Gone East, Looking West

This is exciting! Today I decided to explore the new extension of the Gold line for a little while. atlantic_stationThere’s something deeply satisfying about seeing a prominent public works project of such obvious value to the community finish the construction phase and begin regular service. I was away in Europe at the opening of it in mid-November and so today was my personal little inauguration ceremony. It runs South and then East from downtown’s Union Station to Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles. Yes, you can take it all the way from Pasadena to East LA without changing trains (and similarly in the other direction) and so there’s an incentive to explore. (I’m hoping this will motivate some of the people I know in Pasadena who rarely leave it to actually get out and explore Los Angeles for real…)

I wandered the streets a little bit at one or two of the stops and of course I also sat on the trains looking out of the window and at the people around me. As with many […] Click to continue reading this post

Final Morsels

cheesy_biscuitsThey’re sitting the final exam for my graduate electromagnetism class right now, having started at the ungodly hour of 8:00am. I’m sitting outside in the bright, lukewarm Winter sun with a cup of coffee, two cheesy biscuits I baked at 6:30am for no reason other than feeling in a baking mood (see right), my phone in case there’s a reason for the TA on duty to contact me, and my iPod, which I am of course using to write to you.

It has been an odd few days. Not so much because of the pair of them that had me wandering around a huge studio lot, being wardrobe-checked and make-up checked, shot from all angles with a live cheering studio audience in attendance (for your viewing pleasure on a new prime-time series on Fox to begin airing next month – more on this later, perhaps), but because early on Saturday I woke up with a severe vertigo attack. vertigoVery odd indeed and although I managed to get it under control and it had worn off over the days, every now and again it gets close to being triggered again. I don’t know the source for sure – I think it was correlated with a reaction to some of the food I had on set, maybe combined somehow with the severe ear blockage I had about a month ago after catching a (short-lived) cold on a long transatlantic flight? – but I have to say (and this is the point of my digression here) that it is a remarkably odd experience for me to feel slightly off balance for such an extended period. I’m used to being on the tips of my toes ready to skitter along the line at the edge of a low wall if the mood takes me while walking along. But I can’t imagine doing that now. I feel like I’ve lost my powers… it’s often amazing to me how little it takes to make a person feel very mortal, even fragile, again. It will no doubt pass.

I’ve been gentle on this final exam. I still find it disturbing that kids today (yes, I said “kids today” – perhaps my lack of equilibrium has put me in crotchety-old-man mode), even the very smart ones, typically do badly on any advanced exam that […] Click to continue reading this post

The Leonids are almost here!

nasa sky mapAnother meteor shower is almost upon us. Next week it is the turn of the Leonids. Now, as the name implies, these have their apparent origin in the constellation Leo. So how visible it will be for you, if you live in an urban area, might depend upon Leo’s position in the sky relative to your local bright city lights at the time of viewing. But it is worth trying. Look for a public park, rooftop, or other open area of sky. Parks can be better for pulling you away from some of the immediate lights, and then sit still and look at one patch of sky steadily for a while (generally in the right direction!) To get guidance, have […] Click to continue reading this post

Help from the Bugs

On NPR ’s morning edition the other day there was an interesting piece by Nell Greenfieldboyce about a lovely piece of research on the effects of various cultures of microbial organisms in our stomachs on how we extract nutrients from food. The key point is that what lives in our stomachs and how it interacts with what we eat is a key consideration in worrying about issues like nutrition, obesity, and other issues. I recommend listening to the audio of the piece, which you can find (along with a transcript if you prefer) here. (Actually, while searching for the audio for the story I found a related story by Robert Krulwich from almost exactly a year earlier. You can listen to that here.)

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

The Universe: Cool Cars, Hot Sand, and Fast Balls

flows in death valleyYou may recall my mentioning a desert trip to shoot something for TV, some time back. One done at precisely the wrong time of year. And to Death Valley, one of the hottest places on earth, to boot. Well, I meant to mention that the episode of the History Channel’s The Universe that the shoot was for aired a week or two ago and it was really excellent. It was entitled “Liquid Universe” and it was a rather beautiful and thoroughly pleasant episode exploring the role of liquids in our universe, a matter not often raised in questions of astronomy except when it comes to matters of water from time to time. This was not about water per se, but rather the whole matter of material that flows and the role it plays in diverse areas of the solar system and perhaps the universe at large. I was using sand to demonstrate how sometimes there are surprising places where you can find fluid/liquid behaviour, and mentioned some of the new phases of matter found in the context, for example, of quarks and gluons at RHIC. (I’ve spoken about that here a number of times in the context of some of my research. See the archives.)

It was an excellent episode and another example of how one can take a topic under the “The Universe” heading and showcase lots of exciting science quite accessibly […] Click to continue reading this post

Blue Skies…

I always like an excuse to look for blue skies, and to have others look too, even in the worst of times. I had a great reason to do it today.

Early this morning before sunrise I settled down to write my ten o’clock lecture for my Electricity and Magnetism class. On Tuesday I had ended with a computation that is the essence of the reason the sky is blue, which is a nice enough thing to talk about, but today I wanted to go more in depth on the whole thing, and show that you can in a few steps show that the blueness has a particular pattern to it. I wrote out the final equations in a few steps and looked at them for a moment or two and realized that with the sun rising at that very moment, it was the perfect situation to have! So I went outside to enjoy the beautiful Autumn day and the beauty there is in seeing an equation writ large in the sky – and it really was all there.

It is particularly at times like this that one remembers why it is that it is hard not to just love Physics! (I hope you’ll forgive my unashamed love of what I do.)

Here is the sky I saw, looking toward sunrise, and directly in the opposite direction:

sunrise_scattering_1 sunrise_scattering_2

Oh, you’re wondering what I am talking about..? Why is the sky blue? What pattern in the sky? Thanks for asking! There are two things I’m looking at. First, light from the […] Click to continue reading this post

Sketches while Zonked

Once again I find myself in the position of having far more to tell you about than I have either time or energy for – and so much of it is really good!!

I was supposed to tell you about the first of the Nobel Prize lunches that I helped put on last Thursday… Never got to blogging it, and now the second one finished an hour ago. The whole business was quite a success, I am happy to say. I’ll maybe come back to say some more… But I’m zonked right now with tiredness. Super-long day that started early, and I sort of started off tired to begin with. I’m sitting on the bus letting it drag me toward home… From the bus stop I will wheel the bike home because it has an inexplicable medium-slow puncture, and I’m too tired to ride anyway.

What other things have I not told you about?

Well, on Friday I went along to another wonderful event. The Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities had Josh Kuhn give a talk in their fortnightly luncheon at the USC campus. It was about Mexican music in Los Angeles. It was a wonderful and […] Click to continue reading this post


Well that was fun! I’m sitting on the bus on the way home [editorial note: I wrote most of this on Thursday afternoon], with the memory of the College Commons event that I just went to still fresh in my mind. (That and the tasty food at the end of the event.)


This event (“Discovering the World: Collections, Curiosity and Evolution”) was all about collecting and collections, from the institutional collections we have in our society today such as museums and libraries, through the “cabinets of curiosity” of earlier centuries, to the sort of obsessive collections of random stuff that sort of becomes a disease (I mentally glance over at the shelves, piles, and boxes of old New Yorkers in my house; I’ve not been able to throw away a single one since I started subscribing in the early 90s. Yes, I know, I know… I know.)

So many of these types of collections (and the resulting books and compendia which they themselves become the objects of collections and subjects of books and so on and so forth) formed the foundations of the culture, the raw material for scientific study, the inspiration for more collections and for more study, and so on…. So the event used that as a basis and dug out some wonderful articles for us to look and marvel at. The digging was done at USC’s own splendid Doheny library (original Audubon volumes, Cook’s journals, etc) the Huntington library (several illustrated tomes of natural history and an actual plate used long ago for printing Audubon illustrations which were then later hand-coloured by artists) and the Los Angeles Natural History Museum across the street. A number of my colleagues who are scholars in areas that these objects pertain to gave short, informative and […] Click to continue reading this post

New Year Gear

One of the things I seem to do each year is replace my tyres (tires? always confused about the spelling there…) on the Brompton for another year of cycling around the city (often in combination with public transport).new_shoes_for_brompton_2 The beginning of the academic year seems to be about when I do it, which feels right somehow. It reminds me of my youth, when the night before the school academic year started there’d be frantic sewing of new school uniforms, or adjustment of old ones, to be worn the next day. I remember that always being a last minute thing, […] Click to continue reading this post

Pork Pie Hat Reflections

lester_youngI learned yesterday that it was the 100th anniversary of Lester Young’s birth. I hope you know who he is. Just in case you don’t, I’ll take a second out to urge you in the strongest possible terms to learn more and listen to his music. He is one of the true giants of so much of the Twentieth Century’s music, and whether you listen to jazz or not (the musical form he is most associated with), you probably will have felt his influence.

He took the tenor saxophone to a new level, and the rest of the music rose to new heights as a result as well. He refined and extended what a soloist does in jazz improvisation, composing, on the spot, wonderfully lyrical extended solos with a clear and compelling logical structure, of such beauty, and in such a distinct and […] Click to continue reading this post

Toe Temptation

So the other day I was sitting chatting with someone I’d just met and at some point I looked down…and jumped a little in surprise at what I saw. Those shoes were a surprise since for a moment there I thought the person is rather unexpectedly barefoot – but the colour is even more unexpected. Then there was maybe a tiny X-Men moment (Oh! It’s Mystique…) but this all happened all in a flash before settling on the correct answer – it is a kind of shoe I have not seen before. I’d seen the cloven hoof type of shoe, which can have a sort of cheeky and slightly electric beguile to them when worn by a woman with the right devil-may-care attitude, but these were new to me. Worn with boldness, these can really work too, and maybe in the same way, but it is a dangerous tightrope to tread (the person I was meeting with pulled it off admirably!).

Upon returning home I looked them up a bit more (they are called Five Fingers shoes) and I oscillate between giggling at the whole idea and being intrigued. I gather that they are hugely comfortable and that grabs me. But yes, they are somewhat singular. They are so utterly unconventional that I find myself amused by the idea of all the “inappropriate” places I could wear them to. Witness some of the levels of amusement:

[…] Click to continue reading this post

Testing, Testing

Fascinating. I am testing out a new method of posting to the blog. I replaced my ancient and frustrating ipod (I think enough time has been spent tinkering around in its innards (see e.g. here) and now I realize the hard drive itself is now damaged) and my old Palm Tungsten by one new device, an iPod Touch. It seems to work well, and is my compromise to the iPhone mania – I find the fact that you are forced by AT&T into an expensive data contract for the iPhone a bit objectionable, and I certainly don’t want to pay that much to be connected all the time, and moreover have no wish to be connected all the time, and my current phone is a really good phone that does more of what I want than the iPhone does (my phone has a radio for example – it is free and works whether you have a connection to the web or not – good old-fashioned FM) and I am not really one for getting new devices just for newness’ sake. (I’ve realized to my delight that this solution also means that I get to continue saying that I’m the last person in LA without an iPhone. 🙂 )

Since I needed to replace the other things and since the Touch does have Bluetooth and wireless, this seemed like a good move. I can reliably listen to music again, and It will help with productivity too, I can do some communication on the move […] Click to continue reading this post