Saturday, September 27, 2008

My Prediction

I just saw a page on CNN where you can predict how the election will come out. Here's my prediction:

Go here to make your own prediction.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Goodspeed Collection at U Chicago

I have told a few people about this in person, but thought I'd blog about it now that I found the website.

A few weeks ago, we got to go to the special collections library at the University and actually put our hands on a few of the manuscripts in the collection. One of the manuscripts was a copy of Archaic Mark, which might be a 14th century copy of the gospel of mark, or a 20th century forgery. (They're testing right now.)

Standing next to that book was a strange and surreal thing for me. Sure, it might be a forgery, but if it's not, then my fingers were touching what I would consider a very sacred text. It's just staggering to look at something like that and see the amount of effort that went into a book back then. Everything from skinning the animal and stretching the vellum pages to the gold painted images and the painstaking penmanship. (Though the penmanship in Greek is generally nothing compared to the detailed work of a Hebrew scribe.)

This is from the first page of text in Archaic Mark

Margaret Mitchell, the professor of New Testament Studies here at U of C said that Manuscripts are to the Biblical Scholar what Test Tubes and Bunson Burners are to the Scientist. She wanted us to see these things, to touch them, to interact with them. It was an amazing experience for me. I'm sure most of the people reading this aren't getting as geeked out as I did, but man did I ever enjoy getting my actual fingers on those manuscripts.

I have since found the digitized manuscripts online, and figured I'd let you see what I'm talking about, though I don't think it's the same as actually touching the pages. You can go here to see all of Archaic Mark. (I start you off on the gold painted image that the book was open to when I saw it. The next page is the title page of the gospel.)

And here is a photo of a Hebrew manuscript as well so you can see how painstaking the Hebrew scribes were. This isn't quite as detailed as the copy I saw of Exodus, but you get the idea.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

First Graduate Course Completed

Norah hanging out in her box.

Six years ago I graduated from college and said I would take a year off, earn some money, and go back to school. Yesterday, I finished my first graduate course, so you can imagine I feel pretty excited right now.

It was a class in Biblical Hebrew, and it's hard to believe that just three weeks ago I was working very hard to remember which Hebrew letters made which sounds, and now I'm able to read some simple Hebrew sentences. Here's my favorite sentence from the class exercises:

יֵשׁ ק֗ול מִלְכָמָה בּרוּהַ - (Yesh qol milkhamah beruakh.) Which means "The thunder of war is in the wind." I just thought it was a poetic sounding sentence, and our teacher seemed to like it as well. When I finished translating it the first time I actually looked at the paper in my mom and dad's office and said "Cool!" I'm just amazed that I've gone from not knowing anything about the language at all to being able to read simple sentences. It's really rather remarkable.

I think the most amazing thing is just how much information the human mind is able to hold. In these three weeks, I memorized just over 200 vocab words, and each word had at least two, (some has six) different possible spellings. Tack on the possible pronominal suffixes etc... and the amount of variance you can expect when seeing a hebrew word is remarkable. A three letter word might end up being a two letter word in a sentence, or it might be a seven letter word with a prepositional prefix and a pluaral suffix... it's crazy.

Anyway, we took the final yesterday and I think I did okay. I'm not sure I did as well on the final as I've been doing on the quizzes, but I feel confident that I got at least an 80 on the final. Hopefully I did better than that. We'll see.

That's it for now really. I'm home with Norah this week, and I'm reading a book for my next class (An Intro to the Hebrew Bible) and I'm trying to visit as many of the museums as I can. A friend from school has some paper explaining when each museum is free, and we're going to try to hit as many free ones as we can. Yesterday we went to the Planetarium, and today we go to the Field Musuem. I'm hoping to jump on one of the dinosaur skeletons and ride it like a pony.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Large Hadron Collider - We're all going to die

Kiss your kids, we're all going to die.

I'm not trying to be that crazy homeless guy on the street with a board on his chest or anything, but the world is going to end. We're all going to die. Tomorrow.

Either that, or we're about to get some visitors from the future.

I'm talking of course about the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) built under Switzerland and France. It's basically a huge empty tunnel with some really big magnets that will fire two atoms at each other. They've successfully fired this puppy up and ran a particle in one direction. Now they need to fire another particle in the other direction, just to make sure there aren't any cookie crumbs or fingernails in there. If everything works, they'll send two particles in opposite directions toward each other at the same time at an insanely fast speed and when the two particles meet, the whole world will end.

Here's the pseudo-science behind it: the faster something goes, the more energy you need to speed it up. Think about an apple. To make an apple go 10 miles an hour, you just have to drop it. To make that same apple go 20 miles an hour, you have to throw it pretty hard. To get it to go 90 miles an hour, you have to throw really, really hard. To get that same apple to go 200 miles an hour, forget it. You're talking bazookas and rocket juice. This means that if we want a particle or two to go almost the speed of light we need an insane amount of power.

Turns out, that's exactly what scientists want to do. They want to get two particles to go really fast, and run into each other. So, they built the LHC which will use an insane amount of power to get two particles to go almost the speed of light, and then hit each other. When they hit each other, they'll rip apart. And what comes spilling out of the two little fellas will be sugary-sweet magical physics juice. There will be electrons, and protons, and some wierd little guys like quarks and bosons and maybe even, the holy grail of particle physics himself, the Higgs Boson. If all goes right, and our cameras are tuned in correctly, we could be seeing the very things that make up matter itself.

Of course, this doesn't come without it's risks. To get the risks, you have to think about a bag of peas. If you open the bag, and pour the peas out on a pillow, they'll just roll around. If you don't open the bag however, and put the unopened bag on the pillow, they'll make a dent in the pillow. The reason is that when you condense the peas to the small space, they are more dense and gravity pulls them accordingly. If you were to condense the peas further, say by squishing them reallllly hard, they would be even more dense and would make a deeper dent in the pillow.

The same thing could happen in the LHC. It is theoretically possible that rather than exploding and spilling all their sweet, cherry, physics goodness, the two particles could theoretically just smack together. If they did that, all the energy we used trying to rip the two particles apart will actually fuse them together and compress them a billion-fold. Rather than an open bag of peas on the pillow, we now have the closed bag compressed to the size of a single atom tearing a hole not just in the pillow, but in space time itself.

If the two particles stick together, they could be are compressed so much, and become so dense, that they'll actually stop being pulled into the Earth. They'll have a gravity so strong that rather than falling into Earth, Earth will start falling into them. If that happens, they'll make a black hole and in a few minutes the world will end.

But don't worry too much. The chances of that happening are infintessimely small, about the same as the chance that they'll rip open a door in space time and visitors from the future will come over for dinner.

The reason we're freaked out about this, is because it's the biggest thing we've ever made, and it's the fastest we've ever thrown something. Keep in mind, the LHC is much, much, much smaller than the sun. And it has much, much, much less energy than the sun. And as a result, it sends particles toward each other at speeds much much slower than the sun. And keep in mind that every day, the sun sends out untold billions upon billions upon gagaglagazillions of particles at the Earth at speeds beyond anything we'll make in the LHC. The particles from the sun, going faster than anything in the LHC slam into particles in our atmoshpere creating more cataclysmic explosions every single day and nothing happens. Every single day since the earth has been made an unimaginably large number of particles have smacked into each other a lot harder than they will under France, and not a single one of them has made a black hole. So, the chance of a black hole resulting when we smack two particles together is about the same as me winning the lottery, without buying a ticket, while getting hit by lightning, every single day of my life...

So basically, compared to what the sun does a gatrillion times a day, our experiment in the LHC is going to be like a granny delivering a pizza on a bicycle. But, still, there's that 1x10^E-378845u31490867 possibility that the two particles will smack instead of bang and the world will end. And because of that, the LHC is all over the news, and some scientists are actually saying the world is going to end.

Here's a snappy graphic I made to help you make more sense of it:

Like I said, kiss your kids.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Tim the most awesomest big brother in the world...

That's right, my big brother Tim is even way more coolerEr than your big brother. As a matter of fact, he can beat up your dad and Super Man at the same time. When he walks down the street the Metallica song "Seek and Destroy" plays on all the radios ahead of him, and all the girls hear that classic Rolling Stones song "Under My Thumb" in their heads.

I mean, seriously, this guy eats spinach for breakfast lunch and dinner.

Sometimes, I wish I had his staggeringly good looks...

Plus, I really shouldn't ever leave myself logged into Google when I leave his house, cause really...who knows what crazy stuff could happen!


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

First Day of School!

I woke up early yesterday and threw a pot of oatmeal on the stove and started a pot of coffee. I woke up Norah, did the diaper thing and gave her breakfast. Then, for the first time ever, Rach took Norah out of the house, and dropped her off at daycare. I spent the rest of the morning at home catching up on my Hebrew and reading a little. Then, around 8:30, I jumped on my bike and took the 10 minute bike ride down to campus.

It was a very pretty day and I sat on the sandstone steps with two other equally confused-looking new students wondering where my class was. I was trying to pretend like I wasn't nervous. I was prepared. I had restudied my notes for class, practiced that transliteration again, and packed my book bag the night before so my pens were clipped in their little pen pockets and my pencil was sharpened and my books were ready to go. But sitting on those stairs before school officially began, I felt very intimidated. I tried to engage in small talk with the people around me and nervously shifted my book bag from one hand to the other. It turns out, I was more than a little unnerved to think that I'm actually here. I was actually standing outside that enormous gothic structure with those four inch thick carved wooden doors, and in a few minutes, I was going to pull on the molded iron door handles, walk inside, and be a student again.

When we went in the building there was a note stapled to a placard in the lobby telling us that Biblical Hebrew was in room 201. We still had a few minutes so I walked downstairs to get a cup of coffee. Then, two other students and I walked up the worn stone stairs to room 201.

We learned about the philology of the Hebrew Language (where it came from etc...) and drilled into the first chapter of our Hebrew Grammar for the second half of class. I think I aced the quiz, I had studied it pretty well, and nothing we talked about in class yesterday came as a big surprise to me. Everything we covered was covered in Chapter one, so it was mostly review. All in all it was an encouraging lesson. I left the room thinking, I can do this.

Then, we walked down the wide stone stairs and congregated in the hallway before our orientation meeting. I talked with a few of the students (two of whom are named Josh... funny.) And around 12:00 we walked into the beautiful meeting room covered in portrait paintings and carved wood. We sat on folding chairs at huge wooden tables and listened to instructions on immunization records and registration and the like. Then, we all ate a free lunch, drank a glass of wine, and I rode over to the Library to get my ID.

So, now it's official. After nearly six years, I'm a student again. And man, does it feel good. Now, I have to jump in the shower, pack my bag, and head back to school for day two.

(Norah did great in daycare in case you're wondering. She napped twice, and ate all her Cheerios. Way to go baby girl!)

Sarah Palin Censorship and Abuse of Power

I ran across two news stories that shocked me regarding Sarah Palin, and wanted to get them out there. It doesn't seem as though they are in the mainstream yet, but I think they are important issues.

Sarah Palin shortly after winning election as the mayor of her small town in Alaska approached the Librarian Mary Ellen Emmons and asked how they could go about banning some books from because they were morally objectionable. Emmons was "aghast" at the idea and said she would resist all efforts at censorship. Ms. Palin then fired Emmons shortly after winning office.

Sarah Palin is also under investigation for abuse of power during her short time as governor. Apparently Palin's brother-in-law threatened Palin's father. Palin then told the state public safety director to fire her brother-in-law. When the director did not obey Palin, she fired the public safety director. She has now hired a private lawyer and will be supbeaoned to court sometime in the near future.