Recently in Mpls '05 - Part 1: Renormalization Category


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.

These days, research is hard

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. Ah, to have worked before the days of that (now) old truism about all the easy problems having been solved.


[W]hen the Duke of Buckingham was admitted as a Fellow of the Royal Society on June 5, 1661, he presented the Society with a vial of powdered "unicorn horn". It was a well-accepted 'fact' that a circle of unicorn's horn would act as an invisible cage for any spider. Robert Hooke, the chief experimenter of the Royal Society, emptied the Duke's vial into a circle on a table and dropped a spider in the centre of the circle. The spider promptly walked out of circle and off the table. In its day, this was cutting-edge research.

Local Updates

Much time has been consumed hereabouts in the past week watching people sketch. Through the magic of the Internets, that is. See, has acquired and offered for mass consumption this ArtPad web-app, which is actually a quite nifty application of dynamic Flash programming. Just a simple painting program, except the process is the product. Probably best illustrated with an example or two, so here are two recent creations from the dept: good for a quick sketch, or it can be used for animation (watch that one on fast).

It is possible to go a bit overboard with the technique, natch. From a different site I picked up this animated sketch, demonstrating the extremely Classical technique of drawing a model from the skeleton out. (Yes, this results in brief nudity, if you're a complete prude (or have your completely prudish boss over your shoulder just now).)

In other local news, poor John's been trying to get this paper published for rather more than a year, in the face of apparently considerable intra-disciplinary politics. Probably because he contradicts people much higher than himself on that particular totem pole. I will therefore score its recent acceptance for publication as a point for the good guys, and the home team to boot. Congrats.

For my part, same old, same old. Research just won't let up for five minutes, much less long enough to write up my second-year project. So my oral exam continues to be pushed back. Probably have to be early January at this point, which means Christmas will just rock. Oh. Yeah.

Autumn Passing III

My street! It's been flash-frozen! 2005:11:16 10:06:06

Finally, the first signs that winter is on the way. Autumn sure has been lingering.

Not quite enough for snowballs, I'm afraid. Mostly things are icy from the rain we had all day before the snow began. Not a proper ice storm, but the effect is similar -- everything is slippery and cruncy underfoot. Plus, my bike is grounded for the time being, as my lock is presently encased in ice. Napalm would fix that, but alas I have none handy. No matter, there are other ways.

Autumn Passing II

My street! It's been denuded! 2005:11:10 11:13:14

It's that volatile time of year now. Today we hit 62°F, about 20°F above normals for this time of year. By Monday the forecast has us below normal temperature with the potential for accumulating snowfall. I made a point of spending some time out of doors today, then, even though it was objectively a somewhat dreary day. Quite unlike a couple of days ago, when I took the picture to the right. That one was decently crisp and clear all the way up. Today, well, you may know the kind ... not actually cloudy, but the afternoon sun seems tired and can't quite muster the gumption to cast sharp shadows. Not dark, but still grey. All in all, an interesting transitional species that my native climate mostly lacks.

The oaks haven't quite finished changing, and presently range from bright red to still nearly green. 2005:11:11 14:43:12

The cold front last week, even if it didn't amount to all that much of a wind storm -- certainly not compared to the thunderstorms we had last month -- managed to blow the remaining leaves off most of the local trees. The major exception appears to be the oaks, which haven't quite finished turning. A couple of other less widespread varieties, too. I also notice there's a significant variation from one end of campus to the other, which I would speculate is tied to the change in average temperature, wind, and humidity as you move away from the river.

If I had to guess, next week will see the rest of the trees get with the program. Yes, a week of good solid freezes should do the trick.

Autumn Passing

The Mall, our official Central Campus Green Space, gets into the spirit of autumn. 2005:10:20 10:13:49

Look! More photoblogging!

Vaguely apropos of which, the local blog techie has announced that we will shortly be upgrading to a thoroughly modern Moveable Type. Nothing much will change on your end, and at first I'll mostly get to appreciate improved spam filtering. Eventually, though, this will mean more integration of the technological goodies that can make blogging so dizzyingly neat of late.

Which gets me to the apropos part. One of the hot services out there is Flickr, if you're into blogging and photography, or so I gather. Which raises a question. Currently I edit my photos here on the ol' workstation and upload them to our MT server, whence they get linked into my posts. Would I gain anything of value my moving the photo end to a Flickr account, given that they'd still primarily appear here? Does anyone out there use Flickr and thus know what the key advantages are? Let me know.

Okay. Moving right along...

Autumn arrived about on time this year, though things briefly looked as though it would last about 12 hours. But that cold snap ended, and we've had a gloriously extended fall. It was only a couple of weeks ago that the leaves started turning in earnest, as seen here. I'm told the colors are better those years when the turn happens in a sudden weekend, rather than this gradual de-greening, but I've yet to see such an occurence.

Last night an airmass worthy of late autumn blew through -- cycling home against a 40 MPH headwind was a good workout, which is just as well since the temperature had also dropped 20 degrees below what I had dressed for riding in that morning. I've come to think of late autumn as beginning at about the point when a good stiff cold front manages to blow most of the remaining foliage off the (deciduous) trees. Tomorrow, it has arrived. And none too soon, either: while we might actually hit record high temperatures tomorrow (if we make it to 65°F), there are multiple possible snowfalls forecast for next week.

Race to the Bottom

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Okay, so what I was going for with last week's pumpkins was not so much squinty-me, but more like The Corinthian. Just for the record.

As a side note, let me just toss a hearty "Bwa-hahaha!" to A Tiny Revolution for taking the time to plot readily-available data. It's a Presidential race to the bottom: W and Nixon are now in serious contention for the title of Most Hated President.

All Hallows II

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Guess who!

A combination of busy schedules and last year's incident with the trabavorous pumpkin nixed departmental Jack-o-Lantern carving this year. But I still got one in. I even gave the fellow two faces, but that's meant as before-and-after, not Janus-style (in case you were trying to work out the identity). It was intended for Pearl's porch, but by the time we finished eviscerating it all 20 or so trick-or-treaters in her neighborhood had already come and gone. Sad.

Stormy Scary

A storm rolls in, as seen from the roof of the physics building. 2005:09:21 19:08:28

A little while back I hung out on the roof taking pictures of a storm rolling in. Sadly, a static photograph just doesn't do justice to the dynamism of a midwestern thunderstorm. Happily, I had just worked out how to use the rapid-fire mode on my camera. Rather than take up scads of space on the page posting hundreds of images, I have (in a fit of supremely geeky procrastination) encoded them into a movie. Which *should* play on most any computer, I think.

Minneapolis thunder storm -- air-raid sirens not included.

MP4 format might work better on some computers.

All Hallows I

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Beware, world! I have identified possibly the world's worst tie, and paired it with a truly remarkable blazer. With their powers combined, I shall be unstoppable, and dressed like a Batman villian, to boot.

Test drove them today in my department. Best quote: "What the ... Ack, help! The leprechaun is scaring me!"

To be continued ...

Internet is Down


Grr, the internet is hard to use tonight.

Some quick probes indicate that it's the Level3 network links in Chicago making trouble. According to postings on the NANOG list the entire Level3 backbone collapsed at 2:00 EDT sharp, suggesting that maintenance or an upgrade somewhere backfired. Probably router trouble; given that only one company's network is affected, but the outage is affecting basically all of North America, it's clearly not a fiber-vs-backhoe type of issue.

[Update: 2:25 CDT -- Indeed, it's actually worse. I just saw a note complaining that backbone links in Europe are going down, too.]

Okay, while I've been writing this, the network is starting to stabilize, at least in the Midwest, which is what I can directly probe. Which is mostly to say, there is at least one working router back online in Chicago. Probably due to many poor network engineers frantically backing out whatever they changed that broke the internet.

NANOG traffic indicates that things are coming back to life in some places, while elsewhere the problem is getting worse. Like ripples on disturbed water. Looks like the 'net will have sorted itself out by morning, though. It's late, so I'm turning in.

Snow? Here?


Well, it's official. The chance-of-snow icon just made its debut for the season in our local weather report. Which is fine by me; I've always done well with warm Halloween costumes.

And in related news, Oh Good Lord. In under 24 hours, Hurricane Wilma jumped from disorganized tropical storm to the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Basin (that's courtesy of meteorologist Jeff Masters' blog). On another of the WUnderground blogs, less discussion and more pictures of the beast. And wouldn't you know, it's set to make a U-turn and head right for Florida.

[Update: 18:30] Of which the media has now taken notice: on the NY Times front page now. Although the most recent modelling shows that the low pressure system expected to pull Wilma sharply east is slowing. Several models now indicate landfall on the Yucatan instead. Which is making Wall Street happy, even though it would most certainly cost far more lives that way.

Okay, something amusing to take our minds off of it ... ah, here we go. String theory humor.

As had long been speculated, Clifford did not put his pants on like everyone else, one leg at a time.

In theory, wolves are keeping elk away from the bottoms, allowing willow saplings to regrow, completely altering the stream-bank ecology. Kind of like this elk casually grazing along the (willow-free) Firehole River. 2005:08:23 11:35:14

Oh, geez, it's been almost another week since I posted.

While I don't usually link to the Chicago Tribune because their links expire so quickly, this is too funny not to post: it took just 18 minutes for White Sox World Series tickets to sell out. The article seems mostly to feature tales of frustrated geeks who believed their technical prowess would somehow give them an edge in the online sales. And not one quote from anyone who succeeded in legitimately buying a seat. Guess those folks are lying low.

Last week we had a big teleconference, and I convinced our collaboration to just pick one of my optics design proposals already and go with it. One can look at this is a couple of ways. 1) Now I'm officially responsible for designing something that needs to get built with zillions of dollars of NASA's money. Oh great. Or, 2) Now I'm only in charge of one-and-a-half designs instead of four, which means I have time to start worrying about my upcoming oral exams instead. Oh great.

The New York Times has an article on Yellowstone's changing ecosystem, which I can appreciate, having recently been there. Turns out, reintroducing wolves is driving marked ecological changes in Yellowstone country. The gist of the article is that returning an apex predator to the area has all kinds of cascade effects. Grazing herds (namely, elk) are redistributed to higher and safer areas, which allows saplings to survive, yielding lowland tree regrowth, thus more stable and cooler streams, thus more and larger fish, beaver, and songbirds. More downed carcasses provide food for more bears and other scavengers, but the competition for space drives down the coyote population, meaning more rodents, and thus more foxes and raptors. Ecologists emphasize that it's too early to tell what the long-term effects of the reintroduction will be, or to what extent changing weather patterns could also explain these changes. Nevertheless, at first blush this suggests a distinct trend back towards the Yellowstone of Hayden or Roosevelt, if not precisely the one that Colter saw.

So what's up with this elk I saw? Turns out, wolves are really quite averse to the company of humans, and the Firehole River runs right along one of the main park roads. If elk are more afraid of the wolf packs than of the tourists (pretty reasonable, actually), this could set up a very weird wildlife management dynamic.

Now you all know that bicycles are my primary mode of travel over intra-urban distances. Here in Minneapolis that's generally encouraged, although I do draw puzzled looks in mid-winter. Back in Chicago no prodding seems necessary; I'm told the summer Critical Mass rides are drawing upwards of 3,000 riders now. But over in Israel, getting everywhere by bike was considered positively eccentric, something only the poorest laborers resort to. The other day, Ha'aretz reported (in part by omission) just what I'd suspected to be true: Israel is still firmly in the biking is a surprisingly fun pastime stage, and it hasn't yet occurred to the population at large that one can actually go places with the things. Which is odd, considering the outrageous cost of owning and operating a car over there.


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Okay, this is cool.

Last week I gave a talk on this paper (link probably only works from university networks, sorry, but here are my slides if you just want to see the important figures), describing Pluto's atmosphere as probed by observations of a faint star passing behind Pluto. Turns out it's doing weird stuff, actually.

Even more mysterious than Pluto is its moon, Charon. But this past July, a very rare thing happened: Charon managed to occult a star. The folks behind this paper were on the case. And, like any respectable scientists trying to impress potential grad students and funding agencies, they made a movie.

Occultation of C313.2 by Charon, courtesy the MIT Planetary Astronomy Laboratory. As with JPEGs, you can't do science with a Quicktime movie. Supposedly, though, they do have actual results to release at the next AAS Planetary Sciences meeting.

Workshop Weekend

Storms just keep on rollin' through, and it's more than one night I've raced the lightning home. Got in just ahead of the toad-strangler that flooded all the highways the other night.

While hardly planning to attend every session, much of my time from now through the weekend will be spent in the Mass, Light, and Chemistry cosmology workshop. Interesting lineup of speakers, and it's right across the river in the West Bank campus. Naturally, today's the day that it begins to feel like winter. The radio this morning even reported pre-dawn flurries in the city. Good day for walking across the Mississippi at 9 am.

Comment spammers attacked en masse earlier in the week, but they seem to have settled down somewhat for now.

[Update: 23:00] PS. It isn't just the radio. Reliable eye-witnesses have reported to me sightings of as many as three snowflakes at a time this morning. I thought I saw one myself cycling in today, but it was just as likely to be crud flying off a passing car.

Invasion (Blunt)

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And, apropos of the previous post, no sooner had the creationist nutballs left than the Campus Crusade for Christ set up shop in our main lecture hall. They're downstairs as we speak, having some kind of highly amplified swaying soft rock sing-along so goopy it'll send baby Jesus into diabetic shock.

So now my building is full of creepily clean-cut soulless, smiling, nametag-wearing Jesus-Borgs. Pope Ratzinger may give the impression of a reanimated zombie with fascistic tendencies, but I gladly accept that over what's downstairs. I'm getting outta here.

Today, Episodic

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One night in the Tetons, I pointed my camera at the Big Dipper and let it run for a while. Later I plotted up a sky chart for the same region of the sky that night and overlayed it, to figure out which stars are visible. It looks like stars down to 6th or 7th magnitude show up; anything below that is lost in the noise. You may not be able to do science with JPEGs, but this appears to have done about as well as the star tracker camera on the payload I'm building. Click through for a larger, blink-comparator version. 2005:08:23 23:28:41

Don't you hate it when you miss an 11am-noon class because of a 9:30 am meeting that just wouldn't die? Yeah, me too.

Fuul is a popular traditional breakfast dish in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world. It is to my palette indistinguishable from South Texas refried beans, like La Preferida with a dab of olive oil and garlic. Just thought I'd share that.

My Israeli hummous supply finally exhausted, I've switched to hummous from Holy Land deli in Northeast Mpls. Inferior, but passable.

I haven't done an astrophotography post in a little while. Here's a portion of the dipper handle in Ursa Major. My camera can resolve Mizar and Alcor just fine, it turns out.

Rita seems to have exploded from a tropical storm to a category 5 hurricane in the last 24 hours or so. If anyone you know is currently on or near the still-saturated ground of Katrina's path ... tell them to run. Now. Seriously. And incidentally, has any year's hurricane season ever exhausted the list of available names? There's only four left on this year's list, and six to eight weeks of season to go.

Just to annoy any wingnuts who might drop by, I'll try to come up with some more good crescent moon shots. Besides, that is, the many I've already posted.

But tonight I was taking pictures of the storm rolling in, from the roof of the physics building. Then the tornado sirens started wailing. Nice lightning, but since I don't fancy being struck I retreated before the leading edge arrived. Didn't see any tornados, just high wind.

[Update: 23 Sept '05]: Turns out I wasn't the only one to wonder what happens if you run out of hurricane names. The answer, apparently, is that the hurricanes after Wilma are Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and so on. When I saw the headline about names "going Greek", though, I was hoping we'd actually move to names in the Greek alphabet. Hurricane Αγαμέμνων, anybody?

Aw, Nuts


And here I was, looking forward to a nice, quiet birthday.

Passed a table in the student union today, run by one of the less reputable Christian organizations on campus. They're bringing in the creationist nutjobs for a talk on "intelligent design". In my very own physics building! On my birthday! Are they trying to make me crazy?

Now I have to brainstorm what sort of "hospitality" I'd like to prepare for them.

[Update: 18:45] Doc Martin thinks this is actually the MacLaurin lecture on Sept. 30 (on the campus calendar, too). Admittedly, I can't find anything along these lines on the calendar for the 22nd, but I'm sure of what I saw. I'll go back to the union tomorrow and try to find them again to double check my information.

I was initially thinking of truth-squadding the lecture by planting a few people armed with printouts of the CC Index. But FSM flyers would also be entertaining.

However, the 30th would be a Friday, not a Thursday. So an official looking sign announcing a change of location to the rooftop would do nicely. Just make sure there's some extra help available for public observing that night.

[Update: 20:15] I found them! Not only them, but these loons as well!

So coming back from dinner tonight I found a flyer in the building. Apparently there is also an event on the 22nd (7 pm, Tate 170), which is not on the calendars, hosted by the Maranatha Christian Fellowship. I quote from the flier:

Dave Nutting describes himself as a "former evolutionist" who carefully studied the scientific issues and by the power of the Holy Spirit became convinced of the truth of creation. Currently the director of the Alpha Omega Institute and publisher of the bimonthly newsletter Think and Believe, he and his wife Mary Jo travel and speak extensively at churches, schools, conventions, and seminars.

So not just Intelligent Design quacks like Behe, but hardcore creationists. It's raining wackos!

One of Those Weeks

Ugh. Spent most of the week out with a cold; am now healthy to first order, caught up on schoolwork, and behind on lab work. Wasn't even awake for the telescope training night I'd agreed to help out with, but nobody seems to be holding that against me. Got Doc Martin to drive me to Nicollet Island to vote in the municipal primaries, since I wasn't up to biking there. And now it's Friday.

At least the Friday colloquium sounds interesting.

Gentrification. Grr.

Last night, as expected, my friendly local grocery folded up shop. The building is to be ripped out and replaced by condos with a Lunds at street level. Now I have two beefs with this.

Another raft of condos going up nicely illustrates the creeping gentrification of the neighborhood. Handily close to both the U campus and downtown, I'm not really sure why that didn't happen some time ago, but there you have it. Last year the house on one side of mine was torn down and replaced by a huge high-rent behemoth with all the aesthetics of a Soviet workers' bloc. The one on the other side just went for the equivalent of about 30 years rent on my place. This keeps up, families and grad students alike are going to be priced out of the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood altogether.

My other complaint is more personal. All my life I've lived within walking distance of the neighborhood grocery. This wasn't so terribly relavent in San Antonio, where one drives everywhere anyway and the local store was a notorious dumping ground for expired dairy products. Since moving to Chicago for college, though, I've always been within a half-mile, tops. In fact, since graduating from college I've never lived more than about four blocks from the grocer. Having more-or-less sworn off of car culture ages ago, I find this quite liberating. Now I'm facing a season or so without.

Before anyone suggests I'm just being selfish with my second point, I'd observe that I'm far from the only person in my neighborhood without a car. The folks in the retirement home down the block will certainly experience more disruption than myself going the winter without immediate-vicinity groceries. At least I can still readily hop on a bike for most of the winter. And these are both independent of the fact that it's a Lund's moving in -- it'll be a bit more upscale, but still a small, locally owned chain. That counts for something.



Geomagnetic storm in progress, as they say. And handily enough, I was off doing a public observing thing at Lake Maria S.P. this evening, so I got front row seats. The seeing was lousy, so at first we thought it was haze, or lights from the power plant nearby. But the big fuzzy luminous thing resolved itself into curtains and streamers, so we all kicked back to enjoy the show.

The public seemed to appreciate having actual astronomers around to tell them what they were looking at. I mean, to the extent that a cosmologist and an infrared astronomer know squat about aurorae.

I know, I know, this would have been a good time to break out the astrophotography. But I didn't have my camera handy. I'll remember to bring it along next time I'm under dark skies while a solar radiation storm is underway.

Now In Review


Since nobody in Chicago replied to my Celtic Fest suggestion, I'm going to assume you're all busy next weekend. Maybe I'll just bus in for Sunday, so I don't have to pester anyone into letting me crash overnight.

My, but the start of classes does seem to have cut into my blogging time. That, and it's rained most every day this week, making extended excursions rather less appealing. Hot, cold, snow, wind I can enjoy. Biking in the rain is just dreary and messy, though, especially as it's not yet cold enough to do it in a trenchcoat.

Hopefully we'll get some clearer skies next week, though, just in case monster sunspot 798 decides to set the sky on fire., as always.

So how come I'm blogging and not getting work done just now? Mostly waiting for Crystal to be released from her prelim exam. She will do fine, but is unnecessarily stressed about the whole affair, and will require lunch presently.


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Hope everyone had a lovely Labor Day. Now of course, the proper way to celebrate would be to help feed striking workers or otherwise remember and support the struggling labor movement. But since this is also the last long weekend before autumn really kicks in, it's been universally repurposed as the official End Of Summer.

Especially for those of us who actually begin classes tomorrow; I'm given to understand that in most parts of the country, that happened a while ago. But there's other signs: if you stand just right you can almost feel a chill on the breeze; the thunder outside sounds like an approaching autumn front rather than a summer's thunderhead. Just to underscore the point, the State Fair even ended today.

Feeling like I approached yesterday's excursion entirely too conventionally, I spent another afternoon at the Fair. Sought out the most unusual foods, of which the winner is shrimp and cream cheese jalapeno poppers served with, as far as I could tell, rasberry jam. Listened to the Tejano-influenced polka band that loudly featured almost-dancable drum solos. Tried to make conversation over lunch with an (I think) Polish-speaking family, and got as far as establishing that they didn't want my leftover fries. Since deep-fried Snickers is old hat now, sprung for a breaded Milky Way.

Chicago folks: if I pop into town for the Celtic Fest weekend after next, will anyone come along?

Minneapolis folks: Come by the lab mid-afternoonish to help me finish off the pail of cookies from the State Fair. Sorry, but I can't provide milk. The (noon) group meeting's definitely done by 2:30 or so.

Long Weekend

Each year the Midwest Dairy Association crowns a new Princess Kay of the Milky Way, the Minnesota dairy industry's ambassador of goodwill for the year. Over the course of the State Fair she and the 11 finalists will be carved as butter busts in a giant rotating refrigerator. 2005:09:04 16:11:24

Apologies for getting behind on posting, but I just keep getting distracted. First, there's been a fair amount of work to do. Second, I've been out of the lab a good deal this week, which I know you all approve of. And finally, whenever I have had a spare moment to hit the net, I find that news seems to just keep right on happening! And it's all the sort of interesting, calamitous, well-covered news that doesn't really call for any help from me.

I did make it to the State Fair, showcase of Minnesotaness that it is. Everything from pizza to fried candybar was served on a stick. Sillyness abounded, the carnies were cheerful, and the crop art was not so much corny as tobacco mosaic. I resisted the urge to torment the young Republicans (because it's just too easy), who seemed suitably puzzled that despite screaming about giving away iPods, not much of anyone wanted to talk to them. I was not even tempted to dumpster dive the Fair.

And for some reason I can't explain, I am convinced that either this kid or his bunny will grow up to be a cereal killer.

State Fair?


The Minnesota State Fair is probably the most visible of the various ways that this state employs to remind the world that it remains an agricultural state, and that that's okay. Part swap meet (they'll try to sell you a tractor in the back lots), part Carnival of Oddities (c.f. the Hall of Grain Art, or the infamous butter sculptures), part rides-and-fried-food-on-a-stick festival, I've found it to be a suprisingly representative microcosm of Minnesota.

So there's four days left to this year's fair. Anyone up for an expedition in the next few days?

The More Standard Aspect

Setting crescent over the Minneapolis skyline. 2005:08:09 21:49:18

Longtime readers will recall that I developed a bit of interest in lunar photography and even put some effort into explaining the apparent orientation of the thing.

Here the moon sets in what most Americans seem to consider a more standard aspect.

Zanesville 4: God Country

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St. Nicholas Catholic, where the wedding was celebrated, lights up nicely in the evening. 2005:08:05 20:42:37

Now where I come from, it would be considered somewhat in poor taste to use Cortez' landing in Mexico as the subject of a church's entrance mural. No doubt the painters were trying to evoke a sense of the church likewise bringing the Word to heathen lands. Since the cornerstone claims to have been laid in the late 1800s, though, they would have been just a bit late.

The Catholics aren't the only denomination to have set up shop in Zanesville. In fact, pretty much everyone appears to have set up shop here. Given the size of the downtown area, just a few blocks on a side, a truly remarkable number of churches have sprouted over the years.

Zanesville 3: Reception Portraits

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Somehow or other, Jess has induced Connor to lighten up. 2005:08:06 16:36:41

At events like these, there will be some people who see each other every day. The ones we're more interested in, though, are the people we used to see every day, but have since wandered off into parts remote. Or in my case, folks I saw regularly until I wandered off. I tend to do that.

Apropos of the previous post, here's a photographic sampling. For the modem-impaired, the large images are in the continuation.

More Zanesville


Just noticed, jlkennedy has posted a pile of wedding reception photos. There's even a couple of me in semi-formal, for those in the audience who have trouble picturing this.

[Update: 11 August] And for even more pictures, mxzzy has also posted a small collection as well, including the best shot I've found so far of the bride.

Zanesville 2: Luminosity

Here we are playing putt-putt golf by blacklight. Of course, since we were all wearing black, we're a bit hard to recognize. 2005:08:06 19:53:09

After bride and groom sped off in a cloud of smoke (literally), Laura the unusually-cheerful goth declared that we should play a round of putt-putt. In the dark. Like Meridith's heart. Or so she claims, anyway.

Turns out that Zanesville not only has a mall, but said mall is occasionally infested with gothy-boppers. This amused Laura greatly (said Jess, "You visited my mall?!"). As did the prospect of blacklit golfing, especially in our formal duds. So Laura, 'Ridith, Gemma, and myself piled into Hatman's rental and away we went.

Also turns out that we're terrible at putt-putt, although Sawyer did keep sinking improbable holes-in-one.

Zanesville 1: A Splendid Match

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At important junctures, Connor is known to become, shall we say, absurdly serious. Here, he and Jess confront the awful spectre of a wedding cake. She remained calm. He later explained that the most terrifying moment of the whole day came just before the wedding began, as he convinced himself that he was going to trip and break his nose on the marble church floor. 2005:08:06 16:36:18

In Zanesville, Ohio, this weekend for the wedding of Jessica and Connor. Foundational members of many of the interlocking cliques making up the extended Mathews House circle -- that motley crew I refer to here nebulously as the Chicago gang, somewhat dispersed though they are now -- they were by far the longest-dating of our couples. The phrase, "Last of the Supercouples," was uttered more than once, with minimal caveats. So it was entirely fitting that as the tented reception wound down, bride and groom bolted for the getaway vehicle through a sparkler smokescreen to REM's It's the End of the World. We're going to have to find an excuse besides weddings to round up the cohorts.

The wedding ceremony was a beautiful Catholic service, fairly traditional but quite relaxed. Celebrating was Fr. Mulhill, imported from the Hyde Park parish in Chicago, and the jovial character reminded me of yet another reason to miss the neighborhood. A self-described and quite smug "good heretic" his sermon, among other things, went into the history behind the number of recognized sacraments (today there are seven; St. Augustine argued for hundreds, but Fr. Mulhill informed us that modern theology posits only one, and that nobody knows what it is). I think he considers Connor a bit of a pet project, and feels that he's done quite well at that. So smug is excusable.


Like the title says, back in Minneapolis. Stories, photography, et cetera, to follow. For now, sick of airports and the fact that my roommates apparently neither take out the trash nor wash dishes without me around to tell them to each time.

I may have to weed one out to serve as an example to the rest.

Offline this Weekend


Connor and Jessica -- college sweethearts, Scavhunt judges, and best friends -- are getting married this weekend. So it's off with me to Zanesville. Weekend connectivity is unguessable, so I'll be back when I'm back.

Congratulations to them both.

Ethics of the Gaps


Listening to George Ellis on Speaking of Faith on NPR some mornings ago, expound on the compatability of science and religion arising from the existence of areas, such as ethics and aesthetics, which science will "never ever be able to touch." Always interesting to hear the respectable, non-crazy scientists weigh in on matters of spirit. They can, at the very least, usually be relied upon to have thought their opinions through.

I find myself disagreeing with his propositions, because of the very train of thought that his original thesis sparked -- that ethics and morality are built into the structure of the universe. He provides only a very fuzzy argument in this direction, but it occurs to me that something resembling an evolutionary argument can be made to explain the existence of a fundamental knonotic1 ethics such as he proposes, if you really want to go in that direction. Principles that, with mathematical rigour, could be said to ensure that pain or violence always exists in a negative feedback loop; failure to discover such principles would eventually result in failure to survive.

However, this very idea suggests that these principles could be scientifically discovered, meaning that science could well uncover fundamental ethical principles. Ellis observed that science occasionally makes similar claims that sociology or sociobiology does investigate ethics, but that if you ask science what should be done in Iraq, there is a "great silence." Yet this is wrong; many sociologists, economists, and other academics would offer suggestions about how to deal with Iraq. "Science" as a monolithic whole obviously says little, as the many disciplines have different viewpoints -- stemming from the fact that science has yet to convincingly uncover a way to answer the question of what outcome we actually want.

So overall, a disappointment. 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.

1 Knosis is a Greek word which, in Ellis' usage, means the ethics of Jesus, of unconditional love and rejection of violence. I think he actually means the word gnosis, γνώσις, Greek for "knowledge". This word has been used in a number of ways over the centuries.

Shredded Moon

Ash and elm for olive trees, and praire grass for sabra. Behind more clouds than I'm used to, each full moon is still global.
2005:07:20 23:25:05

The above picture was taken from just outside the physics building here in Minnesota, nine or ten hours after the (nearly) full moon rose in Rehovot, or Kiev or Johannesburg for that matter. That it looks so different is a quirk of the funny shapes of the continents and oceans, of meandering currents, of the Earth being round. Climate and ecology, latitude and longitude.

Speaking of which, did San Antonio wind up with any weather out of Hurricane Emily?

Check out, incidentally, my last luggage post. Having finally gotten around to extracting them from my camera, it now has pictures. Entertainingly abused baggage awaits!

Luggage: Epilogue

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This box appeared on my doorstep while I was out. According to my roommate, the deliveryman seemed anxious to assure him that the box looked like this when he got it, and that I should under no circumstances complain to him about it. Given my experiences so far, this seems pretty reasonable. 2005:07:09 20:01:19
The entire contents of this breadbox-sized amorphous lump of cardboard was a fist-sized amorphous lump of bubblewrap containing my exceedingly peregrinated power adapter. No wonder it got thoroughly smashed. 2005:07:09 20:01:48

The world, it turns out, continues to be its usual perverse self in little things as well as big. Recall, if you will, my adventures getting my stuff back from Israel. All but a laptop charger made it. Last week I concluded that "special screening" must have been code for "controlled explosion", decided that it would be nice to be able to use my laptop again, and eBay'ed a cheap replacement. Which arrived yesterday while nobody was home, and returned to the FedEx depot, from where I retrieved it by bike today.

Later, in the lab, I got a call from American telling me that a package was on its way to my house. I arrived to find a well-masticated box containing my bubble-wrapped charger. Absolutely no indication of where it's been, but it doesn't appear to have been dissected, either. Maybe the screeners just thought it would be a hoot to check it on through to Minneapolis via Baghdad International.

I wonder if the brush that vanished is going to mysteriously show up in three months tangled with yak hair.

The Ride Survives

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Behold! It's my bike, right where I left it back in October. Apparently the local bike vandals consider it too ugly to dismantle. I refer to this as 'having character.' 2005:06:30 10:43:13

Now back December before last, my ride met an untimely end at the pointy end of a stopsign-running taxicab. Thanks to his catlike ninja powers, yours truly was largely unharmed. But that's not the point of this story.

Pictured here, my current wheels. Back in the day, Paul was kind enough to donate a disused relic from the dusty corner of his basement to my cause. After some attention from my good friends, Elbow Grease, Duct Tape, and "Spare" Bike Parts, I was back on the road. Spring came, and summer followed; the first year. And as it emerged that I was not destined to spend my second year of grad school on this continent, I bequeathed the ride back to said Paul, and admonished the fellow to take up riding as anyone so hirsute as himself surely must.

This he did not do. But evidently some proprietary sentiment did linger, for he was kind enough to remove the fliers left at wide intervals by the Parking & Transportation folks which would eventually have led to its forcible removal as abandoned property. Nevertheless, no ordinary bike would survive such rudimentary attention, as around here two deadly factors stalk: Snow Drift and Thievery. Left on the rack for a year, the ordinary bike would be reduced to one wheel and a rusty frame, unless by chance it were nicked whole by those ruffians with a knack for U-locks.

But The Ride survives, I was delighted to find. I attribute this to the facts that a) I'm just that good at rust-proofing my work, and b) the local thieves are pansies. Which is fine by me. A duct tape fender would not have dissuaded the Chicago prowlers, after all.


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Taking pictures out my window as a great rolling Midwestern storm cell trundles away to the East. I'll need to get higher up for really good lightning shots. 2005:06:29 22:48:34

Collaborators have gone home, luggage is mostly unpacked, and I finally bought groceries. While I didn't mean to leave off the blogging for so long, sometimes there need to be priorities. For the first time in almost two weeks, I ate food prepared by these here hands last night.

Cooking is a start, but it doesn't quite feel like home, just yet. Why should it? I was in Israel for nearly as long as I had lived in this house. I knew the present inhabitants for perhaps a month. There are two locations in Chicago that I called home for longer than I've been in this city. Every location in San Antonio feels a little bit like home, and I haven't lived there in almost seven years. Repeated peregrinations have given a home-y feel to a constellation of points on the map. And there's the truth of the matter: no place is simply home.

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.

Fair trade.

* * *

Regular blogging to return (for real) this weekend -- if I can get the cable modem working again -- or next week.

Intermission Continues


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.

Not that the world doesn't continue to be fun without me. Minnesota politics are always entertaining. You've got to give the governor points for so doggedly sticking to his no-tax-increases pledge, but that doesn't make it a less stupid thing to have promised.

Israel can't keep itself together for one week without some kind of crisis breaking out, of course. Looks like I got out while the gettin's good. And that's just today's headlines from skimming one newspaper.

Given that my world travels are complete for the medium term, I may eventually need to rethink the raisone d'etre of this supposed travel blog. In the near term, though, I've got plenty of material in the hopper. Til' next week, then.

"Well, Sir, this is very unusual"

At the risk of turning this into the all-baggage, all-the-time channel, I can report that fortune seems to have smiled upon me.

At home I found that a cornucopia of luggage had erupted just ahead of my arrival, and my roommates, bless their hearts, had even dragged them in to the foot of the stairs. Thus commenced the Inventorying of the Luggage. There was the battered and destroyed box containing my laptop, miraculously preserved like Han Solo, in a perfect state of hibernation. In fact, I kept on running across these sealed white padded envelopes containing miscellaneous bits of electronics, clearly stuck in wherever there was room as the security team certified them Not A Bomb.

All in all, and to my abject astonishment, there appears to be only one item missing.

Luggage Foibles: Progress

Have spent a goodly portion of my day on the phone with various computers and even the occasional human being. Progress is finally being made.

When we began the day's adventures, I was assured that the Great Global Baggage Mentat In The Sky had never heard of my luggage, which had probably never existed anyway. All parties involved were apologetic to the company-mandated minimal extent. It's been uphill from there.

Sun Chasing


Posting from my own house in Minneapolis; I made the trip home in just about 24 hours door-to-door in the end. Didn't sleep much on the planes, so I've effectively been awake for over 40 hours now. Bright sunlight for over 24 hours will do interesting things to the internal clock. (At least in the Arctic there's a discernible 'midday' and 'midnight' -- whereas thanks to all the flying west I've done today, it's been bouncing around between about noon and 4 pm all day for me.)

In other news, consider me a permanent ex-El Al customer.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Mpls '05 - Part 1: Renormalization category.

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Mpls '05 - Part 2: Context is the next category.

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