Well, it is almost the last day of Black History Month and I am behind on answering the traditional emails I receive at this time of year. As I said last year (with a few modifications):
Pretty soon after February starts, the deluge of email I get every day gets enhanced a bit by emails from students from all over America. I become part of an assignment, you see. It seems that these students are instructed to find a black scientist and write something about them and do a presentation to their class about them1.
I’m always willing to help with this sort of thing (see the footnote for why), and so I usually send some links: to my personal webpage (here), or one of two profile pages for me at USC here and here (the latter by Katherine Yungmee Kim), a Daily Trojan news story by Diya Chacko here, or the departmental page on me (here), and a list of publications, and I hope that this is all of some use.
As to the standard “what is your date of birth?” question that is usually asked too, I don’t pass out that information over the web, but if you’re an interested student, you can email me for a bit more information if you wish, although I will not give out the exact date.
Well, I’m sorry if things have been a bit quiet around here for a bit. I’ve been very busy, and also eight hours out of sync with my usual cycle. Couple this to also being disconnected from the web in the second hotel I was staying in because of me being too cheap to pay the extortionate amount that they were asking for a connection (the other place had a free connection in certain public lounges, and luckily the signal leaked into my room enough to get me a good connection a lot of the time) and you get quite a bit of quiet.
I was in Dublin and London again. Dublin mainly on a work mission, London on the way back for non-work. I was having panel deliberations once again on a range of Continue reading ‘Random Travel Matters’
On NPR’s finance programme Marketplace yesterday, there was a somewhat unusual piece. It seems that conceptual artist Jonathan Keats is making some money by selling the extra dimensional rights to various properties in San Francisco! (You can see him at the Modernism Gallery there1).
Since there’s no known way to build on or otherwise occupy this new extra dimensional property (let me explain a bit further in an enormous footnote2), the prices are awfully reasonable. Here’s a transcript of a transaction that I found on their website. Reporter Nathaneal Johnson is observing a sale to punters Oscar Villalon and Mary Ladd:
I’ve been meaning to post about this for a few days*. It has since made it to rather high visibility in the news, I’m pleased to see, generating a lot of interesting discussion. The Australians (another nation not part of the original Kyoto agreement, notably) have pushed ahead on the issue of trying to legislatively encourage (shall we say) the use of compact fluorescent light bulbs over the more wasteful traditional incandescent bulbs.
You’ll recall my posting about this idea not long ago, in the context of proposed California legislation (so yes, I used the same images in the same way). Now, I’ll admit that I was thinking of that as a test case, and when things are ironed out into a workable legislation there one would imagine the model being rolled out to the rest of the world to adopt in their own fashion. I did not expect an entire country to adopt it so soon and at such a rate (they propose to stop sales of incandescents by 2010!).
We had a lot of discussion in that earlier thread about the pros and cons of this. Commenter IrrationalPoint (IP), for example, seems convinced that this represents a serious access problem for people who respond less favourably to the new lights. Such legislation is therefore discriminatory. My response to that was in several parts. The first is that I was not convinced that the cited flicker problems were really problems that referred to the new bulbs. They don’t work like the old nasty fluorescents we remember from years back, or that are still to be found in a lot of public spaces. Their flicker rate is up at tens of KHz, not the 60 Hz of old. IP (and one or two others) then suggested that the issues were with the spectrum. My response there was that the spectrum is quite a bit different from a lot fo the old lights, and where some discomfort might arise with the new ones, this is possibly only a problem for some if direct lighting from the light bulb is used. (I personally find direct light from incandescents pretty disturbing in a lot of cases too.) Why not use the bulbs in conjunction with a simple filter or other decorative fixture that can modify the light to your tastes?
But I am keeping an open mind on this. Perhaps I’m just wrong, and the whole idea of banning incandescents is unworkable and insensitive, but I am not convinced that work cannot be done to make sure that it works well for all concerned.
It is on the list of my top five all-time favourite feelings. But I know of no word for it in English that properly captures it. This is strange, since so much of our society relies on things that probably came about in accompaniment with this feeling. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. Sometimes it come on so strongly that it feels like a switch has been flicked inside my head, with an almost audible “click”, often accompanied by a smile, an oral exclamation, or even a moan. Why can I not think of a word for it? Perhaps my vocabulary is failing me, but if there is not such a word, then we should set about forging a new one, since it is so important.
Yes, Guillermo Del Toro’s film Pan’s Labyrinth is really wonderful. Go and see it!!
However, behold (click for larger):
I forgot to mention these earlier. This was my Christmas present to myself (with some contribution from my mum and sister – thanks!). I’ve been saving up for while to Continue reading ‘Pans. No Labyrinth’
I remember UK newspaper headlines like that from the 1980s when you’d have an unseasonably warm day. I wonder if they still have them? (The headlines, I mean, not unseasonably warm days…) Anyway, we had a day like that yesterday, with the high temperature in the mid 80s for a while. It came about all of a sudden, seemingly out of the blue.
So of course every other person in the city (and their dog, blades, bike, etc.,) went to the beach. (Or at least at times it felt like it was half the population…)
There’s something that resonates with me about the B flat scale. I don’t know why. I like the sound and feel of it. A lot of pieces of music are written in it (although I do not know if it is actually the most popular key), incidentally, and so I imagine that others like it a lot too. I wonder why that is? Is it just the result of convention? Is there something about the way we (those who like it a lot) are constructed that fits that frequency rather well?
Consider having a listen to Robert Krulwich’s NPR piece called “Have you heard about B flat?”. It’s got light humour sprinkled around liberally, and some amusing music. And there are a few pieces of information about the (apparent) unreasonable ubiquity of the note B flat in Nature. He tells you about B Flat and alligators, B flat and a staircase, and he ends with B flat and a black hole, and I’ll quote from the website for this one:
There’s a nice story about new photographic evidence from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for water having flowed on Mars. It is not really as dramatic as the photographs of late last year, but it is still an important piece of the puzzle overall (so do read about it), if harder to sell to the public as a “stop-the-press!” type of story. So here’s how three different news agencies tried to bring you in:
Tomorrow sees the next in the series of events here on the USC campus that science writer KC Cole and I have arranged. They’re in the style of the Categorically Not! events I tell you about from time to time (held each month over at the Santa Monica Art Studios) but are over on the USC campus instead, as part of the Provost’s Visions and Voices events. You can read more in the links at the end of this post.
The theme is “Point of View”, and we’ll have an anthropologist, a journalist, and a film maker each give their take on the topic. Here’s an extract from KC’s poster about tomorrow’s event (held at 7:00pm at the Gin Wong Conference Center here on the USC campus): Continue reading ‘Point of View, I’
This is the Helix Nebula, as imaged by the Spitzer telescope. Another wonderful eye in the sky. See links at bottom for a couple more dramatic eye images. This is a planetary nebula, with a white dwarf star at its core, left over as the late stages of the life of a once vibrant star. (See also here.) What’s the story? Continue reading ‘Dusty Eye’
It is a paper by H. Nikolic, in the history of physics classification, and I have not read it, but I love the title. It’s brilliant!
This reminds me of the process that happens to me sometimes when I’m working on a research project. I suddenly think of a really great title, and then get excited about finishing the project so that I can write the paper with that title! (You’ll have noticed that I do that with some of my blog posts too.) It’s often just a nice turn of phrase, like Continue reading ‘Those Fun Paper Titles’
Well, I got an email from my dear friend and collaborator Nick Evans on Tuesday, and in all the craziness of my work week, I forgot to do this post. In the email, he says:
We talked on a few occasions about the need for physics to meet popular culture… sooo.. over the last 2 years I’ve put together a novel about particle physics… it’s quite high level – aimed at A-level science students really… but hopefully it’s fun… I was really playing with mixing a novel and popular science… it’s mainly LHC science …[...] … we’ve done it as a web book Outreach project. [link here]
If it intrigues have a read…
So I’m passing it on to you. I’ve not found the time to read it, but I trust Nick enough to know that it is certainly worth a look. (To resolve a possible transatlantic confusion, I should mention that “A-level science students” in what he said does not refer to “grade A science students”. It refers to a specific subject level in the UK school system.)
Enjoy! (Come back and let us know what you think…)
(See also blog comments by Nick’s former student, Jonathan Shock.)
As you may know, Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth” has been nominated for an Oscar. If you want to hear more from the man himself (see also his remarks in the previous post), here’s an interview with him on NPR’s Fresh Air. It first aired last year, but it is very current. It’s so good to hear a politician speak so intelligently on these matters.
Calling all scientists and engineers. You’ll get a $25 million prize from Virgin’s Richard Branson1 if you find a way to extract greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Get to work!
Continuing his admirable campaign to do more useful things with his money instead of engaging in the (let’s face it) mostly silly stunts that used to characterize news stories about him, Richard Branson announced his new prize today in London (in the company of Al Gore). People are indeed working on this sort of thing, in case you’re wondering (see a post I did earlier, for example).
No, this is not a replacement for increasing our efforts to change our habits so as to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases we are dumping in the atmosphere. It’s an effort that is in parallel with those other efforts, and given where we are now (with the amount already in the atmosphere, the rate we are adding to it2, and the many huge populations around the world poised to develop further intense emissions activity, it is considerably secondary to the main concern of curtailing emissions. Nevertheless, it is certainly worth research effort.
Sorry, but it is just funny to me. There’s a history here, which adds to the humour. Start with the description by captain Todd Rogers:
“Vera walked down the aisle and used the pad of papers she was holding in her hands to kind of — the term I use is ‘bip,’ you know, when kids bip each other? — anyway, to strike Jan Schaefer. It wasn’t an accident. It wasn’t a light brush to the hair. It was an actual strike.”
The title of Monday’s colloquium was “The Cryogenic World of Triton”, and the speaker was Gary Peterson of the Department of Geological Sciences, San Diego State University. Here he is in action:
The talk was very qualitative. Perhaps at times too qualitative for a lot of the Physicist audience, I’ve gathered from comments, but everyone agreed that it was still very interesting. Some of the qualitative aspects were necessary, since there’s not much data available for the sorts of things he wanted to talk about. So he was extrapolating Continue reading ‘Triton Talk’
Well, I tried to avoid blogging about this, starting yesterday since I was really annoyed that its initial appearance as a story was in the Science section of a number of organizations, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with science. But now that it has arrived in the more general news sections of some publications (see a nice Independent UK article here, for example), I am happier to talk about it, and also to briefly remark upon any tentative connection with science that might be there.
The case is the one concerning the arrest of astronaut Lisa Marie Nowak on what has now been alleged to be attempted first-degree murder. (It stated out as mere vehicle burglary, battery, and destruction of evidence, but was later upgraded.) Basically, in case you’ve not heard, Ms Nowak drove 950 miles from Texas to Florida to stalk and Continue reading ‘Space Opera’
This is a joke (the title) that works rather well, while being a serious issue as well. It’s all about trying to reduce our energy waste here in California, and contribute to the commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The idea is to change from the garden variety incandescent bulbs (see left) to the compact fluorescent ones (see right). It’s striking that more people don’t already use them. Ordinary bulbs (apparently 2 billion of them sold every year in the USA) convert only about 5 percent of the energy that they consume into light. The rest is just wasted heat.
I learned from Amara about this matter (anti-Scientology activist Keith Henson being arrested) from comments here, here and here, and it seems (from a look at the chatter on the web) that this is worth keeping an eye on. Some information can be round here and here is a blog which promises updates.
All very mysterious. Can’t tell you anything about it until it is all over. Maybe not even then. Lots of meetings to take place at a hotel or hotels. Locations undisclosed until the last minute. Got the call to pick up my instructions and briefing data from an office. Large white sealed package with just my name on….