Archive for the 'Shameless self promotion' Category

I Just Love Reading My Name in the Paper, Butch

Science Online 2013: Science Comics

My contribution in the session was apparently good enough to repeat, so of course I’m going to link to it. It’s actually a different take on the jargon discussion — cartoons have a limited word count and restricted ability to convey information, so sometimes you have to limit the audience to whom you are trying to appeal by requiring that they will be familiar with the unexplained context of the cartoon. Exactly the scenario of a cartoon which is based on the physicists’ spherical cow joke — if you aren’t already familiar with the joke, you won’t understand the cartoon. So there’s a delicate balancing between the scientific literacy (or scientific cultural literacy) of the audience and the humor you’re trying to convey.

We Now Return You to Your Regularly Scheduled Program

I’m back from my jaunt down to Augusta, GA. I had a good time talking with the faculty and students and my talk was well-received — I got some really good questions from the students and even the biology folks said they understood most of it (I may have lost them temporarily when I talked about the guts of atomic clocks, such as the mention of Zeeman splitting of atomic sublevels). The room was reasonably full, too — maybe 60-70 people. The only real glitch was the previously mentioned swapping of NRL for USNO. If I had had time to add a slide to the talk I would have put up a map showing the geographical difference in our locations, and then say how wonderful it is to be in South Carolina (which, like NRL, is right across the river), but I instead opted to mildly embarrass my navy buddy by calling him Ensign and telling about calling up the USNO Master Clock voice announcer. But I kid because I love, and I think he’s done a great job in helping to build up the physics program there and I had a wonderful time visiting with some old friends. Back to regular blogging soon!

We’re the Other Guys

I’m going down to Augusta Georgia, looking for a soul to steal to give a timekeeping talk as part of the Augusta State Savannah River Scholars Program. (I imagine if you are in the area and would be inclined to go you already know about it). I looked up the program, and found that my affiliation is (currently) listed as the Naval Research Laboratory. Sigh. At least it gives me a chance to bust the chops of a former navy shipmate who invited me to give the talk; I know that he (as I did) used to call up the Naval Observatory’s Master Clock voice announce to get the official time so that one would do evening colors at the right time when standing watch.

Sorry, Dear

Once again, I belatedly realize that my blogoversary has come and gone. Friday marked four years of blogging. Yay me.

Status Update

George Takei linked to my glass half-full/half-empty/superposition cartoon.

That is all.

On the Subject of Me

Physics World Web Life: Swans on Tea

Swans on Tea is a blog written Tom Swanson, an atomic physicist at the US Naval Observatory who posts under the nickname swansont – hence the name of his blog.

Three posts a day is not uncommon, although many of these entries are quite short, consisting only of links to news stories, online videos, or photos, plus some brief comments from Swanson. Longer posts involving the author’s own work or non-work activities are much rarer, dwarfed by the sheer quantity of interesting stuff he manages to find elsewhere on the Internet.

Nothing you didn’t already know. Just in case you were wondering, though, I was not interviewed (meaning they actually read the blog). I heard about it when someone gave me an attaboy, and have been waiting for the online version to appear.

Just a Reminder

For the (statistically speaking) fraction of a reader within commuting distance of Washington, DC. Tomorrow (Saturday) is the Naval Observatory Open House

Though it is raining today, the weather looks like it’s going to be great tomorrow. Which means that no meteorologists will need to be strangled.

Bring a Stranger to Work Day

U.S. Naval Observatory IYA 2009 Open House

In celebration of the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first use of the telescope, the International Astronomical Union and UNESCO have declared 2009 to be the International Year of Astronomy (IYA 2009). As part of a world-wide celebration of this event, the U.S. Naval Observatory (USNO) will be sponsoring a free-admission Open House on Saturday, 4 April, from 3:00 pm to 10:00 pm. During that time the Observatory’s telescopes will be open for inspection, scientists will explain the mission of USNO’s Master Clock, exhibits will display the Observatory’s history and present work, and local amateur astronomers will share views through their telescopes.

The event is planned regardless of weather, although predominantly cloudy conditions may limit observing activities. Additionally, heavy or persistent rain may result in cancellation. Be sure to watch the website for updates.

More details in the press release

I’ll be there, helping out, meetin’ and greetin’. I announced this on the local geocaching bulletin board, since USNO time supports GPS, so I hope to hang out with fellow geocachers for a while (there’s actually a geocache at the Observatory, which normally requires you to take the public tour), and then I’ll probably be helping out with the Time Service display. If you’re in the area, come on by. If you can’t make it, you can still commemorate your nonvisit with a Navel Observatory shirt

Bzzzzzzz

Buzzwords of 2008

Missing from the list is blogohedron, “popularized” by … me (sort of), so really it’s not a surprise. I just happened to see Brian Switek using it at Laelaps, and acknowledging Blake Stacey for it, and Blake crediting me in the comments (and, BTW, the link is a good summary of a recent blogger vs. journalist caged-death-match exchange).

I can’t and won’t take credit for coining the term, as a quick search shows it predates any use of it here. But I have no recollection of seeing it anywhere before using it, so as far as I know it’s new to me and an example of convergent etymology. I like it better than blogosphere, which gives me the impression of smoothness and uniformity, which doesn’t describe blogging as far as I’m concerned. The world of blogging has facets and edges and pointy bits; it has texture, if not structure.

Maybe we make the 2009 list.

Idea Mine

Over at Science After Sunclipse, Blake has post discussing some Star Trek: TNG history, in which I happen to have some involvement.

Reverse the Baryon Flux Polarity!

The details involve the episode Starship Mine

In the annals of nitpickery, “Starship Mine” has a certain infamy. The “baryon sweep” which causes the evacuation of the ship is, we are told, a periodic maintenance procedure which must be performed in order to clear away “baryon particles” which build up when a starship travels using its warp drive. Any stickler for jargon accuracy will happily tell you that baryons are a class of subatomic particles which includes protons and neutrons, so that sweeping away the baryons would rip apart every atom in the Enterprise.

Here’s the backstory: I went to high school with one of the members of the Star Trek staff, Naren Shankar, and we kept in much better touch in those days — we still went home for the holidays and got together. He was the science consultant at the time this episode was written (he later joined the writing staff), and was looking for an excuse for the Enterprise to be in spacedock, devoid of personnel — he had in mind some kind of procedure analogous to degaussing a submarine, and bounced the idea off of me. Rather than suggest some new, made-up particle, I suggested a more generic “exotic-antibaryon sweep;” the idea being that there were some long-lived particles, unknown to us in the 20th century, that could be picked up by the spaceship. However, that was shortened to “Baryon sweep” at some point in the script-polishing process.

Blake considers this as a possibility.

However! We are told that the “baryons” which must be removed build up when a starship is travelling at warp speed. When you move through warp space, you travel at the speed of plot: the laws of physics are those which make for convenient storytelling. Who’s to say that quark combinations which fall apart in ordinary space can’t endure in warp or subspace? As it happens, in the sixth-season episode “Schisms”, a substance called “sonalagen” is trotted out which is said to be stable only in subspace, so within the framework of the show there’s precedent for this kind of dodge. The name of the “baryon sweep” would then be understood as a shortened form of, say, “residual exotic baryon sweep”, said elliptically for convenience’s sake even though the short version carries an unfortunate connotation if read naïvely. Inconvenient notations and awkward jargon held onto for “historical reasons” are common enough that this could well count as unexpected realism!

And what Blake figured out, a lot of Trek fans didn’t. As I recall, the discussion following the show on the USENET Star Trek board was pretty damning, along the lines of OMG, they’d destroy all the neutrons and protons! What idiots!, except that while all neutrons and protons are Baryons, not all Baryons are protons or neutrons, so even in the abbreviated form, the phrase isn’t wrong from a physics point of view, just easily misinterpreted. Of course, had I or someone else suggested a yet another new particle, there would have been fans that complained about that.

Starship Mine isn’t the only episode on which I had some influence. I tried to kill Wesley Crusher once (unsuccessfully, obviously), and there are a lot of names in shows that are references to people I know or have met. In fact, in the third-season episode “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” the Klingon outpost planet’s name, “Narendra III,” is a reference to Naren, from someone he knew on the staff.

If We Built This Large Wooden Badger . . .

Despite getting about $105,000 from Quebec and federal art-funding agencies, Canadian artist Cesar Saez’s flying-banana project appears to be meeting turbulence. According to his project’s webpage, the Geostationary Banana Over Texas has failed to get enough grassroots funding to ensure its planned launch date in August. [...] People can think it’s a hoax,” Mr. Arpin added, “but artists have been doing a lot of interesting things that a lot of people haven’t been able to follow. He [Mr. Saez] is pushing the boundaries and letting people think outside the box – or the fruit basket.” Maybe some people thought it was a hoax because you can’t get a helium balloon high enough to be in a geostationary orbit, and a geostationary orbit can’t exist over Texas. Geostationary is a scientific/technical term. It has a specific meaning. If you just make crap up, some people won’t take you seriously. The project’s Web-based fundraising drive says it needs$1.5-million.