Two Almost Physicists With Almost Something To Say

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I Wrote A Book

I can pour liquids

I can pour liquids

Like my co-blogger, I recently, finally, finished my physics thesis. Mine took 1.333(…) years more than his because: (a) I started with my research group in my 3rd year of grad school (instead of the summer before our 1st, like he did), (b)  I did all sorts of distracting/fulfilling outreach activities for funding over the course of my years at [Semi-Prestigious East Coast University You Can Find by Googling My Name Or Looking at My Mini-Bio and Remembering Which Famous Colleges Are in Rhode Island] which diverted my attention a bit, (c) Because I am a perfectionist who also realizes that he is lazy, and therefore made every bit of code I wrote idiot-proof for the idiot I knew I would be several months after I wrote it (which turned out to be time-consuming but useful, because I was right about that idiot thing), (d) My project ended up being nearly as large as things accomplished by groups composed of dozens of astronomers—but with just me working on it, (e) Dave is smarter than me.

This picture is me pouring champagne after the confirmation (which is always obvious to everyone other than the person presenting their PhD) that it’s all good, and you’re now a Doctor. I am, conveniently, standing in front of a case displaying former department heads. Other than the guy with the cool chemistry setup on the bottom, I’m the only one who got to know that the universe is much larger than the Milky Way and that the Big Bang happened. I mean, it wasn’t a thing I discovered myself, but it’s still weird.

With one day of distance from this experience I have two major observations. The first is that the passage of time has expanded drastically since the day, weeks ago, when I submitted my dissertation. My perception of time was strongly affected by how much I’d added to my thesis, and when I spent a few days getting something to work, but didn’t contribute pages to it, I felt like I was stuck in a moment and I couldn’t get out of it. Now that I’m done, time is again like it was when I was 8 and each new day was a new world of beautiful experiences to be savored. This whole PhD thing happened yesterday and it feels like years.

Secondly is the fact that my reviewers were fine with the several snide remarks and jokes that I sneaked in there. This, in itself, is ~50% as gratifying as the whole doctorate thing itself. I quoted Donald Rumsfeld and Stephen Colbert. I wrote snide footnotes about Albert Einstein and The Dress. And it will all be on a shelf on the [Semi-Prestigious East-Coast University] Library in perpetuity. That is the sweetest victory of all.

And yes, that is a tie with constellations on it. Because I’m a fucking astrophysicist.

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Naming Conventions

I work with a dude who has, on occasion, gone ham on a Diablo III character, and maximized its largess in, like, an hour and a half. I take inspiration from others accomplishing great things, and I have fond memories of playing D2 back when CDs weren’t yet regarded in the same way that one regards those bicycles with the giant front wheel. So I dove into III, and immediately discovered that it is much closer to work than play, compared to how I remembered its predecessor. I actually had to use two hands, in what is historically a one-handed game. The right hand saves humanity, and the other hand is used mostly for propping one’s head up after eight eye-rending hours of sprite-on-sprite homicide. The rule is similar to that of a car: if you have to use two hands, you suck at it.

They also turned the volume down on the procedurally-generated names of the monsters, or at least what I assumed was a procedurally-generated list. That was one of my favorite parts of D2. I can’t swear to remembering the names precisely, but they went something like:

  • Bludgeonskull the Bludgeoner
  • Zeke the Terror-Barber
  • Snot Rocket the Anti-Semite
  • Gary Kasparov the Chessmaster
  • Samwise the Brave
  • Ludacris
  • Rakanishu

The list in III is less inspirational, and most items seem to involve bones in some capacity, to which I say eh. As a shrug, not as a Canadian hiccup. It does give one pause when considering why any parent would name their child in this way; they virtually guarantee their life path by doing so. In the same way that naming a child Jeeves is essentially foregoing the expense of a college education.

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Something About Wall Art and a Ficus

I wrote a physics PhD dissertation. I am attempting to describe the experience in any number of words, but I am failing, like a cat attempting to long-jump from a slippery surface. If the Reader is familiar with the process of long practical writing, or with feline acrobatics, then the Reader hears me. If not, then I am unsure as to what common ground there is to go from. At that point I would doff my cap, shove my hands deep in my pockets, and turn away.

The act of generating a 300-page technical document left my creative homunculus “roont,” to borrow a word that Stephen King has left seared in my head. My tale since I last rapped poetic has been not unlike that of Moses, or the guy from Dune, except without suffering or followers or purpose. I moved, and I moved well, to a place where laundry does not require human sacrifice, and the fridge grows only the mold that I explicitly tell it to grow. I purchased a couch with a giant comfortable tumor, or “chaise,” which is French for couch-tumor. I purchased a dry bar, by which I mean I bought a cheap small bookcase and my girlfriend attached a wine rack to it and loaded it up with liqueurs both fantastic and gross. Fireball and Grand Marnier live side by side, which I believe was prophesized in Revelations somewhere. I don’t know where. 5:3? That might have been the ratio of Kahlua to vodka for something which was not Bible-related.

I have Wall Art, a phrase which GS once told me made his skin crawl. I agree, vaguely, with somewhat small magnitude on my agreement vector. Something called “Wall Art” seems like a filler where something more purposeful ought to be. I have a shit-tonne of it. It accumulated when my creative rage-font ran dry, and long swaths of bare paint began to disturb my sleep. There is nothing about Wall Art that is going to trick the homunculus into spending effort on the creative writing process again. The homunculus gives me the finger when it lays its beady eyes on my four framed pictures of the Moon above a small ficus which I can only at this point describe as undead. “Nope,” says it, for we used to party when I had precisely no weird shit like that. Expunging the solid buildup that accumulated in the word-faucet is now purely an exercise in bearing down and grunting.

I also wrangled me up a Costco membership. I have mostly purchased a year’s worth of field study on barely-contained rage. It seems to pervade the store. I am not sure where this comes from, though I posit the XXL shopping carts play a role. This is the opposite of what I expected for a place constructed out of discounts and volume, two things which drive us as a people. But haters can hate; my new membership came with a free rotisserie chicken and apple pie, which makes me one of the Devoted.

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Eponymity in Physics

This is a re-post of a piece I wrote on my old blog, Topography of Ignorance, back in 2007. It’s a list I compiled of the types of things you could get named after you that come in the form [Name][Type of thing], as in the word “Law” from “Moore’s Law.” There are the obvious ones like “equation” but the unusual terms are more interesting because there might be only a single example. The title is itself an adaptation of an obscure word, eponym, which I loosely interpreted to mean “anything named after someone.” I don’t think it’s a real word, and using it probably confused readers (it also could have confused them that it’s basically just a massive list with very little prose). To preserve the classic 2007 “feel” of the original post, I’m keeping the poorly-chosen title and format.  Plus, lists are now back in a big way! (What with your Buzzfeeds et al.) So it seemed like an appropriate time to bring it back. Will animate with Jennifer Lawrence GIFs as soon as I’m able…


A physicist wanting to make an impact on the field most often imagines his or her name attached to an Equation, or a Theory. Or even, if they really want to move mountains, a Law. I have no idea what mathematicians think about, but I would assume that they are hoping to come up with Theorems and Conjectures. Of course, not everyone is an Einstein or a Kepler, able to remake a subject and declare a Law. But if you carve out a niche for yourself, or invent a novel way of dealing with a certain topic, you’re virtually assured of getting something. For an elegant discovery, you could have an Angle named after you, or a Number. Or in a more bizarre direction, a Sea or Paradox. de Sitter has an entire Universe! Me? If I could become the first person since Isaac Newton with an eponymous Bucket I would consider myself a success. There are so many strange things you could find named in your honor that I have compiled an extensive list of them with some examples namesakes on the right-hand side.

First, some of the most common:

[A Unit] Newton, Gauss, Joule
[A Constant] Planck, Boltzmann
Function Riemann-Zeta, Bessel
Effect Mössbauer, Stark, Bohr,
Gunn-Peterson, etc.

And then of course, there are rarer terms. These trend very roughly from less to more obscure.

Field Fermionic, Bosonic, Higgs
Matrix Kobayashi, Cabibbo
Relation Heisenberg, Tully-Fisher
Principle Copernican, Pauli Exclusion
Model Schwinger, Bohr
Method Schrödinger
Postulate Planck, Weyl
Approximation Born
Minkowski, Fock, Hilbert
Metric Friedmann-Robertson-Walker,
Distribution Wigner, Bose-Einstein, Fermi-Dirac
___-on Fermi, Bose
___-ian Laplace, Hamilton, Riemann
Notation Dirac
Potential Coulomb, Yukawa
Action Stueckelberg, Proca
Inequality Minkowski, Bell
Limit Chandrasekhar
Tensor Riemann
Scalar Ricci
Gauge Newtonian
Diagram Feynman
Radiation Cherenkov, Hawking
Cycle Carnot, Born
Interpretation Bohm, Copenhagen
Paradox Einstein-Podolski-Rosen,
Olber, Fermi
Problem Rabi, Fermi
Experiment Milikan Oil Drop
Spectrum Mössbauer
Conjecture Witten
Interaction Yakawa
Amplitude Feynman
Operator d’Alembert
Particle Higgs, Planck
Neutrino Majorana, Dirac
Motion Brownian
Length Jeans
Number Avogadro, Chandrasekhar, Euler
Surface Fermi
Condensate Bose-Einstein
Radius Schwartzschild, Bohr
Convention Einstein Summation
Transform Forier, Laplace
Series Balmer, Lyman
Line Lyman, Balmer
Rules Slater
Scattering Compton, Rayleigh, Thompson
Variable Cepheid, RR Lyrae
Diffusion Bohm
Junction Josephson
Expansion Taylor
Manifold Riemann
Topology Picard
Mechanism Higgs
Peak Wein
Test Tolman surface brightness
Repulsion Coulomb
Epoch Planck
Parameter Hubble
[An Element]
Einstein, Fermi, Curie, Mendeleev, Lawrence, Nobel
Wavelength de Broglie
Boson Higgs
Profile Hernquist
Criterion Landau
Rigidity Born
Cross-section Thompson
Zone Brillouin, (also see, List of Zones)
State Hartle-Hawking
Angle Weinberg
Universe de Sitter, Lemaître
Sea Dirac, Fermi
Splitting Zeeman
Forest Lyman-alpha
Blob Lyman-alpha
Swindle Jeans
Trough Gunn-Peterson
Window Gamow
Cage Faraday
Engine Carnot
Bucket Newton
Tuning Fork
Golden Rule Fermi
Pancake Zel’dovich
Brain Boltzmann
Demon Maxwell

If anyone else is able to repeat that last one, I will be highly impressed. I would also like to point out that the Higgs boson may be the only phenomenon or concept that has two namesakes, since the term boson originally comes from Satyendra Bose! If you can think of anything else let me know and I’ll add it.



Pairs       . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Cooper

Focus      . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Cassegrain, Nasmyth

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In which I answer the evolution questions of hopeless people living without access to the internet

Buzzfeed has a collection of “questions”/smirking ignorance from people who consider themselves creationists. Since these are all such pat, easily-answerable questions I can’t resist taking a break between doing science, and helping teach science to people who are interested in learning it, to throw up a few answers to the questions of people who aren’t. None of the actual science ones ought to take a minimally interested person more than 30 seconds to find online, but since I can do each in 5 sec or less, let’s all save some time together! (Spelling mistakes faithfully transcribed!) (Smirkiness levels matched!)

1. “Bill Nye, are you influencing the minds of children in a positive way?”
I’m not him, but yes he is.

2. “Are you scared of a Divine Creator?”

3. “Is it completely illogical that the earth was created mature? I.e. trees created with rings… Adam created as an adult…”

4. “Does not the second law of thermodynamics disprove Evolution?”

5. “How do you explain a sunset if their is no God?”
Earth’s rotation.

6. If the Big Bang Theory is true and taught as science along with evolution, why do the laws of thermodynamics debunk said theories?”
They don’t.

I’ll try anything once.

8. “Where do you derive objective meaning in life?”
From being right about science.

9. “If God did not create everything, how did the first single-celled organism originate? By Chance?”
By natural processes. Also, ‘chance’, given millions of years and the right conditions, guarantees such a thing occurring. Also also, not fully understanding an event doesn’t imply that God did it.

10. “I believe in the Big Bang Theory… God said it and BANG it happened!”

11. “Why do evolutionists/secularists/huminists/non-God believing people reject the idea of their being a creator Gob but embrace the concept of intelligent design from aliens of other extra-terestrial sources?”
They don’t, you’re thinking of the film Prometheus.

12. “There is no in between… the only one found has been Lucy and there are only a few pieces of the hundreds neccessary for an ‘official proof’.”
The non-existence of “transitional” fossils is a myth. There are thousands of pre-human fossils. I will forward your objection to the Official Proof Commission.

13. “Does metamorphosis help support evolution?”
The Metamorphosis is a surrealistic short-story by Franz Kafka. Published in 1915, this German novella depicts the unexplained transformation of salesman Gregor Samsa into a horrific cockroach-like insect and his efforts to deal with his mysterious and terrifying condition.

14. “If Evolution is a Theory (like creationism or the Bible) why is Evolution taught as fact.”
‘Theory’ and ‘fact’ are not mutually incompatible concepts. Also, the Bible is a book, not a theory.

15. “Because science by definition is a ‘theory’— not testable, observable, nor repeatable’ why do you object to creationism or intelligent design being taught in school?”
See #14. Theories are all of those things and evolution has been tested and observed in a myriad of ways.

16. “What mechanism has science discovered that evidences an increase of genetic information seen in any genetic mutation or evolutionary process?”
Not an expert here but I’d venture the existence of forms of life with less complex genetic code. Also, if this is a reference to entropy, it only has to increase overall within an environment, not within every organism.

17. “What purpose do you think you are for if you do not believe in salvation?”
I’m pretty decent at parallel parking.

18. “Why have we found only 1 ‘Lucy’, when we have found more than 1 of everything else?”
There are literally thousands of other hominid fossils.

19. “Can you believe in ‘the big bang’ without ‘faith’?”
I do. But I ‘believe’ in it because there is evidence that it happened. If new evidence showed that it didn’t, I would change my mind.

20. “How can you look at the world and not believe Someone Created/thought of it? It’s Amazing!!!”
Cool story.

21. “Relating to the big bang theory…. Where did the exploding star come from?”
The big bang was a star exploding? I don’t even…

OK, these have been rough. Just one more left. Hopefully it’s not a super-dumb misunderstanding of one of science’s most important and beautiful theories that anyone can understand if they bother to take a couple seconds on the internet or ask a grown-up.

22. “If we come from monkeys then why are there still monkeys?”
Gosh, that’s a good one. That really sounds like a thoughtful new angle on this whole issue that biologists surely haven’t considered. I haven’t lost patience with this exercise or anything.
You know what? This cactus here is like, really old and wise and stuff. He says he’s been around hundreds of millions of years and he’s seen pretty much all of human history so why don’t you just get really close to his knowledge port and he can whisper it to you. Don’t be shy. Yeah, right in there…

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David Tennant’s Doctor Who, Adrift in Time?

Well, I found the 10th Doctor, adrift in history—specifically the history of whaling in Nantucket.

George Myrick Tennant

George Myrick Tennant

The familiar visage supposedly belongs to a “George Myrick Jr.,” ship owner and merchant, found while wandering the Nantucket Whaling Museum. A better image of the portrait and some of the cover story the good doctor made up to live as a whaling entrepreneur in the 19th century is here. Still looking for evidence of a sonic harpoon.

See also: “Doctor Who Theme for Ukulele

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It can do about warp 9.5 downhill

NCC-1701-D Car

Virginity: the final frontier.

These are the voyages of someone’s used Subaru 4×4. It’s continuing mission: to seek out new Magic: The Gathering™ tournaments and new replica Cylon figurines, to explore strange new worlds of beard grooming, to boldly go where no one else from his high school A/V club has gone before!


[In case it isn’t clear, we are both fairly rabid ST fans. Take no offense bearded Trekkers, you and I are of a kind. In different reality, I could have called you to talk about how JJ Abrams is ruining everything]


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