The Life of a Theorist, Part Deux

Two years ago I posted a description of a day in the life of a theorist.  Perhaps more appropriately, it described a day in the life of a theorist who thinks it might be a good idea to do things that could potentially land him in the ER.  A few days ago I openly mused on this blog about the fact that the theorist image might just be a guise.  Worried that my cover might be blown I decided it was time for my biennial visit to my friends in the ER.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Round about Father’s Day, inspired by my friend and handyman (and former licensed arborist) Ernie, I purchased a professional grade Fiskars (yes, the scissors people) splitting axe.  Stop laughing.  I’m not done yet.  I love chopping wood.  So I hired myself out and my first client was my friend Dick who lives about a mile down the street.

So after lunch today – the muggiest day of the year – I stuffed my axe and my hatchet in a backpack along with my iPod, portable speakers, and some iced tea, and bicycled down to Dick’s place.  After getting a general ‘tour’ of the wood that needed chopping, I put on some Keith Jarrett (Tokyo from the Sun Bear Concerts followed by Solo Concerts: Bremen) and got to work.  My safety preautions included a wide stance and … um, a wide stance (note: I had already split a cord of wood without incident at my own home and was thus lulled into a false sense of security).

After about two hours I came to a particularly knotty piece of wood, grain going every which way.  I was dripping with sweat despite having recently taken a short break for a swig of iced tea (which was, surprisingly, still cold).  The hit wasn’t dead center, but it wasn’t that far off either.  Nonetheless, it bounced a bit (after successfully splitting the piece in one hit, by the way) and swung down, gashing my lower left leg about three inches above my ankle.  What was my first reaction?  Grab it with my dirt, bug, and worm-covered glove.  Not quite sure what to do next, I grabbed my cell phone and called my wife to have her come ferry me to the ER.  Notice I did not immediately go fetch Dick whose wood I was chopping.  It was after I called my wife that I then hobbled over to the door to ask Dick to watch my stuff.  He gave me a glass of water and a dish towel which I then used to staunch the flow of blood (remember this towel – you’ll hear about it again later).  My wife arrived a few minutes later and off we headed to the ER.

Of course, when one is in a hurry the general rule is that everyone else will drive slow.  We were especially lucky to find ourselves behind a tour bus that was going slow enough that I was tempted to hop out and start charging the tourists for pictures of my ‘genuine Maine log splitting injury.’  After all, Bangor, Maine is one of the many towns in America that claims Paul Bunyan as a native son, even if he wasn’t a real person.

Upon arrival at the hospital I was lucky enough to experience my first-ever ride in a wheelchair.  Woohoo!  Since I am a regular customer all my information was in the computer which made the admit process much more seemless.  The nurses put a temporary bandage on the wound but kept attempting to throw Dick’s dish towel away despite the fact that there was very little blood on it, surprisingly (I had tied it pretty tight).  I kept the perfectly good dish towel.

After sharing a waiting room for while with two guys that the receptionist warned my wife and children away from, all the while watching a rerun of Little House on the Prairie with guest star Ernest Borgnine (why were even the daytime shots dark?), I made it onto an actual ER gurney.  The gurney next to me was occupied by a young woman wearing a surgical mask and some other guy came in barfing into a blue bag, his pregnant wife in tow (sympathy morning sickness?).  Luckily, the gurneys were separated by an actual wall and not just a curtain.

Of course, I hit the gurney just as the shift changed, and thus was lucky enough to have gotten two doctors!  The first injected me with novacaine which hurt like hell.  Mind you, until then I had felt absolutely no pain whatsoever from the moment I sliced myself and the novacaine was supposed to numb me (see part one for a description of what novacaine does – or doesn’t do – to me).  Noting the regularity with which I frequent the ER, he mentioned their ‘frequent flyer’ program.  Ha ha.  Of course, he also mentioned there were no restrictions on what I could do (meaning I can play softball on Monday) except to keep dirty water off of it (meaning I’m not going fishing for awhile).

Doctor number two sutured me up while making a mental note to himself (outloud) to wear chaps when he took out his chainsaw in a few days to remove the tree growing completely inside a hole in his yard.  Hmmm.  I spared myself the usual complaints (“I hated that class!”) by not telling anyone I was a physicist.  As I was preparing to leave the gurney, the doctor rushed back in to count the stitches (of which there are seven).  It seemed to provide him with some sort of bragging rights.

At checkout (yes, it’s almost like a grocery store these days) I was handed a sheet of paper that, among other things, indicated that I should keep the wound elevated above my heart for 24 hours.  I guess it’s a good thing I went to Yoga this morning.  Also at checkout I discovered that the co-pay for my visit was exactly the same amount of money I was getting paid to chop the wood in the first place.  So, in an effort to at least break even on this deal, I had my wife drop me back off at Dick’s house where I recommenced chopping.  Being a male of our species, Dick’s only comment on my return – and the fact that I continued chopping and later cycled home with seven stitches in my lower leg- was that the new axe had now been properly christened.  Dick’s not a theorist.

Necessity breeds resourcefulness

As a theorist I am often fond of joking that you shouldn’t let me near lab equipment.  It’s an image I semi-consciously try to cultivate.  But it appears that cracks may be forming in my theorist guise.  Anyone who looks at my CV will notice I have a degree in mechanical engineering.  I can usually convince people to ignore it (“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”).

But, after nearly a decade of living frugally (i.e. being in debt up to my eyebrows), people are starting to notice the following facts:

  • Since I couldn’t afford to replace my iPod Video when I broke its screen, I bought a replacement screen online and very, very, very carefully – and successfully! – replaced it.
  • I am building a tree house out of scrap wood and logs I have lying around, prompting my father (a retired HS English teacher) to remark that “he’s not his father’s son,” indicating, rather, that I took after my grandfather (and my mother).  I have also built an eight foot tall arbor out of cedar for my church (matched to the style of the 1775 building) and a slew of other things.
  • I now regularly perform maintenance on my car and my tractor.
  • I chop wood.
  • I’ve fixed numerous electronic devices via creative splicing.

There are tons of other examples that have gotten people’s attention, but what might just throw the cloak off my disguise is the fact that I am seriously considering attempting to fix my busted hard drive myself.

I don’t have the $1800 it would cost to send it to a clean room (after trying everything under the sun short of taking it apart).  I have a new drive in the computer already.  So here’s what I, who am poor, plan to try in order to recover my data:

  • Buy a cheap hard drive of the same size.
  • Swap the platters from one to the other.

Yes, you read that correctly.  The IT guys at work showed me what the inside of a desktop drive looks like so I’m going to get an old busted laptop drive and take it apart to see what it looks like.  Then I’m going to try to swap the platters out.  What have I got to lose?

Cronkite, Cranks, and the Moon

Tonight the History Channel is airing (at 8:30 PM EDT) the historic CBS broadcast of the Moon landings with the recently late, great Walter Cronkite since today marks the 40th anniversary of the historic event.  What is CBS airing?  Big Brother.  Way to go CBS.  Not only did they miss an historic moment, they also missed an opportunity to honor one of the greatest newsmen in history.

Of course, CBS’ missed opportunity (or their pandering to Americans’ baser instincts, depending on how you look at it) pales in comparison to what those yo-yos at Fox did eight years ago when they aired “a straight-faced program” they called “Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon?

This made me think about how people… well, think.  Generally they’re of one extreme or the other – either they don’t question a thing and take as rote anything anyone tells them or they continue to question everything even in the face of insurmountable evidence and/or simple deductive logic (aside: I once had a student who claimed deductive logic would lead one to fundamentalist Christianity and then, via the latter, to democracy).

I teach my students to question everything, but they also have to reach a conclusion that is logically and empirically sound even if it disagrees with conventional thinking.  This is how discoveries are made.  However, it still must be logically and empirically sound.  Cranks are never either.  Unfortunately it also means they usually can’t be argued with.  The problem is that the cranks seem to be converting more and more people, all of whom are becoming cranks.  If we’re not careful we’ll become a planet of idiots and go back to drawing on cave walls because one thing cranks miss is that everything is connected.  The science that explains the Big Bang and the age of the Universe, i.e. relativity, quantum mechanics, and the basic conservation laws, also happens to be the basis of things like, oh, GPS, cell phones, computers, DNA, etc., i.e. everything the cranks rely on on a daily basis.

So I say, if you don’t believe in the science, then give the stuff back.  But that means not just no GPS but no cars.  Hell, while you’re at it, no using the crapper anymore either.  Or soap (actually, you probably don’t use it anyway).  Good luck and have a nice day!

How laptop-dependent am I?

So much so that, part of the reason I haven’t posted in so long, is because I’m still awaiting a repaired laptop.  I hate working on my desktop (though that might be partly due to the messiness of my desk).  I haven’t done much meaningful work since my laptop failure and it is largely due to this overwhelming sense of ‘oh my God, what do I do now?’ that just won’t go away.  Take me out of my routine and sometimes I collapse like a pillar of marbles.  A meaningful post for my blog (which no one reads anyway)?  Well, that may have to await my laptop because I have the inspiration.  I just don’t feel like typing it up under these conditions.  Good God, that sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it? hacked: yet another reason not to give up paper

Via numerous sources, has been down – and possibly hacked – for most of the day so far.  If you go there it will send you to a mirror site, not all of which are up-to-date.  I did manage to find my latest paper (posted on May 29) at the APS’ mirror, so that seems to be fairly up-to-date.

It’s an interesting coincidence that this occurred just as the North Koreans (or possibly someone posing as the North Koreans) have been accused of hacking numerous US and South Korean government websites.

It’s also an interesting coincidence that it happened not long after my work hard drive failed completely.  I had been counting on the arXiv as a back-up for my papers temporarily (it’s a long story and underscores the importance of backing up your work).  Luckily mine seem to be ok for now.  But, just in case, I have paper copies.  These incidents taken together have renewed my faith in good, old-fashioned paper.  I already back up all my teaching-related material on paper.  I think it is time I start doing that with my research as well.

QIP 2010: Important Dates

The important dates for QIP 2010 in Zürich have been announced.

QIP 2010 will be the thirteenth in a series of annual workshops. It follows QIP 2009 which took place January 2009 in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

  • Submission deadline for contributed talks: October 22, 2009
  • Notification of acceptance: November 23, 2009
  • Submission deadline for posters: December 7, 200

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