My Zunivers

31 March 2006

Choral Freaks

I was reading the Chicago Tribune and noted that the Skilling who does the weather at WGN (second only to WTBS in fame as a local independent station carried nationally on cable) is related to the Skilling who's in trouble form Enron. It didn't take much reading, as it was today's lead story.

Anyway, that got me thinking about how I forgot to post a link to this article about April's choral music scnece in the Lehigh Valley. If you are a choral music buff who likes major works, and has deep pockets that happen to be full, you can come around to see Bach's Johannespasion, Beethoven's Ninth, Mahler's Second, and Beethoven's Missa Solemnis.

My only two comments are this:

If you can see just one show, see the cheapest. It might not be the biggest, and it probably won't be the best (although honestly the average person can't tell), but it's one of the more rarely performed great choral works. And did I mention it's the cheapest?

The price of the shows seems to correlate to the lunacy of the conductor. It is sort of like a big chocolate heart, I reckon... maybe.... (And if he thinks I won't sweat then HA! to him.)

30 March 2006

Police Cars

The French Gendarmerie Nationale wants to go fast. So does the Georgia State Patrol.

That's just cool. Two of my favorite cars in special police packages. When can I buy a used one?

Chicken Tossing

Post 365, and I'd like to know....

Did none of you share Chicken Tosser jokes because you don't know what Chicken Tossing means, because you just don't have any, or because my posts are just so lame that you don't read them?

If you think that Dwarf Tossing is merely what Peter Jackson's mulls over in the commentary of "The Fellowship of the Ring" then it's probably choice A.

I'm sorry to make such references to my own posts, I'm just really curious.

29 March 2006

Christians Under Attack

In a Washington Post article on how the religious right feels persecuted, Tom DeLay is quoted as saying

"We are after all a society that abides abortion on demand, that has killed millions of innocent children, that degrades the institution of marriage and often treats Christianity like some second-rate superstition. Seen from this perspective, of course there is a war on Christianity," he said.

Honk if you agree that large chunks of American Christians think politics is about only aboriton and gay marriage.

Other themes on tap included "Postmodernism is the Devil" (note: postmodernism, not moral relativism) and "America is the New Israel."

26 March 2006

Uncyclopedia Needs You!

All of you will be interested in the Uncyclopedia. It's name says it all.

Fewer of you, though, will be interested in a project that needs to be done. As of now, there is no article about that dreadfully annoying little paperclip that is the bastard offspring of Microsoft Bob. If any of you want to make the page, and I know you do, I encourage you to go for it. And if you're up for writing a hack that puts up a toolbar to torture the poor little bugger, that would be a good way to spend your free time too.

25 March 2006

A Waste Of Your Time

Ol' Alvin showed up at the restaurant where I was finishing lunch today. I decided not to bother him. I should have, though.

Today I relaxed. After free lunch, and a rather entertaining one after the Dirty Joke Waitress lost a lens form her glasses, I blew off my class this afternoon-- I'm not taking it for credit-- and spent an hour or two catching up with a few first year grad students.

I find myself to be a real enigma in social matters. I'm a complete social butterfly in some situations and a complete wallflower in others. When I was an undergraduate I knew, on a "we knew each other's names and said hello when we passed each other" level, about 1000 people. Mind you that this is spread over seven classes of about 550 each, but still a large number. Could it be that everyone knew this many people in college, just like basically everyone being able to walk ten miles, but people making a big deal about me doing because I know the numbers?

At the same time, I'm introverted and enochlophobic. 1000 people is nice. So long as there are a few strong social ties going around I don't mind scores of weak ones. But I don't like 1000 weak social ties in the same room. And if I don't get time alone-- completely alone-- for at least part of the day I go absolutely insane. I hate people. I thrive on them. I thrive on what I hate. That's only becuase I don't actually hate them, I love them. I just hate the idea of them.

What was that? To give you some sense of what it means, let me point out a little about how friendship works. (I'll admit I was reading a book recently that has refreshed my memory on this subject; that's why it's on my mind.) We all have friends. Who are our friends? We like to say that it's people who are like ourselves. But if we look at our friends we find that that's not true. We do have some friends like ourselves, and our better friends are often more like us, but that is not what binds us to our friends. We have friends who are not like us. What binds us to our friends is not similarity but proximity.

At this point some who have heard the traditional differences between male-male and female-female relationships might pull the emergency brake. Am I not just citing the male form of friendship? Isn't one of the first things said on this matter the idea that men become friends for their shared activites and women become friends for conversation and emotional support? Sure, that's what's said. I dare you to demonstrate, though, that womens' conversation and emotional support arise without their sharing proximity in time and space. So I think the standard line, which is backed up by good research, should not be interpreted in itself as a difference between male friendships and female friendships but rather as indirect evidence that men are either shallow or don't need support. (I exclude conversation because the average male says more words per day than the average female. I suspect the syllable counts might be reversed, though. Grunts are often monosyllabic.)

Who do we do things with? Well, it's not merely people like ourselves. It's anyone around us that we can stand being with and who can stand being with us. I have a lot of friends who drive me crazy quite often. My poor wife gets subjected to rant after rant about how person X or Y or Z does this or that or said the other thing. She's the only person that gets all sides, too, and probably thinks I'm a real hater. I'm sure that my school friends think I hate church people and my church friends think I hate school people. But I do things with both groups. I put up with them well. I like them. I'm no hater. I'm a lover.

When I'm with anyone most if not all of my negative impressions have no impact on my behavior. I socialize with oddballs of all shapes and sizes, inside and out. I know smart people and dumb people. I even socialize with normal people. Some friends are more like me than others. And I don't hate any of them at all. If I knew that any one of them needed help I'd lend a hand (although I admit for a few of them it would have to be on my timetable, not theirs). When people aren't with me I only like about five or ten of them. When people are with me-- this is when in my mind I'm considering the persons themselves and not just the idea of the persons-- I only dislike probably five or ten of them.

This leads me to believe that maybe I do know a lot of people. I at least have a reason why I might. I'm patient with people. I don't trim down my social circles based on what I'm think about people. I just kind of like everyone around me. I don't pick my friends, I just kind of become friends with everyone. If they press my buttons I go nuts, but it's got to be either a lot of presses or a really long one.

You might have noticed that I'm using a weak definition of friend. I don't mind weak friends. I appreciate a good relationships with people who are like me on some plane or another. I'd go batty without a wife. But I also have an appreciation for things like sitting down at some group dinner and learning this year's one and only factoid, at least that I'll hear, about someone else there. I might not be the most conversational person at such times, but I enjoy the company. I think it feeds my over-analytical brain rather nicely.

If you'v even read this far I might as well explain why I went on this long tangent. Every year of grad school I've tried to get to know all the new students as quickly as possible. I was panicking when classes started this past fall and I knew there were one or two I hadn't met! About the only way I can answer why is that the "freak" part of "introverted freak" is taking control. The freakish tendancy to want to know little bits about people. The freakish way that dispite having zero pictoral content in my mind (it's all auditory) I have very little trouble with names. The freakish fact that I get to know people's names dispite having no social skills. The freakish wonderings I have about people I haven't seen for a decade who barely knew me then and would wonder who I am if they met me now. A freakish desire that everything is going okay for everyone I've ever known.

It's just all freakish.

I think that was my point. Skipping class today was freakish. Skipping class is probably considered normal, but I didn't do it for normal reasons. I did it for freakish ones.

Sorry I wasted your time to say so little.

24 March 2006

Blah Blah

Today I got to see two lectures.

The first was about optical photonic sumthinnneruthers, and while it wasn't too bad it had my brain hurting after about 45 minutes. I popped bubbles on my PDA to finish out the time.

The second was a lecture by Alvin Plantinga (in the flesh) and was engaging. I'm not sure that I'm entirely convinced of one of his bits, whch is that there is a particular conditional probability that is necessarily low, but the rest of what he said falls in place if it's accepted/true/whatever term you'd use for what you know I mean. I do wish that his outline would get cleaned up (look around the internet for "An Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism" and you can find the outline). Look it up. Be as confused as I was when I read his outline a year or two ago. Then go find him actually giving the lecture and see if that helps.

I've got to say that lately I've been feeling a little down about science and scientists. It's at the point that I'm doing all sorts of things I've never done before, like turning off the TV when an interview with a scientist comes on rather than turning up the volume. I'm really just sick, I think, of the majority of scientists I hear running around with agendas and being so dumb as to not notice. It would be okay if they were reasonable, perhaps admitting an agenda rather than hiding it. So what is bothering me?

I hear a lot of statements like "Science isn't about believing, it's about knowing." That one irritates me because last time I checked there was all kinds of belief involved, like believing that Dr. Joe at Lab Q really did get the results he published and believing that experiments will be repeatable everywhere. Personal experience as a scientist doesn't replace beliefs like this, it's upholds them. It's one thing to be a scientific realist. It's another to say that scientific realism in not based on assumptions, ones just as sweeping as "There is a God" or "I exist," that must be believed in order for the rest of the system to work. Belief and faith are, sadly, made out to be in opposition to science, not foundations for science. The reason I've heard from many in science for why they cannot admit, and for the younger generations who were trained in science by these people to even accept, that there is belief involved in science is purely an unwillingness to let non-science, and especially religion, claim its share of the landscape of reason. That sounds like an agenda to me.

Then there's the ever popular "Darwin proved that we don't need to believe in a God" sorts of statements. Yeah, sure. I'll point out that of real scientists (I exclude anthropologists, for example) I've heard only biologists say this one. Some of us are smart enough to know that Darwin proved no such thing. At best he gave an epistemological framework on which to hang one's agnosticism or atheism. Besides that, nobody ever did need to believe in a God. And belief in God is a separate issue from whether God exists. That doesn't seem to bother anyone who makes statements like the one in quesiton, though.

And then there are more specific statements, like one I heard yesterday that amounted to "The reason the US isn't ready for a bird flu epidemic is because President Bush is a dumb fundamentalist who doesn't believe in evolution." I don't think that's the problem. No young earth creationist fundamentalist I've ever met goes around thinking that viruses don't change over time or that viruses that mutate the "wrong" ways die off while those that mutate the "right" ways live on. I think the reason why the US isn't ready is everything else that that particular scientist said about why we can't be. If we can't be ready then that's why we're not ready. Duh.

So I continue to sulk. Perhaps I'll cheer myself up with some Camus.

But first I'll go kill whatever it is that's pattering around my kitchen on what sounds like four tiny feet. If I can turn it into a carcass before my wife reads this then maybe she'll still be willing to go into the kitchen after a chlorine bomb and a few weeks of calming down. I hate vermin.

23 March 2006

Booked Solid

From the Washignton Post, this article.

Books, it turns out, inflame a particular kind of passion. They inform, they amuse, they provoke. They keep us company and lull us to sleep. They give manifest evidence of our intellect. They show off our interests and our values. And when we've run out of places to put them, they prove extremely difficult to part with.

The article also mentions poeople who, God save them, want us to get rid of books we've read. That's horrible.

Three Thoughts

I don't know whether I have more respect for people who know when the Ides of March are or who know what d'Alembert's principle is. I do know that I have the most respect for anyone who knows both or neither.

I'm also tired of ghosts. What on earth do they want me for?

Thanks for coming around tonight, Spite. We miss you.

22 March 2006

No Flu's Good Flus?

I have not heard anything about influenza virus in the US this winter. Normally it makes the news every winter, but this year hte news has been bird flu this and bird flu that and bird flu my behind with no trace that I can find of information relating to flu that people can acutally get from each other (read: that actually matters in some way to people who don't raise poultry).

Could the mass media outlets be afraid that the American public is too stupid to understand that there is more flu around than bird flu? Or are they too dumb to know that themselves? Or does less than bird flu no longer sell ads because it's not dangerous enough? Or did nobody get flu this year in the US?

My cynical side is all in favor of option 2.

I will also note that I know at least one or two people who did not get flu shots this year because they figured that they shouldn't bother if it wasn't going to help with the bird flu. No matter that any influenza is nasty, mind you. If it's not going to protect us from something we can only get snogging a chicken then phooey to it. The fact that we don't snog chickens means nothing to us whether we can get other flu snogging people or not.

Perhaps more coverage of things that matter would make our world a better place, or at least give journalists an outlet for their idea that they educate the public. If they would just come clean and say that they're entertainers instead of teachers I'd probably go easier on them.

For now, I just can't wait to read articles about how dangerous bird droppings on your car will be when the bird flu does get here. I don't think I'll ever wash it again. Come to think of it, I've never washed it anyway.

"Chicken tosser" jokes will be accepted.

Music

I don't know if I'm feeling better.

I did get some good food today. My wife and I did some kitchen clean-up (she did a lot more than I did), I went to Aldi for a few things, and I then taught my wifey how to make my pseudo-mediterranian chicken and cous-cous. I would tell you, too, if I loved you enough. That reminds me that I need to send the recipe to my sister.

Currently I am listening to Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance marches. I realized recently that I've become a bit too much of a classical music addict. Actually, I've become too much of a music addict. These days I find myself wanting music much more than books. And while you can keep those idiot musical wannabes Stellar Kart to yourself-- I never have gotten around to my rant about their hit song championing Christian underachievement-- I wouldn't mind Josh Turner's newest album, which includes his foray into bitty little praise choruses, or Nickel Creek's new album that's all red and yellow on the cover.

I'm also just itching to buy a copy of Tallis "Spem in alium," Orff's "Carmina Burana," a few random things by Barber, Beethoven's 5th (Piano Concerto. I have the symphony), some stuff by Poulenc including the songs for Christmas and the harpsichord concerto, organ music by Franck, Widor, Mendelssohn, and Buxtahude, Stravinsky's complete "Petroushka," and elusive quality recordings of various voicings of Biebl's "Ave Maria." In fact, any choral music would make me happy, and if it's not in English I'd be even happier. There was a time that the only choral music I liked was the grandiose. I'm learning to appreciate more of it. My wallet is trying not to suffer. And I'm so picky about my recordings that I actually want to buy my own instead of having other people do it for me.

So for now I will contine listening to these tired old Elgar marches.

Oh, never mind. They're over.

21 March 2006

Gloomy

I'm not feeling well right now. Life is bothering me.

And that's all I have to say, except that I'm also having a majorly insecure streak.

Go ahead. Mock me for it.

19 March 2006

Back Now

The conference went well enough, as did the trip to DC.

At the conference I went to a few talks on various things. Given the thousands to choose from, I went to only a few because after each conference I attend my advisor tells me that when he goes to conferences he goes to maybe one or two talks. My poster went well except for the one-day heat wave and the lack of air conditioning. My talk went well, too.

On Wednesday I took the side trip to DC. Stop number one was the senator's cronies. I'd like to know what the LEDs in the clock on the walls mean. I then got to see my old roomie for a few hours at his school (Catholic University, which has a rather ecclectic basillica that I can describe only as beautiful in a gaudy way) for lunch and general chit-chat. Thursday I did get back to the conference for the session I wanted to see. Titled Social Networks, the session was more networks than social, but otherwise nice.

If you wanted more, oh well. That's all you get.

Yesterday I finally picked a computer game. In the interest of saving myself from dropping out of school I bought Sim City 4. It's a lot like SC2K but has more detailed controls. The learning curve is minimal for a SC2K player, and the addition of regions lets you build multiple cities of different sizes and connect them together. What is this about dropping out of school, though? Well, you see, I decided to leave Civ IV on the shelf becuase that game would have sucked me in and not let me go. Ever.

12 March 2006

Updates

It turns out that my advisor is in the hospital (diagnosis- cut back on coffee, drink more water. Yes, that was the diagnosis, not the treatment plan) and we got an appointment with one bureaucrat, who my sister pointed out I have stopped referring to as "the stupid people."

The poster did not get professionally printed, so today I spent three hours making what could only be called the Cadallac of Piecewise Poster Systems. The system consists of gold poster board backings with plastic pouches to hold the printed pages. Tacks can be plaecd behind the plastic sheets so that we can test the population for a "How on earth is your poster hanging?" reflex. Really, that's about all there is to the poster. Content, 0, Hanging Method, 9. If I spread everything out I will take up half of my alotted 4 by 8 feet. I hope none of you stop by to see it. Ever.

My attempts to move my birthday were unsuccessful, so I've gotten loads of e-cards and gifts. My mom sent me some gourmet food, including free range bunny poop. My sister got me two cool books, my wife got me a cool book, and I'm supposed to go buy computer games and CDs or something on top of the money that I have, including money leftover from Christmas. One of these days I will make Amazon very happy, like I did last year. I don't have enough for a good digital piano or digital camera, though. But I had in excess of a pound of steak for dinner, and some Chunky Monkey for dessert.

So, as it stands, tomorrow I leave for the Seafood Capital of the mid-atlantic. Rumor has it that there might be a physics conference I could stop in to see whele I'm there. Also a former student from my school lives in the area and is quite excited about seeing me and the gang. On Tuesday I will go to my wife's parents' house, where my wife will also be by then. From there I will go Wednesday to see my old roomate, a senator's gurus, and perhaps a big statue of Abe Lincoln if the weather's okay for the walk, and on Thursday I will probably head back to the Seafood Capital because I was told that a few physicists with interests in social sciences will be there for a session.

So I'll check in again sometime.

10 March 2006

Abortion Rights For Men

Eric Zorn usually has a head on his shoulders, and this time is no exception. Zorn gives us a basic outline of some of the (what culture makes me call) "issues" surrounding men's reproductive rights.

I'm not having comments here on the matter because I don't even trust you lot to behave. You can comment on his blog.

09 March 2006

The Reason I'm Angry Today

is because for once I have my work done but other people's required stamps of approval are not coming.

Annoynaces include...

A poster for the conference that needs to be taken for printing today, and that I'm pretty sure is finished, but that my sickly advisor hasnt' commented on because he is at home or in the hospital or somewhere besides his office.

Multiple telephone calls, faxes, e-mails, and so on to bureaucrats in DC, but not exceeding one per day because I'm not like that, who seem to think I have plague. This of course isn't helped by such wild things as the fact that I don't have voice mail in my office, where they are probably calling because they're too dumb to realize that I said to call me at home (I gave them both numbers because early in the week I was there and now later in the week I am here), and the fact that these people insist on doing things over the phone instead of, say, e-mailing me, which I would actually get.

I'm pretty sure that if I go outside a tree will fall on me. It's that kind of day. The first person to say "watch out for the ceiling fan" gets beaten. I know how ugly those fixtures can get so I have it turned off.

08 March 2006

Do Americans Plan For The Long Haul?

No. We're a bunch of shortsighted, soundbyte loving morons. If you can't tell us what is wrong and what we need to do about it and why we need to do it in less than seven words then we won't listen. I don't think a single problem in humnan history could be approached sucessfully with such succinctness, and that's why most of America cares nothing about almost everything.

My evidence will extend when this is less than a memory in a few days for the people who read it. I'm sure that more people are reading the always important celebrity news and sports anyway. Future? What future? I want to know more about Barry Bonds shots in the butt now, now, now! And I really need to find out what's happeneing on Lost tonight.

07 March 2006

Happy Birthday!

My birthday is being delayed by a week this year due to my having to go to this dadgumminferous conference next week, but today's birthday is happeneing on time.

Happy birthday blog.

In the past year there have been 350 Zunivers posted here for all of you to read. It's really not worth your time, but that doesn't seem to stop you. About a dozen people, including a few who I can't identify in person, are here once a week or more to rot their brains in a way totally different from binging on corn syrup and video games. Besides having the content of intergalactic space, posts here are a model of typos resulting in bad spelling. A few blogs were created (or outed? I can't remember) in the wake of this rather rickety ship, and I recommend those to you.

The posts have gotten shorter lately for a few reasons. Reason one is that I hate repeating myself too much here so I just don't share on some topics that I would have covered for one or two rounds back in the beginning. Reason two is that I have more time with computers now so I often post small bitlets en masse instead of one honker a day. Reason three is that I'm more stressed than a year ago because I'm actually doing things now.

Right now my brain is fried from preparing for the conference (you know, the whole open up the presentation and stare for a while, determine that the notebook with the changes we discussed is on the other side of the room, decide that's too far to go, and then just close it and go design bridges or something). That's why I'm delaying my birthday, which I normally share with Master Johnny. I'd like to have my birthday after my brain settles so that I can enjoy the fine presents and the steak the birthday sex.

Besides moving my birthday, stress has also dulled my sense of humor. I wish I had something witty to say now, but I don't.

So, happy birthday blog. You've been a good friend and I'm sure we'll spend a lot more time together.

Help, I'm emotionally attached to a fricking web page.

06 March 2006

Whose Gender? What?

(Alternate Title: I left that place.)

I was really confused when I read this article about selection of Charlotte, NC, as site for the NASCAR hall of fame.

The other finalists were Daytona Beach, Fla., and Atlanta, where city and state leaders hoped the hall would become an anchor of the city's downtown tourism initiative.

"As a guy, I'm disappointed. They decided to marry the girl next door," Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue said. "We had a lot to offer. It could have been a great marriage."


Um, say what? I understand the part about how Atlanta needs to have something for people to tour if they want to have downtown tourism (I'm disregarding the fact that there is no downtown Atlanta, one main reason why nobody goes there), but Sunny Perdue is a guy and he's upset that NASCAR married a girl instead of him? I'm not processing.

And I don't think I want to.

05 March 2006

What's Changed?

Besides the recent split between Answers in Genesis and the newly formed Creation Ministries International, is there anything different?

(This is vague for a reason, you know. I sometimes try to start conversations with my wife by walking in and saying things like "How many did you see? " or "Which one of them do you like more?" I don't bother specifying what. got to admit, she usually just looks at me funny.)

Arrrrrr, mateys!

I sort of liked the look of this picture. This sort of thing happens from time to time.

So who wants to comment on that blog about Wheaton's greatest chapel prank ever-- the chapel "bells" wired up to play a loop of "Highway to Hell"?

Waiting for Washington

I'm not sure how the congressional faxing system is set up, but if any of you plan to fax something to a DC office you quite likely won't be able to do it. At least not if you have one of the fax machines like the physics department here. From Kinkos, where the faxing process actually worked, I had a 7 minute queue on the senator's line and a minute and a half of the representative's line. Our machine blows up under such pressure.

Strangely, those two numbers are off by a factor quite close to the ratio of the number of senators to representatives. Is there a conservation of faxes law that holds for DC offices? The rather chipper young woman who answered the senator's phone told me that Fridays are always busy so it might take a while, but that doesn't give me a good baseline. What I really need are hard numebrs on how many faxes every member of congress gets in a day. I dare not call back to the rep's office to see if the sour-puss who answered the phone has the statstics, though. In fact I hope to never interact with her on a Friday again.

Of course I have to bloody call these people again next week because I completely forgot to tell them that I am only in my office in the afternoons. They'll likely call when I'm not there. And I really can't stand these bureaucrats anwyay, so I don't even know why I'm trying to do this. Oh, wait, I do. A bunch of us are going together and none of these civically useless scientists I'm going with, over half of them foreign and all of them with PhDs, realized that someone had to submit paperwork. Heck, I've never tried to get an appointment down there before and I knew that. I hope they feel ashamed when they find out that I'm the only grad student in the group. But then again, isn't that what grad students are for?

In return for my agony I get to dress up in a nice shirt and go talk to complete brick walls about why state education departments need more money for science teachers and the NSF needs more money for physics. It would be made worse if the legislators themselves deem us worthy of an audience-- they never do that sort of thing alone, so there would be two brick walls in the room.

I must be nuts.

03 March 2006

Ode To The Spellchecker

It's here, for those who have not already seen it.

Actually it's there for people who have already seen it, too.

02 March 2006

Why I Can't Pick a Career II: Nobody's Every Heard Of Sociophysics

Speaking of career changes, some of you know that I am really interested in social modeling. Yesterday I received a pre-print from one of the world's top researchers in the field who also happens to have been a Famous Physicist of a previous generation.

Being of good spirits I asked my advisor if he wanted a copy of this paper. He said definitely no he did not want to know it existed, and then went on to tell me that he recognized the author's name as being similar to the name of a Famous Physicist and wondered if this person was a relative. I wrote back and told him that this is the Famous Physicist. His response was that this must be a relative of the Famous Physicist. So I wrote back again and said "No, really this is the famous physicist. Here is his website."

This is all really funny because one of the reasons I first got into cantact with this Famous Physicist was because the idea of physicists doing anything related to sociology is absolutely taboo. Physicists who do economics get looked upon with one eye twisted kind of funny. Getting into anything else is considered a sign of losing your mind. The Famous Physicist concurred with a sigh that there are indeed such prejudices, but he's been happy to include me in his rather tiny mailing list of people who are more open.

Anyway, the moral of the story is that the discipline I'd really like to pursue is so obscure that if I do get into it then nobody will ever hear from me again. I can see some of you in the future-- "I went to a grad school/college with a guy who had that name. The guy I knew was a physicist, though."