Recently in 2009 Narrative Category

October

Happy Halloween, folks! Elena probably managed her creepiest costume yet -- mostly derived from my closet -- but as my camera was out of commission I'll have to get photos from those that had working gear before I have them to post.

Some updates. Elena received what we think is her 9th drivers' license, since every time some aspect of her immigration status changes, her license gets invalidated and has to be replaced. For some reason they don't update the expiration date when they do that, so the license she just received is good until June 2010, about seven months from now. Woo.

There are local elections all over the nation on Tuesday. If you know anyone in Maine, give them a ring and remind them to vote to preserve marriage equality there.

The most perplexing vote here is on Charter Amendment 168, which if passed would have the effect of abolishing the Minneapolis Board of Estimate and Taxation. I am tentatively convinced that this should not pass, and will vote against, but it seems like a somewhat silly thing to ask the city voters to have an opinion on. It essentially comes down to feeling that the question is ill-posed, and a poorly thought-out way of accomplishing a potentially reasonable goal, and so I prefer the generally adequate status quo instead.

Tidbits: Details are just coming out about massive information security breaches at Wal-Mart a few years ago. Interesting read; will make you paranoid if you've ever used a credit card there (or at Sams Club, etc).

Supposedly, this is a cake.

Nifty gadget for those of you that spend a lot of time writing LaTeX and such: DeTeXify. Can't remember the code for some symbol. It's a hassle to look up, especially if you're not really sure what it's called. But via the magic of fuzzy classification algorithms, this web app lets you draw the symbol and will try to suggest what it is you're thinking of. Nifty!

Turnover

Five years ago today I kicked off this blog. Almost exactly twenty-five years before that, I was born. I didn't write anything on the occasion my birth, but here is what I wrote back in 2004:

So, the abbreviated version goes something like this: My advisor says, "You're coming with me to Israel for six months." And I say, "Er, um, okay. That sounds interesting."

And then umpteen dozen people (which is to say, at least five or six) announced that they wanted regular updates. It occurred to me that there might even be people who would find such dispatches interesting, who had not said anything to me. More likely, the resulting barrage of "look at me, I'm standing on a rock!" emails would make some of the outspoken regret their pluck.

Hence I turn to that lovely genre of the new millenium, the travel blog. Which you are reading. Good for you.

EGAD is not, for the most part, a travel blog anymore. The Israel adventure turned out to be more like a year of generally languid globe-hopping before I managed to return. But after that there were several years when my traveling was limited to holiday trips, conferences, and such, as in labs here and elsewhere EBEX gradually took shape. In the meanwhile, under the slow grind of grad school and the Bush administration, EGAD morphed into a politics-and-life-diary blog.

I've been sort of trying to get beyond that, as the internet has more than enough of those already, and I'm not all that especially good at it. I'd rather write about science. Plus, with EBEX having flown and in redevelopment to fly again, I'm traveling again.

So after a long hiatus (and I really did need it to recover from the madness of the New Mexico campaign) EGAD is coming back. Or I'm coming back to it. Happy birthday, me.

P.S. In the meantime, UThink upgraded their Movable Type installation, and I've managed to somewhat fudge the site template in an effort to merge the new bits with a lot of old and crufty blog. I'll gradually get it looking good again!

One of those fortnights...

Yup, I've been absent from the blog for a while, but I totally have an excuse. Excuses, actually, because it's just been one thing after another the past few weeks.

Mostly, two things. The first, about which I probably shouldn't get much into specifics on the ever-googlin' internet, consisted of fun with immigration lawyers, weeks of collating and collecting various sorts of documents, and a fairly nerve-wracking (in anticipation, mostly) interview with the DHS-based successor to the INS. Very provisionally, we are in the clear now, but for the next ninety days or so keep your fingers crossed for Elena nonetheless.

The second, about which I will happily get into specifics, is that here I am, barely a week after putting Item #1 to bed, getting ready for a one-way flight to New Mexico. It's finally time to give EBEX a test flight, so I'm off to the tiny hamlet of Ft. Sumner for a couple of months to get it into the air. Or rather, since that part isn't really in my bailiwick, I'll be making sure it knows what to do once we unplug the cords, and that we can still talk to it up there. I'll be sure to post photos, as this run should be more visually interesting than last year's trip to New York.

Exciting, to be sure, but this means that come June, in the first nine months of our marriage I will have been away on various sorts of field campaigns for almost exactly half that time. Fear my powers of awesome timing. Those of you who know her, try to keep Elena company for me?

Quirks

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I'm a pretty relentlessly rational person, on the whole, so it always irks, or at least amuses, me when I notice myself doing something completely irrational. (Not to be confused with unreasonable, mind you -- I am highly unreasonable on a regular basis.)

In that spirit, here's a behavioral quirk of mine that I was thinking about the other day: I always touch the outside of an airplane just before boarding.

There is a rationale for that, in a sense. If I'm about to trust my life to a machine or tool, I'd want to give it at least a cursory inspection first. Boarding an airplane certainly qualifies, unless you're just planning to take it for a spin around the tarmac. But you and I have neither the ability nor the opportunity to gauge the flight worthiness of a commercial jet beyond observing that the correct number of wings and engines are present. So somewhere along the line I picked up this habit of touching the fuselage on my way through the hatch. Is that a "I'm trusting you, so don't let me down" pat like you'd give a horse? Just making the only hands-on inspection I'm allowed? Couldn't say.

So what's your quasi-rational quirk?

Blizzard

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Well, our once-or-twice yearly real blizzard has hit. There's a noticeable optical depth between my lab window and the building across the sidewalk. I'd guess the visibility is 100 meters or so. But it's supposed to end by tonight, so we'll pick up less than a foot of snow in total.

Here's what the system was doing earlier today, though:

WUNIDS_map_feb26bliz.png
Radar map from Wunderground.com for 10:35 CST, several hours after the snow storm was supposed to have reached us.

This sort of thing happens in the summer with rain storms too, though to a lesser extent. That hole developed pretty much right at the edge of the Twin Cities suburbs as the system moved in from the west, and stuck around for five or six hours, meaning that while it was snowing both east and west of us by 7 am, it didn't start here (in the urban core) until almost 1 pm. I don't think it's a heat island thing, exactly, since it was well below freezing here all day. Rather, my theory is that the metropolis has its own associated convection system that may disrupt the convective processes of incident weather systems and thus delay the onset of precipitation. However, this is a pretty obvious phenomenon and plenty of other non-experts have observed the same thing, but local meteorologists have been asked about this on several occasions, and they never seem to know much about it.

Thoughts?

Birthdays

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So today happens to be the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin, and also of Abe Lincoln.

I think tristero nicely captures Darwin's spirit with this passage from his autobiography:

[O]ne day, on tearing off some old bark, I saw two rare beetles, and seized one in each hand; then I saw a third and new kind, which I could not bear to lose, so that I popped the one which I held in my right hand into my mouth. Alas! it ejected some intensely acrid fluid, which burnt my tongue so that I was forced to spit the beetle out, which was lost, as was the third one.

...I was introduced to entomology by my second cousin, W. Darwin Fox, a clever and most pleasant man, who was then at Christ's College, and with whom I became extremely intimate. Afterwards I became well acquainted, and went out collecting, with Albert Way of Trinity, who in after years became a well-known arch├Žologist; also with H. Thompson of the same College, afterwards a leading agriculturist, chairman of a great railway, and Member of Parliament. It seems therefore that a taste for collecting beetles is some indication of future success in life!

The Origin of Species, incidentally, is a pretty good read; almost all of Darwin's works are available online as text and scanned pages (so you can see the pictures).

Lincoln was a gifted orator and made a great many excellent speeches, but the one most relevant to today isn't his most famous: his words in the Cooper Union Address could be delivered today, with just a few words replaced, when speaking of the unreasoning right wing of today's politics as well:

The question recurs, what will satisfy them? Simply this: We must not only let them alone, but we must somehow, convince them that we do let them alone. This, we know by experience, is no easy task. We have been so trying to convince them from the very beginning of our organization, but with no success. In all our platforms and speeches we have constantly protested our purpose to let them alone; but this has had no tendency to convince them. Alike unavailing to convince them, is the fact that they have never detected a man of us in any attempt to disturb them.

These natural, and apparently adequate means all failing, what will convince them? This, and this only: cease to call slavery wrong, and join them in calling it right. And this must be done thoroughly - done in acts as well as in words. Silence will not be tolerated - we must place ourselves avowedly with them. Senator Douglas' new sedition law must be enacted and enforced, suppressing all declarations that slavery is wrong, whether made in politics, in presses, in pulpits, or in private. We must arrest and return their fugitive slaves with greedy pleasure. We must pull down our Free State constitutions. The whole atmosphere must be disinfected from all taint of opposition to slavery, before they will cease to believe that all their troubles proceed from us.

Also, today is my roommate Adele's birthday. But to the best of my knowledge, her great speeches and world-changing books are still in the planning stages.

100 Hours

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It's just worth noting that, as of 7 AM this morning (CST), we entered the final 100 hours of the Bush regime.

I should have thought to load up on fireworks. But I probably have some leftovers lying around.

The photo I wanted to take yesterday -- it would have looked something like this, but you have to imagine the clear sky, steam, tracks, and snow, since I took this photo back in September, from a different bridge, in quite different weather. But still...

skyline-sept-bridges.jpg
Minneapolis skyline from the Dinkytown pedestrian bridge, September 2008. As I recall, I was being accosted by Mormons at the time. They always travel in pairs; one of them seemed sincerely interested in astronomy, while the other one hung back and looked exceedingly bored. I was so charmed that I completely forgot to mess with their heads. Much.

Painting a picture

Let me paint a picture for you.

Looking over the rail of a bridge on a winter evening, in the foreground snow-bound rails wind away behind trees. The middle distance is underlined by the blue smear of a highway bridge's lights spanning the unseen frozen river, and obscured by clouds billowing horizontally from riverside power plants. These clouds drape lazily across the skyline glittering sharply in the background below a dusky blue sky punctuated by a setting Venus.

This is a photo I'd like to have taken, but I didn't bother packing my camera today. I've found that the batteries freeze up below -5ˆF or so, which was roughly the high temperature today. A secondary concern, of course, was the fact that I'd have to stand around on a bridge for a while, in subzero weather with my heavy gloves off, while setting up for a low-light shot. Brr.

New Year

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Welcome to 2009, which is, among other things, the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin, the International Year of Astronomy (Galileoscope!), and the year that George Bush goes home. I'll go out on a limb and predict that it will NOT be the year that CMB B-modes are convincingly detected, but that it will be the year that someone announces the discovery of an Earth-analogue planet orbiting another star. In July it may be worth your while to make that trip to Shanghai that you've been putting off, as you'll be able to see the longest total solar eclipse of the 21st century from there. Russian academic Igor Panarin predicts that fall 2009 will bring the start of the second American Civil War (as a result of which, Russia will finally reclaim Alaska)! Fasten your seatbelts: the year's off to a rocky start, but there's hope n' change in the air.

In keeping with tradition, let's take a look at how EGAD fared in 2008. Last year, I published 58 posts, or a little more than half as many as in 2007 -- this is largely because I effectively took the summer off from blogging, and then again managed to blog very little this fall while doing instrument integration in New York. About two thirds of those were either Narrative or Politics postings, and almost a fifth dealt with the 2008 Scavenger Hunt. Remarkably, given the light posting schedule, EGAD's traffic almost doubled to 30,251 hits last year. A huge fraction of that traffic volume is directed via Google image search at my old (and rather abortive) Map of the Week project; overall I think my blog archives have become a not-insignificant internet resource on the geography of southern Israel and the Sinai. My traffic ticked up almost 50% in December, but the increase came almost entirely in the week following Christmas, peaking on the 29th at over four times the usual rate. More evidence for the above assertion, since this is obviously correlated to the latest convulsion in Gaza. However, this makes it a bit difficult to establish just how many regular readers I have these days. Probably about a dozen. Hi there.

Also, it should be noted that EGAD's author got married in 2008, which is pretty significant to him, and is even relevant to the blog insofar as it helps explain some of the lack of posts this year.

And following along with the usual meme, here we have the first and last sentence-or-so of each month of 2008:

January

First: I suppose global warming can mostly be said to be rendering Minnesota more habitable.
Last:I probably looked like a steamship trundling down the street.

February

First: Overhead from another lab in passing: "If I'm going to vote for a 70-year-old dude, it'd better be Dr. Love."
Last: I mean handy for perfectly selfish reasons: I probably won't have to miss the ScavHunt, and won't be flying in from the field for my sister's wedding.

March

First: So it's been an entire month since I posted here. Huh.
Last: In particular, there's an obscure provision of the farm subsidy rules, jealously protected by the California growers in particular, that effectively bans planting fruits and vegetables on land that used to be used to grow staple crops like corn or cotton. Which is, basically, all farmland around here. Funny, that.

April

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

May

First: Okay, every few years I try this, and it rarely works as well as I'd like, but let's give it another shot.
Last:: Heavens, I don't think we embalmed him at all!

June

First and last: Oh right, I have a blog. I knew I was forgetting something.

July

...EGAD mostly took the summer off, so there were no posts in July.

August

First: It appears that my last content-ful post was back in May; it now being August, I'm retroactively declaring that EGAD observes summer vacation this year.
Last: Not sure yet what the extent of my involvement in that mess will be.

September

First: If you've ever gotten into a discussion about nuclear weapons with a physicist, at some point it was probably remarked upon at some point that non-proliferation is hard, because at the end of the day, once a country has the requisite weapons-grade fuel, a few grad students could likely build one.
Last: I really hope the rest realized the vulnerability of that peninsula and are safely elsewhere, but I worry that we might never know how many were swept right out to sea.

October

First: It would seem that I am just bad at blogging this year.
Last: On the other hand, like a smoldering coalseam or root fire, bringing all this out in the open and exposing it to fresh air may be the only way it will ever burn itself out for good.

November

First: ...it's Dia de los Muertos?
Last: In addition to keeping me in a job -- yay for science funding -- it's that curiosity (about how nature works, sure, but also curiosity about ourselves, about our neighbors, about the future) and the harvest of creativity it inspires that will keep that bleak winter at bay.

December

First: So when I got to New York a couple of months ago, it mostly looked like this:
Last: Anyway, I'm here for about a week, then I traipse off to Texas with Elena for Christmas.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the 2009 Narrative category.

2008 Science is the previous category.

2009 New Mexico is the next category.

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