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The Polar Vortex ate my homework

Went outside this morning and was immediately in danger of being swept away by the Polar Vortex. Every year, did you notice, they discover a new weather phenomenon — the derecho, the haboob, the superstorm, the atmospheric river, and now these gosh-darn polar vortices. We live in an era of meteorological derangement.

Back in my day we just had simple stuff like cold snaps and blustery days. We had heat waves and Indian summers. Sometimes a tornado would pick up a house and deposit it in a land of Munchkins. It was all very simple and quaint. Now you can’t go out to fetch the morning paper without running the risk of encountering some exotic “cell” that registers magnitude F5, sub-category 4.3 on the NWS-Fujita-Richter scale as modified by NOAA.

Yesterday my youngest child jetted off to Detroit, and cabbed it to Ann Arbor where the temperature measured minus-15 — and that wasn’t the wind chill. That was the actual reading on the thermometer with the mercury huddled at the bottom as if taking shelter during the Blitz. With the wind chill it was about minus-35. As a father I had to tell the girl in the strongest terms, unequivocally, mustering all the authority that I could as the patriarch of the family, that she had to wear gloves and a scarf.

They grow up, they go off to college, but somehow a parent still worries that they’ll be cold.

The other night the college kids did something that an anthropologist should study: They gathered at the dining room table with their individual laptops and spent several hours tooling around the Internet, chatting with each other and stalking various Facebook pages and occasionally getting something accomplished online. They were together but also they were in the Internet. They were Internet Diving. It was like watching friends hang around a backyard pool: They’d jump in and swim around, then rejoin the group. The entrepreneurial part of my brain, which sadly is the size of a poppy seed, pondered the notion that this may be the natural, default behavior dynamic in years to come, and that our focus as content providers (or whatever the term is now) should include small groups and not just individuals or mass audiences. In other words, the “customer” may be three or four people in a cluster. Discuss.

I guess I’m supposed to say something about the national championship game, but friends, please understand that The Battle of Southeast Alabama, as we folks from Hogtown call it, was something of a nightmare for me. My people hate Florida State, and we hate Auburn even more. I spent all day in an ethical quandary. Do I support the conference or the home state? In general I follow the Achenbro’s rule: You gotta root for the conference. But this was Auburn! Hating Auburn is a central concept within my culture. It’s what we do, it’s who we are. From early childhood we are taught that Auburn is the embodiment of evil. I don’t see the Athenians rooting for the Spartans in a Spartan-Roman throw-down, do you? But then again, how does one root for the Tallahasseeans? I know those people, and they’re the type who won’t watch “Duck Dynasty” because it’s too high-brow.

My friend Tony, who has rooted for the Washington NFL team since childhood, said of my situation, “This would be like Dallas playing itself in the Super Bowl.”

[Update: It is only because I fear being called a fogey that I will not mention that in my day, back when we played with leather helmets and viewed the forward pass as decadent, players knew how to tackle. My analysis of the BCS title game: Bad Tackling. Also, to paraphrase what the king said to Mozart in “Amadeus": Too many points. Otherwise, a great game!]

I’ll be heading back to the AAS convention today at National Harbor. Here’s my dispatch from yesterday, on Mini-Neptunes and super-Earths.


Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."



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Joel Achenbach · January 1, 2014

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