I spotted* this lovely post from a year ago about colour, culture, and language that I thought I’d share. What does the map of colour and colour names look like as you move from culture to culture. And are there universal aspects to it, or is it pretty random?
I find this a fascinating topic, and so was delighted to see this post, which addresses a lot of the questions. (You’ll find links there to an episode of Radiolab that was on a similar topic. I recommend that too.) Coincidentally, two pages before the part of my notebook where I’m doing a computation right now is Continue reading ‘Colour and Culture’
The crowd watching Devo on stage at the Natural History Museum’s 100th Birthday celebration (click for larger view)
The 100th Birthday party at the Natural History Museum was fantastic! Adam Steltzner’s talk was excellent and it was a pleasure to be the MC and introduce him and run the Q&A. (It was a tall order for me to fill Michael Quick’s shoes, but I gave it a shot.) The audience was really great, and there were several great questions. The wide shot (click for larger view) at the top is a panorama shot of the outdoor concert stage, with Devo just starting their set (GZA of Wu-Tang Clan was on just before). I took it* while standing under the fin whale skeleton that is the centerpiece of the new Otis Booth entryway pavilion that was unveiled just minutes earlier. (See more about that space and other new exhibits here.) Here are a couple of shots (click for larger view) from Adam’s session, where he gave an inspiring talk about the engineering of the landing of the Curiosity Mars rover, with reflections on space exploration in general**:
Adam Steltzner talking about the Curiosity Mission at the Natural History Museum’s 100th Birthday bash
While in Griffith park yesterday evening I looked West when near the top of a rise and saw one of the great sights you can get at this time of year. The stretch of the Santa Monica mountain range coming in from the West shrouded in the mists rolling in from the West. The mist hides a lot of detail and leaves you with just simple layers of shade, almost monochromatic. It was quite beautiful. (Sadly, a lot of people who like to reach for the usual negative cliches about the city assume the mist is smog, but it Continue reading ‘Mount Lee from Mount Hollywood’
If you’re in town on Sunday 9th June, I strongly recommend coming along to this! The Natural History Museum is having its 100th Birthday celebration with an all day series of events. There’ll be new spaces and exhibits opening, including the new gardens they’ve been building for some time, and so there’s plenty to explore that will be new, and partly outdoors on a (hopefully) lovely day. (See here for an LA Times article on some of the changes.) As the day draws into the evening, there’ll be a real party brewing, with bands, DJs, bars, and so forth (see below). Kicking off the evening part of the proceedings at 6:30pm will be a talk and Q+A with JPL’s Adam Steltzner (of the Mars Curiosity Mission), in a spot hosted by me.
I get a lot of unusual emails each day. Typically, offerings of alternative theories of the universe with requests/demands to review them (sorry – please send them to a journal), discoveries of remarkable forms of energy saving or propulsion systems (People, I have my own crazy sh*t to work on – don’t ask me to work on yours too), offers of marriage and/or marriage-related things (Ladies (and, yes, some Gents), no thanks, I’m just fine.), and so on and so forth. But yesterday’s email is up there among the recent highlights. It was sent out to an anonymous group, so I have no problem sharing it here (I have removed the name of the sender):
Apologies in advance to people who clicked over here because from the title they were expecting a post on discrete approaches to quantum field theory such as lattice QCD. This is mostly about lattice cherry pie, which, you’ll perhaps admit, is at least as interesting. Best to use the ones that have a slight sour edge to the taste, in my opinion… not too overly sweet.
Yes, it is time for an Asymptotia visit to the kitchen. Sunday I had a little dinner gathering for five, which called for an afternoon of cooking. I took some pictures, but in the end the set is incomplete since I got distracted with the important business of helping serve everything nice and hot and on time. So the main focus will be the pie (shown at the top so you don’t have to wait – the photo makes it look at lot darker than it actually is. It is not burnt!), since that’s all I have a complete set for. The Continue reading ‘Lattice Experiments’
Friday’s Southern California Strings Seminar was a success! Thanks to all who came, who spoke, and the UCLA organizers. I enjoyed all four talks that were put on, and learned a lot from each. (Sera Cremonini is giving her nice talk about duals of hyperscaling violating theories in the photo.)
Memorial Day was fun. There was a gathering at a friend’s house down near the LA River. At some point in the afternoon lots of people went down to the river banks to look at the lovely scene there, with people fishing, cycling, and kayaking (and other sort of boats) along some stretches. This is not at all what people expect of the LA River, so it was good (once again) to see a different reality shine through the standard images. Focusing on being good company, I only started Continue reading ‘Messing About on the LA River’
At JPL the other day, I stood next to this gentleman as he prepared to take over the controls of the Curiosity craft (now on the surface of Mars, you might recall) for a bit of driving. I don’t know where it was being taken to or from on that jaunt, Continue reading ‘Going for a Drive’
A creative team at IBM made a rather elaborate little stop motion film recently*. “Little” is a key word here. The moveable elements are atoms (well, actually CO molecules), moved with a scanning tunnelling microscope! They are calling the project “Atomic Shorts”, it seems. (Pause…) Yep, on reflection, I think I will stay away from all the obvious juvenile jokes that spring to my mind…
On Saturday I decided to have a bit of simple relaxation at home, and sit on the patio with my notepad and some pencils and draw a likeness. I’d not done any practice from images for a while, and frankly my pencil work was very rusty and needed a workout.
So I dug out this month’s issue of a sewing magazine that I subscribe to (what?! well, it’s a long story… let’s move on) that happens to sometimes have interestingly lit and well reproduced photos of faces and sketched for a while.
It was fun (even with the slightly flawed outcome). (Click for a larger view.)
Yeah. Scary, right? I woke up one morning to this result (see earlier posts here, here, and here) from a night of an intensive computer run. It was not meant to be a straight line, but pretty close to it, so I knew that something was wrong with my code. Took me a good long while to trace the problem, but I did in the end. My signal was being swamped by both Continue reading ‘Something’s not quite right, perhaps?’
It has been a while since I shared a snippet of the book project with you, so here’s an update:
Yesterday I completed a short burst of activity in which I re-did two pages in a story that were just horrible to behold. This is a panel form one of the pages. I’m pleased Continue reading ‘Ok, Here Goes’
Well, I’ve got to say goodbye to another excellent group of students from my undergraduate electromagnetism class. We had the final today (starting at 8:00am – ack!), and given the lack of rioting, tears, and throwing of rotten fruit during the exam itself, I assume that it was not too bad an exam to sit. Of course, the real measure of what they thought will be how they did in the actual answering of questions, and I’ve not looked to see how that has turned out yet.
Again, I feel a bit sad since it was a good group of students and it was fun to teach them this material. While it is certainly good to move on to other things (I’ve too many projects I want to work on, as usual), I will miss the twice weekly classes with them. Highlights this year include (in no particular order):
(1) The thing I love to do when we are studying dipole radiation – taking the class outside (surprising them somewhat) to look up at the blue sky and connect why it is blue to the computation we just did, including understanding the pattern of the blueness Continue reading ‘Final’
The many squash plants in the garden this season all started a rather cluttered rush of fruiting. Some of them stalled in their growth, and overall it seemed a good idea to remove these small ones and some others, generally thinning the plants a bit to allow them to focus their energy resources into fewer squashes. A bonus of this procedure… an early Summer squash banquet!
So I’ve moved on to curved lines now, in case you’re wondering. (See previousposts.) The last several days (the research parts) have been taken up with more computations. A lot of the time has been spent calibrating the programs, and trying to assess and understand and characterize the inevitable errors that show up, by running the programs and checking the resulting plots of data points against expectations shaped by hand calculations. Calculating on the train to and from work, I’ve filled several pages of my small notebook with computations, alongside sketches of some of my surroundings as usual (people mostly). As a result (fingers crossed) I think I’ve now understood all the key aspects of the results I’ve been getting, and have good numerical control of things. To get such control, I’ve had to push the error tolerance and the size of the grid of points I’m computing on to regimes where I’m back again to waiting for the better part of an hour for each data point. (One sets up the problem on the computer by making continuous variables, such as space and time, into discrete ones, forming a grid. The problem is then to use various Continue reading ‘Lines of Thought’
How is the line coming along? It is very kind of you to ask (if indeed you were). Well, there it is to the left. (See the previous post for background.) In the end, I abandoned Maple since it was taking way too long to do each point, and just for the simple example. (When I tried to do one sample point of the complicated example it took 24 hours and I stopped it before it was done!) The point is that Maple does not easily Continue reading ‘A Much Shorter Straight Line’
I’ve been multitasking in an interesting way. Sort of. I’ve reached a certain point with some computations I am doing that I cannot go beyond by analytic means. This means that I can’t extract the physics I need by doing algebra and other exact manipulations on paper any more. Progress can continue however by using numerical means, employing a computer to solve the highly non-linear equations and extract the juice. There are several steps involved, and ultimately, I want to determine how a certain physical quantity depends on another physical quantity. (I’m sparing you the trouble of knowing what the details of the physical quantities are, since it does not matter for the thing I am trying to tell you. It relates to quantum field theory, gravity, and string theory, which connects the two.)
I can see that dependence quite clearly if I simply plot a graph of one versus the other, and in this case I need the computer to work out what the points on that graph are. I actually don’t know the answer for the cases I really am interested in, nobody does (that’s why it is research!), and so that’s what I want to find. I want lots of points to get a nice smooth graph, so the computer has to compute a lot of points, and I need to run it for a long time since I want it to compute the points very accurately. So I wrote a program (in Maple) to work on the problem, studying just one Continue reading ‘A Very Long Straight Line’
Here’s a timelapse video of the CicLAVia ride from Sunday 21st April. (I’ve done one for each of the past rides as well, so search on “ciclavia” for them if you wish.) My thoughts about the ride were posted back on the day, and there’s lots of discussion at that post on some of the issues I raised, so go and have a look if you like, and feel free to join in. I did the ride on the Brompton, as usual, and this time I was accompanied by my colleague Krzysztof Pilch, who was riding one as well. We even saw a few others on the way, which was nice.
The video is a bit flawed, not the least because at some point the top of my bag started puffing up a bit and blocking part of the view. Also, I’ve not laid on some funky music like the fancy folk do, so it is quite silent. But there it is as a record of most of the 13-15 mile route from Downtown to Venice beach: Continue reading ‘CicLAVia Time Lapse’
You might recall that last year I gave a talk at TED Youth, in their second year of short TED talks aimed at younger audiences. You’ll recall (see e.g. here and here) I made a special set of slides for it, composed from hundreds of my drawings to make it all in graphic novel style, and somehow trying to do (in 7 minutes!!) what the TED people wanted. They wanted an explanation of string theory, but when I learned that I was the only person in the event talking about physics, I kind of insisted that (in a year when we’d discovered the Higgs boson especially!) I talk more broadly about the broader quest to understand what the world is made of, leaving a brief mention of string theory at the end as one of the possible next steps being worked on. Well, they’ve now edited it all together and made it into one of the lessons on the TED Ed site, and so you can look at it. Show it to friends, young and old, and remember that it is ok if you don’t get everything that is said… it is meant to invite you to find out more on your own. Also, as you see fit, use the pause button, scroll back, etc… to get the most out of the narrative.
Well, I’m exhausted, and so am certainly not going to give you a full report on everything right now. I hope to do another post with my usual time-lapse video of the ride some time later (but soon). They are uploading from my camera right now. All I will give you right now is a shot of the crowds at a typical stop along the route. Also, I will say a few words that will probably get me into trouble.
The bottom line is that I remain a huge supporter of cicLAvia, and the idea that it is planting in everyone’s minds – getting out of your cars and cycling. This is especially important for a city like LA. And it is not just for all the environmental reasons, to do with energy use, air quality, and so forth. I can go on about those but I won’t. See earlier posts for that sort of thing. It is also because many people get to properly see their city in these events, which is really important. You can’t see it from a car – and I don’t just mean all the buildings and wonderful hidden gems I sometimes talk about, but I mean the other people who live in the city with you. That’s a big deal, and an important one for when it comes to how we all work and live together. I’m also very excited that the organizers tried this cross-city route, linking East and West, getting West side based people involved in the fun. And overall I enjoyed today a lot… I love the event and will keep coming and keep supporting it.
As I said in the previous post, consider using the subway (the Expo line in particular) to come to the LA Times Festival of Books tomorrow. The campus is now very busy and parking is a pain. Look where I had to put my car today*!
There’s a busy weekend coming up. Somehow, two of the largest events on the LA calendar have been put on the same weekend – rather unfortunately in my opinion. The LA Times Festival of Books (held on the USC campus) is on Saturday and Sunday, and I’m excited about that (as you know I am every year). I recommend exploring the site for the things you might visit (including the book prizes shortlists – awards will be given out tonight, including special ones to Margaret Atwood and to Kevin Starr!), and then go along and have some fun – all in the name of books, reading, and the worlds that are opened up through books and reading. It should be a great day or two out, and the extra great news is that you can take the subway there. The Expo line goes right up to ten feet from the Festival. You step off at the USC/Expo stop, cross from the platform to the sidewalk, and there you are! Books! Food! Music! Etc…
CicLAvia, another event that brings thousands of people together in the city, is on Sunday. It is extra exciting this year since for the first time it has a route that fully fits with where I think the event should be in the life of the city – it runs from Continue reading ‘Busy Weekend’
Well, since some of you are curious about how the page might look in final form, given the (nicer than normal) rough I showed you a little while ago, I thought I’d show you. (For those of you not following, this is part of the graphic science book project I’m slowly working on. More here.)
I got carried away and decided to properly pencil out the whole page and ink it fully, and then I painted the same panel as before. Now you can see more carefully rendered faces according to the design I chose for these characters, and you can also see the backgrounds of the setting a bit more. It is another real location, a very well known place in Europe. (Actually, I spent some days doing research online to try to reconstruct the details of the interior from tourist photographs, and reconstructed Continue reading ‘How is that Supposed to Work, Exactly? (Part II)’
It’s that time again. I finish a notebook and start a new one. A new book is begun with writing my name and contact information in the front part, in case it gets lost, and an old one is ended with mixed feelings, and that ending is often a bit drawn out. Notebooks go around with me nearly everywhere, and have pieces of me in them in one shape or another, and so it is hard to stop carrying one and start a new one. I’ve got bits of computations, shopping lists, partial thoughts about projects, design sketches, doodles, snippets of silent conversations between me and another person at a concert or talk (writing it down is often less distracting to neighbours than a whisper), scribbled phone numbers, film, book or cd reminders, and of course lots of practice sketches and doodles on trains, planes, and in automobiles, done almost on a daily basis, sketches done in (and sometimes of) an event, or of a interesting place or structure. (You’ve seen some of them here on the blog.) Almost everything has a date written on the page, or on a page nearby, which is hugely valuable.
It’s a combination of notebook, journal, playground for ideas, and more. It is a joy to just open it up and flip through it and see so much of the last few months of my life and thought spread out in ink and pencil (and sometimes watercolour). Sometimes I hit on a particularly successful or interesting (or both) drawing that I love to open up and look at from time to time. You can search the blog under “sketches” for things that were in previous books. For example, a few of my favourites from this book are: Sketch of C. Tyler during her talk, sketch during a committee meeting, airline sketch of a national treasure, other airline sketches, a nice grab of a face from the subway, another airline sketch.
All of that now gets put on a shelf, since the pages have run out. It is bitter-sweet, as I also like the analogue, finite nature of the whole business. It has a lot of life written Continue reading ‘Changeover Time’
Well, yes, I’ve been a bit busy and so posting has been slow over the last week. But I am still alive, and here I am with a sample of one of the several things I was doing. It is some work on the graphic book project. (You’ll be happy that I am sparing you details of tedious committees, faculty meetings, confusing snippets of physics, incomplete musings and computations, etc…)
As mentioned recently, I’ve been doing thumbnails and rough page layouts on one of the stories, and that has been useful for editing and rewriting. I went further and improved an earlier story that I’d written that had mostly been drawn already, and so that encouraged me to do slightly tighter page layouts so as to fit them more closely to the story as it was already drawn, for a smoother final read. I’ll need to find Continue reading ‘How is that Supposed to Work, Exactly?’
Waveguides are fun. I mean on the page, although I imagine that they are fun to play with as fully realized physical objects too. But I was talking about them in the context of teaching undergraduate electromagnetism, as I am doing on my class this semester. I tell the class after the second week of class or so that we’re essentially done, and can all head to the beach since by then we’ve completed the derivation of Maxwell’s equations, which describe fully all electromagnetic phenomena. The rest of the class is essentially a semester of picking various situations in which we deploy the equations and study particular solutions. Of course, they realize that there is reason to stay, since that’s really the heart of it – studying those various situations and appreciating the range of delights those equations can yield. Among the most fascinating and delightful of those, er, delights, is light. Electromagnetic waves in general, and we study them in a whole lot of situations, including nipping along unfettered in free space, in conducting materials Continue reading ‘Lecture Thoughts’
Well, I am coming to the end of the week of hiding away in this undisclosed coastal town, and I can report that it was very good for me. I managed to get enough immersion to work hard on one of the stories for The Project, and this morning I read it through (I actually broke it into two stories) and turned out to be not too bad so far. Hurrah! Reading it next to the completed rough visuals really helps. I wish I’d had time to work on more stories, but that’s for another time. I’m just thankful to have had the time to have a good focus on one.
Wednesday I went back to that studio I visited on Monday as they were having another drop in and draw session and I felt it would be a nice end-of-long-work-day relaxation to go again. The model was actually rather excellent, and I wish my speed was a bit better to catch some of her faster 2 minute poses since she had a great Continue reading ‘Outcomes’
In other interesting announcements today, the great physicist Alexander Polyakov has been given the Fundamental Physics Prize. (See the announcement here.) There was a remarkable award ceremony in Geneva yesterday, hosted by Morgan Freeman, and with lots of Physicists and others celebrating great work in various areas of physics. Polyakov has been a key and brilliant leader in many areas of theoretical physics, and influenced so many ideas and techniques that have fed into the whole field, and so this is a well deserved recognition.
I must note that it is a bit sad (to say the least) to do a google search on the news about this prize and see so many articles with a lot of just plain stupid focussing on a big prize going to a “string theorist”, as though this is somehow negative or ironic, and also missing the fact that Polyakov’s contributions are so broad and far-reaching Continue reading ‘Congratulations!’
Well, the day is here. The Planck collaboration has announced a huge amount of results for the consumption of the scientific community and the media today. The Planck satellite looks with unprecedented precision at the very earliest radiation (“cosmic microwave background radiation”, CMB) from the universe when it was very young (a wee, cute 380,000 years old) and helps us deduce many things about what the universe was like then, and what it is like now. Here’s one of the representations of the universe using the new sky mapping Planck did (image courtesy ESA/Planck):
There’s a ton of data, and a raft of papers with analysis and conclusions. And there’s a very nice press release. I recommend looking at it. It is here, and the papers are here. The title of the press release is “Planck reveals an almost perfect Universe”, and some of the excitement is in the “almost” part. A number of anomalies that were hinted at by the previous explorer of the CMB, WMAP, seem to have been confirmed by Planck, and so there are some important things to be understood in order to figure out the origin of the anomalies (if they ultimately turn out to be real physics and not data artefacts). [Update: Andrew Jaffe has two nice posts I recommend. One on the science, and the other on the PR. Jester also has a nice post on the science from a particle physicist's perspective.]
What is the title of my post referring to? Well, the refined measurements have allowed us to update some of the vital statistics of the universe. First, it is a bit older than previous measurements have indicated. The age is now measured as 13.82 billion years. (I’m already updating pages in the draft of my book…) Second, the proportion of ingredients Continue reading ‘Known Unknowns Decreased a Bit’
Productive day yesterday, more or less. Yesterday’s lunch break (in my undisclosed coastal town) saw me take a pack lunch over to the beach, for a bit of reading while I sat in a change of scenery. I’d brought the bike, and so it was nice to be able to pack up some things I might need, like a beach towel, a portable seat (just in case…. I did not use it in the end…), my notebooks, and some reading materials on the ipad (I was reading a bit of Paradise Lost, in fact), and carry it in the bike basket. (Actually I did use the portable seat… but not for sitting. I used it as a stand for the camera that took the shot above right.)
What am I doing on The Project? I’m mapping out and editing one of the stories. It has turned into quite a long one with lots of complexity, relatively, speaking. This means that I need to be careful about designing the layout on the page, and actually try to get a good sense of how everything fits so that I pace things properly, and page things out in the right way. So I am thumbnailing carefully, going beyond simple thumbnails and doing a first pass rough of the page. It slows the writing down, but will save a lot of time later on. Also, when I turn myself back into the penciller/inker and come to draw all the pages carefully, my job will be much easier, and quicker, as I’ll have the directions in the written script and the page layout sketch to guide me. I’ll be able to focus more on being the artist and less the writer at that stage. See the right for a laid out page.
Actually, using the brushes application on the ipad has been very valuable for this. I’ve not used it much in recent times, and so it was fun to rediscover it. I’ve been using Continue reading ‘Lunch and Work’
Probably not really the appropriate use to mean “on retreat”, but it makes for an interesting title. Anyway, I’m on retreat for a week. As you may know, I am in the habit of disappearing for Spring Break, and I try to get away from it all (or most) and have some time to myself, and maybe also work on a project. You will recall that Death Valley is often a destination, but for what I wanted to do this Spring Break, my old haunt won’t work. So instead I am in a small town somewhere on the California coast. I’ve set up shop in a little condo I’ve rented, and I’m trying to get some writing done on The Project. I need to do a lot on the computer, putting together a lot of the material and scripting it out properly, which also involves planning and thumbnailing the pages. This is a slow process that needs lots of immersion, and I’ve not been able to do that this semester much… so this is why I’ve devoted the Spring Break to it. My routine so far has been to go for a short run on the beach first thing in the morning (not for long….I am not a runner really, and only like running on surfaces like grass, and sand that don’t hammer back too much, but it is exhilarating to do a short run in the morning and get all the juices flowing…) and then sit down to work over breakfast. But since this is really day 2, it is not clear if this is really a pattern or not.
This afternoon I sought out the local “drop in and draw” session to do a bit of life drawing from a model. Just as I’ve mentioned before (see two posts ago for example) you can often find such things in your local town, and it is not too hard in areas such as coastal California towns since there are lots of artists living in such places, and they seem to like and appreciate the value of life drawing practice. So I showed up, paid my money, and went into the studio and drew. The people were welcoming, did not pry too much into my business, and it was quite Continue reading ‘Retreating’
So it’s very much worth noting that there are some new announcements from earlier this week concerning last years’ landmark discovery at the Large Hadron Collider. The news is that a Higgs particle was discovered. There were several news stories about it in the last few days. This might be a bit confusing, and many of you are thinking that this is recycling news from last year concerning the discovery of the Higgs. It is not recycling. If you go back and look at the results that were announced last year, there was an important note of caution, notable in the fact that the particle discovered was referred to as “Higgs-like”. More analysis was needed to be sure that it was indeed a particle that fits the name Higgs. Well, that analysis has been done, with more data included and so forth, and both experiments (CMS and ATLAS) are now sure that they are seeing a Higgs particle, and indeed it is one that is very close to what you’d expect for the Standard Model of particle physics.