Over on Correlations, we’re in the process of saying goodbye. The PBS experiment with a genuinely new (for them) and fun science format, WIRED Science, along with its really fantastic online component (with resources for schools, the general public, the blog Correlations, and so forth), is officially over.
I don’t know exactly what went on behind the scenes at the PBS mother ship, but frankly, it seems that they just did not have the guts to try something new at this time, and are returning to their standard stuff. I thought that the show had a lot of good work in it, including several shining portions, and deserved a bit more time to find its feet. It may well have got there, building followers that would have tuned in regularly for years, becoming a sort of US (and science-oriented) version of the UK’s Tomorrow’s World (a BBC show that ran for 38 years and -despite its flaws- is fondly remembered by many generations). Oh well.
The mood at KCET (the local Los Angeles PBS affiliate that was making the show) was Continue reading ‘Goodbye to Correlations and WIRED Science’
…in the kitchen. A friend of mine has a number of banana trees that are producing fruit right now, and to help her get rid of her surplus I accepted a generous gift of bananas last week. (Thanks M!) It turns out that they have a remarkably strong flavour, concentrated a lot by the fact that they were already quite ripe when I got them. That strong flavour meant that I only managed to eat one of them in a given day, even though they are quite tiny.
Well, after some days I still had many of them, and now they were rather far gone down the road of ripeness. Too far, for my tastes, but I did not like the idea of throwing them away. It did not seem in the spirit of the gift at all. Then I hit upon the solution. This means, of course, a long overdue episode of: Asymptotia goes to the kitchen…!
My mum’s recipe could not be used at this point since she was travelling, and there’s an eight hour time difference, so I could not call her to ask for her method. Instead I consulted a replacement that’s sometimes acceptable in times like this: Jim Fobel’s Old Fashioned Baking Book. What was I looking for? Banana Bread.
Most, if not all, of what you need for a quick banana bread is probably in your cupboards already, if you’ve much of a cooking bent, so no special shopping Continue reading ‘Going Bananas…’
In some parts of the city, mostly older parts, while out on a walk you can stumble across lovely staircases nestled between houses.
Like many things in Los Angeles, they’re hidden gems – you’ll hardly hear about them outside the city, or even much beyond the neighbourhood they’re in, and you’ll certainly never encounter them by staying in your car.
So they remain largely unknown to that majority who don’t walk – even if they live near them! Here’s a particularly lovely one, spotted while I was lost in thought on a long wander (right: click for larger view), which had lots of welcome shade on a hot day.
Recently I was reading the PhD thesis of my student, Veselin. He was going to have his examination and so I was looking through a draft. He recently received a fellowship to go to do a postdoc abroad and so has decided that it’s best to write up and get everything done before it gets too late into the Summer. His new job requires him to have a PhD, of course. (He was, I’m happy to report, successfully doctored (as it were), after an excellent performance in his exam.)
I recall being in the same situation myself, 16 years ago. (Wow, so long…) Happy memories. I got a fellowship to go to my first postdoc in the mythical land across the sea, where so much of the wonderful physics I’d been studying was done by the giants of the field. I was going to get to go there and join them. But I had to write up and graduate first.
I loved writing (and, as you may have noticed, still do) and so relished the prospect. I procrastinated an awful lot (as I do…) for a while before getting down to it, even managing to catch chicken pox for a while (which helped keep me at home for a bit, usefully), and then eventually settled down to it. I essentially locked myself away at home for three or four solid weeks, with a little computer, in my room at the top of the Continue reading ‘Thesis Thoughts’
[Note: Originally posted on CV on 4th November 2005. 25 comments on it here.
Feel free to add new ones here.]
[Warning! This is an unusually technical post.]
Ok, so last time, I told you a bit about the motivations for what I’ve been up to. Now I want to simply show you some of the product. I’m going to use pictures, words, and equations. I will lose some of you, and for that I’m sorry. But I hope that the words will still give you the gist of the thing. I’ll answer some of your questions in the comments.
Consider the following equation (first found and studied in this context in about 1991/1992 and reported e.g. here, and here, and here):
Continue reading ‘News From The Front, III’
[Note: Originally posted on CV on 31st October 2005. 31 comments on it here.
Feel free to add new ones here.]
Well, I suddenly have 45 extra minutes on my hands as I was supposed to be at a very interesting two hour lunch meeting which I’ve now missed. I learned the hard way that we have in addition to the Annenberg School for Communication, the Annenberg Center for Communication, which is of course in a completely different location, North of main campus. I spent half the meeting running around the wrong place trying to find it, and no-one at the School could help me because they did not know anything about it, until after a long time someone had the bright idea of telling me about the existence of the other place….sigh. So I have some time to devote to you, dear Reader, and it will help me calm down from the frustration of it all.
Well, I promised a long time ago (since some of you asked) to tell you what it is that I am working on in my physics research. The problem always was that if I had time to Continue reading ‘News From The Front, II’
[Note: Originally posted on CV on 3rd October 2005. 65 comments on it here.
Feel free to add new ones here.]
Below is a snapshot of a computation I was working on earlier this Summer. Will explain later. Spoke about it at the Southern California Strings Seminar.
I’m curious about what a physicist’s scribblings look like to others, regardless of field (science or non-science). So, non-specialists: What does this all look like, to you? What impressions do you get, if any? Do tell.
There’s no wrong answer here.
The next three posts are repeats of posts I did on CV in 2005. They were the first three in the series entitled “News From The Front”, and their subject matter partly lay the groundwork for a post on some new results that I hope to write soon.
One great thing to do when it is super-hot outside is to sit in an air-conditioned movie theatre. Yes, and watch a movie. And when its really hot, do it for a really long time. How about seven hours?!
Over the last two nights I watched something wonderful on screen, at the Bing Theatre at LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art). A rare gem, in fact*. Sergei Bondarchuk’s film of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, (Voyna i mir) released (USA) in 1968, and in four parts (matching those of the book), each a full movie. I went with three friends (M, R, and R), since movie marathons are fun in company. The full print, in Russian and French with English subtitles, is seven hours long. This is not to be mistaken for the relatively paltry dubbed version cut down to a fleeting six hours duration. This is (closer to) the proper original version. It is rare…apparently not shown in the USA for a very long time, and apparently not available on DVD. (Arguably, it shouldn’t be seen on DVD on a screen that is inappropriate to the task, and without good company. This is a movie theatre movie if there ever was one.) It’s a national treasure, and frankly I have no clue how they made it so well.
The cinematography, set/production design, art direction, and – of course – direction Continue reading ‘Seven Hours of Wonder’
The first day of Summer sees us deep inside a heat wave here in Los Angeles. It was already very hot before 8:30 this morning, and the temperature continues to rise. Yesterday, I was booked to do some shooting for another episode of The Universe (History Channel), but happily it was cancelled due to the heat. I’m grateful since I was to be demonstrating aspects of Einstein’s Special Relativity by cycling at relativistic speeds* around a racetrack. More superpowers on display, or another remarkable feature of the Brompton? More later. This was to take place in the Valley, where temperatures were touching on 107 F, apparently.
Wandering the city on days like this can be fun. The first trick is to accept that it is super-hot and that you’re going to be sweating, and so dress appropriately. I always wear a hat too, and carry a filled water bottle, as it is easy to get dehydrated here. Everything then ends up being done in a dreamlike state. Everybody seems a little Continue reading ‘Happy Summer!’
Have you been keeping track of what Phoenix has been finding on Mars? There’s been lots of digging of holes, baking, peering at things under microscopes, and so forth. And, wonderfully, it has all been guided, monitored, and watched from here on earth. From all of this, there’s now very direct evidence for ice, for example. (Dig a hole, find white flaky chunks which disappear after exposure to sunlight…) (Image left (click for larger) is from the mission (credit: JPL/Caltech/NASA) and shows the before and after. Keep your eye on the darker corner, blown up in the inset.)
There’s a story from the AFP here, and one by Alicia Chang (AP) here. There’s a photo Continue reading ‘Ice, Ice, Baby’
With the rise in gas prices, I’ve been seeing more and more people on the streets, walking and cycling, and more people using the subways and the buses. While I know that it has been producing real hardship for some people, I have to admit that it has been fantastic to see this change. So many streets and street corners have come to life. It has always been clear that higher gas prices would have this positive change, and I’ve hoped for it in some ways, but I wish that it had not come about in this way. I’d rather that it was because we’d managed to break out of a political climate so selfish and naive that nobody could propose raising taxes to an extent that would simultaneously give an incentive for people to use their cars less while at the same time providing much needed revenue with which to improve public transport infrastructure. Sadly, instead we’re just having high prices with nothing to show for it but a bunch of expressions of anger, while the oil companies and producers get fatter and fatter.
When I say I’d been hoping for higher prices, I need to clarify. I’m completely aware of Continue reading ‘This is a Tough One’
Ok, so which one of you is responsible for this? (Since I started writing the post, I’ve since learned the answer – see below.)
I was watching the 1999 Mars University episode of Futurama some nights back. It’s the one where Professor Farnsworth teaches (among the many excellent lines: “I can’t teach, I’m a professor…”) a course entitled “The Mathematics of Quantum Neutrino Continue reading ‘Infiltration’
There’s a new website that allows you to tour CDF, the particle physics detector at Fermilab, in Illinois. Jenny Lee, who worked on the site, said that it is:
“a sort of `virtual tour’ that takes the viewer through each section of a particle detector, and includes photos, interviews with physicists, and more”.
The link to it is here. It looks great. Go and look, and spread the word about it!
P.S. While we’re on the subject, did you see the videos that take you inside the ATLAS detector inside the the soon-to-be-operating LHC? I posted about them here. Have a look.
There’s something deliciously sinful about polishing off* these tomatoes while they are still warm from sitting on the plant in the afternoon sun… (Click for larger view.)
Continue reading ‘Gorge’
This is a quick note to let you know about the Discovery Channel show “When We Left Earth”, which celebrates NASA missions over the last 50 years. I have not seen it, but it looks like it’s rather good. It’s on Sundays, and started last week, but you can still see all the shows. Look here for the schedule. Tonight (Saturday) there is something special on (I got an email about this from one of the people who works outreach on the show). There’s a live chat with one of the executive producers. Here’s what they say:
Continue reading ‘When We Left Earth’
Another week, another edition of the Onion with lots to make me giggle out loud on the street as I walked along reading it. There are several articles that are very good, and to encourage you to have a look, I thought I’d point out the brilliant, particle-physics-themed (sort of): “Researchers Discover Details Smaller Than Minutiae”. Here’s a chunk of it:
PASADENA, CA—A team of Caltech scientists announced Monday that they have discovered a type of conversational detail smaller than minutiae, the class of particulars long thought to be the smallest possible building blocks of mundanity. “These tiny sub-minutiae, or ‘boredons,’ are so insignificant that they contain almost no information, useless or otherwise,” said head researcher Dr. Nathan Yang, adding that the conversationally inconsequential details naturally occur in elevators and other enclosed spaces containing high concentrations of vaguely familiar acquaintances. “At least six must be combined to make up a detail that even remotely [...]
Well, you should go to their site for the rest. Better, pick up the paper version and Continue reading ‘Boredons’
I was contacted by a researcher at NPR the other day. They wanted me to take part in a live conversation on the program News & Notes (hosted by Farai Chideya). The topic was about kids, technology, and science. In particular the focus was described as follows:
We want to explore the ways kid handle technology. How is technology affecting them in terms of their learning capacity and social skills? The second part of that discussion is this—with all the gadgets that are available to kids, are more of them becoming interested in science in general? We especially want to look at the subject from perspective of urban education.
Yes, all topics that intersect with many of my own interests and passions (which might be why they found me through the blog!), but I did not feel qualified to really answer some of the specific questions pertaining to how things are going currently. There are people who study this full time. I’m not one of them. So I declined to contribute. However, I had a few names in mind, and passed them along, together with two more Continue reading ‘On Other Modes of Learning’
I don’t need to remind you about the Pluto reclassification episode of a while back, I’m sure. See posts here, here, and here otherwise.
(Right: Mathias Pedersen‘s “Poor Pluto” poster, used with permission. Discussed here previously.)
The International Astronomical Union (IAU) felt the need to reclassify Pluto in the light of ongoing scientific discovery – it’s just one of probably thousands of small objects out there beyond the orbit of Neptune. This area of science is very much alive- we’re learning a lot about the solar system and other planetary systems. (See my post entitled “Clues in the Blood Splatter Patterns”.) The “demotion” led to lots of angry opinion, you may recall.
Well, the IAU’s Committee on Small Body Nomenclature (I love that!) has now decided Continue reading ‘Pluto’s Journey Continues…’
The artist and musician Libby Lavella, in her presentation about ambiguity in art and music on Sunday night at the Santa Monica Art Studios (in the Categorically Not! series – see my description here), ended by reading a lovely extract from some writing of Salman Rushdie. It really resonated with me, and so I thought it would share it with you. I found out from her where it was from. It’s from his novel “The Ground Beneath Her Feet”. You can see a longer extract in January Magazine here, but I’ll place here the part that she read:
Continue reading ‘Salman Rushdie on Song’
Good news everyone! GLAST has been launched successfully. GLAST stands for Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope, and it does exactly what it says on the packet. It is an instrument designed to look more closely at gamma rays from outer space. More here. It will help (alongside other instruments such as SWIFT) get better understanding of a wide range of gamma-ray emitting objects, that pertain to a wide range of issues, astrophysical to cosmological.
“Gamma ray bursters” are obvious super-powerful sources of gamma rays out there, largely due to macroscopic astrophysical objects (collapsed stars or stars in the process of doing so, or merging with each other – see earlier posts) doing violent things, or interacting violently with their surroundings. So are active galactic nuclei, powered by black holes. We’d like to better understand all of the processes that allow these objects to generate gamma rays.
Other sources could include particles and antiparticles annihilating each other and (by Continue reading ‘At Last – GLAST!’
I’m a big fan of Haruki Murakami’s writing. (Photo right by Elena Seibert). A huge fan, even though I’m only on a second book by him.
I read “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” last year and am on “Kafka on the Shore” right now. In each case, I read the opening paragraph and was immediately sucked right into the book.
The writing is, quite simply, wonderfully stirring, with stunning light, chilling darkness and everything in between (including, notably, a great sense of humour). The light and darkness are to be found in the interior worlds of the characters that are explored in the writing and how they connect to the rest of the world as they move through it. A person’s place in the world, relationship to the world, and how they affect the world Continue reading ‘Summer Reading: Distance Writing’
Imagine my surprise (a couple of weeks ago) when this fellow – all four feet or maybe more – passed in front of me just ahead on the path (click for larger view). It was so sudden that I could hardly get the camera out in time, even though it was attached to my belt pack. I was hiking in Runyon Canyon for a short spell on a Sunday morning. It is quite busy at that time, with everyone and their dog (for real) out and about. Continue reading ‘Crossings’
Libby Lavella, performing at Categorically Not! 8th June 2008
Tonight’s Categorically Not! event was rather good fun, and interesting too. There were three excellent presentations under the theme “Ambiguity”. (See here.) K. C. Cole did a great job in bringing these people together (and of course in acting as M. C. on the night).
Bart Kosko did a great job talking principally about “fuzzy” mathematics, contrasting it with more binary (if you like) systems of logic. I think that his overview was great, and he talked about all the grey areas in logic and questions of epistemology where a “fuzzy” system is needed. (The question of whether a door is open or closed is on the Continue reading ‘Unambiguously Good’
The universe likes laughing at me. In so many creative ways. (See earlier.) Here’s another. Of all the tomato plants I’ve ever grown, the ones that have done best -spectacularly well, in fact- have not been the ones I intentionally planted and nurtured but the ones that have grown up in random places. I then take care of them and they end up bursting with fruit. Meanwhile the others produce some fruit, but nothing to write home about, after a great amount of care and worry about how suited the ground is to their needs. You will recall another example: the cherry tomato plant that appeared in a crack in the steps that I was sure could not make it (but lasted for two years, almost constantly producing fruit) – see posts here and here about it.
Well, at some point during the Winter (yeah, yeah, I know) I noticed a new tomato plant Continue reading ‘Wild Irony’
Tassels or Fronds? Can’t decide, but I that know the former is probably the better choice. Either way…
Continue reading ‘Tassels’
The next Categorically Not! is on Sunday June 8th. 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 Ambiguity. Here’s the description from K C Cole:
Nature loves ambiguity, even if human nature doesn’t. What exactly is a species? Where exactly is that subatomic particle? When did life begin? How do genes influence behavior? Why does music move us? What does that poem mean? What color is white? Is that guy flirting with me, or not? The answers are often far more indeterminate than we’d like to think. Heck, we still don’t know why the chicken crossed the road. Or what the meaning of is is.
Bart Kosko, USC Professor of Engineering, attorney and author of best-selling books Fuzzy Thinking, Noise, and Heaven in a Chip will tell us how fuzzy math Continue reading ‘Categorically Not! – Ambiguity’
[Typed in a cafe on Tuesday at about 3:45pm. It's just a rough collection of thoughts about various recent meetings and activities:]
Interesting day so far. One of those “my office is everywhere” days. I’m on the West side, in Santa Monica, where I’ve a number of errands to do. Also I get to work and have some meetings in between. I try very much to corral everything to one part of town so that I am not driving around too much, adding to the general junk that we all pour into the air without thinking. So I brought my bike with me to connect the dots that I intend to go between while in the area (a couple of cafes (coffee and work), the beach/boardwalk (lunch and work), a mechanic (they’re changing brakes on my car and diagnosing a Noise), one of the English shops (for tea supplies), an electronics store (to shop for memory), a grocery store, possibly a bookstore, possibly the public library (to work and ‘cos it’s just really nice)…).
While reading some notes by one of my students on a project we’re working on, and eating lunch down on the boardwalk/beach wall near the chess-players, I reached for my phone to send him a text with a question. As I did this I looked up at the passers-by and one of them was familiar! It was someone who used to be a postdoc in one of the other groups in the department, who used to share an office with the very student whose notes I was reading! Funny when that happens… We chatted for a while about things (such as career stuff concerning the interesting research life that can often found in various commercial settings), and he seemed interested in my Continue reading ‘Where Many Paths and Errands Meet’
Feeling smug, and silly at the same time. Some time ago, I stopped bothering to take my ipod anywhere with me, except on long car trips, since it couldn’t really hold much of a charge on its own. In the car, I can power it from the car itself, and then it is a great asset for singing along to (if alone in car of course). On non-car trips, it was mostly just an annoyance. I’d charge it the night before a flight, and by time the plane had leveled off and it was time to order the ginger ale to go with the nuts (or little packets of gravel, depending upon the airline), it would shut down due to a dead battery. If it was a trip on which I’d have my computer with me (not always the case) I could dig out the coupling cable and run it from the computer’s power, but I did not always want to do that. So on most trips I’d just be carrying around this elegant white and silver brick with me, and then bringing it back home.
My pod is one of the third generation pods that had a defective battery. Apple had acknowledged the fault after a class action lawsuit and owners were invited to get their pod battery replaced for free, several years ago now. Of course, I never got to it Continue reading ‘iPod Resurrected’
Well, you’ve probably guessed that I’ve been somewhat distracted for several days. In fact, my main focus for the past week has really been on computer issues, frustratingly. I’ll give you the blow by blow later, I hope, but the last couple of days have been the most frustrating of all, and so I’ve not been dealing with much else, including blogging. Part of that is actual logistics – some of the things I wanted to post are on the afflicted computer – and some just the sheer annoyance of not having solved the issues driving me to do something totally non-computer related like going for a hike or seeing a movie.
So tonight i think I have a new theory – well, hypothesis- of what’s wrong, after a good deal of the day spent on detective work. It is a conjecture that is supported only by Continue reading ‘Distractions in the Dark’