12 January 2006

The Optics Guy Your Mother Warned You About

Um, hello again.


Through the wonders of blog referral link tracking and stuff, here is an offbeat, angry, foul-mouthed, humorous blog: "Thilo," or www.ninjapirate.com . If you click "articles" you get, well, articles, about stuff this guy hates.

California's Meeting of the 3-D Display Folk

I will be leaving poor J-Fav and her leg-in-pain so that I may participate on the committee of the 3-D display conference in San Jose next week. Not just any 3-D display conference, but THE 3-D display conference. The one that bullies the other 3-D conferences in the hallway and demands their lunch money.

If that didn't convince you, perhaps these pictures will - from 2004 of us bullies spending that lunch money on the annual 3-D-people-go-out-for-Chinese-food dinner. Or we scientist-types in 2003? Heck, one could spend all night playing "Where's Waldo" as you search for G-Fav amidst the swarm of opticsfolk. I bet you can't tell that I'm sporting a raging fever in that last one, could you?

Techie Pre-Chapter Quotations
Back in college, my friends jotted funny little quips in a blue notebook that I toted around in junior year. Admist the pages of doodles, our buddy Sam did a kind of parody of techie textbooks by opening a fictitious chapter with "Witty Quotation Here."

Many engineering and computer science books begin each chapter with a self-consciously cute quotation. It reminds me of NPR, whose every-other-sentence music intermissions sounds to me like:

"Hello, and good morning. This is NPR."


"I'm Ira Glass, and I'm here interviewing a man who is building a calculating device out of hardened lint bits and soft cheese. I'm here in his basement, and as I look around, I see the trappings of an ordinary workshop. But this is no ordinary workshop."


"(Crackly tape recording of generic old man:) So, I noticed, back in aught-nine, that old lint can be quite malleable at the proper temperature. (Ira:) You mean you would build things out of lint? (Old man:) Yes, lint."


and so on... Don't believe me? This one took 1 minute and 20 seconds before they cranked up the intermission music. They even list the music on their website.

Anyhow, as if to break the tedium of technical writing, we engineers are usually treated to quotations at the beginning of each chapter. If we're unlucky, they're from Through the Looking Glass, which seems to adorn every computer science book ever written. Or that not-particularly-notable quotation about trig that I've seen a few times so far:

Perhaps to the student there is no part of elementary mathematics so repulsive as spherical trigonometry.

P. G. TAIT, Article on Quaternions
Encyclopaedia Britannica (1911)

You're not alone if you've never used quaternions. Sometimes the quotations are compelling despite their similarity to the long-lived "consider a spherical cow" physics joke:

We think we understand the regular reflection of light and x-rays -- and we should understand the reflection of electrons as well if electrons were only waves instead of particles . . . It is rather as if one were to see a rabbit climbing a tree, and were to say, "Well, that is rather a strange thing for a rabbit to be doing, but after all there is really nothing to get excited about. Cats climb trees -- so that if the rabbit were only a cat, we would understand its behavior perfectly."

Franklin Institute Journal (1928)

And then there are the pre-chapter quotations that make me feel stupid, as if I missed the one critical day of 11th grade where they taught us what it means. (I feel that way when I encounter Ezra Pound poems that open with something in Greek, in the Greek alphabet, without a translation.)

If we want to describe what happens in an atomic event, we have to realize that the word "happens" can apply only to the observation, not to the state of affairs between two observations.

Physics and Philosophy (1958)

Which is why I find this one from Feynman so refreshingly straightforward:

A philosopher once said, "It is necessary for the very existence of science that the same conditions always produce the same results." Well, they don't!

The Character of Physical Law (1965)

A guide (on surviving computer science grad school) by Ronald Azuma even recommends that grad students pepper their research updates with such quotations. It begins, "To know the road ahead, ask those coming back. -Chinese proverb."

Aw, heck, NPR isn't all bad. If you're interested in entrepreneurship, this is a feature about our chairman, featuring yours truly somewhere after 4m:20sec. (RealPlayer)


Next on Fav's blog...


You should be spared from further exposure to my lack of coherence in this blog post, so, have a good evening. (Hah! An optics pun!) But not until you heed Not Ted's advice and spend an hour on the website for the comedy group The Lonely Island.


ps I hear it's de-lurking week in the blog world. Hey, if you read this thing once in a while, feel free to introduce yourself.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I read and I think you're cute when you're incoherent. Just stop making fun of NPR.