morning glory 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 […] Click to continue reading this post


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, […] Click to continue reading this post

GLAST, Fermi, and Early Results

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: […] Click to continue reading this post


usc campusWell, 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 […] Click to continue reading this post


fig bread.... going fast 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. I had some friends come around to raid the fig tree, 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 of it, still […] Click to continue reading this post

Dance Experiments

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 […] Click to continue reading this post

Summary Strings

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 […] Click to continue reading this post

The Urban Homestead

many hands at the speakeasy

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 […] Click to continue reading this post

Bit Like Watching The Olympics…

(…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 … Click to continue reading this post

Welcome Invasion

paraphenalia for discussion magnetism

“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 […] Click to continue reading this post

Susskind and Cole on C-Span2

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 […] Click to continue reading this post

Art Walk

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 […] Click to continue reading this post


faith machine by robert reynolds

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 […] Click to continue reading this post