Dec 18 2022

Nerd heaven!


There I was, minding my own business, preparing a blog post.   Thought I’d take a break, and popped over to Twitter to see what’s up there… and:

Randall Munroe’s online comic xkcd has a lovely interactive game  today, where you can pilot your ship to explore different planets full of SF/F references. And one of them has a steerswoman!


I cannot express how chuffed I am at this!   I love xkcd, nerdly nerd that I am.   And look, there’s a steerswoman in it! Right there!

Seriously, how cool am I now?

The interactive game is quite complex and varied!  Navigation is tricky, and seems only possible on a computer with a keyboard.  And it’s a bit counter-intuitive, as GRAVITY seems to actually operate.  You can get caught in a gravity well, loop around in orbit of something just out of sight, or spin off into space if you’re not alert.  I ended up in the center of the Sun more than once, and my little ship did not have enough ooph to escape.

I have so far been unable to actually reach the steerswoman’s world… if you manage to get there, let me know how you did it!

(If you get stuck, I think the fastest way to reset is to hit “previous” and go to a previous comic, then hit “next” to get back and start all over.)



Feb 12 2016

The buzz: waves!


I awoke this morning to find the Internet all a-buzz with the news that gravitational waves have been detected!

The press conference was at 10:30, and I totally missed it due to: a) waking up late (I’m a night-owl; I make no apologies); and b) using the first half-hour I’m awake every day to write something (literally, before speaking a word to another human, or reading a single line of words in any medium, I try to write something, anything).

Fortunately: Hooray Internet.  Because the entire press conference was made available on YouTube:

This served as a good incentive to go to the gym, since Planet Fitness has free wifi, and I have an iPad  for just such circumstances.  Also for Netflix.  I make no apologies.

For a quick general-public explanation of what the fuss is about, here’s a link to a New York Times article that includes a nice video.

As well as the big-news rush of this discovery, I find myself delighted by the very cleverness of the design of the LIGO apparatus itself.  Splitting a light beam, reflecting it back and recombining in such a way that the waves cancel each other out, and there is no light ( yes, half a beam of light plus half a beam of light equals no light, if you do it right) — UNLESS one of those mirrors moves even fractionally.   If there’s light detected, that means something moved.  And suspending things, such that local vibrations are minimized — How smart is that?  I love the little demo they give in the press conference.  (Also amusing: the part where the reporter from TASS pointed out that the Russians thought of this fifty years ago.)

The day before the announcement, physicist Sabine Hossenfelder’s blog had a nice introduction to gravitational waves, somewhat more technical than the New York Times, which she posted because rumors about the discovery were flyin’.

And Randall Munroe of XKCD even broke with his publishing schedule to do a comic on his off-day to commemorate the event today:

Actually, my first news of all this came on Facebook, where author Amy K. Nichols (fellow Schrodinger Cat from the workshop last year) was already sharing links.

She also brought this to my attention:

[UPDATE: bad link! Go to OK GO’s own website to view the video]

Everything’s happy when there’s a new OK GO video…






May 17 2015

How many random things does it take to make a post?


Still at loose ends, trying to plow through a collection of largely disconnected chores and tasks and stuff that otherwise need action or decisions on my part…

But!  Need to blog… So, here are some random things I’ve done, read or noticed:

Over at Chad Orzel’s science blog at Forbes online from a couple of weeks ago,  Chad explains why a particle’s momentum will increase when you confine it (contrary to what intuition tells us), by relating it to strings on a guitar, which was THE critical analogy for this finger-pickin’ gal (Emmy the dog’s contributions aside).   When he said that, I went from “WTF?” to “Of course! Makes perfect sense.  Could not be otherwise.”

When you shorten a guitar string, you limit the number of frequencies at which it can vibrate.   Some wavelengths just won’t fit on that string anymore.  The longer wavelengths go away.

On a guitar string, frequency relates to pitch.  You shorten the useable length of the string by putting your finger down on it, pressing it against the fret.  Only the part of the string between your finger and the bridge can now vibrate.  And it’s shorter.  So: you get a higher note.

Obviously –  and absolutely according to my natural intuition as a guitarist.  Makes perfect sense.

And for a quantum particle, wavelength relates to momentum.  Confine it, and the range of possible wavelengths becomes limited — to shorter wavelengths.  So the damn thing is moving faster.

Could not be otherwise, right?  That’s lovely.

Then Chad gives us a video of guitarist Richard Thompson (ALIAS GOD!), so, that’s  a bonus.

Also, speaking of guitars:

Once the crazy chemo finger-pain was gone, and my post-chemo peripheral neuropathy diminished (probably as much as it’s going to), I had wanted to get my playing chops back.  I’m spending tons of time at my new office, and for a lot of the time I’m the only one in the building.  So, why not play guitar there?  But I  didn’t want to be hauling my guitar back and forth every day…

I already owned a “backpacking” guitar: a sturdy guitar with a small body.  I figured I’d just bring that to the office one day and leave it there, handy to grab at odd moments.  Sure, it didn’t sound particularly good, but as long as it stayed in tune, it would keep my fingers exercised.

Except: it was the crappiest instrument ever!   The strings were a mile above the fret board!  The intonation wandered away to the hinterlands by, like, the third fret.  The neck was fat enough to double as a baseball bat!

There are some guitars where you’re just doing yourself damage to play them, and that is definitely one.  I’d forgotten how evil a device it was.   I think it was made by LL Bean.

I’m trying to get myself back to performing level, but playing a guitar that PUNISHES me was not going to encourage me in any way.

So I did a bunch of research and settled on this lovely:

Washburn Rover

Washburn Rover


The Washburn Rover is a  “travel” guitar – essentially a higher-end backpacking guitar.  Absolutely playable,  quality materials, great workmanship.

Key points: A full-length fingerboard, instead of a shortened one.  I’m going to be establishing habits, and I want them to translate directly over to my full-sized instrument.  Of the travel guitars available, this one had the full-sized fingerboard.   Strings not too high off the fingerboard.  Spruce top, mahogany body.   Compensated bridge, which I did not expect! And very, very affordable.

It feels way better in my hands that I’d thought possible for a guitar at that price.   And the tone does not suck!   It doesn’t sound like a full-size guitar, by any means — but it has its own characteristic tone, which I actually like.  I’m thinking that for certain very roots-style songs, I might even prefer the sound.

Last random thing: over at xkcd, Randall Munroe has an Emojic 8-Ball that has to be seen (and used) to be believed.

If you believe in that sort of thing…