Oppenheimer comment on science and the scientist

Category: [unelaborated]

Via https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NuMdjjWgHVM , in turn via reddit /r/physics.

(edit: youtube link rot has set in, see transcript here)

“It isn’t the layman that’s ignorant. It’s everybody that’s ignorant. The scientist may know a little patch of something, and if he’s a humane and intelligent and curious guy, he’ll know a few spots from other people’s work. He may even be able to read a book. But his condition is the condition of everyone, which is that almost everything that’s known to man he doesn’t know anything about at all, or knows it only in a very sketchy way. And that’s because it’s gotten a bit complicated.

The problem of a coherent civilization is the problem of living with ignorance and not being frustrated by it, so that you find occasionally a man knows two things, and that intersection may be of a great event in the history of ideas. Occasionally a man may think that something is relevant or exciting which no one before thought concerned him professionally; that may change the history of the world.

And these are the connections, these virtual connections, these casual and occasional connections, which make the only kind of coherence we have. That and affection. That and respect. That and, I suppose, a kind of humanity. ”

The ever-delayed 2012 in review

Category: [life and times]

It’s been a whole year since I last posted a blog update. It’s probably gone into semi-private mode now, what with people not reading it ever. I don’t blame you, dear non-reader… I never come here either :p.

Ok, so no self-flogging over not posting lots of my inner workings on a blog. Instead, I’ll just share what 2012 was like, looking back.

I pretty much focused on my work through all of 2012. I did almost nothing with my personal life.

On the financial front, I crossed a couple big milestones. Got a nice pay raise to start the year out, easily sprinted through the “paying off car” goal (and thus am completely debt-free) and really started working hard toward the “saving for a house” goal. End of the year I got a so-so raise, better than average for my center but maybe not quite in line with my output. But I’m equanimous: I’ve had a couple good years for that, going so-so for a year only really makes room to spread it around to some other folks that haven’t had it as good. I’ve made good progress — I’m up to about a 10% down payment on the type of houses I’m looking at. Not enough to warrant moving yet, but it’s great progress from the nothing+debt a year ago, and my living situation is still pretty acceptable. It’s nice to watch the options open up though…

Based on the pay raises and whatnot, my charity goals were a little ambitious. Despite giving more than ever before, it still landed right around the 2.1% mark.

On the health front, I managed to keep the brakes firmly engaged and didn’t roll further down the hill, but didn’t really get very far back up it either. Stable and slightly improved is better than sliding out of control though. The medical front is largely unchanged. I did manage to screw my back up standing on the mall back in March, and I’ve been nursing that back a bit, but no other news to report there.

I’ve largely neglected the relics of my past, in particular the old forum community. I’ve tried to make it clear that I don’t really want to spend any more time on that at all, but I don’t see anyone to hand the keys over to either. Without a clear technical successor, I don’t feel like I can just walk away from it, but having a lot of trouble finding motivation to do even basic stuff like software upgrades.

I partly moved away from wine in 2012. Had some more good bottles, but the lack of drinking buddies to split bottles with is burdensome — if I drink the whole bottle I feel awful the day after, if I don’t I feel like I’m wasting wine (and money!). In its place, I’ve moved toward whiskeys, trying out a couple good Irish and Scotch whiskeys and making friends with a few varieties of Bourbon. The nice thing about that is that a bottle of bourbon lasts for-frigging-ever, so I don’t have to push it to enjoy a dram now and then. I still have yet to break the “scotch old enough to order scotch” barrier, but I’ve had whiskey old enough to drive. So far I’m gravitating toward Knob Creek, Redbreast and Highland Park.

My job has been intense, though. I’ve continued to learn a lot, we hired a few new people (and lost a few). I’m getting pushed into the role “cloud advocate” and doing more interesting architecture-type stuff. Lots of work with our security folks, some work on a cloud research project that’s been pretty fascinating, and big core changes afoot in our server room.

On the reading front, probably the biggest chunk of reading material consumed was again Audible audiobooks. Highlights included two more Stephen King globs (The Stand and Salem’s Lot), Moby Dick, some newer Steven Pinker, and a documentary about James Garfield. As usual, spent some time wrapped up in ;login: and SciAm, and also got around to joining ACM and ripping through some of Communications of the ACM. Dense stuff. Ripped through some stuff on ITIL, Puppet, config management, project management.

I’ve been entertaining the thought of grad school, maybe chasing an MS in Information Assurance. Have to see whether I get started on that road in 2013…

I didn’t take the same sort of big flashy vacation I did in 2011, but instead went back to the midwest for a week or so to visit with various collections of family and friends. It’s been a long time, and lots of stuff has changed, but lots hasn’t. It was a whirlwind trip, and I ended up catching up with less than half the people I wanted to, but totally worth it. Also gave me a reason to be in the car listening to audiobooks for like 28 hours, which is a bonus — driving home from southern Indiana to about half of Moby Dick was a pretty amazing experience. Especially the part that involved driving through Hoosier National Forest in the late morning hours with virtually no traffic.

Goals for 2013: stay the course, roll over the old goals.

2011 wrapup, 2012 goals (terse version)

Category: [life and times]

It’s sad that my once-a-year blog post has degenerated to what could show up as 5 tweets. I’m throwing more of my day-to-day brain-sauce at twitter lately. But mirroring last year’s one blog post, here’s my annual post for 2012.

Charity: 2011: 2.1%.  2012: 2.3% is a small but reasonable step up.
Weight:2011: started 370, ended ~380. Not the right direction.  2012: Keeping last year’s 340 goal, which would be on average a bit less than a pound a week. Possible.
Exercise:2011: nothing significant until December’s treadmill acquisition.  2012: goal of 5 hours a week of some kind of decent exercise. Treadmill is definitely helping toward that goal.
Medical: 2011: Dentist, eye doctor taken care of. Still no doctor.  2012: find a doctor, get rid of some cysts.
Romance: 2011: nibbles, no hook-setting.  2012: not really any goals still.
Job: 2011: crazy busy, but good work, good pay raises. 2012: more of the same.
Vacation: 2011: STS-135, Bitches! Also other Florida attractions. 2012: thinking about a few days in NYC or a road trip back home. We’ll see.
Finance: 2011: was a “grind” year, no real milestones. 2012: will pay off car completely, should be about 25-30% of the way to a down payment on a house.
Forums: 2011: upgraded to vb4, no cms. 2012: maybe do the cms thing, or find something else to put on the front page.
Reading : 2011: few issues of sciam/login, lots of audiobooks. 2012: more sciam/login, some ITIL stuff on deck, lots more audiobooks.
Property: 2011: monitor upgrade, treadmill. 2012: nothing planned.
Wine: 2011: good for synthetic corks, couple good reds, couple good whites. 2012: more red, more white, more exploring, more unnatural corks!

2010 wrapup, 2011 goals

Category: [life and times]

Time for a terse 2010 update, roughly two weeks later than just about anyone else would do it :p.

Charity: 2010: 2% target, met. 2011 target: 2.5%.
Size: 2010 peak: 372. 2011 goal: stabilize at 340.
Exercise: 2010 goals: abject failure. 2011 goals: just make a dent.
Medical 2010: abject failure. 2011 goal: not that.
Romance 2010: First dates = 2. Second dates = 0. Second dates declined by me: 2. 2011: no goals, I’m not digging myself enough to dig the ladies who dig me.
Job 2010: great. 2011: dark scary things coming, gonna do my best to keep it good though.
Education 2010: nil. 2011: take something! Anything!
Work Travel 2010: Minneapolis in February (solo, which was new). Louisville in the springtime. 2011: no plans.
Vacation travel 2010: Gettysburg, PA. Luray VA, Shenandoah National Park/Skyline Drive. 2011: take a week for myself, go somewhere!
Finance 2010: Student Loans gone (!). Car loan down to ~12k. Positive net worth (w/ retirement included). 2011: car loan sub-4k, positive net worth (w/o retirement/investments), big start on savings for a house.
Forums 2010: bought vb license, upgraded 3.5->3.8. 2011: upgrade to 4.x w/integrated cms for front page. Stretch: update tracker interfaces.
Property 2010: major purchases: PC upgrade, office furniture. 2011 goal: living room furniture that doesn’t suck.
Wines in 2010: lots of reds. Ravenswood Shiraz 2007 was the go-to. Who knows what 2011 will hold?

on 30

Category: [life and times]

So I’m 30 now. Been here for a couple weeks. Meant to write one of those “big-zero year” updates, and procrastinated until my brother’s birthday …. kinda odd coincidence.

Anyway, so I’m 30 now. As of turning 30, I hit pretty much the low point in my fitness level, which is fairly scary. I got to the point that walking a mere 2 mile moderately-hilly walk was hard work. My 27-year-old self would be ashamed.

I started exploration of wines in earnest on my 29th birthday, so this seems to be a pretty good point to look back on it and reflect on a year as a wine-drinker. I’m no afficionado yet, but I’ve probably averaged a bottle a week, give or take. I’ve tried various vintages of pinot noir, pinot grigio, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, burgundy, shiraz, chardonnay, champagnes of various styles, port, sherry. I’ve had wine that’s come from Italy and France and Australia, and a lot that’s come from Napa and Sonoma, and some from Virginia. My palate is a bit unrefined, so on some of the more delicate wines (pinot noir, I’m looking at you…) I think I probably miss the point a bit, but I love me a good bold peppery olive-and-berry shiraz, and have found a couple of go-to wines that usually make me pretty happy to be drinking them. I’ve also figured out my hangover threshold and ways to consistently avoid hangovers, which helps a lot. The most expensive bottle I’ve drunk in the last year was in the mid-$20 range, while the cheapest was probably about $6 on a very good sale.

In other fronts, I got the promotion I was hoping for at work. I’m now at the highest level that I can be at without managing other people. I am honestly stretched a little thin, but not being hit with anything I feel like I can’t handle, just maybe more of it than I can do in any given day. My oddball work schedule seems to both help and hurt that … I tend to wake up in the 8:30-9:30 range, take a shower and make it to work around 11, work until sometime between 6 and 9 depending on the day and my state of restfulness, and head home. That means I get about 5 to 6 hours of time when other people are around, and generally between 2 and 5 hours of time in any given day that I’m there solo. Sometimes my job requires interaction with people who’re on normal schedules, and other times the job requires that people stop pestering me, so when I can make it work it’s great, but sometimes I don’t end up getting to the “pick up the phone” part until after 5 when everyone else is gone, so I end up pushing stuff off a day or two (or indefinitely) due to the limited afternoon hours.

So one other problem with the oddball schedule is that it’s a bit self-perpetuating. Like an engine with warped crankshaft, or a washing machine with a brick tossed into it, my sleep and waking schedules are all over the place in unpredictable directions. Some nights I go to sleep at perfectly reasonable times and wake up at similarly reasonable times. Most nights I go to sleep 4 hours after a perfectly reasonable time for when I have to wake up, and end up running in 3 or 4 hours of sleep per night for several consecutive nights. It’s a bad pattern that I need to get in check, and I’m not so good at that.

Thinking about patterns, over the course of me being 29, I went on precisely one date. Part of that may be the scheduling, partly the fitness slide and associated reduced self-esteem. But then, I also realized, from that one date, that there’s such a thing as better off alone, and that it’s probably better to be single and career-focused than dating and focused on personal-life drama. Besides, I’m a guy, my biological clock is basically giving me another 15-20 years to reasonably start a family with the right girl, so I’m probably better getting my own house in order.

Still, it’d be good to have a drinking-buddy, right now the drinking is pretty much a solo affair, which limits my willingness to go too far with it. It perpetually rings in my mind…. drinking alone as the first sign of alcoholism… but as a bachelor with few drinking friends, I tend to find myself in the “go solo or abstain entirely” mode a lot.

I’ve been listening to a lot of audiobooks lately, as my last couple posts indicated. Got the whole audible “platinum” membership …. $23/mo for two download tokens, which are generally good for a book each. Some cheaper books (the sub-$11.50 ones), if I’m really interested, I just drop cash for, but with a recent “want to buy 3 more credits?” promo I’ve just gotten myself a nice backlog to listen through. I’ve gone through something like 22 full-length books in the 8 months or so I’ve been at it, with and I think the 3 book a month pace is probably going to hold out through the rest of the year and into next. With my lack of a good place to go and nest and read comfortably for hours, the audiobook thing has really picked up my consumption of intellectual material in general — I think in the 10 months before that, I made it through maybe three books, and a decent chunk of that progress was due to the work travel putting me on planes and in hotel rooms. So that’s a fairly positive change. I think this actually puts me at a higher consumption rate than I was at when I was working for CACI and spent 2 hours a day on the metro.

And now that audible’s released their android app (which does dramatically better than the pc version), my new phone has become my primary audio-listening station… meaning I can listen when I’m doing more repetitive/mindless stuff at work or when I’m out walking, which is helpful for both the listening and the walking.

Lots of other free time has been filled with supcom 2, then starcraft 2, then civ5, now back to starcraft 2. I’ve found that I’m an antisocial gamer … the hyper-competitive games in the rts world and the griefers in non-rts games pretty much kill their appeal to me entirely. I played some online Red Dead Redemption, and the only times I had any fun at all involved me playing at unusual times and finding the server I was on somewhere close to deserted. Even a while back when I played rockband and rockband 2 online a bit, it wasn’t really a good time.

On the political front, I think I’ve been slowly evolving further and further away from my parents for a while. My parents are both pretty conservative, and I guess I grew up in a pro-Bush(1), anti-Clinton, Christian-chauvinist household. In high school I read Atlas Shrugged, in early college I read The Fountainhead … I really bought into the libertarian romanticized capitalism ideal for a long time, but I’ve since kind of come to regard Rand’s work as beautiful romantic tableaux of precisely the way the world isn’t. Having watched the hypocrisy of conservatives, seen the true results of free markets run amok, and generally become more aware of the world around me, I’ve gone from a hereditary Christian center-right subscriber to a full-blooded center-left atheist. Which is probably convenient, given that I’m living in a very blue district of a very blue county of a pretty solidly blue state, and really really don’t like the sort of bullshit I’ve seen coming from the republican party as a whole these last couple of years.

Moving back to other less-internal topics, I’ve no longer got student loan debts. As of the 15th, I’ve paid off the student loans in full. I’m paid up on my car through January, which puts me at something like 3 months ahead. No credit card debt, and with the promotion came a comfortable raise that accelerated a lot of my financial goals a bit. At the same time, I’m thinking about pushing back against that by spending some of the newfound income on upgrades to my life as a whole … like new furniture, maybe a treadmill to keep the exercise up through the winter. Still, it’s a damned big milestone having college paid off, and I’m pretty happy to have met that one.

I guess what I’m saying is 29 was a somewhat off-balance year. I made big strides forward in my job, in my finances, in my situation as a whole, made some strides on my personal intellectual development, but pretty handily failed phys-ed and didn’t really join a whole lot of extra-curriculars or do much on the social front. I’m shooting for 30 being a fair amount more steady, with the goal of re-balancing the professional and the personal me. That’s it…. that’s my big-zero-year update.