View Full Version : Science Saturday: Special Valentine's Edition

02-09-2008, 07:51 AM

02-09-2008, 11:19 AM
It was good of Sean and Jennifer to bring up this subject - it should have gotten much more attention. The New York Times had a couple of stories - the original story back in December (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/22/science/22fermi.html) and a follow up this past week. (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/05/science/05spac.html)

The politicians keep talking about the need to make sure we have first rate math and science education - and then gut the field.

02-09-2008, 11:34 AM
New slogan (http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/8632?in=37:20&out=37:23) for BH.tv!

Kidding aside, nice turn of phrase, Sean.

02-09-2008, 11:54 AM
You might have noticed this one already, if you looked at Jennifer's blog. But in case not, let me call your attention to a post of hers that I read a few days ago: "anatomy of a white board (http://twistedphysics.typepad.com/cocktail_party_physics/2008/01/anatomy-of-a-wh.html)."

02-09-2008, 12:15 PM
I guess I don't understand the value of blogging at all. I don't know any CS bloggers, and doubt I would read them if I discovered them. CS and AI are my field, but I think the odds of somebody else remotely addressing any problem I am currently struggling with is infinitesimal. And even within CS, I am not remotely interested in the cutting edge research on compilers or network security or image recognition, even though all of these can involve AI. The learning curve to even understand their problems is steep enough to be a waste of time if you don't hunger to be involved on a long term basis.

So I just see no personal or professional value in blogging, and I don't blog because I see no value in writing what essentially nobody will read, no matter how well crafted. I am not a tenured professor but perhaps a lot of tenured professors feel as I do; and the first question they ask themselves is "Who would read it," and even if they can answer that question with a non-empty set, they still don't like the answer.

Commenting on a few boards, however, is a different matter.

02-09-2008, 12:26 PM
There is a neat collaboration between science and art in Chicago called Skyzome. (http://www.skyzome.com/) The institutions involved are the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (http://www.saic.edu/), the Adler Planetarium (http://www.adlerplanetarium.org/), and the University of Chicago. (http://astro.uchicago.edu/) It started as part of the Chicago Festival of Maps. (http://www.festivalofmaps.com/index.aspx)

Side note: The Festival of Maps was so cool! QE2 lent some maps done by Leonardo da Vinci, which were incredible (he was the first to use color to indicate changes in altitude) but the Wall Street Journal said there was even better stuff in the exhibit at the Field Museum. (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120036995826490669.html?mod=googlenews_wsj) The Newberry Library (http://www.newberry.org/exhibits/ptolemy.html) had almost all of the copies (37) of Ptolemy's Geography (Renaissance Edition) in existence, each copy open to one of the maps in the work. It include a program on Cosmic Cartography. (http://cosmicmaps.uchicago.edu/)

Back to Skyzome - it will be a visual display of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (http://www.sdss.org/) made out of over 10,000 lights that will be hanging from the Frank Gehry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_gehry) designed trellis over the great lawn at Millenium Park. (http://www.millenniumpark.org/) Not sure when it will be installed but I am eagerly looking forward to it.

At the meeting of the American Astronomical Society (http://www.aas.org/meetings/aas211/) last month in Austin, there was a presentation SKYZOME: Public Art to Promote Science. (http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2007AAS...211.7001L)

02-09-2008, 01:08 PM

I think you probably nailed it, as far as guessing about the lack of interest in blogging among tenured professors and other highly specialized people. And that's fine -- nothing is for everyone, and there's no reason why people should feel compelled to jump aboard the latest bandwagon.

On the other hand, I do think it's true that an instinctive resistance to new things impedes people, that scientists are no different in this regard from anybody else, and that some of them would find there's a lot to be gained from blogging if they'd just give it a try.

There is a great interest in reading such blogs, on the part of people such as me. I don't have a specialty outside of Advanced Dilettantism, but I am quite interested in, and enjoy reading about, what people with more focus are up to. In particular, I like when someone writes about something that makes me stretch. To that end, I follow Cosmic Variance, of course, along with a lot of the people who post on scienceblogs.net (http://scienceblogs.com/). I also follow a number of blogs written by computer people (although, admittedly, the ones I read most regularly tend to focus on applications and practices, rather than pure CS research.) Further, I regularly make the rounds among blogs written by economists, linguists, lawyers, and historians.

So, in answer to the question "why blog?", then, this is one possible motivation: some people enjoy educating a lay audience.

Another reason is one that Sean mentioned, and has gone on about elsewhere -- it's useful for, and interesting to, one's peers. Again, not necessarily for everyone, but it's easy for me to imagine how this channel would appeal to at least some researchers.

I don't agree that what you do is so limited that no one would else would care about it. There are a fair number of people connected to the Web, so the odds are, no matter how obscure your field and or narrow your range of interests, you'll stumble across, or attract, a like-minded group of people.

Who knows? You might post something that gives someone else an "aha!" moment, or just helps them see past a blind spot. Even a rant about some boneheaded thing you have to deal with might make a certain reader (http://www.vbulletin.com/) think, "Shit, I gotta clean up my act." So that's another reason for blogging about your profession: sharing knowledge.

I've put up a few posts that I wrote mostly for my own enjoyment that seemed like they'd be of interest to no one, but thanks to the Google, they've found readers who were ecstatic to have come across them. For example, who knew there was anyone else out there who was suffering a display glitch (http://bjkeefe.blogspot.com/2007/08/thunderbird-and-firefox-20-display.html) in Thunderbird that was related to one and only one obsolete graphics card? Who would have thought that there was anyone else out there who needed to get spell checking (http://bjkeefe.blogspot.com/2005/12/follow-up-to-day-in-life.html) working in an old version of Emacs on a Win98 machine? But both attracted a few very happy people. I guess this is mostly a matter of philosophical orientation, but for me, I feel like I get so much for free from other people sharing what they've struggled to figure out that it behooves me at least to try to give something back.

There's one more reason I can think of. As you undoubtedly know, essay means try. I have found on countless occasions that the effort of writing something out helps me to understand it a lot better. On a related note, I also find that the blogging platform is useful for notes-to-self. I like it better than just keeping notes in a flat file (or spiral notebook, for that matter), because of all the infrastructure that comes along for free -- easy inclusion of multimedia, easy updating, tagging, linking, and searching, in particular. To this end, you don't even have to care whether you'll ever attract readers; you can derive benefit from blogging just for yourself.

Again, maybe none of these possibilities motivate you. But I throw them out there in the hopes that you'll reconsider. Based on the technical stuff you've posted on this site, I bet I would enjoy reading your blog.

02-09-2008, 01:09 PM

Thanks for all the links!

02-09-2008, 03:31 PM
On the issue of scientist's craziet thoughts going public, I was not surprised to see it had nothing to do with the recent rantings of a Canadian scientist who called for the jailing for politicians who question Climate Change science. To many scientists, this is probably not such a crazy thing to do.

Simon Willard
02-09-2008, 03:31 PM
Not to mention that it's hard to put equations into a blog, to capture some of the http://www.bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/8632?in=00:49:13?out=00:49:46.
"math is pretty" aspect that Jennifer was talking about.

Does anyone know if it's possible to put equations into the comment section?

02-09-2008, 08:20 PM
Even better: "... Bloggingheads — where people who are more comfortable behind a keyboard than in front of a camera pick up the phone to talk about things they’d be too lazy to type about ..."

(source (http://cosmicvariance.com/2008/02/09/headsabloggin/))

02-10-2008, 12:07 PM
I do think it's true that an instinctive resistance to new things impedes people,

I don't put myself in that category. I spent 30 years working to make new things exist, and working to teach people both above me and below me new ways of working and thinking that would ensure safety and prosperity for all of us. Now the first half of that I was admittedly more apprentice than principle, but with experience and success come greater responsibility because we develop an instinct, in the field of the new, for what works and what fails. I am the last person to diss a new approach just because it is new, I love new ideas. But new ideas must be able to withstand interrogation. I want the new idea to be accompanied by some plausible reasoning for why it will work better than the canonical method. (On that score I can accept "I don't know", if the canonical method is obviously failing us, in that case just being different might be worth a try. Kind of like my reason for supporting Obama.)

some people enjoy educating a lay audience.

You need lay readers, first.

I have found on countless occasions that the effort of writing something out helps me to understand it a lot better.

As have I. But I write it in Latex as if I were authoring a journal paper, equations and all. That helps me find holes in arguments and missing experiments. Perhaps that is my blog, I have a dozen or so such research logs, complete with "next question" sections, that capture my current state of work on various projects and ideas. The introductions are written pretty much as tutorials for me, to guide me through the thoughts and observations and already done experiments that led to the project and idea.

On about 80% of the days I work, I am updating one or more of these logs. Now they don't contain any personal information like what movies I saw or how the distributor went out on my car last weekend, but it is difficult for me to believe anybody I don't personally know and have verbal contact with would give a crap.

And I wouldn't want to make them public for two reasons: First, I can have embarrassing logical slips in there; more than once I have concluded something completely bone-headed and not discovered the flaw in my logic until I tried to exploit the false conclusion and failed. Also, I am hoping to turn most of this stuff into publishable research, and the last thing I need is some jerk with no ideas of his own ripping me off and publishing something I was working on. I have known a few such jerks, one with a stable of grad students to put on ideas he stumbled across, always as if the ideas were his own.

The big problem there is i can take 3-6 months to write a paper and 12 months for a few rounds of peer review to take place on a new idea before it is accepted and published in a good journal, so if I got ripped I probably wouldn't even know it for 18 months. I might write my own paper and get it reviewed and even accepted and then have to withdraw it because the ripper beat me to print with my own idea. That is a big price to pay for somebody else's "aha!". And although very few such unscrupulous rippers would bother to give you credit (since you can't prove anything), even if they did it is a thousand times better to be the author of the article and not somebody he thanks for a personal communication.

So there you go, perhaps, like most people, I am blogging for an audience of me.

02-10-2008, 01:59 PM

Fair enough. As I said, it's not for everybody.

02-11-2008, 11:44 AM
Science. With a scientist! Good get, bhtv! And congratulations to our guests for (one hopes) showing the way to a healthier relationship between science and science journalism, which often reads more like the plot of "Fatal Attraction." [For just one ready recent example of "stalker" science journalism, see Michael Pollan's recent brain fart at TED (http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/214). ]

02-13-2008, 11:51 PM
Does anybody know if the science journalist Jennifer Ouellette the same Jennifer Ouellette who designed this 'Jennifer Ouellette peacock eye satin & feather bow headband' ( http://www.julib.com/chicago/headcase021208CH_email.html )? I mean, she doesn't really seem like a fashion designer from this video, but the headband involves a patented system... so that's scientific.

02-14-2008, 08:20 AM
Does anybody know if the science journalist Jennifer Ouellette the same Jennifer Ouellette who designed this 'Jennifer Ouellette peacock eye satin & feather bow headband' ( http://www.julib.com/chicago/headcase021208CH_email.html )? I mean, she doesn't really seem like a fashion designer from this video, but the headband involves a patented system... so that's scientific.

An interesting question. I think the answer is no, if you compare the two about pages: Our JO (http://twistedphysics.typepad.com/about.html) and the other JO (http://www.jenniferouellette.com/about.html).

But in support of your reasoning, note the final paragraph from the latter (emph. added):

Independent since 1996, Jennifer Ouellette, Inc. delivers millinery and accessories to women who demand more than shallow trends and throw away styles. Interpreted for the urban woman of today, she presents designs of traditional quality with a singular attention to detail. Always fashionable, drawn from science and nature, timely and timeless, superior designs from Jennifer Ouellette.