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SLAC has successfully commissioned it's newest death ray scientific instrument. Read more here.
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The American version of Life on Mars ended last night. I was glad that once ABC had decided to cancel it, they allowed the show to finish. The ending was completely different from the British version, and quite consistent with this series' gentler tone (and some odd clues that had been planted). Not the greatest series finale ever, but a nice wrap-up. My alternate denouement: the American Sam Tyler wakes up in bed with the British Sam Tyler, in a Chicago high-rise apartment.

bsg etc

Mar. 22nd, 2009 09:53 pm
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After initially ignoring the re-imagined Battlestar Galatica, I became a big fan sometime during season 1, and watched all the episodes in first run, and rewatched them on DVD. There have always been aspects of the show I didn't care for, but overall I really loved the style, performances, and most of the plot arcs. So I sat down to watch Friday's series finale with great anticipation mixed with a hint of anxiousness.

I'm not going to give any spoilers here, but have to say it was a bit of let down. But almost any ending would have been. So some of the plot threads were not tied up; some were not tied up the way I would have liked. And some of the resolutions just seemed too pat - would the characters really have decided to do that? But not awful, IMHO.

I decided to go to a BSG discussion board for the first time, to see what others thought, and see what I had missed or misinterpreted. I went to the one at scifi.com; the "rate and discuss finale" thread at that point was 120 pages. But the first 40 pages or so were just fans posting countdowns and describing their anticipation, so that was easy to skip. I continued to slog through, and found the not unexpected mix of rants, raves and the occasionally interesting post. For awhile I continued to be amazed at the number of people who seem to have missed obvious points or just had facts wrong. (OK, someone was wrong on the internet, and I had to correct them.) On the other hand, some people pointed out subtleties I had missed. [One thing I thought was a cheat probably wasn't.] Then I realized those were my working definitions: if I saw it, it was obvious; if I missed it, it was subtle.

It reminds me of a George Carlin bit: On the freeway, anyone who drives slower than you is a jerk who should get out of your way. Anyone who drives faster than you is a maniac for speeding like that. The freeway: it's just full of jerks and maniacs.
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OK, there's supposed to be a semicolon in that sentence, but that's how I originally read the TV listing for Wednesday's Early Show.

In today's Chron, the 96 Hours section has a short item titled "11 Things: Ethnic Food That Isn't". Number 1 is the Shamrock Shake; #2 is the California Roll ("sushi for people who don't like sushi"). And #9 is "Jalapeno Poppers: this variation of the chile releno was invented in Wisconsin, a state whose No. 1 export is deep-fried appetizers."

I did not know that.
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The physics community is a-twitter at the news that President-Elect Obama will nominate Nobel Prize winner Steven Chu to be Secretary of Energy. The Department of Energy is the federal government's largest sponsor of scientific research, over a very wide range of subjects (including particle physics and cosmology). But the job of Energy Secretary has too often been given out as political payback. And Steven Chu is just not an average Nobel Prize winner, but also has significant management experience (currently director of LBNL). People who know him think he has the temperament to survive and function in Washington. Let's hope so; after Bush's eight-year war on science, we could use a fresh approach.
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I finished Jo Walton's Half a Crown last week. As a suspenseful page-turner, I found it enjoyable. But I never really bought one of the two point-of-view characters. It also had one or two plot points that seemed just too convenient. But a satisfactory end of the trilogy.

I watched the rest of the first season of HBO's True Blood series (on demand) over the last couple of weekends. I liked it beter than I expected to. Lots of good plot twists. The 12 episodes nicely wrapped up the primary mystery for this season, while leaving other questions open, and introducing some more puzzles near the end (what's the deal with Michelle Forbes' character?).

And late one night this past weekend I happened to catch an episode of the syndicated Legend of the Seeker (sword & sorcery based on Terry Goodkind's novels). I had seen the first episode earlier this fall. You don't need to watch the credits to know its from the same people who did Xena and Hercules. I just find the main character ("the Seeker") too bland.
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instrumentality1, originally uploaded by John Bartelt.

I went on a tour of the new Linear Coherent Light Source today at SLAC. The civil construction was completed last month, and much of the equipment is in place. When it's completed, it will be a giant x-ray laser. A number of us agreed this was the cleanest, brightest, tidiest beamline (even considering it's brand new) that we had ever seen.

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I feel like I'm not fulfilling minac here. So what's new? My place of employment, Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, got renamed to "SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory" about a month ago. That was the least bad alternative. We don't have to change our domain, kerberos realm or AFS cell name, thank the gods. I had a tiny hand in launching the new website. It's still called "SLAC" for short, but "SLAC" no longer stands for anything (you can make of that what you will). This was all the result of DOE and Stanford lawyers butting heads.

I just finished reading John Varley's Red Lightning, the sequel to Red Thunder. I liked them, but I had minor issues. Red Thunder seemed to have a bit too many things going on, and the back story for a couple of the main characters dragged on a bit. Red Lightning is set a generation later, literally. The protagonist of RL is the 18-year old son of the hero of RT, who was 18 or 19 at the time of the first book. I'm curious as to why he chose to use a teenage narrator for each of the books. But, as I said, I enjoyed them.

The only new TV series I've been watching are My Own Worst Enemy and Life on Mars. I like Christian Slater in MOWE; I think he does a good job of playing the two distinct personalities. And I did not find the first episode confusing, as the Chronicle reviewer seemed to. My problem is: what's the point? They have not given a good reason for why they would invent and implant the second personalities in their secret agents. It seems to be a completely unnecessary complication. The plots are not that compelling, though they do keep throwing in new twists. But the show has been canceled and I won't particularly miss it.

This American version of Life on Mars is OK. The first episode followed the first episode of the British original very closely. They were able to add one very nice visual: the detective (Sam Tyler) from 2008 getting a look at the 1973 Manhattan skyline. But where the British version went for gritty realism, the American version seems to have a more nostalgic tone. Harvey Keitel as the police commander Gene Hunt is fine, but he doesn't have the edge, the ferocity, the appearance of being almost out-of-control, that the original Gene Hunt, Philip Glenister, had. I just saw the seventh (American) episode, and it followed quite closely the eighth British episode, which ended their first season. I'm not sure the other American episodes echoed the British that closely (though the sixth American episode was similar to the sixth British episode). I do think they are trying to bring something new to it. But a total of 16 episodes seemed about right for the British series to wrap it up. Is this really going to be sustainable for a whole American season of 22, much less more? I guess the show is on hiatus for a bit, since they said new episodes would start again in January.

I'm also still watching Heroes, though I am beginning to wonder why. The first season was fun. It got more muddled last season, and they have continued to have too many subplots and characters. I also watch Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicle and Bones and a few others. But I'm really just waiting for January and the final episodes of Battlestar Galactica.
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As you may have heard, two Japanese physicists (Kobayashi and Maskawa) and one Japanese-American physicist (Nambu) split the Nobel Prize for physics. All worthy of course, but Nambu's work is not that closely related to K&M's. The curious thing is that K&M's work built on previous work by Italian Nicola Cabibbo, and he did not win. The most frequent reference to Kobayashi and Maskawa is the "CKM Matrix", where CKM stands for Cabibbo-Kobayashi-Maskawa. The Nobel citation emphasizes the aspects of K&M's work which is distinct and goes well beyond Cabibbo's foundation. But was that tailored to fit the choice?

A Nobel Prize can only be split three ways, so if Cabibbo had been included, Nambu would have been out. But Nambu could win another year (assuming he stays alive: he is 87). Some Italian physicists have been grumbling and whispering there must be politics involved.

I see Cabibbo's Wikipedia article has already been updated to include this. Well, Cabibbo can still win, too: good luck to him next year.
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iSight, bad light, originally uploaded by John Bartelt.

Well, that's hideous. Blame it on the lighting.

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I get email every week from scientific publishers, and I'm sure they continue to sell my address to other publishers. This week I got one from a company I had never heard of before, the oddly named Praise Worthy Prize publishing company. One suspects that the writer is not a native English speaker. They were soliciting articles for a new journal which will be distributed to university libraries for free. Consider this sentence: "In such a way, the widest distribution and penetration both of the Review and of the job of the Author in the scientific community is assured." If you substitute "work" for "job", it makes a little more sense, though the "penetration" is still a little worrisome. But then this sentence really made me chuckle: "Thanks to the gratuitousness of the Review and to the high standard of the Editorial board we are expecting to become one of the most widely circulated and read Reviews in the field, in a short time." OK, I agree we don't really need another scientific journal anyway.

Elsewhere, on a volleyball board I got into a discussion of flaunt vs. flout. The original writer had used "flaunt" when he meant "flout", and I gently pointed that out. We managed to stay polite and avoid any kind of flame-war, and he posted a link to a Meriam-Webster dictionary which allowed that that usage ("flaunt" meaning "to ignore, scorn") was common, and maybe not even sub-standard. But the Wiktionary backed me. I like the distinction.
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In the last three weeks or so I've gotten four genealogical inquiries from strangers who have seen my genealogy website. Is it just because people are on vacation and catching up on their hobbies? Or has my Google rank suddenly shot up? Lord knows I haven't made a significant update to the site in a couple of years.

The first was regarding my mother's father's family, the Wallschlaegers. I dug through some old records and notes and found that I was indeed related to the woman who had emailed me. Then there was a guy who was descended from a Bartelt from Pomerania and was “sure” we are related. Sorry, but “Bartelt” was actually a very common name in that part of world; the odds of us being closely related are very slim. Last week I got an email asking about a Silesian village, Gross Ujeschütz, that another ancestral line (father's father's mother's, if you're keeping score) was from. I was able to pass along a little information that someone else had sent to me some years ago. And then this week I got an inquiry from someone who is descended from Martin Friedrich Bruss of Cammin in Pommern. Not to be confused with my own ancestor, Martin Bruss, or a third person, Martin August Bruss, all contemporaries in the same city. I actually did have some photocopies of records pertaining to her family, though there is no obvious connection to my own.

The most interesting query (to me), though, came at the end of last year. There is strong circumstantial evidence that that correspondent and I are related. My great-grandfather (mother's mother's father) was Hermann Sterz from Stieglitz, Posen. My correspondent's ancestor, named “Stertz”, was from the same village. But I know from the German church records that my ancestral family's name was spelled “Stertz” in the oldest existing records (early 1800s). My ancestors and her ancestors had been baptismal sponsors for each other. And it may be a coincidence, but my great-grandfather and her great-grandfather both look rather short in photos. But there is no actual record of a common ancestor; we can only speculate that perhaps her g-g-g-grandfather and my g-g-g-grandfather were brothers. That's part of the fun and frustration of genealogy.
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With the new friends I've gained since [personal profile] athenais' recent mention, I feel compelled to actually post something.  Well, Lucy's already mentioned the new iMac, iPod Touch and printer.  I've been busy transferring over our files and installing software on the iMac.  And playing with the iPod -- I've never had an mp3 player or a pda before.  Haven't had time to even take the printer out of the box.

I didn't post anything while we were on vacation in Wisconsin, but [personal profile] athenais pretty much covered that, too.  So let's talk volleyball.  I went to watch an AVP Pro Beach Volleyball event in Huntington Beach in early May (AVP is the highest level of Beach Volleyball in the US).    I ordered my tickets for this fall's Stanford Women's volleyball season.  USA Volleyball just announced who will be on the Olympic Women's (indoor) team.  It includes two former Stanford players, but neither of the current players who were training with them.  The Olympic team is going to play a scrimmage at Cal at the end of the month, before heading to Beijing, so maybe I'll BART over there to watch that.  I also went over to Santa Cruz on July 5th to watch an EVP Beach Volleyball event.  EVP is sort of a minor league tour, drawing mostly local players.  There was one current Stanford player competing, as well as a former Stanford assistant coach who had played on the AVP tour a few years back.  And I might head back to SoCal next week to catch another AVP event.  Boy, I still have a lot of volleyball photos to sort through.  

So, yeah, I guess I'm a busy volleyball fan this summer.

Lift Off

Jun. 11th, 2008 11:04 pm
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Since December, I've been working with a group at SLAC that is part of the collaboration which built a gamma-ray telescope. The satellite carrying it was successfully launched today. The instrument is the Large Area Telescope [LAT] on board the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope [GLAST]; yeah, sounds redundant. There is also a Gamma Ray Burst [GRB] detector on board, but we're not involved with that. The LAT is a joint NASA/DOE project.

You can see the official NASA website here, and an amateur video and photos here.

Since the launch got delayed by about a week, there were very few SLAC people at Cape Canaveral to watch it. Most of them were in an auditorium at SLAC, as was I. After the launch, we toasted it with ginger ale.

Pardon Me

Jun. 10th, 2008 07:39 pm
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Driving home I was thinking about Dennis Kucinch's futile motion to impeach. The following scenario occurred to me: (1) on Jan 19, 2009, Bush pardons Cheney (and perhaps other cabinet members, current or former, like Alberto); (2) then Bush (assuming he can't pardon himself) hands his letter of resignation to Condoleeza, and Cheney becomes the 44th president (I can picture Scalia swearing him in); (3) President Cheney then pardons Bush, much like Ford pardoning Nixon.

I don't really expect anything like this to happen. For one thing, it would require Bush and Cheney to consider that they might have done something wrong, and they seem way too self-righteous to ever do that.
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ma-jelly05-1900, originally uploaded by John Bartelt.

Lucy and I went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium on Saturday (I think it had been almost 20 years since I had been there). We spent the most time looking at the jellyfish exhibits. I've posted some photos to Flickr, like this one.

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So will 10,000 B.C. be a hundred times better than One Million B.C.?

Actually, I've never seen the latter (the original, starring Victor Mature); I've only seen the Raquel Welch remake, One Million Years B.C.. At least humans and mammoths did co-exist 12,000 years ago. Otherwise, the trailers make me dubious; but, hey, herds of wooly mammoths. I'll watch it.

I'm sorry to hear that the NBC series Journeyman is finished, a victim of the writers' strike (and maybe low ratings). I like time travel. I liked that it was set in San Francisco, though there were occasional screw-ups. Like the time the hero found himself in Golden Gate Park with the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge looming over him. Sure, I was confused about the geography, too, before I moved to the area. I liked Kevin McKidd and the rest of the cast. The stories got better as they went along. I was worried that the back story they started introducing was not going to pay off, and/or just be hoky. Don't have to worry about that now.

Curiously, the hero was a reporter for the fictional newspaper, the San Francisco Register. On ABC's Women's Murder Club, the perky reporter was also a reporter for the San Francisco Register. They couldn't come up with any other newspaper names?
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Been a while since I posted anything. Let's see: I didn't get laid off. Monday, I got a flat tire. When I got home after work on Tuesday, there was a San Bruno Police car parked in front of our house. He left shortly after I got into the house. But later that evening, another policeman came around to ask if we had seen or heard anything the night before. The church next door had been burgled (or burglarized as they say). We were of no help -- I vaguely remembered being awakened by a sound at some point in the night, which might have come from the direction of the church.


Thursday, Lucy and I stopped by the Peninsula Humane Society and visited with two cats. After sleeping on it, we adopted them and brought them home Friday. They're both long-haired orange tabbies, with similar bodies but distinct faces. They were two-for-one since they are bonded pair (possibly mother & daughter). Picture links: the younger one and the older one. So far they seem to be settling in.

ETA: We are still debating names for them. Suggestions welcome.
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The omnibus budget bill passed by congress and signed by the president just before Christmas is a disaster for American science. Funding for physics research was cut significantly below what the president had requested and what the house had passed. This, despite a strong, bipartisan consensus that funding for the physical sciences needs a healthy increase. In order to get the total under the budget ceiling, the appropriations committee cut science.

Particle physics is particularly hard hit: Fermilab will have to lay off 10% of it's staff, and the rest will be forced to take some unpaid leave. SLAC, which was already planning some layoffs, mostly voluntary, as the lab's primary focus shifts from particle physics to photon science, will also be laying off additional staff (I don't believe my job is in jeopardy). Its last major onsite particle experiment, BaBar, will be shutting down seven months early.

I can give links to more information if you're interested. The American Physical Society has set up a website to contact your representatives and the president regarding this issue. There is some hope for a supplemental appropriation; that isn't going to prevent the layoffs, but it could help ameliorate the longer term. The form letters are intended for physicists, but you can edit them as appropriate.
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Yesterday I baked "Mandel Rohr" cookies and today I made toffee bars. Although mandel rohr (German for "almond pipe") are an old family recipe, my mother didn't make them at Christmastime. (She would make six or eight types of cookies for Christmas: brown cookies, spritz, mandel kranz, chocolate kisses, anise drops, ....) But I really like them, and so does Lucy. I sometimes think about making them at other times of the year, but I usually don't get around to it. [The first time I made them, though, years ago, was to celebrate officially getting my PhD from the University of Minnesota (I had been living in California for five or six months at that point). I cut some in the shape of the state of Minnesota. At least one of my friends refers to them as "Minnesota cookies".]

Often my brothers will send me some home-made Christmas cookies, so I will get some of the traditional treats, too. And I'll send them some mandel rohr.

Mandel rohr require finely grating a half pound of almonds and some sweet chocolate; as usual, I did that the night before. Yesterday morning I mixed the dough; then I rested before doing the rolling out, cutting and baking. Handling the dough can be a little tricky since it can easily turn crumbly. The traditional way to bake them is to cut the dough into strips, three-quarters to one inch wide, about five inches long, and drape them over special mandel rohr pans. These are half pipes, about four inches in diameter and 14 inches long. I inherited my pans (I have two); I don't know if any others exist. (You can use an inverted loaf pan; I did that once and it worked OK.) This makes the cookies an interesting, three-dimensional shape. Which makes them bulky to store, and fragile to ship. I also just role out some of the dough and cut it with cookie cutters. How is it you can feel the thickness of the dough just by feeling the surface of the dough? Do you feel the resiliency of the dough? Is your hand (or hand and eye) really able to judge how far it is above the working surface? I've never quite understood it, but I can certainly do it. Once the dough is cut and on the pans, either traditional pipes, or two-dimensional shapes, the pans go in the oven. You have to be a little careful because they will burn pretty easily, especially the cookies near the edge of the pan. Once they're out of the oven, you dust them with powdered sugar.

Besides the pans, I also inherited the grater I use. It must be older than me. It works very well, but somewhere along the way I lost the wooden block for pressing the material in the hopper. I keep meaning to fabricate a new one, but haven't gotten around to it yet.

The mandel rohr recipe must be from my mother's side of the family. I don't know if it goes all the way back to Germany (my mother's mother's ancestors came from the Prussian provinces of Posen and Saxony), or if it's something they picked up in Watertown or Milwaukee. If you google "Mandel Rohr", you get nothing.

Toffee bars are a lot easier: mix up the dough, spread it in the pan and bake. I use my own recipe, based on a couple of cookbook recipes and some experimentation. I melt milk chocolate on the top after taking them out of the oven--that is one detail preserved from the way my mother made them.

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