barnabas_truman: (young whistler)
2016-05-26 12:39 am

Overheard at the Truman Conservatory

"Do a search for Bach chorales."

*click click click*
"Hm. Looks like there's quite a lot of them."


"No, Bach."
barnabas_truman: (young whistler)
2016-05-09 09:34 pm
Entry tags:

Ozymandias x2

You've probably read Percy Shelley's poem "Ozymandias"... but did you know that Shelley's friend Horace Smith wrote his own poem on the same subject at the same time? Shelley's version is far more well-known, and probably has better poetry, but I really like the post-apocalyptic twist ending of Smith's version:

In Egypt's sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desert knows:—
"I am great OZYMANDIAS," saith the stone,
"The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
"The wonders of my hand."— The City's gone,—
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.

We wonder,—and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro' the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.

And for your convenience and ease of comparison, here's Shelley's version:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."
barnabas_truman: (dwarf)
2016-04-19 11:16 pm
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It ain't the Fellowship of the Eagle

Every once in a while somebody asks why Gandalf didn't just have the Eagles carry the Ring to Mount Doom.

Even if we ignore the fact that the Ring is a tool of corruption that entices its bearer--especially a powerful bearer--towards betrayal, and that therefore giving it to an Eagle would probably not be a good idea,
    AND the fact that the entirety of the plan to destroy the Ring relied on Sauron not finding out about it and a flight of giant Eagles is not exactly subtle,
        AND the fact that Mordor is a long way from Rivendell even if you do have wings,
            AND the fact that the Eagles are not Gandalf's personal taxi service,

we still have to consider

• Sauron's air force (flying dragons, fell winged beasts, Nazgul, some birds)

• Sauron's anti-aircraft artillery (the ancient Numenorians had aircraft; presumably they also built weapons that could shoot at aircraft, and I would assume Sauron might have kept a few in reserve just in case--beyond that, I'm sure Shelob could probably fling a web pretty high)

• Sauron's ability to control the weather itself (just try flying over the mountains in hurricane-strength winds, or finding your way to the landing zone in a country filled with volcanic smoke)

barnabas_truman: (young whistler)
2016-03-08 11:56 pm

Cryptoörnithology at the Truman Household

"Hummingbirds are so tiny. They make their nests out of tiny leaves and bits of lichen and moss and hold them together with strands of spiderweb."

"Are we sure they're not actually faeries? That totally sounds like something a faerie would do."
barnabas_truman: (young whistler)
2016-02-27 11:28 pm

Lemon Tapioca Pudding at the Truman Household

"I wonder if lemon tapioca pudding is a thing."

"There's only one way to find out!"

"You're right! I could go make some!"

"I meant looking it up on ChowHound."

*click click click*

"Oh hey look! Recipes for lemon tapioca pudding! Do you know what this means?"

"That you're not the only one who has had this crazy crazy idea?"
barnabas_truman: (young whistler)
2016-02-25 07:36 pm

History at the Truman Household

"See, George Washington is basically just like George Bush, because George Washington chopped down the cherry tree, which made it into a cherry bush, so George Bush!"

"Rrrrrrrriiiiiight. Welp, good luck on your AP US History test."
barnabas_truman: (young whistler)
2016-02-03 09:44 pm

Botany at the Truman Household

"So do you know what xanthophyll does?"

"I know it's... yellow."

"Yes, and?"

"Aaaaaaaaaaand it's in plants."

"Very good. And do you know why we see it in leaves in the fall?"

"Becaaaaaauuuuuuuuse... it's all that's left after the chlorophyll flies south for the winter?"


"Ooh, that's the 'you were so close but then you ruined it' face, isn't it?"
barnabas_truman: (army)
2016-01-03 10:51 pm

Wintertime at the Truman Household

[putting flannel sheets on the bed]

"Pull it all the way up so I can have my flannel castle."

"...or 'flannastle,' as they are called."

"I was going to say 'flansel.'"

"No, the flans'l is the sail on the flanmast of a ship."


"Yeah. It's kinda wobbly though."

"Why is it wobbly?"

"Because it is made of flan."

"I do not wish to join your navy."
barnabas_truman: (young whistler)
2015-11-25 11:22 am

Overheard in the Truman Kitchen

"Could you hand me my measuring... um..." *points*

*holds up rolling pin* "This?

"Yeah, that. Measuring rolling pin."

"It *could* be a measuring rolling pin if you sent it through college."

"Uh, why?"

"Because when it's finished it would be a graduated cylinder."
barnabas_truman: (army)
2015-11-14 12:04 pm

Sewing at the Truman Household

"Well, you know the old proverb--when the only tool you have is a sewing machine stuck in buttonhole mode, every problem in the world looks like a buttonhole."

"That is not a proverb!"
barnabas_truman: (young whistler)
2015-10-16 03:42 pm
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GURPS Draw Three

A few months ago I came up with a great idea for a creativity exercise: I got a stack of blank index cards and wrote the title of one of my GURPS role-playing game sourcebooks on each one (I have a lot of GURPS books); I draw three at random and try to quickly think of a game setting or plot that would incorporate all three. Today I went through the whole deck; here are some of the highlights:

• Japan
• Ultra-Tech
• Psionics

In the not-too-distant future, Japan is an anachronistic mixture of ubiquitous advanced technology and retro-feudal styles in culture and architecture. The player characters are a group of college students who gained strange mental powers when a mind/machine interface experiment went haywire.

• Vikings
• Black Ops (elite commando teams investigating and eliminating paranormal threats)
• Aliens

Leif Skywise knew something was wrong when he saw a star moving in a very unfamiliar way, especially when it seemed to touch down on the coast off in the distance. He took his ship and crew to investigate, and his suspicions were confirmed: the "star" was some sort of flying ship made of metal, and its demonic inhabitants attacked when Leif approached. The demons fought fiercely, but the Vikings triumphed. Though they had no idea how to re-activate the flying ship, they nonetheless found many powerful weapons and other strange magical objects on board. Now they sail the seas, seeking out supernatural evils to vanquish and ready to defend Scandinavia from further demon invasion.

• Middle Ages
• Places of Mystery
• Supers

Various persons from all over the medieval world feel strangely compelled to visit certain monuments--Stonehenge, the Sphinx, Uluru, the Forbidden City, etc.--late at night on one fateful equinox, and, in a flash of light that none of them remember clearly, gain amazing powers. Their abilities differ widely, but all include the ability to instantly travel from one place of power to another. They band together to form a secret society of heroes.

• Blue Planet (human colony on distant oceanic planet, probably inhabited in distant past by high-tech aliens)
• Time Travel
• Imperial Rome

A team of scientists and explorers on the Blue Planet discover an ancient alien device that appears to be some sort of time machine. They manage to get it working and send themselves back in time, hoping to encounter the ancient aliens who built it... but instead find cities of marble columns inhabited by humans in togas. Could there have been contact between Earth and the Blue Planet in the distant past?

• Cliffhangers (1930s-style modern adventure serials)
• Mecha (giant piloted robots)
• Mars

Edison and Tesla put aside their differences and join forces once again to reverse-engineer the Martian war machines left behind after the invasion, and build a fleet of their own to take the fight back to the Martians!
barnabas_truman: (oldstyle)
2015-10-02 05:38 pm
Entry tags:

Science adventure from an age gone by

Mars is a harsh desert world, far older than our own, lit dimly and coldly by pale red sunlight, howling with winds and sandstorms, laced with the crumbling canals and ruined ziggurats of a once great civilization of which nothing is left but dust and mysteries.

Beneath the permanent cloud cover on Venus, though, is a lush watery surface, not unlike Earth in its younger days, its tropical zones hot and humid and thick with jungle, in which the first expedition reports seeing fleeting glimpses of large reptilian creatures lurking in the shadows.

So who's ready to launch a zeppelin, activate the onboard aetheric bridge generator, and explore a new frontier from the comforts of a climate-controlled gondola suite?
barnabas_truman: (young whistler)
2015-09-28 05:59 pm

The right words at the right time

Today I met a bunch of new (to me) students and talked with them for most of an hour about temperature and heat flow and conservation of energy and graphs and equations. Afterwards three of them independently came up to me to tell me that my teaching style is "outstanding." I'd call that a successful first day of class.

Later, in office hours, a familiar-looking student came in for some help with the same subject matter, and to get my advice and opinions in general on physics classes, learning about logic, a possible philosophy minor, and how to apply all of this towards an eventual career in emergency medicine.

He then told me that three years ago he was in the summer orientation algebra review class I taught, and apparently what I wrote on his final exam had had a huge impact on him. It seems he hadn't really applied himself much during the summer orientation program, and during the final he felt totally lost and wrote a rather emotional note to me on the back apologizing to me, the instructor, for doing so badly. He tells me I wrote a very long and thoughtful response (I just barely remember this myself) telling him that he doesn't need to apologize to me; that the only person harmed or helped by his studying habits is himself; and that it's going to be okay--that a big part of the reason for this summer program is to give him a chance to make mistakes and learn from them in a safe space without huge negative consequences. I didn't fully realize it at the time, but apparently this was exactly what he needed to hear.

It's always nice to find out, even years later, that what I've done has made the world a little better for somebody.
barnabas_truman: (oldstyle)
2015-09-10 10:34 pm

With great science education comes great responsibility

This evening I went to the awards ceremony that concludes a summer orientation program that my department offers for incoming first-year students. I was primarily there to give out balsa wood gliders as trophies to the teams that had scored the most points in a Physics of Paper Airplanes workshop a few weeks ago... but after doing so, I realized that I had a moment in the spotlight with a captive audience of over 200 cheerful students who already think I'm pretty cool. I launched into an impromptu speech (because it turns out that what I'm really best at is making stuff up on the spot) about science, technology, and social responsibility. I'm going to try to type up as much of it as I can remember while it's still fresh in my mind...


I'm a firm believer in the idea of salvation through technology; salvation through knowledge; the notion that we can make our lives and our world better by understanding the universe and finding ways to manipulate it.

It is amazing how powerful technology is in the modern world. We can communicate with people all over the globe instantly. We can travel to the other side of the continent in mere hours. We can survive injuries and illnesses that, a century ago, would have been assumed invariably fatal. We can produce enough food by having 1% of our population working on farms instead of 90%. Amazing advances.

But technology comes with dangers as well. We can kill each other with a twitch of a finger. We can destroy entire cities in the blink of an eye. We can poison our own air without even trying.

We need the technology, but we also need to learn how to use it responsibly, and how NOT to use it. The advances in what we CAN do must be paired with careful thought about what we SHOULD do.

So by the power vested in me by nobody in particular, here is what I wish for all of you, whether you're going into the sciences or not:
the perception to learn about the world around you,
the cleverness to design amazing new things,
and the wisdom to use them to make the world a better place for everyone.

And if you EVER need any help in ANY math or science class... you know where to find us.


That's it as near as I can remember. It seemed to go over remarkably well with the students. (And no, I didn't actually say "With great power comes great responsibility," but I was thinking it pretty hard.)

See, I've been thinking a lot recently about my own responsibilities as a physics teacher who strongly believes in peace and social justice. I've known for years that it is my responsibility to teach physics to all who request it... but I also feel a need to be a paragon of pacifism. I have often worried "what if I teach physics to some students and then they use what I've taught them to design weapons?" Now I realize what I must do: pair my direct teaching of physics with some subtler teaching of ethics, using my mythic reputation as leverage. Good to know.
barnabas_truman: (oldstyle)
2015-09-10 01:26 am
Entry tags:

Cal S. Bunyan, Railroad Man

Didja know Paul Bunyan had a younger brother named Cal? Cal was in the railroad business; founded the Union Columbia line 'round the same time everyone else was just starting to figure out that you could put wheels on steam engines. Built a grand railway all the way from California to New York by way of Alaska. Of course that needed a lot of steel; he kept all the steel mills in seventeen states running overtime eight days a week just to keep up. Needed a lot of lumber for the ties, too, so he called in his older brother Paul the lumberjack. That was Paul's first job in that line of work, choppin' lumber from the Mojave Jungle to make ties for the Union Columbia. (What's that you say? There isn't any Mojave Jungle? Well, not anymore there isn't.)

Anyway, Cal personally designed and built the flagship train for the Union Columbia line, and he christened it the Wabash Cannonball. This train was so long ("how long was it?") so long that it had a miniature railroad on the inside to ferry passengers from the sleeper car to the dining car. It was so fast ("how fast was it?") so fast that on shorter journeys it would sometimes arrive before it left. Its boiler was so big ("how big was it?") so big that the American Cartographers' Association had to rewrite the definition of "river" to avoid accidentally categorizing it as one. It had so many cars ("how many cars?") so many cars that they had to hire six mathematicians just to keep track.

Once Cal tried to set up the world's first trans-Atlantic railroad, extending the Union Columbia from New York to London. Laying track underwater would be quite a task, but Cal had heard that the telegraph men had set down a couple of telegraph cables across the bottom of the Atlantic, and he figured, hell, a couple of cables is most of what a railroad needs anyway! So he sent down some divers to position the cables the correct gauge distance from each other, using wood salvaged from shipwrecks as ties. When it was all ready he sent down a specially made train, the Queen of Tortuga, with watertight cars and fancy porthole windows and plenty of oxygen for your breathing pleasure. Quite an experience, I'm told, but it didn't last long--on the maiden voyage, wouldn't you know it, some city slicker decided he wanted a bit of a breeze and opened up a window, and that was the end of the Queen of Tortuga.

After that Cal figured he ought to stay on dry land and focus on breaking the speed record. He got those mathematicians to invent a new branch of thermodynamics to get the engines running more efficiently, and found a way to refine coal so pure there weren't nothin' left. That got the Wabash Cannonball running so fast ("how fast was it?") so fast that even when it was at a dead stop it was still going sixty.

Once he thought everything was perfect, Cal took his newly remodeled flagship on a test run. He put it on the tracks at Union Station in Los Angeles, aimed it towards New York, and started stokin' the engine. What he didn't know was that some kid in Juneau had put a penny on the tracks to see it get squashed, and when Cal's supersonic train hit that bump, it got knocked off the track and flew clean into orbit.

Some folks say that Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon, but on a clear night, if you squint just right and look in the right spot you can almost see some tracks up there. And if you listen real close, you just might hear the lonesome whistle of the Wabash Cannonball echoing across America, carrying some old hobo on one last trip to the Great Rock Candy Mountain.

That may be a tall tale, but it's truer than most anything else you'll hear these days. Guaranteed 110% true, with the extra 10% because you're such a good customer.
barnabas_truman: (army)
2015-08-01 03:56 pm

Superheroics at the Truman Household

"It'll have a lot of characters you recognize from X-Men, Spider-Man, and Fantastic Four."

"It's been a long time since I saw Fantastic Four."

"Do you at least remember the characters?"

"The blue guy, the fire guy, Ioan Gruffudd, and… um… the sand… Hulk?"
barnabas_truman: (oldstyle)
2015-07-16 04:16 pm
Entry tags:

Summer Rush

Summer session: ten weeks' worth of physics material packed into only five. Every support workshop is a rush; every day I find that students are studying material about a week ahead of what I would expect. So often in the past few weeks I've been reminded of Feynman's footnote:

"How I'm rushing through this! How much each sentence in this brief story contains. 'The stars are made of the same atoms as the earth.' I usually pick one small topic like this to give a lecture on."

So much marvel and wonder in the universe; so little time to discuss it in detail. Such is life.
barnabas_truman: (young whistler)
2015-07-14 03:05 pm
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More music on the quad

Today at lunch I spent a couple of hours playing music out on the quad. By and by around a dozen students sat down to listen. Several later came up to thank me for bringing such a joyful atmosphere to the area, and one older man listened for half an hour and then walked up to me, said with a smile "Your music sounds like the entrance to a better place," handed me a $5, and walked away.

Later a traveling young man who is in town for a few days brought a guitar and we jammed for a while and talked about music. Good times.
barnabas_truman: (young whistler)
2015-07-08 09:32 am

Morning at the Truman Household

"Come on. Is time to get up."

"But but but I am an obligate nap-ivore!"

"Hm. Good try, but no."
barnabas_truman: (dwarf)
2015-07-06 05:38 pm
Entry tags:

Fleshing out the end of the battle in "Store It At M.O.M.S."

Bobberick's third fireball struck the necromancer square in the chest, but it fizzled in a gout of smoke. With a gesture from his skeletal hand he unleashed a shrieking skull spirit that sped towards Bobberick. Frantically, the gnome swung his wand around in a strange geometric pattern, tracing glowing lines and circles in the air, and in response the spirit curved in a too-close-for-comfort orbital arc around him and returned to its sender.

The necromancer began to do the same, but Aliss interrupted the counter-counterspell by the time-honored method of stabbing him in the back. The ectoplasmic missile continued on its new course: skull collided with skull in a horrendous crash, and the cloaked figure sank to the floor. The few remaining skeleton warriors froze in place and crumbled to pieces, leaving Karl swinging his axe at empty air.

"Aaaaand that's the end of Skullface Sam," said Bobberick triumphantly. "Done in by his own dark magics. Whew."

"Yeah, I'm sure it's very symbolic. Hey, what's this?" asked Aliss, reaching for a bit of sparkle on the dead necromancer's finger. She carefully pulled off a dull silvery ring, and his bony visage faded and changed.

"Whoa," said Bobberick; "there was a human face behind the skull all along."

Karl chuckled as he holstered his axe. "Usually it's the other way around.

Bobberick prodded the corpse with his wand. "He's young. Not usually a trait associated with powerful wizardry. Maybe he got most of his arcane skill from that ring. Aliss, what's it look like?"

"Probably silver, but I'm not certain," speculated Aliss. "It's got a little skull with glowy eyes."

"Lemme see," said Bobberick, standing on tiptoes. Aliss handed it to him. "Hmmmmmm." He stared at it and held his breath in concentration. "Yeah, definitely enchanted, as if we didn't already know. Almost looks like a cheap knockoff of one of the Glowskull Rings the Skullamancer made way back in the Revenant Wars. I wonder where Sam got it."

"Could it be the real thing?" asked Karl.

"Nah, they're long gone. The Paladin Patrol doom-dropped all of 'em back in the '30s. Nine paladins, nine rings, each one got his or her own personal sidequest. Good story; somebody made a TV miniseries of it ten or fifteen years ago."

"You sure about that?" challenged Aliss. "What if the Skullamancer made more than nine?"

"Sure I'm sure. Magic rings come in sets of three, seven, or nine; that's how magic works."

"You may know magic, but you don't know sneaky like I do, and the Skullamancer was all about sneaky magic. If it were me I'd make ten rings and let people think there were only nine, just in case."

"Yeah, but... but..."

"Is there any theory-of-magic reason why there couldn't be a tenth ring, or is it just traditional?"

"There's... um... crap. Yeah, we just found a lost Glowskull Ring, didn't we?"

"Are you gonna argue about it all day, or cast an Identify spell when we get back to town?" Karl asked. "Anyway, could we just hand it off to the Paladin Patrol and let them deal with it?"

"They're all retired," said Aliss with a wry grin. "Wouldn't be much opportunity for a Thieves' Guild if they weren't."

"Guess it's up to us then."