steuard: (lake)
Tuesday, April 9th, 2013 11:23 am
I just received the American Physical Society's monthly newsletter, APS News. In the "Letters" section, they published a letter entitled "Nothing Wrong with Fewer Women Physicists" by someone names Jeffery Winkler from Hanford, CA. Winkler was evidently "shocked" by a February article about how encouraging women to pursue careers in physics is a priority for the APS.

I won't try to formally rebut his arguments, but it's like shooting fish in a barrel: this guy thinks he's boldly standing up for some moral principle, but his entire letter is a classic example of sexism and ignorance. He insists that targeting any particular male/female ratio is equally wrong, whether 50/50 or 100/0. He then says, and I'm not making this up, that nurses, elementary teachers, and secretaries are 90% women and "Nobody thinks that's a problem." So clearly, he says, it's just as unreasonable to push for greater equality among physicists.

I have no idea how this tripe got published in the newsletter; maybe they were low on content this month. (I've already written to ask.) Not that I'd object to having a serious discussion about how and why we should encourage women to study physics! But this clearly isn't an example of that. Instead, it's an example of how much sexism is still present in the physics community and of how that sexism gets reinforced. And that's deeply frustrating.
steuard: (lake)
Friday, January 25th, 2013 08:22 pm
Glee-fan friends: I hear that last night's episode featured a fun cover of "Baby Got Back". I hope you liked it! It's a great parody arrangement written by Jonathan Coulton, one of my favorite singers today. You should check out his music; some suggestions to get you started are here: http://www.jonathancoulton.com/primer/listen/

For what it's worth, the Glee folks were pretty cruddy in the way they treated JoCo. They didn't give him any sort of credit on the show; in fact, they didn't even tell him they were using his work. NPR had a great writeup about it here: http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2013/01/18/169706944/ive-heard-that-somewhere-glee-covers-baby-got-back-and-it-sounds-familiar Meanwhile, Coulton's own blog about it is here: http://www.jonathancoulton.com/2013/01/18/baby-got-back-and-glee/ As a JoCo fan, I wish that Glee had found a way to express some gratitude to him.


Oh, and a final comment: When Ace Books used a copyright loophole to print an edition of The Lord of the Rings behind Tolkien's back, Tolkien added a note about it to the next authorized edition: "This paperback edition, and no other, has been published with my consent and co-operation. Those who approve of courtesy (at least) to living authors will purchase it, and no other."

If you share that sentiment, here's a direct link to a page where you can buy JoCo's recording of the song: http://www.jonathancoulton.com/wiki/Baby_Got_Back

(And, y'know, at least Ace Books printed Tolkien's name on the cover.)

[I'm guessing that a lot of my friends here are more likely to know the JoCo side of this story than the Glee side, but I wanted a more "solid" home for these comments than Facebook.]
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Friday, July 1st, 2011 11:15 am
I finally got a memory card for my Samsung Alias 2 phone, but when I copy MP3s onto it and say "scan card for new music" the phone always randomly *reboots* after it's processed 20-100 of them. The songs already processed work just fine, but further attempts immediately fail. (The 4GB microSDHC card is the same brand that Samsung sells on their site under "accessories" for this phone.) What the heck is going on?

[I've already tried: 1. Repartitioning the card into two 2GB partitions, just in case there was a size limit that I didn't know about (and that Samsung was ignoring in their own store). I went back to a single 4GB partition after that didn't help. 2. Deleting all the irritating auxiliary file cruft that my Mac saves onto the card alongside the actual music. 3. Loading files in smaller chunks. (The first 35 song chunk worked fine, but it rebooted during the next 33 song chunk.) But I've had it crash as early as song #24 or so, too: I've yet to identify a pattern.]
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Saturday, March 26th, 2011 12:17 pm
The world here had begun to warm up and start looking like spring, but a few days ago Winter decided that it wouldn't go away without throwing one last, nasty punch. So we got a layer of ice, then a layer of wet, heavy snow, then another layer of ice, and finally another layer of wet, heavy snow. That made clearing the sidewalks and driveway a real pain: doing any shoveling by hand was hard because of the solid ice layer in the middle (and on the bottom), and even our pretty spiffy snowblower usually needed two passes or more to clear the ground. (It would often start by just plowing on top of the middle ice layer.)

But the worst victims were the plants. The initial coating of ice was a perfect surface for heavy snow to accumulate on, and the second ice layer just served to lock the snow in place. The weight proved to be too much for an old tree in our front yard. Toward the end of the storm, it ended up splitting down the middle. A big segment fell across the sidewalk, and the rest fell to the side, crushing the fence and the neighbor's bushes. Here's a picture taken after I'd already gotten the sidewalk clear:

For comparison, here's what the tree looked like (from another angle) when we bought the house: I'll tuck the other pictures away off of your Friends pages... )
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Tuesday, December 7th, 2010 10:39 am
A couple months ago, we replaced the aging windows in our guest room/my office with nice new energy efficient ones, and it's already made a big difference in the comfort level in that room. (It still gets a bit chilly on cold nights, but there's only so much we can accomplish with a room that's essentially a converted attic.)

Now I just need to get someone to replace the nice big window in my office on campus: it's freezing in here when the cold just rolls down from the glass and across the desk into my lap. (The aluminum window frames presumably don't help. What crazy person uses highly conductive metal window frames in a cold climate?) Time for me to put on a coat...
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Tuesday, November 9th, 2010 11:31 pm
Last weekend, I decided to go ahead and take advantage of the college's flu vaccination offerings. I had a choice between a shot and a nasal spray.

With the shot, you get jabbed with a needle that squirts dead flu viruses into your arm. This inspires your body to produce antibodies to them, so side effects may include a sore arm, fever, and aches.

With the nasal spray, you get live flu-like viruses squirted up your nose. They're designed to be inactive in internal body heat, so they can infect your nose and possibly throat but not your lungs. Not surprisingly, side effects may include runny nose, headache, sore throat, and a cough.

I opted for the nasal spray, but maybe I should have just opted for a different week: I've got to grade exams, but I've felt tired and sniffly for days. Annoying, that. (It may not be entirely the vaccine's fault, but I'd be surprised if there were no connection at all.)
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Tuesday, October 5th, 2010 10:21 pm
I'm not a libertarian. But there's still something oddly creepy when your local government gets into the business of regulating trick-or-treating in what seem like crazy ways. This year in Alma, the city's approved Trick-or-Treat hours are 5:30-7:30 p.m. on October 30.

First of all, why in the world is this not on Halloween? I mean, yes, I can imagine that some days would be more convenient than others in principle, but we don't reschedule Christmas and New Years when the timing's bad. (Or at least, I hope we don't! I was out of town for the winter holidays last year.) I remember one year growing up when Lincoln, NE rescheduled trick-or-treating for a different night, but that was because there was a blizzard just before Halloween.

And second, what's up with those hours? The scheduled time runs from one hour before sunset to right around twilight (at 7:30 it will still be light enough to see the general shapes of things even without streetlights). When I was a kid, a significant aspect of Halloween was the spooky atmosphere. I have fond memories of houses with cool jack-o'-lanterns and some fairly intricate scary scenes in their yards, and as I got older I had fun jumping out of the shadows by our porch in costume to scare trick-or-treaters. Absolutely none of that works if the sun hasn't even set when the kids show up! Last year, by the time it was dark enough to see the candles in our pumpkins (7pm or so), practically nobody was still out in the neighborhood. (It's pretty clear from the timing that this is some "Think of the children!" safety measure, but I'm curious to know how much harm it actually prevents. Is it a big enough benefit to make it worth gutting the holiday this way?)

I had always hoped that when I finally owned my own house, I could eventually do cool stuff for Halloween. Sadly, the way things work here I don't think there would be much point.

(I really have to wonder why that city trick-or-treating message bothers to suggest reflective costumes: won't sunlight on all that reflective gear blind passing motorists? Flashlights would have been useless for most of our trick-or-treaters last year, too.)
steuard: (physics)
Thursday, April 30th, 2009 11:10 am
You know what I hate about computers? Or rather, to be totally unfair, about PCs? When they go wrong it's a complete disaster, and yet they leave you feeling like it's your fault.

Whiny details behind the cut. )

To get back to my original point, I walked away from this maddening, disappointing experience feeling like I was the one who had done something wrong. If only I had gotten to the classroom even earlier before class to get things set up, my lecture would have gone smoothly. If only I had spent more time using PC laptops lately, I would have known what to do. If only I'd been smarter about what to search for in help, or about where to look for the right settings, or about hunting through all the special Dell-specific function key labels on the keyboard...

But it doesn't have to be that way. Every single time I have gone to give a talk with my Powerbook (including the very first), it Just Worked. At the worst, all I had to do was to pull down the little display menu at the top and click "Detect Displays" (or open the Displays preference pane and hit the same button, or search for either "displays" or "mirroring" in system help, or...). Yes, I know "It Just Works" is an advertising slogan, but it's also been exactly my experience. You shouldn't have to outsmart your computer to make it work.
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Saturday, January 10th, 2009 10:15 am
Kim and I took US Airways to and from Nebraska for the holidays. US Air, as you may know, has decided to charge passengers for non-alcoholic drinks during the flight, including water. I have no problem with them charging for soft drinks and juice, but given the risk of dehydration during air travel I think it's irresponsible not to at least provide plain water for free. (Kim fortunately knew about this in advance, so we brought a water bottle of our own.)

On our flight home, I thought of an interesting way to protest this policy. The airline always explains that the in-flight magazine is yours to keep, but almost no one does. What if passengers who don't like the "pay to drink" policy decided to take them home as souvenirs? (Or for immediate recycling. Or as burnt offerings. Or...) It's easy to do, and I'm sure it would cost the airline more than drinking water.

Like most boycotts or protests it would be pointless to do alone, but I think it could make a point if enough people publicly participated. Is this a reasonable idea? And if so, what's the right way to publicize it?
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Saturday, March 22nd, 2008 12:09 am
I appear to have a serious problem with my laptop, and I'm wondering if any of the technically savvy folks I know have any advice on what to do about it. Since I'm guessing that most people aren't particularly interested in reading about problems with my four(?) year old Powerbook (possibly related to overheating), I'll hide most of this behind a cut. (Whether you have technical advice or not, I'd also welcome any thoughts or advice on whether the tech support people in my local Apple Store are a reasonable option in a situation like this.)

The timing on this is particularly poor, since I'm giving the physics colloquium at Mudd on Tuesday. (My presentation is backed up in several places, but I'd planned on updating it a bit before then. In any case, I should start looking for a computer to borrow to give it with. Hmm... maybe the other folks in my office would have one to lend for the day.)


More details than you ever wanted to know... )
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Sunday, September 23rd, 2007 03:21 pm
I think (I hope?) that I have finally seen the end of a long struggle with United Airlines. For the impatient, the moral of the story is to never, ever try to book airline tickets for more than one person together if one of them is redeeming any sort of credit or voucher.

The story follows... )

So the agent on the phone stated the price of the tickets, adding, "Plus a $15 telephone ticketing fee." I asked what exactly that fee was for, and he said, "Oh, sorry, my mistake; that fee is waived." Kim and I then proceeded to go to the airport to turn in the voucher. Everything went perfectly smoothly until the very end, when I was told "And of course we're adding a $20 airport ticketing fee, since your wife's ticket could have been handled online."

I'm not terribly happy with United just now. But at least this whole credit/voucher headache is finally behind us.