QFT Book Review

9780199699322This month’s issue of Physics Today has a review that I wrote of the book “Quantum Field Theory for the Gifted Amateur”, by Tom Lancaster and Stephen J. Blundell. I took the opportunity to give a broader view (albeit brief, given the word limit) of the landscape of books on that subject and how it has changed a lot, in a way that I think reflects some excellent changes in formal theory brought about by (at least in part) research into the many topics pulled together under the broad umbrella of string theory. As you might know from reading here and elsewhere, I’ve long been pushing for the increased application of the ideas and techniques of string theory to other areas of physics, and it has become quite the thing these days, I’m happy to see. Such research has resulted in the blurring of the […] Click to continue reading this post

Wild Thing

wild_thing_april_2016The wildflower patch continues to produce surprises. You never know exactly what’s going to come up, and in what quantities. I’ve been fascinated by this particular flower, for example, which seems to be constructed out of several smaller flowers! What a wonder, and of course, there’s just one example of its parent plant in the entire patch, so once it is gone, it’s gone.

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Great Big Exchange


Here’s a fun Great Big Story (CNN) video piece about the Science and Entertainment Exchange (and a bit about my work on Agent Carter). Click here for the piece.

(Yeah, the headline. Seems you can’t have a story about science connecting with the rest of the culture without the word “nerd” being used somewhere…)

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Yay, McCloud!

sketch_during_interview_10_april_2016_wide(Click sketch for larger view.) I was only able to make it to one scheduled event in the LA Times Festival of Books this year. (Family constraints.) Normally I go to a few at least, getting my tickets for the panels in advance and going along and listening to authors, writers, editors, and other book-related people having a discussion about some topic or other. If I’m honest, for about 80-85% of such panels or interviews I come away wondering why on earth I went because everyone said the standard things I thought they’d say. But that 10-15% can be great, and you never know where it’ll show up – which event, which writer, during which Q&A… So for that reason I come expecting to get good extra value from listening to the conversations around me in the line and in the audience, and of I course bring my sketchpad and try to see if there’s someone interesting to sketch while I listen.

As usual, for panels involving graphic books or comics, there’s almost always someone in the audience who is working on a sketch of some sort. People who appreciate that form often find value in sketching and often do it (or some sort of doodle) themselves as a pastime, and that’s a great thing. If I’m not the only one and if I’m sitting at the right angle, I often get the fun opportunity to sketch a sketcher, and that is what happened during the interview of Scott McCloud on […] Click to continue reading this post


wild_flowers_March_2016I got a lot of plants and seeds into the ground early this year, so they got the benefits of some of the rain we had, and got in a good amount of growing before the relentless heat begins. Here is part of a patch of wildflowers that have been putting on a generous display these last several weeks. It has been great to enjoy them with the whole family too – the young gentleman is a big fan of flowers of all kinds.

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Space at the Movies

first_fridays_nhm_space_movies_eventWell, that was a fun event. Here’s a photograph* of Sean Carroll and me as guests of the always-excellent host Patt Morrison at the Natural History Museum as we talk about aspects of the science of space (and time) as it appears in the movies, how we go about giving advice to filmmakers, and so forth. It was part of the First Fridays series which has a special focus on […] Click to continue reading this post


Extract from Wednesday’s General Relativity class:

Me, at the board writing equations: “…and so the ratio of the earth’s radius to its radius of gyration is about 0.577…”
Student raises hand and asks: “What’s radius of gyration?”
Me: “Er… It’s the average spacing everyone has to give you at the night club when you go Ker-ray-zay on the dance floor.”

As luck would have it, everyone laughed. That would have been a terrible time to have an awkward silence.

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Egon, Pablo, Vincent


Preparing a little montage of Schiele, Picasso, and Van Gogh, made of postcards gathered from museums in Vienna (the Leopold), Madrid (the Reina Sofia), and Amsterdam (the Van Gogh). Sadly, I’m leaving out the one on the far left (a example of Schiele’s excellently angular depiction of the human figure) since this is for my office on campus, and, well… I do my biennial mandatory harassment training, and will err on the side of caution to avoid offense, lawsuits, possibly both.

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Weekend Reminder

NHM_poster_April_1_2016_2While wandering with the family in the Natural History Museum this weekend, I spotted a reminder (click for larger view) for Friday’s event, which you might be interested in.

I’ll be on a panel about science (particularly space-related) and the movies, with fellow panelist Sean Carroll, and it is hosted by the awesome Patt Morrison! It’s part of the Natural History Museum’s First Fridays series, which you might recall me blogging about here before (actually, last time I was at one, I was a host so I imagine it’ll feel a bit different this time).

Here’s a website with all the details.

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Apparently I was on an episode of the BBC program Horizon a couple of hours ago over in the UK. I completely forgot that was coming up and forgot to mention it. Sorry! I’ve no idea what parts of the interview with me they used, or what the final thrust of the episode is, but I did have a lot of fun shooting the episode with the filmmakers over in Joshua Tree some time last year. See a post I did about it here. I spent some time explaining why negative mass is problematic, especially in the context of gravity… The program talks a lot about people who are trying to find anti-gravity of various sorts. I was reminded that the episode aired since I found myself tagged on social media, and wondered what the ruckus was about. Then I found the following tweet by @homeworkjunkie with a screen shot, and the caption “Nice reaction to runaway problem;zero cost energy proposed by some people in BBC Horizon”:
[…] Click to continue reading this post

Sabbatical Dreams Fulfilled!

NYT_Simons_fellowship_announcement_2016Well, today’s hunt for a print copy of the New York Times (click for larger view) was easier than the Wall Street Journal hunt a couple of months back. Been a while since I was in the Science Times, and I’ve not been in it in this capacity before. The Simons Fellowship announcement was today, and I was awarded one. I’m honoured to be in such fine company! Nice to see my friends Lawrence Hall, Jeff Harvey, Petr Horava, Andy Strominger among my fellow Fellows, and congratulations to everyone!

This is a major part of my sabbatical planning for next academic year (half book-completing, half research), and it sure is great to get it. There aren’t many fellowships of this sort for my area of work. Thanks Simons Foundation and all concerned.


*And when I say fulfilled… Well, there’s still the matter of actually doing the thing and getting all my planning to work out… Click to continue reading this post


retreat_placeIt’s Spring break. For the greater part of the last week, I’ve been in hiding. I’m alone in a quiet town somewhere, getting a good long stretch of work done on the book project for the first time in a long time. For most of each day I’d sit at this tiny table, writing and doing rough layout sketches, glancing out of the window from time to time, listening to music on headphones during the long stretches of concentration*. Yes, and drinking tea and coffee. For lunch I’d […] Click to continue reading this post