April 2008 Archives


And while I'm online and posting, a photo.

We're likely to get our first thunderstorm of the season in the next few days, which is a prospect that I'm relishing. (The thunder-snow we had a couple of weeks ago, while neat, isn't quite the same thing.) So with the thaw basically complete, and spring about to pounce into green any day now, let's recall the long winter just past with a tree.

Good accompanying reading: around the time I took this picture, I spent an entire evening engrossed by Wikipedia's List of Notable Trees.

A knarled tree tops a snowy knoll on campus in early February, reaching upwards into a cold sky. Not cloudy exactly, but the high cirrus do obscure the stars and throw back enough city light to create a noticeable sky glow.



Happy passover -- chag Pesach same'ach -- people. How do you know it's pesach in Israel? Here's a hilarious (and true) list: You'll know it's passover in Israel. Seriously, the fact that there's an Arab dude in Abu Gosh who theoretically owns all the remaining bread in Israel for a week is probably the most delightful thing I learned the whole time I was there.

And since the advisor has been in Israel for the holiday, you'd think this would have been a slow week. Not so much. I'm actually having an astonishingly busy spring, which isn't terribly surprising if you consider that we have to pack up our experiment and leave for the field in something under three months. This has been annoying to a number of people, as my tight and shifting schedule has made it hard to commit to things very far in advance.

In other news, contact lenses are curious things.

See, I have at last gotten fed up with my ancient, battered, scratched, pitted, and soldered-back-together glasses, so various activities are in process to remedy this situation. One of these is that I am wearing an evaluation pair of contact lenses. Ignore for a moment the trick that was suppressing my finely honed reflexes enough to literally stick my finger in my eye without blinking. Optically, they basically work by reshaping the cornea, which is a totally different mechanism than the pre-eye correction done by glasses. Overall I think the vision correction isn't as precise as what good glasses can achieve (I also have new glasses coming in the mail any day, so I'll soon be able to directly test this assertion). On the other hand, for as long as I can remember I've been plagued by some subtle visual artifacts, like chromatic abberation caused by thick lenses (I can tilt my head and be a human spectrograph!), and ghost images around high-contrast borders (e.g. I see double or triple images of stars, which as you can imagine is extremely annoying to me as an astronomer) due I think to some asymmetric abberation of my cornea. Both are now gone, which is awesome and totally bizzare. While I wouldn't wear contacts all the time by any means, I'm really looking forward to trying a public observing night with these things.


P.S. I'm still alive. I was in Montreal last week attending this conference, which was very educational. A full report and pictures will follow. But since I spent the whole week preceding working on my talk (20 minutes on EBEX, room full of our competitors, no backup), and came back to things like a broken dishwasher and a serious coding backlog, I've been a little bit preoccupied.

And since I've been kind of delinquent in posting photos, here's a sunset from February:

In early February, steam from the power plant immediately condenses into a thick fog in the subzero air. 10 February 2008

Still Climbing

Like Kate Sheppard, I've been pleased to notice that, on the 40th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, there has been some attention given to his unfinished and deeply radical vision. Most of the time, it gets largely papered over in favor of a nice, safe vision of white and black children playing together. I recommend reading this from TAPPED:

America began perverting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s message in the spring of 1963. Truthfully, you could put the date just about anywhere along the earlier timeline of his brief public life, too. But I mark it at the Birmingham movement's climax, right about when Northern whites needed a more distant, less personally threatening change-maker to juxtapose with the black rabble rousers clambering into their own backyards. That's when Time politely dubbed him the "Negroes' inspirational leader," as Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff point out in their excellent book Race Beat.

Up until then, King had been eyed as a hasty radical out to push Southern communities past their breaking point -- which was a far more accurate understanding of the man's mission. His "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" is in fact a blunt rejection of letting the establishment set the terms of social change. "The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation," he wrote, later adding, "We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed."

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