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Lee Phillips

About Me

I grew up on the 17th floor of a public housing project on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Its cluster of grimly functional towers scrape elbows with its stylistic cousin, the hulking, utilitarian Manhattan Bridge. This had several consequences: the rumble of the (24 hour) “subway” created an acoustic background to my boyhood that causes subsequent sonic environments to seem as if they are missing a proper foundation; I frequently catch a glimpse of my early home in the opening shots of all those movies set in my home town, helicopter-mounted camera framing the harbor, the several bridges, the lower skyline; a picture of my house is on Wikipedia, in the entry about the Bridge — and how many can say that?

I attended Stuyvesant High School, where I haunted Frank McCourt’s classroom for 2½ years, eventually, I suspect, causing him to question the wisdom of his decision to leave Ireland, and Hampshire College, where I studied physics, mathematics, and music.
I picked up the first of these threads at Dartmouth, where I developed an interest in fluid dynamics that led to a Ph.D. in theoretical physics.

After completing a postdoctoral project with Prof. David Montgomery in an area where fluid dynamics and plasma physics intersect, I was hired by the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC, where I worked on various problems for the Navy, NASA, DOE, and others for 21 years. Among these projects were: molecular-scale simulations of shocks and detonations in solids, using massively parallel supercomputers; missile tracking algorithms; simulating turbulence; equation of state of deuterium; laser-plasma interactions; techniques for particle simulation of plasmas; hydrodynamic instabilities at interfaces; and design of laser fusion systems for energy production.

I am now the Chief Scientist of the Alogus Research Corporation, where I pursue support from government agencies and industry for research in the physical sciences. I also design and program information systems and websites in support of education and outreach in the arts and sciences. The website of the Arlington Planetarium is a recent example; I also serve on their Board of Directors. I have authored many scientific papers, popular articles on science and technology, and a book about creating graphs and documents with computers.
I am engaged as well in long-term, low intensity warfare against pseudoscience, quackery, fuzzy thinking, and religious privilege.

I live in Northern Virginia with a mercifully tolerant wife, two brilliant, creative, yet polite offspring in grade school, and the usual menagerie of rescued beasts.

About This Website

I was present at the creation: I remember watching WAIS, Gopher, and the WWW fight it out and the Web suddenly emerging as the world’s obvious preference. I kept notes and links to useful pages as local HTML files that I accessed with the Mosaic browser. Eventually I had some material that I wanted to share, so I got a domain and an account on a server. Shortly after the ascendency of Google I noticed my website hitting the first page of results for searches on several subjects. About this time I was beginning to regret not having bothered to think of a cleverer domain name, but it looked like I was stuck.

The collection of notes and articles served up here continues to expand. There is a table of contents of sorts, but probably the best way to find anything is with the Search box. Announcements of new material I’ve authored here or elsewhere, along with other things I hope are interesting, is added to a news feed, which is rendered on the front page and also served up through Atom1, and, in abbreviated form, through Twitter: just click on the icons to subscribe. The most reliable way to reach me is through email, which you can
encrypt if you like. Individual pages in ths site have Comment links; comments are routed through email as well.

I respect my readers and therefore do not track or spy on you in any way. Each of my pages contains a Share link that exposes a set of bookmarking icons for your convenience, but these are the type that do not contain javascript and do not track you.

Aside from my mostly automated relationship with Twitter, I don’t use any “social media.” Please do not be offended when I ignore your request to join LinkedIn. I didn’t see your invitation because it went right to the spam box.


New content, and old content as I convert it, is in HTML5, served by Apache2 on Debian Linux. The pages and stylesheet validate and should work in any modern browser 2. However, there is still some old stuff here in HTML4 that might be a bit of a mess; I hope to convert all of this before long.

Most of the site is a web of static pages created by a python program (3000 lines and growing) that processes a collection of notes and articles that I write in xml, using a set of tags that I defined for this purpose (making me another member of that ever enlarging club that has found it convenient to write their own content management system). The program makes heavy use of elementtree to parse the xml, and allows my notes to flow to the front page and appear in the form of news items, to the news feed, and to their own pages and parts of other pages. Most dynamic content uses python on the server, helped by some pieces of Django, and served through mod_wsgi.

I became convinced of the utility of writing in xml, something that I used to consider a horrible idea, by the approach taken by the author of the tbook system for xml authoring and by discovering the pleasure of the text editor vim and its xml support.

In August of 2010 I applied the ideas described in this wonderful article to design my site so that the layout adapts itself to the width of the screen; in this way it’s automatically easy to read on phones, tablets, and computers. To see how this works, if you’re on a computer, shrink the width of your browser window and watch the layout change. That never gets old.


The blue butterfly used as a favicon is derived from this. I also use it on the twitter page that carries a copy of my newsfeed.

I use open-source software exclusively. In preparing this site I make extensive use of linux, vim, mutt, the gnu tools, ImageMagick, python, many python libraries (elementtree, anydbm, etc.), graphviz, the Berkeley DB, Gimp, rsync, and much more.

New items added to my feed appear within seconds on any pubsubhubbub enabled feed reader, such as Newsblur.

  1. the new, improved RSS↩︎

  2. This phrase is generally understood to exclude all versions of Internet Explorer before IE9.↩︎

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