Wednesday, June 29, 2005

IPod Sluts

I miss music. I am without my own personal computer (see this earlier post), and am far away from the shelves upon shelves of bliss that is WRUW's music library. I've been stranded on a music desert island with only my iPod and cds to survive! aaaaaah!

My current state, while certainly close to my personal music nerd hell, has inspired a wonderful idea. While being here, I have made friends with two undergraduate Canadians working at JLab for the summer. One of the main things that sparked our friendship was music. They're just about the only people here who actually recognize some of the music I listen to. Not to be an elitist about it (even though I admittedly am), but most of the interns here wouldn't know good music if it bit their ear off.

One of my new musical bosom buddies also happens to have an iPod. This, is where my idea came from. In my longing for new music, I suggested exchanging iPods with her for a day; she gets to listen to my music, I get to listen to hers. While we have yet to follow through on the idea, we're both excited about it.

So, I propose expanding this idea to a wider audience. I see several potential benefits from wide-scale implementation:
1) People would get to know other people through their music choices. Possible new friendships formed. Concert buddies created.
2) Exposure to new and different music.
3) A break in the monotony of always listening to your same ol' music collection.

I call the program iPod sluts, and I've decided that the Case Western Reserve University campus could use a little music promiscuity. Of course, other forms of mp3 players would not be discriminated against. We would be an equal opportunity music whoring program.

Cap, ou pas cap?
(en angalais: Are you game?)

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

What is Love?

(Lady don't hurt me, don't hurt me no more.)

Many years ago (aka 2002) in Ms. Hipp's high school english class, I read exerpts from Giovanni Boccaccio's classic medieval novel The Decameron. Having thoroughly enjoyed the bits and pieces, I promised myself to eventually read the entire thing. This summer, I am finally making good.

The story, written in the 1300's, has a very simple premise: The black plague runs rampant through Florence Italy in 1348. A group of 7 young attractive women and 3 handsome young men manage to survive, and with no family remaining, come together by chance and decide to escape the death and gloom of the city. Once they're comfortably settled in the country, they set to entertaining themselves by telling stories. Each person tells one story each day, and they stay for ten days.

A good number of the stories deal with what would be considered very scandalous topics in those days--sex. They're awfully humorous. As I've been reading--and giggling--my way through the tales, I've noticed an interesting trend. The word love seems to be used synonymously with the word lust. Male characters see a beautiful woman and then instantly "[fall] so passionately in love with her". In fact, one of the tales (Second day, Seventh story) is about a woman so beautiful that 9 men "fall in love" with her in this fashion. I'm left to wonder "love at first sight" ?

Nowadays, love is a word that isn't used too lightly when it comes to matters between two people. Much of what Boccaccio's tales label as love looks more like carnal desire from my modern day perspective.

This makes me rather curious. Has there been a progressive change in the usage/understanding of the word love? Personally, I have no idea, but would be very interested in further research. Take this as an open invitation for nerdy and thoughtful comments!

I sincerely appologize if I got that awful song stuck in anyone's head.


After enjoying a delightful snack of nutella and graham crackers, I must say:

The person who decided to mix chocolate and hazelnut and make it spreadable--genius.

I'm having to practice restraint.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Happy Happy, Blog Blog!

Take the MIT Weblog Survey
As I'm sure many of you are aware by now, there's an MIT Media Group survey about Blogging. I just finished taking it. Everybody else is taking it. Don't you want to do what all the cool kids are doing?

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Everybody Loves Boobies

BBC News recently reported about the US Department of Justice statues' (re)unveiling, after several years of being covered up. The woman of the male-female statue pair sports an exposed breast that apparently has captured quite a bit of attention from just about everyone:

"Before being covered, the statues offered rich pickings for press
photographers working at the Justice Department, who often crouched on the floor to capture politicians in shot with an exposed aluminium breast."
-Quoted from the above linked article

Even professional journalists couldn't resist the temptation of a well-placed boob.

Somehow, people always find boobs funny. Being a woman with breasts of my own (shocking, I know), I've never quite understood the humor behind them. It's not that I don't find them funny--I chucked when seeing the picture used in the article--I just can't even begin to explain the humor or appeal of them. But, as this article clearly shows, no one can resist a boobie.

Friday, June 24, 2005

The Science Elite

Over dinner yesterday, several of the interns and I were (not surprisingly) discussing physics, science, and the academic environment here at the lab. Eventually, the discussion turned to the science vs. Engineering debate. Jokes were made, and anecdotes about academic tifts between the two groups at JLab were told. All's well and good. But, unavoidably, the conversation wandered over to other areas of study. Much of what was said reminded me of several things I dislike about most scientists, and has prompted this post (read: rant).

Scientists have a ridiculous superiority complex (this is obviously a generalization and the following criticisms do not apply to all who study science). Physicists, I'm sad to say, are by far the worst. This ego can be broken down into two categories: "Physics is the best of all the sciences" and "Science is the best academic discipline."

The first comes from the idea that there is a hierarchy of scientific disciplines, which is based on what philosophers call reductionism: Because particle physics looks at the smallest parts of what make up our world, it is the closest to finding "the truth." Understanding all of particle physics will explain nuclear physics, which will explain atomic physics, and so on. On the broader scale, it is the reasoning behind the "all chemistry is physics, and all biology is chemistry" argument. It sets up a totem pole of disciplines, with physics sittin' pretty on the top. Obviously, physicists love this and cling to it for dear life. Not only does it make them the best, it also provides them the illusion that a "theory of everything" is out there.

I hate reductionist science for several reasons, the primary one being that it's wrong. Even if you know why the puzzle piece exists and what it's made of, you have no idea what the whole puzzle looks like, or how in the world all the pieces fit together. I mean, honestly, it's just terrible logic. When you can use quantum mechanics to explain the projectile motion of a baseball after it's hit, let me know.

The "science is the best discipline," to a certain extent, stems from this idea. But this part of the scientific ego seems slightly more complicated. In talking with scientists, it manifests itself in the form of a lack of appreciation for other areas of study. For example, in the conversation mentioned above, one of the interns actually said the following: "My roommate is an economics major. I love making fun of him for it, and telling him his major is useless." And I'm not exaggerating. After commenting that I liked going to art museums and wanted to find some in the area, other interns said that they hated art--essentially, that it was worthless.

From the conversation yesterday, it seems that many science-minded people place their esteem in science based on it's mathematical rigor, and thus dislike subjects that are not strongly founded in math. One of the guys in the group talked about how it was stupid for political science to call itself an "actual science". I countered his idea with the fact that, based on what many people think to be the fundamental structure of science, political science is far more scientific than a lot of fields he would consider science. Karl Popper (one of the most well known philosophers of science) thought that something was scientific if it produced theories that could be tested, that made predictions, and that could be potentially proven wrong. Political science does just that. They observe, try to find patterns and trends, and develop theories which make predictions about the future. How is that not a science?

Amusingly, he had no counter argument for this and instead moved on to economics, saying that people who claim it to be scientific are ridiculous. I made the exact same point as before, since economics functions in much the same way as political science. His response: "But it doesn't use mathematical concepts and formulas." This is hilarious partly because economics is very math-based. But I also find it funny that science-minded folks judge a discipline's worth via how mathematically structured it is. This is, yet again, bad logic that puts science on top.

I suppose I understand why scientists feel that mathematics gives something validity. Scientists take pride in objective knowledge. Mathematical formulas don't fall victim to subjectivity (at least they don't seem to)--as they say, the numbers never lie. Something expressed in a mathematical form seems like the most objective way to state something. So, even if a disciplines such as political science and economics qualify as sciences in principle, they are not real sciences because they lack true objectivity. But, I'm not so sure that mathematics is the only real way to objectively state something (if one can even truly do anything objectively). But, this is getting a bit off topic.

Their mathematical foundation obviously isn't the only reason scientists have such inflated egos. If it were, then I'm pretty sure that scientists would respect mathematicians far more than themselves. Most, though, make fun of mathematicians along with all of the other academic disciplines. Another factor that contributes is the general public's respect for science. Usually, when I tell people I'm an engineering physics major, I get comments like "oh wow, I wish I were that smart." I've never understood comments like these. Just because I study something in science doesn't mean that I am any smart than someone who studies, say, history. Neither field requires more knowledge than the other, just a different kind of knowledge.

There is also the fact that the government and corporations pour out billions of dollars every year in support of scientific research. However, this doesn't particularly mean that they care about the field of science. I'm pretty sure that Congress and President Bush couldn't care less about the strange quark. All they care about is the technology that may eventually come out of scientific research, which will improve their national defenses and economy. And sure, science does have all of the technological developments to it's credit. But it is most certainly not the only field of study to produce useful knowledge. (It is, however, one of the only academic areas who's knowledge is used for harm and destruction on a regular basis.)

Of course, perhaps scientists have this unjustly inflated ego out of necessity. They need to think that they're the best for motivation to continue on. If I were the MIT undergraduate who's degree culminated in a senior thesis entitled "Drift-Time Properties of the CEBAF Hall A Vertical Drift Chambers," a paper almost entire composed of number tables, I would need to think what I was doing was incredibly important to keep myself from giving up out of sheer boredom. (Admittedly, a low blow. All in good fun, though.)

This little ditty might sound very anti-science. I'm sure those of you who know me well and have heard me babble on forever about physics are somewhat confused as to where all of this is suddenly coming from. My point here is not to put down science. If I were doing so, I would be no better than the scientists I am criticizing. I simply get frustrated by elitist ideas within academia. All academic areas are interesting and worthwhile. The knowledge that one produces is no more or less valuable than any other, they are simply different. So, seriously, scientists, get off your high horses. Why can't all the nerds just be friends?

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

An Update of Sorts

In other news, I have a mosquito bite on my tummy. It may be one of the most random places I've been bitten. Especially since it's the only bite I have.

And the silly mosquito just barely missed my belly button!

Future, Shmuture.

Since coming to JLab (the Thomas Jefferson Accelerator Facility), I've been doing a lot of pondering. From previous posts, it's obvious that some of my musings concern the nature of science, absolute truth, and all those wonderful philosophy of science things. But lately, I've been thinking more about my future. Specifically, I've been thinking "what the hell am I going to do with the rest of my life. "

Much of this pondering has been prompted by my interning at a national science laboratory. Obviously, the experience is making me a bit more aware of what the scientific community is like, and what it is "real scientists" do. The fact that I'm asking the above question makes it pretty obvious that I haven't exactly been overwhelmed with delight by my experience at the lab. I don't have my calendar out, counting down the days until I can leave, but I don't really see myself doing this sort of thing for the rest of my life. At least not if I want to be really happy.

Part of the problem is due to the nature of my summer project. I'm basically making a program to simulate realistic data for VDC wire chamber detectors they use in hall A, and then testing their current analysis software to see how well it works, what sort of noise it can tolerate--all of that good stuff. I understand that this sort of thing has to be done, and that being an undergrad labitch, these projects are unavoidable. But just because something is a right-of-passage, so to speak, doesn't mean I like doing it.

The thing is, the work I see going on around me is not providing any sort of comfort. I just can't see myself being happy if I spent my life as these other physicists. So much of their time is devoted to working on a tiny aspect of an experiment or problem. Very few of them actually see direct results of their efforts. I understand why this sort of structure is in place. There'd be no way any small team of researchers could develop (or maintain) an entire particle accelerator on their own. Science has gotten incredibly complicated. The only way to get anywhere is to combine as much manpower as possible, I suppose.

But to me, this aspect of a career in science is awfully disheartening. You're constantly required to fit your work into the bigger picture context. Otherwise, you're just slaving away at something so seemingly asenine and random. I've realized that I was somewhat naive in regards to the nature of scientific research. I fell in love with the idea of being a sort of explorer of the natural world. I wanted to be the one out there searching for quarks with my magnifying glass and a flashlight! But that's not how it all. I feel like working so far from the real problems would become tiring.

I'm aware that other areas of science, or even other types of labs, may not present this problem. But, it's really hard to know for sure. Also, the fact that solving small individual problems doesn't appeal to me highlights another new realization. When it comes to physics, I absolutely love learning the concepts and all of their consequences. But I'm not especially excited by the processes required to get to these realizations. When it comes to science research (or even theoretical science), you constantly deal with these processes. The moments of realization and conceptual wonder are very few and far between.

So....I have no idea where this leaves me. The more I think about what I enjoy (especially the fact that I enjoy physics concepts but not the meat of the discipline) the more I feel pulled towards philosophy. After all, physics is a philosophy of the structure of the natural world. Who knows.

I say "future, shmuture." Honestly, who needs one of those?

Friday, June 10, 2005


I have always been plagued by one of my weird quirks. Whenever someone that I'm not the biggest fan of starts liking any of my favorite music, I absolutely can't stand it ! Thing is, I can't even try to explain why. You would think I'd be glad they had decent tastes, or that the artist was getting more recognition. But no. I just plain hate it, and for no obvious reason.

Perhaps I'm just being selfish and want all the good music to myself. I don't know. Any ideas or similar sentiments?

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Absolute Truth

Here goes nothing. An attempt to explain some of my thoughts on aboslute truth:

I've always felt that there could be no absolute religious truth. Religion is a system of beliefs that we create in order to help us deal with difficult aspects of life--the afterlife, morals, etc. There are different religious groups because people chose to cope with these things in different ways. And ideally, people follow a religion because they feel the most comfortable with those particular beliefs. Of course, this does not account for those who blindly practice a religion because their parents raised them in that particular faith, rather than actually questioning their own beliefs.

With this understanding of religion, the idea of absolute religious truth seems ridiculous. How can you tell someone that their personal belief system, their religion, is wrong? And more importantly, how can you be certain that your religion is the true faith? With personally defined beliefs, "truth" obviously becomes relative.

The concept of relative spiritual truth has never bothered me. In fact, the idea was instrumental in helping me deal with questions of religion. I'm anything but certain as to what I personally believe, but this has given me a more definite idea of what religion should be. I have the freedom to develop and shape my own system of beliefs. It's a somewhat overwhelming task, but it also puts my mind at ease. Relativity, in this case, takes away the worry of not
"getting the right answer," so to speak.

In talking with others, though, I have found that people with more firm beliefs in a particular religion don't necessarily agree with my interpretation of religion. Many religions, in particular Christianity, seem to see their own religion as the ultimate answer. And of course, this makes sense. Why would someone believe something so strongly if they also believed that it wasn't the way? This plagued me for awhile. Adopting a set of beliefs while admitting that they aren't necessarily true makes the whole thing seem a bit pointless. However, I realized that individual truth is still attainable. Admitting that there is relative truth does not eliminate the possibility of finding truth for yourself--only of finding truth for everyone. Very religious people may still find this idea hard to deal with. I am not especially committed to any belief system at the moment, so perhaps that is why this understanding of religion appeals to me.

My stopping block comes when this idea is expanded from the spiritual to the physical. I have so much trouble dealing with the idea that our physical universe is not definite, and that there could somehow be multiple "physical truths." This generally leads me to a "nothing exists!" conclusion, that contradicts almost all of my human instincts. I usually feel like I'm pulling a Descartes, and then just feel silly. Ah, Meditations on First Philosophy.

Considering that, being an engineering physics major and a general science nerd, I'm quite invested in the field of science, my resistance towards relative physical truth is a justified (Just as those heavily invested in a particular religion are justified in hesitating to accept relative spiritual truth). After all, science has no point if there is no definite physical reality. The fact that any reputable science experiment gets results that are repeatable--i.e. other scientists can perform them and obtain the same results--seems to rule out the idea of a subjective physical reality. Scientists pride themselves on objectivity, after all. (I am not making an claim that science is objective here. I've done too much research in the history and philosophy of science to know that this is far from true. However, if you ask most scientists, they will tell you that objectivity is one of their primary goals.)

Of course, there are physics theories in quantum mechanics that have a great deal to say about absolute truth and its existence. Mano Singham discusses some of these theories in his book The Quest for Truth: Scientific Progress and Religious Beliefs, which I discussed in an earlier post. I have yet to read this section, though. Clearly, I am looking forward to it. I'm sure there will be future posts about it once I do.

The only idea I've considered to reconsile this obvious problem is this: That an absolute physical truth does exist, but we as individuals are unable to fully observe it. We are all human, and hence prone to our own private interpretations of our senses and thing around us (just as we can all have individual interpretations of spirituality). This concept also jives with theories of quantum mechanics, which talk about how in observing something, say an electron, we change its physical properties. (If you're not really sure what I'm talking about, read up on Schrodinger's Cat). On the other hand, this doesn't fit with the repeatability of science experiments!

I. Am. Stuck.

Saturday, June 04, 2005


I found a neat article on the BBC about the influence of Blogging in the EU constitution votes. The article isn't especially profound or anything, but I enjoy the fact that main stream media is really taking notice of blogs and their power.

I wrote a research paper this past spring about blogging, and it made me very aware of how much potential the media form has. The paper, which was ridiculously ambitious even after I narrowed down my original topic ideas, compared and contrasted the historical development of newspapers and blogs in the media. The paper certainly didn't turn out as I wanted it to, but I was at least able to make part of my argument. Basically, that people should stop criticizing and discrediting blogs. Given the chance to evolve, the very young concept of blogging has amazing potential to become a vital media form.

The paper was part of what inspired me to start this blog. Though I can't say that I've had anything too inspiring or insightful to say on it. Oh well.


I have never been one to experience homesickness. When I was little, I was the girl at camp who couldn't understand why the other kids would be sad to be away from home. And now, I've been living away from home since my sophomore year in high school. In all that time, I can only remember longing for home once--the first semester of my sophomore year. But even that quickly passed. Sometimes I wondered if my lack of attachment to my home and family was a bad thing, since everyone else seemed to always miss theirs. But me, if I ever missed anything, it was usually my school and friends when I was at home.

For some reason, I'm currently feeling extremely homesick. It's really strange and confusing. First off, I'm not even certain as to what I'm missing--home, school, or specific people. Secondly, I can't figure out why these feelings are coming about. I'm usually resonably independent, and don't feel especially attached to specific places. But right now, I find myself longing for comfort and familiarity. I keep getting this weird feeling in my stomach, and tears sometimes well up. It's so bizare.

I just don't get it.