SoLID, Souderfest, and PAVI 14

A week and a half of physics meetings. A week ago Tuesday I flew to Newport News. Or tried to. Actually I flew to Norfolk after the flight to Charlotte from which I would  have flown to Newport News was delayed by weather. I ended up getting to Newport News earlier than planned, but only by having to drive on I-64 and go through the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel.

Anyway, Wednesday and Thursday were the SoLID [SOlenoidal Large Intensity Device] Collaboration Meeting, our first since November and our last before the Director’s Review of the SoLID project. Friday I returned to Syracuse.

Sunday was Souderfest, a symposium in honor of Paul Souder’s 70th birthday, at the University, with a lot of good talks by the likes of Krishna Kumar, Emlyn Hughes, Charlie Prescott, Tim Gay, Mike Lubell, and others. Some of them were about experiments we did back 20 or 25 years ago and there were mentions of things I’ve hardly thought about in years. We concluded with dinner at the Skaneateles Country Club. Then I moved into room 310 at the Stella Maris retreat center in Skaneateles for the weeklong PAVI [PArity VIolation] 14 [as in 2014] conference. Among miscellaneous duties as a local, I was in charge of getting talks onto the conference computer and up on the screen, as well as up on the web site. So I was in fact present (physically anyway) for I’d say at least ~90% of each of 100% of the talks.

They weren’t as uniformly interesting to me as the Souderfest ones but mostly pretty good. Mainz A4 has an interesting new parity violating electron scattering (PVES) result at Q^2 = 0.6, more in line with the G0 experiment than HAPPEX III. There’s a report muonic 3He and 4He give nuclear radius results that agree with electron scattering measurements, in stark contrast with the puzzling situation for the proton. Nothing earthshaking on the theory side, I’d say; most interesting to me was conclusion that charge symmetry violation effects are negligible or at least small for PVES experiments coming up.

Monday Gordon Cates gave a public lecture on applications spun off from basic research, emphasizing his development of lung imaging technology based on polarized 3He. Tuesday there was a very nice concert by a quartet put together specifically for the conference, the Jefferson Quartet, which apparently intends to keep going afterward. Beethoven Op. 18 No. 4, Shostakovich 1st Quartet, and Mozart Clarinet Quintet.

Wednesday afternoon was spent on board a tour boat, down the lake and back. It was also our poster session. (Pier reviewed.) I went home that evening for Kenny’s 15th birthday.

Thursday night was the banquet, and I met our guest speaker, Congressperson Dan Maffei, pro-science and a member of the science committee in the House. Conference wrapped up Friday, I stayed in town into the evening, went to hear part of the Skaneateles Concert Band’s concert (I think I like LaFayette better) and then came home.

.@Anagramatron classics II

More from Anagramatron:

  • I have such little weenie arms = Insecurities: we all have them
  • I am seriously obsessed with Rihanna = My obsession with air heads is unreal
  • Acid melted my brain = Cleared my mind a bit
  • How’s it Monday already = Want more holiday days
  • Is “it’s nothing”all you can say? = This is actually so annoying
2014-07-06 14.55.05

Lakeshore Drive

A month and a half after it opened, I’ve finally gone for a ride on the new section of the bike road that someday will go entirely around Onondaga Lake. I started at the parking lot at the State Fair and rode to the far end of the older section, at the Salt Museum on the east shore, then back — nonstop on the way out, stopping for photos on the way back. About 14 miles of mostly easy riding, aside from the fact that the wind was a bit stiff at times. The one relatively hard part is the bridge over the lake outlet.2014-07-06 14.34.54 The new section is pretty nice. Try not to let the sign worry you.2014-07-06 14.51.36 copyAs you might guess, some of the views are less than scenic.2014-07-06 14.52.402014-07-06 15.01.53 2014-07-06 14.58.19(It’s not just the land that’s being worked on.2014-07-06 14.48.16Honeywell bought Allied Chemical back in the 1980s and in addition to Allied’s assets also acquired, as it turned out, the responsibility for cleaning up Allied’s mess. After decades of talk and studies, recently there’s been action: for instance, they’re dredging mercury-laden sediments out of the lake for safe (they claim) burial in a waste bed on land. Besides that we’re not dumping raw sewage into the lake these days. It used to be one of the most polluted bodies of water in the country; now it’s getting better.)

But there are nice views to be had too. Here’s the city of Syracuse.2014-07-06 14.57.57And a view across the lake toward Liverpool.2014-07-06 14.56.34The old section, by contrast, mostly has woods on both sides, which is  pretty in another way, but it’s nice to have the longer vistas.2014-07-06 14.38.44Even where the lake shore is only 30 feet or so from the bike road, in the older section, you mostly get only glimpses of the water through the trees.2014-07-06 14.38.50

Here’s a sign I don’t think I’ve seen before.

2014-07-06 14.50.06Bikes don’t have to worry about the deep mud, or Nine Mile Creek. There’s a bridge.2014-07-06 14.50.10 copyGreen stuff under construction:2014-07-06 15.05.50At intervals on the new section are rest stops, with benches, shade (or rain shelter), and bike racks.2014-07-06 15.01.44And the road itself… gotta love riding on new asphalt!2014-07-06 14.55.05You are under no obligation to love every inch of the asphalt in the old section, though.2014-07-06 14.46.59Ow.


2014-06-24 17.34.43

Yes, but it’s a dry cold



We have a great big plastic jar with pretzels in it, and I noticed every time I reached into it, my hand felt cooler. I figured it was ridiculous that the temperature inside the jar should be lower than outside, so why the cool feeling? Moving air makes you feel cooler but I didn’t think the pretzels would really be stirring up a breeze. The only other possibility, it seemed to me, was humidity: If the pretzels were absorbing water from the air, then the humidity of the air would be low, and that would promote evaporation from the skin which would make my hand feel cool.

So I stuck an electronic thermometer / hygrometer in the jar and waited. Care to guess what the humidity reading leveled out at?

2014-06-24 17.34.43

“- -%”, which is this device’s way of saying “zero”. Outside the jar at the time, it was about 55%. Yep, it’s dry in there!

It’s the same principle behind the idea of throwing your phone into a bag of rice if it gets wet. Rice dries out air, dry air dries out phone. If you don’t have rice, pretzels would probably work too.


@Anagramatron classics

Anagramatron is a truly brilliant Twitter bot that searches the Twitter feed for tweets that are anagrams of one another, and then retweets them. Some are aesthetically better than others (say I), most are at least kind of interesting (say I), and some (say I) are simply magnificent.

Some of my favorites from recent days:

  • No need to pay for lemons = Spent money on real food
  • I think frogs are so cute = I fucking hate roosters
  • You were a bad investment = And everyone saw it… but me
  • Needs to hit up the Apple Store = The stupidest people on earth
  • Do you think you’re special? = You sound like a hypocrite
  • I’m so far behind everyone = Never heard of Boys II Men
  • Termite season, fuck = Insects freak me out

30 days of slack

I just realized it’s June, which used to be 30 Days of Creativity month. I took part in that the past four years, but last year the whole thing seemed to sputter into nothingness — not for me personally, I did my 30 days, but the organizers seemed to do a vanishing act and nothing much appeared online.

So what about this year? I don’t need a whole social movement to enable me to do it. On the other hand… the interaction does help.

And currently, what I’m most interested in creating is rockets, and that’s happening, if not every day, then a lot of days.

So… no. Not this year. I’ll make some cool things this month, and every month I can, but I’m taking a year off from the 30 Days Of thing.



Until the day you’re riding in the back seat of a hearse, man, it could be worse

Whenever life gets you down, Mrs. Brown / And things seem hard or tough / and people are stupid, obnoxious or daft / and you feel that you’ve had quite enough…

Just remember that Syracuse could have ended up in northern Pennsylvania.



Instruments for nerds

Q. What’s the definition of a nerd?

A. Someone who owns his own alto clarinet.

Alto clarinets get no respect.

When I was in the sixth grade, having taken clarinet lessons for about a year and a half, I was assigned to play our school’s new bass clarinet, and I liked it a lot despite my being not a whole lot larger than the instrument case. But the next year, when I went to junior high school, there were more incoming bass clarinetists than the bands had need or instruments for, so after a couple months back in the soprano clarinet section, I started on alto clarinet and played that for the rest of that year and the next.

Now, even the bass clarinet is not exactly the world’s most familiar instrument. Most people when they see one think it’s some sort of saxophone. And indeed the modern bass clarinet was developed by Adolph Sax, but whereas a saxophone is a conical bore instrument — thinnest at the top and then gradually widening toward the bell — and usually made of brass, the bass clarinet is (like the regular “soprano” clarinet) cylindrical — the same diameter all the way through, except for the bell — and aside from the neck and bell is usually made of wood or, for student instruments, plastic or hard rubber. (The shape difference isn’t merely visual aesthetics; it accounts for most of the differences in tone between clarinets and saxophones.)

Bass clarinet

The alto clarinet looks pretty much like the bass clarinet, but smaller, halfway in size between the bass and soprano; the three sizes are a family, or rather part of a family.

Alto clarinet

There also are E♭ and A♭ clarinets, shorter and higher pitched than the B♭ and A sopranos; the G clarinet; the basset horn, similar to an alto clarinet but with an extended lower range; the contra-alto and contrabass clarinets, an octave below the alto and bass, respectively; and a lot of other oddballs rarely seen.

The E♭, B♭, A, and bass clarinets are common in orchestral music. The little A♭ is, so I understand, used mostly in Italian marching bands. The basset horn enjoyed popularity in the 18th century but fell out of favor, but it was apparently one of Mozart’s favorite instruments and he wrote a few pieces for it, and a couple of later composers did too, so while it’s rare it has credentials. The contras are pretty uncommon, but do find a good deal of use in movie and TV soundtrack music.

The alto, hardly anyone likes. It’s used almost nowhere but in wind bands, and pretty rarely even there. Many music directors have no use for it. They complain about the quality of its sound, and they say it can’t do anything that could equally well be done by the sopranos and basses.

I’m no expert, but it seems to me those arguments are specious. If an alto clarinet doesn’t sound good, it presumably is either because of the instrument or the player. Sopranos, basses, and basset horns all sound fine; there’s no inherent reason an alto shouldn’t sound fine, too, provided it’s been designed, built, and maintained well. But there’s the chicken-and-egg problem; the instrument gets no respect, so no one puts enough effort into making them sound good, so they get no respect. Add to that the tendency school directors have of keeping the really talented players on soprano and putting the not-so-good ones on alto (and bass) (yes, I’m looking at me here).

And yes, the alto’s range can be covered on the high end by the soprano and on the low end by the bass. But the viola is in a similar relationship to the violin and cello, and the tenor sax to the alto and baritone. People don’t go around — well, not as many people, anyway — advocating tossing violas and tenor saxes into the trash.

At the high school music concerts I’ve been to lately, there’ve been quite a few violas, and several tenor saxes. Not an alto clarinet in sight, though.

Nor were there any when I went to high school. We’d moved to a new school district, and I told the band director I played alto clarinet. He pointed to the top level of the instrument shelves and said “Our alto clarinets are up there. We don’t use them.” Turned out the be all right with me, though, because there was a vacancy in the bass clarinet section; if I’d known that, I wouldn’t even have mentioned the alto clarinet. I happily played bass for those four years, even though a year or two later the band director changed his mind, got the alto clarinets down off the shelf again, and assigned a couple of clarinetists to play them.

It wasn’t until some years later I learned a bit about the history of these instruments. Because of the length of its bore, it’s hard to make a viable bass clarinet without a lot of long key levers, springs, and pads, technology that wasn’t really developed until about the early 1800s. Not that people didn’t try; after all, bassoons had been around a long time before that, with a bore even longer than that of a bass clarinet. Bassoons make the long bore more tractable by folding it in half: it goes down from the gooseneck-shaped bocal to the bottom of the instrument, through a u-bend, and back up to the bell at the top. That helped early bassoons manage without long key levers; so did tricks like making the wooden walls of the tube thick and drilling the finger holes at an angle, so that they were widely spaced inside the instrument (where the spacing matters acoustically) but close together on the outside (where you need to reach them with your fingers).

But bassoons aren’t very loud or resonant, and especially for outdoor use they don’t provide a very strong bass section to a wind band. And in the 18th century valved brass instruments hadn’t been developed, either; there were no sousaphones! It turns out cylindrical instruments can get an octave lower with the same bore length than conical ones, so it must have seemed a natural idea to try to build clarinets an octave lower than the standard ones, and to make them bassoon style, with a folded bore, to make them easier to handle while marching. Heinrich Grenser gets the credit for the earliest known example in 1793. Here’s one from about 40 years later by Catterini:

Glicibarifono by Catterini

Other makers built similar instruments, and others before and after experimented with other designs, including this oddity from Nicola Papalini.

Bass clarinet by Papalini

As for alto clarinets, the closely related basset horn goes back to the mid 1700s, but the earliest reference to a more or less modern alto in Europe is one played by Iwan Müller in 1809.

Oddly enough, though, the bass and alto clarinets may have been independently invented in the United States. George Catlin was making musical instruments in Hartford, Connecticut, and by 1810 was making something he called a “clarion” which was in fact a bassoon-shaped bass clarinet, similar to but different from Grenser’s and others being made in Europe. Whether he developed it on his own or knew of the European basses isn’t known. Apparently he and his students built and sold a fair number of these.

And there’s one extant instrument at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York that’s cataloged as an “alto clarion”; while it has no markings, it bears a strong family resemblance to Catlin’s basses, but is smaller — an E♭ instrument, that is, a bassoon-shaped alto clarinet, dated circa 1820. It’s one of the oldest alto clarinets in existence.

Alto clarion, attributed to George Catlin

I’ve never really gotten the appeal Pinterest has for some people as a social media platform, but I do find it useful as a repository for interesting images, and one of my Pinterest boards is “Oddwinds“: unusual woodwind and brass instruments. Somewhat weirdly to me, one of the most often repinned pictures from Oddwinds is the Catlin-style alto clarion. Why? I have no idea. The bassoon-shaped bass clarinets get much less attention.

So maybe, if Selmer wants to start selling more alto clarinets, they should try making them bassoon shaped. Something in that might just appeal to people for some reason.

Then again, the most-repinned Oddwinds picture is a quarter tone clarinet.

Quarter tone clarinet

And I doubt Selmer could sell many of those.

Disclaimer: Not all photos are mine. Click through for copyright and licensing.

Other Disclaimer: I own my own alto clarinet.



A few games

I don’t play lots of computer games. I especially don’t much play games requiring speed and hand/eye coordination, because I don’t have enough of either. So I tend to favor puzzle games, and I’ve played three of them lately.

One was Botanicula (Mac version), which came out in 2012, and which I probably bought in 2012 but for whatever reason didn’t really start playing until a few days ago. Okay, so I’m a little behind the times. I’ve enjoyed Amanita Design’s previous games, and I particularly liked Machinarium. There was one scene, maybe a couple, in Machinarium with arcade-like play. I got through it, though. Didn’t like that aspect, but I managed. As for the rest, I thought it was really charming and fun.

I was hoping to say the same about Botanicula. But the five main characters aren’t as engaging as Machinarium’s robot; the overall plot, such as it is, isn’t enough to hang all the puzzles on; and a lot of the puzzles are too much of the “click on random stuff and see what happens” and not enough of “figure out what to do and do it”. But what really killed it for me was, probably about two thirds of the way through, I hit two scenes, almost consecutive, which I simply could not do because they required more dexterity, speed, and precision than I could manage. After a while it became clear that if I ever could get through those scenes at all, it would only be via repeating them over and over and over and over and over again, and putting up with a whole lot of anxiety and frustration. That’s not the kind of game play I want in what’s supposed to be a means of relaxation. Once I realized that I quit the game, and I don’t think I’ll try playing it again.

Earlier on I played The Room II (Android version), a sequel to (wait for it) The Room, the game, not the movie. I liked the original a lot and the sequel didn’t disappoint. It’s not a perfect game; I’d prefer something with more of a plot, rather than just solving one puzzle after another until it’s over, and the puzzles could have used a little more diversity; after a while a lot of them seemed kind of the same. The Room II is neither extremely challenging nor long — I didn’t time myself but I don’t think I spent more than a couple of hours or so at it. On the plus side, it’s visually stunning. And at three bucks, well worth the price.

Even cheaper is 2048, which is free. It’s a somewhat mathematical game, so I wrote it up on MathematRec.


ThreeMen In aB oat

Years ago, back when I was running the Monty Python Special Interest Group of American Mensa (but that’s another story), a fellow MPSIG member recommended Jerome K. Jerome’s novel Three Men In a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog). I read it, I enjoyed it. Some years later I read Connie Willis’s time travel novel, To Say Nothing of the Dog, which, rather obviously, was influenced by Jerome’s book; it’s a wonderful and very funny story, one of my favorites.

The Kindle edition of TSNotD is currently selling for two bucks so I picked it up, and decided to also get the Penguin Classics edition of TMiaB in Kindle format too. And now I’m telling you why not to do likewise.

As Carl Frank notes, there are formatting problems in Chapter 8. I bought the book anyway, figuring it was cheap enough and if there were problems in one chapter I could deal with them or get a refund. I found these problems did not make the chapter let alone the book “unreadable”. They affect only a few pages and all that’s wrong is a very badly placed left margin which leaves a very narrow text. Bad, annoying, but it can be read. I did indeed complain to Amazon about this and they credited me the price of the purchase.

What bothered me more was the frequent problems with spaces, or lack thereof, scattered throughout the book — or at least the first few chapters. “Hesaid” where it should be “he said” and the like. At one point “at one” should have been “a tone”. These errors certainly don’t make the book unreadable, either, but they do make it an unpleasant experience. Somewhere around chapter 4 I gave up and used my refund toward the Oxford World’s Classics edition of the combined Three Men in a Boat and Three Men on the Bummel. So far it is a far more readable edition (albeit without chapter entries in the table of contents).

or, Wallpaper paste must be good for something

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