M and M

Mozart and Mahler. An interesting combination, for sure. In any case, it made for a lovely evening on Friday night, with Jeffrey Kahane directing from the piano on Mozart’s 25th piano concerto, and then conducting (after the interval) the slightly enlarged orchestra in a performance of Mahler’s 4th Symphony. The latter was a surprise to me in that I enjoyed parts of it a lot. I’d forgotten it, not having heard it in a long time, and in fact I must say I usually don’t go out of my way to listen to performances of Mahler’s symphonic works… so either I’m getting old and more forgiving, or this one has fewer of those elements I usually am not overly fond of from the composer. Hmmm….

Anyway, there it is. A good evening. One other excellent aspect is that Kahane is a fan of big dramatic gestures, and so this means great shapes of his body and clothing as he stands on the podium. He had a jacket with stiff shoulders, and pants […] Click to continue reading this post

On Physics, Spiritualism, Fiction, and Non-Fiction

On Monday evening I chatted with Deborah Cloyed, author of the recently released novel “The Summer We Came to Life”, which I finished reading over the weekend. The conversation was recorded for Rare Bird Literature’s Rare Bird Radio site, and so you can listen. (Embed at the end of this post.) We talked about her use of various physics ideas (Copenhagen and Many Worlds quantum mechanics interpretations, parallel worlds) in her skillfully crafted novel about four friends, loss, the afterlife, and friendship.

At this point, some of you are yelling “Run, run for your life, Mr. Scientist!”. But No. No, no, no. I think that’s a mistake. Deborah is, first of all, writing a novel, not trying to push some self-help book that cherry picks a few ideas from science, conflates them with some stuff people want to hear, and trying to make a buck out of it. Second of all, she really loves the science, and seems to have read a lot about the subject, unusually widely. You don’t ignore someone who really cares about the subject and wants to know more, especially when they want to include it in the work they are producing. So when we were introduced a while back, she thought it would be fun and interesting to have a conversation about various things, and I agreed. I got the chance to comment (at her request) about what I thought she was doing with the science, and how the final result worked, I got to ask her what she thought of it, and from there we talked about lots of related topics, including the whole idea of mixing […] Click to continue reading this post

The Ride Down from Maroon

Well, after an hour and a half or so of struggle up (see previous post), a rest, some picture taking, and so forth, I headed back down from the Maroon Lake area, leaving the magnificent view of the Maroon Bells behind and coasting down back to Aspen on the Brompton. I found a nice way of mounting the camera on the bike bag near the handle and so made a video of the descent, so that you can share in the view. Guess who ran out of charge on the battery before getting to the end? Never mind… the most scenic bits are captured. Best to turn down the sound of the air rushing past […] Click to continue reading this post


It is the blog’s fifth birthday today, July 27th! I actually started it here in Aspen (if I remember correctly – I certainly remember painting and photographing the logo here) on this date in 2006, with my first post here. It has been very enjoyable writing all these years, sharing thoughts and ramblings, and it is still great to learn of the variety of people who are reading, and of the core of people who’ve stayed with the blog through rain and shine.

As in previous anniversary posts (see here, here and here – I was neglectful last year), I put together a little celebratory drawing of sorts*. This time […] Click to continue reading this post

Maroon Ride

Toward the end of the week I gave in. Howie Haber had been regularly going on these long rides and suggesting that I come along. The one I would have done for sure, I said (truthfully) was the one with the tasty reward at the end – to Pine Creek Cookhouse – but the one that had been planned was two days after I arrived, and I did not think it was a good idea for me to do it without having acclimatized to the altitude. You may recall that a few years ago I did do that 12 mile route on a ride led by Howie, and it was fantastic. See the post here. So he asked me a couple more times to join a few riding up to Maroon Lake, which he was doing every other day, remarkably. It was a similar distance (well, a bit shorter – 10 miles) with perhaps a more steady, relentless climb to make up the 1500 ft altitude gain. But I did not get my mind into gear on the whole idea for some time (maybe especially since there was no tasty meal as a reward at the top). Then on Wednesday I gave in and stopped by Howie’s office and said I’d join him on Friday.

brompton folding bikeSo Friday morning we set off, joined by a few others (including Josh Frieman), for a lovely ride. Pretty quickly we separated out into our various paces and pointed ourselves up the valley (I warned my co-riders at the beginning not to wait for me as I have a slower pace on the Brompton – the beauty in the photo on the right). I eventually got into a good rhythm and made steady progress. While I was not as strong as I was in 2008 (or perhaps not as well-motivated?), I still enjoyed it, although there were times when I did ask myself out loud “why am I doing this?!”, but that was usually after the dashing of false hope when I thought I was almost there only to round a corner and see the road stretching […] Click to continue reading this post

Prokofiev Women

Sunday afternoon. I was doing a bit of work down at the music tent (the Aspen Music Festival is on), sitting outside on the grass like so many other people do on the Festival Sundays.

At some point I became distracted from my scribblings in my notebook when I realized that suddenly I had all these people around me sitting helpfully rather still (relatively speaking) as they listened to the music. (Prokofiev’s delightful 5th Symphony was on at the time.) Perfect quick-sketch subjects! And as it is a target-rich environment, you can pretend to be looking at someone else which drawing someone, so as to not make them suspicious… (I’m not interested in spoiling people’s enjoyment of the concert, after all…)

It worked rather well until this guy who was near me, who I’d noticed looking at […] Click to continue reading this post

Living in Interesting Times

As far as particle physics and big questions about how the universe works, we are living in very interesting times, I’m happy to say. We’ve all been waiting for the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) for over two decades, and now it turns out (I’ve been hearing from a number of people in various conversations here at the center) that the machine is running really well – impressively so. That alone is great, but an interesting thing is that we are almost certainly going to know something significant before the end of the current scientific run next year, maybe even by the end of 2011!

Recall (see posts like this one) that the primary goal is to understand the physics responsible for the Higgs mechanism – the physics that gave mass to those elementary particles that have mass. The particle that does this is called the Higgs particle, and exactly how Nature implements the Higgs mechanism is what we hope to learn. There’s sort of a vanilla version of the story, that fits into the Standard Model of particle physics without any further adornment than just doing the basic job. Then there are more complicated versions of the story, where, in some cases, the Higgs comes as part of a bigger physics story that leads the way to what’s generally called Beyond the Standard Model Physics. As the machine searches toward higher and higher energy that probes higher and higher mass, the simplest possibilities will begin to fall by the wayside pretty soon if nothing is seen. An exciting thing is that it seems that whether or not we have the Standard Model Higgs might be known soon.

Now that’s exciting enough, but there’s more. Actually, a lot of people, for various […] Click to continue reading this post

Goodbye Ken

I’m sad to say that Ken J. Barnes died recently. My sympathies and wishes of comfort go to Jacky and the family.

There are many theoretical high energy physicists who will tell you of their wonderful time as students in the theory group in Southampton, England. I’m one of them. I think a huge component of that is due to Ken. He founded the group, nurtured it, and led it for many years. As a nearly completing undergraduate who was somewhat certain about what I wanted, after a lot of fastidious researching of various options, I picked the Southampton group very carefully back then. I had it set in my mind that I wanted to do research in string theory, and was looking for a group that felt dynamic and energetic, and while I got offers from some good places (including the excellent group at Durham which I was later to join as a faculty member 11 years later), there was a spark that I felt when I visited Southampton’s group, the group Ken founded way back in the early ’70’s.

The group was more than just Ken, of course, but the fact that such great faculwho and staff were there, and doing great work, was part of his building process. Tim Morris, who was to be my advisor, and who was doing interesting things in string theory, was one such person who impressed me greatly. I was so glad I went there, from the moment I first arrived, and I loved those days so dearly.

It all began (as many will tell you) with Ken’s “pep talk” where he would tell the prospective students who were visiting the group about the possibly crazy decision they were making (to go into a highly technical field with few employment prospects in academia)… essentially reminding us that we’d better be doing it for the love of the subject. I think that we all were in awe of him, and perhaps a little afraid early on, but later […] Click to continue reading this post


It was a quiet and good day today on the work front, here in Aspen. I started at the Center relatively early (having risen at about 7:00am today – a bit later than I have been) and the plan was definitely a vastly-mostly-physics day, digging into some of the things I’ve been puzzling over, and having some conversations with one or two people about their projects. The first order of the day, once arriving, was to turn off my phone and go dark on IM, and turn off my email… The plan for such days is to only check messages and so forth at lunchtime, and then much later in the afternoon, which is rather helpful, I find. (In fact, I ignore the phone for the entire day until the evening…)

I won’t give you a tedious blow by blow of my day, since it was mostly a mixture of sitting and reading or staring into space (along with some scribbling here and there), and so forth. I also went for some walks, down by the Aspen Institute (where there’s currently the interesting “Brainstorm Tech” conference sponsored by Fortune magazine going on) and of course over to the Music tent, where there were lots of people in the morning, since the Music Festival orchestra (and a lot of very young pianists – maybe from the piano competition? – taking turns) were rehearsing for tonight’s concert. I sent an email or two, I’ll admit, but they were specifically concerning a project I’m working on with a colleague back in LA, and so they count as ok.

I went for a walk to think and eventually returned to the tent after one or two […] Click to continue reading this post


As you might guess from the flower to the right, I’m presently not in California, but Colorado. In fact I’m in Aspen, a place to which, you might have gathered from previous years’ blogging, I come to work for a while in the Summer. The Aspen Center for Physics is here, as well as some great mountain trails, river walks, bike trails*, several other organizations of interest, festivals, and of course, some good cafes. So I’m pretty well set up in terms of things I need to think and work on various projects.

The flower is the columbine, the state flower, and I encountered them (and a host of other lovely flowers of many types) on Saturday on my first hike since properly being acclimatised to the altitude and so forth.

I’ve already had some great conversations at the Center, which included catching up […] Click to continue reading this post

Dark Red and Orange

These are lovely. The dark ones are very unusual, perhaps. They are Purple Russians, usually thought of alongside the Black Russian varieties that I think are usually more round. There’s a whole black tomato category in the tomato-growing world, and this is one of many. (Click for a larger view.) These were the second of the clusters of handsome green tomatoes in a previous post.

The garden continues to produce a variety of tasty things. These were from a little over a week ago. The downside is that one part of the garden is under attack from […] Click to continue reading this post


Been back on The Project a bit more in recent days, mixing it in with various physics thoughts, projects, physics related duties, and so forth. More on some of that later. I’ve been writing some new pieces for the work, and have been flowing nicely at times. I write both in words (scribbling in my notebook in H pencil) and images, this being the point of some of what I’m up to. (See my discussion about the nature and intent of the whole business in earlier posts collected here.) So I write words, but also think about how the reader’s eye will move around the page, communicating intent, story, emotion, and concept, and so the words are supplemented by -and often guided by- little “thumbnail” images I scribble as well. (Actually, this is not so different from how I do my physics research, and I know that this is quite common. We think and reason using a mixture of words, images, equations, and so forth, and looking in my notebooks on physics will show a lot of commonality with my notebooks for The Project. Part of what I hope The Project will achieve is to help the general reader learn that this happens, while also benefiting from it by reading the form/medium they are reading…)

In the more familiar language of film, in my job as writer and “artist” at this stage, I’m directing the action as I write, and sort of doing the first pass at editing too, keeping in mind also things that will be taken over by my director of photography, costumer, editor, set designer, and so forth. Oh, those are also me in this case, since […] Click to continue reading this post

Carmageddon Reaction

Atlantic Station on Gold Line East LA Branch(Scroll to the end of this post for the funny thing I actually intended to post without my own musings getting in the way…) It has certainly been a huge story, with national and maybe even international attention been given to it. Carmageddon is the name given to the event of the 405 highway being closed for a 10 mile stretch for most of this weekend, for maintenance purposes. People are warning of disaster, complaining, predicting calamities for business, stocking up on food supplies, and so on and so forth. Some people are angry, some are amused, some are confused. For the most part however, people are quietly making sensible plans to adjust their routines or plans to take account of the event. (Er, I’m not sure I’d include flying from Burbank to Long Beach among the sensible plans!*)

I’m sort of struck by the huge impact this is having in people’s minds, and it has raised all sorts of discussions, reflections, and arguments about the reliance on cars that people have, public transport, and so on and so forth. All subjects you’ve maybe read being discussed here over the years. (Search the archives and/or use the search bar to the right.) The clich├ęs about there being “no public transport” in LA is a convenient one for all to use at times (or all the time) when we want to stay in our nice cosy cars and ignore the alternatives and the possibility of making adjustments to include even occasional use of them, but I readily admit that the West side is a lot closer to the standard image of Los Angeles in this regard than points further East (still staying decidedly North-leaning in the discussion of course – the South LA conversation is an interesting one for another time). The density of shops, cafes, and long, desirably walkable stretches with other pedestrians (yes, they do exist in LA) does indeed seem lower over there, and while there is some bus coverage, the lower density makes the flaws of that part of the transport system hurt more, and of course the subway/metro […] Click to continue reading this post