The Antikythera Mechanism

So, I have questions.

About what? Well, by now you’ve heard about this wonderful machine that was found 100 years or so ago, which after a lot of research, has been found to be a remarkably sophisticated mechanical computer designed and built in ancient Greece about 2,100 years ago. There’s a nice LA Times story on it by Thomas H. Maugh II here, and a New York Times story* by John Noble Wilford here and a Reuters article by Patricia Reaney here. (The image to the right (click for larger) is from the University of Cardiff.)

From the articles you can learn that the machine was able to perform computational tasks 1400 years or so before the time when machines of this sort (but less sophisticated) were thought to have appeared. What sort of tasks? Well, using 37 gears or so it can do subtractions, multiplications and divisions to show the cycles of […] Click to continue reading this post

Shocked Reaction

For a refreshingly straightforward point of view from a young person in the field who just wants to get on with doing some good physics with what seems like a promising approach, read Jonathan Shock’s description of his recent attendance of meetings (including the one to which I earlier referred) on heavy ion collisions and related physics. (See also an interesting comment by Xin-Nian Wang on the comment thread of my earlier post.) Jonathan gives some useful links to presentations on some of the attempts to model some of the new physics using string theory models.

The title? Oh, yes, he gets beaten up a bit by those around him for working on strings. […] Click to continue reading this post

My Powerpoint Advice

Chad is giving more “Powerpoint technique” tips over on his blog.

I’d like to give a few tips of my own:

  1. Learn to give a good 55 minute chalkboard (or whiteboard) talk first. Only then learn about how to give a talk with a computera.
  2. Powerpoint?! Don’t use Powerpoint, for goodness sake! Use Keynoteb!!


[aRegardless of program you are using to project the talk. And am I the only one who […] Click to continue reading this post

Southern California Strings Seminar

On Friday and Saturday of this week (December 1st and 2nd), the next Southern California Strings Seminar will be happening! It’s a regional meeting for people doing research in string theory and related topics, and as I’ve said before, I’d especially like to see more young people come out and take part. We make a special effort to ask the speakers to spend a little time at the beginning of their talk setting the scene (speaking about motivations, what has gone before, etc) so that the series can be of great value to people who are trying to learn what’s going on in a particular topic at research level (this can be students, postdocs, or faculty, in fact).

If you’re doing this kind of physics research anywhere in the Southern California region, and want to take part, please come. See the website for details, and try to let […] Click to continue reading this post

Grand Clues All Around

Today in my Physics 100 class (I’m preparing it right now), we’ll be re-discovering the structure of the atom… It’s nice to consider the clues that are around us in our everyday life. This picture (click for larger… and yes, I was down at Grand Central Market again on Sunday) will start my discussion of one set of important clues…. Any thoughts about what aspect of it I’ll be talking about?


-cvj Click to continue reading this post

See Six

The good people at the US Postal service do produce some splendid sets of stamps on quite a regular basis. Today, to my delight, I was offered this set as one of my choices at the post office:

[image: stamps/snowflakes]

There’s so much physics behind the microscopic lattice of H2O molecules underlying such a lovely shape, with the pleasant C6 symmetry of the macroscopic result – the snowflake. I found a lovely “morphology diagram” showing the sorts of shapes you get depending upon temperature and supersaturation of the water vapour that condenses to […] Click to continue reading this post

People of the Corn

The people of the corn are not the folks in Chiapas, Mexico, who have been known to call themselves that. Or, I should say not just them. Who else? The people of the USA. Maybe much more so than the people in Mexico.

I learned this from listening to Michael Pollan, author of the book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, who was on NPR’s Science Friday two days ago. His book explores the origins of the food that we eat every day, explaining the changes that have occurred in agriculture that moved us away from the traditional model of a farm (that many of us still have in our heads) to the current model: No animals, no pastures, no variety. Just a few specific crops, like corn. Corn grown for all sorts of reasons, and very few of them for the actual corn itself as a food. Instead, it goes into nearly everything that we eat (and more) in huge quantities. The vast majority of the food that we eat has corn at its base in some way or another. Either directly, such as in the sweeteners added to nearly every procesed food, or indirectly – corn is used as feed for producing the […] Click to continue reading this post

Tee Time On The Space Station

Before I point you to the link about the latest important activity on the International Space Station, I’d like to ask for your help: – This might be a bit impolite, but may I ask what is the actual point of the International Space Station? I spent a bit of time (not a huge amount, I admit) at NASA’s site, for example, and can’t really find an overall scientific or engineering statement of purpose. There’s a bit of chatter about learning about the effects of long spaceflights on the physiology of human beings, and how to meet engineering challenges of various sorts, but that seems to be it. The weekly science reports that you can read on there don’t sound very encouraging either, but I imagine I’m seeing the digest for the media and non-experts.

[Update: – Ok! I found some interesting sites here and here. They do help a bit.]

I’m not being sarcastic here…. I’d really like to know. I’m sure that there must be a […] Click to continue reading this post

Nuclear Guy Goes Nuclear

star rhic goldFollowing on from her earlier post (with Stefan) on the research effort to understand Brookhaven’s RHIC physics with string theory, Bee reports some things she heard about a nuclear physics conference in Shanghai (Quark Matter ’06). Apparently Larry McLerran -who is at Brookhaven- did a 20 minute anti-string (and anti-Brian Greene) rant. You can see some slides etc, over there.

(Note for the non-expert:- RHIC means “Relativisitc Heavy Ion Collider”. Picture on right (click for larger): Tracks from collision of two beams of gold nuclei -the heavy ions- recorded by the STAR detector at the RHIC experiment. More here. In a sense, a new form of matter is formed in these conditions – the issue is how to understand its properties.)

This sort of thing is rather funny, so far (apparently Brian Greene was given a “Pinocchio award” in the talk?! ). Let’s hope it does not turn into something serious.

In moving forward: […] Click to continue reading this post

Some Things I Like About The Doo Dah Parade, II

(Continuing from previous…)

…Then there’s the Disco drill team, which was really excellent.

doo dah disco

Their drill? Some serious synchronized Disco dancing, of course. They did the “Hustle”, along with various standard Saturday Night fever moves, and the crowd were very appreciative. Inevitably they did “YMCA”… and just as inevitably the crowd spontaneously joined in with the arm movements. (I think that this is hard-wired into a whole generation – rather like the reaction you get from all the women at a party if anyone puts on “I will Survive”.)

You know that they did not have to make those costumes… they probably sit in wardrobes (closets) every year since being retired in the late 70s, waiting for their moment in the sun once a year:

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Fusion In Our Future?

Tuesday saw the official agreement between a consortium of countries to construct a fully functional fusion reactor, at a cost of 12.8 billion dollars, or thereabouts. The project is called the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, ITER. It is indeed a huge undertaking, and we could end up with nothing to show for it, but on the other hand it would be a miniscule price to pay if we were to get the scheme off the ground. The promise of an abundant source of energy that is (supposedly) less polluting and safer to run than fission and does not add to our upcoming woes caused by climate change is too tantalizing not to pursue.

In case you’re wondering, the image to the right (click for larger) is a schematic representation of the 500MW reactor. It is of the classic “Tokamak” type, in which there is a torus (doughnut) shaped region where the plasma will be magnetically contained, at a temperature of 100 million K. To learn more about fusion, you can go to the article from the UKAEA here, and the article on ITER here at their website. From the latter, you can learn about the specific scientific objectives of ITER:

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The Sports Movie Script

Every other time I go to the movies, there is a trailer for yet another sports movie which has exactly the same plot as all the others. Every time I sit there stunned and open-mouthed after the trailer and have a little internal rant (sparing my companion(s)), wonder to myself about what it is about the national psyche that needs this same simplistic story quite so often, and wonder why nobody else seems to notice the phenomenon. It is also noticable that it is one of the rites of passage of a famous male Hollywood star (even really good ones) to play the grizzled coach of the no-hope team….. blah blah blah…. why is that?

Well, to my delight, this morning the programme Morning Edition on NPR played a radio parody (by commentator Frank Deford) of essentially Click to continue reading this post

Some Things I Like About The Doo Dah Parade, I

Ah! The Doo Dah Parade! I do love it so. Why?

First of all, they began with a fly-over by three planes with pleasant coloured smoke streaming out the back.

doo dah flyover

Big deal, you say. Fair enough, but compare this to how the Rose Parade (which runs along a similar route six weeks later) starts… with a fly-by of a Stealth Bomber flanked by two Stealth Fighters. People cheered. I first saw this display in 2004 when the USA had already reached out with this power to invade Iraq, and we were all depressed about the recent re-election of the leaders who committed that crime. [Later correction: Of course, I got my date wrong… The election was to come later that year… the depressed feeling was just from the ongoing Iraq situation.] My reaction as the Stealths flew overhead? Wanting to clasp my hands over my ears and run screaming – just like the orcs and trolls of Sauron’s army do whenever the chief symbols of his air power (the winged Nazgul led by the Witch-King of Angmar) fly over the battlefield. You wield your terrible weapons and scare the crap out of your enemy and your friends – what does that say about you? So this is why I like that the Doo Dah parade starts with those less in-your-face planes.

I digress, losing half my audience (all seven of you) by making a Lord of the Rings reference. Should have chosen Homer. Oh well. So, remembering that the Doo Dah is the antidote to the cookie-cutter perfection of your typical Rose-type parade or Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, have a look at some things that caught my eye.
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