Ten Years Before the Blog: 2004-2005

Delayed again by the need to do actual, you know, work, here’s a look back at the third year of this blog’s existence. You can also read posts covering year one and year two.

2004-2005 was the last complete year before the move to ScienceBlogs in January of 2006, after which the making of these posts will become more complicated, because my posting rate went way up. For this year, though, I was still sticking to one post a day, and the blog had settled into a pretty decent groove.

The year did feature a brief foray into silly physics-related fiction, which might possibly be called a precursor to the books, and a local tv appearance related to the election of 2004 (which I had otherwise tried to blot from memory. Ye gods, that was depressing to relive). This was back before YouTube became really big, so I didn’t include a clip in the post, but I added it a few years later, so you can see me talking about lying with statistics for a few seconds.

Specific posts of interest, by tagline category:


I was spending a lot more time in the lab that year, because I was on sabbatical for part of the year, having passed my third-year review the year before. As a result, there are a lot of life in the lab posts: on the joys of assembling vacuum hardware, the incredibly fiddly details that experimentalists argue about, the repurposing of consumer electronics for lab use, the stupidity of vendors who treat their prices like state secrets, the superstition-like behaviors that show up in experimental science, the inevitability of stupid chains of adapters in connecting fittings of different types, and my continued problems with indoor plumbing in the lab.

I also experimented with a little proto-ResearchBlogging kind of thing, writing short recaps of interesting research papers in a series of “Journal Club” posts: one, two, three, four, five. I managed to keep that up for a bit more than a month, which is pretty good for my blog projects. The inspiration for this was the astronomy journal club that was started that year by some of my colleagues, and is still going. I still sort of envy that, and would like to have a physics equivalent, but that won’t work for stupid and depressing reasons. And I’m not sure when I would find the time.

In more general physics-y stuff, I talked about mind-boggling low-level radioactivity research (scroll down for a related post). I had some traditional physics-explainer posts as well, with a discussion of fermions and bosons (advertised as the start of a series on BEC, which I don’t think I’ve ever actually completed), and several posts about the development of quantum mechanics, on the ultraviolet catastrophe (which would be a good name for a band), Planck’s quantum model of black-body radiation, and the photoelectric effect.

In general academic-science material, I posted about evil professor tricks in the lab, the need for a journal of negative results, the quirks of scientific naming schemes, and the difficulty of teaching students how to write. Technology in the classroom was a recurring theme, with a couple of responses to stupid articles about PowerPoint in the Chronicle of Higher Ed (one, two), and a post about electronic lab grading. There was even an early women-in-science kerfuffle about a list of speaking tips that didn’t seem all that female-specific to me.

By far my favorite rediscovery of this year grew out of a post on “Gen Ed” science, which produced two posts looking back at the liberal-arts classes I took in college, and a wrap-up post about what I took away from that. Sadly, it doesn’t lead to any brilliant and useful insights that will revolutionize education, but I enoyed re-reading those.


I wrote a bunch about politics, but a lot of it was depressing. I did have a few good posts in there, though, including a back-of-the-envelope economics of air travel, and a political allegory involving the dog (which was a reference to a number of stories about right-wing domestic terrorist groups getting busted planning nefarious things, but “terrorism” in public discourse being exclusively reserved for hypothetical bad acts by brown people). There was also the obligatory education policy post.

The only election-related thing I thought was worth saving was a call for more left-wing religion in politics, which I’m still sort of in favor of on strategic grounds. This might be the first instance where I asked for more bloggers like Fred Clark. In more science-related political topics, I wrote about the remarkably consistent polling on science issues, which hasn’t appreciably changed in the last eight years, and which I’m still convinced doesn’t actually matter. I also wrote about the difficulty of incorporating uncertain science into political issues that demand concrete action, which I had forgotten writing, and should think more about. There was also a memorable after-dinner talk at DAMOP from John Marburger that prompted some writing about time scales in science vs. politics.

Finally, it’s link-rotted all to hell, but you can see the point where I started to tire of PZ Myers, which will come up again later.


I wrote a lot about pop culture back in the day– it’s sort of interesting to see how that was my go-to subject when time was tight, where now the pop-culture stuff has largely dropped out in favor of academics and science. It’s probably a consequence of my overdeveloped sense of responsibility applied to the fact that I’m now being paid by science organizations for blogging here.

I wrote some reviews of things, the most noteworthy of which were a rap record and a movie about Motown, and I did a whole lot of lists. I tried to make a list of essential albums to introduce someone to pop music, listed movie quotes and songs that should be more popular, and concerts I attended. My favorite set of lists was a back-and-forth with Scalzi about the ideal length of a pop song (scroll down for the earlier post).

There was also a discussion of the proper time scale for evaluating pop culture, featuring the usual insanity from Mike Kozlowski. I wrote a bit about food, too, including the idea of standard reference foods and a recipe from my grad school days. I was on the program at Boskone for the first time, which I’ve continued to do almost every year since.

Finally, on a personal note, I was amused to run across this post about growing up, which seems like a nice place to end this week’s retrospective.

Come back next time to see how I deal with the transition to ScienceBlogs…