“There’s a lady who’s sure
All that glitters is gold
And she’s buying a stairway to heaven [...] “
Not that I’m calling Boris Johnson, the [
occasional village idiot] Mayor of London, a lady or anything. It just was the best bit of the song I could use for the story. This structure does not exist yet, but it seems that will. What is it? Another Big Thing for people to go up to look over London. Yay. Silly, in many ways, but I will admit that I like it as a piece of mathematical poetry squiggled in the sky. It is by Anish Kapoor. Story here from the BBC, and here from AOL news. Video of announcement from Guardian here.
Now, while looking at the picture above, I noticed something interesting. Is it just me, or is the sky wrong? I don’t mean that it is blue and over London and therefore a Continue reading ‘Stairway to Heaven?’
Over at Wongablog, Andrew points to a post he did over at Humanist Life in which he reviews “Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science”, by Richard Holmes. This is one of my favourite topics, and it is certainly a book I’m planning to read, although I have not done so yet.
Andrew writes thoughtfully on the book and the matter in general, and so I’ll leave you to wander over there and have a read of it. To tempt you, an extended (I hope Andrew does not mind) extract:
Continue reading ‘Wonder’
Well, here we go. It has been a little over 20 years since I’ve been actively working in this field and have been hearing about the promise of this machine, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), and now it is really here, working, and colliding protons at an energy much higher than any previous experiment, promising us to a glimpse of new aspects of how the universe works. It is not guaranteed, of course, but there’s a great deal of hope, and so much of what we know strongly suggests that there’s going to be some exciting things to learn. See the list of related posts below for several bits of background on the LHC, or go to CERN’s website. [Image above right -click for larger view- is a CERN-supplied montage of data/images from the various experiments at the LHC. Caption: 7 TeV collision events seen today by the LHC's four major experiments (clockwise from top-left: ALICE, ATLAS, CMS, LHCb).]
Two of the things foremost in people’s minds are on one hand the Higgs (the particle or particles that ultimately give masses to the elementary particles that make up the Continue reading ‘New LHC Physics Phase Begins!’
My title for the last post reminded me of a discovery I made the other day (and gave me an excuse to steal a favourite title for this post – know its origin?). I was watering a plant that I’d not tended to properly for a while since I was away on Walkabout, and I noticed, upon looking closely, that it has been under attack by mushrooms!! Wow!
Click on each of the thumbnails below for a larger view:
Continue reading ‘A Short Cut to Mushrooms’
Aha. It’s one of those moments in mathematics press coverage that the journalists love, since all the stereotypes about how weird people working on abstract things can be are able to be brought out and highlighted, and words like genius, prodigy, recluse, eccentric, etc, get thrown about in equal measure.
Yes, Grigory Perelman has being turning down stuff again. You may recall him refusing the Fields Medal four years ago. Now he is refusing the Clay Mathematics Institute’s million dollar payout. Perelman proved the Poincaré conjecture a while back (see this older BBC article about that, along with a non-technical mention of the content of the conjecture – see also here, a related post the picture above right is from), which is on the Clay’s list of Big Problems whose collective heads have a bounty on them. He’s apparently a bit eccentric and the press love it, so most articles I’ve seen are mostly taken up with stuff like the following I saw in the Guardian:
Continue reading ‘Picking Mushrooms’
Don’t forget Earth Hour tonight! Starting at 8:30pm local time.
What will you switch off?
You’ll recall last year’s Facebook Haggadah, perhaps. Well, there’s a new one, just in time for Passover! It is here*.
It is Springtime, and it is not unheard of for me to have pictures of flowers, often from my garden, up on the blog (see here). This time, I have a picture of a flower from a different garden. It is the one you can see by looking up. If you look up with the right equipment, you can even see new growth (just like you can in Springtime gardens). In this case, the equipment is WISE (the spacecraft launched in December, recall) with its ability to survey the sky in the infrared part of the spectrum, and the new growth is a cluster of new stars, called the Berkeley 59 cluster. Looks a bit like a rosebud, Continue reading ‘A Spring Flower’
I find myself back in Los Angeles for a bit, putting Walkabout mode on pause. Perhaps to do my laundry, perhaps to chair the committee of the upcoming Ph.D. defense of my student, Tameem, perhaps to be able to sit outside in the early morning sun in a T-shirt and blog over breakfast.
The garden is full of weeds and flowers, and all is well with the world, albeit a bit blurry due to my jetlag.
Anyway, a few random things to note:
* * *
Another Spring is here, in full force. I once again snort in exasperated laughter at the bizarre claim so very many people make about Los Angeles (Southern California more generally) not having seasons, as I marvel at all the many signs of it screaming for attention. As a random example, I’m observing some mourning doves eyeing me up from nearby as they try to decide whether I’m a threat to their potential nesting sites that they are checking out. Seems that at least one pair is rather impressed with my cluster of strelitzia nicolai and want to move in. I want to tell them that I’m not the problem, but the fact that they’d be in plain sight of the crows/rooks/ravens/winged-Nazgul that pass by here a lot will be. I’ve seen them strike nests in those trees from previous years and scoop up a tasty warm meal.
* * *
Eight hours of jetlag means only one thing: Continue reading ‘A Return’
I’d like to pass on a link (sent to me in email*) to the New York Times article about the new NSF-sponsored study and report (links to it are within) on the under-representation of Women in science and mathematics. Reporter Tamar Levin summarizes it there and quotes a number of interviewees. Sample extract:
The report found ample evidence of continuing cultural bias. One study of postdoctoral applicants, for example, found that women had to publish 3 more papers in prestigious journals, or 20 more in less-known publications, to be judged as productive as male applicants.
Making judgments about an individual’s abilities based on his or her sex is a classic form of discrimination, said Nancy Hopkins, an M.I.T. biology professor who created an academic stir in the 1990s by documenting pervasive, but largely unintentional, discrimination against women at the university.
Have a look.
I note that an email in my inbox just half an hour after the one telling me about the above link was news Continue reading ‘Why So Few?’
It has been a pleasure to see the large number of bikes in use in London, and particularly pleasing that it is a wide range of types of people using them as well. There are many things about London that make it feel even more comfortable to me than ever (high prices of everything not being one of them) and the heavy bike use has to be one of them. Things in that department continue to improve over in my home city of Los Angeles, although I think it’ll still be a bit of time before you get bunches of cyclists routinely clustered at the lights waiting for the green, as in the photo on the right.
Also great to see, sending a shiver of pleasure down my spine each time I’ll admit, has been the huge number of Bromptons in use in London. (See photo left.) I know it is true statistically that they are among the most popular single type of bike here (of any type, folding or non-folding) but it is still great that there are so very many sightings of them as you walk along the street especially at peak times. That’s something that really still has not taken off in LA. I’ve seen fewer than a handful of Bromptons in almost seven years on the streets here, relatively few folding bikes in total, and maybe only twice have I seen someone else using them in combination with the subway (and I remain the only person I’ve ever seen bringing them on to the bus). It Continue reading ‘Not Entirely Alone, II’
Does this description seem familiar?
Black scientist, born in 1968. Born in London to immigrant parents. Spent a fair amount of time in their school years convincing teachers to not assume that they are supposed to be in the “B” group in all their subjects by default. Did a physics degree at Imperial College, London University. Now a successful practicing scientist. Doing a lot of science/education outreach as well (was on the radio twice in the last week or so, for example).
All familiar so far, right? Ok, a bit more…
Was on BBC Radio 4′s Desert Island discs last week talking about their life and selecting eight favourite pieces of music, a book, and a luxury item they’d like to have on said island (chose telescope).
About to have a daughter.
Continue reading ‘Not Entirely Alone’
Dear Readers following Asymptotia on Twitter. You’ll have noticed that there have not been any twitter updates since January. I’ve only just noticed that the settings in Twitter Tools were not set right since the last update, and so you may have missed out on two months of juicy blog material. I’m very sorry.
I’ve updated a few posts from the last few weeks to start up the twittering again. Be sure to come to the blog and read up on what you missed. People seem to have been enjoying the Walkabout series, for example. Start reading that post, and if you scroll to the bottom of it, after the comments you’ll see pingbacks from later posts that cited it. So you can read those too… and so on.
Yes, it’s very funny*, and awfully close to the truth as well, at least in terms of the final product. More seriously, it is worth noting that what they get wrong is the blaming of it on audiences. It is actually more about the channels (not just the Science Channel) themselves and the sort of business models they run. We, the scientists who care to, must carry on contributing where we can as well as encouraging and supporting the film-makers as much as we can. It’s not really their fault so much as the people who call the shots at the head of the money food chain. Most of the film-makers I’ve worked with on the many shows I’ve helped with (either in front of or behind the camera, or both) are passionate about the science, are keenly interested in understanding it more so as to tell the story to the public as well as they can, and are capable of doing so. They most often can’t get their shows past the people at the top who believe that the material is too inaccessible or not interesting to the public. (I’ve heard the same complaint from science journalists working in the print media too.) On the other hand, I get recognized and stopped on Continue reading ‘The Onion on Science Programming’
I’d take the slower train a lot.
They’re discussing a newly announced long term plan to build a new rail network in the UK that will slice huge chunks of time out of the long distance travel times between London and points North. There are many reasons why this is good news (and some bad, since there’s going to be impact on parts of the country side – this is not upgrade of existing rail lines), and these include the benefits that will result from people choosing rail over cars, and even planes, the possible further decentralization of the country (although I doubt this – I think the overall change in that regard might well be neutral. It might in fact have the opposite effect), and so on and so forth.
The national discussion that has been taking place has been interesting, of course, but I’m not hearing enough about one aspect: That travelling from point A to point B as fast as technology allows is not always the best option. I don’t think that the UK is a very big place, frankly, and I’ve got to the point where I think that the long journeys that I sometimes do on either corridor (West or East) have improved quite a bit over the years to the extent where they are about as fast as I want them to be. I care more about them leaving and arriving on time than I do them getting there much more quickly. Yes, I know that some people have urgent business in London and need to get there fast from Glasgow or Preston or Newcastle…. but would the extra 45 or even 60 minutes really make that much difference? Well, sure it might for some, and I do not mean to remake the world Continue reading ‘Slower’
(Well, in the Ion Micrograph category, you understand.)
Sometimes extreme geekery is charming. (As you may know, I do not use the word “geek” lightly.) I spotted this on Phil’s Bad Astronomy Blog. You know what shape it is trying to evoke, I presume. Know also that this structure is 8.8 micro meters across, and that the subject was magnified some 5000 times normal size to make the image. I’ve no idea how they Continue reading ‘Best in Show’
Ack! I just noticed that it is Pi Day. Late in the day, so I’ve missed the key time of day for the whole shebang. Bah. Those of you in time zones further West of me still have time. Go for it. See my post from last year for more…
I’ve been on the road for a while now (see the last several posts, e.g. here), and it has been good for me. Why? Well, I think that it has been good to get out of some of the routines that I normally find myself in, and have a change of perspective. This feeds my thoughts about things, whether it be work-related, play, or personal life. So being in a mode where I’m living out of a suitcase and moving from location to location helps me simplify somewhat. Work has been good. Some aspects have not been as efficient as they might have been were I in my home office or in my office at USC, but efficiency is not really the point. There’s plenty of time for that later, and in travelling mode, the value of the high quality reflection about the work I’m doing or an approach I’m going to take on the project I’m working on is something I’d not trade for the equivalent time sitting in my office being highly efficient at some task.
So where am I? Well, I’m a month into hardcore sabbatical time (recall that the first Continue reading ‘Road Benefits’
The Walkabout returns me to London for a short while before I head North. While wandering around Covent Garden, I spotted this lovely bit of geometry suspended between two buildings in an alleyway. It is a bridge, but with a twist.
Upon getting home and starting a post to share it with you, I see that it is called the Bridge of Aspiration, and it connects the Royal Opera House with the Royal Ballet School. More here, where you can see that the interior is quite stunning.
These are not really my cup of tea (at least not first choice), so to speak, but they are very pretty.
While working at the countertop of a coffee bar at Mercado San Miguel, in Madrid, (drinking my usual café cortado) I watched the fellow at the counter making them for some customers.
It was a rather elaborate process, and quite fascinating to watch. It might seem odd Continue reading ‘Dessert Coffees’
Well, while it is not Spring time quite yet, I thought I’d share this with you. I’ve quite Continue reading ‘Spring Time (Sort Of)’
Gran elefante erguido, by Miquel Barceló. (Click for larger views.)
Sometimes a 7m tall upside down bronze elephant is exactly what one needs to see Continue reading ‘New Views’
A brief report from the road. My wanderings took me to Toledo. The one half an hour on the train from Madrid (Spain), not the one in Ohio. It actually reminds me a lot of Durham, in England, where I lived and worked for three years. I’ll leave you to look a bit at their geography, strategic history, and so forth, to see why. You can start by glancing at the maps I clipped for you for clues.
I enjoyed it quite a bit, although I shall have to go again to explore more thoroughly. Continue reading ‘Road Report’
My Walkabout finds me in Madrid for a little while, and I find myself reporting joyfully on rain, once again. Not because it has been raining an unusual amount here, but because of a production I went to the other night. It was primarily a dance event, celebrating and dramatizing the work of poet Frederico Garcia Lorca during his time in New York in the 1920s. The choreography was by (I’ve forgotten… will find ticket and update shortly) [update: Blanca Li. Title: ¨Poeta en Nueva York¨] with flamenco as the primary form, mixed with several other dance traditions. There was a lot of good and enjoyable work to see, but I’ll admit to being blown away by the theatre’s (and associated production staff’s) ability to suddenly create a rainstorm on the stage, and sustain it for a prolonged period while one of the dances (using the water, as you can see) used it to great and stunning effect. I had to sneak a (no flash and no disturbing of neighbours of course) photo for you. Click for larger view.
A bit like the first time you saw Jurassic Park back when it was first released and utterly groundbreaking visually, I (and maybe you?) spent time thinking, “this is amazing!”, “how did they pull off this illusion?”, before concluding that maybe the Continue reading ‘Waterfall’
I received an email the other day asking me if I had any connection to the new initiative announced at USC recently (link here), talking about a new partnership (involving USC and the NSF) for increasing and improving the amount of science in entertainment and media products such as films and television shows, and probably more. It is called the Creative Science Studio, or CS2. You’ve read me talk about these sorts of projects on the blog a huge amount, and so I won’t repeat the motivations here (you can find earlier thoughts if you look under some of the categories this post is in for other posts on the subject).
One of the fallouts (fallsout?) of being a dabbler, behind-the-scenes-agitator and general troublemaker is that one can never really tell what are all the final projects, initiatives (and so forth) that come about as a result (at least in part) of one’s actions. In trying to significantly move forward things such as this (involving public Continue reading ‘The Creative Science Studio’