While searching through their site to find something else, I noticed that there was a conversation on KPCC’s Zocalo between science writer K C Cole and Astrophysicist Chuck Steidel not long ago. Have a look at their listing of past conversations here – there’s a lot of good stuff about various topics and people in the Los Angeles area. I listened to it, and it’s very interesting indeed.
It is not quite your usual light touch conversation that you hear on public radio – it is a little more involved, taking you a bit further (without losing you) and gives you more insights into the work, the puzzles, the discoveries and the hopes for future ones. As a journalist, and the guest host of the program, K C Cole knows her material, and so is able to steer things rather well, while inserting useful remarks to help the listener keep up. This might be perfect listening if you want to get a sense of what it’s like to work in Chuck’s area of expertise (finding and characterizing the youngest galaxies and understanding their cosmological implications), either out of general curiosity or if you’re planning a career in that area. Take out some time and have a listen. Here’s the blurb from the site:
Oh boy. I laughed very loudly in my office at this in many places. I had the door closed, mercifully. I’m sorry, but most of you won’t get this, but I need to let the relative few who’ll find this hilarious know about it. So scroll on down to another post if you’ve no idea why this would be funny for you. Basically, you have to be into Radio, and moreover into BBC Radio. Quite a bit. If you’re familiar with it (especially Radio 4 and Radio 3) then please please please listen to this new program: It’s called Listen Against. It is a remarkably good and hilarious parody of Radio 4 and a host of other Continue reading ‘Listen Against’
This short video is simply lovely. It illustrates (with perfectly chosen music) an important set of mathematical transformations dear to many of us, the MÃ¶bius transformations. It is by Douglas Arnold and Jonathan Rogness of the University of Minnesota. It’s a pleasure to watch, whether you work in a mathematically related field or not. Try it:
Time for a shot from the garden. Focus could be better. This is from six weeks ago, I admit. I forgot to post this back then. After we had that little bit of rain, various bulbs Continue reading ‘Glad’
Some weeks ago, I learned that Alexey Zamolodchikov died. Many of you who are theoretical physicists will definitely know the name, as the name Zamolodchikov is all over the fields of statistical physics and integrable systems, conformal field theory, string theory, and Liouville theory, for example: It would be either him, his twin brother Alexander, or both of them that you’ll have certainly encountered on that paper that was crucial to your work in one or several ways. (Photo (2000) by Craig Tracy. I found it here.)
I did not know him personally, and so will not go on at length here, but given how much his contributions have filtered into so much of what I’ve been doing since I was a graduate student (I remember being, as a student far away from the centre of activity in the field, somewhat fascinated with those papers Continue reading ‘Alexey Zamolodchikov’
My Correlations colleague Tamsin Gray has been updating us on her activities down in Antarctica. I still find it remarkable that there are people regularly going down there, doing all sorts of scientific experiments at several stations. Click the map on the right for a larger view of the layout of the many stations down there. Keep an eye out for Tamsin’s posts – not the least because there are occasionally pictures of cute penguins – to get an idea of some of the things her team are up to.
Recently, for example, Tamsin told us about some new (toys) tools they were working with – tiny airplanes! They fly around and do meteorological measurements.
Over on Correlations I did a post about Antarctica that briefly mentioned some of the physics being done there (AMANDA and IceCube, the neutrino telescopes), but the Continue reading ‘Antarctic Antics’
Astounding. I can’t get over how amazing it was. I’m stunned, just stunned.
What am I talking about? No, it is not some new experiment I’ve done in my lair downstairs to somehow test out whether there are extra dimensions. It is something else. Something that manages to switch on and exploit an extra dimension with such daring and abandon that one sees things much closer to the way Nature intended. The results are rather spectacular!
Yesterday, on (one of) the biggest shopping days of the year, I went… shopping. Insane, I know. Oddly enough, it was not a disaster. After an hour or so the headache that usually develops (when I have to make so many decisions over prices and items of clothing and so forth) began to approach, but that was largely due to the barrage of Christmas Carols. I eventually found a way to see the humour in just how dreadful some of the treatments of various songs can be, and that kept me going a bit longer. The Mel Torme (“the velvet fog”) version of “Chestnuts Roasting on an…” (whatever it’s really called) has sunken to a new unanticipated low by having had a strangely irrelevant and mood-altering backbeat added to it for part of the song. I heard this in the Gap, which meant that I left rather hurriedly without buying anything because I was laughing too much. After three hours of this sort of activity in several stores, I came away with essentially one item. One. Sigh.
Anyway, where was I going with this? Well, nowhere in particular, but I thought I’d share my lunch scene with you. I was at Santa Monica for the shopping you see, and part of my agenda was to make the shopping bearable by having a late lunch down at the beach.
I’d packed a sandwich, brought a book and an apple, and everything. On my way, I stopped at a store I regularly stop at to get the best deal in Santa Monica – the aforementioned simple jam tarts. A dollar apiece. I got two. Dessert, you see. They packed them into the usual pink box, and after getting a cup of coffee next door I wandered down to the pier, past the pier, and walked toward the area where all the chess tables are set up. Chess players were there, including many of the regulars I’ve Continue reading ‘Chess and Shopping’
Surprisingly satisfying sound to it, that word… Bench.
Feeling a bit off the tracks, internally, in one way or another and so I’ve decided to opt out of Thanksgiving this year and spend some time hiding out on my own. Consequently, there’ll be no cooking post, I’m afraid. I’ll have to refer you to last year’s. However, there are other arenas of derring-do besides the kitchen. Today, Asymptotia goes down to the workshop…
I’ll probably be drummed out of the Theorists’ Guild for admitting this, but I can’t go for long without making or doing something constructive with my own hands. The mood to make something hit me hard the other day. Not long ago I began to eye various aspects of my office (at home) and try to understand why I only use it to pick up printouts, find a book on a shelf, and add to the giant piles of paper on every surface. I never sit in it and use it, and I did not know why, annoyingly enough. Well, I think I figured it out, and after making a series of investigations, and a series of detailed measurements, the solution is on order. I will report later. The solution (and some other projects I have in mind) will require some careful woodwork, and I’ve not really got a good working space for that, having mostly done all my woodworking on the ground, patio, steps, and other improvised places.
I say this to every generation of student in theoretical high energy physics. There is one book that should not be missing from your personal collection: Aspects of Symmetry, by Sidney Coleman. Don’t just borrow it, own it. Go and get it now and carry it around with you while you read it from cover to cover. It is a most wonderful book, and I consider it a key part of anyone’s training.
Sidney Coleman, a giant in the field of physics known for his clarity, originality, and sparkling sense of humour, died on Sunday. Here’s a Chicago Tribune obituary. He’ll be greatly missed.
Not surprisingly, there’s been a lot of interesting chatter about the recently announced stem cell research results I blogged about earlier. I did a longer blog post over on Correlations that might interest you (I managed to think of the pun for the title that I knew was in there somewhere, but could not manage it this morning over here). (Right: an image from the Wisconsin-Madison group. These are human skin cells.)
Mentioned there are two more NPR items I thought were of note:
You may have heard about the new stem cell breakthrough in the news. It seems to be quite significant – researchers (at Kyoto University and at Wisconsin-Madison) have managed to make human skin cells into stem cells (following on work done in mouse some announced some months back). If interested in the details (as I’m sure you are) you can read more about it in an AP story on the NPR web site here. (Yahoo’s version has pictures, such as the nerve cells above left from the Kyoto group. – try and spot the odd one out in their 14 image slide show.)
There was also a very informative chat about it with one of their science correspondents, Joe Palca, on Morning Edition, and you can listen to it here. There’ll Continue reading ‘Stem Cell News’
Since everything seems to be degenerating all too rapidly into holiday mood (giant Santas and huge batteries of lights and so forth have started appearing in my neighbourhood1 … students are leaving early to go home for Thanksgiving…which is this Thursday, by the way), this year I’ve decided to give in rather than resist. So my first holiday act of the year was to let my class know this morning that I won’t hold a Wednesday class after all. They must agree to do the homework and other practice I assign, and to use that hour (when it comes) to curl up with and start a new novel of their choosing2. My second holiday act is to get everyone singing. Yes. Singing.
What shall we sing?
Well, Oliver Rosten has written a song that’s quite appropriate, since it is related to physics and mathematics, in a way. It’s about an aspect of the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at Cambridge, so I’ll be listening out for especially enthusiastic singing from you readers over there (you know who you are), ok?!
I’ll steal the words from his site by way of explanation, followed by the song itself. The tune should be familiar to many. Let me/him know what you think in the comments (be sure to close your office door the first time around until you get the rhythm right):
Next Thursday, the British Interplanetary Society is bringing together physicists for a conference entitled Faster than Light: Breaking the Interstellar Distance Barrier. “The main purpose is to raise awareness of this obscure field of research within general relativity and quantum field theory and attract new and particularly young researchers to work on the technical problems,” said organiser Kelvin Long.
By the way, don’t forget the Leonids over the next few nights, if you happen to be out and about. There’s no exceptionally high activity expected, but that does not mean you won’t see a few if you’ve a mind to look up. It’s at least a good conversation point (or a perfect excuse to go to a romantic spot after that weekend movie date) so keep an eye out. I’ll point you to a post I did last year on these meteors for viewing (and background) information. Here.
The death toll from Sidr is up to 600 and, unfortunately, still seems to be rising. And of course that doesn’t include injured, missing, displaced, newly homeless…Jeff Masters has more on the unfolding news of the disaster–including an amazing graphic depicting the population densities of the areas along the storm’s path–and so does Greg Laden.
(I read that it’s been confirmed as over 1000 now, it being some hours after Chris’ post.)
There’s been some really excellent material over on Correlations. I recommend having a look. Among that, there’s been some very interesting posts about climate. The most urgent one is by Sheril, in which she reminds us about the behemoth, Cyclone Sidr, which is bearing down on Bangladesh right now, with potential human cost well beyond that of Katrina. One to watch.
The other posts I wanted to point to is the growing series of posts by Michael about climate science. People largely think of climate science in terms of the global warming arguments, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Michael’s trying to build an informative Continue reading ‘Climate Matters’
Over on the Intersection, Sheril Kirshenbaum and Chris Mooney are wondering why on earth there’s been little or no US media coverage of Cyclone Sidr, the monster storm that is bearing down on Bangladesh. Given the size of the storm, its approach, and the low-lying nature of Bangladesh, the landfall of this storm could be utterly catastrophic (it has already begun to take many lives) – beyond Katrina, for example. Please go and have a look at their series of posts (and more to come I bet) about the storm. For example, here, here, here, here, and here.
Well, that was a bit of an odd day. Let me explain.
An email and then a call with a producer at Comedy Central last week led me to the (historic) Hollywood Center Studios today. I was to do an appearance in a little comedy “bit” that will be part of a show to air next year. They wanted scientists for a fun piece, but I won’t say what they were doing with us since I don’t know if they’d like it revealed before airing (probably not). It’s a new show too, with some very well known and smart comedians on it. I’ll tell you more when I can. All I can say is that it looks as Continue reading ‘Tales From The Industry, XV – Coincident Science Bloggers’
Since I’ve maybe done a bad thing and spoken ill of a TV show in which I took part (I may never make an unpaid appearance as a talking head in this town again), I’ll try to set the balance right with this important finding reported recently in the Onion:
This just in from the Onion (America’s Finest News Source, I remind you). Seems that there’s been a definite confirmation of potentially dangerous objects in Iran’s possession. Article’s title: “U.S. Intelligence: Iran Possesses Trillions Of Potentially Dangerous Atoms”. Extract:
[...] the Department of Homeland Security uncovered new information Monday proving the Middle Eastern nation has obtained literally trillions of atomsâ€”the same particles sometimes used to make atomic bombsâ€”for unknown purposes.
Onion’s image caption: Condoleezza Rice displays for reporters one of the many varieties of atoms Iran is believed to already possess. (Of course, she’s holding a model of a molecule, but let’s not quibble here.)
Ok, ok. Since more than a few people have spotted it, I think it is best to (as they used to say in Hill Street Blues back in the 90s) “get out in front of this thing”.
You’ll recall (see list of related posts) many of the good things that I’ve talked about concerning the work various program makers are doing for the History Channel’s The Universe, and KCET is doing for PBS’ WIRED Science, Discovery’s Science Channel, and other science shows I’ve mentioned (and there are more I’ve not yet mentioned). I’ve shared with you some details about some of my own small role in some of these sorts of things so that you can see some of how these programmes come to be, including various shoots I’ve mentioned here and there, various behind-the-scenes activities, and my optimism about what seems to be a general renewed interest by program makers on various channels in making more and better science programs, working more closely with scientists in the process.
From all this you’ll be of the expectation that within a year or two, my dream that everybody on the street will be chatting about science topics/culture just as often as any other topic in our culture might be realized. Well, of course, that’s a bit hasty. The vast majority of stuff out there is just as it always was, and some efforts go rather wrong. Here’s an example:
You’ll remember a couple of fun shoots I did last year. I blogged them here and here. I had high hopes that they’d turn out to be part of something promising. I was (and am) willing to try to bring a little science flavouring to places where it is not normally found, to audiences who don’t normally seek out science programming. Who knows where that can lead? But… the show turned out to be, how shall I put it? Low on science and high on… other stuff, shall we say.
The show I’m talking about is on Spike TV and it is called MANswers. I always knew it was going to be close to the mark, but was willing to take the risk just in case it got a few people thinking about science for a second or two or more. My reasons? No Continue reading ‘Tales From The Industry XIV – MANswers’
Yep. All done. Sitting in great cafe with a cup of camomile, listening to one of my favourite Mingus albums on the cafe’s overhead speakers, feeling that it all went well. (The latter – Mingus in a great cafe late at night? – is not really the Kentucky I remember.) I seem to have gone three for three. Class, seminar, colloquium. No disasters, besides skimping on the sleep a bit here and there and writing some of the material at the last minute. Good.
So I gave the seminar at noon*, talking about much the same material I did in my Santa Barbara talk I mentioned before here. We then went to lunch at a Korean place nearby that was rather good. I ordered the bi bim bap (as I often do at Korean places) and to my disappointment, it did not come in the super high temperature Continue reading ‘My Work Here is Done’
I’m in Lexington, Kentucky, for a couple of days to give three presentations at the University of Kentucky (or “UK” as everyone refers to it here – I hope that explains the previous post). I should be preparing two of them instead of blogging, but… you know how it is. Here’s how I got here:
On Wednesday afternoon, after a class on magnetostatics, and an attendance of a lunchtime event where four of our faculty (Biology, Geology, Cosmology (our very own Elena Pierpaoli!), Biology) presented their research, I dashed for a plane. Some hours later, at 10:45pm local time, I touched down in Chicago, and 15 minutes later was on the highway in the company (and car) of Nick Halmagyi.
Our mission? To hang out for a few hours in an excellent bar or two of his acquaintance and catch up on what’s been going on with each other, workwise and otherwise. The Charleston was indeed excellent, and (after chortling a bit about the memory of my annoyance at being charged $29 for a serving of a single malt scotch in a bar in Aspen during the Summer) proceeded to order the same here (he the Macallan, me the Talisker). At about 1:00am, the music stops and a guy with a face full of character sits down at the upright piano, is introduced to a scattering of applause, and proceeds to play some Chopin. Everybody shuts up and turns to listen. Appropriately, the piano sounds like all upright pianos in all bars all around the world sound (the tuning is just a bit wobbly), and the guy is good – really good. He stops playing the piece, and there’s some more scattered applause; someone (jokingly?) offers his a dollar as he walks away which he waves away enthusiastically; the music comes back up, and everybody turns back to their conversations. Nick and I continue to chat about various aspects of life, and order a couple more whiskeys.
At 1:25am or so we wander over to another bar. Nick seems a bit surprised by my suggestion to do this (‘cos I’m supposed to be going to sleep), but I’m just enjoying walking for a bit in the cold, wearing a cozy hat and coat that normally get no use these days, and there’s something nice about a proper bar hop in a neighbourhood with good bars and in the company of someone who appreciates it. This bar has an Continue reading ‘A Return’
I’ve been distracted by several things recently, and so (even more than is usually the case) there’s far more to report than there is time to report it. Among the highlights are, as already mentioned in the comments, a Saturday visit to MOCA (Geffen Contemporary) to see the Takashi Murakami exhibition. (Coinciding nicely with me about to embark upon reading “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” by the other very well known Murakami: Haruki Murakami.)
His simplest motif – which he reuses again and again in many pieces – is the smiling flowers in various colours. The 2D version of the 3D flower box is one of my favourites, and here it is in a room that is wallpapered with the motif. There’s a more solemn one with a range of expressions on the flowers’ faces in an entire field of them (“Kawaii – Vacances”) (including one shedding a tear), but I could not find a good web reproduction of it. The below is a rather small version:
It’s only the second weekend since it opened here in LA and it is hugely popular, with tons of people in the exhibit spaces walking around excitedly and pointing at things. (This being LA, this included a lot of activity in the special Louis Vuitton room, which Continue reading ‘All in a Weekend’s Work and Play’
I’ve met some striking writers in this town, but these are easily the best so far:
Writers on strike in Hollywood at the Sunset Gower Studios. (This is the Sunset Blvd entrance to parking. Remarkably, it was reported that earlier today at one of these entrances, someone on the production/editing staff deliberately ran over one of the striking writers in his car to gain access to the building.)
I’m sorry. It is a poor opening pun but I could not resist. I was rather excited this morning as I got an email from someone who’s working on a science documentary show I was reading a script for and the subject was “HELP!”. I was wondering if it had something to do with the strike. The show will air not too long from now and I began to Continue reading ‘Struck’
I spotted an interesting article by Faye Flam in the Philadelphia Inquirer about research into left-handedness. I confess that I do not know really what to make of it, but it is an interesting survey of some research in the area, with several surprising facts. Thought I’d pass it on to you. The article is here.