Archive for December, 2009

My Year in Cities

Did this last year: cities in which I spent at least one night while on travel

Niskayuna, NY
Dewittville, NY
Dover, MA
Charlottesville, VA

The Pink Nightmare

How to make the deranged Easter bunny costume from A Christmas Story


Want to know how many seconds are left in the year (presumably according to your computer clock)? Go to Google and click the “I’m feeling lucky” button.

Nature v Integers

A brief history of calendars

Q: “Once in a blue moon” is a rare event. But what does “blue moon” really mean?

Don’t fall for the trendy answer.

This was the final question last week at Pub Trivia, and our team won the evening with the same answer to this question that almost everyone else gave, probably the answer you’ve heard before: a blue moon means two full moons in one calendar month. This month, December 2009, has a blue moon on the 31, since it also had a full moon on the 2nd. But I had the nagging feeling that I’d read or heard somewhere (probably on QI) that the popular definition is wrong, that the real blue moon isn’t that straightforward. When I got home, Google confirmed it: We were wrong, quizmasters and all.

Bah, Humbug

No, that’s too strong
‘Cause it is my favorite holiday

After our recent snowstorm I spent more than an hour digging out my car, making sure I had a clear path behind me to back out of my parking spot. I even checked it on Monday afternoon, to make sure it was still clear. Then on Tuesday morning I go out … and find that someone had dumped a huge mound of snow behind and beside it, which had frozen overnight. Solid. Oh, F$^#@. My previous training as a naval officer came into play at this point, because I cursed a blue streak (true, the swear-training for the enlisted personnel is more thorough, but officers are expected to show initiative and work on it on their own)

So I got stuck as I tried to back out — couldn’t go back, couldn’t go forward, and my heels are sore from whacking away at the ice with my feet. I couldn’t even get out of the driver’s side door because of the new ice deposit, so I had to exit the passenger side. New tactics: hot water and a blunt instrument. The blunt doesn’t sound very good, it’s rarely used in symphonies, and I don’t play it often enough to be particularly good at it, but it can be very rewarding at times, especially when you are improvising and doing some vocal at the same time (see above). I eventually carved out a passable track, and re-exposed some pavement so I’d have traction as I backed out.

On one of my trips to refill the hot water jug I realized my iPod was missing from my pocket, so I had to search frantically for that, too, in addition to freeing my car from the ice. I finally got out — almost an hour after discovering I was blocked — and parked in a clear space and checked to see of there were tiny bits of iPod strewn about. Thankfully, no. I finally found it — it had fallen out of my pocket when I exited the car, and was under the passenger-side seat


Santa’s database has been hacked. Another Leak, the worst so far

You’re probably talking about this terrible security disaster already: the largest database leak ever. Arweena, a spokes-elf for Santa Claus, admitted a few hours ago that the database posted at WikiLeaks yesterday is indeed the comprehensive 2009 list of which kids have been naughty, and which were nice. The source of the leak is unclear. It may have come from a renegade reindeer, or it could be the work of a clever programmer in the Ukraine. Either way, it’s a terrible black eye for Santa. Arweena promised that in the future, access to this database would be restricted on a “need to know” basis. And you know who that means!

Browser Pong

No, that’s not a euphemism. Browser Pong.

One Ping Only, Please

Single light wave flashes out from fibre laser

The Konstanz researchers started with pulses from a single fibre laser and split them between two sets of fibres that contained atoms of the rare earth metal erbium to amplify the light waves. Each fibre then had a second stage that altered the light’s wavelength, one stretching it by about 40 per cent, the other shrinking it by a similar amount. The two fibres then converged again, causing the two light beams to interfere with one another in a way that cancelled out most of the waves to leave just a single wave cycle lasting just 4.3 femtoseconds.

Tangled Like a Ball of Yarn

Magnetic Fields in Chaos

The magnetic fields generated by electric currents in wires are typically depicted as neat closed loops, but this may be more the exception than the rule. Computer-based calculations in the December Physical Review E show that magnetic field lines around simple wire configurations are tangled up like a ball of yarn. After accounting for the earth’s magnetic field, the researchers conclude that these chaotic magnetic fields are ubiquitous in the circuits found in all modern electronic devices.

Something About That Energy Guy

Newsmaker of the year: The power player

As a physicist, he found a way to capture atoms and won a Nobel prize. Now he is marshalling scientists and engineers to transform the world’s biggest energy economy. Eric Hand profiles the US energy secretary, Nature‘s Newsmaker of the Year.


Snow Day

Wasn’t really expecting this, but then, I live on a main road, and side roads are probably still waiting to be cleared. That’s the problem with only having, like, 8 snowplows. ( If only they could harness the hot air from Congress …) This isn’t unprecedented, either. A Sunday storm a few years ago dropped 2 feet of snow and shut us down for 2 days. I’m glad, too — after doing the equivalent of about 50 squat-thrusts yesterday (bend, fill storage tub with snow, lift, carry, dump. One!), plus other activities, I’m a little sore.

Since There’s No Place to Go …

Storm’s over, and it was a real one. Not just a wimpy DC-can’t function-with-a-dusting. Even Bee must agree that this was real snow, as compared to some snow standards.


Then came the digging out. Fortunately, my “driveway” is only the 5′ behind my car. OTOH, I didn’t have a shovel.

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