I’ve no idea who he was, but he made for an interesting subject for several minutes*, sitting eating his breakfast with his (I think) wife. I was staying at a hotel and having breakfast, just North of Santa Barbara. The person I set out wanting to draw (very interesting face) was sitting right opposite me, at the same table as me, looking over regularly, and so it seemed a bad idea to try to sketch him. Also, he turned out to be a physicist also visiting at the KITP for a workshop, and so it could have ended up quite awkward.
It was a pretty good week at the workshop. I had a number of interesting conversations with young people trying out ideas and calculations, who’ve actually read (!) various papers of mine, and so had questions and Continue reading ‘Breakfast Guy’
So journalist Pamela Johnson (no relation!) did a nice article last week about the science+film competition I mentioned to you (see also here). It is entitled “It Could Happen One Night”, and you can take a look at it here.
If you’re a student at USC and thinking that you can’t do this because you don’t know about science, or you don’t know about film… don’t give up! You might just need help to figure out how to get in contact with students who also want to get involved in making a film and want to learn more about one side or another (so you’re in the Continue reading ‘Science Film Connections’
Well, here I am, almost at the end of Saturday, and rather behind on where I wanted to be. Somehow, a half-day shoot for a TV show turned into an all day marathon, due to a series of mishaps and so forth. The first part of the shoot was fun (it involved me in a pool hall, occasionally potting balls and so forth), but not the second. But I soldiered on, managing to explain a bunch of concepts about quantum mechanics, spacetime, and quantum gravity. We’ll see what comes of it. It’s all for science, and for you…
So much of the afternoon had been set aside of writing, and for maybe a little drawing practice, and it’s all mostly gone now and the only thing I feel left in the mood for is Continue reading ‘Head Lines’
I’ve received any number of emails from excited friends pointing me to articles in the news saying that particles have been discovered moving faster than the speed of light. Thanks everyone! My initial gut-response to the whole thing has been as given in the title of this post. My measured, scientist-response has been “this is extremely unlikely”. You see, it doesn’t seem to make much sense to me at all, and I expect that the scientists involved will at some point find an error, or other scientists will fail to reproduce the experiment. But, let’s see what happens. The great thing about science is that it is not about what people believe. It is about demonstrating phenomena with reliable, repeatable experiments. (The experiments were done by the OPERA collaboration, and their preliminary paper is here. I don’t need to point to the news articles since every news outlet has a bit on it.)
It’s funny, I’ve recently been writing about this in a part of the graphic novel. Somehow I think that the speed of light is presented too much as a speed limit in popular discourse, and so people naturally keep thinking that there’s some way of violating the law, like you can on the highway, or that some things are not subject to that law, like motorcycle cops, or people in a hurry to get home to watch Madmen, etc… I don’t expect this to be terribly clear in the short time I have to type this between this and that, but I think things are better thought of not in terms of a speed limit, but rather in terms of the fact that it all has to do with the meaning of what Continue reading ‘No. Uh-uh. Nope. Nuh-Uh.’
The new season of Categorically Not! gatherings started last Sunday night. It went very well. You may recall that it is held at the Santa Monica Art Studios. 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. Here is the website that describes past ones, and upcoming ones.
This one was about food, and had musings on food and bringing people together at New York’s Cornelia Street Cafe, by the founder Robin Hirsch. He talked about the history of the place, read some extract from his writings about it, and also described the beginnings of the “Entertaining Science” series that got going when K C Cole, Roald Hoffman, and Oliver Sacks did a performance there many years ago. The Categorically Not! series, now five years or so in age, was a spiritual outgrowth of that series, and so it was great to see Robin speak at it. He was very pleasant and interesting to talk to before and after the event too. (I did a quick, rough, sketch during his 20 minute segment – with some tidying up later – and have included it for you to see. Click for slightly larger view.)
Robin was followed by Amy Rowat, of UCLA. Amy gave us a nice overview of what’s going on in her lab. She’s a physicist, and spends a lot of her time looking at food through that lens. The concerns she described were largely ones of structural, Continue reading ‘Categorically Not! – Food’
It is 8:20am, and only now is the sun appearing from behind the mist that seemed to cover the world since I got up this morning at 6:00am and since I boarded the Amtrak train at 7:30am, bound for Santa Barbara. We’ve arrived at beautiful downtown Northridge, and have another two hours and a half to go. I’ve got my bike folded neatly in the luggage rack above me (I tried not to look too smug when passing two cyclists struggling a bit to find room for their giant bikes in the space remaining to them), have had my second slice of multigrain bread smeared with whipped cream cheese and homemade fig jam (I made a batch a few weeks ago) and an sipping coffee while catching up on various things, such as telling you what I am doing. I think I’ll stop writing for the blog now, getting back to thinking about some physics I want to put into a new paper, looking out the window at the landscape as it opens up more (we’ll be running through farmland, and then along the seaside soon!), and letting my mind drift and be open to those expansive kinds of thoughts that typically come in when I am sitting on a train watching the world go by. I don’t get that with driving up here, since so much it put into driving safely and so forth, one’s mind is never fully free. I love train travel, and I love this journey, even though I know there’s no good reason why in the 21st Century in the USA it should take three hours. (Three and a half on the return – I mean, really).
Ok… back to stuff.
Oh, wait – Why am I going to Santa Barbara, you ask? Is it another “jump on the train and see where I end up” sort of day? (See an earlier post.) No, I’m going up there (actually my stop is Goleta) to spend a bit of the week at Continue reading ‘Journeying’
I might be losing my stamina, or have simply taken on more than I usually do, but it sure seems more tiring and hectic than it usually does this early in the semester.
It was a busy week, but I managed to get a few things done here and there that seem worthwhile, so I count my blessings, as they say. (Or used to say – maybe that’s somehow too loaded a phrase to use now? Not sure.)
To attempt to wind down yesterday after a tightly wound day and found myself walking with large sketchbook in hand in the warm evening sunlight to a studio to Continue reading ‘That Was the Week that Was’
On Monday evening, I could not draw a thing correctly. Seriously, if you had put a cylinder in front of me square on, I’d have not been able to draw a recognizable representation of it.
This morning, on the bus, I noticed this interesting face inviting me to draw it (the gentleman currently in possession of it was dozing for some of the trip), and in a short time this sketch (click to enlarge) popped out from under my pencil. Funny old world…
This week marks a landmark in the class (Introduction to Quantum Field Theory – see also here) since it focuses on the seminal work of one my heroes, Paul Dirac, who quietly went about his business of puzzling over the issue of how to find an equation that describes the properties of electrons (particles of spin one-half), and in finding what is now called the Dirac equation (see snapshot from my notes on right), uncovered a hugely rich and bright cornerstone of fundamental physics. It is famously described as a sort of square root of the relativistic wave equation known at the time – the Klein-Gordon equation – and in that way of thinking you quickly arrive at the idea of anti-particles (as did Dirac), since taking a square root leads to two solutions (both +2 and -2 square to give you 4). One solution turned out to be the electron, and the other leads (by an appropriate path of reasoning) to its anti-particle, the positron*.
Besides leading inevitably to anti-particles, the equation (which Dirac pursued in Continue reading ‘Spin’
An especially important day for wandering around one’s city and just enjoying it. For no good reason, I sketched a bit while sitting in a cafe at Sunset and Cahuenga…
Continue reading ‘Sunset and Cahuenga’
The garden is suffering quite a bit from the heat. I think I am going to lose some of those lovely tomato plants that are producing this sort of bounty:
and the beans that have been producing a lovely variety (I don’t recall the name) that is now drying out on the vine rapidly before maturity*:
Continue reading ‘Hot Plants’
It is super-hot again here in Los Angeles. My strategy has been to get up really early and get to my desk on campus well before the heat gets going. This means that I’m not walking or waiting for the bus in too much heat on the way to work. The drawback of this strategy is that if I want to avoid that same sort of heat, I’d have to stay until the evening, which makes for a series of very long days. Not so good. So I’ve been sometimes walking home from the bus or subway very slowly, picking nice clumps of trees for shade, and stopping at this nice liquor store on the corner and emerging with a nice cold (nostalgic) cream soda, which is in a brown bottle that must look suspiciously like a beer. But I don’t care. It is hot.
(Photo: Someone was flying a kite that was a long sequence of kites on the beach in Santa Monica a week or two ago. Very pretty. Being on the beach seems like an excellent idea right now.)
With the official end of Summer sort of here, there are all of a sudden far too many events and social things going on, so my evenings have all been rather more consistently full of late than I normally care for, but each time it is something so very Continue reading ‘Heat and Summer’s End’
Working at the Casbah in Silver Lake Friday afternoon, I took a break to do a Continue reading ‘At the Casbah’
Yesterday was very busy for me, and a tiring day overall. It started with me getting up at 5:45am again, which was not so great this time since I went to sleep at 1:00am. The plan was to get to campus at 8:00am and continue writing my 10:00am lecture. This almost worked (I got delayed by half an hour due to sending more emails and so forth about the film competition) and I was at my desk at 8:30am, so only half an hour late. I’d been building most of the elements I needed for the class the night before, and in my head on the way, and so I had plenty of time.
Plenty of time for preparing fun since the lecture was the highlight of the day! I know it sounds odd, but I had a blast in that lecture! It was, as the cool kids say, Awesome! Now don’t get me wrong… I am not patting myself on the back about my lecturing skills… it is the material that was the star here, and if you put it together the right way, it simply shines. It did so yesterday. I’m teaching the introduction to quantum field theory, among the most powerful computational tools ever devised to study Nature. (The famous example brought up is this: What else allows you to compute a number to twelve significant figures, and check it against experiment to about the same accuracy? As Feynman said in his little book “QED”, it is like specifying the distance from New York to Los Angeles to the accuracy of the thickness of a human hair… (The number represents a property of an electron, and the computation is done in Quantum Electrodynamics, a form of quantum field theory.))
We’re starting to do self-interactions now, which require the development of Continue reading ‘Laying Down the Lines’