My weblog ELECTRON BLUE, which concentrated on science and mathematics, ran from 2004-2008. It is no longer being updated. My current blog, which is more art-related, is here.

Thu, 06 Oct, 2005

On being a Variable Infrared Source

I am a female of a Certain Age, and that means that I am undergoing the "change of life," or menopause. Just the mention of the word "menopause" causes some people to giggle, and others to tune out in disgust. Menopause is dorky, totally un-cool, undignified. Our glitzy, fabulous Western culture of the early twenty-first century is especially embarrassed by the physical signs of aging. There are pills for that, you know. Plastic surgery is available for all that icky aging skin, the pudgy midriff, the puffy, sagging jowls. Fake boobs for flatness or droop. Botox for the face wrinkles, and collagen to plump up the pursed, disapproving lips. Perhaps someday, it will be made mandatory, as in that famous Twilight Zone episode where all women are forced to undergo plastic surgery to be beautiful. (Episode: "Number Twelve Looks Just Like You" from 1964)

Even physicists are now marketed as gorgeous babes or hunks, not only young and attractive but athletically fit, running marathons and climbing mountains and skiing in between their calculations. Physics is a young man's (and now, sometimes, a young woman's) game, played by athletes of mind and body—or at least that's how they present themselves on their Weblogs! Have they succeeded in convincing us readers that physicists don't have to be nerds? What about the widely believed notion that physicists and mathematicians do their best work before the age of thirty, like athletes, and then decline into dullness for the rest of their lives? Are physics and age compatible?

I know a hot flash is coming a minute or so before it actually arrives. I feel a kind of spasm in my guts, almost like the twanging of a bowstring. It gives me warning that I should stop what I'm doing and sit down somewhere, or brace myself somehow. As the flare approaches, I sometimes feel a wave of nausea, more often a feeling as if I am about to suffocate on hot air. Then the heat reaches my surface, rather like an aging star emitting bursts of sickly radiation, and I sweat for about three to five minutes. More like steam than sweat; I actually warm and moisten the air around me, and I can feel it rising like hot water vapor. Then the flash subsides, leaving me sticky and finally cooled, if not chilled. And this happens every thirty minutes or so.

Hormone replacement, according to the doctors, is not advised; it's dangerous. I have been taking soy extract, with varying results; sometimes it works too well and gives me other problems, other times, such as now, it isn't working at all. I've taken various herbal nostrums, which only served to make me cranky and jittery (they contain caffeine-like substances, which add too much to my usual espresso). I can only hope that the hot flashes will be counteracted by the colder weather of fall and winter, which is as it were, "cold comfort" since I love the hot weather of summer. It will be a while before these subside for good; in fact, my doctor has told me that some women never stop having them.

So what does this have to do with physics? Why would I try to play a young person's game when I am obviously physically and mentally too old? My friends gave me a set of napkins with a cartoon on them of a nun in full habit frantically fanning herself, titled "Sister Mary Menopause." Are there physicist ladies out there fanning themselves with pages of scribbled calculations while poring over the latest data from the particle detector? Perhaps it's just too horrifying to imagine.

I decided to turn the situation around. I will use the infrared flares as an opportunity to do more physics. I have installed a good old air-blowing fan in my cluttered studio. I call it the "science fiction fan." When I get that 60-second warning, I turn from the art that I'm doing and set the fan to "high." Under the cooling stream of air, I do a physics problem from my current chapter. It takes just about one hot flash to do a short physics problem, for instance in my current "simple machines" section. If I don't finish before it stops, then I turn down the fan and go back to it next time around. I can do this indefinitely. That doesn't mean that I need the hot flash to do physics, and I will gladly plug away at it under any circumstances. But instead of just sitting and stewing, I will make the association between my physical annoyance and my physics challenge. No matter how low the mechanical efficiency gets, I will still do the work.

Posted at 3:08 am | link

Why the Title?
About the Author
What this blog is about: the first post
Pyracantha Main Page

RSS Version


November 2014 (4)
October 2014 (16)
September 2008 (5)
August 2008 (5)
July 2008 (7)
June 2008 (4)
May 2008 (6)
April 2008 (5)
March 2008 (8)
February 2008 (9)
January 2008 (8)
December 2007 (9)
November 2007 (9)
October 2007 (1)
September 2007 (7)
August 2007 (6)
July 2007 (10)
June 2007 (7)
May 2007 (10)
April 2007 (7)
March 2007 (11)
February 2007 (10)
January 2007 (6)
December 2006 (9)
November 2006 (9)
October 2006 (8)
September 2006 (8)
August 2006 (10)
July 2006 (9)
June 2006 (10)
May 2006 (10)
April 2006 (8)
March 2006 (12)
February 2006 (10)
January 2006 (11)
December 2005 (11)
November 2005 (9)
October 2005 (10)
September 2005 (10)
August 2005 (12)
July 2005 (9)
June 2005 (10)
May 2005 (8)
April 2005 (7)
March 2005 (8)
February 2005 (9)
January 2005 (7)
December 2004 (7)
November 2004 (7)
October 2004 (8)
September 2004 (5)
August 2004 (9)
July 2004 (9)
June 2004 (8)
May 2004 (6)
April 2004 (13)
March 2004 (12)
February 2004 (13)


Cosmic Variance
Life as a Physicist
Cocktail Party Physics
Bad Astronomy
Jennifer Saylor
Thus Spake Zuska

Listed on Blogwise