This made me laugh out loud at the end of my work day:
vegetables are what food eats
Courtesy of pwrstrkdf250 from The Wolf Web in response to being accused of vegetarianism
I just got the news this morning that I was awarded a NASA Earth System Science Fellowship. My proposal was one of 58 selected out of 250. This is great news for me because it means that I don't have to completely shift the focus of my research when I start my PhD. I'll get to stay on the same project. My adviser is also very happy because it adds a lot of flexibility to our research budget. Since what grant you're paid under dictates what you have to work on, we have a little more budgetary room where people can work on what they want as opposed to what we have grant money to support. Overall, this is great news for everyone I work with.
I developed a cold over the weekend. I guess it started about Thursday when I had a sore throat. By Saturday around lunch time I started getting congested and by late that evening, my nose was running like a faucet. My head was fairly clear this morning, but now that I'm at school in my office, I'm back to being stuffy again. It sucks, but I've dealt with worse. Sometimes it just helps to whine a little bit.
My wedding to 2 weeks away. It's real close and I'm starting to worry about having all of the details wrapped up. I got the music for the service figured out last night, but who knows what I may have forgotten. I'm sure that between Christina, myself, and our parents, just about everything has been seen to. At this point, anything that we did forget about probably wouldn't been that big of a deal anyway. Nevertheless, with so many people handling different things, I just have to trust that it will all work out. Frankly, as long as everything is legal and I get to see Christina and all our family and friends smile at the end of the day, the ceremony could be beset by rabid wombats and I wouldn't care too much (Note to my fraternity brothers who read this: Don't get any cute ideas).
In other news, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is only 60 days from release. The Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix movie release is a even closer than that. I'm excited about both of those events. July is going to be a heavily Harry Potter centered month for me. I'm pretty sure I'm going to try and catch Order of the Phoenix on opening night and I'm going to lock myself in a room without external communication when I get my copy of Deathly Hallows. I'm going to be one excited and happy Harry Potter nerd.
To start the fourth thread of this entry, I'll report that my good friend Stephen's blog (buildingthepeace.blogspot.com) has been offline for almost a week now. Stephen is an engineer for the Navy attached to a provincial reconstruction team in Farah Province, Afghanistan. His job is to basically manage construction across Farah province. Many places in that part of the world have been damaged from decades of warfare or, for one reason or another, are unchanged from ancient times and require the building blocks of modern life. Stephen used his blog to chronicle his adventures in Afghanistan. The blog gave an easily accessible window through which friends and family could see what Stephen was up to on a day-to-day basis and it also served as a ground-level report of life and events in the region.
I don't know why Stephen's blog isn't online anymore. Google might just be having a very localized and very extended problem with their blogging service. However, I really doubt that. I think it's more likely he was pressured to take it down by his commanders or he was directly ordered to do so. It may also be the case that the Department of Defense (DoD) went directly to Google to have it removed. I know the military recently put in place several new rules concerning soldier's blogs, but I don't know how they may or may not have affected Stephen.
My problem with the whole situation is two-fold. First, I like to know what my friend is up to. I take comfort in knowing that he's safe, happy, and productive. Finally, Stephen's blog from Afghanistan was a very honest and usually positive overview of his mission. It not like anything he was writing was making bad press for the military. Stephen is a great writer and a gifted storyteller. If anything, the DoD should have used his blog as a positive example of the good things that came come from soldiers sharing their first hand experiences.
I've archived everything Stephen wrote and posted on his blog, including pictures and comments, since before it went offline. If he needs an alternate host, I'm willing to post all of his material here, on my personal website. I won't do it without his permission because it may get him in trouble and frankly, it's not my material to do with as I please. Who knows, you might be able to read about Stephen's adventures here one day.
On Tuesday, I finished the first draft of an article I've been working on for the past few weeks. I won't say much about the article since it's going to be somewhat controversial and anyone can read what I write here. The article is going to overturn some high profile research of someone who works in my department and my adviser and I don't want to deal with the flack we're going to get for ruining the department's good press until our article has been submitted for publication.
It's weird. It's like there is more desire to get researchers in the news than for them to do careful, well-mannered research. There is such a push to publish, some scientists aren't left with the time to double check their results or to make sure their theories are applicable beyond anecdotal cases and examples. The reason I'm writing a paper to overturn another is because the authors didn't check to see if their theory was reproducible for other times and areas other than the one time and place they looked. I'm sure that they were just in a rush to publish and forgot to tie up all the loose ends, but I worry that some scientists do this kind of thing out of laziness or negligence – implying that they're not fit for important research – or, worse, they know their theories are unsound and they're just looking to get good press and hope they don't get caught.
It's that last point that really worries me. There is already some precedence for scientists doing this sort of thing. Several scientists have been exposed for lying about their research into stem cells, cloning, and fusion just to name a few fields. Obviously, these scientists were caught and their research was invalidated, but what if they weren't caught or not caught until years later? Their false work would be used by others and research would continue, but everything would be built on false principles until the whole thing falls apart like a house of cards. Imagine being a scientist and having your career ended because the work that you built your own research on wasn't true.
As a scientist, you have a responsibility to “do your homework”. Before you publish, you should double check that you're right. Just because something happens a certain way at place A and at time X, doesn't mean that it will happen at place B or Time Y. At the same time, I live in fear of committing the same sin myself. You can spend years working on a project and building and double checking your theories, but all it takes if for one person to come up with one example where you're theory doesn't work – an example that you might have never thought of – to invalidate the whole thing.
Now, from a scientific perspective, having your theories invalidated like that isn't that bad of a thing. After all, you, and by extension the scientific community, will have learned something and the collective body of knowledge still gets bigger. However, there is still the issue of having what was supposed to be the crowning achievement of your career ruined because of something that you didn't think of. And, let's face it, no one has won a noble prize for explaining how something doesn't work.
Anyway, back to my original point, my draft is completed and my adviser will now rip it to shreds and, with our combined efforts, we will see if we can't turn my scribblings into something that isn't an affront to science and the written word.
This past weekend was graduation weekend here at NC State. While it wasn't graduation for me – sadly, my master's thesis won't write itself – Christina was awarded her Masters of Arts in English. The graduation ceremony for the English department was held in the Presbyterian church on Horne Street near the NCSU campus. The ceremony was highlighted by a piper and two very nice speeches. All the seats in the church were filled and spectators, friends, and parents, many of which overflowed in the aisles. Christina's parents and I were present to cheer when Christina's name was called and she walked up to accept her degree.
While this was a very significant graduation event for Christina, she and I had a discussion the evening before about why it didn't seem to be that big of a deal to either of us. The whole thing just seemed to lack the excitement of our past graduations. Maybe we weren't as into it because we've been through two graduations before (high school and undergraduate college)? Maybe it's just a little bittersweet since Christina isn't able to continue on with her education to get her PhD like she wanted? I think it wasn't as an exciting event because she finished her thesis more than a month ago and has already started a job. Because of that, it's like she's already finished and the whole ceremony is just a technicality.
Speaking of Christina's job, about a week and a half ago, she took a job in the editorial department at S&R Communications Group in RTP. So far, she seems to like her new job and I think she enjoys the work. We were both very excited when she was offered the job in no small part due to the fact that the company offered her a salary above and beyond her expectations. She's making almost four times what I am as a graduate student.
Currently, her job is a three month contract position, but the people she works with have told her that people in the contract positions are normally offered normal full-time employment at the conclusion of their contracts so long as they've performed in a satisfactory manner. My discussions with others have confirmed that this is a fairly common recruiting practice these days.
Coming back to my opening topic, graduation weekend was busy. Between entertaining Christina's parents, the graduation ceremonies, and all the various after-events and parties, there was a lot to do. However, it was also an entertaining weekend. I hope that my master's graduation isn't too far off.
Last night a received an e-mail that made me want to throw things. As a result of that e-mail, I now wish many terrible things to happen to the decision makers at Amazon.com. The e-mail basically said that unless I agreed to pay them more money for shipping, they would not guarantee that I would receive my copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on release day.
A few weeks ago, I pre-ordered three copies of Deathly Hallows. I ordered two copies of the standard edition so that Christina and I won't have to fight over one copy of the book. I also ordered a deluxe edition to add to my extensive collection of Harry Potter books. My total order adds up to more than $75.
At Amazon.com, most orders over $25 qualify for free “super-saver” shipping. Last night's e-mail informed me that unless I chose to upgrade my shipping from free to standard (at additional cost), they would not guarantee that I would receive my copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on release day.
I am really angry over this. I would try to better describe my anger, but it would probably require more four-letter-words than most people want to read. In the past, when I have pre-ordered Harry Potter books, I have never had to pay more for shipping just to get the book on the initially promised release day. I feel that this is just a greedy excuse from Amazon to extort more money from their customers. Now, I understand that they are making little to no money on the standard edition of the new Harry Potter books. In fact, with the free shipping deal they are probably looking at a loss. However, I know that they are making money off my deluxe edition. Furthermore, I feel that the fact that Amazon didn't disclose this information while I was making my pre-order amounts to little more than a bait-and-switch tactic. If they are worried about taking a financial hit over their own sales and marketing strategies, I think that's their problem and that they shouldn't try to make up their loss with veiled threats of late deliveries to this customers.
I'm just angry. My only source of solace in this situation is the fact that I live fairly close to an Amazon distribution center and I'm confident that I'll get my book on the release day even if I refuse to have more money extorted from my pockets. If Amazon was looking for a way to get me to hate them, then interfering with my Harry Potter obsession was a good choice.
Recently, a mugglenet.com poll asked readers a simple question asking about who would win in a conflict, muggles or wizards. When I first saw this question, my “knee jerk” response was that muggles would win. Based on my previous estimations of the size of the wizarding population, wizards would be outnumbered to the tune of 5000 to 1. Wizards, despite all their powers, would be very hard pressed to overcome such odds. There have been plenty of surprise victories in the history of warfare against overwhelming odds, but to win against such a margin would be unprecedented. Things would look even more grim for wizards once you consider modern military advances. I doubt a shield charm will fend off an atomic blast. However, when I first thought about this, I failed to consider that the fight might not be carried out like a conventional conflict with defined battle lines and the consolidation of territory.
The wizarding population is already embedded within the muggle population. Furthermore, so long as a wizard doesn't use magic in the presence of a muggle, there isn't a known way to differentiate a wizard from a muggle. If a conflict were to arise, there would be many initial casualties and many wizards would be eliminated early because they would fail to blend into muggle society. The wizards that would have a fighting chance (pardon the pun), would be the half-bloods and the muggle-born. Hiding in the muggle population they could avoid detection and cause chaos and havoc with their powers. I'm sure that we crafty muggles would eventually be able to devise a way to screen for wizards via blood or DNA, but a quick memory charm and some apparition would be able to save many a wizard from a tight spot.
A second facet that must be considered when thinking about this type of conflict is the role and fate of the very powerful wizards. A wizard like Voldemort has the power and resourcefulness to kill in mass and quickly escape and evade detection. I'm sure he could be brought down by weight of fire from a large group, but he would be a fool to fight a static battle against such odds as opposed to escaping in order to fight another day.
In the end, I think wizards would win in a conflict against muggles. As individuals, their powers allow them many effective means to kill, avoid detection, and escape capture. The muggles do not have the same abilities and their superior numbers are not effective against an enemy that they cannot find in order to kill. The muggles would be slowly killed off by a foe they cannot find or pin down in one location. Fear and suspicion would destroy morale. Any stranger on the street could be a wizard. At the very worst, we muggles, when driven to desperation, may be more inclined to destroy the surface of the planet in nuclear fire than to accept total defeat. In that situation, no one wins.
Thus, in answer to the mugglenet.com poll, I choose wizards.
I would like to thank Scholastic, the US Harry Potter publishers, for making the book cover for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallow avaliable in high resolution. It makes an awesome wall paper for my dual monitor computer. I have Harry on one monitor and Voldemort on my other. I can pretend my monitors are in an epic struggle for the fate of the wizarding world.
23 July, 2007: I've noticed that this post has been getting a lot of traffic. Most of you who read this are probably looking for a Deathly Hallows themed wallpaper. While I won't post mine for download for bandwidth and copyright reasons, I will give detailed instructions on how I made mine.
I took the high-resolution cover art image from Scholastic. Since the image was close to the combined aspect ratio of my dual monitor setup, I merely used Photoshop to resize the image to 3200x1200. Then I just set the resized cover image to span both monitors. That's all there is to it.
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