Do you listen to the CERN LHC podcasts? They can be good. Every now and again, there’s a visitor there, and Brian Cox interviews them on site at the Large Hadron Collider. (Search archives for LHC or see links to lots of posts on it below, such as this one.) The most recent visit is by Phil Plait, aka the Bad Astronomer. They chat together about various aspects of the science to be done at the (soon to be switched on!) LHC, research in basic science in general, the scare-mongering business about the black holes destroying the earth (see here and here), conspiracy theories, and – of course – Continue reading ‘Phil at LHC’
Monthly Archive for April, 2008
This particular one -among thousands- called out to me while on the East coast a Continue reading ‘Still Magnolia’
Wow, doesn’t time fly when you’re having a busy semester! I meant to tell you about this early March shoot a while back, but got swamped and it fell off the desk. I recalled that I’ve been neglectful because I learned that the show in which some of this will be used will air on Tuesday night (9:00pm I think – “The Universe” on the History Channel). The episode discusses the end of the universe, as far as I know. The point is to discuss the various speculations that have been made about how the universe might end, and what current knowledge (such as the famous 1998 supernova observations showing that the universe’s expansion is accelerating) seems to suggest about which of those scenarios might be more likely. Of course, for the discussions to make sense, you need someone to talk about some of the basics, such as what it means for the universe (indeed, the whole of spacetime) to expand and collapse. Who you gonna call?
Ok. I’m one of many you can call. It was a new (to me) producer/writer, Savas Georgalis, who called this time, and we worked together on plans about how we might Continue reading ‘Tales From The Industry XX – Sporting Locations’
On NPR the other morning, I heard a piece about the Darwin Online Project. It sounds just amazing. I hope you find time to explore the site.
It has all sorts of fascinating things that you can download or view in the above (click for larger view) manner (your very own copy of the Origin of Species, perhaps, or parts of his diaries and notebooks…), and is quite a treasure trove of one-stop-shop (but free) Darwin data. (There are even some of (his wife) Emma Darwin’s recipes.) The site is here.
Very importantly, the collection shows Darwin’s work in development, and not just the Continue reading ‘The Darwin Online Project’
Don’t forget – The LA Times Festival of Books is on this weekend. As I said earlier:
It’s a Los Angeles celebration of the written word, done in wonderful sunshine, with hundreds of marvellous events in three days for young and old – Yes, it is the LA Times Festival of Books, coming up the weekend starting April 25th. The main daytime proceedings take place on the 26th and 27th (Saturday and Sunday) and I recommend them to you if you’ve not been. Mark your calendar. (Once you’re over there on Sunday, stay for the Categorically Not! event in the evening (entitled “Loops”), which will involve among others, science writer Dava Sobel!!) (Above right: One of the 2008 theme images from the Festival’s website. More here.)
The next Categorically Not! is on Sunday April 27th (upcoming). The Categorically Not! series of events that are held at the Santa Monica Art Studios, (with occasional exceptions). It’s a series – started and run by science writer K. C. Cole – of fun and informative conversations deliberately ignoring the traditional boundaries between art, science, humanities, and other subjects. I strongly encourage you to come to them if you’re in the area. Here is the website that describes past ones, and upcoming ones. See also the links at the end of the post for some announcements and descriptions (and even video) of previous events.
The theme this month is Loops Here’s the description from K C Cole:
When you come right down to it, just about everything is loopy: planets, proteins or life stories, things have a way of coming around again, always with a slightly different spin. This month’s Categorically Not! was conceived as a tribute to Douglas Hofstadter’s new book, I am a Strange Loop, which uses Continue reading ‘Categorically Not! – Loops’
So you’ll recall the shoot last year, right? Casino Royale theme? Where I got all dressed up in a Tuxedo at a club in New York that was kitted out as a Casino playing blackjack and so forth (click right) and getting very cosy with Ms Moneypenny? (Wait, that last bit didn’t happen.) Along with some actual stars, from entertainment, sport, fashion, etc? You don’t recall? Well, that’ll teach you not to use the blog’s archives more during your coffee breaks…
To recap (but please read properly about the background here), it was a photo spread with short bios for an annual piece called “Coming Kings” for a men’s magazine called “King”. I’d got the call out of the blue from them, and decided to do it since it’s an opportunity to do something a little different. To put some awareness of science and scientists in places where you normally don’t find much (if any) of it, rather than only targeting the more traditional crowds. It’s all about, as I said:
Continue reading ‘When Worlds Collide IV: The Verdict is…’
It’s Administrative Professionals’ Day* today! Thanks to all the many Administrative Professionals who make our systems run so much more smoothly! (In some cases, who make them run at all…)
And, randomly, I learned from a Wikipedia article on the subject:
It’s a bit of a mess here, time-wise. Just not enough hours in the day. Everything totally fragmented. Yesterday was grueling… here’s some of it:
Up at 5:30am, finding that I’m immediately thinking about a physics project for a bit (I fell asleep doing so, having been the whole evening in the Casbah drinking coffee and doing the same) before having to break off to get ready, get to office early to start an insanely busy day. Answer a ton of email, and deal with other online stuff, planning to ignore it for the whole rest of morning. Note that flimmaker/journalist friend B has sent me an email with a list of comments and suggested changes to my script for the Video. Got to discuss it with A, my collaborator in Chemistry on this. Whenever are we going to meet in the next few days? Sigh. (Must remember to do blog post about this new project, and how I ended up involved with the Chemistry department!)
After some dithering, decided to drive in, since the plan was to stay super-late and probably involve driving someone home.
Cold as I walk to the office from where I parked on the street. Mostly in my mind, and Continue reading ‘Up for Air’
It is Earth Day today. Here’s a rose from my garden in celebration. The rose crop is fantastic right now…
Are you doing anything special for Earth Day? Links here.
Sheril talked a little bit about the lack of a debate on Science by the presidential hopefuls, and pointed to a number of articles on the matter. Recall (from my earlier posts and many other sources) that she is one of the movers and shakers behind ScienceDebate2008. The candidates simply punted the issues.
Shame really. The Franklin Institute’s good china was all laid out and the space made ready to host the debate, and several were hoping it might really happen… But it was politics as usual on all sides, with lots of silliness, and pandering to the much more powerful “Faith” constituency.
Or, as Bob Park put it in his excellent “What’s New” column of the 11th April:
NO SCIENCE DEBATE: CANDIDATES WILL DEBATE JESUS.
Excellent title! He goes on to say:
Continue reading ‘No Debate on Science’
Stages of renewal. Click for larger views.
One of my cycads* had been worrying me for a while. It looked sad, very yellow and dry, and I began to wonder if it has departed this world. Then all of a sudden, as Continue reading ‘Renewal’
Well, I’ve been quiet here because I got rather swamped with lots of things over the last few days. The biggest thing was yesterday. I gave a colloquium at Caltech entitled “Cooking with Quarks and Gluons: Recipes from the String Theory Kitchen”*. The abstract is given below**. It is mostly based on what I wrote about last Summer.
With all the other things I had to do (including writing and giving two fun two hour lectures on cosmology in my undergraduate GR class) I still decided that it was time to totally rethink how I tell this exciting physics story, and how I present it. This meant designing and building many new slides. Each slide can take a long time to prepare, so this took two solid days of hiding away while designing and building them, only breaking for the other stuff.
Well, it was fun in the end, and today I am exhausted. I decided that you should not miss out entirely on the treats, so I made a little movie of the first parts of the talk to Continue reading ‘Some Unusual Recipes’
Besides, the random nature of quantum physics means that there is always a minuscule, but nonzero, chance of anything occurring, including that the new collider could spit out man-eating dragons.
Excellent! Proper flying, armoured, fire-breathing, talking, treasure-hoarding, Continue reading ‘So What Are the Odds?’
Well, Comedy Central fans, here’s something for you. Before you get settled into your nightly dose of the Daily Show on Wednesday night, tune in half an hour earlier, at 10:30 (at least on the coasts). It’s Lewis Black’s new show “Root of All Evil”, this week covering the issue of which of the two prevailing juggernauts in our culture, American Idol or High School, that reduce so much in our culture to popularity contests, is more Evil.
(This one I actually think speaks to a serious point. Sadly, in an presidential election year here, any attempt to parody this sort of thing for comedic effect is totally outshone by almost any news broadcast.)
Another giant moves on. John Wheeler died yesterday. He’s known for bringing to light many wonderful pieces of physics (he’s also credited for coining the term “black hole”), classical and quantum (helping craft many of the ideas surrounding issues in quantum gravity, for example), and for being a great teacher. There’s an obituary* by Dennis Overbye in the New York Times here. I’ve borrowed their lovely photograph (which was given no photographer credit, so I cannot).
[Update: Daniel Holz has a personal reflection here.]
*I learned of the article from Often in Error.
Did you catch the discussion on NPR’s Science Friday just past? I was particularly pleased to hear some calm, thoughtful responses from someone who definitely knows his way around the issue, on a major broadcast. What issue? Whether or not we high energy physicists are carefully endangering planet earth (or even the whole universe) by switching on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) later this year (or whenever it is due to start collisions). You’ll recall the lawsuit, since I posted on it here (with links to other thoughts), and perhaps you even recall my April Fool post on the matter.
Well, Ira Flatow was talking to Frank Wilczek! It was a good, informed chat around the issues that also gave Frank a chance to explain a little about what the machine was really constructed for (since this seems to so easily fall out of these public discussions of black holes and extra dimensions and strangelets (interesting as they are), and to plug his book that is due to come out. Since it’ll almost certainly be a really interesting Continue reading ‘Frank Common Sense’
I should really start a new series of posts with the title “What Could Possibly Go Wrong…?” This story from yesterday would be a fitting entry…
Did you see Cronenberg’s “Eastern Promises” last year? It was excellent, and of course totally overlooked in the recent discussions about good films of last year. It was released and seen by most people way too early in the year. Hollywood’s memory is not very good at recalling anything that came out earlier than the Fall if it did not come with a huge bang of publicity and so forth (like the excellent Bourne Ultimatum). Well, just for a moment there, I was in an American version of the film. (Setting-wise I mean. The film is set in a gritty, realistic not-Four-Weddings-or-Bridget-Jones London.) I was in New Jersey yesterday just for the day. (I’ll tell you more about it later.) Here’s what happened.
(The title refers to this post.)
Ok, this is a post of (probably pointless) complaint about one of society’s conventions. I do that from time to time. So as I said in an earlier post, I lost my bag within which I carry around my personal day to day stuff. It is small and fits on my shoulder and carries lots of useful stuff that I don’t like to carry in my pockets. My handbag, if you will. I happily carry such a bag, and call it by that name quite often. Sometimes I jokingly say that I’m “secure enough in my sexuality to call it what it is”, and not have to lamely resort to inventing a new name for something that already exists in the world serving that exact function – but carried by women. I’d forgotten just how serious and non-joking this whole business actually is. I did not recall how much trouble I’d previously gone to when I tried to find such a bag that suits my needs (practical and aesthetic). It’s a real pain. Losing it now meant that I had to go through this all over again, and discovering that I’d not really finished the job that previous time. (And the alternative names are so stupid – “manbag”, “murse”, etc… Haven’t they noticed that “handbag” is already gender neutral?)
What is the problem? Simply put, there’s an unbelievable amount of phobia here (and it is here in the USA more than, say Europe) about guys carrying such bags. Utterly Continue reading ‘Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag (Again)’
This was not the time to break my over a decade long run of not flying American Airlines. I pretty much only fly United when doing most travel, but I had no choice for this trip from LA to Amarillo, Texas. It was a quick hop there and back in about 36 hours to take part in a rather important event – Andrew Chamblin (a friend and colleague who, you may know, died tragically in 2006) was being inducted into the Hall of Fame of his old High School and so I went along to take part in the ceremony with his family and some of his friends, and address (briefly) the assembled student body (it was such an honour to be asked Continue reading ‘Head in the Clouds’
It was hard not to notice yellow all over Griffith Park this weekend. There were several Continue reading ‘Yellow Fields’
Takuya Okuda talking about Wilson Loops at the most recent SCSS, UCLA, Dec. 2007. Click to enlarge.
The next regional string meeting is a two-day one at Caltech, this Friday and Saturday, organized by Joseph Marsano. It’s going to be full of interesting talks and conversations, as usual. Please encourage your graduate students to come, especially, since special effort is made to make sure that each talk begins with a pedagogical portion to help non-experts in that subfield navigate and see the motivation.
The speakers are:
Continue reading ‘Southern California Strings Seminar’
Did you see the Nike commercial with Kobe Bryant as Einstein?
It is part of a series with the theme “genius” in which he plays a variety of historical figures with a reputation for innovation. More (including the video) on Bryant’s website, and there’s a breakdown by fliptomato on his blog (where I found this).
Given the opening line of fliptomato’s blog post, I wonder if he (or the commercial makers) knows about the excellent Gary Larson cartoon from very many years back Continue reading ‘Kobe as Einstein’
Ooooh! A Puzzle. Ok, maybe not the most challenging one, but hey, I’m getting old, so I’m setting the bar low:
(I’d originally intended to make some, but that’s a project for another time.) These ones will do for now. Assembly should be fun. Wait, there’s something missing:
Tomorrow I’m shooting all day for a TV show that is going to focus on the idea of alternative universes (or parallel universes, if you prefer). Should be fun. The setting at least will be interesting (more on that later) and it ought to be interesting to see how the writer puts all the material together into a coherent narrative. Part of my job will be to try to emphasize that while parallel/alternative universes show up a lot in actual scientific discussions (and have done for a long time), we have not yet had anything like a good observational or experimental reason to believe in their existence anywhere other than in our imaginations. It’s vital to get this across (I hope they don’t just edit it out) because people are so willing to believe in many half-baked fanciful ideas – and this is one of them – and when they show up in a science documentary (this is (again) for the History Channel’s “The Universe” series, which has been very good) with actual scientists being quoted, one should be especially careful (as we were on the “Cosmic Holes” episode (with different filmmakers), which has proven to be rather popular, and is full of speculative ideas like travel using wormholes and time machines right alongside equally fantastic-sounding things, like black holes, which are in fact a scientific reality). The rest of my job will be to talk about some of the places where the idea shows up in modern thought, some of the reasons why, and some of the opportunities for solving various challenging problems (and maybe creating a host of others!!) can be afforded by such ideas.
All that aside, this reminds me of something else entirely – Do you ever have those days when you feel like you’ve accidentally stepped sideways into an alternative universe? I do. Recently, I had a huge dose of it. Sit back and I’ll tell you the story…
Spring is in full flow here, and there were lovely contrasts to see on my hike in Griffith Continue reading ‘Renewal’
The previous post was a farewell to black holes in the class, not here on the blog. (And it was not quite a farewell there either, since the midterm yesterday was all about the properties of the Reissner-Nordström black hole, representing a black hole with an electric charge, and a nice computation involving cosmic censorship.)
There have been two rather notable discoveries in the black hole astrophysics world this week. The first is the discovery of what seems to be another case of an intermediate mass black hole (there was only one example known before). Not the supermassive ones that live at the centers of galaxies (tens to hundreds of millions of times the mass of our sun), and not stellar mass ones of a few times the mass of our Continue reading ‘All Creatures Great and Small’
Yesterday here at USC was my last lecture in the class about black holes (see also here). We’ve got to move on to other topics (Cosmology, Einstein’s equations, etc) and so cannot do any more. It was a fun last lecture though. I pulled together a few scraps of things I did not finish in the previous lecture (such as the extraordinarily high percentage of binding energy per unit rest mass you can extract with rotating black hole orbits – just what you need to power things like quasars) and then finished with:
- A taste of Hawking radiation, the Bekenstein-Hawking entropy and the wonderful and beautiful subject of black hole thermodynamics that opens up when you combine gravity with quantum mechanics*, followed by…
- A quick discussion of the Penrose process for extracting energy from rotating black holes. (I’m sure that all (past, present or future) super-advanced civilizations must be using them as the ultimate emissions-free means of generating energy for heating their homes and so forth. No, really.)
*Of course, all undergraduates commonly hate it when you dare bring in stuff from other classes, so to Continue reading ‘A Farewell to Black Holes’
[Update:- NB: This was an April Fool joke. -cvj]
Some breaking news for a change. I’ve only heard snippets of this and so I’ll update later with more as I get it. That silliness that was in the news about two physicists pursuing a lawsuit against the Large Hadron Collider has suddenly become serious. (Image right: the CMS detector at the LHC, taken by Valerio Mezzanotti – from a NYT article about the LHC last year.)
Recall that the issue was that there would be the possibility of the experiment creating mini black holes that could gobble up the earth and that the CERN scientists have not done enough to demonstrate that this was not a safety issue. Of course, and has already been said in several places (see e.g., Phil’s general level post about the physics and the case here), this is utterly ill-conceived and in any case certainly not the way to go about things, but it seems that the legal route can be quite damaging for science, in the right hands.
What seems to have happened is this. Since the suit was filed in Hawaii, it falls under US Federal jurisdiction, and has been taken up as an emergency issue before the Supreme Court. Somehow the litigants got a hearing on this with the help of powerful friends who have what can only be thought of as another example of the anti-science agenda we’ve a lot of in various branches of the government in recent years.
The upshot is that the Supreme Court has announced today that they are requiring all Continue reading ‘More Trouble for LHC?’
[Update:- NB: This was an April Fool joke. -cvj]
Well, I learned recently* that the BBC wildlife program makers have done it again, breaking new ground in scientific discovery while making a new series. Quite amazing this time. From the Daily Telegraph website:
The BBC will today screen remarkable footage of penguins flying as part of its new natural history series, Miracles of Evolution.
“But then the weather took a turn for the worse. It was quite amazing. Rather than getting together in a huddle to protect themselves from the cold, they did something quite unexpected, that no other penguins can do.”
Above right (click for larger view) is a screen shot that I took of the incredible footage Continue reading ‘Liberated Penguins’