Saturday, October 29, 2005

Buckyballs mourn throughout the galaxy

Rick Smalley, the co-discoverer of C60 (aka buckyballs) has died. (via Instapundit)

Buckyball research was actually done by a fairly small crowd. I wasn't a major player in the grand scheme of things -- did lots of photoemission spectroscopy on doped thin films, tracing the elusive Fermi edge for the superconductivity people. But I met Rick, and even argued science with him. Three days before he and his colleagues won the Nobel Prize. (Not going into all the gory details, he was speculating about something that I had actually done the experiment on -- but not published -- and data trumps theory. Even if the data comes from a scruffy postdoc and the theory comes from someone outstanding like Rick Smalley. I love science ...)

He had a dry wit and a face that rarely showed emotion. Sometimes the edges of the eyes crinkled and the ends of his mouth turned up a few millimeters -- you had to watch carefully. And anyone who constructs a molecular model using toothpicks and gummy bears is all right in my book.

He will be missed.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Number Theory

Lot of commentary on the number 2000 of late. I wonder if the moonbats really thought the rest of us would suddenly flip, like the Earth's magnetic field is supposed to do pretty soon, and agree with everything they said? They really should get out more, and by that I mean LISTEN to people who have actual, verifiable different opinions. All the hoopla about the Deaths in Iraq made *me* think is that the moonbats are idiots, and here's proof. Nice of them to confirm they are still nuttier than a fruitcake factory, in this everchanging world they are a soothing constant. Here are Snarkatron's Fun Facts about the number 2000:
  • About the number of fatalities I expected for the invasion alone. What our military has done is nothing short of miraculous. 2000 dead in 2.5 years is less than the usual *accident* rate in the military. Absolutely phenomenal.
  • Less than 3,000, the number of people killed in the 9/11/2001 attacks.
  • Less than 5,000, the estimated number of Kurds in Halabja gassed by Saddam. Using WMDs all the moonbats say never existed. VX, sarin, and mustard gas certainly sound like WMDs to me. (I actually had a liberal tell me, after I mentioned this little incident, "but that was over ten years ago." Like those poor people weren't STILL DEAD ten years later.)
  • every single one of the human individuals represented in that sobering number was a volunteer.

You know what I'd like to see? A count of all those in the military that the moonbats cared about BEFORE they died. The ones they allegedly supported? Do they even know their names? What they did, what they thought, whether *they* thought the fight was worth it? I'm guessing that number wouldn't even crack double digits. Hypocrites.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Objects in Life Closer Than They Appear

Been quiet for a while. No, I haven't run off to Uzbekistan to follow my dream of becoming a camel smuggler. Or won the lottery, dammit. Just had a whole bunch of life land on me, much like suddenly unplugging a hose. Good stuff, mind you. Got a new job with better pay and more interesting work. My second career, writing, also experienced a great unblockage. People are going to PAY MONEY for something I wrote! Expect more details later. Many, many more details than you probably want or need, but you don't understand! This is my baby, and I've only been gestating the thing for three years. I also set up the home network and wireless router. Karma compels me to state that I had to call tech support to get all the bits to play nicely together, and I think I got re-routed to an alternate dimension. The helpdesk tech was NICE, and he kept trying until we got it to work -- and when we did, he didn't hang up at the speed of light, but had me check everything to make absolutely sure the gizmo was happy. So NetGear, I am officially a Happy Customer. And look! I'm telling the blogosphere about it!

I see the political circus has been busy while my attention has wandered. At least, they've been through the town and nobody is cleaning up after the animals. What is in the water in DC? Are they all drinking stupid juice or something?
  • Reason number 2,345 for Harriet Miers to give up and become a beachcomber: Anybody who is greeted like warm tuna-flavored jello by fellow conservatives (never mind the raving Democrats) and DOESN'T gracefully decline the honor of being nominated to the Supreme Court doesn't have the sense to come in out of the rain. I don't care how much of a pioneer she is. So was Daniel Boone, and the guy had BO that would stun a goat. The one positive from this whole mess is maybe we'll think about what the requirements for the highest court in the land should be. Besides a pulse.
  • If I understand the DIA correctly, Lt. Col. Schaffer misappropriated some government pens when he was 15 years old, and somehow that is more important than knowing about Mohammad Atta before he altered the New York City skyline. Well, that settles it. I can *never* consider public office. I can explain about the frogs, really. The rest is a bit dicy, and the incident with the beets .... nope, not going to go there.
  • Mugabe tells the UN that America is the cause of all evil and is applauded. Ya know, last time I looked Mugabe and his thugs were the only ones in his country who weren't skinny as rails. And it didn't use to be like that. Guess there is more to farming than sitting around waiting for crops to magically grow, who would have thought WORK was involved?
  • My evil Senator Patty Murray (I should say, *one* of my evil Senators) threatened to examine closely all state appropriations bills that came her way if the first Porkbusters cut (submitted by Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma) was passed. Honey, that's what we WANT. Jeebus. Where do these people come from and how can we get them to go back there?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

A long-held grudge

Back in the days when I was still a practicing physicist, I found myself at the D.C. Naval Research Lab as an NSF Postdoctoral Fellow. I would beguile the occasional spare hour visiting the wonderful museums on the Mall, especially the Smithsonian -- getting to touch a real moon rock, admiring the Hope Diamond, and appreciating the replica Lunar Rover, complete with duct-taped dustflaps. Little did I know, wandering the exhibits of the Air and Space Museum, that a rebellion was brewing underfoot.

The story goes like this. In 1991 the American Chemical Society donated 5.3 million dollars to the Smithsonian Institute to fund an exhibit on "Science in American Life." Doesn't sound too hard, does it. And by the way, ACS is not rich. That is a LOT of money for them.

Time passes. Someone in the ACS wonders how things are going, and pays a visit. I suspect they had to be revived with smelling salts. The exhibit being put together could more accurately be titled "EEEEEVIL science in IMPERIALISTIC WARMONGERING american SEAL-CLUBBING life". Much backstage fervent discussion. *My* organization, the American Physical Society, takes point in the public debate, ACS still cherishing the fond belief that it was just a terrible misunderstanding that can be worked out, instead of a deliberate plan.

These deliberations go so well that at last the ACS demands their name be removed from the exhibit that they spent 5.3 MILLION DOLLARS on. (APS jumped ship long before.)

I had the dubious pleasure of accompanying friends to visit this atrocity. My running commentary was caustic in the extreme, and amused them greatly. I doubt the docents were equally amused. What I remember of it (and I am sure shock and horror blocked some idiocies from my memory ....)

- even before you enter the exhibit space, visitors are greeted by life-size cutouts of (allegedly) famous scientists with appropriate quotes. Famous to politicians, that is. I recognized one as a professor at my undergraduate university. I have no knowledge of his position in the research field, and for all I know he is good at what he does. But he's not famous for anything but being one-time Lieutenant Governor of Delaware. (politics!)
-first set-piece is a lovingly constructed diorama featuring two bewhiskered 19th century scientists arguing about who should get the credit for inventing saccharine. (you know, CANCER! Booga booga!) A display shows a photograph of laboratory staff from the time, and carefully points out to the unobservant that there are NO WOMEN OR MINORITIES present. (Unlike every other profession then, where there was complete and total integration and diversity. Right?)
-a little alcove showing the apparatus used to invent nylon. No information about which dodad did what, but they DID make sure to show some pantyhose. Because, of course, that's all nylon has ever been used for to improve our lives. (A man did this one, I'm sure.)
-photos of the WWII process and plant for the first mass-production of penicillin, which saved countless hundreds of lives. I don't recall if they condescended to note this fact or not, but they made damn sure to tell you the workers had to wear ID badges and accept security restrictions. During a war. Oh my.
-an entire huge control panel from a nuclear plant. No information about power generated, or anything that might muddy the issue of SCIENCE BAD! CAUSES CANCER!
-some of the flash-shadow images from Hiroshima. Because you know us scientists just love nuking people for no reason at all. I hope a Bataan Death March survivor doesn't see that section.
-I don't know how this snuck in -- maybe they didn't understand the implications. They showed the data from the first Gummint Change in Policy fueled by a poll. Seems someone had the bright idea way back when of asking white soldiers how they felt about serving with black soldiers -- and they separated the data by *whether or not those white soldiers had worked with black ones*. Surprise! If a soldier had, he minded much less. And this gave us the integrated Army, which can be argued to have had as much of a positive effect on racial equality as the civil rights movement. (I'm not sure if government polls cause cancer, but let's err on the side of caution, OK?)
-Large section on Rachel Carson, "Silent Spring" and DDT. Did I mention Science Causes Cancer?
(the rest is a bit of a blur, due to increasing blood-pressure and adrenaline)
-but just before I left, frothing at the mouth, there was one final blow. Killer Genetically Modified tomatoes. Yes, really.

I wonder if it ever occurred to those idiots, as they chatted on their cellphones to their grandmother about how wonderful her hip replacement was working out and how Granpa's heartvalve surgery was being scheduled and could they fly out to visit someday or at least send some new pictures of the grandkids by email, if science in American life was just a little bit better than what they had shown. Yes, I'm still bitter. And until I see some metaphorical heads on pikes, I will continue that way.