11/30/2004

Today I received my driver’s license renewal form in the mail. Part of the form is updating my height, weight, and eye/hair color. The funny thing is, none of this information has changed in the last fifteen years. I weigh the same as I did in high school, I’m not any taller (or shorter) than I was, my hair is still blond (no grey yet!), and my eyes are bluish.

One wonders how long it’ll be before I put on a nice beer gut or go bald or something…

11/30/2004

Part of the magic and mystique of science– and the reason I have such a passion for it– is the fact that now and again, you have an opportunity to see something never before seen… and sometimes that thing is beautiful beyond words.

Astrophysics is particularly good at this; perusing images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope is a journey down a road of splendor and pictures so amazing, so grand, so awe-inspiring that it can humble you to realize there are such things… and we are but a tiny insignificant part of such a grand cosmos.

Today the Cassini-Huygens mission released some pictures of a Mimas fly-by. This is a small moon of Saturn (and, incidentally, the subject of the very first computer program I ever wrote) and an enigma of sorts because it survived an impact that should’ve splintered it. Although the picture here doesn’t show Mimas very well (it’s on the right side), it does show an amazing display of Saturn’s rings. The planet– or rather the clouds– are in the lower left, with rings at the bottom and top.

Magnificent.

11/29/2004

It occurred to me last night that I often spout and fume about how much America sucks. I find myself agreeing with people who bash Bush (sometimes just for the sake of bashing an easy target), and nodding when I read articles about how our country is going down the drain.

Now, I should be clear about something. Yes, I think America is headed in the wrong direction. Indeed, I think it’s been wrong for quite some time. But it’s ludicrous to pin all the blame on Bush and/or Ashcroft– although the two of them are certainly a tag team for destruction– and I recognize there are more forces at work (Congress, the courts, the general “roll over and take it” attitude of the public).

I suppose the real problem, and the reason I tend to be vocal about America’s woes, is because during my not-so-long life I’ve watched this country change so much for the worse. We’re bullies, we’re egotistic, and we’re self-centered. Oh, and we’re so supremely confident of our own infallibility that we can’t imagine why other countries dislike us so much.

On the other hand, America truly is a fantastic place to live, full of opportunity and promise, and offers to its citizens rights and privileges not found anywhere else on the globe. It’s not hard to see why this country has produced astounding scientific advances, social progress, and a populace that is accustomed to regular (and often heated) debate about its own political system. I think it’s great that we have these opportunities, and without them I certainly wouldn’t write some of the things I do.

It’s the erosion of these rights and opportunities that saddens me. To watch as Bush and his administration stifle scientific research, or fund national defense and “homeland security” (oh, how I’m tired of that phrase) at the expense of education, gives me grief. It’s such a short-sighted view, and it’s supported by so many short-sighted people, that I can only see an acceleration of the decline of this great nation. Again, I can’t say “Bush brought about the destruction of America”, but he’s carrying the banner and playing a big role.

So all in all, three cheers for America and the little remaining goodness herein. But down with Bush and all of the short-sighted lawmakers and corporations and people who think the things we’re doing today are actually going to improve anything.

11/28/2004

From a long missive on Kiro5hin by Roger Williams, where he discussed (among other things) the building of the atomic bomb:

Perhaps the biggest myth of the American national character is that we are the Good Guys.

Whenever this atomic subject comes up and my views come out I often get some pretty hostile responses. I think it’s because it’s hard, it takes a real shock to the system, to admit to yourself that your country didn’t just needlessly and horribly kill a few hundred thousand people; your country does stuff like that all the time. To recognize the magnitude of the problem is to realize that we are not, in fact, the Good Guys. And that’s a very traumatic thing to have to accept.

From America’s beginning we have been a nation of high ideals but low values. We’re the kind of nation that can accept the 3/5 compromise on slavery right after ratifying a document that says “all men are created equal.” We can hear something like the Dred Scott decision and most of us are fully capable of saying “sure, that makes perfect sense.” Then we can have a big old knock-down drag-out civil war on the issue that kills a few million people, as we trip over ourselves finding ever newer and cleverer ways to kill each other. Then we can pick silly fights like the Spanish-American war just because we don’t have anything else to do.

In a sense it was an accident that we came out of WWII looking like the Good Guys; it helped that we were sneak-attacked and that the Germans really went out of their way to make us look good by comparison. Under other circumstances the atomic bombings of two inhabited cities would have been roundly and widely criticized. But it seems that Teflon, which was invented for sealing surfaces at the Y-12 diffusion plant (not as popularly believed for the Apollo space program) kept the dirt of our misdeeds from sticking even before we started to apply it to cookware.

We went on after WWII to do a lot of Not Very Good Guy things, from the Cold War missile buildup to the Cuban Missile Crisis to Vietnam to Iran/Contra to Iraq. Now there’s a typically American approach to something we don’t understand very well; befriend both sides in a nasty long-standing conflict and then screw them both over! How to win friends and influence people, American style. When you’ve got the world by the tail you can do whatever you want.

Now as interesting things go, building the atomic bomb is one of the most interesting things ever to happen, and the fact that we still argue about it sixty years later is a testament to just how interesting it is. But it also isn’t a very Good Guy thing to have done. And America tends to be cool with things like that, even if we saw too many John Ford movies to admit we’re wearing the black hats in this show.

11/28/2004

Tonight was the night… Christmas decorations are going up. Once the outside temperature goes above the teens, I’ll probably get out there and take care of the lights. For now we’ll have to be satisfied with the tree and various holiday decor around the house.

11/28/2004

Last night was one of those magical winter nights… there was fresh snow on the ground, and the moon was a couple days past full and out in all its glory. The night was so bright that, in Laralee’s words, you didn’t need headlights to drive. It was bright enough you could read a book at midnight. Coupled with the quiet muffled peace of a snowy night, it was wonderful (although cold) to just stand outside.

It reminded me very much of the classic line, “The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow / Gave a lustre of midday to objects below…”

11/27/2004

Laralee and I watched “Footloose” about a week ago, and thoroughly enjoyed the music (if not the cheesy plot). Today, she was listening to Christmas music while she worked in the kitchen, and Kyra and Zack were both dancing in the family room. It was funny to watch because it was just like the movie: Kyra was obviously the accomplished dancer, and Zack was trying to copy her moves. He’d watch her and then try it himself and (no surprise, since he has my genes) fail miserably. Still, very cute.

Finally he gave up emulating her and just went into his usual: the ever-popular Epileptic Seizure Dance.

11/25/2004

I made a batch of chocolate cookies the other day. I’d been craving them for a while, so I finally called Mom and got the recipe. Unfortunately, I think I need to change something in the recipe to account for the high altitude, because instead of nice puffy cookies I ended up with a single large chocolate sheet about an eighth of an inch thick…

11/23/2004

“Progress isn’t made by early risers. It’s made by lazy men trying to find easier ways to do something.”

— Robert Heinlein