Chad Orzel is an Associate Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Union College in Schenectady, NY. He blogs about physics, life in academia, ephemeral pop culture, and anything else that catches his fancy.

Two Cultures of Incompressibility

Also coming to my attention during the weekend blog shutdown was this Princeton Alumni Weekly piece on the rhetoric of crisis in the humanities. Like several other authors before him, Gideon Rosen points out that there’s little numerical evidence of a real “crisis,” and that most of the cries of alarm you hear from academics…

Right around the time I shut things down for the long holiday weekend, the Washington Post ran this Joel Achenbach piece on mistakes in science. Achenbach’s article was prompted in part by the ongoing discussion of the significance (or lack thereof) of the BICEP2 results, which included probably the most re-shared pieces of last week…

I didn’t plan to do a follow-up to yesterday’s post about the optics of sending messages with lasers, but then I starting idly thinking about detection, prompted in part by a bunch of conversations with my summer students about single-photon detectors. which led to scribbling on the back of an envelope, which led to Googling,…

Interstellar Laser Communications

In the comments to yesterday’s grumpy post about the Fermi paradox, makeinu raises the idea that advanced aliens would be using more targeted communications than we do: On the point about electromagnetic communications: even we are now using lasers to target communications with space, because it’s simply more efficient and reliable. It’s also basically impossible…

Fermi Fallacies

I’ve seen a bunch of people linking approvingly to this piece about the “Fermi paradox,” (the question of why we haven’t seen any evidence of other advanced civilizations) and I can’t quite understand why. The author expends a good deal of snark taking astronomers and physicists to task for constructing elaborate solutions to Fermi paradox…

The Mumbling Philosopher

The physics vs. philosophy slow-motion blogfight continues, the latest major contribution being Sean Carroll’s “Physicists Should Stop Saying silly Things About Philosophy. I’ve been mostly trying to stay out of this, but when I read through the comments at Sean’s post to see if anybody offered any specific examples of problems that could’ve been avoided…

A Rock the Size of Jupiter?

For some reason, the topic of really big rocks came up at dinner the other night, and SteelyKid declared that she wanted to find “A rock as big as the solar system.” We pointed out that that was pretty much impossible, more or less by definition, rocks being sub-parts of the solar system. “OK, how…

Of People, Things, and Places

I’m not quite awake enough yet to deal with reviewing copyedits and reformatting figures for the book-in-process, so while I wait for the caffeine to kick in, let’s talk something simple and cheerful: rural poverty. This week, Vox and the New York Times both touched on this, the former with a story about the food…

Uncertain Dots 17

After a bit of a hiatus because of scheduling issues, Rhett and I are back to talk about… stuff. Mostly summer classes, World Cup soccer, and Twitter. Also, how we’ve each gotten a blog comment from Neil deGrasse Tyson. Miscellaneous links: – My long-ago book review and Rhett’s more recent complaint about Cosmos, where we…

Smashing Stuff and Making Ice Cream

A few weeks back, a Union alumnus who works at Troy Prep contacted the college to arrange a visit for a bunch of second-graders, and asked if faculty would be willing to arrange talks and demos for the kids. I said something like “Sure, we could probably make liquid nitrogen ice cream for them,” and…