The Write Stuff

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 Bender, who’s a good and forgiving friend, for the intrusion! On the other hand, if it is to be taken as a special issue featuring English Professors, as so many of the featured faculty are, then in a sense I qualify. 🙂 ) A quote from the piece, which in turn is quoting me:

“What I hope people get from my blog is a realization that scientists are just ordinary people,” Johnson said. “We’re not special people. We’re just people doing a special thing. It’s an issue of making science accessible by first making the practitioners accessible.”

(It is actually only part of what I hope people get from it. I also hope that they simply enjoy reading whatever they find here, and maybe tell their friends, and perhaps come back for more.)

The piece was written by one of the staff writers for the magazine, Pamela Johnson (no relation), and is entitled “A Quantum Leap into the Blogosphere”. As usual with the colloquial phrase a quantum leap, you can go either way with the meaning, and I’ll let you pick which you think is appropriate. Either it is a really really really tiny leap, tens of orders of magnitude smaller than your garden variety leap, which is to my mind the most literal interpretation if you take the physics at face value, or, going with the popular culture usage, it is somehow a significant leap that surpasses the everyday “classical” leaps in some manner. (I imagine the term fell into that usage because someone decided that leaps between quantized energy levels in, for example, an atom, are to be considered huge feats of derring-do by the electrons concerned. Perhaps they are.)

Or maybe it’s just a nice title she picked and you needn’t try to interpret it at all. Just read the piece.


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6 Responses to The Write Stuff

  1. The Traveling Wave says:

    We wanted to feature your blog because it rocks. It’s filled with fine writing and intriguing insights. The title was chosen because I envisioned you as an electron jumping up and down on a trampoline inside an atom. Then you jumped so high you found yourself in a completely new quantum system, where you blogged and baked delicious sweet potato biscuits.


  2. Clifford says:

    Thanks so much! You are very kind. Intriguing picture you paint too!


  3. kim says:

    what I would like to ask is that when you were young, your interest was in how things worked and electronics. Now, what you are doing is a branch of pure maths which some have argued has no relation to reality. We hear about words like ‘untestable’ due to the high energies involved. My question is how has your initial interest got you to where you are now? Was it a natural progression driven by your curiosity? Did your interest secretly switch from how things worked to mathematics instead?

  4. Clifford says:


    Very nice question. The answer is simple. I’m still on the same path I was back then. I am still working on how things work. I use mathematics as a tool. I am not a mathematician. Even if I was doing electronics, at some level I’d be using mathematics to model what I’m trying to do or understand. We do not know why, butmathematics seems to be a good language for describing how the physical universe works.

    So I got onto this path from the other path quite naturally: by just staying on it.



  5. kim says:


    So related to this is the question do you think anybody can do what you’re doing? Can anybody be a string theorist?

    Or is it only the priveleged few such as Edward Witten who have some special ability, which isn’t clear where it comes from, or even what it is, that can be string theorists?

  6. Clifford says:

    I think that more people can do theoretical physics (or any other science) than is typically perceived. As with many pursuits, it is all about hard work, dedication, interest, passion, talent, persistence, and so forth. On the other hand, I don’t think that anyone excel at this job any more than I think that anyone can excel at being a bus driver. It takes the right combination of the above, tailored to the person in question. There’s a large random element as well. The key thing is to try, if you want to do it. Not trying is a guarantee of no success at it.