Recently in Paradigm Category

I read this story earlier today - I thought it was a link from one of the autism-spectrum topic blogs I follow, but none of them appear to have been the actual source. The story is about Nate Tseglin, a kid who was apparently a successful, bright, happy kid who happened to have Asperger's. When he ran up against some road blocks in school - inappropriate class offerings, lack of sensitive counseling service, and so on (problems with which I'm only too familiar, even if I don't have Asperger's) - he started having problems with impulsive behaviors. The solutions he devised (such as a system of soft restraints which he would request to use when he felt like scratching himself, approved by his doctor) were unpalatable to the school; a teacher reported them to Child Protective Services.

What happened after is a complete failure of common sense and state restraint. Rather than repost the entirety of the history, I encourage you to go read it at Get Nate Home. Excerpt:

Get Nate Home

Step one: make enough noise that they can't get away with this. I'll figure out step two when I get that far.

I'll give you countless amounts of outright acceptance if you want it. I will give you encouragement to choose the path that you want if you need it. You can speak of anger and doubts your fears and freak outs and I'll hold it. You can share your so-called shame filled accounts of times in your life and I won't judge it - and there are no strings attached. You owe me nothing for giving the love that I give; you owe me nothing for caring the way that I have. I give you thanks for receiving, it's my privilege - and you owe me nothing in return. You can ask for space for yourself and only yourself and I'll grant it. You can ask for freedom as well or time to travel and you'll have it. You can ask to live by yourself or love someone else and I'll support it. You can ask for anything you want anything at all and I'll understand it - and there are no strings attached. You owe me nothing for giving the love that I give; you owe me nothing for caring the way that I have. I give you thanks for receiving, it's my privilege - and you owe me nothing in return. I bet you're wondering when the next payback shoe will eventually drop. I bet you're wondering when my conditional police will force you to cough up. I bet you're wonderin' how far you have now danced you way back into debt. This is the only kind of love as I understand it that there really is. You can express your deepest of truths even if it means I'll lose you and I'll hear it. You can fall into the abyss on your way to your bliss I'll empathize with. You can say that you have to skip town to chase your passion I'll hear it. You can even hit rock bottom have a mid-life crisis and I'll hold it - and there are no strings attached. You owe me nothing for giving the love that I give; you owe me nothing for caring the way that I have. I give you thanks for receiving, it's my privilege - and you owe me nothing in return.


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Check out the video of John Cage's 4'33" over at the Unclutterer, then come back. No, really, I'll wait. I would sincerely like to say that I am as capable of laughing as any other human being on the planet, and that I'm more appreciative of new forms of music than your average bear. But this isn't funny. And it's not music. If you want four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence, say so. And also? Don't invite an entire orchestra to come "play" it for you once you've custom-printed three-page scores for each member, containing only movement numbers and the word "tacet" (it is silent). You don't need a paintbrush if your favorite color is transparent, and you can do silence without calling up the philharmonic. Knowing as I do what magnificent sounds those instruments and their players are capable of, it very nearly causes me physical pain to see them assembled and abused in this way. Please have enough respect for the assembled talent and instrumentation to play some music. You know. They kind you can hear?
A friend sent me a link to this rant bitching about the iPhone. My response (which I was going to send via StumbleUpon, but decided it was getting a wee bit wordy): Yeah, there's a reason that I'm not getting one for a while. First, I promised myself I'd wait until I paid off two credit cards. Second, the price *will* come down a good deal. And third, it's not just a new product, it's a new user interface paradigm - I understood it would take some time for refinement. But I still want one - I'm just holding out until it's everything I've come to expect from Apple.

Inventing the Muon

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Muon Physics Advanced Laboratory Instrument by TeachSpin I am not precisely certain that I believe in this fantastical entity known as the "muon". I mean, really. It is like a couple physics majors had a drunken IMversation:
Dweeb: Yah, so like, cows, man. Dork: Are you done with the labs? Can I get your data? Dweeb: You mooch. Help me w/my senior project and I'll give you my data. Dork: ...ok? Dweeb: So, cows. Like, I was thinking, invent a new particle. A cow-shaped particle. Dork: ... Dweeb: Yeah, and we can design elaborate machinery to light up and make clicking noises and construct appropriately logarithmic charts of random data to support these cow particles. Dork: is this less work than real physics? Dweeb: JFC, COWS. *** Dork has gone idle. Dweeb: LOL We can call them moo-ons.
And that was basically how that happened.

Psychophysics Freakout

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I currently have the best job I've ever had in my life, as a teaching assistant in the physics department at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Twice a week, I give a lecture on basic Newtonian physics (classical mechanics, mostly, plus a smattering of thermodynamics) that runs somewhere between 25 and 40 minutes. Following that, I assist anywhere between one and two dozen students through experiments using the material from my lecture. Each student turns in a writeup on the lab experiment a week later, which I then grade and hand back a week after that. I love my job. I really do! I love teaching, I love helping students, and I love physics at the level I teach. The money's not bad at all, either. But I've also been in a lot of jobs that weren't so great. I spent years in corporate America, where being five minutes later could mean a thirty minute lecture, or not making someone ultimately happy could mean your ass. That sort of experience fosters a sort of unhealthy paranoia and fear that can seriously eat you up. I very highly doubt that corporate life will ever be a direction I pursue again. As an instructive example, a little more than two weeks ago, I overslept my Saturday morning class. I was supposed to be there at 8 o'clock in the morning. At 8:25 a.m., I got a phone call. Me, bleary: ...hello? Student: Uh, where are you? Everybody left. Me, coming to: ...oh, crap! Student: What should I do? It's just me and one other kid here. Me: Uh. Ok, just - you and one other student? Alright. Go home, we'll make up the material next week. I hung up the phone and proceeded to FREAK OUT HARDCORE, as those who were online (or in the address book in my phone and under suspicion of having some sort of applicable wisdom) can tell you. I immediately emailed my boss, and proceeded to bite my nails waiting for repercussions that never came. I never heard back from him about it. Fast-forward to today. I'm talking with the department secretary about an email I sent her. "I haven't gotten anything from you," she tells me. My freakout starts all over again. What if, I hypothesize (as scientists are so good at), my boss never received my email explaining and apologizing for my absence and seeking guidance? If I go and talk to him and he didn't receive it, I look irresponsible and avoidant. If I don't go talk to him and he didn't receive it, he could find out about the debacle from someone else - ever more irresponsible and avoidant. So I go talk to him, stomach in knots. "Boss," I say, inserting his actual name instead of the word, "I'm wondering if you got an email from me about two and a half weeks ago?" He tells me he had, and he respon-- oh, wait, did he respond? He talked to the department head in case there were any students who complained or asked about it. The thrust of the advice - to teach the material even if there wasn't time for the experiment - was exactly how I'd been handling it. "I know how hard it is to wake up and realize you overslept," he said. "I'm not going to beat you up over it. I did appreciate hearing about it right away, though." I thanked him, and went on my way. ...and promptly started crying on the way back to my office. I really hadn't understood just how much stress I was carrying around simply not knowing everything was ok with this job-that-I-love. Neurotic to my last. (P.S. For those who may go :( at this entry, please note that I feel much better now.)
It's a podcast. It's a long podcast. It was actually fun to put together. If you're really not interested in Somalia - stick around past 2:35. The stuff about Somalia is good information, but sort of tangential. Listen to Somalia, College and Snobs [m4a format; iTunes recommended]. Depending on what y'all think of this one, I may or may not do podcasts in the future. Leave comments! (And if you're reading this on LJ, as always, I only see comments on the actual site.)
At some point last year, Sam and I realized that spending more time together (which we want to do) isn't going to happen if it means doing stuff we don't enjoy much (ick). Fortunately, we both realized that we have stuff that we want to be doing that intersects at least one of the areas the other likes to do already. For example, I have some programming stuff I want to learn and work on, so we picked up these books to get me started:

So, we'll be working on that. We're also going to be getting Sam a camera, as he has an unexplored interest in photography. Here's the package we're looking at:

"Nikon D70S 6.1MP Digital SLR Camera (Body Only)" (Nikon)

"Nikon 70-300mm f/4-5.6G AF Nikkor SLR Camera Lens" (Nikon)

"Tokina 12-24mm f/4 AT-X Pro DX AF Wide Angle Lens for Nikon Digital Cameras" (Tokina)

This is going to be utterly the yay. I can't wait to start working with him.
Visualize a sheet made of rubber, stretched tightly in all directions - flat, smooth, essentially featureless. Now imagine a heavy sphere, like a marble, placed on the sheet. Imagine the smooth, uniform, gradual depression in the sheet, the gentle curve in the material. Juggling this set of images, now add another: another marble, shooting across the surface of the sheet, leaving its own impression on the surface as it moves across. See in your mind this second sphere roll close to the first - just glancing off the very edge of the transformed sheet. Replay this in your head, sending the second marble closer and closer to the first, until the second marble can no longer escape the impression of the first, instead finding a circular path about the first. If in your head, you can conceptually extrapolate this image into three dimensions, you will have a vague picture of our current understanding of gravity; the marbles are massive bodies, like stars and planets, and the sheet is a two-dimensional slice of space-time. Gravity, as we understand it, is a distortion in space-time caused by these massive bodies. A conceptual framework like this is not necessarily a practical or necessary framework for everyday use, though. Einstein's elegant space-time distortion is still taught years after students learn the Newtonian model, because while Newton's model has the fundamental failing that it says nothing about what gravity actually is, it does give a simple mathematical framework for calculating the effects two bodies will have on each other as they pass. The formula essentially says that the magnitude of the gravitational force between two objects is proportional to the mass of both objects, but inversely proportional to the square of the distance they are from each other. The effect is a function of two quantities - the masses - and distance. Both models of gravity tell us that two masses at a sufficient distance from each other will have essentially no effect on each other. They have very little way, even supposing a sudden dose of sentience, of determining that the other even exists. The events required to make these two bodies aware of each other are simple, straightforward, and yet desperately unlikely. The two masses must simply travel close enough to each other to move through the other's sphere of distortion, or sphere of influence. For an orbit to exist, the two must travel close enough for one to become trapped in the circling path about the other. For an orbit to be broken, some external force, strong enough to overcome the distortion, the mutual attraction, must push one object at an appropriate angle, such that it is not simply immediately recaught in a circular path about the first. And if that should happen, freely moving through essentially empty space, the two semi-sentient objects should eventually move out of range such that they are essentially where they began - without knowing that the other truly exists; out of influence range, out of touch. Think about that for a moment. Every single day that we make a phone call, or jump on one of these magic internet boxes, or watch a television show from the other side of the world, we violate in a limited, human way one of the most elegant laws of the universe. When we write a letter, we confirm the continued existence of our mass with one a thousand time smaller than ours. To be human is to have incredible power; the simple facts of our memory and indomitable will allow us to continuously confirm that which we have seen - that which has frightened us, that which inspires us, that which we reject, and most importantly, that which we love. Distance does not equal absence. (Cross-posted from All Write Already. Also, credit is owed to Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe for a good deal of the visualization/metaphor for the physics bits.)
Go watch today's "the show": it's poignant, insightful, and it starts its morning with a bowl of Sugar Tits.
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