Betsy Devine: Funny ha-ha and/or funny peculiar

Making trouble today for a better tomorrow…

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Entries from August 2006

Global warming, window-punching hail, air-conditioning thought for ExxonMobil

August 29th, 2006 · Comments Off on Global warming, window-punching hail, air-conditioning thought for ExxonMobil

Bonnie and Clyde redux

Originally uploaded by

Baseball-sized hail fell in Northfield, Minnesota on August 24. Hailstones ripped through glass, punched holes in tile, and left big dents on metal.

Earlier this month, a microburst blew through NH, snapping or ripping up hundred year-old trees, one of which totaled Frank’s car. (Thanks, Commerce Insurance, for your quick and considerate handling of our claim!)

A sadder story from that event was the even-bigger tree that destroyed a nearby cottage–trapping two ninety-something people inside it. The Northwood fire crew had to chainsaw in through a wall to rescue them. Insurance won’t do much to make that story less tragic.

“I first came to this house in 1917,” the husband told rescuers. “I’ve never seen weather anything like this before.” Speaking from a mere 20 years there myself, I’d have to agree.

We don’t have any record of anything like this happening before,” says a spokeman for the 114-year old Iowa Corn Palace, describing crop failures after a summer of local drought and heat (reaching 120 degrees at a weather station in South Dakota.)

Hey, if “there is no global warming” advocates can promote anecdotal evidence (apparently there is one glacier in New Zealand that grew when all other glaciers were shrinking), I’ll do the same.

In a more scholarly vein, from the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, check out “Mixing Politics and Science in Testing the Hypothesis That Greenhouse Warming is Causing a Global Increase in Hurricane Intensity“(thanks, Tingilinde!)

But now–I have a new thought for ExxonMobil’s supporters on how to promote their “no global warming” mantra. Take the No Global Warming Pledge: “I promise that I will buy 100 air conditioners for poor families before I buy even one more for my own family.” That would show real sincerity, and maybe do some real good.

Tags: Science

“I’ve got my story picked out to remember him by…”

August 29th, 2006 · Comments Off on “I’ve got my story picked out to remember him by…”

The often-illuminating Mr. Sun marks his dad’s birthday with stories…

And this year–what a story!

Tags: My Back Pages

Alpine cemetery glows at night from candles lit on each grave

August 28th, 2006 · Comments Off on Alpine cemetery glows at night from candles lit on each grave

Alpine cemetery glows at night from candles lit on each grave

Originally uploaded by betsythedevine.

The village churchyard of Alpbach, Austria, which recycles its limited graves so that monuments name only those most recently buried.

Frank brought me here by midnight candelight to see the grave of Erwin Schrödinger, who has been exempted from the recycling.

Is Schrödinger’s cat buried here?

Please! We’re still not sure if Schrödinger’s cat is dead.

p.s. The village of Alpbach now gets most of its income from tourism–how does it preserve its rural quality and family farms?

Intelligent planning by the Austrian government! You cannot buy real estate in the village of Alpbach unless you personally will live there six months of the year. Therefore–no grand hotels, no vacation MacMansions.

Can the Alpbachians enforce such a law? They can and do. In several cases, people lost title to new purchases when their garbage collectors or mailmen reported their houses standing empty for months at a time.

Tags: Wide wonderful world

A sparkling premiere of “Giardiniera”

August 27th, 2006 · Comments Off on A sparkling premiere of “Giardiniera”

SerpettaNardo: Adriana Kucerova and Markus Werba in Mozart's opera La Finta Giardiniera, Saltzburg, 2006 Mozart was just 19 when he opera-buffa-tified the wacky libretto of La Finta Giardiniera. The naughty antics and scantily clad cast of Salzburg’s saucy new production would have delighted him!

Director Doris Dörrie and designer Bernd Lepel re-imagined its Mozartian garden paths into a huge Home-Depot-like garden store, with the honey-voiced John Graham-Hall as Don Anchise, its lecherous manager.

On this small conceit is confected a delightful mountain of charming absurdities and inventions.

In a stellar production with many fine performances, Adriana Kucerova and Markus Werba deserve special mention for charm and humor as the two servants, Serpetta and Nardo. If you have the chance to see this production at Salzburg, don’t miss it!

Tags: Wide wonderful world

Opera postscript, and scientist-wrangling how-to.

August 26th, 2006 · Comments Off on Opera postscript, and scientist-wrangling how-to.

FrankAtomBlur: Frank Wilczek after singing the role of an oxygen atom As we walked through the dark streets of Alpbach after the opera, people kept stopping Frank–“You are the oxygen atom!” Plus many enthusiastic remarks on his singing, which I’ll refrain from repeating because I don’t want his head to become too big! (Alas, Frank’s literally-big head is already too big for the largest size of Alpine hat sold here in Alpbach.)

The beautiful soprano Eve (Diane Shooman), meanwhile, was surrounded by interviewers from Austrian radio, which is a shame because her red dress and glamorous fishnet “lab coat” deserve a much wider audience. Best Marilyn-Monroe singing ever!

Alas, my camera chose last night to develop mysterious problems with speed and focus, so that my own record of these events is as blurred as it might be by two bottles of Champagne…which I didn’t drink, enjoying instead all the tipsiness of success without any next-morning-hangover aftermath.

Thomas Oliva, one of the main organizers for this whole event, also found time to organize lab coats, laser pointers, helium balloons, and many other extras for our show, including flowers for the soprano’s curtain call and–for Marc Abrahams and Frank Wilczek–authentic Alpine boots!

So I was very glad that Thomas also got to join us onstage as one of our “scientist” with laser beams–as did Krishna Nathan of IBM, Kathryn List (Vice President of the European Forum Alpbach), and two other scientists of great dramatic ability whose names I hope to discover and blog here later, one of them the heart surgeon whose lab provided all lab coats except for Diane’s fishnet special.

To anyone who googled here from “scientific wrangling”–oops, not quite. But as some consolation, from this scientist wrangler, here are the written-down guidelines for five unrehearsed people who got cast in our mini-opera ten minutes pre-curtain.

And they were great!

In case the Metropolitan Opera phones me about doing a re-staging there, I’d better go find out the names of those other two scientists!*

* Our two other scientist-opera-stars were Heinrich Mächler, Professor at the University Clinic in Graz and Professor Wolf Rauch, Professor for Information Technology at Graz University, long-term rector of his University, now also member of the Styrian Parliament. Thanks once again to Thomas Oliva, for this information!

t-zero. After a speaker who talks about Liechtenstein, Marc will take audience questions. Then go with Betsy to join the opera singers behind their screen (diagram zero), and get a laser pointer from her if you don’t already have one.

t-one. After Eve goes onstage, she will beckon to us. We follow her up onto the stage and stand together, upstage and stage right (diagram one). Our role here is half scientist, half science machine. Therefore we stand very still and look very serious during the singing.

t-two. When Eve sings “ involves laser beams…” that is our CUE. Machine-like, we raise our laser pointers and shine them on Atom’s shoes. This brings him to life and makes him move around, but try to keep the light shining on his shoes.

t-three. When Eve sings “if those lasers blink..” that is our CUE. We turn off our laser pointers and, machine-like, lower them again.

t-final! The curtain call! Now we cast off machine-like qualities–we can even clap for Atom, Eve, Paul (the pianist,) and Marc. While they are bowing we make a single line across the back of the stage to take our own bow, on behalf of all scientists everywhere. Then we bow again as part of the ensemble. We leave the stage after Atom and Eve–and don’t forget to give Betsy back her laser pointers!

Tags: Wide wonderful world

The oxygen atom, thinking about the scientist Eve

August 25th, 2006 · Comments Off on The oxygen atom, thinking about the scientist Eve

The oxygen atom, thinking about the scientist Eve

Originally uploaded by betsythedevine.

My new career, glamor photographer–this is fun! But then, my first 637 careers were fun also…

Career number 638 is “scientist wrangler.” I have to organize 5 volunteers with laser beams who will–but I don’t want to spoil the ending.

“Scientist wrangler.” That sounds a bit like my career number 432. And 527 and maybe 611 also…

Tags: Frank Wilczek · funny

See opera, fight travel terror with naughty lingerie

August 25th, 2006 · Comments Off on See opera, fight travel terror with naughty lingerie

Via our friends at Annals of Improbable Research, the TSA has new advice to travelers:

We encourage everyone to pack gel-filled bras in their checked baggage.

In other improbable news, tune in later today for the webcast of Atom and Eve, Friday, August 25, 2006, 7:00 pm, Austria time (6:00 pm in London; 1:00 pm in New York; 10 am in Los Angeles; and, to quote (as one so often should) Marc Abrahams, “other times in other places, of course.”

Tags: Blog to Book · funny · Travel

Side view of surprising Swarovski waterfall

August 24th, 2006 · Comments Off on Side view of surprising Swarovski waterfall

Side view of surprising Swarovski waterfall

Originally uploaded by betsythedevine.

One day off from opera preparation, here in Austria–three of us carpediemed off to visit see the local tourist ne plus ultra.

Enough Latin? Oodgay, I’llway opstay ownay.

Some favorite bits of Swarovski’s “Crystal world:”

  • Vintage thirties photos of glamorous women with crystals, including a Folies Bergeres girl chatting with two Gauloise-smoking stagehands–she’s wearing a (Swarovski?) necklace, and nothing else.
  • Giant, moving, playing accordion
  • World’s largest gem, a carved crystal that probably weighs about 20 kilos
  • Dream scene with glittery toy zebra in a glittery red shoe, rocking on a glittery sea
  • The museum’s entrance, hidden under this waterfall.

We wandered the park a long time before we found it.

Tags: Blog to Book

Frank Wilczek in his new incarnation as baritone

August 24th, 2006 · Comments Off on Frank Wilczek in his new incarnation as baritone

Dearest Micks and Mira,

We have arrived in Austria, your dad is still asleep but I am up and making trouble for a better tomorrow.

The first rehearsal of “Atom and Eve” went gorgeously. Some of the organizing ladies were sitting in the back of the room during your father’s first solo. I went back there to check sound and one said to me, between songs,” Your husband has a beautiful voice.” Another one added, “Yes, you must be so proud of him.”

Much more to say, but no time to say it now!

Frank in Alpbach

Originally uploaded by betsythedevine.

Tags: Blog to Book

My husband, the amorous oxygen atom

August 22nd, 2006 · 1 Comment

Our home phone has been ringing off the hook in response to this press release from the IgNobellians:


Nobel Physicist Makes Operatic Debut
— Frank Wilczek Plays Amorous Atom in the Alps–

ALPBACH, AUSTRIA, August 18, 2006 — Frank Wilczek already has a Nobel Prize, but on August 25 he will be honored on an even higher level — topographically higher, that is. In the Austrian mountain village of Alpach, elevation 1,000 meters above sea level, Wilczek will sing the lead role in the the opera “Atom & Eve.”

This will be Frank Wilczek’s operatic singing debut, as well as the first time “Atom & Eve” has been performed in Austria. The opera recounts the romance between a humble oxygen atom and the beautiful female chemist who spies him one day in her microscope. In the great tradition of operatic lovers from Tristan and Iseult to Rudolph and Mimi, Atom and Eve have some obvious difficulties to overcome. Professor Diane Shooman of Vienna will co-star, in the role of Eve. Pianist Paul Luggar of the Innsbruck Conservatory will accompany the singers.

Wilczek is Herman Feshbach Professor of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 2004 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics, for work on subatomic particles indicating that distance makes the quarks grow fonder (or at least increases their attraction). Diane Shooman teaches at the FH Technikum-Wien in Vienna, and at the University of Art in Linz.

“Atom & Eve” is a featured part of the 2006 Alpbach Technology Conference. The conference brings business, government, science and other leaders from around the world together for several days, high up in the tiny town once voted “the most beautiful village” in Austria. Conference speakers and attendees debate the significance of technological developments for the business world and society, as well as living standards, quality of life, and competitiveness.

“Atom & Eve” debuted in 2003 at the Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony at Harvard University. The Ig Nobel Prizes honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think. Marc Abrahams, organizer of the Ig Nobel Prizes, wrote the opera’s libretto. Abrahams is also the editor of the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research. Abrahams will deliver a talk about the opera, and about the Ig Nobel Prizes, and improbable research in general. A past Ig Nobel Prize winner — Karl Schwärzler, the entrepreneur who made it possible to rent the entire nation of Liechtenstein for corporate conventions, weddings, bar mitzvahs, and other gatherings — will also give a brief talk.

The “Atom & Eve” performance, together with talks by Marc Abrahams and Karl Schwärzler, will be webcast live on Friday, August 25, 2006, beginning at 7:00 pm Austria time.


WHEN: Friday, August 25, 2006, beginning at 7:00 pm (Austria time)

The webcast will be streamed in both German and English:

Alpbach Technology Forum: <>

Annals of Improbable Research: <>

Frank Wilczek:

Libretto of “Atom & Eve”:

Tags: Science