I’m not the only weirdo on my block

In case you too have an obsessive fascination with our home on the prairie, Morris, Minnesota, there is another blog based in my neighborhood, and the latest talk is about all the construction going on. College Avenue, the street running in front of my house, is being ripped up and reconstructed, a process that’s supposed to go on for a few months. Anyway, there’s a strange fabric fence that’s been put up between us and the university, which the precocious young man living near us has decided is a Physicist Fence, to protect us from wandering physicists, presumably drawn by the sound of heavy machinery.

If it really is a physicist fence, though, I’m tempted to go out and cut a couple of slits in it, just to see what would happen.


  1. Tony Popple says

    It won’t be necessary to make slits in the fence.

    Physicist will tunnel throught into the classically forbidden areas.

  2. says

    It depends — do U of M physicists act as waves, particles, or both?

    /note to self: when trying to up one’s status as a commenter, try being original for once

  3. moioci says

    In Soviet Russia, fence cut slits in physicist — and send him to Siberia! Or Minnesota will do.

  4. Ego, Egoing, Egone says

    A particle physicist will pass through one slit and keep going.
    An optical physicist will pass through both slits and interfere with himself.

  5. says

    I need to know if it works.

    I’m so tired of all of the random physics lessons I have to endure.

    If it does work, I need to know if it works on biologists. See, the thing is that physicists think that biology rests on physics, and, well, that just sounds like physicists’ arrogance. So I figure if it works on physicists but not on biologists, so much for their claims.

    Glen D

  6. says

    Adapted from Fence:

    An engineer, a physicist, and a mathematician are shown a University with a herd of students, and told to put them inside the smallest possible amount of fence.

    * The engineer is first. He herds the students into a circle and then puts the fence around them, declaring, “A circle will use the least fence for a given area, so this is the best solution.”

    * The physicist is next. He creates a circular fence of infinite radius around the students, and then draws the fence tight around the herd, declaring, “This will give the smallest circular fence around the herd.”

    * The mathematician is last. After giving the problem a little thought, he puts a small fence around himself and then declares, “I define myself to be on the outside.”

  7. Tony Popple says

    Building a fence around biologists is difficult. You need to trap and tag them before putting them in.

    Physicists are mathematical. Fencing them in is easy. You just build a fence around yourself and define yourself as being on the outside.

  8. gex says

    Is it a silt fence? Often the weird fences you see around construction are to prevent soil erosion, not keep people out.

  9. Spotweld says

    I would have just figured that college denzies just exists as a probability cloud around any event where there is the suggestion of free food?

  10. lytefoot says

    A particle physicist will pass through one slit and keep going.

    An optical physicist will pass through both slits and interfere with himself.

    See! I’ve always thought physicists spent too much time interfering with themselves… another EXAMPLE of how GODLESS SCIENCDE is destroying our society!

    (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.)

  11. Sarcastro says

    So does physicist fencing involve shooting the other nerd in the head?

    I was going to reference swordplay (epeé=mc2?) but the arcane computing reference was too good to pass up!

  12. true physics says

    Perhaps one of the most significant developments in physics is the existence of the “God particle,” which points to the truth behind the Biblical phrase, “In Him all things subsist.” (Him being Christ, of course.)

  13. Schmeer says

    At what point do physics lessons randomly applied to bystanders render them unable to pass the physicist fence. Is a thesis a necessary or sufficient condition? How will this fence effect engineers attempting to leave the University? Someone please ask Daniel Dennett to weigh in on the subject.

  14. Sarcastro says

    #24, care to elaborate on how the Higgs boson relates to the odd, and vaguely heretical, panentheism espoused in Colossians 1:17? Other than the fact that neither phenomenon has ever been observed, I’m drawing a blank.

    Leon Lederman must kick himself in the ass a dozen times a day for coining that phrase.

  15. andy o says

    Wow, is this the geekiest thread ever or what. I don’t know if I should feel good or bad that I got all the jokes (with exception of #24 (Posted by: true physics | May 27, 2008 4:06 PM). I don’t know if I should call Poe on that one. It’s not funny enough so as to be sarcasm methinks.

  16. --PatF in Madison says

    If you put in a diffraction grating, maybe you can make so many of them you will have an entire herd of physicists…

    Hmmm…. On second thought, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

  17. --PatF in Madison says

    If you put in a diffraction grating, maybe you can make so many of them you will have an entire herd of physicists…

    Hmmm…. On second thought, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

  18. says

    What? Wandering physicists aren’t dangerous.

    Now, wandering mathematicians… a few dozen of them wandering around, explaining things to people, clarifying common misconceptions, and soon there would be legions of Lovecraftian “I don’t sleep anymore” victims screaming in the streets.

    I guess.

  19. says

    It’s a silt fence. It’s required to conform with the Clean Water Act by preventing erosion and non-point source pollution during “ground disturbing events” like construction.

    A physics fence would be much more exciting, though.

  20. Ted Powell says

    A tangentially-related problem is:


    MATHEMATICIANS hunt elephants by going to Africa, throwing out everything that is not an elephant, and catching one of whatever is left.

    EXPERIENCED MATHEMATICIANS will attempt to prove the existence of at least one unique elephant before proceeding to step 1 as a subordinate exercise.

    PROFESSORS OF MATHEMATICS will prove the existence of at least one unique elephant and then leave the detection and capture of an actual elephant as an exercise for their graduate students.

    COMPUTER SCIENTISTS hunt elephants by exercising Algorithm A:

    1. Go to Africa.
    2. Start at the Cape of Good Hope.
    3. Work northward in an orderly manner, traversing the continent alternately east and west.
    4. During each traverse pass,
    a. Catch each animal seen.
    b. Compare each animal caught to a known elephant.
    c. Stop when a match is detected.

    EXPERIENCED COMPUTER PROGRAMMERS modify Algorithm A by placing a known elephant in Cairo to ensure that the algorithm will terminate.

    ASSEMBLY LANGUAGE PROGRAMMERS prefer to execute Algorithm A on their hands and knees.

    ENGINEERS hunt elephants by going to Africa, catching gray animals at random, and stopping when any one of them weighs within plus or minus 15 percent of any previously observed elephant.

    ECONOMISTS don’t hunt elephants, but they believe that if elephants are paid enough, they will hunt themselves.

    STATISTICIANS hunt the first animal they see N times and call it an elephant.

    CONSULTANTS don’t hunt elephants, and many have never hunted anything at all, but they can be hired by the hour to advise those people who do.

    OPERATIONS RESEARCH CONSULTANTS can also measure the correlation of hat size and bullet color to the efficiency of elephant-hunting strategies, if someone else will only identify the elephants.

    POLITICIANS don’t hunt elephants, but they will share the elephants you catch with the people who voted for them.

    LAWYERS don’t hunt elephants, but they do follow the herds around arguing about who owns the droppings.

    SOFTWARE LAWYERS will claim that they own an entire herd based on the look and feel of one dropping.

    SENIOR MANAGERS set broad elephant-hunting policy based on the assumption that elephants are just like field mice, but with deeper voices.

    QUALITY ASSURANCE INSPECTORS ignore the elephants and look for mistakes the other hunters made when they were packing the jeep.

    SALES PEOPLE don’t hunt elephants but spend their time selling elephants they haven’t caught, for delivery two days before the season opens.

    SOFTWARE SALES PEOPLE ship the first thing they catch and write up an invoice for an elephant.

    HARDWARE SALES PEOPLE catch rabbits, paint them gray, and sell them as desktop elephants.

  21. says

    Perhaps one of the most significant developments in physics is the existence of the “God particle,” which points to the truth behind the Biblical phrase, “In Him all things subsist.” (Him being Christ, of course.)

    How did physics work 2015 years ago?

  22. Tony Popple says

    This thread is just more evidence of my long held suspicion….

    The real secret to understanding physics is keeping a straight face when you encounter the absurd and pretending you expected to see it all along.

  23. Vagrant says

    A physics fence. Shouldn’t that be a domain wall?

    Or a mesh made of cosmic strings?

  24. grasshopper says

    Don’t make the slits too big or Schrodinger’s cat might get out. Or then again, it might not.

  25. Noni Mausa says


    Ya come in 4 hours late and see what you get? All the low hanging fruits are gone, and the arcane ones are way out of my ballpark…

    Tardigrades! Can we work tardigrades in here anywhere?


  26. Paul Johnson says

    “A particle physicist will pass through one slit and keep going.”

    depends on the mass and if you observe what slit he goes through

  27. Ted Powell says

    –PatF in Madison @#35
    Well, you sure took a chunk out of my afternoon! :-)
    The evolutionary tree of the elephant article continues to flourish, I see. My version I found in a directory whose path indicates that I collected it some time before I upgraded to Red Hat Linux 7.3, back in prehistory. (I found the file by typing at the Linux command prompt: locate elephant)

  28. Lynnai says

    Surely it is not a fence but a ‘brane. (Not that I can recall exactly which thoery those pretain too….)

    And I thought with Physicists we could know where they are being published or how fast they are typing but not both.

    Frankly I think the problem with this theory is assuming Physicists actually get out onto the lawn…. I’m not saying they don’t but has there actually been any research?

  29. Sili says

    Since the subject’s been introduced:

    How To Catch a Lion in the Sahara Desert

    Theoretical Physics Methods

    The Dirac method
    We assert that wild lions can ipso facto not be observed in the Sahara desert. Therefore, if there are any lions at all in the desert, they are tame. We leave catching a tame lion as an exercise to the reader.

    The Schrödinger method
    At every instant there is a non-zero probability of the lion being in the cage. Sit and wait.

    And so on …

  30. says

    I can’t compete with the wit here, but I did write a poem a while ago which has a pseudo-scientific bent (and coincidentally mentions fences): here. Enjoy.

  31. says

    Hmmm… my website seems to be down for some reason. Oh well, here’s the poem in plain text. See if you can figure this out (Cuttlefish, are you around?):

    The Tribulations of the Gods
    A science fiction fantasy mystery comedy
    © Elwood Herring 8 Jan 2000

    “It just can’t be done”, the god Vulcan complained,
    “On all worlds isometric or flat.
    The logical structure is liable to rupture –
    I’d need a Klein bottle for that!”

    “Then use one”, Thor thundered with crackles of static,
    (A fairly routine outburst).
    “I’ve got one to spare that’s in need of repair –
    Just ensure that you wash it out first!”

    “But that’s not the point”, mighty Woden demanded,
    “It’s silly to even attempt it.
    It’s so convoluted, it’s fully unsuited –
    When I said “unstable” – I meant it!”

    “You’ll just have to manage, my time is too precious
    To waste on your incompetences.
    Just thread the thing through with a wormhole or two –
    Then surround it with Moëbius fences!”

    The reason for this mad Olympian squabble
    Lay in the contortions of fiction –
    For worlds once invented (if writers so meant it)
    Pass into the Gods’ jurisdiction.

    In an infinite number of parallel worlds
    There exist not a few artificial.
    If it can be conceived then – however naïve –
    It must surely exist. (That’s official.)

    The dusty back pockets of God’s space-time trousers
    Contain an assortment of places
    From cutely quixotic to queerly chaotic
    In hyper-dimensional spaces.

    These lands, lesser deities would have removed
    From some poet’s enlightened synapses.
    Converting the verses to whole universes –
    Creating real worlds from “perhaps”-es.

    This process however would seldom run smoothly
    Despite all the Gods’ best laid actions.
    ‘Cos imagination’s so good at creation –
    But not at computable fractions.

    And so this conundrum I relate to you
    Has now to be brought to fruition
    By beings like this who don’t really exist
    Well, at least until now – there’s the friction!

    Meanwhile, at Olympus, the tempers were fraying
    As Chronos, with mighty resolve
    Let fly with Thor’s hammer, and said with a stammer,
    “There isn’t a trick I can’t solve!”

    “In order for any of us to be here,
    We have to unravel the riddle.”
    “Hold on”, announced Saturn, “I think there’s a pattern,
    It helps if you start in the middle.”

    Then quietly a lesser god sighed from the back
    “Was I mentioned in that silly poem?”
    They replied quite correctly, “Yes, but indirectly”
    He answered “That’s it then, I’m goin'”

    But Jove took control with an air of command,

  32. says

    My image is of a Monty Pythonesque group of corralled physicists bumbling around in their tweed jackets, puffing pipes alight & muttering to themselves.

    Occasionally one would wander towards the slit: when they got close, they made sure not to move if any of the other physicists were watching.

    But every time one got real close to the slit, other physicists would run over & interfere with him.

    Eventually, the physicists were so energetic in their interference that they tore another slit in the fence.

    That caused them to interfere with each other even when far away from the slit.

    Which caused them to tear another slit.

    Finally causing them to interfere with each other so much that they found themselves trapped in a Tenure Field, eternally engaged in a interference loop.

  33. Lynnai says

    That would define Tenure as a state of constant interference would it not? *laughs*

    I wonder what PZ thinks of that.

  34. says

    As the father of the young man who started “all this” by naming the fence, I would have to guess that # 48 by Jaycubed is probably something like what he was envisioning.

    When we asked him, “why not chemists” he said “they are not as dangerous as physicists”. Go figure. We didn’t ask him about biologists.

  35. says

    Run toward the fence as hard as you can, concentrating deeply on your speed. However, don’t pay too much attention to the fence itself, or your location in relationship to the fence. Since you know your speed, but not your location, location is thus indeterminate, and you might be on the other side.

    Or just stand around. Long enough, and you might quantum tunnel through the fence.

  36. Torbjörn Larsson, OM says

    you will have an entire herd of physicists…

    No, no! It’s a herd of biologists, but a set of mathematicians and a a wave packet of physicists.

  37. Rrr says

    Torbjörn Larsson, OM #52: you will have an entire herd of physicists…

    No, no! It’s a herd of biologists, but a set of mathematicians and a a wave packet of physicists.

    And, of course, a flock of the religious…

  38. says

    What does a state of quantum uncertainty do to your hair?

    Does this explain the beards?

    Are the Nazca lines really only observable from space?

    What about that WWII bomber on the moon?

    Help! I’ve lost all my incredulity!

  39. CosmicTeapot says

    Glen @ 12

    “See, the thing is that physicists think that biology rests on physics”

    Both Biology and Chemistry rests on Physics.

    But Physics rests on Mathematics.

    Therefore, if god exists, and created man in his image, and the closest to the secrets of the universe is the mathematician, then we can deduce that god looks like a mathematician.

    So god wears a corduroy jacket with leather patches on his sleeves, and jesus sandals, regardless of the weather!

  40. says

    No, everybody knows that god is a civil engineer. Who else would put a waste disposal pipe right through the middle of a recreation area?

  41. Sili says

    I thought in this day and age of public transport that it was an Abelian group of mathematicians — perhaps it’s only algebrers then …

    What do you measure chemists in?

    Dirac: “My equation explains most of physics and all of chemistry.”
    Lovely fella.

  42. says

    I suspect that the real motive here is to get more work out of the physicists. By restricting their location, the uncertainty in their velocity increases. Therefore they will have statistically higher energy levels.

    (Physicists are fermions, of course, since only one can occupy a particular tenure state.)

  43. bitwrangler says


    Laughed, Laughed again, pised, scrolled to the end, and I say Good joke, sir

  44. Ian says

    “…herd of physicists…”

    Reminds me of that joke where two people are wandering thru the countryside and the first says “Look at that bunch of cows over there.”
    The second replies “Herd.”
    The first: “Heard what?”
    The second: “Herd of cows.”
    The first: “Of course I’ve heard of cows – there’s a bunch of them over there….”

    I’m sure there’s an equivalent for physicists, but you have to equate the the cow with a sphere.