One of the things I tend to do when on Walkabout is seek out pleasant public spaces in which to work. Sometimes institutions to which I might have some connection might give me access to a guest office, or something similar, but often I go “off the grid”, where the grid here refers to the network of academic connections and arrangements that produces such (generous and vital) courtesies. So every city I spend time in, I try to work build a personal network of hideouts. Sometimes, these are just favourite cafes of one sort or another (you’ve maybe seen posts on those), but at times it can also be libraries or other spaces at one sort of institution or another. Some of them are quite splendid, or simply pleasant or convenient. Among the examples for me are the Santa Monica public library, the (downtown) Los Angeles public library (yes, even close to home I like to get away from my standard offices), the Butler Library at Columbia University in New York, the New York Public Library Continue reading ‘Hideouts’
Monthly Archive for February, 2010
There’s something about a little park in London being named after the excellent (and legendary) drummer Max Roach that makes me feel good.
I hope it inspires those who pass by and those who use the park.
Now, find some time to listen to some Max Roach…Perhaps hearing him playing Continue reading ‘Dedication’
Well, having finished the various papers I wanted completed before turning to other things, I’ve now turned to other things. What I’ve not mentioned so far is that I’m actually on sabbatical this semester. Due to being too stupid to say flat out NO to various things, even though it was supposed to start in early January, I did not really get things together until the end of the month, but I’m happy to report that I’m properly in sabbatical mode now.
My plan for the sabbatical is to work on a specific project, and little else, right through until the late Summer. Sabbaticals come only once every seven years, and so I want to structure things to use the time as well as I can, but the nature of what I want to do with the time means I need to disconnect a bit, so I won’t be attached to a particular institution (as is common with sabbaticals), but instead will be a bit of a nomad. At times, I’m just going to be on Walkabout for a long stretch, taking my work with me wherever I go (the wandering is actually part of the work, in a sense) and just lying low, drifting from town to town like Kwai Chang Caine (I’ll try not to get into any fights, and, for the record, I’ve no plans to go to Thailand). Appropriately, therefore, I’ve dug out a snap from a recent visit to the desert by way of illustration.
From time to time I might show up in your town, so wave if you see me. My current Continue reading ‘Walkabout’
(Image above was used in an earlier post. It is of a pool at the Getty Villa.)
(Somewhat technical post follows.)
I was sitting in a random city somewhere watching the rain and it reminded me that I did not get to mentioning the completion of my other project. I reported on it in a paper with two students, Ram and Jeff, and the title was (perhaps intriguingly?) “String Theory and Water Waves”. You can see it here.
The work follows on from some projects I did a while back, and concerns attempts to gain understanding of string theory at a (perhaps) deeper level by working with various simple models of string theory that are complicated enough to capture many of the theory’s remarkable features while being simple enough to actually solve completely (in a sense). Actually, I laid a lot of the groundwork for this post by writing three earlier blog posts in the “News…” series, and you can find them here, here and here.
Here are some words from the introduction to get you excited. What you may have Continue reading ‘News From the Front IX: Water Everywhere’
Phil over at Bad Astronomy has posted about my childhood cradle (although I am sure he does not know that), the (still beautiful) island of Montserrat. I grew up there for ten years from ages 4 to 14. Many years later, in 1997, a volcano erupted there (in the “Soufrière Hills”) and devastated much of the Southern part (where I grew up) of the island wiping out almost all traces of where I lived. Much of the stuff of my childhood memories is buried under tens of feet of ash. In my more tender moments, this thought still brings me to tears, actually. (Yes, of course I do know that it is much more devastating for those whose lives it affects due to their living there in the present.) On a side note, I always find it slightly chilling that the mountain that erupted was one of a pair that I used to love to sit on a giant rock and stare at, for long periods, when I was in a contemplative mood (as I often was) when I was young. Furthermore, two weeks before the eruption I was actually visiting the island for the first time since I’d left it as a child. And guess what I did? One day I was in a foul mood over an issue, and I went and sat on that rock again and while brooding, looked over at the mountain for a long spell. (Just in case, I try not to get too angry these days… )
It turns out that the volcano has continued to rumble and burp over all these years, sometimes dangerously, with a growing dome that forms on top of the whole Continue reading ‘Collapse Results From Space’
A little while ago, this season’s edition of the USC College magazine came out, and it is available online. Notably, it is featuring writers and writing, and there are several pieces in there about both faculty and students and their writing, in various forms. There are articles about superstars such as TC Boyle and Aimee Bender, as well as pieces by excellent writers such as California Poet Laureate Carol Muske-Dukes, and M. G. Lord. I recommend having a read of it.
It is with a mixture of mild amusement and embarrassment that I mention that among all that excellent writerly material is, perhaps oddly, an article on yours truly. It is about this blog, what it is about and for, and why I do it. (The blog is, of course, not to be mistaken for great writing, and so I will apologize personally to Aimee Continue reading ‘The Write Stuff’
A lovely morning in Griffith park, overlooking the city, with a splendid view of downtown Los Angeles. In this photo (click for larger view), everything is lovely and clear after the recent rain. I’ll admit that I took this last Sunday and not this one. Somehow, procrastination, two loads of laundry, a batch of sweet potato biscuits, and staying up until 3:00am all contributed to me not getting up there this morning. Perhaps later.
For me, overviewing physically (as in the above) is always welcome, but it is also good to do so in other ways. I’ve been in that mode recently too. Friday and Saturday saw me brainstorming in a group of 20 or so other USC professors at a retreat over Continue reading ‘Overview’
Some local thoughts. I can report that the downtown Artwalk is still a great event, effectively a street party running over a wide area of the city. If in the area, I recommend that you visit it (some upcoming second Thursday of the month) soon. (See earlier posts, e.g., here.) It is all part of the steadily increasing activity that’s going on downtown that I’ve mentioned several times here. It is not just second Thursdays. More businesses are simply opening their doors and people are coming. It’s great. The other night I went with a friend and colleague to try out the beer and sausages at Wurstküche, and had a wonderful time. You can see Continue reading ‘Night Moves’
Here is a list of fifty videos with a space theme that might be worth bookmarking and coming back to during the quiet moments. Forget the “top 50″ business – I’ve no idea how the X-Ray Vision-aries arrived at this particular list or order – it is just another collection. There’s some really good stuff on it, and that’s all that matters, in the long run.
I’d been inside all day, working while listening to the rain and the occasional clap of thunder. They are rare here and so I’ve been making sure to thoroughly enjoy the parade of storms we’ve been having over the last several weeks.
Today (Tuesday 9th!) was definitely a day I’d planned to stay in, rain or not, since I wanted to dig further into a project I’m working on, and focus on it all day. And so focus I did, until late in the afternoon I noticed a lovely light on the buildings and trees, telling me that the sun had emerged from the clouds just before it dropped below the horizon – peeking through that gap between the clouds and the sea that, now I think of it, must always exist quite clearly if there is a localized set of clouds over the region, due to the storm. I thought I’d go outside for the first time of the day and look at this evening light, and I noticed it was still raining and there was a rainbow! Actually, it turned out to be two. A double treat stretching majestically across the sky. I grabbed a piece for you. [Update: Several pieces. Glued two together for you to get the full effect. See above. It was raining, so was not so careful with my alignments when snapping in my haste to escape....]
Notice that the colour sequence (ROYGBIV) runs backwards on one as compared to the other. Continue reading ‘Double Treat’
Time for a little music with my nostalgia. I remember my days in Princeton (where I was a postdoc at the Institute for Advanced Study and, later, at the University) particularly well when it comes to certain special things, and one of them was the music I was discovering, and venturing up to New York or down to Philadelphia to see live.
The wonderful Cassandra Wilson had just firmly settled into her astonishingly good Blue Note phase at that time, and the (then) newly released album “Blue Light ‘Til Dawn” was pure magic to me (and remains so), and was considerably inspiring to me during that time of intense work and during a key period of career and personal development.
I went to see her sing at the Theatre of the Living Arts in Philly one wonderful evening. Here she is, (from around that time, I think, or at least it has the right feel), singing the opening song from the album in a slightly shaky live recording. It is a bit Continue reading ‘Cassandra Wilson’
The other day I had a moment of nostalgia and made some of what we called bakes when I was a child, growing up (for some years) in the Caribbean. Bakes are known as Johnny cakes in the US, as far as I understand, and used in much the same ways that we used them. This is certainly not something you should have every day, since they involve fat (vegetable shortening, or lard as we called it, although elsewhere the term is used for a kind of pig fat), flour, salt, and a pan half full of oil to deep fry it all in.
I have very happy memories of having bakes with tasty oily fishy goodness of some sort. Salt fish (salt dried cod) would be a typical thing (bacalao as the Portuguese and Continue reading ‘Bad, but ever so Good’
So yes, the Categorically Not! series was a bit thin on the ground in the last several months. I think KC was a bit busy travelling to tell people about her Frank Oppenheimer book.
Well, it is back on the calendar, and I probably should have mentioned it earlier, but the next one is tomorrow, so I thought I’d remind you. Remember that the series of events is 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 Grand Challenges!. Here’s the description from K. C. Cole:
Today I’ve got to give a guest lecture in a class of KC Cole’s at USC’s Annenberg School. I’m supposed to talk on the theme of Art and Science. I’ll cover a number of aspects, I expect (have not written it yet), but it put me in mind of two posts I did a while back on the subject. One was over at Correlations (remember that?) and the other, called Transcendence, was here. I thought I’d reproduce some of the Correlations post, called Essence, here. The back story was that I was working up a contribution to SEED magazine (the December 2007 issue I think) which was doing a cover story on Science and Art, and… well, I’ll let the 2007 me tell you the rest:
While working on the contribution, I was hugely conflicted, for many reasons (variety of themes, variety of pieces, art forms, only 100 words, etc…) and another major theme struggled for dominance – “essence”. How both science and art strive to identify the essential truth about a subject. My original contribution that I submitted to the editors to get their feedback on whether I was on the right track for what they were looking for therefore had a bit more of this in it, and referred to two pieces of art (I eventually chose one and focussed on developing and rewriting around that, using the “transcendence” theme). The piece I used that did I did not use for the final article is perfect for illustrating the “essence” theme, and so to provoke some thoughts in you [...] I include it here, along with some fragments of the paragraphs I was playing with at the time:
This story has come along at just the right time, given that my last post was about Einstein. Seems that Niels Bohr (another giant from the same period, and another one of the founders of the quantum theory) was a big fan of cowboy movies, and thought a lot about gunfights. Yes, really! (There he is in the photo on the left hanging out with his friend Einstein in later years, perhaps 1925. Perhaps they’re at a drive-in movie? I got this photo here.)
It turns out to be all relevant to new studies about reaction time. The fastest person to draw does not necessarily win the gunfight:
Continue reading ‘Gunslinging Bohr’
So I was chatting with a friend of mine the other day about science and scientists, and in particular what on earth we theoretical physicists actually do.
She (mostly jokingly I think) said we’re really all a bit weird, just sitting around thinking about quantum physics all day. I tried to begin to explain that we don’t sit around thinking about quantum mechanics all day any more than a tailor sits around all day thinking about needles. (Or how many angels or demons can fly through the eyes of said needles at the same time.) No, we’re mostly getting on with using the needles in the making of new suits and so forth. (To continue the allegory.)
But I did not get to that analogy, because another thing came up. She went on to say “…like Einstein, with crazy hair…”, to invoke her primary example of the crazy quantum scientist. Now, given that she was talking to me (er… no crazy hair, in case you are wondering), she was clearly joking, but in my view, at the core of all that is a serious image problem that science has to deal with – bizarre clichés about who we are and what we look like. So I thought I’d point something out.
The most famous image of the crazy/eccentric scientist is largely based on a lie (or Continue reading ‘Crazy Al’
Terry Gross interviewed Scott Patterson and Ed Thorp on NPR’s Fresh Air. I heard it yesterday. It was very interesting to listen to Thorp in particular, a mathematician, describing his curiosity about how to construct a system for beating various gambling games, and going from there to the stock market, in effect becoming one of the earliest of the “quants”,
Thorp and the people who use such systems have come to be known as “quants” — it’s a reference to the quantitative-analysis techniques they employ — and their stories are told in Scott Patterson’s new book The Quants: How a New Breed of Math Whizzes Conquered Wall Street and Nearly Destroyed It.
You can hear the interview here, and read an extract from the book. Very interesting are the questions about what they think really went wrong in the market crash of Continue reading ‘Mathematics in Your Business’