Well, I have to face up to it. There’s been this embarrassing thing all around town here in Aspen that I have not told you about, but I have to get it done this week. Everywhere you go around town -and I mean everywhere- there are little piles or pinboards of free flyers telling you what things there are to do in Aspen this Summer, along with other information about bus routes, timetables, etc. So you’ll see things for the Summer Films, the Theatre series, the Music Festival, the Music School, the talks going on at the Aspen Institute, and…. the Summer Public Physics Lectures at the Aspen Center for Physics. I’m pleased that the latter gets such wide distribution, since…. well you know how I feel about getting more Science out to the Public. But here’s the embarrassing bit:
I’m giving one of the Public lectures this Summer, and they decided to use an image of me as the cover of the flyer! So everywhere I go, there I am smiling back at me, holding up some strings. (Closeup on right, if you click.) It is actually quite an honour to be chosen to give such a talk, and more so that they wanted to use my photo for the series this year. Of course they got my agreement before using the photo, but it is still a shock to see it all over the town, but a bit embarrassing when asked about it by my colleagues! (I admit that am very pleased -given my passions in this area- to be alongside useful information about public transport. I like that a lot somehow….Perhaps I could have supplied them with a picture of me with the Brompton.)
The image they used, which is by the excellent photographer Phil Channing, has haunted me for years since it pops up to the front page of the USC website at least once a day -as part of a thing they do where they feature their faculty on the front page- which is always a shock when I need to go there for something. I have to explain to people from time to time that I am not always on the site and that I am not the face of USC. (You know, like Susan Sarandon and Halle Berry for Revlon, or Whoever-it-is-now for Maybelline, or Scarlett Johansson and Penelope Cruz for L’Oreal… although if USC wanted to pay me their level of salary to do so, I’d be pleased with that… I could do the theoretical physicist’s equivalent of a supermodel swoop of the hair (write a long equation with brightly coloured chalk maybe) and say, in an annoying way, “Because I’m worth it”.) To be fair, the photo does a good job, since it gets people asking questions about what that thing is I’m holding up, and why.
(The backstory there is that the USC people in charge of the website project asked some of us to come to a photo shoot, and bring a “prop” that represents our work. Being someone who works primarily on string theory, I had to give this a lot of thought. (Neither particle accelerators, black holes, nor the entire universe, could be easily brought into the studio, you see.) In the end, I decided on… string. Not much of a stretch you might think, but it was. How do you make interesting a piece of string in a still picture? Well, one way is to tie it into a nice design. So I reminded myself how to make Onsage diamonds from my childhood -that’s not what we called them back then- and then, because I could not find a good piece of string of the right weight, gauge, and colour that I thought would work for the photo, I crocheted a nice piece of string of the right sort the night before….. Hmmm… this is way too much information.)
Anyway, the public lecture is on Thursday (or is it Wednesday? I’m hoping the actual physicists in town are similarly confused about the timing so that they don’t come to it….) and I’ve yet to give a great deal of thought to what I’m going to say. (Rest assured that it will not be the usual glossy Stringevangelism that you may have read me being less than complimentary about in the past.) I also wanted to make some new images for illustration purposes (I brought all my pencils, inks and brushes here with me with good intentions), and I have to help write a couple of pages of background blurb to be printed in advance of the talk…..but you know what? Yesterday I made a significant little breakthrough in a calculation I was doing and I’d much rather work on that. Funny how that always happens when you have to work on something else, isn’t it?
But really, I can’t leave it until the night before. I have to stop and at least think about the talk, since the local TV channel want to do an interview tomorrow to preview the actual lecture (which will also be televised). You see, they really take these public talks seriously, which I think is great, and so I’ve a duty to give my potential audience (live and at home) the same amount of respect in return.
But… my calculation! Aaarrrrghh!