December 2005 Archives

Year in Review

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Map generator courtesy World66. I'm up to 56% of the states (29 of 'em, in all), but this is a lifetime accomplishment, not just this year's travels. Two points stick out: I've been remiss in overlooking Michigan all this time, and I just can't seem to make it over the Rockies. Perhaps this is the year to remedy this.

A while back there was a "year in review" meme going around, which asked one to extract the first sentence from each month's first post. Here's my take, now that the year's actually over.

For each month of 2005, post the last sentence (or so) of the first post and the first sentence (or so) of the last post. Feel free to exclude housekeeping posts.

  • Jan 2: The new and improved getaway vehicle. It has been thoroughly annotated with helpful hints ("Bride Here") and warning labels ("It's a trick! Get an axe!").
  • Jan 24: Juan Cole mentions that there is enlightenment to be had from Ella Shohat's meditation on the implications for identity in being an Iraqi Jew, and an American one at that -- and on the cognitive dissonance this produces in many Westerners.
  • Feb 2: Observing that my coat was completely soaked through by this point, I declared lack of pneumonia to be the better part of valour, and hailed a cab to take me back to the bus station. Point and match to the weather, I'm afraid.
  • Feb 27: Since some of my readers are compulsive worriers and had asked, let me reassure everyone that I was not in Tel Aviv at the time of last Friday's bombing.
  • March 1: Second? My original visa expired yesterday. As did my original return ticket. I'm now on extended time.
  • March 31: Last night while buying nuts, I was approached by one of the servers at the cafe next door. He asked if he'd seen me at the Disengagement demonstration.
  • April 1: On further investigation, it seems that the Cardinals are supposed to be assembled within nine days of the Pope's death. So perhaps haste is not altogether unseemly.
  • April 29: Minneapolis area readers, act now! This afternoon, take advantage of a rare opportunity to meet and greet with the one and only author of EGAD!
  • May 1:I'll announce where I'm crashing when I get an email confirming that I can crash there.
  • May 31: The Minnesota crew is busy this week hosting the spring meeting of the American Astronomical Society. It's a fair bet that gamma ray bursts will crash the party, but besides that I expect the usual scuttlebutt about NASA's funding adventures and where oh where is that second-year WMAP data?
  • June 1: We didn't quite make it up to the summit to watch the sun rise, but apparently it's enormously crowded up there, so I feel okay about that. Tau and I climbed off the path a bit up to this little cleft, and found a nice view for ourselves.
  • June 26: Life goes on, but for the next few days it will continue to do so without much assistance on my part. Come Wednesday, once the collaborators go back to their home states / nations, I'll endeavor to reengage with the essentials, such as blogging, or finally buying some groceries.
  • July 1: In return? I'm a kid from South Texas, who's walked through castles made of ice, who's roamed over the Jerusalem hills. My job is to investigate the beginning of time.
  • July 30: Distracting week for those of us in the space biz.
  • Aug 1: After all, we have here an important cosmologist on the radio to discuss how morality is intrinsic to the fabric of reality. The least I'd expect is a proposal to investigate, if not actually test, this hypothesis. Something more than a kind exhortation to take his word for it, on faith.
  • Aug 30: Elsewhere, the damage is done; what's gone is gone, what survived has survived. But the reports from New Orleans increasingly sound as though they are speaking of a mortally wounded patient.
  • Sept 1: So there's four days left to this year's fair. Anyone up for an expedition in the next few days?
  • Sept 29: Okay, so just as a rule of thumb, we're going to assume that weeks that involve sleeping in the lab will be light blogging weeks.
  • Oct 2: And (news not for the easily offended) further evidence that the Discovery Institute's Intelligent Designer probably isn't Pat Robertson's God.
  • Oct 31: And in other news, an IAU bulletin is making the rounds. The Hubble has detected two small objects orbiting ... Pluto!
  • Nov 1: Minneapolis thunder storm -- air-raid sirens not included.
  • Nov 28: Being the sort of grad student who will definitely not sleep in a bed seven times in the coming week, this quote really tickled me.
  • Dec 3: Or do I let the urban scavenger take charge, and simply revel in the prospect of free stuff, even if said stuff hasn't previously been discarded?
  • Dec 31: Unless I work up the ambition to post again tonight, see above.


Yes, it's photoblogging time once again.

There was much singing of Christmas carols upon my arrival in Texas. Most immediately, the day after I landed featured my family's annual Posada / Feast / Christmas Party. Pictured here, the expeditionary force. 2005:12:22 20:55:22

Christmas Sonnet

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A while back I promised GoodGuysEatPie a sonnet for Christmas. Since I've been offline I'm a smidge tardy posting this, but better late than never.

"I'm late, I'm late!" he exclaims, from the Mad Hatter's tea house. I kid not.

The Tree

by Michael Milligan

That eve had come with needles fragrant green
Crisp winter day to raise the yule-tide branch
Shine bright the lights below that greyish thing
In tinsel canopy where baubles dance.

Gay carols waft from children in the snow
On air though chill not cold enough to mar
The shiver in my spine from words I know
Sound from where most such trees would hold a star.

Be-ribboned gifts in merry wraps abound
This Christmas Santa woke a dreadful doom
Fell shape that fills my head with mad'ning sound
Though 'top my tree it somehow fills the room.

I'd warn the world but solless pierce me through
The ageless pits for eyes of Cthulhu!

Back in the World


Merry Christmas and a joyous solstice to you all.

No, not happy holidays, because I said hagg same'ach in October and "Good Ramadan" in November, and all the Jews I know are sick of having Chanukah blown up into their own parallel-Christmas, anyway. Plus Kwanzaa's made up. Wish people a happy/peaceful/whatever holiday on the days that actually mean something to them, people. That it'll make Bill O'Reilly stop fuming is admittedly a downside. We'll just have to find other ways to make his head explode.

Anyhow, I'm back online and catching up on stuff. I've already fielded one call to my parents' house from my advisor, but he doesn't seem too inclined to make a habit of it. I have about a bajillion photos to post, but first I've got to remember to get them off the camera, which I can't do now that I'm at the cafe and the camera's at home. But soon.

Christmas Lull

The winter EBEX collaborators meeting 2005 is now history, and the big news is that we appear to be roughly on schedule. And now we're all back from the East Coast, I'm home in Texas for the holidays, and my Grinchier labmates are in the physics building, sending me emails. Thankfully there is a moderately hip cafe down the street from my house featuring good tea and fast wireless internet -- in a place like San Antonio, this is more unusual than you'd think -- from which to extinguish fires remotely. However, I will blessedly not be available for teleconferences until after Christmas at least. Because that would just be wrong.


On this snowy evening, the nearly full moon rises over the laboratory. Our old refractor dome is just visible on top, constrasted against tenuous cloudbanks. Thin clouds -- this night turned cold. 2005:12:16 22:15:17

The big news of the hour is not the fact that Bush has been using the NSA to spy on Americans; frankly, I think everyone's pretty much assumed that every President did that to some extent. That our dear George would give a live address to brag about his ability to break federal law with impunity, is somewhat more unusual. We're at "war" in some vague sense, so he can do whatever he wants. After all, what are we going to do about it?

Or, sorry, that should probably be King George. Rulers invested wth absolute power are only called Presidents in a mockery of democracy. Given his evangelical base's insistence on near-ecstatic devotion to his person and plans, God-Emperor George (of Dune!) isn't too far off, either.

But if it's the spying that makes you queasy after all, consider this ... they're not just in the phones. Take the Inter-Library Loan system, for instance. (Linkage via Dean)

The student, who was completing a research paper on Communism for Professor Pontbriand's class on fascism and totalitarianism, filled out a form for the request, leaving his name, address, phone number and Social Security number. He was later visited at his parents' home in New Bedford by two agents of the Department of Homeland Security, the professors said.

The professors said the student was told by the agents that the book is on a "watch list," and that his background, which included significant time abroad, triggered them to investigate the student further.

Man, all that time I just spent in the Middle East. How hard do you think it would be for me to attract the attention of the DHS, I wonder? Sure, you say, they'll see posts like this when checking over my file once I trigger the watch lists. But suppose this very paragraph was a ruse to throw them off the scent? How would they know until they asked me? Maybe it's time for me to ILL up some Hamas literature.

[Update: 28 Dec 2005] Turns out, the kid made up his chat with the DHS. How annoying! So it might be a little harder than this to score a visit from the spooks.

Still Wintry

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The church at the end of my block does snowy eves quite nicely. Formerly St. George Ukranian Orthodox church, it was taken over by the COGIC sometime while I was away. 2005:11:25 12:40:58

A quick head count reveals that as of around the end of November, I'd taken 2000 photos this year. That's probably more than I'd taken in my entire life previously. Ah, the magic of free film; me likes digital photography. And anyhow, throwing a photo up on the blog now and then is a great way to kill a few minutes, and ensures the main page doesn't get too bare when I don't have time to write anything extended.

Sunday morning we of the cosmology lab make our group expedition to Rhode Island to have even more meetings than usual. Today we cautiously declared victory on my optical design, so I can spend the next couple of days collecting results and slapping together a bunch of slides. Plus I need to pack for a couple of weeks in Texas. Neat trick I'm pulling, assuming I can make it work -- fly back in Wednesday morning, head for the pickup line and have my pre-stashed big suitcase delivered by a labmate's ride, and head back into the airport for a mid-afternoon departure. Means a good long while in the airport, but I think that's less failure-prone than rushing across Minneapolis and back to get the thing from my house.

Pi! Warning, broadband video, but so worth it for totally gratuitous pi.


Once our first few inches of snow fell, campus took on a distinctly, almost Rockwellian, winter ambiance. In this case, while waiting for a bus to Thanksgiving Dinner #2. 2005:11:25 17:33:57

7 - 9 inches of snow forecast by this time Thursday. My lab skips town en masse Sunday, so it feels like the ol' north wind has decided to make sure we know it's winter before we escape. Woo!

Okay, so it's been a while since I've done a link-propagation post. Besides prepping for the collaboration meeting next week and for my oral exam (now set for January 18), let's see what's piled up in the stuff-to-highlight department ... read on, if only for gratuitous Zim.

Pharyngula on Deck

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During those periods when I'm posting regularly on science topics (it'll come back eventually, I promise!), PZ Myers' blog Pharyngula is a great source of fun biology-related stories. Moreover, it is a founding component of the Panda's Thumb group blog, which focuses on tracking and discrediting creationists and other breeds of evolutionophobe.

Next Wednesday PZ Myers will be giving the weekly Physics Colloquium; nothing too earth-shattering, just a quick rundown of the many reasons why Intelligent Design proponents are either lying or stupid. Come, bring your friends, and more importantly try to drag along those Maranantha Christian Fellowship wankers who keep using our lecture halls to host anti-science speakers. It'll be good for them, and fun to watch for the rest of us, since Dr. Myers long ago renounced the kid glove treatment.

Mid-range Outlook

There's a big Pacific air mass moving across North America in the coming week. Funny thing about that. From my perspective it's a balmy warm front; it was -6°F when I got home last night, but our weekend lows will be near 20°F. On the other hand, my folks down in Texas will see it as a strong cool front, dropping their daily highs from near 70°F into the 40s, with lows in the 20s.

Takes a fair amount of thermal inertia in an airmass to render an entire continent isothermal.

I think I need to resign myself to the fact that this blog won't be terribly interesting until sometime in January. Between our collaboration meeting just before Christmas, spending the holidays with my family, and prepping for my oral prelims in mid-January, I don't have the time I'd like to keep up with the world in particular detail.

If I get a spare moment now and then, though, I've got a tremendous backlog of photos to post.

Christmas: The Commercial


The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that the state can celebrate Christmas all it wants, provided it's celebrating the economic, seasonal holiday, and not some particular religious observance. Hence the National Christmas Tree, but no National Nativity. Holiday parades full of Santa and snowflakes are altogether encouraged, notionally as a mechanism for bringing tourists into downtown commercial districts during the great National December Shopping Spree, whereas e.g. San Antonio's Las Posadas pagent is operated by a private society. Thus the state-sanctioned holiday season pretty much comes down to saying "Look, it's dark and cold and wintery! But hey -- snow is kind of pretty! Let's brighten things up, so string up the lights and remind people that we like them by spending money on each other." (Alternately, you could blame Santa and his Black-Ops Elves.)

You could do worse. And for evidence that the alternative really is terrifying, invest some time in imagining how the current administration would probably like to commemorate the season.

I've been universally labeled as difficult to shop for, which might be related to my ascetic tendencies that make me rather stuff-averse. Thus, I've been asked to provide some guidance to those for whatever reason still inclined to spend money on me. Read on for general suggestions:

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