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If you’re not a nerd…

… then you’re just admitting that you’re boring.

“Nerds like us are allowed to be unironically enthusiastic about stuff. We don’t have to be like, ‘Oh yeah that purse is okay’ or like, ‘Yeah, I like that band’s early stuff.’ Nerds are allowed to love stuff, like jump-up-and-down-in-the-chair-can’t-control-yourself-love it. When people call people nerds, mostly what they are saying is, ‘You like stuff’, which is just not a good insult at all, like ‘You are too enthusiastic about the miracle of human consciousness’.”

“Saying ‘I notice you’re a nerd’ is like saying, ‘Hey, I notice that you’d rather be intelligent than be stupid, that you’d rather be thoughtful than be vapid, that you believe that there are things that matter more than the arrest record of Lindsay Lohan. Why is that?’ In fact, it seems to me that most contemporary insults are pretty lame. Even ‘lame’ is kind of lame. Saying ‘You’re lame’ is like saying ‘You walk with a limp.’ Yeah, whatever, so does 50 Cent, and he’s done all right for himself.”

– John Green

(via stackmack)

We’d all be better off if we all just admitted that we’re nerds about something. Stop chasing this nebulous idea of The Cool and just like the stuff that we like and do what we want to do unapologetically.


Budget Cuts for US Science

The proposed Republican budget includes huge cuts across the board, especially in health and science areas. The cuts would come halfway through the fiscal year, making them even more onerous. The cuts would have the effect of slashing the remaining balances of the NSF and NIH budgets by almost 10 percent and the DOE Office of Science and NIST by more than 30 percent. For example, the Tevatron, the large accelerator at Fermilab, already due to be shut down in September due to lack of funding, could be shut down almost immediately. There will certainly be layoffs, and national labs may have to shut down completely for some period. President Obama’s proposed budget is much more favorable to science overall.

The House of Representatives has already passed their version of the bill, but the budget battle is far from over.  Click here to write to your legislators to oppose the passage of such huge cuts to American science.

See this post at Cosmic Variance for more on this issue.

Liveblogging CDMS Talk from My Couch

Post-Talk UPDATE:

My take: No conclusive discovery of dark matter, but we couldn’t realistically expect that anyway.  However, there are two events that, while not definitively dark matter, can’t be ruled out either.  The announcement wasn’t earth-shattering, but it was nonetheless exciting.  It was cool for me to be in on what may be the early stages of a big and important discovery, both by watching the announcement live and by being at the institution that hosts the experiment.

My semester is over, so I’m at home, sitting on my couch, watching the CDMS talk streaming live. Here’s some of my thoughts as I watch: Continue reading ‘Liveblogging CDMS Talk from My Couch’

The Science of Who’s the Best

The Physics ArXiv Blog recently discussed a paper on the statistical problem with soccer tournaments.  In particular, the authors note the problem that there is only a 28% chance that the “best team” won the most recent World Cup.  They also point to the presence of intransitive triplets,  or rock-paper-scissors type relationships where team A beats team B beats team C, who then beats team A.  They cite these results to support their claim that single-elimination tournaments, and soccer games in general are a bad experiment to determine the best team.

I don’t know much about soccer, but as a basketball fan, I’m not surprised to hear about the existence of these intransitive triplets.  Sure, after an 82-game NBA season where every team plays each other at least twice,  you can feel pretty confident about ranking the teams on a rough hierarchy.  But three teams of roughly the same level can definitely have a rock-paper-scissors relationship because of different areas of strength.

More interesting, however is their claim about single-elimination tournaments, as it makes me think of the age-old debate that seems to come up every March: Which is better, NCAA or NBA basketball?

Continue reading ‘The Science of Who’s the Best’

End-Of-Semester Bullets

My first semester in grad school is officially in the books (except for entering some grades in a spreadsheet).  It’s a good feeling, a sense of accomplishment mixed with exhaustion.  (Plus a slight feeling of dread as I try to avoid thinking about the qualifying exam coming up before the start of next semester.)  So how about I distract myself with some quick thoughts and links, in conveinient bullet form…

Continue reading ‘End-Of-Semester Bullets’


I’ve been grading lab reports for the class that I TA this week.  Sometimes I don’t know how teachers handle it… seeing the same mistakes repeatedly just gives you a terrible outlook on the abilities of undergrads, and by extension, the whole world.  PhD comics has had a running commentary on my thoughts about this:

(I hope this qualifies as fair use of this image.  If not, I will take it down and link to the page.)

Now, in reality I know that they’re not really that bad (the ones I’ve taught, anyway), but grading will make you lose sight of this, at least temporarily.  That’s why I found it was a bad idea to grade for an hour and a half before going to teach my lab.  Doesn’t quite put you in a “go get-em” sort of mood.  I got over it, though.

Continue reading ‘Grading…’

First Week of Class

So I’ve got the first week of grad classes under my belt.  Not that I had expected a huge difference from undergrad, but the classes aren’t qualitatively different.  Of course, there are significantly more students in my classes than at my small undergrad program where I had six people in my classes.

Taking notes

I’ve been struggling somewhat with the chronic problem of physics classes: Do you try to really understand what the professor is doing during the lecture, or do you try to copy down everything, hoping that you’ll understand it later?

Of course, in principle I should know, for example, where Lagrange’s equations come from and how to derive them, but I also know from experience that I probably won’t be required to reproduce this in homework or exams, but rather how to use them to solve problems.  And when the professor is tossing around all kinds of cross products and indices, and arguing why this or that term equals zero, it’s very easy to miss the forest for the trees.  I’d say that in many traditionally taught classes, it’s pretty much impossible to both understand what’s going on and to get everything in your notes.  Most students tend to opt for the latter, hence the addage that “Lecture is the place where the class notes are transferred from the notebook of the professor to the notebook of the students without passing through the brains of either.”

Continue reading ‘First Week of Class’