Southern California Strings Seminar

scss_studentsOh! I almost forgot to remind local readers that the next Southern California Strings Seminar is happening this week. Friday and Saturday. It will be at UCLA, and there’s a great line up of speakers. As I’ve said here before, graduate students are especially encouraged to come…

…since special effort is made to make sure that each talk begins with a pedagogical portion to help non-experts in that subfield navigate and see the motivation.

The speakers and talks are:[…] Click to continue reading this post

West Hollywood Book Fair

west_hollywood_book_fair_1The West Hollywood Book Fair was fun to visit yesterday, even through the huge heat wave we’ve been having. I struggled through the heat to a bus stop and was rewarded with one almost immediately I arrived, to my relief. Even the bus seemed tired as it trundled along through the sweltering city to West Hollywood, where I jumped off and wandered into the grounds of the event. I poked around the stands with books, authors, and other people on display, chatting here and there with interesting people.

I was not on a panel this year (see last year’s report here and here – I don’t think there was anything on science or science-writing this year), so decided to listen to a […] Click to continue reading this post


glow_festival_5_bannerLast night, Glow, the biennial evening to late night gathering down on Santa Monica beach, was fun. There were even some interesting exhibits to look at and interact with, as sort of a bonus! Below (and above) are a few images I took while down there. Click for larger view. Look at the guide on the website to figure out which piece you might be viewing, and go here for links to more photos and so forth. The piece captured in the photograph above, Day for Night, (Santa Monica pier and the carousel in the background) was one of my favourites. See description and information about its creators here. […] Click to continue reading this post

ArtWalk Walks…

Faith Machine by Robert Reynolds…And in other news about changes to events I frequent and blog about (see list at end), the downtown LA ArtWalk, which had turned into a monthly street festival (that had very little to do with art, but so what?) that brought downtown alive by attracting people from all over the city, has been canceled, to the surprise of many. I’m shocked by this but at the same time not entirely surprised as I have seen the seeds of this before. (The photo is of a piece entitled “Faith Machine”, by Robert Reynolds, that I saw in Bert Green’s gallery in 2008. Click on the photo to jump to the post about it, and a video showing its lovely breathing action…)

As much as it has moved to being more of a walking city than it is given credit for by most people, something I talk a lot about here, I have to admit that Los Angeles still does not really know how to deal with too many people on the streets. And by “too many” I mean levels that would be regarded as normal in so many other places. The expectation is that too many people (especially in neighbourhoods that are not in the, er, supposedly more genteel West side of the city) is simply a bad thing that is prone to turn into a “problem”. That is always the first reaction. In any case, it is certainly reasonable that some level extra policing is needed for safety, etc., but this is where things get sticky. The increase in policing that is needed to deal with the extra people puts a strain on resources, and there ensues an argument for who will pay the bill. So crowds are simply regarded as clearly negative, instead of an opportunity to build community, express humanity, and for other things involving positive person-to-person connections that this city needs more of. So the thing seems to have been killed because a model for how to foot the bill for extra policing could not be worked out… There may be more to it than that, but that rough model seems to fit the pattern I’ve seen before**.

My main point here is that by LA standards the ArtWalk had grown to become a large crowd, but it was no larger than a typical Summer’s weekend evening in Times […] Click to continue reading this post

A Dream Come True!

Wow! There’s a major piece of news that was announced today that basically exactly fits with a dream I have every year. Furthermore, I have been taking part in some meetings with all the University’s Deans, the President, and other key officials, about major aspects of USC’s future endeavours, and when the issue of strengthening the role of USC in the life of Los Angeles came up, I intended to mention my dream, but we ran out of time yesterday so I decided I’d mention it at today’s lunch meeting instead. So today at lunch I was about to be called on to make the point about local roles, and I’d decided to give the specific examples I had in mind. I was going to suggest that we seek for things analogous to UCLA Live, and to the LA Times Festival of Books, as things we can do to open our doors to the city (even more than we do) and become well known to more people near and far as a regular contributor to the intellectual life of the city (I mean beyond the huge number of people who come to us for an education, and the many public events that we already host and/or sponsor). But I was not called on because the President, Max Nikias, looked at his watch and said he had an announcement to make since it was just past the embargo time that was put on the story.

What was his announcement? The LA Times Festival of Books is going to move to USC starting next year! (See also here.) We’ll be enlarging it, and bringing back the awards ceremony to the way it was, etc.

You’ve maybe read my many posts here about the LA Times Festival of Books, and […] Click to continue reading this post

Inception, Abridged!

So have you seen Inception yet? Recall my discussion of it in an earlier post. I thought it was excellent. Ok, so if you have not seen it, scroll on to another post. If you have, then you might love this**. I found it hilarious and quite brilliant. It’s a very funny idea worthy of wider recognition, and so I thought I’d share with you and hope you share it with others. Now, it is sort of important to know that you have to bear with the video quality and also let yourself get used to Steven Beacon (the performer) and his somewhat frenetic delivery for several minutes so that the actual Inception part (and how he performs it) that comes later is properly appreciated. So stick with it (and you don’t have to understand all he says in the leading up parts of the act)… it’ll be worth it. (Jump to about 07:30 if you are really busy…) Remember, it probably won’t make any sense or seem the slightest bit funny if you’ve not seen the film.

Ok. That’s enough intro. The video is just after the fold. Enjoy!

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Magnitude and Direction

arrow_album_cover I learned from members of my family the other day that Arrow died last week. I’ve no idea if by name you know who that is, and I am sure if I mentioned his given name, Alphonsus Cassell, that won’t make your eyes light up in recognition. But as soon as I say “Hot Hot Hot”, I bet that there’s a good chance a song starts playing in your mind. It is a Soca song (Soca being a more dance-oriented cousin of Calypso, and the name Arrow was, I think meant to pay homage to the Calypso star the Mighty Sparrow), and may well be the most famous Soca song worldwide. So many times when someone wants to inspire heat – usually involving sunshine – or excitement they play a bit of that song and so it ends up in lots of TV and radio commercials and other such places, and of course is played a lot at parties and other places where people are simply having fun. Arrow wrote and sung a lot of songs, and was devoted to his community, and so many are very sad at his passing, feeling that a friend has gone, even though they might not have known him. Seems to me he had a good life. At the very least, to be known for bringing joy and communion through good music well after you’re gone? That’s a great thing right there.

I did know him since I grew up in the community that he was part of. It was on the island of Montserrat where, you might recall from previous posts, I spent ten years of […] Click to continue reading this post

Not Really Herding Cats

It is a cool and damp morning here in Los Angeles. There’s a slow mist covering everything in moisture, and there are dripping sounds from many directions if you are still and listen. I made a cup of tea at about 7:00am and decided, what with the mist, the coolness, and the Saturdayness, to head back to bed for an hour. But on my way there I spotted my friend outside in the garden, so we hung out for a while, before he eventually wandered off down the street (possibly a bit miffed at me encouraging him to chase an annoying squirrel rather than just sit and have a good groom…).

Somehow this put my in mind of the following film*. Yes, it is for an advertisement for Ikea (other curiously-named, fun-to-assemble and maybe-soon-to-fall-apart furniture is available), but it is still quite lovely. 100 cats let loose in an Ikea – fun!

The finished advertisement (appropriately for my mood called “Happy Inside”) is here: […] Click to continue reading this post

Gell-Mann Joins Us!

Some exciting news today! We’ve had Murray Gell-Mann join the USC faculty! See an article about it here. As you may know, he is the inventor/discoverer of quarks, the particles that make up, among other things, the protons and neutrons that make up the nuclei of every atom in your body.

Speaking of bodies, he’ll actually be focusing on medical issues, as far as I understand it:
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Too Little, Too Much, or Just Right?

Charles Day on the Physics Today blog asks an interesting question: Why has physics today’s news coverage of string theory been so sparse? I must admit that I had not noticed what the level of coverage is, and so the matter had not sprung to mind, but it is an interesting one. He looks back at the number of major articles written about the subject in recent years (he was a feature editor, and so shepherded some of them through), and concludes that the numbers are low, and he may well be right, but I am not sure I know what the best measure is.

How do we measure the appropriate coverage level? Is it by the number of people working in a sub-field as a percentage of the overall field of physics? If it were possible to break things down that way (I’m happy to see that we have come to a point in the field where I’ve no idea how to define what a “string theorist” is, per se, any more than I know what a “field theorist” is. There are simply people working in various fields who use both as tools to make progress) I wonder what fields would end up appearing under or over covered?

Perhaps a large part of it it is the issue of how many articles on the topic can be written that are of general enough interest, and finding the people who are both able and willing to write. This is a tricky issue, and depends on a combination of the topic in hand and the knowledge and writing skill of the author. There are two extremes that would be a factor here. On the one hand, you have the obvious difficulty of a non-expert journalist either not being able to see the general relevance or value of new results in such a specialist field, or if having seen it, not being able to explain it […] Click to continue reading this post

My New Friend

I’ve some news. I made a new friend the other day. We met unexpectedly, and hit it off in minutes, recognizing something we liked in each other quite quickly, I expect. We met and hung out for a little while, enjoying each others company, and then the next few nights, met again at the same spot at around the same time, being pleased to see each other every time. I admit I was quite surprised by how much I melt with delight every time I see my new friend. We really enjoy each other’s company, and in the week of our friendship, we have spent quality time together doing a favorite thing together – sitting side by side on the steps outside at night staring into the darkness, just listening, sniffing the air and thinking.

I’ve been toying with the whole idea of how far to pursue this new friendship. Yeah, commitment issues. Bottoms line is that I’ve been wary of getting into something like this for years because I worry that circumstances are such that I can’t always be there for such a friend, and so don’t want them to become dependent on me. But this seems to be something out of my control, really. Maybe I should just see how it goes. A good sign is that my friend does not seem to really need me too much, does not seem underfed at all, and in fact has rejected some of my offers to take things to a new level by offers of food. In fact, only a little drink of milk has been accepted during our times together, and a specially bought can of tuna was shown indifference, so maybe the worry about dependence is entirely misplaced, and I should just enjoy the friendship. […] Click to continue reading this post

I Know What You Did Last Summer

That was the unmentioned title of yesterday’s group meeting. We try to do this every year, and so one of the first meetings of the year is us sitting together, eating our lunches, chatting about ideas. We basically catch up, and chat about things we learned about from Summer travels, perhaps from conferences, schools or workshops. We also mention what we’ve been up to in terms of projects worked on, work in progress, etc. I find the latter especially useful from the standpoint of student development, since it is often the first time that a student gets to tell a wider audience (but in a safe environment) a little about what they are doing, often their first projects. Even a few minutes summarizing what you have been doing can be daunting at the early stages of your research career, so this is a good place to start.

Talking about things that we’ve learned are going on in the larger community (or […] Click to continue reading this post


p-2048-1536-705e409d-537f-4828-b855-794993185c21.jpegThis is a regular sight that nonetheless always fascinates me. This very compact pair of palm trees (or is it one tree? I’ve never been sure…if you follow the trajectory of the two trunks they look like they might fully join just below the surface of the ground) produces such a delicate flowering and fruiting extension that looks a bit like a drooping hand (with a lot more fingers than normal, yes). An alien hand, perhaps, but of a friendly, curious, tall species that would simply gather small samples from our planet to study out of curiosity… Ok, perhaps I am getting carried away with my imagination. Still only on my first morning cup of tea.

It was Labor day here yesterday, and I deliberately use the American spelling […] Click to continue reading this post


Ack! It is September already. Somehow the last few days got away from me and I prepped a number of posts, but then they did not make it to the blog. One of them was another followup to the Friday iPad post (see also here). I wanted to show you one of the things I did in class on Wednesday. Recall that I am experimenting with using the iPad with Note Taker HD in class to simply sit with the students and work through solving problems with them on “paper”… a sort of fireside chat, if you will. The first experiment was on Wednesday, and I did it a little slowly at first, but I think it’ll be just great. Bear in mind I’m just scribbling with my finger here… I think I’ll try using the stylus I got the other day for variety. Click for larger versions.

classroom_chat_1 classroom_chat_2
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