The battle is in full swing, and it is a rather glorious one indeed. What battle? Well, I deployed some ground troops of legendary tenacity to do battle with some ground cover of relentless ivy. I don’t like the ivy much. Since it keeps coming back, and since there is no end to its inventiveness at returning and spreading, I decided to try a different tactic that I knew would have certain other benefits. Deploy the Morning Glory.
I remember my first true appreciation of the powers of morning glories. I was an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky living in a nice cabin with a nice bit of back garden, not far from campus, in Lexington. I’d spend my Summers in New York back in those days. One late spring I planted some morning glory seeds, and watched the little plants that resulted struggle through the dirt and face the sky. Then I was away for the Summer, on my usual (for the time) retreat to the excellent Morningside Heights neighbourhood, the whole of Manhattan my office.
Upon returning to Lexington, finding everything still in the clutches of the humidity that reigns supreme at that time of year, ready to begin teaching in the new Continue reading ‘Glory’
On campus yesterday, I ran into a colleague I had not seen in a long time. She was with her daughter. She introduced us, saying, among other things, that Professor Johnson is “Big in Cosmology”.
I’ll admit that I giggled like a naughty schoolgirl for a longish, unprofessorial moment. It was sort of hard to explain, and would have derailed the conversation, so I did not try. Why was I giggling? Well, it is just that the field of cosmology (which, for the record, Continue reading ‘Big?’
Well, the new orbiting instrument, GLAST (Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope – launched June 11th this year) has passed all its tests with flying colours, apparently, and is working well. NASA has now renamed the craft the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, after Enrico Fermi. There’s a press release here.
The craft is a wonderful combination of the fields of particle physics, astrophysics and cosmology, and will teach us so much about the universe (such as the nature of dark matter), and so it is exciting to hear that it all on track.
Excitingly, they’ve also released images of the early results of the observations, and you can read more about them in the press release too. Here’s a sky map made from the observations.
This all-sky view from GLAST reveals bright emission in the plane of the Milky Way (center), bright pulsars and super-massive black holes. Credit: NASA/DOE/International LAT Team.
Some words from the release:
Continue reading ‘GLAST, Fermi, and Early Results’
Well, it is the first day of the new semester here at USC, and of the new academic year. Whether I like it or not, everything changes today, in terms of my work patterns. I have to squeeze the sprawl of my research (recent posts about that here, here, here, and here) back into a more confined space to make room for other things. Chief among those is my Physics 151 class, where I teach about 90 freshmen (science and engineering majors) the ins and outs (but mostly the ins) of mechanics and thermodynamics. I’ll also be dealing with a number of service and outreach projects that I’ve had on hold for a few months, and, of course, I’ll be serving on a number of committees doing various things in the department and the university at large.
Am I ready? Not entirely. I’m not fully in the right frame of mind, it has to be said. The various research projects I was working on did not get as far as I would have liked, and I could benefit from more of the full-immersion mode that Summer affords in order to follow up lots of ideas and computations. Also, there are entire projects I did not even get to.
But you do what you can, and that’s all there is. I’ve been dumped into a weird time Continue reading ‘Reconfiguring’
Well, since it was the last weekend of the slow Summertime (semester begins – see next post), it seemed a good idea to go out with a party. Silver Lake supplied the party (the Sunset Junction street festival, which, despite my strongly supportive words of the previous post, turned out to be not as good as it used to be [update: The Militant says it well]), and I (well, my garden) supplied the figs and drink. I had some friends come around to the house to raid the fig tree, and to help me consume some bottles of Hoegaarden and Leffe (along with some wine and a little gin later). Seems I threw together a couple of loaves of fig bread as well, while my guests were chatting and drinking.
My guests were nice, in that they said it was delicious (between enthusiastic mouthfuls Continue reading ‘Fest’
Since it is Friday night, and almost time for the biggest and best street fair on the annual calendar in Los Angeles ([update: not counting the Halloween Carnaval!] the Sunset Junction Street Fair – they shut down several blocks of Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake for two solid days of fun [update: oh dear]), it is time to recall the excellent careful series of scientific experiments in blowing apart stereotypes performed by Dave Chappelle, assisted by John Mayer (along with two other musicians when they do the controls at the end).
The video quality is not perfect, but this is simply hilarious, and rather well thought out. It is presented as though it is a set of experiments, with a control group, and Continue reading ‘Dance Experiments’
I don’t know if you saw it, but I happened to catch the last two talks of the Strings 2008 conference, via live webcast. They were summary talks. Hirosi Ooguri did an excellent job of summarizing all the main themes in various talks during the conference, and the David Gross summed it all up, took stock of where we are, and where we aren’t, and looked forward. A sort of “state of the union” speech if you like. And the state is good. Very good indeed.
I found these two talks to be excellent, informative, and very interesting. I recommend them to people interested in research in strings and related topics. I can’t see a link to Continue reading ‘Summary Strings’
Oh, boy this was fun. Christine Louise Berry organizes a series she calls The Speakeasy, and I’ll tell you below about the really great one that took place on Sunday. You’ll remember my mentioning Christine’s work earlier. She (the main force behind SmartGals) did that marvellous McArthur Park event with the fragments of plays to be found all over the park, and had the excellent taste to combine it with Mama’s Hot Tamales. A couple of months ago, at a party of hers (to celebrate car-independence in LA!), I met Erik Knutzen, with whom I ended up talking a great deal about lots of things because we seem to be on the same page on many things with regards biking and public transport (he’s part of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition), gardening and sustainability (he’s involved in a lot of land use issues for his day job). So we talked about lots of topics, from composting to the Velib system (and why Los Angeles has essentially already decided not to take that wonderful route, sadly).
Erik, with his partner Kelly Coyne, write a really great blog called Homegrown Evolution (excellent title), which is all about urban gardening, and they are passionate about getting more people to do gardening (as am I, you might have gathered). You’ve probably read my posts on gardening from time to time and thought that it isn’t for you since you’re in a big city in an apartment on the nth floor (where n is some integer greater than one or zero) with no access to garden space. I’ve occasionally Continue reading ‘The Urban Homestead’
Well, this was nice to see (story here, extract below), and it’s really excellent that they did it:
Peter Brown enters the No. 1 subway train on New York City’s Upper West Side, not far from his apartment. But to Brown, he is in the Capulets’ orchard, looking up at an imaginary balcony. In a trained, strong voice, he calls out these immortal words: “But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east and Juliet is the sun.”
Troian Bellisario boards the same No. 1 train through a different door and senses the bewilderment of the riders as they eye the lovesick Brown warily. Is he talking to himself? Practicing something? A weirdo?
But then Bellisario crosses to him, stands up on a seat and replies: “O, speak again, bright angel!”
A teenager looks up from her iPhone. “Oh, my God. It’s Juliet!”
And so begins the balcony scene from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet [...]
(Image: Rahav Segev/Photopass.com)
…But the obvious thought springs to mind. I can’t help but think it is sad that, as USC students, they did not also do it on the Los Angeles subway system. We have one, you Continue reading ‘Uh, LA Has A Subway Too!’
(…but without the relentless parade of bikinis, happily.)
What am I talking about? You can watch live over the web the proceedings of the Strings 2008 conference taking place at CERN. The official site is here, with links to the webcast, schedule, talk titles, and so forth. (Sorry I’m a bit late in pointing to it!)
Spotted on a wall (near BevMo, West Hollywood). (Click for larger view.)
Continue reading ‘Selected Quotes’
“Invasion” in the sense of something that took me away from my regular time usage, I should say. I just spent an interesting period of time this morning viewing a pilot for a new TV show. It has a large science component, and will be on one or other of the Discovery Network’s channels. I appear in it (talking mostly about magnetism), and I blogged about some of the filming of it here.
I have to say it was a pleasure to spend a bit of time looking at the (nearly) finished product and commenting here and there on the script and so forth. The concept of the show is really good, and they manage to carry it out with humour while still getting Continue reading ‘Welcome Invasion’
I just happened (while flicking channels to try to avoid the
naked mud-wrestling, oops, women’s beach volleyball*) to run into a broadcast of the Los Angeles Public Library conversation between KC Cole and Lenny Susskind about the amusingly titled “Black Hole War” between him and Stephen Hawking and the circle of ideas and theories connected with all of that wonderful area of physics. (I blogged about it here and here.) It looks like it was really good (I just caught some of the questions and answer Continue reading ‘Susskind and Cole on C-Span2′
Of course, being back in the city means getting back into the routine of enjoying all the fantastic things to do here during a hot Summer. There are too many things to choose from, but one of my favourites is the Downtown Art Walk. (Previous post on it here.) It’s the second Thursday of every month. Strangely, it is still not very well known, even though it is one of the best activities I can think of to do to blow off steam at the end of the day. Or for the whole day. The art is all over the place, in that there is good stuff mixed in with a lot of, uh, other stuff, and so it is fun to hunt for it. Two reliable highlights for me, and maybe the most fun of all, are (1) the fact that these galleries are housed in lots of fantastic old and decayed spaces in old buildings in the core of Los Angeles’ centre. In fact, I often find myself looking at and enjoying the spaces more than the art. (2) The people. Representatives of every Los Angeles archetype, and several more besides, can be found wandering the streets of downtown during the Art Walk… and squeezing into the galleries and sampling the free (or cheap) wine, and generally rubbing shoulders with everyone else. How often do you get a wider cross section of Angelenos out of their cars and, horror, walking and, horror of horrors, mingling with others? Worth going just for that. There’s a brief history of it here, written by Bert Green, (hey, I did not know that I’ve been coming to it almost since it started) and the website for the Art Walk is here.
I wandered around some of my favourite galleries and studios, looking at the art, people, buildings, and spaces. Everything changes so much between monthly events and so it is always a pleasant surprise to learn which gallery will interest me most on Continue reading ‘Art Walk’
This is a piece by Robert Reynolds, currently on display at the Bert Green Fine Art Gallery in downtown LA. It is called Faith Machine. You’ll have to ask him what he’s trying to depict (Bert, the gallery owner, gave me a bit of a run down, but I don’t want to garble it), but I loved it simply because it’s a working, moving machine, and those bellows are just wonderful, with a motor turning at the back driving a piston that pumps the bellows, blowing smoke (or something) up through the seats (which are actually old school seats). There are some interesting messages in there, evidently, and I’ll leave you to work out your own angles.
I found the sound of the pumping bellows and turning wheel to be very biological in its effect, and quite hypnotic. I made a short video and you can view it below. (I hope that Continue reading ‘Breathing’
Well, there’s all sorts of rhetoric on all various matters from the main presidential candidates, and there’s still a long way to go until November. It’s nice to hear a bit of chatter about global warming, gas prices, research into alternative fuels, cars with higher efficiency, and other issues that have a high degree of science playing a role in shaping our decisions about our policies and actions, in all aspects of society. (Although there is some occasional mention at some points at state level, it would be nice to hear a lot more about concerted thoughts about public transportation infrastructure, but perhaps that’s just way too much to ask in a society still rather naively obsessed with individualism at all costs.)
So what are the official positions of the candidates on science, across the board? Well, Continue reading ‘Some Science With Your Politics’
Well, for some of this time I’ve been away I’ve been a bit worried about the fig tree. Why? Well, as I was leaving town, it was hugely laden with fruit that looked rather like they were going to peak while I was away. I certainly did not want that to happen since the squirrels and other critters would have a field day (or several!), and get used to the idea that they had full access to the tree with no dissent from me.
Well, it turns out that the tree held out longer than it seemed that it would, so while the peak came while I was away, it was only for a week or so.
So I lost several figs, and had to deal with the sticky, frenzied-ant-infused mess left Continue reading ‘First Fig Fun’
Well, you’ve heard the news (and I’m sure I’m not the first to use the above title in this context) about Isaac Hayes, I imagine. He died yesterday. You’ll almost certainly have heard the theme from Shaft, if nothing else from his work. I grew up with a lot of that music all around me, back in the 70s, so I have a lot of fond memories that start flowing whenever I hear that theme, and a number of other pieces by him.
His music helped form the foundation for so much of what was to come – disco, soul, and related forms, principally. He’ll be missed, both as the musician and (of course) as South Park’s much loved character, Chef.
NPR has a report and tribute today, here (audio and transcript), and turn up the speakers, click on the following, and dance around a bit in celebration of Isaac Hayes!
Continue reading ‘A Bad Mother—(Shut Your Mouth!)‘
Not long ago, science writer Carl Zimmer spoke at the Zócalo series. He was talking about the subject of his new book, E. Coli, and wove a lovely story of how the E. Coli have taught us so much about life over the years, and how they continue to do so. So much of what we know about the workings of DNA, for example, came down to studies of a very clear model system, and E.Coli was the system chosen by Biologists (and Physicists interested in fundamental issues surrounding the nature of life, DNA, etc.) (Updated attribution: Image above left – click for larger view – is a painting from shardcore. Many more paintings and other art there. Worth looking.)
The talk, for a general audience, is highly informative. It is only about an hour long, and worth your time. It was broadcast last night, and I found it rather good indeed. I Continue reading ‘E.Coli Stories’
I just learned from the US/LHC blogs that the first circulating beam of the Large Hadron Collider will be attempted on September 10th. The press release is here, and is from where I stole the image (left) of the fancy-looking CERN Control Centre. This is so exciting! It’s not long now for possible new physics (some months or so beyond that date, or early 2009) from this long, long awaited machine. In the meantime, lots of other warm-up test will be going on too. Link here for more.
For more on the LHC and why we care, see several older posts here (this one links to lots of things), including the ones pointing to the nice NPR pieces (here, and here). Be sure to watch the excellent videos showing you the inside of one of the detectors (links Continue reading ‘Beaming With Anticipation’
Yesterday saw a mass desertion for a while here at the Aspen Center for Physics. Howie Haber (UCSC) organized a large group (twenty-two) of participants (and some of their guests) of the program entitled “LHC: Beyond the Standard Model Signals in a QCD Environment” (info here), to go for a group lunch at the excellent Pine Creek Cookhouse, 12 miles away up Castle Creek Road. And, I should mention, 1700 or so feet up. The latter is significant since about two thirds of us, led by Howie, cycled up there! It takes a while (times ranged from 1 hr 20 minutes to about 30 – 40 minutes more than that), and there are about two or three major long, punishing hills to deal with, but it was worth it!
Here are some (not all) of the cyclists at the destination (restaurant is a low-slung cabin-style affair out of shot to the right). Howie, our organizer, is in the middle at the front. (Click for larger view):
(Er, for the record, I’m slightly embarrassed by wearing socks with my sport sandals – a personal no-no – but I wanted to protect my feet from 12 miles of pedalling friction, so made an exception.)
Here are some random shots of happy arrivals (click each for larger):
Continue reading ‘Not a Free Lunch’
Ok. Time for a bit of fun, or something. It’s rainy here, and I’m waiting for things to dry out before I go home. I’m between tasks, and I’m woozy from that extra beer at the weekly picnic (thanks, Ben!) so that’s my excuse. Not that I’ve ever needed one.
The other day while hiking I found myself singing Kate Bush songs. No, really. I get into a Kate Bush mood sometimes. Deal with it! Anyway, “Experiment IV” sort of stuck in my head and went around several times. It’s all about a science experiment, even if only a slightly naive exploration of how the military exploit scientific research. I simply love the way she made the phrases “We only know in theory what we are doing” and “We recorded it and put it into our machine” work with the rhythm and melody lines. Then I remembered, and checked on YouTube, how she’d construct these really excellent videos which were miniature movies, telling a little story, at least two of them (this song, and “Cloudbusting”) involving scientists.
Now of course, the scientists were the usual men-in-white-coats scientists (however, the image right is explained below). I know I go on a lot about trying to have in the media a wider variety of images of what scientists can look like, but that does not mean that I don’t like things that sometimes have the old chestnuts. Cloudbusting has Donald Sutherland as the scientist-father-figure, and Experiment IV has a similar figure (played by someone I don’t recognize) as the scientist whose work is exploited. There are a number of actors in supporting scientist roles too – look out for (I think) a Continue reading ‘Experiment IV’
I love the shape of this flower. (Click for larger view.) I don’t know what it is called, but it is morphologically very similar to a Columbine.
The colour is different and it does not seem to open up as much, but I bet they’re cousins. This is also confirmed by a similarity in leaf shape.
I’ve been spotting them occasionally up at around 10,000 ft and above in these Aspen surrounds, in very small quantities.
Somehow their relative rarity (at least here and now) makes them more alluring to me.
I’ve been quiet here recently, I know. Was mostly working, thinking and reading on the weekend. Did not even go on a huge hike (although I did do a nice walk or two). Sometimes, on an evening, I go and read a novel in a bar. (I’m weird that way, I know.) I’ve not been going to the noisy bars full of yelling and the party crowd, but instead like to find a nice sofa in one of the bar/lobby areas of the nicer hotels. Great for reading, and the drink prices are merely extortionate, as opposed to just plain offensive in the more popular places. (Photo: a naughts and crosses game I spotted on a table in one such lobby.)
Well, it’s a draw so far in the battle with my equations and ideas, but I think I’m developing a stronger position. (From this you can deduce that I decided to stick with the same project and hold my ground and struggle on some more.) Perhaps the next Continue reading ‘Draw’
Well, you may not have gone to the chat between K C Cole and Leonard Susskind that I mentioned a while ago at the LA Central Library downtown. I couldn’t make it either, being away at the Aspen Center for Physics. I expect it was good. Anyway, I found a little bit of a report on the conversation, done by reporter John Johnson for the LA Times. It is here. (Clickable image of Susskind to the right is by Matthew Black, for the LA Times.)
It gives you some of the simply-stated reasons as to why there was a big argument between Stephen Hawking and Leonard Susskind in the first place (and between several other physicists too… there are hosts of people working on these things, and it took hosts of people to sort it out to where we are now, not just those two, giants though they are). I recommend having a look, as it is especially for the lay-person, and will give you a good idea of what the fuss is about.
You can also see a little bit about his new book on the subject and a link to a video interview with Brian Cox (the physicist, not the actor) at the LA Times blogs here. There are also links to his Stanford continuing education course on quantum mechanics, including the online lectures you can view at your convenience. What a resource!
You might wonder why we care about all this, since currently the only way we know for sure to make black holes in the universe (astrophysical processes making stellar black Continue reading ‘Quantum Black Holes – Why Worry?’