Ten Years Before the Blog: 2003-2004

The schedule called for this to appear last Friday, but as I was just back from a funeral, yeah, not so much. I had already gone through and bookmarked a whole slew of old posts, though, so here's a recap of the 2003-2004 blogademic year (starting and ending in late June).

This year saw a few milestones, though not quite as many as the previous year. I got a grant, passed my third-year reappointment review (the first big hurdle on the way to tenure), and we had a visiting speaker from Yale one week who mentioned in passing an idea that became central to my research program.

Probably the most significant milestone, though it didn't necessarily seem that way at the time, was when we adopted Emmy. If you've read How to Teach Physics to Your Dog, the Introduction includes a dog dialogue sitting on a bench at the Mohawk-Hudson Humane Society, which is, in fact, where I made the decision to take her home. Which has paid off far more literally than I ever would've guessed. As a bonus, this year also includes the very first conversation with Emmy on the blog, though it took a different form than the conversations that would eventually become (nerd) famous.

Other notable posts from the year include:


It's interesting to me that already, only a year into the blog's existence, there's a dramatic drop-off in the number of meaty physics posts, particularly during the academic year. I had thought that I was a little more consistent back in the day, and only started to feel a major crunch more recently. That's not the case, though-- I was posting apologetic notes about not having time to do physics posts all the way back in 2003.

There were a couple of notable spurts of physics activity, the first surrounding a now discredited claim to have detected a "pentaquark" particle at Jefferson Lab. Our newly hired department chair was part of one of the JLab collaborations, so we talked about it a bit, and I wrote up the experiment over a series of posts spanning a month. The specific result is no longer valid, but I think the description of how things work in particle physics experiments is still pretty decent.

The other protracted series of posts was a long discussion of space flight issues, which shades toward politics in a bunch of places. Again, while some of the details are no longer relevant, I still broadly agree with the general ideas.

The other particularly notable physics item that I had nearly forgotten about was the Afshar experiment, which claimed to be able to detect both which slit a photon went through and the double-slit interference pattern produced in the process. This generated a good deal of discussion at the time, but has since sunk with little trace. It did eventually lead to a research article, but its bolder claims haven't really held up.

Other odds and ends about physics: some thoughts about inertial frames, some stuff about quantum interpretations, some quantum misconceptions, and some thoughts about narrative. It's interesting to see that these contain bits and pieces that I would end up using in my two books, without consciously remembering that I had written about this stuff before. It's a little easier to understand some of the high-profile academics caught self-plagiarizing their own books, now...

I also spent a little while thinking about interesting math problems at Brad DeLong's suggestion.

I was still pre-tenure at the time, so I did a bunch of writing about academic culture: an analogy to Stockholm Syndrome, some thoughts on leading class discussions (which I'm still not good at), a few musings about the chilling effects of tenure, the ever-popular student course evaluations, some thoughts on physics pedagogy, and the difficulty of learning names, and finally, talk about ever-green topics, the use and mis-use of PowerPoint. Amusingly, there's also a short post about courses I'd like to teach someday, one of which I just finished teaching last term, so good for me.

Not bad, but not as much good physics stuff as the first year. This is, of course, a recurring problem over the history of the blog...

Also, one major change in my writing style is that I was a lot more fond of inscrutable titles back then. I've mostly avoided using the actual post titles in the links above, because I'm pretty sure that I'm the only one who gets the jokes in most of them.


I had less stuff about physics than in the first year, but still quite a bit about politics. I've largely stopped writing about politics, and I've even pulled back a good deal from reading about politics-- out of the many political blogs I used to follow regularly, back in the day, the only ones still in my RSS reader are Kevin Drum and Unqualified Offerings. (Crooked Timber and Making Light are in the "Politics" folder, but only sorta-kinda political, Slacktivist is more recent, I think, and Ta-Nehisi Coates is a recent addition).

The interesting thing about going back and re-reading all this old stuff is the degree to which it validates that decision. That is, I wrote a lot of words about politics back in 2003-2004, very little of which matters. A lot of the controversies that sucked up a lot of time are things I only dimly remember now, and most of them are linkrotted all to hell, so I can't figure out what the fuss was about any more. And I suspect I'm happier not knowing.

Other than that, there were stories that were significant-- lots of bad stuff coming out of Iraq-- but I didn't say anything all that memorable about them. Mostly, it was just kind of depressing to read.

Out of all that material, there were only three posts I bookmarked for mention here: one about jury duty (which reminds me that I've been summoned again for late June. Oh, joy.), one about unions getting a bad rap, and one about first world problems (though that term hadn't been invented yet).

The rest of it is justly forgotten.


More mix tapes: 80's cheese, a tape from grad school, and one from when Kate and I were engaged, which I think is the first appearance of guess-the-lyrics format on the blog. I really do kind of miss mix tapes.

In movies, there was a post about violence in Tarantino movies vs. The Matrix, and a review of an obscure fantasy movie. In books, I reported on an actual "desert island" list, and in television I suggested a CSI plot, which incredibly failed to lead to Hollywood beating down my door. Finally, a post about cooking and futurism, just because.

(I was still actively booklogging back then, so a lot of pop-culture writing went to the Library of Babel instead. I also cross-posted a lot of stuff to Blogcritics, but most of those are books and record reviews that weren't especially notable otherwise.)

And that's where things stood in June of 2004 in Chateau Steelypips. Come back Friday for the third year of this blog's existence, and the last full year as a stand-alone blog.


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