Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Last week. I was sitting in my office. And started to wonder whether somebody would name an award after me if I'd jump out the window. That is to say, the snow mountains in the parking lots as well as my mental exhaustion have crossed a critical threshold, and I'll be away for an undetermined amount of time. Should you encounter withdrawal symptoms, responsibility for the substitute program is with my husband. For general complaints about the source of all evil and sadness in the world, please contact your favourite God/Goddess or Member of Parliament depending on your personal taste and religious conviction.

It occurred to me office windows that can't be opened might be purposeful intelligent design.

Related, I was wondering whether somebody yet asked to be buried with his BlackBerry. Given mankind's long history of burial objects to make the deceased's transition into afterlife as smooth and pleasant as possible, I thought the BlackBerry might come in handy.

Probably not. So I will take care of that ante mortem (one never knows whether the plane will arrive at its destination): The Sabine Hossenfelder Award recognizes annually the most courageous postdoc in theoretical physicist. Courage can be shown by stubbornly working on topics where there hasn't been progress for several decades (with or without outcome), changing fields and starting all over again (with or without success), public political involvement (with or without impact), questioning the common sensus, criticising the majority opinion, or disagreeing with established senior researchers. Courage should not be confused with stupidity, in neither category. Applicants can nominate themselves or be nominated by more courageous colleagues. The successful candidate is awarded with the questionable honor of being mentioned on this blog - unless somebody sends me a $120 Mio check I currently lack, in which case the award will be upgraded to a 2 week vacation at a place of your choice. This year's deadline is Sep. 30th 2008.


  1. Have fun! Enjoy yourself! Meditate, if you can!

    Take time to (re)discover what's fun in physics, as long as doing so is itself a relaxing and light-spirited process.

  2. The campus needs a big bubbly hot tub. Though the power requirements may brown out the province, it's worth it. Let your minds go slack so the universe can enter.

    Water-compatible blackboards are left as an exercise for the alert reader.

  3. Answer

    Handsets get taken to the grave

    More people than ever are asking to be buried or cremated with their mobile phones when they die, say researchers.

    The trend, which began in South Africa, has now spread to a number of countries, including Ireland, Australia, Ghana, and the US.

    Martin Raymond, director of international trend-spotting think-tank, The Future Laboratory said that this had started off "in the realm of the urban myth", but was fast becoming fact.

    "You hear about it, the idea that people are being buried with their mobile phones, but you can't really believe it," he told the BBC World Service's Culture Shock programme.

    He explained that the first cases of people asking to be buried with their phone originated in Cape Town, where some people's belief in witchcraft meant they feared that "they could fall under a spell, be put to sleep and actually be buried.

    "In fact, they were asking for the phones to be put into the coffins with them in case they woke up."

    'Limelight funerals'

    Mr Raymond said that in Australia the trend was more about affluence.

    "People wanted to be buried with the totems that they felt represented their lifestyle," he explained.

    "We came across one guy who asked to be buried with his mobile phone and his Blackberry, and also with his laptop."

    He added that in many cases, being buried with your phone is part of what he termed limelight funerals, people wanting to be buried like celebrities.

    The phone is put in the coffin along with diamonds, jewellery, expensive suits, and gold watches.

    In some places, however, the practice has parallels with a much more distant time, as being buried along with one's possessions can be traced to ancient Egypt.

    In the days of Tutankhamen it was done because they believed literally that the objects would be available to them in the afterlife.

    However, in modern times some people are finding they like the idea of being buried with the things that defined them while they were alive.

    "When we looked at this in Chad and Ghana, there was part of that implicit in the burial service - that you were taking things with you that would be useful," Mr Raymond said.

    "In Ireland, where we came across this, it was more to do with people being buried with things they liked. One guy we came across was buried with a pack of cigarettes and some matches.

    "Another was buried with his favourite teddy bear, given to him by his girlfriend."

    In some cases, they are even taking their mobiles into cremation.

    "We came across this in places like South Carolina in the US - people were being burned but unknown to the crematorium, they had left the phones in their jackets," Mr Raymond said.

    "If you heat a mobile phone battery, it tends to explode, and the first reports were about explosions, and that's how they started noticing this trend."

    Some funeral parlours will now arrange for the phone put into the box with the ashes following the cremation.

    And one service in South Africa will put a number of batteries in the coffin just in case the dead person wakes up much later and finds their own battery has run out.

  4. Hi Bee,

    You have my nomination for any award you wish. I’m amazed you were able to go this long before putting the breaks on for a bit. I hope you discover Newton’s equivalent to the apple tree and just sit under it for a while and simply let what happens happen.



  5. Hello Bee,
    have some recreation maybee by some
    √Ąpplwoi? One bottle or 25 of "Knaddl-Daddl-√Ąppelwoi" will do.
    I could imagine, the Quebecois make
    something similar and palatable?

  6. Well crap. Sorry things aren't more cheerful, and I mean that quite sincerely.

    Hope the sun comes out soon! (both literally and metaphorically)

  7. Well, I'd love to nominate someone like Carl Brannen, but he's not a postdoc. Neither am I. In fact, most of the people I would like to nominate are not postdocs, precisely because they satisfy the criteria for the reward - as well as being incredibly stupid.

  8. Dear Smart Lady: Most people don't know themselves well enough in such circumstances and will continue pushing themselves to psychological exhaustion. I didn't see any signs (besides your being sick), so then thank you for recognizing that you need some time to recharge your batteries. Your blog readers and those close to you will no doubt appreciate the fresher You that will return to the world. Be kind to yourself, please.

  9. Hi Bee,

    We'll still be here whenever you get back.

    I spent a couple of winters in Rochester, New York. Not so far from where you are, on the southern shore of Lake Ontario. They say the weather on that side is even gloomier, because the winds tend to come from the north, and pick up moisture coming down over the lake.

    When I was there they set a record, where the Sun never appeared for three months. One day it was hazily visible for a period of a few minutes and made the front page. I was struck by a terrible depression. They say this condition is more common in northern Europeans, and I think it must be a genetic adaptation to northern winter where people go into a form of human hibernation.

    I've seen recent research claiming to have found specialized receptors in the eye attuned to the appearance of blue sky. Presumably they are there to tell us to get up and get going.

    If stuck in Rochester now, I'd try the routine of reading under a bright (preferably bluish) light for an hour each morning.

    Best wishes,


  10. Hi Bee!

    Take a rest. Do something else, completely different. Stay out of the internet for a while (I mean it). Disconnect yourself a little. I hope you get better. And hope things get better to you as well.

    Best wishes,

  11. Inspirational Quotes


    "Don't let what you can't do stop you from doing what you can do"
    "The Journey..IS the reward"
    [ in reference to the NCAA championship tournament, aka "March Madness" ]
    -- John Wooden, UCLA basketball coach (aka "Wizard of Westwood")

    Pyramid of Success, see book here

    UCLA's John Wooden - College Basketball's Greatest Coach

    "The friend in my adversity I shall always cherish most. I can better trust those who helped to relieve the gloom of my dark hours than those who are so ready to enjoy with me the sunshine of my prosperity"
    -- Ulysses S. Grant

    "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy"
    -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

    B/Kea/Amara are inspirational in their courage to raise questions & fight through the "system". As is R. Knop/L. Motl (& others).

    I'm working along the same line, & have some interesting ideas/solutions. Something will be happening this year.

  12. Weather in Seattle recently has been spring-like in the afternoons, maybe evidence that some warmer weather will blow your way soon.

    As far as awards from Kea, that's cause she doesn't know that in the past week I've been sinning, and have spent my time assembling a half dozen 500 piece jigsaw puzzles.

  13. Only 500 piece? Bah! My 5 year old nephew could do those.

  14. Hi Kea,

    “Only 500 piece? Bah! My 5 year old nephew could do those.”

    Perhaps there those ones designed for idle physicists as they are all white (no picture or design) and the final shape is never a square or rectangle :-) If your five year old has mastered these send his CV promptly to Perimeter Institute:-)



  15. ... I hear Bermuda is very nice this time of year.

    Or why not come over to Heidelberg? At least there is no snow here.

  16. I hereby nominate all String Theorists for the Sabine Hossenfelder Award.

    They fulfil the criterion of "stubbornly working on topics where there hasn't been progress for several decades" - in fact there hasn't been progress ever, so I feel that they deserve the prize money twice over.

  17. Have a good break, Bee. Hope the sun comes out for you sooner rather than later!

  18. To Bee:
    I'm an outsider here so it's hard to know what to say that could be meaningful other than I have found your blog to be alternately funny, insightful, informative, and touching. You are an excellent teacher and that counts for a lot in the grand scheme of things.
    I wish for you windows above the 1st floor that never open, colleagues and compatriots that appreciate both your determination and obstinacy, a sense of humor that continues to pierce the hides of the powerful and those who fawn over them, and above all the strength to continue on your search for the DGR (Determined General Resiliency!) you need to survive, grow, and blossom.
    I look forward to the posts that your future will bring.

  19. I hope you're feeling better by now. It must be the time of year or something because I've been feeling pretty low too. If we were closer we could go out and get drunk and into some trouble. ;-) (actually, I don't drink anymore but the thought is fun)

  20. Hope you get some rest and feel better. Research is a rough world!

  21. Re: 500 piece jigsaw puzzles.

    I remember, as part of my general humiliation while growing up, that my youngest sister was able to assemble a 318 piece jigsaw puzzle face down (only blank cardboard showing) in about an hour and a half!


  22. lol Bee,
    I know you want to make a name for yourself, but being able to stay in touch with or contact other/parallel worlds, might be asking for a little too much too soon.

    Ironically, it may be possible to exist in other/parallel worlds, but we are only ever in ONE at any one time. Of course if we remove the dimension of Time then we could be in instant or simultaneous contact with ancestors or even someone from a billion years into the future - even a billion light years in the past or future.

    But enough. Time to take TIME OUT.

  23. Hi All,

    Thanks so much for all your kind and encouraging words, I really appreciate your feedback.

    As things are with my BB, it is likely it will have to be buried earlier than me. Maybe I should have the battery replaced, it seems to get weaker every day.

    As I see, Stefan has taken very good care of the blog :-)

    Hey Rae Ann,

    You changed the photo! Should you ever be in the Toronto area, let me know, it would indeed be fun :-)

    Hi Georg,

    NOTHING comes close to Blauer Bock ;-)

    Hi Chris,

    Sorry but I can't accept nominations without naming a person. I also don't quite agree on the reasoning. Many of the people work in the field because they believe there has been progress.

    Dear Christine,

    I have myself disconnected as far as possible, it's kind of funny not being able to comment on the own blog. Presently I have some trouble re-connecting though (this wireless is painfully slow, please tell me the way to the next T-mobile hotspot, gee, I am so spoiled).




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