Tuesday, May 5, 2009


A new link for the sidebar. I don't even know if it's updating anymore, but Joey Comeau is brilliant in a dark and scary kind of way.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


So I'm wandering through my favorite liberal elitist grocery store, helping a friend of mine with a perennial search for unscented organic grass-fed free-range shampoo, and I run the above bottle, with an actual scientific-type equation on it, and two things immediately jump out at me. (a) It's almost certainly irrelevant to the shampoo. The equation in question is an expression for the energy of a particle with a magnetic moment mu in a magnetic of strength B. It's a dot product, and it's negative, because the energy is minimized when the magnetic moment and the magnetic field are aligned, which is when the dot product itself is maximized. (b) It's trademarked. Now, I'm not an expert in trademark law by any means, but this equation, in this form, with this notation (and even in this nice, seriffic font) appears in textbooks and scientific papers and who knows where else, millions of times over. It's a pre-diluted trademark. Maybe it's pre-diluted shampoo, too, though I suppose that's unlikely.
We didn't buy it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


So I went down to the National Mall for the inaugural, and I'm glad I did. Partially I went as a way of making up for the fact that I didn't do any celebrating on election night itself -- I live within walking distance of U street in Washington, DC, and I could hear some of the cheering, but I didn't go out.
So, the inaugural presented me with another chance to be part of this history, however slightly, and share the moment with a bunch of other people.
Getting down there was straightforward, the various choke points didn't present any serious obstacles, and I found a place just west of 7th Street, within easy sight of one of the jumbotrons, and from where I could see the Capitol itself, as well. I could even make out movement from time to time, using my binoculars.
It was awesome. The crowd was warm and friendly, strangers chatted and joked amicably, and we all cheered mightily when Mr. Obama made any kind of appearance on the TV. I liked the speech, and in particular enjoyed his promise to put science back into the policy-making apparatus. It's a pleasant change indeed to have a President who thinks, who understands the uses of rationality, and who can deliver his speechwriter's words with grace and fluidity.
The experience reminded me very much of the optimism of 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell, and we knew that the world had been transformed for the better. Like then, the Obama administration will surely have its problems and stumbles, and make mistakes, and irritate vocal core constituencies of the Democratic party, but still, it's hard not to think that here, again, has been a decisive transformation for the better.
It's also a fine lesson in the ability of the United States to reinvent itself. Really, there aren't a lot of countries where a member of a marginal minority could rise to such high office. When will Germany have its first black leader? Or for that matter, its first leader of Turkish ancestry? What about France? Even the UK, more of a melting pot than most European countries, and quicker to abolish slavery than the US, has a ways to go on that score.
Thinking of historical rather than geographic parallels, Obama reminds me of Canada's Pierre Trudeau -- he, too, was a member of a historically-marginal national minority, young, intelligent, and hopeful. And more than that, he didn't come from the Quebec political scene, just as Obama, though obviously sympathetic to it, does not himself come from the Civil Rights leadership.
Of course, Trudeau had his demons, too. But for now, I'm happy to just savor this unfamiliar sensation of optimism.