Musings on optics, physics, astronomy, technology and life

Posts tagged ‘humor’

It’s No-Belt Week! :-)

Today’s tongue-in-cheek headline comes from a conversation I had with a friend yesterday. After a brief break in the chat, I changed the subject (whatever the previous subject had been) and murmured, “Gee, this is Nobel Prize week.” My male friend replied, “How am I supposed to keep my pants up? I don’t want to wear suspenders every day!”

I had a good hearty laugh out loud, and then clarified what I meant. Silly guy, he thought I said “no-belt prize week”! I assured him that nobody will be giving out prizes for pant waistbands that sink down and expose underwear for all the world to see.

But it is the usual week during which the Nobel Prizes are awarded, and it’s only fair to get those predictions lined up before tomorrow morning, when the physics prize becomes public. (The physics prize, of course, is my main concern professionally.)

Last year at this time, I had been finishing up a feature article on the International Year of Light, which ended up as the cover story of the January 2015 issue of Optics & Photonics News. Even though I hope every year that the physics Nobel goes to an optics-related discovery, I was thinking then that we’d have to wait for 2015 for a light-related Nobel, because this year is the IYL. But then last year we got three physics laureates who were cited for their invention of blue LEDs — truly important photonic technology — plus a chemistry prize for super-resolved fluorescence microscopy. How can it get any better for optics than that, IYL or not?

Anyhow, here is a roundup of physics-Nobel predictions from Thomson Reuters Science Watch, from Physics World, and from Physics Central. Nature takes a look at the overall speculation and the delay between the winning work and the prizes. AIP’s Ben Stein, who correctly predicted last year’s physics Nobel, weighs in again. One chemist-blogger believes the physics prize should go to a scientific team, not to individuals, the way the Nobel Peace Prize is often bestowed upon an organization. Chad Orzel of Forbes has a few final thoughts.

So … will this year’s Nobel go to a woman, or someone I went to school with, or a friend’s childhood mentor, or someone else entirely? We’ll all know in about 11 or 12 hours from now. In the meantime: guys, keep those pants hitched up! We don’t want to know the answer to “boxers or briefs” from direct visual inspection!


One more tale of Tingye Li

The September 2013 issue of Optics & Photonics News contains my feature article on Tingye Li, a pioneering optical scientist and beloved member of the OSA community. (Sorry, you need to be an OSA member in order to read the full text of the article.)

I wanted to include one more anecdote that came from Li’s two daughters, but I thought it might be a bit too risqué for the magazine. Besides, if I put everything into the article, I wouldn’t have anything to blog about, now would I? 🙂

Here’s the story. Since Li, who died last December, spent his entire post-doctorate career working at Bell Laboratories, he lived with his wife and children in Rumson, N.J. According to Wikipedia, Rumson is quite the upscale town, and it was that way in the 1960s and 1970s as well. Still, Li and his wife, both naturalized Americans who were born in China, found it a good place to raise their daughters.

One of Li’s hobbies was gardening, sometimes with his daughters and sometimes all by himself. He always wore his oldest, shabbiest clothes to mess around with the dirt and fertilizer.

One evening, he was working alone in the front yard when a car pulled up and stopped. The driver, who looked like a prosperous businessman, rolled down his window and told Li that he was doing an excellent job on the landscaping. Li thanked him for the compliment.

Then the businessman, in a tone of voice that suggested he was thinking of hiring Li to do his yard work, asked him what sort of compensation he was provided for his toil. With a slight smile and twinkle in his eye, Li promptly responded: “Oh, I get to sleep with the lady of the house.”

The businessman, who apparently still hadn’t figured out that somebody dressed in ratty gardening clothes could actually be a married Bell Labs executive and homeowner, mumbled some sort of farewell and could hardly roll up the car window fast enough. One can only imagine the look on that guy’s face as he drove off!

Oh, those Victorian photographers again…

I just stumbled upon some online galleries of 19th-century “headless” photographs, in which the human subjects seem to be decapitated.

The first link came from Twitter, and then I started clicking away until I found this and this and this. Oh, and old-time “spirit” photographs and a collection of vintage kitty cats.

Now, earlier this year I learned from Rob Gibson how the “spirit” photographs were made: Two people would pose for the first half of an exposure, and then the photographer would put the lens cap back on while one of the people moved out of the field of view. Then the photographer would make the second half of the exposure. In the resulting image, one person would look “solid” and the other “ethereal.”

Some of the “headless” photographs definitely look like paper-image cut-and-paste jobs. Others … it’s a little harder to discern. I know one commenter wrote, “Glass plates or it didn’t happen!” But paper calotypes would have been easier to cut and manipulate, don’t you think?

At any rate, these historical photographs give us some insight into what our ancestors considered humorous, believable, shocking, or just plain bizarre.

Beauty and fun

If you have a relatively cloudless evening sky in your area, don’t walk, RUN outside and take a look at the nearly full Moon in the same region of the sky (roughly) as bright Jupiter. By tomorrow the Moon will be full and hanging between Jupiter and the Pleiades, according to “This Week’s Sky at a Glance” from Sky & Telescope.

Also, I must admit that my colleague Yvonne Carts-Powell’s take on the whisky thing is so much more entertaining than mine. Check it out!