So Much To Do…

madrid_cathedral_1I spent an astonishing stretch of time in the Prado on Saturday, in an operation that experience and aesthetics have taught me to pace properly. I pick a particular artist or cluster of artists and focus on them for an hour or ninety minutes (visiting the parts of the museum that are relevant to them, not focusing on anything else, more or less), then I find the cafe, get a cup of coffee and a tasty, and relax for a bit, glowing from the experience. Then I plan the next pieces of the museum I will visit next and begin my focus on that part. The temptation with a museum the size and complexity of the Prado, with the remarkable depth it has in its collections, is just to show up and try and see everything in whatever order you find them. This results in confusion, superficiality, and major headache and backache, at least for me. I’m happy to go in and see a subset of what is there really properly and in context rather than just “see stuff”.

So of course I mostly focused on Spanish painters – several of the masters before the 20th Century – and later, other masters who perhaps were creating work in a Spanish context of some kind, and later, particular masters who happen to have examples of some of their great work housed in the Prado, whether there be a Spanish context or not, of which there are several such examples.

The collection is amazing. About 1/3 of my time was spent on Goya, in fact. (I wisely […] Click to continue reading this post

Less Work, More Play

madrid_eating_2Well, the weekend is here and so I have wrapped up most of the official part of my visit to Madrid. Lest you think that I spent most of my time eating (not that there’s anything wrong with that), let me mention that I ended up, from Monday to Thursday giving about eight hours of detailed exposition at the board and fielding questions (the lectures and seminar), umpteen (an official number, I’ll have you know) hours of preparation of the notes needed to do this in a successful and clear way, and several more chunks of time in private physics conversations of various sorts. Quite fulfilling, tiring, but worthwhile for all concerned. (I even heard that various people liked the lectures and the seminar, so that’s a real bonus!) It has been a good week.

Thursday night saw me wandering the city streets in the drizzle for several hours. It all started out with a quick walk near my hotel to see if I could stumble on a restaurant, but eventually turned into a longer walk and then an epic quest, as happens to me so often in such situations. I start applying a list of criteria for what I […] Click to continue reading this post


It was Darwin’s birthday earlier this week, with lots of celebrations of the man and his work going on in many places (in addition to the year-long celebrations for Darwin year). On the other hand, there was at least one events last week that were rather sad and definitely not cause for celebration. You may have heard that evangelist Ray Comfort decided to launch an anti-science campaign on 100 university campuses by distributing copies of Darwin’s Origin of Species with a 54 page introduction written by Comfort which is basically a poorly written misleading piece of nonsense.

The day after this happened (I’d forgotten all about it as I am on a mission in Europe right now) I got an email from a USC student, Arvind Iyer, who was not only concerned about the content of what was being given out, but the very idea that such access could be given to the Comfort group. He wrote a letter to the campus newspaper, the Daily Trojan, about this, but they chose not to take up the issue at all. I’ll reprint it (with Arvind’s permission) and the end of this, and you are free to discuss with him in the comments what you think of his thoughts.

The issue of access (and freedom of speech, etc) aside for a moment, there is the issue of what kind of response is worthwhile. Most people just ignore the issue, saying that it does not matter, or that we should “live and let live”, etc., and in an ideal world where our society has a better grasp of basic science education, and where science and religion are not so tangled up in so many political discussions, I’d have agreed, but we do not live in that world. As a result, there needs to be some […] Click to continue reading this post

Twice 50 Science Online Destinations

50_listI got these two items about lists of 50 things within 8 hours of each other. They don’t seem connected, so I think it is a coincidence of some kind. Interesting…

(1) The e-Health news blog has published a list of 50 websites under the heading “Top 50 Free Open Courseware Classes for Aspiring Scientists”. It includes sites with open access course materials.

(2) The site Accredited Colleges Online (.org) has compiled a list they call “50 Best Physics Blogs”. Our* little effort, Asymptotia (which I think of as a blog that happens to be […] Click to continue reading this post

Get Wise to WISE

explore_missionsOnce again I’m excited about a new piece of machinery. This time it is a space mission again. There have been several remarkable missions launched (many in very recent years), doing all sorts of excellent science, helping us discover all sorts of things about our universe, near and far, young and old. I’ve spoken about (and sometimes followed live) the launches of some of them here on the blog, or spoken about the science results they’ve helped produce. See the graphic on the right for some of them.

wiseWell, very soon (possibly as early as December 9th), there will be the launch of WISE, the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer! I learned from my friend, colleague and fellow presenter on History Channel’s The Universe, JPL’s Amy Mainzer, who is a senior scientist and the deputy project scientist on the WISE mission, that they made a series of exciting videos about WISE for you to learn about the science that WISE will do and how it will go about […] Click to continue reading this post

Peer Review Reactions

hitler_peer_reviewAh yes. I’ll admit it: Except for the moustache and a few other details, the scene is eerily familiar… 😉 (The embed for the video is below.)

Does anyone know who originally started this brilliant series? For those who don’t know it is a 4 minute clip from the 2004 film Der Undergang that several people have periodically re-subtitled with words that have Hitler reacting to an event of some sort. (Warning: Many of them are full of language some might find a bit strong, so watch out!!)

Here it is*: […] Click to continue reading this post

Working and Playing Hard

tapas_madrid_1Well, I’m simply exhausted. I gave my second two-hour lecture today and drained my energy resources quite a bit. This is after an early(ish) start to the morning (7:30am) and with going late to bed last night (1:30am). A good lunch afterward helped restore things to a balance a bit, but I need to rest some more.

I’ve been modifying my lectures during the process of giving them, making adjustments for time and the kind of questions I get. This means that I end up kicking some parts to later lectures, and then trying to spend some of the afternoon writing new material, as well as on the train back to my hotel, and in the evenings.

Well, briefly in the evenings so far. That is because last night was set aside for a tour of some of the tapas you can find in the old part of Madrid. I had the presence of mind to go back to my hotel and get a short nap first, and then met my gracious […] Click to continue reading this post


aliceWell, a very gentle sort of wham. Yesterday the Large Hadron Collider at CERN had its first collisions of protons! It is a warm start, making sure everything is working before ramping up the energies to regimes where we hope to see new physics, but it is a very exciting milestone nonetheless*. Recall that a few days back they hit the landmark of getting the machine to circulate beams again for the first time. (If you’ve forgotten what all of this is for, please search the blog for “LHC” and/or look in the related posts list at the bottom of this one.) Above right is a visual reconstruction of some of the collision data seen at the ALICE detector, and you can see more of this sort of data at CERN’s website (from where I got this graphic).

From the press release: […] Click to continue reading this post

Coming Around the Bend Again

0911187_135-a5-at-72-dpiIt was in the news today, I’m told*. The LHC is circulating beams again!! This is exciting news indeed. Look out for a press conference on Monday, and here is a press release about the event that took place yesterday. Also, collisions are said to be going to happen next week! This is all very wonderful.

I’m mid-travel, and should be sleeping for an early start tomorrow, and so I’ll simply point over to […] Click to continue reading this post

Here, There, and Everywhere

british_library_1Well, it has been quite the week so far. I’ve been mostly in England. First I spent Tuesday getting over the main effects of jetlag and a short but strong cold (both more or less gone now), and then Wednesday I went to King’s College London to give a seminar to the three groups in the Triangle series of seminars – King’s, Imperial, Queen Mary are the three places the participating research groups in theoretical high energy physics come from. It was excellent to see so many old friends and colleagues, meet some new ones, and chat physics at the pub and over dinner later on. The seminar seemed to be well received, although I know I was far from my best, given jetlag and cold. The next two days saw me saying hi to family and friends at coffee and dinner in the evenings and visiting at Queen Mary and Imperial for the day, and hiding in the British Library for most of Friday, writing.

What am I writing? Four lectures on D-branes and string theory and M-theory, with a focus on some of the fun and instructive applications (and potential applications) of […] Click to continue reading this post

Tape Noir

rocking_chairsI had a lot of time to kill in Philadelphia’s International Airport on Sunday (I was changing planes), and I must say that is not a bad airport in which to be in such a situation. I like the city a lot, and so am not surprised that its main airport is to my liking. First of all, who can not like an airport that supplies you with… (you’re expecting free wireless, and they had that, sure, but no, I mean)… with… Rocking Chairs!!!

I saw some excellent art as well. And lots of displays of various types. I’ll share a couple more in a post or two, but look at some of the pieces I snapped pictures of for you. They are done with packing tape! Yes, packing tape. That brown thin stuff you know well… It was part of a series of scenes from noir films, rendered in this way. Very effective indeed, I felt. The series name is “Tape Noir”.

tape_noir_khaisman_1 […] Click to continue reading this post

Market Matters

As you may know from earlier posts, I love markets, a place where people come together with lots to see, talk about, interact over, and of course to taste. Community. One of my favourite things. Here’s a lovely stall at Granville Island in Vancouver when I was there briefly a short while ago. (Click for larger view.)


I can’t resist showing you this display: (Click for larger view.) […] Click to continue reading this post

The Leonids are almost here!

nasa sky mapAnother meteor shower is almost upon us. Next week it is the turn of the Leonids. Now, as the name implies, these have their apparent origin in the constellation Leo. So how visible it will be for you, if you live in an urban area, might depend upon Leo’s position in the sky relative to your local bright city lights at the time of viewing. But it is worth trying. Look for a public park, rooftop, or other open area of sky. Parks can be better for pulling you away from some of the immediate lights, and then sit still and look at one patch of sky steadily for a while (generally in the right direction!) To get guidance, have […] Click to continue reading this post

More Gold for Everybody!

metro_gold_celebrationI’ve learned over the years that news about public transportation often does not reach people in Los Angeles who aren’t already inclined to use it (that’s a lot of people) and so I ought not to assume that everyone’s heard about the exciting events of tomorrow. So here’s a quick post to let you know that the new Eastside extension of the Gold Line opens tomorrow! This is very exciting indeed! Spread the word! There’ll be lots of events to celebrate during the course of the day, and you can learn a lot about them at this link. You can ride the whole Gold line free to explore the system.

Those of you who will no doubt continue to insist that public transport in Los Angeles will never have anything to do with you (until there is a personal stop with a single-person train carriage right outside your home and a corresponding one wherever you want to go) can also join in the fun (just for the day, you understand) and come to the farmer’s market, see the bands and the people and so forth, and confirm your familiar position that it “won’t work for you” because it “doesn’t go anywhere”, just like the rest of the entire system supposedly doesn’t.

Soon, I’ll be doing a post on progress that has been made in recent months on the Expo line, by the way. That’ll be another celebration when that opens in late […] Click to continue reading this post

Wet Moon

Aha! So you were thinking the mission last month was a bit of a failure, right? Because there was no big splash (literally) of a plume for the press to gush about? I’m talking about the October LCROSS mission on October 9th that smashed an impactor onto the moon’s surface (at the Cabeus crater) to create a cloud of dust for analysis. I remember people thinking, encouraged by various reports, that the event was rather a damp squib, since it did not produce a Hollywood-style flash and plume. See an NPR report on the mission here from back then.

lcross_dataWell, science is known for being able to carry on steadily even if there are no overt special effects and a catchy soundtrack. Today, NASA announced that their analysis of the data produced from measuring the dust cloud’s properties has shown very definite signs of water (confirming and strengthening the results accumulated by other missions (India’s Chandrayaan-1 and NASA’s Deep […] Click to continue reading this post