s Thoughts from the Physics Chick: April 2009

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Star Trek: Know your Aliens, part 2

As Ginsberg pointed out, I neglected to include Romulans in my last post. (I left them out because they didn't figure much in the original series, but I forgot that they appear in the Star Trek movies.)


Romulans look much like Vulcans (upswept eyebrows and pointy ears). They're actually related to Vulcans, but they don't follow the Vulcan philosophy which embraces logic above all else.

Romulan society highly values honor, especially through military service. Unfortunately, they're also highly xenophobic / racist, so they don't really respect or value other species. They also have the reputation of being duplicitious even within their own society, with Romulan citizens living in fear of the Romulan Secret Police (the Tal Shiar).

Friday, April 24, 2009

Christmas Carols: Tomorrow shall be my dancing day

Based on the first verse of this song, it doesn't sound much like a Christmas carol at all:

Tomorrow shall be my dancing day;
I would my true love did so chance
To see the legend of my play,
To call my true love to the dance.

Sing O my love, O my love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my true love.

The next verse makes things pretty clear, given that it starts "Then was I born of a virgin pure . . ." and the following nine verses continue to tell the story of Christ's life. Still, it doesn't really explain who Christ is addressing as His "true love" and what this "dancing day" is, exactly.

According to the New Oxford Book of Carols, the idea of Christ addressing humankind as His true love has its roots in "higher medieval poetry," continuing in the tradition which interprets the Song of Solomon as a figuratively expressing Christ's love for the Church. Judging by the last verse:

Then up to heaven I did ascend,
Where now I dwell in sure substance
On the right hand of God, that man
May come unto the general dance.

The dance is a metaphor for Heaven or Paradise. Incidentally, some sources think that this carol may originally have been part of a dramatic cycle telling the story of the life of Christ. (Hence the line "to see the legend of my play.")

I was originally familiar with one setting of this carol (the first one, linked below) and also found two other arrangements while I was looking around for good recordings.

Birmingham Children's Choir, December 2008:

Choir of King's College, Cambridge, John Gardner setting, 2007(?):

Belfast Choir (with an inexplicable James Bond intro?!), 2007(?):

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Cat. & Reference: Pagination

In the library world, "pagination" is the fancy-shmancy word for "the number of pages in a book" and it goes in the catalog record under the "physical description" section.

Who cares about pagination? Well, readers and researchers care because it helps them decide if a book is right for their needs. (E.g., an 8 page, 80 page, and 800 page biography are all intended for different audiences.)

Book collectors also care, because pagination is an important way of distinguishing between different editions of the same book, and some editions may be more valuable than others.

Librarians also care about pagination because it's an important "match point." ("Match points" are pieces of information that librarians use to determine if the book they have is the same edition as the book another library has.)

When it comes to recording pagination, there is one basic rule: Flip to the back of the book, find the last printed page number, and write that down as the total number of pages, like this:

134 p. ("Pages" gets abbreviated "p.")

Don't count blank pages at the end, don't count unnumbered publisher pages, and don't count the last page if the page number happens to be suppressed.

What about books without page numbers? You have a few options. One is to count the number of pages by hand, and put the total in brackets:

[12] p. (Brackets mean that you didn't get the information from the "official" source, in this case, from printed page numbers.)

Another option is to estimate the total number of pages:

[ca. 150] p.

Or you can give up and describe it this way:

1 v. (unpaged) ("V." stands for "volume.")

If you have more than one numbering system in the book, give the highest page number of each numbering system (this is really common with books that have prefaces or introductions):

xiii, 264 p.

Or if there are too many numbering systems for this to be practical (say, more than three), do this:

1 v. (var. pag.) ("Var. pag." stands for "various pagings.")

So, with that toe dip into the exciting, fast-paced world of counting book pages in a library setting, how would you deal with the following situations:

1. Alan Fletcher, writer and book designer of The Art of Looking Sideways includes page numbers in this book, but with a catch. Instead of numbering every page, he numbers every spread (group of two pages). So the book says it has 533 pages, but in a normal book it would actually be numbered 1066. How you you describe this so that patrons know the book is much larger than the page number would lead them to believe, while still being true to the page numbers printed in the book?

2. You're cataloging an article on salmon net-pens (lucky you!) and the last printed page number is 157. However, this article was reprinted from the scholarly journal it was originally published in and it's not actually 157 pages long, it just spanned pages 147-157 in the original volume. How do you describe this?

3. Michael O'Brien's biography of John F. Kennedy is 971 pages long. However, it also includes an extra 16 pages of photographs printed on special paper in the middle of the book which don't have page numbers. How do you include this information? (Bonus points if you can explain why it's exactly 16 extra pages, not 15 or 17.)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Christmas carols: Seven Joys of Mary

I was surprised at how much trouble I had finding videos of this song. When I first searched for it on YouTube, I got six hits of which one was usable (it's the second one included here) another one was just passable and four were no good. It turns out, though, that this song is known by a variety of names, including "The Seven Joys of Mary," "The Seven Rejoices of Mary," "The Blessings of Mary," "Joys Seven" and "Joyis Fyve." (That last one is from Back in The Day, when Mary had only five joys, and she was lucky to have them!) There are also a number of variations on the tune. The one I know best is sung by the King's College Choir, below.

I always thought this carol was kind of odd because it talks about things like the crucifixion as a "joy" of Mary. I always figured they left it in because the song tells the whole life of Jesus, and they couldn't really skip over that part. Or maybe it was a joy because, in the long run, it was a good thing (even if it was sad at the time). Learning the history of this song gave me another explanation for how Christ's crucifixion ended up in the middle of Mary's "joys."

The idea of counting Mary's joys has its roots in the rosary, which consists of sets of five "mysteries" (the Joyful Mysteries, the Luminous Mysteries, the Sorrowful Mysteries, and the Glorious Mysteries). Five was therefore a religiously significant number and many prayers were written which featured that number. (And, as I mentioned before, a very old version of this song is known as "Joyis Fyve.") Later on, the number of joys began to vary a bit, and often centered around other religiously significant numbers, such as seven (days of Creation, deadly sins, cardinal virtues, etc.). This change in number may also have been influenced by the Protestant traditions, which had no tie to the fives of the rosary. So, my theory is that you start out with five joys that tie in with the "joyful mysteries" of the rosary, and then you have to borrow the extra two "joys" from other parts of the rosary, so they don't quite fit. Sure enough, "joy" number six correlates nicely with one of the "sorrowful mysteries" (carrying the crucifix) and joy number seven correlates with one of the "glorious mysteries" (ascending into heaven). To be fair, only one of the first five corresponds neatly with the canonical "joyful mysteries" (the nativity), but I still like my theory.

It should be noted that, in addition to the variations in tunes for this song, there are several versions of the lyrics, so other versions of the lyrics may map differently to the rosary. Also, one of the versions goes all the way up to ten blessings, but the tenth blessing is, inexplicably "To think that her Son Jesus, could write without a pen." I'm not familiar with that particular miracle, so I guess they were just really desperate for a rhyme.

So, with that very long introduction, I give you three variations on "The Seven Joys of Mary":

"Joys Seven," Choir of King's College, Cambridge, 2007:

"The Seven Joys of Mary," Raymond Crooke, 2007:

"The Seven Rejoices of Mary," Loreena McKennit:

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

According to Netflix

I like:

Romantic Dramas based on classic literature
Critically-acclaimed Foreign Documentaries
Cerebral Independent Comedies
Feel-good Sci-Fi & Fantasy
Visually-striking Suspenseful Movies

I'm not so sure about that last one, but the first four seem to be on target.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Star Trek: Know your Aliens


You already know what humans are, but it's important to know that in the Star Trek world, Earth is part of what's called the "United Federation of Planets" (usually "the Federation," for short) which is a centralized governing body consisting multiple alien races, hundreds of planets, and thousands of colonies. The "capital" of the Federation is located on Earth.

The Federation's military arm is called Starfleet. Star Trek (Classic) and the three television series that follow it are about the lives of people who serve Starfleet as the crew of various starships and space stations.


Vulcans look pretty much like humans, except they have pointy ears and eyebrows which angle up more than human eyebrows. I'm also under the impression that most of them have dark hair cut very short, although searches on Memory Alpha return evidence of a number of different hairstyles.

Vulcans value logic and reason above all else, and try to avoid being biased or influenced by emotion. This contrasts sharply with the humans around them, who tend to be much more motivated by emotion. All the same, Vulcans and humans seem to get along pretty well. Both species are also prominent within the Federation, and Vulcans appear as main characters in three of the five Star Trek TV series.


Klingons originally looked much like humans, but with very bronzed skin, upswept eyebrows, and Fu Manchu-esque facial hair. The Klingons are not members of the Federation and are shown as having very few redeeming qualities. The Klingon Empire stands as the main antagonist of the Federation in the way that the Soviet Union was the antagonist of the United States at that time.

For the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the look of the Klingons was radically redesigned. The Klingon forehead now had very prominent ridges running down to the bridge of their nose, almost like an exoskeleton, and they dressed in complicated metal uniforms which were inspired by Feudal Japanese armor. They also got their own language (full of harsh-sounding consonants) and their own alphabet (full of menacing, dagger-like shapes) with which to write it.


Tribbles are actually animals, not a sentient species, but no discussion of Star Trek creatures would be complete without them. They're basically just balls of fluff, about the size of a softball or a bit larger. They make an attractive purring sound when you pet them, so they're very attractive pets. Unfortunately, they breed like crazy and can consume all of the food on a planet or in a ship if not kept in check. (Also, they hate Klingons and emit a high pitched screeching sound when Klingons are around, instead of their usual purring. The antipathy is mutual.)

Friday, April 10, 2009

Christmas carols: See, amid the winter's snow

The words for this carol were written by Edward Caswall and first published in 1851. John Goss wrote the music, which was published 20 years later. I didn't like any of the vocal versions I found, so I'll give you the first verse to go along with an instrumental version:

See, amid the winter's snow, Born for us on earth below.
See, the tender Lamb appears, Promised from eternal years!
Hail, thou ever blessed morn! Hail, Redemption's happy dawn!
Sing through all Jerusalem: "Christ is born in Bethlehem!"

Solo guitar, November 2007:

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Poem, rhyme, stanza, foot

The other day, I was driving home from work and half-listening to NPR when I heard the speaker mention something about a "poetry ontology." (In information science, an ontology is a map of relationships between major concepts in a subject area.)

"How interesting!" I thought, "Poetry seems like an unlikely subject for an ontology, but that could be really fascinating."

And then I realized Andrei Codrescu's (who has a strong Romanian accent) was actually talking about a "poetry anthology."

(But I'm still thinking about poetry ontologies.)

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Nine — I love you

The other day, a 100 Hour Board question prompted me to do a bit of research on a type of language change called "analogical leveling."

While I was looking for information on this phenomenon, I came across a page which listed several different types of sporadic language changes, including one I'd never heard of: immediate models.

(For the rest of this post, I'm going to discuss immediate models and not analogical leveling. If you're dying to know what analogical leveling is, it's when a word which was formerly irregular in its conjugation or declension becomes more regular.)

And immediate model is when one word changes to become like another word because those two words are frequently grouped together, often in a series. For example, the English word "femelle" turned into "female" because it was often paired with "male," and the word "February" is often pronounced without its first /r/, modeled after "January."

When I read this, something I'd learned many years ago in a Russian class finally made sense. In Indo-European languages, the word for "nine" starts with "n" in almost every language. (Numbers tend to be pretty stable over time.) In French, it's "neuf," in German "neun," in Welsh, "naw," in Greek "ennea" (the "n" gets a vowel in front, but it's still there), in Albanian, it's "nëntë," etc. In Russian, however, the word is девять ("devyat'"), which doesn't seem to make much sense.

One of my professors told me that the "n" changed into a "d" because the Russian word for "ten" (десять/"desyat") starts with "d," but at the time I didn't really understand why. Now that I know about immediate models, though, it all makes sense. "Nine" and "ten" come together in a series, so that proximity gives ten a stronger influence over nine.

Of course, this isn't a very strong effect, since this "ten-ization" only shows up in the Balto-Slavic language family, and leaves the rest of the I-E subfamilies alone.

This makes me wonder, though, if the English "four" is a product of the same change (by analogy with "five"), since most non-Germanic language sub-families have words for "four" that start with "k" or "c" or "q".

Friday, April 03, 2009

Christmas Carols: Verbum Caro Factum Est

The refrain of this carol, "Verbum caro factum est" comes from John 1:14 ("And the word was made flesh"). The rest of the song consists of the virgin Mary telling Jesus that she would do anything for him, but she has nothing to give him.

Here are three 15th century arrangements of the hymn:

Chanticleer, Francisco Guerrero arrangement:

Notre Dame Choir, New York City, 2008, Orlande de Lassus arrangement:

South Dakota Honor's Choir, 2007, Hans Leo Hassler arrangement:

Unfortunately the very first part of this song is cut off, but it's still my favorite version.

Honorable Mention: The Sixteen, singing an arrangement by John Sheppard.

Thursday, April 02, 2009


This Saturday, at around 10 am, a new Wikipedia article will be created.

Actually, that's not much of a stretch to say, since there are new Wikipedia articles being created all the time. However, I'm referring to one specific article and I can predict a lot of things about it, such as some of the categories it will belong to and the type of info boxes it will contain. The one thing I can't tell you is the name of the article. (And no, I'm not going to create it myself, although I probably refresh my browser a lot to watch it grow, once I figure out where it is.)

With the death of Joseph B. Wirthlin last December, there is a vacancy in the LDS Quorum of Twelve. (Don't laugh, BSG fans, we had the name first.) The death of an apostle means that a new apostle will be called at the next General Conference. That's this weekend, and the first session starts at 10 am, Mountain Daylight Time.

To be fair, it's not necessarily true to say that Elder Whoever-It-Turns-Out-To-Be will get a brand new Wikipedia article about him. After all, Elder Christofferson had his own article when he was still in the Presidency of the Seventy, and it's possible that the next apostle is someone who is already notable enough to have a stub or even a long article about him. I'm hoping not, though, because I think it's fun to watch a large group of people suddenly cooperate to set it all up, the way they did when Quentin L. Cook was called in October 2007.

Of the ~150 edits that have been made to Elder Cook's article in the last 18 months, 66 were made on the day it was created. Of those, 30 were made in the first hour. Within less than five hours, the article was half as long as it currently is. Any way you slice it, it's a phenomenal initial rate of growth.

Of course, sudden fame is not particularly rare in our culture (just ask Octomom) and the sudden creation of Wikipedia articles is just the latest product of a mass media culture.

However, you can't really predict this type of tabloid-esque fame. And while there are predictable events that are also highly transformative (presidential elections, American Idol finals), there are generally preliminary events leading up to these major events which tell you who are the major candidates for the transformation. (I.e., Barack Obama's Wikipedia page didn't come into existence on November 4, 2008, but was predated by his page as the Democratic presidential nominee, before that as the Democratic candidate, before that as the junior senator from Illinois, etc.)

I'm sorry to say I don't know enough about other religions to say if there are good parallels for this type of thing in other faiths. One event that comes to mind is the election of a new pope, which is certainly more exciting than the sustaining of a new prophet (in terms of not knowing who it's going to be), but I think it's usually a cardinal who's elected, and I'd be surprised if the current cardinals don't all have Wikipedia pages already.