Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Announcements and experiments

First, I have been getting some "blog spam" lately, probably attracted via the "atom" feed I've been experimenting with. My post this morning instantly attracted no fewer than four spammy comment messages. So for a while, until I get the whole thing straightened out, I'm disabling the comments on new posts (like this one). (But see Update below.)

Of course, you might want to send me a comment anyway. You can still do this at my "blog only" email account, which is "tewamu(AT)email(DOT)com". I will try to check this account every day or two. I will post here comments that I find particularly interesting, important or amusing. So here is the policy on the "tewamu" account: Unless you specify otherwise, I will feel free to post all or part of the content of your message (though not your email address) here.

Those of you who know my regular work-based email (which I will not post here, but which is pretty easy to find) can of course still use it to contact me, but I will not post the content of those messages without getting permission of the sender.

Now for the experiments. I have been investigating ways to include photos and other images on this blog. I'm starting out with an image (below) from our family vacation this August to Bolivia and Peru. This shows us at Machu Picchu. Left to right: yours truly, Carol, Glynis and Sarah. Machu Picchu is an amazing place, and no image can possibly hope to give more than a glimpse of its grandeur and strangeness.

The second image, shown here, is a beautiful shot that Glynis made just after dawn, when a bank of cloud blew over the ruins. If you click on the link, you can take a look at a higher-resolution version.

Hi-res (50 kB)

Our South American trip was quite an adventure, by the way. Along the way we ate llama, alpaca, guinea pig and quinoa; drank coca tea; met one of the guys who made the reed boats for Thor Heyerdahl; climbed around on many Inca and pre-Inca ruins; spent a while on Lake Titicaca; and generally had a grand ol' time. I intend to do some blogging about it when time and the muse permit.

Update: Commenter Aram has suggested that I use "word verification" on comments, which prevents automated systems from posting. I have done this. Thanks, Aram! This will add a step to posting a comment, but this should solve the problem. I am also maintaining the "tewamu" email address for a more private direct comment capability.

October is the cruelest month

It's that time of year again, alas. Yesterday I received the annual e-mail from my brother, the Lutheran theologian:
Dear Ben,

Well, here we go again. Our sad yearly ritual of commiseration. I have heard that you did not get that phone call from Sweden yet again, and I am, for lack of a better word, devastated.

Devastated and bitter. the Swedes were such staunch defenders of the Lutheran Reformation during the Thirty Years War (what some places in Bavaria still call "The Swedish War"). But since then it has been pretty bleak and paltry stuff, mostly. And their country looks like Minnesota. Not that there's anything wrong with that, I guess, but you can't expect terrain like that to breed heroes, or wise judges.

So the prize goes to, what, optics!? How lame. Dress it up and call it frequency combing if you must, but it still sounds like flashlights and laser tag to me. I am not impressed, and I believe the American people are not impressed, either. I'm not suggesting any military options at this point -- but all options for action are on the table. We probably won't go to war with Sweden over this (can you go to war with a country as passive and bland as modern Sweden? I doubt it.). But wrongs must be righted, and someday, somehow, this one will be.

I hope I get invited to the party!

To which I answered:
Your condolences are, as always, no comfort whatsoever. It's all a racket you know. Oh yeah, Glauber may have invented the whole coherent state formalism for quantum optics. Sure, sure, we all have to study his papers in grad school. Let me tell you, it's just a fad, a momentary forty-year hiccup of quantum mechanics fashion. And of course the Nobel committee is always hung up on the newest new thing. Putzes.
And don't get me started on the other guys, Hall and whats-his-name. Who cares if you can make fundamental measurements to fifteen significant figures? Sheesh. My calculator doesn't even have that many digits.

Well, at least it wasn't as bad as last year. Quark confinement! As if anyone were interested in knowing why protons and neutrons hold together. At least this year the laureates were talking about photons and things. I've actually mentioned photons in some of my papers -- one or two, anyway. That makes me a photon guy too! So why not give some of the prize to me? I mean, I'm not bitter or anything, but when it comes right down to it, why not?

I do appreciate your tact, though. Just such a delicacy of feeling kept me from bringing up the shocking travesty that the Templeton Prize people perpetrated last March, when they passed you over and gave their lousy 1.5 million bucks to . . . well, to a physicist. Again. For the seventh time. (OK, eighth time if you count Stanley Jaki.) Creeps.

Better luck (to us both) next year,

And this morning comes his reply:
Thanks a lot for mentioning the Templeton thing. Sheesh. I was just getting over it.
Well, we must bear life's disappointments. At least the Cards are in the playoffs. For the rest of us, there is always next season.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Word from Al Anbar

Earlier this summer I drove down to Anapolis to see the wedding of one of my former students. She was marrying a Marine lieutenant, a graduate of the Naval Academy. The ceremony was held in the Academy Chapel and followed by a banquet over in Alumni Hall. All in all, a most impressive occasion.

When you're a teacher, you try not to have favorites, but of course you have them anyway. Jada is one of mine. She was a physics/philosophy double major here, graduated top in her class, after which she went off to Oxford as a Marshall Scholar. Jada is a person of deep faith, sharp wits and a highly developed sense of fun -- a nice combination. And her husband Tim, who was also a Marshall Scholar, seems cast out of the same stuff, with plenty of Marine-grade steel added to the mix. I have only met him once, on the day of the wedding, but I guess I'd have to include him among my favorites as well.

Jada has now started her Ph.D. work at Princeton in philosophy of physics, and Tim has now deployed back to Iraq for a second tour there. A few days ago he sent an email to various friends and relatives with some news about how things are going. He reports some similarities and some differences from his last deployment eight months ago.
  1. What has not changed is the experience of the five senses in this country. The potent stench of sewer and garbage continues to pervade the urban areas. The sight of the barren, endless desert that surrounds the villages certainly is the same here as it is near Falluja. The early morning song-chant of the call to prayer and the whistle from an incoming mortar or rocket continue to be all-too-familiar sounds. The feel of 50 pounds of gear on your shoulders at the end of a three-hour foot patrol in 100+ degree temperatures certainly has not changed. (If anything, that gear seems to be feeling even heavier!)
  2. The insurgency continues to be active within the Al Anbar province. This area is still a dangerous place for both US and Iraqi Forces working to thwart the insurgency. The challenge is staying one step ahead of the insurgents so that they are kept off-balance in their attempts to intimidate the local populace and inflict harm on Coalition Forces.
  3. A taxing tension persists for Iraqi citizens, hamstrung between ruthless insurgents and the daunting presence of US Marines. The long-term solution remains the same: increase the Iraqi security forces' responsibility in providing security for their own populace.
  1. The Iraqi Army has made significant progress over the last year. For the first three months of our last deployment, we did not train or work with indigenous forces. Now we are patrolling on a daily basis with proficient, capable Iraqi soldiers. Progress is certainly being made, but patience continues to be a virtue in the development of Iraqi security forces.
  2. As Marines, we have learned much from our experiences in Iraq; so have the insurgents. The enemy we fight is smart and adaptive. The lethality of IEDs and VBIEDs (car bombs) has certainly increased in the past year.
  3. A few years down the road, when tourism picks up in Iraq, I highly recommend visiting in the fall instead of the summer. Words cannot express how great it is to be avoiding June, July, and August this time around. I certainly do not miss temperatures in the 130s!
Today I hear from Jada that Tim is part of Operation River Gate, the new offensive to seize control of three Euphrates River towns from Al Qaeda. So for a while, he will be in some of the hottest fighting in that whole theater of war. God shield him.

You know, we are sending some of our best over to Iraq and Afghanistan to fight this war. That is a thought that fills me with admiration, pride, confidence, and (yes) a little apprehension. This is serious business. It's a good thing to keep people like Tim and Jada in mind -- and in your prayers, if you say any. And it is a good thing to remember how terribly important it is that we prevail.