Fork Stuck in the Road

Today, some very painful news reached me. My father informed me of the death of my undergraduate mentor in physics, Dr. Michael Schmidt. After a long battle with cancer, he passed on November 18. Michael was one of the reasons I survived my time as an undergrad at Yale. Without his patience, guidance, and wisdom, it’s likely my first experience with physics research would have been much less sweet.

One of my fondest memories was a day of splitting and stacking wood from some trees Michael had cut in his yard. A bunch of us, students and post-docs in his group, drove down from New Haven to Madison to spend the day with a rented wood-splitting machine, avoiding hornet nests in the wood pile and pulling splinters out of our arms. Our labor was rewarded with a great dinner with Michael’s family, including his wife and children. The evening ended with Michael playing the guitar, his son requesting songs and Michael belting them out. I remember most of all his rendition of Green Day’s “Time of your Life”.

I still pull my undergraduate thesis off the shelf every now and then, wondering at what Michael helped me accomplish in just a year, and wondering more how I ever understood what I was doing back then. I was a stupid, foolish, naive kid who wanted to soak up knowledge and do great research. Michael made sure I stayed on the straight and narrow path, and tried to give me last guidance before I headed off to graduate school. I have had many mentors in my life, and Michael is now the second I have lost who was a great influence on my life in physics.

Giving Thanks . . . if in hindsight

The last few weeks have been quite something. If I’ve been brief – administrative, even – it’s only because I’ve been caught up with home life, work life, and linux life. I ran my first road race a couple of weeks ago, the SLAC annual run/walk. It’s a four mile run up and down the linear accelerator, and it’s the first time I’ve ever run more than 3 miles. I came in last in my age group, and fourth or fifth from last overall, but I’ve never had so much fun running in a straight line. Jodi was kind enough to slow it way down and run with me.

Last week was Thanksgiving. After a very successful week of research, Jodi and I dropped everything and spent time with with friends and even some family. We had a lovely dinner, with lots of eating and watching movies and sleeping. Ah, the tryptophan coma – delish! It was a damned good Thanksgiving, considering the fact that we were so far from most of our family.

With family in town, we wanted to hit all the sights. We managed to get to San Francisco and have a great walking tour. However, our attempt to go to wine country the next day was thwarted by a nasty, NASTY bout of food poisoning. Jodi was as sick as I’ve ever seen anybody in my entire life. I didn’t get much sleep, while I kept an eye on Jodi and tried to make her comfortable. By the afternoon she was keeping fluids and solids down, and by evening she was tired, four pounds lighter, but at least able to sleep.

We bid farewell to family the next day, crashed, and have been recovering this week while digging into our work. Talks to write, collaboration meetings to prep for, and research to complete.

Professional Blog – what does that mean?

Sitting in the Kavli lounge, chatting with a friend of mine, I mentioned that I had finally gotten around to setting up a professional blog. He responded with, “What’s a professional blog?” Hmm. When I set the darn thing up, I didn’t really think about what it meant. Well, that’s not totally true – I had one definition:

A professional blog is one you’re not embarrassed to link to your professional homepage

Don’t get me wrong. There’s plenty to be proud of in this personal blog, I think. Anyway, I doubt that my colleagues are all that interested in my opinions on political candidates or evolution.

But they might be interested in what papers I might suggest for reading, about what conferences are in progress, or about some popular news article about a topic of professional interest to them. They might even be interested in my thoughts on those issues. They might be interested in my notes from a conference, as I did last year for my trips to Moscow and Sweden.

I realized that while I blush at the idea of linking my personal blog to my professional page, there are certainly topics I write about which might be helpful to collect in some better place.  A professional blog is also a chance to try to take my writing up a notch, put a little more thought and polish into the work. Or not, We’ll see.

So, all of this said, I am proud to announce the creation of a professional blog, called “Going Up Alleys”. You can find it from my professional homepage, either at SLAC ( or OSU ( The blog itself is hosted on my own webserver, since I am not interested in strong-arming SLAC or OSU to allow me to install WordPress or MySQL, and you can always direct link to it here:

Remember, this blog will be migrating to WordPress in the next week, so get ready for a new look and a new RSS feed.

Migrating to WordPress!

Well, friends, it was inevitable. I hate static situations. Very soon, I’ll be moving this blog to “WordPress”, the excellent and highly-maintained blogging platform that is open-source and free for distribution and usage. For this blog, ever since its inception, I’ve used “COREBlog”, a plugin for the Zope webserver. It served me well, but there are two problems: first, its final version (prior to migrating to the “Plone” content management system) claims to be maintained by hasn’t changed in months. For a young open-source program like COREBlog, this is a bad sign. Second, I cannot migrate my Zope server to Plone, because some old classes are sitting around in my Zope server and prevent Plone from working. It’s a mess. Zope is a mess.

To move away from Zope, I’ve been slowly migrating toward Javascript, Python, and Apache. I’ve always used these elements, but given the direction the Web is moving it’s time to move with it. Zope is not the future. It’s not even the present. Apache, Javascript, XML – these are the present and likely the future.

Therefore, in the next week or so I’ll be migrating my blog to WordPress, and after that I’ll swap my new WordPress-based blog for this one. This COREblog-based blog will be relocated to:

and the new WordPress blog will replace this one at I’ll be migrating links, so that they point internally to the new blog system, and images. Hopefully, this transition will be transparent in terms of content, but beautiful in terms of quality of presentation. WordPress is truly wonderous, simple to install and use. I’m excited to be moving to something with a more active development community, and I look forward to you moving with me.

For you, the changes will be slight. If you’re using a blog aggregator to read my posts, you’ll need to point it to

instead of the previous RSS feed ( In addition, WordPress will have a different mechanism for posting comments, which I have to learn about. Once the transition is complete, look for information in the WordPress-based blog on how to post comments. It should be much easier for me to approve comments than it was in COREBlog, which already makes me happy!