Archive for May, 2006

Could Fox News Find Iraq on a Map?

Mt. Merapi in Indonesia
Merapi in “Idaho”

Does asking Jim down in marketing constitute “fact checking” at Fox News? How else does one come to describe Mt. St. Helens as being in Oregon? (St. Helens, though closer to Oregon than say British Columbia or Peru, is still unquestionably and entirely contained in Washington State.) First you learn how to report the location of a volcano, and then, if all goes well, maybe we’ll through you in as an alternate on the local school board beat. I know you are full of enthusiasm Fox News, but first you have to prove yourself: baby steps, baby steps.Speaking of “fair and balanced”, this is why the only prudent response to political ads on TV is one finger in each ear and a humming noise just shy of skull-cracking resonance.

Hey, Fox News, one last question for you: from which direction would you invade Iran?

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“Never Mix Alkali Metals with Water”

Speaking of elements…  Brainiac: Alkali Metals

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Argonne Workshop

Argonne National Labratory logoLast week I made a trip to Argonne National Laboratory to give a talk at the The North American Standard Model and Higgs Physics Workshop. I gave my presentation on Friday the 28th, but the workshop started on the 27th (and there was a software tutorial on the 26th). Unfortunately, I had an exam on the afternoon of the 27th, so I had to miss at least half of the show. Before my exam I checked out a car from the University motor pool. Then, in the evening, right after the exam Jeremy, Monica, and I cooked a nice dinner before I drove the 4 1/2 hours to Chicago, where Argonne is located.

The trip went fine, though I got a little lost less than a mile away from the Lab. My directions from Google Maps lead me astray. It mentions an incorrect or very misleading turn and I hadn’t looked at the map in enough detail to recover. The route it gives, though not bad, wasn’t the most efficient or robust (it’s better to stay on the freeway longer). Adding slightly to my difficulties was my stop at a gas station to ask for directions. The attendant not only didn’t know anything about Argonne, the giant complex almost a stone’s through away, but he didn’t seem to know English well enough to understand my question “Where am I?” When a guy is looking questioningly at a map and he asks you something do you even need to understand the language to know what he might be asking? I’d think it would be obvious enough, and in response all you need to do is point! It is possible, though baffling to a map-centric person like myself, that he just didn’t know where his gas station was on the map.

I finally arrived in my guest room a little after midnight local time (1am Ann Arbor time; I had left at 8pm). The guest house is quite nice, no different than any mid-level hotel, very new, and my room had huge windows facing a nice patch of woods. You can see pictures in the gallery.

Comparing only the campuses, I’d say Argonne is certainly nicer than CERN (though CERN still wins hands down if you consider the surounding mountains and lake). The buildings are in a couple large groups with a few others scattered around. Between the buildings is a good quantity of trees and a few significant hills. Argonne is surrounded by the nice Waterfall Glen Forest Reserve that I visited on my way out Satuday morning.
At least the part of the conference that I attended seemed to go fine. It went a bit late, as these things always do. My talk went fine, the content and presentation wasn’t anything very groundshaking though. At dinner I was surprised to discover that they use the Guest House much like any other hotel; kids from a Lutheran highschool were arriving in tuxedos and gowns for a dinner and dance. It is surprising because access to the site is somewhat restricted, so there is the slight hassle of registration before you arrive, but maybe it is the only hotel with a ballroom in the area. The first evidence of the event was the DJ unloading his equipment at the door of the hotel. Initially I mistook his lighting equiptment (a ball with colored panels attached to a motor) for some sort of fascinating scientific appuratus.Before going to bed I helped Bing grade the final exams for her class. The problems looked like fun ones, but grading is always a painful thing to do. Bing was nice enough to give me the easier problems to grade.

I accidently set the horribly designed clock radio&emdash;the buttons that set the time should never be the easiest ones to press&emdash;ahead two hours when I groggily groped for the snooze button Saturday morning. I lept out of bed in a panic a few minutes later when I woke, checked the clock, and thought I had just slept for two hours. The result was that I got going earlier than you would expect from a chronologically retarded person such as myself. There were so many people parked around the entrance to Waterfall Glen as I was leaving I thought I had to stop by and check it out. It is a very nice place for a stroll, run, or a bike ride. I even saw a few people with horses. The falls aren’t spectacular, but just walking through the woods or along the river is nice enough.

There are pictures in the gallery.

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Europium in the Euro.int

100 Euro banknoteIn the previous entry I mentioned the rare element Europium. I still an not sure how expensive Europium is and whether it, or some other special element, is a factor in the high cost of full spectrum florescent bulbs, but I did run across an interesting side note. The element may be an important ingrediant in the design of the Euro notes. Though a topic such as this is obviously a senstive one, this article describes what it can.

By the way, while I was looking for this image of a Euro banknote I noticed that the official European Union website is in the .INT top-level domain, something I hadn’t noticed before. I think it is quite cool, and it is in a very exclusive club. I wish my existance was governed by an international treaty so I could join the club. (There is some slight hope for the rest of us: somehow those sneaky bastards at the YMCA got a domain in .INT, and they certainly weren’t created by an international treaty.)

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The Wonder of Matches

Burning homemade matchI found this article about making matches fascinating. The wonder is not the fact that you can make them yourself (it is quite easy, it seems, if you can pick up some red phosphorus and potassium chlorate), but the discussion about the volatility of the mixture in the last half of the article. It has really never struck me how lucky we are to have matches, not because they work but because they only work when needed. Since just a little friction causes them to explode in flames it might rightfully be argued that it is more a miracle that modern matches don’t light themselves on their own, even very occasionally. Early matches and their factories were actually quite dangerous.

By the way, I found lots of other fascinating things on the periodic table table site, which is fun to browse if you are an element nerd.
Speaking of elements, diving further into my web browsing journey I discovered that an important element in compact fluorescent bulbs is Europium. (That link is from this periodic table display which looks like a lot of fun.)  My guess is that this is one reason they are relatively expensive.

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They Are Made of Meat!

A great adaptation of a short story by Terry Bisson, one I vividly remember reading as a child.

Discover the meat

(via BoingBoing)

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