Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Erratum: Maryland is NOT totally lame

The weirdness of quantum mechanics arises from the fact that when you make an observation, your results tell you just as much about what you're looking at as they tell you about who is looking and how. That being said, my criticism of Maryland revolved around my frustrations with the ridiculous traffic situation, which is indicative of the fact that as soon as I step into my car I become an impatient Masshole.

I wish to take this opportunity to paint a more fair picture of Maryland, not just how I see it through the windshield. So, I give you:

10 Things I Love about Maryland:

#10 Chipotle. Some say their burritos are three bites too big. I completely agree…but sometimes too much is just enough.

#9 Starbucks. I'm not one for big chains…but I love being able to go for a brief walk and get an iced coffee at each and every corner.

#8 Water Polo. Learning to play water polo is actually a requirement for graduation from Maryland public schools.

#7 Big Sky. I was having withdrawal from the ocean, when I realized it was above me the whole time. I don't know why, the sky just seems bigger in Maryland.

#6 Political Discussions. Since it surrounds our nation's capital, the state of Maryland is much more in tune with the goings on of our fearless leaders. In Boston, the chaotic weather provides the baseline for small talk in any situation. In Maryland, it is the chaotic political climate that serves that function.

#5 Street Signs. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts does not like drivers to know where they are at any given time. It's in the state constitution, look it up. This is carried out in part by not putting any street signs for the road your on. In addition, they only put street signs on the cross streets when they find it will enhance confusion. For example, in Roxbury I once found myself at the corner of Columbus and Columbus. Maryland is much nicer in this regard. They figure, if your going to be stuck somewhere for extended periods of time (due to construction) you might as well know where the heck you are.

#4 Just Enough Winter. In certain areas of the country, they look to the groundhog to tell them how much longer winter will be in session. In Boston they don't bother with such superstitions, because every citizen knows that, at any given time, there are always three more months of winter. In Maryland, you only get just enough snow to make it pretty. And it's fun to watch everybody freak out when it happens. In Boston, I would have to dig out my car (see picture) to get to school. In Maryland school is cancelled if anyone even thinks the word snow. As a side note, the Japanese word for snow is "yuki" (thanks, Yoshino!)

#3 The Salad Bowl. Boston is very ethnically and racially clumpy. Far from being "a great melting pot", it is more like a T.V. dinner, with the meat, tater tots, green beans, and applesauce all neatly separated. Maryland is a lot more like a salad bowl, with lots of interesting folks all mixed in together, contributing to the overall flavor. I dig it.

#2 Crabs. In Boston, it takes about three years of intense training, culminating in an associate's degree, to learn how to eat a lobster. The process is nearly as complicated, and equally as sensitive, as neurosurgery. Each lobster takes approximately 2 hours to eat, if it is done correctly. In Maryland, they do it right: a pitcher of beer, a bucket of crabs, and a wooden mallet. Hulk smash!! I love it.

#1 The People. At first I must say I was disappointed at the lack of Mary's in the supposed Land of Mary's (I've only met one person named Mary). After that brief initial disappointment, I realized that the Mary and all the non-Mary's I have met have been totally awesome. And I have solved the mystery of the missing Mary's: Everyone in Maryland is required to have their middle name be Mary. It's in the state constitution, check it. Would I lie?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Conquest of Maryland

A little known historical fact is that William the Conqueror, upon landing on the shores of England in 1066, fell flat on his face. His first mate dressed it up a bit when he described William as "falling into an embrace with his new country". Within a few months, William had conquered England, which enabled him to change his nickname to William the Conqueror (in middle school it had been William the Geek).

Well, I didn't fall flat on my face, but upon entering Maryland for the first time, my car overheated. By comparison with William, I had calculated that within about 3 months Maryland would be under my complete control. After a year, I regret to report that it is taking longer than I thought. Regardless, I figured this would be a good time to reflect on the year, and especially to report some of my thoughts on this Land of Mary's...

Overall, as a state Maryland kinda sucks. I give it a 4 out of ten. (this is the state, not the people nor the school mind you...) Below I review what I perceive to be Maryland's weakest points, which I intend to fix when I become king in a few more months...

#1--Awkward Speed
Have you ever been driving on the highway, and the car in front of you is going just a smidge too slow for your own comfort, but just a hair too fast for you to pass, and so you are either stuck behind them in an awkward state of cruising/stepping on the brake, else you try to pass them and awkwardly drive right next to them for an extended period of time? I call this "awkward speed". One of the first things I noticed upon moving to Maryland is that approximately every man, woman and child in Maryland moves at the awkward speed at all times.

#2--Government Control
I may risk my life in telling you this, but I have started to uncover a frightening covert plot being carried out by certain higher-ups to control the people of Maryland--using traffic lights. What else could possibly explain their complete ridiculousness, other than an evil plot? I first became aware of this secret control when I found that I spend most of my waking life sitting at traffic light...even when I'm not in a car! Maryland's Department of Transportation seems to take special delight at having major 4-lane highways meet in four way intersections about every 400 yards. And they have transformed each four way intersection, using an ingenious system of left-turn only arrows, right-turn only arrows, pedestrian-only signals, and pedestrian-with-shopping-cart-only signals, into a 16-way intersection. I have seriously counted up the I time spend, per day, at an intersection where literally no cars are going. It adds up to about 8 hours each day.

The construction companies are operating in conjunction with government officials in the secret plot to control each Marylander using traffic lights. The first piece of evidence: every intersection in Maryland is under construction. Upon entering the intersection on the four-lane major highway, the left lane is closed off first with big orange barrels. What is happening in the left lane that they need to close it off with barrels? Nothing. Apparently it is a 'buffer zone' for the construction happening on the other side of the intersection. The next lane to close off is the right lane. This is done solely to prevent anyone from being able to escape the intersection by taking a right turn on red. Now we're down to the middle two lanes...the one on the left is taken up by people selling roses and people asking donations to go to poor South American countries to teach them manners (I know this may be starting to sound ridiculous, but I guarantee that it is all 100% true). This leaves one lane, which is taken up by broken down public buses. The only reason I ever get anywhere in Maryland is because, as a physics graduate student, I have mastered the art of quantum tunneling.

There you have it, the three main weaknesses of the state of Maryland. If all goes according to my plan, I will exploit these Achilles' heels to create leverage for me to complete my government coup. I will report back to you when I am appointed supreme-dictator-for-life. Give me at least three more months.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Lessons by the ocean

I have learned a couple of important lessons this weekend in Boston, as per usual by listening to the ocean. I don't know what it is, but I feel a great resonance whenever I am near a large body of water. I feel there is so much wisdom within there somehow. My truest moments seem to come when I am alone by the seashore, open to the world. The first pure thought I had came when I was pondering my decisions over the past year. I have made some really interesting ones, for sure. Some have been made my life a little sweeter, and some much more sour. But it is important not to dwell on such things, it can only bring anguish. You cannot make good decisions, nor can you make bad ones. The only thing you can do is to make your decisions good or bad. Their prudence is determined by you, the decisionmaker, after the fact, in how you subsequently let them into the life you lead …how you incorporate them into your journey. That was lesson #1.

The other lesson I learned when I stopped by the sea to talk to my main man Paul on the phone. It was night, and the street lights cast their light over the black ocean and its grey waves. While I was talking, I was staring at that light cast over the water, while a huge shadow passed through the light. The shadow was enormous in stature, it must have laid nearly a quarter mile over the waves. When I looked up to find the source, I found it was just a man walking in front of the streetlight. No matter who you are, how small or meager or humble, your effect on the world can be much larger than you can ever imagine.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

What are we playing?

Are we filling out a cosmic crossword puzzle, or is it existential scrabble?

Does Science Lead to Truth?
As an aspiring scientist, I like to think that science leads to truth. But then I know that Newton's theory of gravity was, in a sense, completely conceptually overthrown by Einstein's theory of gravity. For Newton, gravity was a force that prevent the apple from its natural state of motion of remaining at rest, thus making it fall onto his noggin. For Einstein, the Newton's noggin was the force preventing the apple from its natural state of falling. In order to make this switch, Einstein described gravity not as a force, but as the curvature of space and time. At some point in the future, it is conceivable that Einstein's theory of gravity will go over a complete conceptual makeover. Do we ever have the truth?

Does Science Even Approach the Truth?
Perhaps the next best thing to having truth is getting closer and closer to the truth. Is that what science is doing? I always liked to think so, but after reading Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions this naive view was challenged. Kuhn was a physicist who was forced by his superiors to teach a course on the history of science. He found himself completely bored with it, until he studied the original texts so closely that he understood them as a gestalt switch. Is the picture a duck, or is it a bunny? Was Galileo right in describing the pendulum as friction ruining the ideal periodic motion, or was Aristotle right in describing the pendulum as a string ruining the ideal falling motion? Kuhn, at least in his earlier days, that neither was any more right than the other. In fact, we can't even compare what Galileo meant by "pendulum" with what Aristotle meant by the same word--the two are incommensurable. The switch from Aristotle's views to Galileo's views are not a switch from 'wrong' to 'less-wrong'...it is more like the switch from 'duck' to 'bunny'.

Does Science Construct the Truth?
My gut still tells me that science progress towards the truth in some sense. For a long time, I have imagined this as filling out a great, cosmic crossword puzzle. Perhaps our observations are the clues, and we figure out what to put in the boxes. We can never be completely sure we have put in the right word, but when it connects with more and more words we can become more and more sure that we have the right words in there. When the crossword puzzle is complete, we must have done something right! Maybe one or two words are wrong, but the gist of the puzzle has to be correct. You might call this a 'coherentist epistemology'.

The other day it occurred to me that perhaps we are not playing a cosmic crossword puzzle at all...maybe we are playing Scrabble. Maybe there are no clues and we are just making up the words and fitting them with other words we have made up. Does that have to make them less true??