are no better-- my old group at NIST is still using the page I helped put together in 1998.

This isn't terribly surprising-- web-page development and public outreach aren't particularly rewarded by the scientific establishment, so those things get done only when somebody with an interest in them takes charge. As a general rule, research group web pages look pretty nice when there's a grad student with some HTML skills in the group looking for a job, and updates cease as soon as that person finds employment.

While it isn't surprising, it is a little ironic, as many physicists are fond of pointing out that physicists invented the Web in the first place. It's also disappointing, as the Web is now the primary information source for a lot of prospective students and job candidates. You're shooting yourself in the foot by not having a reasonably nice, reasonably up-to-date web page.

This is, of course, just a clumsy segue to posting a link to my evenings-and-weekends project for the past month or so, namely the overhaul of our department web page. This has involved a bunch of cargo-cult JavaScript, some halting steps into new-to-me areas of CSS, and one memorable encounter with the soul-sucking horror that is HTML as created by FrontPage (honestly, it's like something out of a Lovecraft story...).

I'm still tinkering here and there, but I like to think it looks pretty good. We'll see how well I do at keeping it updated, and what happens when webmaster duties rotate to somebody else.

Posted at 8:53 AM | link | follow-ups | 1 comment

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Answers

Here are the titles to go with the lyrics of from a couple of posts back.

A lingering stomach bug is sapping my will to post anything more involved than this. Something more substantive over the weekend, maybe.

Posted at 8:38 PM | link | follow-ups | no comments

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

In Which I Am a Piker

Lots of people have been talking about the list of 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books put out by the ALA. I think I saw it first at The Little Professor, who has read nearly a third of the list.

I'm a complete amateur, it turns out-- a quick scan of the list reveals only fifteen books that I've actually read. Interestingly, six of those were because they were assigned reading in school. Which just goes to show that one man's enduring literary classic is another man's filth. Or something.

A couple of other observations:

What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Girls: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Daughters, by Lynda Madaras, is on the list at #40, but What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Boys: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Sons, also by Lynda Madaras, only makes it to #61. This probably tells you just about everything you need to know about the psychology of the censorious in this country.

Also, #88 is Where's Waldo? by Martin Hanford. What's up with that?

Posted at 7:21 PM | link | follow-ups | 13 comments

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Tuesday Random Tracks

Tuesday is my Lab Day this term-- I don't have any teaching responsibilities on Tuesday, and I don't schedule any student appointments or office hours for Tuesday. That means I get to spend one day a week working in the lab on my research stuff, plus whatever odd bits of time I can find on the afternoons of other days.

It also means completely frivolous blogging on Tuesdays, because I have other things to think about.

This is actually a bunch of songs from Saturday-- I hit a real good run of tracks on the iPod while I was out running around, and noted them down for a future blog post. These are from running shuffle play on the playlist of tracks rated four or five stars. A couple are pretty obscure, but some are pretty well-known. For example, I don't really expect anyone to get #7, but it was almost impossible to disguise #5.

Just to be annoying, we'll do this in guess-the-lyrics format:

I'll post the titles later.

Posted at 6:39 AM | link | follow-ups | 14 comments

Monday, September 26, 2005

You Can Find Anything on the Internet

On more than one occasion, I've come home from work saying "God save me from deans and lawyers!" On an intellectual level, I understand why so many of the meetings we have with deans and lawyers are completely uniformative-- they can't say anything that could be taken as committing the institution to any particular policy-- but I find it intensely irritating to listen to a series of yes-or-no questions being answered with "That's an interesting issue..." or "A case like that is very complicated..." I would prefer not having the meeting in the first place to calling a meeting at which the principals refuse to give a definitive answer to any questions-- I would know the same amount at the end of the day, and I wouldn't be annoyed.

Of course, the Internet being what it is, there was bound to be a dean out there publishing a really compelling and readable blog (lawyers are no problem-- throw a rock in the air, and it'll land on a blogging lawyer). And, indeed, Bill Tozier provides an off-hand pointer to Confessions of a Community College Dean, which is really excellent.

If you'd like more specific recommendations, well, there's a post about calendar mismatch, and teaching as sprinting, and guilty pleasures, and the cost of textbooks, and that perennial favorite the difficulty of evaluating teaching, and... Oh, just go read the whole thing. It's all good.

Posted at 7:09 AM | link | follow-ups | 4 comments

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Meanwhile, At the Ayn Rand School for Tots...

Also in this morning's Times is a story whose print edition headline is the boggling "Benefits of Caffeinated Drink for Children Are Source of Debate." Well, yeah.

Even more mind-blowing is the second paragraph:

The drink, called Spark, contains several stimulants and is sold in two formulations: one for children 4 to 11 years old that includes roughly the amount of caffeine found in a cup and a half of coffee, and one containing twice that amount for teenagers and adults.

Now, I don't drink coffee (I don't like the taste), but I do consider myself a bit of a caffeine junkie-- I can't function properly without at least two cups of tea in the morning, and it's not uncommon for me to go for three. Which is still less caffeine than one of the adult-version drinks decribed here.

And a cup and a half of coffee for a four-year-old? Are these people insane? (That's rhetorical.) The kids will be sitting in daycare vibrating at about 120 Hz...

Posted at 9:54 AM | link | follow-ups | 5 comments

Second Order Effects

There's a nice article in the New York Times today about the Raleigh, NC area's economic integration program in their public schools, which has been producing very good results. Of course, it contains a quote expressing the usual ignorant opposition:

"Kids are bused all over creation, and they say it's for economic diversity, but really it's a proxy for race," said Cynthia Matson, who is white and middle class. She is the president and a founder of Assignment By Choice, an advocacy group promoting parental choice.

The interesting thing here is that, in my opinion at least, she's got the causality exactly backwards. The problem isn't that economic status is being used as a proxy for race in this case, it's that race is used as a proxy for economic status in a much more general way.

I'm not half stupid enough to claim that racism is non-existent these days-- I grew up in a rural area, and believe me, racists hicks are not a liberal media myth. But I think that most of the really big systematic problems associated with race in the country-- biases in education, in hiring, in financial matters-- are not fundamentally about race, but about economic status, with race used as a proxy. Bankers don't hate black people, they hate poor people. Of course, the fact that black people are more likely than white people to be poor is itself a result of past racism, but I think a lot of current problems are more about race being used as a proxy for economic status than about traditional racism.

(For example, if you look at the famous recent study of race and hiring (the link is to a blog post with a link to a PDF of the study), the list of "White" first names that were used is awfully... preppy: Neil, Geoffrey, Brett, Brendan, Greg, Todd, Matthew, Jay, Brad. Those aren't just "White" names, they're upper-class "White" names. I think it would be interesting to see how the distinctively "Black" names fare against a list of more characteristically lower-class "White" names. I had a high-school classmate whose given name was "Bud" (he and his sister "Genny" were supposedly named after their parents' favorite beers), and I'm guessing he wouldn't be topping many call-back lists.)

The really unfortunate thing about this is that discussing these matters in terms of race (as pundits and politicians are wont to do) is a losing proposition in more ways than one. But for some reason, it's more acceptable to talk about race than about class in this country.

Posted at 9:16 AM | link | follow-ups | 8 comments

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