As threatened a little while ago, this is the first of ten hopefully weekly posts looking back at the ten years this blog has been in operation. This one covers the period from the very first post on June 22, 2002 to June 21, 2003.
When I started doing this look back, I was more than a little afraid that it would prove cringe-inducing. It’s been ten years, after all, and in that time I’ve gone from a wet-behind-the-ears, recently married assistant professor to a tenured father of two and a published author. That’s enough external change that I was expecting my early posts to seem, well, pretty juvenile.
That wasn’t the case, though. I mean, there are some definite changes in the general style of the blog, but all in all I was pleasantly surprised at how well a lot of it held up. Some of the pieces I wrote in the early days are a surprisingly good match to stuff I’ve written recently on the same topics. Which either means that I’ve always been brilliant, or that I’ve plateaued as a writer, I’m not sure which.
The tagline of the blog from the very beginning has been “Physics, Politics, Pop Culture,” so I’ll use those as headings to organize the recap of noteworthy posts.
As I said in the very first post, my initial reason for thinking about starting a blog had more to do with politics, thanks to the many political blogs that had started to become prominent at that time. I have just enough of a sense of perspective to know that I don’t have all that much insight to offer on those subjects, though, so I didn’t really make up my mind to do it until I realized I could also blog about physics and being a physicist. That’s something where I really can contribute some insight, so I decided to run with it.
One striking thing from looking back is how I’ve continued to revisit some of the same themes over and over. The second post on the blog, about the Uncertainty Principle comes at it from more or less the same perspective that I used in How to Teach Physics to Your Dog. About a week later, I did an untitled post on the importance of doing obvious experiments, that contains the seeds for an op-ed I wrote for Physics World last June. The run-down of quantum computing (scroll down to the previous post, too) hits most of the same themes I would re-visit back in 2008. And the introduction to relativity (second part here, much later) isn’t all that much different than what I wrote in How to Teach Relativity to Your Dog. There’s some difference in the writing style– my earlier posts are a little more rambling and discursive than they would be now– but the basic content is pretty good.
As I was a young proflet at that time, I did a lot more posts about academic culture and the pursuit of tenure than I do now, having found a comfortable
rut groove. I talked about classification of physicists, the different types of academic talks, big exams, and grant applications. I did not one, not two, but three posts on graduate school and the academic job market, and one on advice to new faculty. The general economic climate has changed since then, but I still mostly agree with what I said in these. I also had the inevitable post about blogging under my real name.
Also related to my new faculty status, I did a lot more life-in-the-lab blogging back then, for the simple reason that I had more time to spend in the lab. In more recent years, I haven’t been as actively involved, what with the books and the kids taking up my time. I did a literal day-in-the-life post and one about the time my lasers got rained on, and I wrote some fairly good stuff about the importance of kludgey solutions in physics research, and the many things I can sorta-kinda do thanks to my experimental background. Which, come to think of it, I ought to dust off and pitch to Physics World (the topics, not the actual posts– I’d write them very differently for an actual magazine). I also wrote about the importance of lies-to-children, a concept I’ve come back to many times since then, and the difficulty of conveying the scales of physics.
It’s also interesting to see that while I think of ResearchBlogging as a relatively recent activity, I actually did some of that sort of thing back in the day, writing up a quantum computing article (linked above), and also one on quantum teleportation (scroll down for the earlier posts), and one on microscopic entropy. I think I stopped doing those at some point, and forgot that I had ever done them when the ResearchBlogging idea reappeared later on.
In other physics-y topics, I wrote a bit about beautiful experiments, which may or may not have been related to George Johnson’s book, the Jan Hendrik Schön affair (which briefly had me as one of the top Google results for the ASCII-ization of his name, Schoen), and the first of a great many posts on the state of high-energy theory, a topic I am well and truly sick of.
All in all, a whole lot of physics blogging, most of which has held up pretty well.
This is the category that didn’t age as well. Which is not surprising, given the inherently somewhat ephemeral nature of the subject. I was doing a lot more political blogging back then– remember, I decided to start the blog because I was reading a lot of political blogs– but a depressing amount of it is scandal-of-the-moment stuff.
There are only a few political things that stand out. One is a series of posts about school vouchers, an evergreen topic if ever there was one. Another was the first time I really lost my temper on the blog, over an incident I still find appalling. And the third was probably one of the most difficult posts I’ve ever written, on the death of a beloved relative and the start of the 2003 Iraq War. That one still hurts to re-read.
There was also the first moment-of-silence post for September 11, a tradition that will probably continue. I think I actually did a complete media blackout that first year, though I may be misremembering.
Other than that, a lot of stupid arguments with blogs that don’t exist any more, or that I don’t read any more. Not much worth keeping there.
Hey, remember albums? Back when people bought music on physical disks, and listened to them one at a time, rather than on shuffle play? Yeah, man, those were the days… I did a lot of writing about albums back then, from thoughts on the general idea to a list of “Perfect” Albums to a jokier list of “Top” albums, to reviews of a number of albums, including Springsteen and Fountains of Wayne. A bunch of my pop-culture writing at this point was crossposted to BlogCritics, before I got tired of a few people constantly overwhelming the site with right-wing rants and stopped posting there.
Hey, remember mix tapes? Also back before digital music took over, believe it or not, we used to record specific songs onto a cassette tape in a specific order, and listen to that. Weird, huh? I posted the track list from a few of my favorites: Get Your War On, Geographic Vagaries, Excalibur 2.5.1, and Bronfman Two Twenty. This was a recurring feature for a while, until I ran out of tapes, and stopped making more because I got an iPod. I’m still deeply imprinted on some of these, though– when I hear “Ziggy Stardust,” I expect the next song to be “Beast of Burden,” even though it’s probably six or seven years since I played that tape. Speaking of which, I wrote about songs I strongly associate with a particular time and place, a list I could add a few more items to these days, and may do in the next week or two.
I also wrote about basketball– this was back when I could watch games and write them up, and I paid a good deal of money to see Syracuse advance to the Final Four, where they won the title. This was a really good basketball era for me, because Maryland had won the title the year before. I also started playing in the lunchtime pick-up game on campus that summer, which I’ve continued to do ever since, and that inspired me to write about pick-up basketball.
The other striking pop-culture items were an admission of my fascination with trashy paranormal shows, which is amusing because I still get a new comment every couple of weeks on my posts poking fun at Ancient Aliens. There was also some movie that was big at the time, but I’m sure it was just a fad, y’know?
I had forgotten what an eventful year that was. We got married just before I started the blog, and in roughly chronological order, Kate took the Bar Exam, we got kicked out of the apartment I had rented in Schenectady and moved to Rensselaer for a few months, Kate started a new job and passed the bar, we bought, refinished, and moved into out house, I got a research grant, and we had a death in the family. Whew.
That was an unexpected benefit of having the blog up there. I’m not the world’s most confessional blogger, but there is a record of most of the major issues I had on my mind mixed in with everything else. So going through a year’s worth of post reminded me of a lot of that, including a good deal of stuff that I had forgotten about. It was worth it just for that, if nothing else.
Anyway, that’s where the blog was ten years ago. Next week, assuming I have time to read through the necessary material, we’ll look at 2003-2004.