I’m repeating myself, I’ve noticed, but it’s ok. Turns out that after I decided today that it was time to post a photo of this lovely flower (click for larger view), I noticed that I’d done exactly the same thing last year, on the same day. It’s the first of the buddleia (budlea) flowers to bloom in the garden, and it’s always a welcome sight. It takes a Continue reading ‘Purple Grand Opening’
Monthly Archive for May, 2008
One of the Phoenix images that has most captivated has been the one that shows the rest of the background of that startling image of the parachute part of the landing phase that was taken by the Reconnaissance orbiter’s HiRiSE camera. I showed it a few days ago here, and it is amazing, for all the reasons I said back then and more. I’m still buzzed by the idea that we have cameras from another craft photographing the landing of a new craft. Well, a while later, the mission released the photo showing the larger backdrop to that image. There’s the (giant 10 km) Heimdall crater in the background! (See the little inset bottom left showing where the previous image focussed; credit: NASA/JPL).
Rather dramatic, wouldn’t you agree? It’s not really as close to the crater as it Continue reading ‘Bowled Over’
Brian Greene, theoretical physicist and one of the founders of the World Science Festival in New York (May 28th – June 1st), talked to Stephen Colbert about the excitement of science, and how the festival will give people a chance to see lots of fun exhibits and chat with scientists to find out about the wonderful “adventure story” (nicely put) that is science. He manages to do this pretty well, between giggles generated by sharp fun-poking from Colbert.
There’s the festival, large-breasted alien robots (their words), some fun quips about Continue reading ‘Colbert Report: Science – What’s the Big Deal?’
A reader asked for more string. You can see my reply here. Not being one to deny the punters entirely, I’ll pass on some clips from a 70s British TV comedy show, about string. It was a popular show called “The Goodies”. Some of you might remember them. Well, they did an entire episode with the title “It might as well be string”, and although the clips (below) are out of context and even with not knowing the characters and so forth (I don’t) there are some amusing bits here and there, if you turn it around to poke harmless fun at those of us who work on string theory decades later – It’s all about a PR/Advertising campaign for string!
There’s the string song, the “documentary” about string (best to gloss over the oh-so-funny “smelly Arab” remarks and accompanying laughter*), the excellent samples from the Continue reading ‘It Might as Well be String’
Marvellous. It is good to get the chance to use the word in its most basic sense, and fully mean it. You know how there’s a lot of reliance on artist’s impressions to depict aspects of space missions (such as landing) that we can’t get photos of because, well, there’s nothing else there to take the photo (unlike the movies and TV)? Well look at this:
It may not look like much to some, but I’m really impressed with this. It is a first. It is the Phoenix lander during the act of landing during the “Seven Minutes of Terror” yesterday! NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was in the right position to take a Continue reading ‘Photo Finish’
16:56 or so: Yep. That was a tense seven minutes. But it is over and they are getting signals. I watched the live feed from the JPL control room. Wow. Who knew this could be so exciting from so far away?! Anybody else watch it?
Remember the launch of the Phoenix spacecraft last summer? I mentioned it in earlier posts (including talking about the mural for it – see here and here) and Phil did a lovely post on the launch here. Have a look at the mission website. Here’s a space.com article that gives an update on the mission so far.
Well, today’s the day it approaches and (it is hoped) lands on Mars!! So, the landing. The landing, the landing the landing. It’s all about the landing. The craft has to slow down from 12500 miles per hour to make a soft landing on the surface. In a matter of Continue reading ‘Seven Minutes of Terror’
Have you seen them? March Fourth? They’re quite excellent, rather hard to describe. Clickable photos below open up the somewhat abstract teaser above. They played for an hour at Continue reading ‘March Fourth’
A week ago we had temperatures up to and beyond 100 degrees (F) for a day or two. Continue reading ‘Wet and Dry’
Pah Pa-Pa Paah,
Pah Pa-Pa Paah,
Pah Pa-Pah Pah Pah!
Pah Pa-Pa Paah,
Pah Pa-Pah Pa, Pa-Pah Pa, Pa-Pah Pa, Pa-PAH Pa Pa-Paaah!
Ok… A dying star. Here’s the before and after shot (images from the NASA Swift team):
An the amazing thing is that they were able to watch and record the events in real time! The galaxy hosting the explosion was already under study because of an earlier supernova. This is wonderful, of course, and a big deal is made in various news articles about how great it is that this is the first time that a supernovae event was caught in real time from an earlier hint from an X-ray emission signature… Except that it seems that it isn’t!!! I do find it a tad annoying/puzzling that in a few seconds I was able to find pretty much the same sort of news announcement from two years ago. Does the press think that the members of general public are stupid, or have no memory? (I don’t yet have time to re-read both articles carefully, so I imagine this is maybe much better (it is rather closer), and there were more telescopes recording, and maybe from earlier, in a wider spectrum, and so forth, but not to mention the earlier event at all, as though a big news story was not made of it back then, is strange. (Perhaps the finding was discredited?) I did a blog post mentioning it entitled “When Stars Go Bang”, and you can link from there to a BBC news article for example of the coverage.)
Anyway, back to the excitement. We must not take away from the joy of discovery: From a NYT article* by Dennis Overbye:
Oh boy. Not what I really want to read just before going to bed. I’m likely to have dreams of falling into giant cracks* that open up under you no matter where you run. Did you have those when you were a child? I did. That one, and a slightly different version that involved a volcano, where….
Oh, wait. Back to the point. A report has come out with carefully researched projections from geophysicists and Continue reading ‘Fault’
I was at an unusual and splendid event on Saturday. My friend and colleague, the writer Aimee Bender, organized a group of 25 of us to go to the top of Mount Wilson and spend the evening, mostly sitting in the dark, right up to well after midnight! What were we doing? Astronomy. We had the Mount Wilson Observatory’s 60 inch telescope entirely at our disposal!! This is not any old 60 inch telescope – it is one of the historic telescopes that’s up there, used since the early part of the 20th Century to discover things about our galaxy and beyond.
(See also a post I did about the 100 inch, and the hike you can do up the mountain to see the site. [Update: Note - For this trip, we drove up, carpooling!])
Aimee had reserved the space well in advance, and we had a guide and a telescope operator (the excellent Shelley Bonus and Arbi Karapetian, respectively), and we brought food, which was spread out on a large table alongside vats of coffee and hot water (for tea), supplied by the observatory.
This is an excellent way to spend an evening. Shelley is informative and enthusiastic, and does a great job of selecting various objects to be viewed (she also takes requests!) and giving lots of information and anecdotes about them, and much else besides. Arbi was also a gold mine of information.
The party was of 24 non-scientists (there were a lot of writers of various types, for example – poets, screenwriters, novellists, experts in poetry and literature and language…) and one physicist. As the latter, I tried to remain undercover, so as not to Continue reading ‘Mountain Astronomy Party!’
I really hope the scientists said that* when they found this. Really. It’s a mountain, underwater, colonized by millions of starfish. Amazing.
It is at the Macquarie Ridge, near New Zealand.
Continue reading ‘Oh My God, It’s Full of Stars!’
Today I was at a Catholic church, attending the First Communion of the daughter of some friends and colleagues. This was a bit of a nostalgia trip for me, since I was brought up in the Catholic tradition. The mass was entirely in Polish, and the congregation was almost entirely Polish, and I enjoyed saying all the English responses on top of the Polish ones and seeing how well they fit (I also did it sotto voce over the bits the celebrant said too). Yes, the rituals are evidently frozen into my memory.
It’s exactly the same structure as the masses I attended hundreds of times during my upbringing, and I’m amused that I remembered everything even without being prompted by the company of English speakers in my surroundings. Very enjoyable to see the kids all done up in their finery, all nervous but excited, as they know it is all about them. Fun to see other remnants of my childhood imagery in the form of a super-splendid Sunday hat – so rare these days – and generally people of a certain look that’s so familiar from Catholic churches I’ve see in several places around the world. With that and the excellent food and conversation at the reception afterwards, despite my being tired from having only two hours sleep last night (more later), it was a lovely day.
Here’s a thing, though…
Continue reading ‘Communion’
So here’s a little irony. On Wednesday which was, I note:
(1) The day before Bike To Work Day in California…
(2) The day after I replied to a commenter that the extra investment in getting a folding bike like mine was well worth it (over getting a cheaper model) since -among other reasons- cheaper models would be more likely to fall apart while mine will last a lifetime…
I set off at 1:10pm on my bike to head (via the bus) to my office at USC, photocopy the final I’d spent the morning refining, and arrive at class at 2:00pm to set the final. Everything went fine, as usual, and as I did one last turn after waiting at the lights to head into the home stretch to catch the bus…
…my bike suddenly lost power. The chain had not slipped or broken though… An examination revealed that the crank arm/lever had completely broken away from the wheel holding the teeth and the chain. To be fair, I put an awful lot of regular stress on it (see below), but isn’t that ironic?
I got off the bike and wheeled it briskly to the bus stop I was headed for, managed to Continue reading ‘The Universe Laughs’
I spent an awful lot of time as a child and teenager tinkering with various projects. I’d have lots of projects on at any one time, brewing in my head for a while, and making their way to notebooks and scraps of paper, then to elaborate drawings showing the technical details, and ultimately to some sort of realization in the real work, some percentage of the time. In the Summer time, I would probably have one Big Project and that would occupy my thoughts for a great deal of time, and would involve a lot of hiding away doing things. Lots of these projects would involve electronics (increasingly as time went by and I Learned more and my various part time jobs could support more) and there’d be lots of tinkering with all sorts of items, and a constant feature would be the soldering iron, one not so different from the one that you see above right.
Well, it was a full day. Since this morning I’ve been putting the last touches on a paper with my student, V. I’ve been working at my home office (something odd going on with my office computer) while he’s elsewhere but present via IM. We can chat, exchange equations, drafts, and so forth, so it is good medium. Then mid-morning, I had a moment of confusion for a while, and progress stopped while I sorted that out. Discussions with V and another student, T, via IM about this and some other matters ensued, and then I was back on track, inputting edits from a session yesterday of reading it with pen-at-the-ready in a bookstore, inputting edits from V, and then another printout and review to add more.
Every now and again, a check of email, a walk around and a pull out of the odd weed in the garden, and then back to it. Somehow this went on until 3:00 – three hours Continue reading ‘Final Thoughts’
(1) Did you, like most people, miss the movie Idiocracy* last year? It looks like yet another lame comedy, but bear with it. It actually isn’t, really. It is one of the best indictments of what seems to be happening to a large part of the core of our society that I’ve seen in a while. You know what I mean… lower and lower thresholds for waiving all sorts of basic things that were once part of our required education… not just the awful spellings on signs that some of us whine about (sometimes too much, I’ll admit), but the necessity to use a severely reduced vocabulary to make yourself understood in the local store…or the lack of patience people (and the media) have for a reasoned, structured argument, focusing rather on looks, personalities or sound-bites (look for example at some the political headline discussions in both US and UK news at this moment)… the worry that fewer and fewer people seem to read a book from time to time**… The fact that nobody who works in stores seems to know anything about the merchandise they are employed to sell you… Or that situation you’ve had where the person behind the counter gets confused and can’t serve you because the item that you want to buy does not have a little picture of it at the checkout that they can click on in order to ring up your order/total…
Well, this film imagines a future where that sort of thing has become the least of your worries. The “dumbing-down” has just continued unabated. Everybody is essentially Continue reading ‘Idiocracy’
[Update 19/05/08: It is expected that well over 50,000 people have died. There are several updates on the NPR sites mentioned below. See a BBC article here for a recent summary.]
Well, they’re estimating 10,000 casualties so far from the earthquake in China that measured magnitude 7.9 on the Richter scale. NPR’s Melissa Block and Robert Siegel were actually in the area when it took place and they are filing lots of reports. Melissa had her equipment running at the time of the quake and so you can hear her reactions here. There’s a lot of information (including how to donate to various relief efforts) on the NPR website. Start here, for example.
Of course, there’s a lot more going on in terms of extraordinary natural conditions, including the tornadoes here in America, and the volcano in Chile, and of course the Myanmar cyclone and the dreadful matter of the blocked recovery efforts. Remarkable, overall. If you’ve not been following, you’ll find really good reports at the NPR site too…
It’s bike to work week here in [
LA] California again! Do consider participating (even if it isn’t where you are…) The MTA here in Los Angeles is doing a good job of pushing the idea that biking to work is a good alternative to fighting with other drivers on the highway*. Have a go! (I’ve been noticing more cyclists on the roads in the city in recent times, by the way, so you won’t be alone.) [Update: Click here for the website of the California Bicycle Coalition for events near you.]
If in LA, pop over to the MTA website. They’ve got a number of things going on. There are pit stops along the Red Line today, and on Thursday, if you show up on a bus or the subway with a bike helmet, you can ride for free! (I wonder if they actually bother to check if you have a bike with that helmet…?)
One of my favourite topics to think about, since I was very young, is the effect that direct contact with intelligent alien life would have on our society. It would be transformative, I think, whether it be initially seen as for good or ill. Of course, most imaginings of such an event usually considers the “ill” aspect. I was chatting about the issue recently with a friend of mine while hiking the other day and then I recalled that I forgot to do a blog post on last week’s Sunday night radio listening, part of which was about just this very topic!
The show was in two parts (both good… more on the second later) and the first was a 1994 recreation of the classic War of the Worlds broadcast of 1938. You know the one, I hope… It was a CBS radio broadcast by the Mercury Theater company, masterminded and led by Orson Welles, and was a Howard Koch radio adaptation of the 1898 H. G. Wells novel. As you may know, the radio show created a huge panic among the listening audiences at the time, brought on by a combination of the relative newness of the medium (it was done in the style of a series of on-the-scene breathless news reports) and the general atmosphere in world politics at the time. (There’s a rather good Wikipedia collection of information about it here.)
All of this puts me in a nostalgic mood, since during some of my school days I loved that War of the Worlds rock musical concept album by Jeff Wayne from 1978 (I knew of it only in the early to middle 80s), with a star-studded cast of musicians (Justin Hayward, Phil Lynott, Julie Covington, David Essex and Chris Thompson), and the wonderful voice of Richard Burton as the main protagonist (a journalist). Anybody else remember that? From so many listenings to it, I used to be able to sing along to every note and word of that album! Probably still can, even though I’ve not heard it in so long. Altogether now – Uuuu-Laaaa!!!, or Come on Thun-der-child!!… Here’s a Wikipedia link.
Anyway, I highly recommend the recreation of the broadcast. Find an hour and curl up next to your computer and pretend it’s a warm old valve radio. Leonard Nimoy plays Continue reading ‘We Interrupt This Broadcast…’
Do you know about Pauli’s Other Principle? One statement of it is:
Fermions are discovered in the US, whereas bosons are discovered in Europe.
(In case you don’t know, it is useful to classify particles according to whether they come with integer (0, 1,2,…) multiples of a basic unit of spin, or half-integer (1/2, 3/2,…) multiples. Fermions include the electron and the quarks, bosons include the photon and the gluons…)
Jester at Resonaances examines the striking evidence for the Principle in modern particle physics, and examines some of the predictions that follow from it. It was clear from the principle, for example, that the SSC (Superconducting Super-Collider) in Continue reading ‘Pauli’s Other Principle’
Yes, it is that time of year when the city goes purple. Or lavender.
The jacaranda trees go crazy for a while. There are stretches of several blocks long, Continue reading ‘Jacaranda Time!’
Hey, guess who was at Griffith Observatory recently? Brian May! He’s that astrophysicist who took some time off to play (excellent) guitar and compose songs in the band called Queen. Ring any bells? (I found the nice photo here.) So why was he in town? Well, a slightly giggly (but always great) Madeline Brand (of the NPR program “Day To Day”) went along to interview him, and you can listen to the interview here, and read a transcript, as well as see extracts from him book (written with Patrick Moore and Chris Lintott), charmingly and blatantly (but knowingly?) unrealistically called “Bang! The Complete History of the Universe”. I actually looked through it in a bookstore the other day – looks rather nice. Wonderfully produced and I read some well-written passages, so might be worth picking up if you’re looking for a fresh read about the universe.
As a side note, I was a huge fan of his during my middle to late teenage years and Continue reading ‘Good Company’
Well, every now and again the link tracker from google’s blog search engine (which reports some links to the blog to me on the blog software’s control panel) throws up some weird random stuff. There was a funny one today. Some site that aggregates random stuff had a post about the Fresh Prince. It then gathered images from the web to illustrate, and somehow grabbed an image from this blog among the haul, which is why I knew of this. Two that ended up together are to the right.
Prince pictures, it said. Excellent.
I recommend these videos that show the inside workings of the ATLAS detector of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) using animation. They are quite stunning and simply lovely. Science aside for a moment (and you can learn about it in the posts listed below), remember that the LHC is simply the largest and most complicated device ever constructed, with the largest team of scientists assembled. It is a wonderful reminder of the international, collaborative, and cross-cultural nature of science.
Have you been yet? I’m looking at you, USC-area person. There’s a fantastic new wine-bar in the neighbourhood, a relatively short walk north of campus at Union and Hoover. I’m so pleased to see it, and it is extremely welcome as far as I’m concerned. It is called Bacaro, and I’ve been there a lot already with several different groups of friends and colleagues.
Why? Well, the wine is just great (various Italian wines) and the menu is fantastic too Continue reading ‘So Have You Been There Yet?’
It has been rather a tiring last several days. I’ve been focusing on writing a big report on various internal matters that my committee was charged to study for the whole academic year. The issues are rather large, and the solutions I was trying to present require not just cosmetic tinkering but major changes in the way things are done. So the key thing to get right in writing it is a tone that is critical of what there currently is in place while at the same time painting a picture of what could be in its stead, while also beginning to show how to get there. If you don’t balance all three just right, there’s no chance that anything will change, since either lots of people will just be pissed off that you trashed their system, or threatened the status quo, or they’ll agree but say there’s nothing that can be done, or they’ll say you have not really thought it through. I think I’ve managed to get the balance right.
It was due on Monday. On Sunday night, I had something down, but I did not really like Continue reading ‘Tired’
Update: 11th May ’08. Well, as you probably know, estimates have surpassed 100,000. An urgent concern now is the additions to the death toll resulting from the lack of emergency relief, brought on by the restrictions placed by the Myanmar government. See a BBC report here, or an NPR report here, for example.
Update: 7th May ’08. It is much worse. I’ve seen a BBC report with a figure above 22,000.
Another lovely one in the gladiolus family I think. These have started to put on a show Continue reading ‘Yellow Face’
Oh! It is the open house for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory this weekend (both today and tomorrow)! I almost missed it since it was two weekends later last year.
Image composite brazenly taken from their website.
I went last year and had a great time and so I strongly recommend it. Go along for your own interest, of course, but if you have any kids, take ‘em along*. If interested, have a look at my detailed post from last year entitled “JPL the new Disneyland?”
As I said there:
Oh dear, I liked Ken. Now he’s gone from office. Ken Livingstone really understood public transport and did something about it. And the congestion charge…(which was my idea!!!*)… took someone with real guts to push it through. We need more people like him to fight the car lobby – to get people to change their behaviour and do something for their environment.
(Image from “Underground Etiquette”. Worth a read.)
That’s it. The class is over… I have to admit that I’m pretty sad to see the end of it, although I’m very very tired. It was such a great group. (I’ll be toasting the end of it all with some of the splendid stuff to the right.)
Recall that we stepped away from black holes. After a look at cosmology for some lectures, where we understood the role of four crucial components in determining a universe’s properties (curvature, matter, radiation, and vacuum energy) we dove back into formalism for a short while (one lecture) to develop a little more the tools we needed to properly under stand how to formulate Einstein’s field equations.
It did not take long… You need only the idea that it makes sense to formulate everything in terms of objects that allow you to express the full sense of an equation in any coordinate system you care to write. Once that is done (the objects are called tensors, and the idea and how they work is pretty simple to get to grips with) the key to formulating the field equations of gravity is to have a look at the structure of other familiar systems. The field equations of electromagnetism (Maxwell’s equations) and the field equations for Newton’s formulation of gravity give the required clues. A rummage around the geometry to find the appropriate object to express the physics in terms of uncovers the Riemann tensor and its cousins (“contractions” to get Ricci and so forth), and you’re almost there. A step back to learn how to package energy Continue reading ‘Sad Ending’
Well, here’s a turn up for the books. I pass the buildings of the Center for Inquiry (West) in Hollywood quite regularly on my to-ings and fro-ings, and always wondered what it was. About what were they inquiring? My inquiring mind wanted to know, but by time I got back to a computer, I’d forgotten all about intending to Google it. I was sort of expecting that it might be some, er, fringe organization, given the neighbourhood (not 1/4 of a mile away is the mother ship (or one of them) for the Scientologists, and a similar distance in the other direction is the “Scientology Celebrity Centre” too, where John, Tom, Kirstie, and others from the remarkably large movie star Scientology set presumably go and hang out and feel… celebrated).
Well, it turns out that it’s not like that after all, but a place where, as far as I can tell, serious reason-based inquiry into issues surrounding the places where, e.g., science, religion, culture and superstition intersect (such as, you know, real life) is encouraged. I like that poster of theirs I found, for example (image to the right).
They have a number of speaker series, where all sorts of interesting people come to Continue reading ‘Center For Inquiry: Chris Mooney on The War’