Chillin’ in Reno

I’ve been in Reno visiting my dad and his family since the beginning of last week. Hanging out with the kids is fun (I posted some pictures of them on Flickr, along with some miscellaneous photos), and I dug up some sagebrush for bonsai, too.

Dad’s website is finally is half-way decent shape, and I convinced him to start a blog, too: Renotes. I don’t know how much he’ll use it, but he’s still enthusiastic at this point. I also set him up with a myspace page, so he can develop a 15-year-old fanbase (and so he has free hosting for a couple songs).

Even though dad’s dogs are really a bunch of bad dogs (Aria and Basie are actually good dogs, but as a group, they’re all bad), it’s nice having them around. I’m looking forward to when Faith and I can get a dog, once we live somewhere stable.

I miss Faith and Curie and Tesla and Euler and Poisson and d’Alembert and the rest, though.

History of science manifesto

Here is my

As someone with aspirations to change the world, I figured it was high time I wrote a manifesto. I’ve never written one before, so I found the style hard to master… writing skills don’t completely transfer from genre to genre, and blog posts, encyclopedia articles and archive-based research papers all require practice individually. So I’m not completely satisified with it, but I’ll try to improve it in the future. One nice thing about writing in Wikipedia (as I did with the manifesto) is that you can use links to avoid having to choose between a) over-explaining things for the readers that share your background and b) confusing the uninitiated with jargon and obscure allusions.

I was inspired somewhat to write this after reading an article on “Good and Bad Procrastination,” which quotes from this essay the following:

ask yourself three questions:

  1. What are the most important problems in your field?
  2. Are you working on one of them?
  3. Why not?

I’d say the most important problem in my field is popularization, without a doubt. Historical study of the ways scientific ideas move and transform between the elite and popular realms is just one part of that. Even more crucial is the popularization of history of science itself; translating between esoteric scholarship and mass culture, making history of science an essential component of cultural literacy. Think history of science dramas replacing medical dramas, crime dramas, and lawyer dramas as the top TV shows; that’s the level of popularization to aim for. So my Wikipedia adventures are the first step in this regard.

After popularization, pedagogy is the next most important problem. Again, both the relationship between training and scientific development, and the effective teaching of history of science itself (with the latter taking precedence again). The ultimate goal with history of science pedagogy is take over every other academic field; the sciences, literature, garden-variety history, art, all specializations with history of science.

I’ll have to think some more about what other problems are important. Meanwhile, back to reading about the social construction of nuclear missile guidance.

How many communists does it take to change a light bulb?

None. The light bulb contains the seeds of its own revolution.

This was from Julia, at the new HSHM admits’ dinner. Unfortunately there aren’t any historian lightbulb jokes worth telling. But, as is the wont of historians, I’ll share some anyway.

How many historians does it take to change a light bulb?

1.) Only one, but to tell anyone else about it you need an entire department: the historian of science to describe the development of electricity; the economic historian to describe the rise of power companies and disposable lightbulbs; the environmental historian to talk about the relationship between replacement bulbs and landfill issues; the political historian to describe the decision-making process in lightbulb replacement; and the social historian to argue about whether more lightbulbs are replaced by women or by men. Graduate students are working on the incandescant-fluorescent issue, but no publications yet.

2.) (with trembling and fear) “Change???!!!”

Julia’s joke comes from (among other places) this site, which has a few other good ones, like:

How many feminists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
That’s not funny!

How many Freudian analysts does it take to change a lightbulb?
Two; one to change the bulb and one to hold the penis. I mean ladder.

The Wikipedia article on lightbulb jokes also has some good stuff (along with the discussion page):

How many Yalies does it take to change a lightbulb?
None. New Haven looks better in the dark.

Q: One.
A: How many time-travellers does it take to change a lightbulb?

And the Prairie Home Companion website has an endless supply of bad ones, with a few good ones thrown in.