Archive for the 'blogosphere' Category


A little embarrassing

If you know me or if you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you probably know that I am a graduate student in Materials Science and Engineering.  If you don’t know what that is, I’ll help you out.  It’s basically the study of the science and engineering of materials (i.e. metals, plastics, ceramics, etc.).  Obviously, things that are built, must be built out of something, and that something has to be one or more of the known chemical elements.  So, the periodic table is pretty important to materials scientists, just as it is important to chemists.  That said, there are lots of elements in the periodic table that are not in wide use in engineering applications, either because their properties are not attractive for building things or because a cheaper element has sufficiently similar properties, so materials scientists may not think about those elements very much.

When Adrian posted about the trivia site the other day, I was intrigued to find that they have a quiz to test your knowledge of the periodic table.  I figured that since I am a materials scientist, I would have no trouble.  I was wrong.  I was especially embarrassed that on my first try, I couldn’t even fill in the top row of the transition metals (curse you, Scandium!). I also didn’t do so well on the non-metals (other than the halogens, the nobel gases, and those in the first row), since I spend most of my time thinking about metals or metal oxides and I don’t work on biological materials.

If you’re interested, try taking the quiz.  I think you’ll find it harder than you might anticipate.  However, don’t worry if you can’t get the bottom three rows (that is, the bottom row of the main table, along with the lanthanide and actinide series).

Personally, I think that the bottom row of the main part of the table is a curiosity of little practical value.  Most of those elements have a half life of less than 1 second, so they are of no value to engineers.  Furthermore, the elements in the lanthanide and actinide series (in separate rows at the bottom) are also not widely used, so I wouldn’t worry too much about those either.  There are some exceptions: Americium is used in smoke detectors, so you probably have some where you live.  Also, if you have any decent headphones, they probably use magnets containing neodymium. Obviously, uranium and plutonium are pretty well-known as well, though I’m quite sure you don’t have any of those at home – unless you have really old dishes with an orange glaze since uranium oxide used to be used for orange glazes in pottery and dishes, etc.

Anyway, this is all to say that you can be proud of yourself if you complete the periodic table with the exceptions of the last three rows.  If you can fill it all in, you’re a major chemistry dork.


On awesome projects and internet superstardom

Sometimes I get discouraged by the fact that there are lots of people on the internet who are doing lots of cool projects while I don’t have time to pursue the awesome projects that I dream up and that would surely bring me internet superstardom.  It would be nice to be able to pursue those projects, but I have a couple of important other projects in the works:


If these two projects turn out well, I won’t be sorry that I didn’t get to work on all the others.


Baby updates on Twitter

So, our baby’s due date has come and gone. We are still not at the hospital and the baby is still hanging out in the womb. I’ve been thinking about how to notify friends and family about labor-related developments and it finally struck me: twitter. So, if you’re interested in finding out when we leave for the hospital and when the baby is born, check here for news.


Music news

I think it’s been a while since I’ve written anything about music. That’s not entirely surprising, though, since I didn’t really have anything to write about. Last night, however, I got a new album: Reinventing the Wheel by Andy Gullahorn. I’ve known about him for quite some time since he’s a good friend and frequent collaborator of Andrew Peterson. However, I had never really listened to any of his stuff until the last few days. For some reason, I decided to check out Jill Phillips, who is Andy Gullahorn’s wife and her site led me to his, which I have enjoyed (for its humor content) since the days when he still used Microsoft Word to create it (which is actually not that long ago). Anyway, I found the Youtube ad (which is pretty funny) he created to promote his new album and I got interested in hearing more of his stuff. So, I listened to some of his stuff on his MySpace page and to the 30-second clips of his songs on iTunes.

Finally, I just bought the album.  I don’t regret it. I’ve listened to it the whole way through a few times and I really like it. There are a few stand-out songs on it, either because I really like the music (“Original Cliche”, “Nobody Wants to Work”), or because the subject matter resonates with me (“That Guy”, “More of a Man”). Overall, it’s a solid album. He is a very talented guitarist and a capable singer. Although much of his website and his commercial is very silly, his songs are pretty sober (except for “Roast Beef”, which is about his friend, Andrew Osenga, losing one of his toes to his lawnmower).  Well, I would say that the themes in the songs are sober, but the way in which they’re presented is sometimes silly.  I think I would liken it to a good serious movie – some humorous elements are interspersed in order to prevent the movie from becoming totally morose.

In any case, many of the songs are thought-provoking, so I feel like the album is intellectually and/or spiritually satisfying as well as musically satisfying.  He’s a Christian and some of the songs have Christian themes, but I would say that this album is generally more accessible to non-Christians than Andrew Peterson’s albums.  In fact, probably only 3 (out of 11) songs have explicitly Christian themes (“Desperate Man”, “That Guy”,”Holy Ground”).  He sings about his family a lot (“How Precious Life Is”, “Desperate Man”, “Alright Here”, “More of a Man”,”Enough Time”, “Give It Time”) , which resonates strongly with me but might not be so powerful to single folks or those with no kids.  If you’re intrigued by my assessment of it, check out his stuff on his MySpace page and listen to it for yourself.


A new hobby

Well, this isn’t exactly a hobby, but it’s something I’ve done a few times and I think it’s fun, so it’s kind of like a hobby. Anyway, you may or may not know that I read a couple of gadget-related sites with reasonable regularity. In particular, I read engadget and gizmodo most days and there are some other sites I keep up with on a less frequent basis. In any case, these sites often cover new GPS systems for cars (now often called PNDs (personal navigation devices)). Usually, the image of the devices shows a map of some place on the device’s screen. There is usually no city label – just roads and landmarks. So, my new hobby has become finding where the map is from.

Today engadget covered a new PND from Mio and the map shown on the device had roads named “Turkey Shore Rd.”, “Prince of Wales Rd.”, “Ffordd Tudur” and “Porth-y-Felin Rd.” In addition, a harbor was depicted along with a ferry route. “Prince of Wales Rd.” made me think that it was likely in the UK, but not necessarily in Wales. The harbor and ferry route obviously put it on the coast somewhere. “Ffordd Tudur” and “Porth-y-Felin Rd.” made me think it was, in fact, in Wales, because Welsh is just a funny-looking language with lots of repeated consonants. So, I searched the coast of Wales and found it.

A random small town on the coast of Wales seems like a strange place to choose for a marketing photo for a new GPS device, but I suppose they have to pick somewhere. I also recall finding a place in the center of Berlin that was in a picture of a GPS device. Anyway, maybe the fact that I enjoy this makes me a huge nerd, but I enjoy the challenge of it and it helps to improve not only my geographical knowledge, but it also brings a little extra familiarity with local languages.

Looking at the original image again, I noticed that the name of the city is somewhat visible.  Even if I had noticed it when I first looked at the picture, I wouldn’t have simply searched for “Holyhead”.  It’s much more interesting to use clues to find it.  Obviously, though, this only works if the city name is either not visible, or it is unknown to you.  Though, if the city name is visible and you know where it is, it’s still entertaining to track down exactly where in a city the map is from.


The economy and word choice in the news

I am not a big fan of the news. The news is a business and every business tries to convince you that you need its product. The news does this by making you scared of the world you live in and then positioning itself as the agency that is looking out for you or the source of information you need in order to not get burned. It also adds drama to otherwise bland news stories by overstating the significance of a story or using dramatic words even when they aren’t merited. On-going news stories are the bread and butter of news outlets so they strive to ensure that they’ve got your attention by over-dramatizing the story every day. One on-going news story that I’ve recently noticed conforms to the above pattern is the economy.

News outlets have been reporting about the weak dollar. Let’s be clear – it is weak. However, a report I saw on Google News recently announced that the “dollar plummets”. If by “plummet” they mean “continues to weaken at a not-unexpected pace”, then that’s fine. However, that is not how most people understand “plummet”. In addition, I heard an ad for the 11pm news on TV last night announcing that food prices were “skyrocketing”. I’m pretty sure that food prices are not going up enough to match my understanding of the word “skyrocketing”.

Maybe you think I’m getting overly semantic. I’m not. This is important. One of the key reports that influences Wall Street is the Consumer Confidence Index. When consumer confidence goes down, it usually causes stocks to lose value on Wall Street and it can play a role in Federal Reserve Board decisions on interest rates. Where do you think that consumers get their sense of confidence in the economy? If you said “the news”, you’re right. Obviously, it’s not the only source, but it’s certainly an important source. So, when people are surveyed about their confidence in the economy, do you think phrases they’ve heard like “dollar plummets” and “food prices skyrocket” will influence their sense of confidence in the economy? Of course they will.

So, in the interest of making a little extra money themselves, news outlets are endangering the entire economy by exaggerating the severity of its struggles.  I’m sure you agree that this type of behavior cannot be condoned, but it’s not clear what should be done about it.  If you have ideas about how we can encourage journalists to be responsible in their reporting and not exaggerate news stories for their own gain, please submit your ideas in the comments.


Web 2.0

I just set up an account on twitter.  Does anyone else use it?  Does anyone use pownce?  Any thoughts on how they compare?

I still don’t have an account on Facebook, MySpace, or LinkedIn.  This is my way of sticking it to the Web 2.0 “man” and I like it.


Wii Heads-up

If any of you are looking for a Wii, be advised that they will reportedly be available on Amazon at 10AM Pacific time tomorrow (Oct. 31st). Now is probably the time to try to get one, since demand will only get worse between now and Christmas and Nintendo has already stated that they expect to not be able to meet holiday demand.



After a lot of messing around, a week or more of inaction, and a little more messing around, I finally got my photoblog up and running.  The bottom line seems to be that WordPress and the photoblogging plug-in don’t play nicely with 10MP images.  I had been hoping that I would be able to use the plug-in to automatically upload, resize, and thumbnail all the images I wanted to post on the photoblog, and while that may still be possible, I have given up trying to make it work.  For now, I will resize the images manually and then use the WordPress administrative interface to upload things.  This also will give me the opportunity to think about whether I want to crop the pictures at all in order to make sure the picture is composed exactly as I want it.

Anyway, my photoblog is now available at the unsurprising URL:  (Update: this site is now down – see its replacement at

I wrestled with the title for quite awhile, rather than choosing something lame like “insert title here”.  My initial choice was “14 Shots of the Dome”, which was meant to say something about how this site featured photography (“shots”) and about how I am a student of MIT, the most easily recognizable architectural feature of which is its dome.  I thought this title was a clever double meaning to both “shots” and “dome”, playing off L.L. Cool J’s album “14 Shots to the Dome”.  However, after some consideration, I decided not to use a name that evoked thoughts of someone getting shot in the head.

Going back to the drawing board, I began to think a lot about the nature of photography, which, I would say, is the way in which it takes a fleeting moment and records it, preserving it for eternity.  I’ve been thinking more about speaking German lately, so I thought I might want to choose a title in German.  Furthermore, the people who made both the WordPress photoblog plug-in as well as the WordPress theme I’m using are German speakers, so this seemed doubly appropriate.  In the end, I settled on “Der Ewige Augenblick”, which roughly translates to “The Eternal Instant” or “The Everlasting Moment”.  I also considered “Der Ewiggewordene Augenblick”, which would more precisely capture the idea of an instant becoming eternal, but that seems like a mouthful for English speakers.

I posted a picture last night and another one tonight.  I hope that you’ll take a look and let me know what you think.


Potential Outage / Coming Attractions

So, I’m planning to add a photoblog to the offerings here on  In particular, I’m thinking about using the so-called “Yet Another Photo Blog” plug-in for WordPress, since I have a decent amount of experience with WordPress and I already have 2 WordPress installations on this server.  However, as I was looking into adding a photoblog, I realized that having 3 separate WordPress installations would be a pain, since it would make 3 times the work for me when I want to upgrade to a new version of WordPress.  So, I’ve decided to try to consolidate things and run my blog, Heather’s blog, and my new photoblog all from the same WordPress installation.  How is such a thing possible?  Well, after looking through the documentation at, I found the Allan Mertner/Stephen Rider symlink hack.  I plan to try to get this running in the next day or two.  However, I’ve had enough experience doing things like this to know that it rarely goes as smoothly as one might hope.  So, be forewarned that this blog, and Heather’s blog, for that matter, could be out of commission for a day or two.  Once everything is set up, I’ll post again and let you know where you can find my new photoblog.  I have a pretty big backlog of pictures, both from my ~20 rolls of film (with 4 more yet to be developed) and from the 600+ pictures that I’ve taken with my Pentax K10D since I got it, so I hope to be able to give my readership a picture a day for the foreseeable future.


May 2022

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