Mass Produced Eggnog

‘Tis the season for celebrating humankind’s goodness towards one another, at least if you are Christian (though, I imagine, other religions, if they can get past the glitz, can also appreciate the sentiment behind the Christmas story). It is also the season for holiday traditions, both good and bad, one of which is eggnog. Mmmm, eggnog.

It seems that these days everyone is bashing mass produced, commercial eggnog. I don’t understand it myself. I actually really like the stuff that comes in a carton. I know it’s not traditional, probably with more sugar and less booze than the home-made variety. People think you are a freak if you really like the commercialized version. But, I have to admit, I love the stuff. It just tastes so damn good! I can drink a whole cartoon in 15 minutes, if given the opportunity.

And it’s not just eggnog. I’m the same with pecan pie. When I was a kid, they had these little personal-sized pecan pies at the grocery store that came in a little tin pie plate. Those were so good. I like home-made pecan pies too, but it’s the store pies that really hit the spot for me. But, again, they seem to get a bad rap for some reason I don’t understand.

Maybe it’s just what I grew up with so there is some nostalgia buried in there. Or maybe my palate is just too unsophisticated. But, I really like the mass-produced versions of these treats.

Great Physicists

Over Thanksgiving vacation, I finished reading Great Physicists bt William H. Cropper. In this book, Cropper introduces us to 30 of the greatest physicists of all time, starting with Galileo and ending with Stephen Hawking. Even though many of these physicists made seminal contributions to multiple fields of physics, Cropper groups the scientists into nine sections, defined by sub-fields of physics. This presentation also lets him present the scientists in a rough chronological order that mirrors the development of physics. These sections include mechanics, statistical mechanics, quantum mechanics, and nuclear physics, among others.Each chapter introduces one scientist, describes their early history, goes into their contributions to physics, and ends with the tale of each scientist’s later years. Cropper’s description of the contributions of these scientists does not skimp on the math. While complex integrals are not presented, the seminal equations along with their meaning are described. Their importance for physics are also discussed.I found this book to be marvelously interesting. Cropper does a great job with each scientist, not only describing the importance of his or her work, but putting it in the context of the development of physics as well as the state of the world during that scientist’s life. He describes how these scientists interacted, including the feuds amongst them. He also goes into the unique challenges each scientist encountered in growing up, trying to do their work, and in their later years.

I learned a great deal in reading this book. First, I was a bit dismayed by how much of my physics I have lost since school. While in the middle of graduate school I may have been more familiar with the science presented in this book, now, as I don’t use most of it on a daily basis, I am not as crisp with most of it as I would like. For that alone, this book is a nice primer or refresher of the basics of physics, covering all of the key fields.

As interesting are the lives of these men and women. Most of them were very unique personalities and most also went through a great deal in their pursuit of science. Many were very dedicated, almost obsessed, people. Many had some kind of mental issue, often in the form of depression. I was particularly captivated by the lives of Gibbs and Boltzmann, two of the most interesting but more unknown of the figures presented in this book.

I was struck, in reading this book, by how little most of us know of these great figures who have transformed our lives more than probably any other set of people. Not only did the people presented here radically transform our view of the world, from the development of Newtonian physics and the view of the world as a sophisticated clock to quantum mechanics and its revelation of the world as indeterminate and “fuzzy”, but their work led to the incredible technological advances science has afforded us. In my view, these people deserve greater recognition by society. They should be our celebrities, our rock stars.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is considering any kind of life in science, especially students in the midst of studying science. The amazing work of the people Cropper presents is an inspiration. The achievements of these physicists are also daunting as they seem so incredible, especially considering the state of science at the time they were made and the world conditions they were made in. The science that these people developed was amazing, and is difficult to understand even with the advantage of the further development and testing we now enjoy.

More treatments such as this book would be welcome for other fields. The format was great, with each chapter not overly long, but giving enough detail to give a basic understanding of each scientist. I would be interested in such an approach for historical figures, including say explorers of the US west or pirates, or mathematicians, etc.

Blasphemy Number 1!

It’s been a while since I last posted anything and, as you’ll see, there are a lot of new posts today. I hope that this isn’t a trend, that I can update the blog just a bit more regularly, but life often gets in the way. I’ll do what I can.

The NFL season is already almost half over and the battle for the championship of the NFL-Idaho fantasy football league is in ernest. I currently hold the number one ranking in the league, but it has been a difficult struggle. My stars haven’t produced as they often have in the past. Peyton Manning started the season a little slow, but is fortunately now on fire. The same is true of Larry Johnson. He really hasn’t played like last season, though the last two games have seen him return to form. I’ve had two important injuries to Shaun Alexander, my star RB, and Larry Fitzgerald. Though, in Larry’s case, I’m not sure I would get much from him anyways because of the inept Cardinal offense.

I have had some good fortune though. Even when I’ve not performed as well as hoped, my opponent for the week has typically been even worse, giving me a 8-0 head-to-head record. And, while Juggernuts has scored more points overall, I’ve still got a better overall record than he does. But, he is right behind me, ready to take the lead at any moment.

I’ve also had some pleasant surprises in Drew Brees, the Minnesota Defense (excluding last week’s horrid performance), and Darrel Jackson. But, that’s been countered by Chad Johnson’s disappointing year.

Overall, though, I’m sitting pretty. I think there are trades afoot to try to overcome my first place ranking. We’ll see if the enemy is successful.

The Texian Iliad

My reading has really taken a hit these days. It is taking me much longer to get through books as I’ve just got so many other things I’m doing. The last book I read was The Texian Iliad. I had picked it up during my visit to San Antonio and the Alamo in March. So, you can see how long it’s taken me to get through it.

That isn’t any kind of criticism of the book itself, though. I found the book very interesting and readable. My father-in-law, visiting for a weekend, got through the book during his visit. So, it is a highly engaging book.

It is a history of the Texas revolution against Mexico. It starts of with the initial confrontation, building up to the battle of the Alamo, and ending with the defeat of Santa Ana. The book is well written and gives a lot of insight into the people behind the war.

I’m always amazed when I read books on the history of war by just how much luck is involved. In this particular case, it seems that the initial skirmishes were nothing more than one shot and a flesh wound. This eventually escallated to the Alamo. And it seems that, much of the time, the Texans were victorious in spite of the incompetence of their commanders and government. But, on the other hand, if the Mexicans had just had a competent general of their own, they probably would have easily crushed the rebellion.

There were two things I found very interesting. First, the number of Basque names that popped up. Many of the leaders especially on the Mexican side had Basque ancestry.

Second, I found it very interesting how the war started and built up. It seems that a lot of the tensions that led to the war were the result of what would today be called illegal immigrants. But these immigrants were from the US, coming into what was then Mexican soil and settling the land without permission from the Mexican government. It seems inconceivable today that such a thing would be tolerated much less lead to a war of independence that was successful. It seems particularly ironic to me that much of the complaints against illegal immigration from Mexico are focused in areas like Texas which owe their current existence to equivalent forces.

Overall, I learned a great deal from this book. Each chapter begins with a small vignette about the different types of people involved in the war. I actually found these a little distracting, as they interrupted the flow of the history. However, they are easily skipped for future reading. My father-in-law found them really interesting, so I think it depends on personality how well they are received.

I really enjoyed learning about the different leaders involved and their personalities. Famous men such as Bowie, Houston, Austin, and Boone are described, their contributions to the war detailed. Again, it is amazing that the Texans won in spite of the personal conflicts between these leaders.

Overall, this was an excellent book. It delves into the actions behind the Texan war of independence, detailing the battles and the strategy behind them. It also describes the people responsible for the war, both the heroes and the villains. I highly recommend it.

The Drowsy Chaperone

My wife, Lisa, has a cousin, Janet, who is an actor in Toronto.  When she and her now husband Bob got married, their friends wrote them a play as a gift.  They performed it locally in Toronto where it was discovered by some producer in LA (I believe).  They tweaked it some and it eventually landed on Broadway, where it is now called The Drowsy Chaperone.  It has been very successful, having been nominated for 13 Tony awards this year, winning something like 5.  Lisa was very keen on seeing the show while it was still on Broadway, so we took a weekend in October to fly to New York to see the show.

I’ve never been to New York before, beyond just a brief layover in the airport.  We stayed in Manhattan, which was pretty damn nice.  Our hotel was on 52nd street and we were within walking distance of Madison.  We wandered through the stores and shops during much of our free time.  We visited Rockefeller Plaza, where they shoot the Today Show, I believe.  We also visited the MOMA and the Met.  We didn’t have nearly enough time to really see either and will have to go back.  At the Met, especially, there were a number of exhibits that I wanted to see, but didn’t get a chance.  I also wanted to see the Statue of Liberty, but we ran out of time.

The show itself was amazing.  Bob, Lisa’s cousin by married, was the star of the show.  He did a fantastic job as “man in chair”.  The show itself is about a Broadway star, named Janet Van De Graaff after Lisa’s cousin, and her giving up the fame of  Broadway to marry Bob Martin.  There are the usually gaffs and confusions that threaten to derail the marriage.  But, the real story is the nostalgia for a simpler time, when Broadway musicals were light hearted.  It was a very funny show and well worth the effort of going.

After the show, we got to go backstage and meet Bob.  He was very kind and gracious, especially considering he had never met Lisa before.  But, we all hit it off well.

We had some amazing meals, especially on the night after the show.  We ate at a French place near our hotel.  It was very decadent.  I had, if I remember right, beef medallions.  They were excellent.  The whole meal was great.  It was especially nice to have dressed up and done the whole Broadway experience.

For anyone visiting NY, I highly recommend checking out The Drowsy Chaperone.  It was one of the funniest shows I’ve seen in a long time.

Blah, blah, blah… I've got the blahs.

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