The first known photo of SteelyKid

Ten Years Before the Blog: 2008-2009

In which the great blog recap rolls on to probably the most important event of the last ten years: the arrival of SteelyKid. And a bunch of other bloggy stuff.


There’s really no question what should be the featured image for this recap post: Clearly, it needs to be an early photo of SteelyKid, who arrived not quite four years ago, and soon made friends with Appa the stuffed sky-bison. Sadly, we haven’t been very good about doing regular pictures of The Pip, mostly because it’s so exhausting to keep up with the two of them.

Of course, regular blogging continued as well. This seems to have been the rare year without some all-consuming kerfuffle, at least on my part– there were a couple of big things that went on in the background, but by this time I had largely decoupled from the more drama-prone parts of ScienceBlogs. Which, on the one hand, was a little sad, because it ceased to be a real blogging community, but was much better on the whole for my sanity. And my blogging, which had a better balance of stuff.


I spent a lot of time during this year revising the manuscript of How to Teach Physics to Your Dog, so it’s not too surprising that there were a lot of conversations with the dog about physics. We talked about physical theories as dog toys, general relativity, and psuedo-quantum scams, as well as some stuff that will turn up in a later section. I had forgotten the first and third of those, so it was fun to rediscover them.

This was also a good year for writing things that I keep coming back to. We had The Innumeracy of Intellectuals (reprinted in Inside Higher Ed), We Are Science (reprinted in some group’s newsletter), Science Is What Makes Us Human (which plays a big part in the work-in-progress), Algebra Is Like Sunscreen (not actually famous, but I refer back to it from time to time), and The Myth of the Abrasive Genius (which, again, I refer back to now and again). That’s a pretty good run of stuff. There was also a lot of stuff along similar lines to those, though not quite as memorable: Peer Review Does Not Define Science (in which I ally myself with Zombie Feynman), Innumeracy on Parade (why is the Washington Post so prone to publishing desperately stupid articles about math, anyway?), and Geniuses Don’t Fail Out (which might be a little too harsh, but I still think the “I’m just too smart for school” is more likely to be self-justification than reality). I also got to give a graduation speech at my old high school, twenty years after my own graduation, which was pretty cool.

I also did a lot of straight-up physics writing. One of the things that I’m most proud of didn’t actually make it onto the list of top posts for the year, but I like it a lot even if nobody else does: the Metastable Xenon Project, in which I went through and wrote up in detail each of the six publications that came out of my Ph.D. thesis work, along with a “making of” post telling some of the stories behind the papers. This was probably my single favorite physics-y thing of the year.

Also in physics content, there was a pair of posts about Many-Worlds (one, two (which is where I started to get fed up with Neil Bates…), two posts about photons (one, two), a book I really liked, a discussion of numbers and units, and a discussion of why Excel is woefully inadequate for scientific purposes.

There was, of course, pedagogical material, with posts on “gatekeeping”, grading methods, math in the intro courses, and some early worrying about active engagement methods, which became a bigger obsession last fall. If I had to pick one post out of the pedagogical stuff to save, though, it would be How to Email Your Instructor for Help, which I think ought to be distributed to incoming students at first-year orientation.

I also had a bunch of sort of whimsical physics-type posts, looking at ways to apply physics to improve football, and applying physical models to great works of fantasy literature, and to bedtime stories. Those are hard to do on a regular basis, but a good deal of fun when I think of them, and I’ve continued to do some of this sort of thing.

Also, SteelyKid provided material for a silly physics post of her own…


2008, if you remember, was a really bad year, economy-wise. This was the era of the great mortgage bubble crash, which I tried to explain to Emmy. I also had a modest proposal for fixing the financial industry that I still think would have worked. Actually, it would probably still be an improvement, actually.

In giant stupid blog kerfuffles, I again turned to the dog for an oblique comment, and offered a resigned explanation of why I don’t write much about politics.

2008 being an election year, I also had some posts about data presentation in political-ish contexts, having to do with tax plans and public transit promotions. And that’s about it for notable politcal commentary.


The highlight of the year, pop-culture wise, was the DonorsChoose fundraiser, for which I agreed to dance like a monkey. Everybody got a good laugh out of that.

One of the most enduring posts of the year, weirdly, was this question about dog medication, which continued to draw a trickle of new comments pretty much right up to the present. People have strong opinions about their flea and tick preventatives.

I also wrote about people saying dumb things about publishing, a topic that keeps coming up these days, and the too-narrow definition of high culture, which ties back to the innumeracy of intellectuals thing from the start of the post. There was also a post about Tolkien that almost belongs in the politics category, but not quite.

Finally, there was the requisite sports content, with a rant about baseball, a look at a stupid story about halftime scores, and a post about the story that put me off Malcolm Gladwell for good. Which is another thing I refer back to a lot, which is as good a way as any to end the recap of this year in blogging.

Next up: the year I became a Real! Published! Author! Woo-hoo!