Just as I left for my shootingtrip last week, I had a moment of indecision. I wanted to take something to read during airport and airplane downtime, but wanted to travel light. The books I wanted to take felt a bit big in my bag, somehow, largely because I could not decide what I was in the mood for and so was in danger of bringing more than one. Then I remembered that I was behind on New Yorkers, and was taking my iPad anyway. So I made sure the New Yorker was updated on it, and what did I see waiting for me to delve into on the plane? The special issue on Science Fiction!
It is an excellent issue, with contributions from lots of authors, including several short reflective pieces from legendary authors like Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. Le Guin, Margaret Atwood, and William Gibson and newer authors like China Miéville and Karen Russell talking about things like how they found their way into fiction and science fiction, and its role as a gateway to the larger literary world. Of course, there are also the usual reflections about the snobbery and separation into high and low culture that existed in the early days (and that still persists today) for literature as well as film and TV when it comes to science fiction (see a related discussion here), many of which are humorously done, and will be familiar to many readers from their childhood…. I strongly recommend getting that issue if you do not already subscribe. It may well still be on magazine stands…
You know, I’d love to pretend that I’ve just come in from hanging out at the Edison, or the Blue whale, or some other fun place, feeling a bit concerned about my morning class on how to write equations for the shape of the universe (we do some cosmology in the General Relativity class tomorrow)… but instead I’m up at almost 1:00am because of a persistent dry cough, indigestion, and a noisy mockingbird in a tree just outside. Are these connected? I do not know. All I know is I cannot sleep.
So I blog.
It has been, once again, a crazy week. There are times when I wonder if this has become the norm, which usually leads me to valiantly fight a bit to ensure that is not the case, resulting a a withdrawal from a lot of stuff to regroup. I hope to do that soon. Although I’ve said yes to so many things, it is looking like July or August before that can happen. That’s bad.
Right now I can only remember back as far as Wednesday, where the day began with a last check of the midterm I wrote for the GR class (second midterm for them) before setting it at 10:00am. (Perhaps the most interesting thing on it was perhaps the computation of the surface gravity of a static black hole, working in Eddington-Finkelstein coordinates…) At 10:25 I snuck out of the classroom to meet with a screenwriting student who is working on a screenplay featuring a physicist character. She was seeking some advice and wanted to exchange some thoughts about the work she’s doing… I got to gripe a bit about my pet peeves about scientist characters (not just the scarcity of well drawn ones – although things have gotten better in recent years) in TV and film. Somehow the rest of Wednesday (after the seminar ended at 1:40) is a bit of a blur, but I think it did involve me leaving campus to head home to hide and do a bit of finish work on a page I mentioned in the last post. Maybe. (Oh, there was also the official opening party for Umamicatessen (new restaurant downtown) in the evening, that kept me out to almost midnight. I’ve been meaning to blog about the place since the official “soft” opening party about two months ago, but had not got to it yet.)
Don’t forget the big event of the Spring! The LA Times Book Festival is the weekend of the 21st and 22nd April, and we’ll be hosting it on the USC campus. The website is here for more information, and start booking your tickets (free) for the various panels you plan to visit.
I’m also looking forward to the Book Awards on the night of the 20th. It’s always fun and interesting, with a great reception at the end. I’ve no idea if I’ll get tickets to all that this year (but I hope so, since three friends of mine are presenting [update: see here to purchase some]), but in any case it’ll be interesting to hear the results of the awards in the various categories again this year. The list of nominees is here. […] Click to continue reading this post →
Well, it’s a time-consuming process (continuing the new work on The Project mentioned in a recent post), especially when you put in more detail than really needed on what is supposed to be a rough layout. Sigh… Anyway, I’m several pages along in layouts for a story I wrote a while back, and I’m flipping ahead from time to time and wondering how long this beast is going to end up being! In any case, it’s a fun topic (or topics) being explored in this one. I’m wondering if I should try to find a way of splitting it into two stories or perhaps […] Click to continue reading this post →
So here’s an interesting sequence of events. On Tuesday in the QFT class I finished the lecture on Renormalization Group Flow, and the idea of a “beta function”, unpacking the results we’d accumulated from QED and quartic scalar field theory to use as illustration. The key result, for those of you about to scroll away (or the few of you who have not, but are hovering over the scroll bar), is as follows. Never mind what a beta function is right now. The issue at hand concerns whether it is positive or negative for a force of interaction being studied. A positive beta function tells you that the strength of the interaction between constituent things (particles, etc) gets weaker as you work at lower energies… This is an important result in understanding how Nature behaves in a variety of situations… one way of seeing variety is to look at different energy scales, and sometimes what seems familiar takes on different character. The converse is true… that positive beta function tells you that the interaction gets stronger at higher energies… Energy is also rather like the inverse of distance scale too, so high energy is akin to shorter distance scales (higher resolution), and low energy like longer distance scales (grainier resolution). In other words, looking at stuff in really tiny detail means using higher energy… and the nature of that stuff can change when you look at that sort of resolution since the way things interact changes… For electromagnetism, for example, we see that it gets stronger the closer we look, digging more deeply into the structure of the atom, say, probing the charged constituents of the nucleus once we’ve understood electrons. The result is that you see the electromagnetic interaction changes, ultimately turning into something else… (it merges with one of the nuclear forces, in fact…but that’s a story for another day)
Somehow after Wednesday I lost track of time, in a sense, in the natural course of having another very busy week. There were several things competing for time, and some of them may be of interest to you. (Left: Some lovely pink gladiolus flowers that have sprung up in my garden.) The Nobel Prizes kept coming, of course, with some very interesting winners announced. In addition to the ones I mentioned already in two earlier posts, I’ve got to find some people among our faculty who’ll be willing to spend 10 to 15 minutes making some informal remarks about the Who/What/Why aspects of the prize at one of two lunches I’ll be hosting in the coming weeks about the Nobel Prize. I’ve mentioned this before. It is an annual event I’ve tried to get going as part of the Dornsife Commons (formerly known as College Commons) series. I’ve locked in Physics and Peace, and want to get people for all the others. This year I know that if I have problems with Chemistry, I can step in if need be, although I’d rather not have to do that – I want to broaden participation, not do everything myself. Look out for those lunches (see here) and come along!
Speaking of doing everything myself, I’ve been continuing the weeks long struggle to get support, interest, and participation for the Science Film Competition I told you about earlier. Having spent a lot of time meeting with many faculty and other parties to build support and understanding, getting lots of faculty to make announcements (one time even coming down from Santa Barbara to campus to give a ten minute announcement in a class at the film school and going up again after!) and so forth – and thanks everyone who has helped! – I decided to amplify my focus on tackling […] Click to continue reading this post →
In addition to the CMC staff handbook, I also got the mechanical crew handbook, which was originally drawn by Jim McEleny, and then revised in 1974 by Ted Mullings, who I told you about in the earlier post. The pages are more sparsely done in this one, but there’s still some great humour here and there… (Click for larger views….) […] Click to continue reading this post →
Not long ago I was in Leadville, a mining town you get to from Aspen by going over Independence pass and then down into the valley. (It is apparently North America’s highest -in elevation- incorporated town, being at over 10K feet… Its roots are in gold and silver mining, starting back in the mid 19th Century.) I love visiting the big store that sells all sorts of curiosities and antiques there, and then after wading through lots of bits and pieces, going to the saloon bar for Irish coffees.
This time I actually bought something. Two things in fact – Some old handbooks for mine crew personnel of the Climax Molybdenum Company, from 1978. They are quite small, about 5 by 4 inches, but they are packed with delightfully presented dos and don’ts about how to do the job, including safety practices, and warnings about what might go wrong if you do things the wrong way. I particularly love the fact that the pages are […] Click to continue reading this post →
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 →
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 →
Going to the movies this weekend? Lots of interesting choices, but perhaps you especially want to see some portrayals of people in academic careers by some of the hot young phenoms. Well, here are two you might not have considered, both films released May 6th.
1. Observe Nathalie Portman as an astrophysicist in Thor. I don’t find this to be too much of a stretch since the actress always seemed to me to radiate an intensity and intelligence that would help make such a role believable, even in films where everything else is rather a disaster as far as believability is concerned. (cough, cough, Star Wars prequels, cough, cough) Well, it turns out that Thor is not the disaster I thought it would be and is rather well put together, all things considered (this is one of several Marvel characters that I was underwhelmed by in the old days). So go for Portman, stay for the hammer, lightning bolts, and other stuff. Turns out the physicist aspect of her performance was not as well studied as her ballet in that other film, but oh well. It was not like it was the central issue of the film. But enjoy all the Einstein-Rosen bridge mentions!
2. Observe Jessica Alba as a mathematics teacher who loves numbers in An Invisible Sign. Now, er, this for me was casting that did not bode well, but to be fair,[…] Click to continue reading this post →
Ah. Should have mentioned this before. Tomorrow I’ll be talking at Revolution Books. No, I won’t be stirring up political buzz or anything like that, rallying the troops, singing the songs and so forth. Sorry to disappoint. I’ll be there doing what I usually do – trying to put a bit of science out there among the rest of the culture where it belongs. I ran into Keith James of Revolution Books in the market one day some time ago and he recognized me from a tv show explaining science – and I was hanging out with a writer friend whose work he was a fan of, and so it was a two-birds-one-stone thing for him, stopping us to say hi. He raised the idea of me coming and explaining Einstein’s Relativity at the bookstore, and I readily agreed. It has been a long time in the making -largely due to me- but we finally settled on a date, and it is tomorrow. I also suggested that I put them in touch with a friend at the Griffith Observatory so that after my […] Click to continue reading this post →
A week has passed since the festival and I’ve not posted any more information about it. This is partly a result of being preoccupied with several other things, including organizing yesterday’s workshop… which seemed to go very well, by the way. See previous post for an update.
I thought that the festival was simply great. I attended many more panel discussions than I had before, and that may have been a good thing since it meant that I mixed outside and inside a bit better than I have in the past, meaning that I was less likely to get tired from the heat or from simply being on my feet all day. I ran into several friends out enjoying it, some themselves on their way to or from panels or presenting at stages. It works really well at USC, and it seems that people were really enjoying the new layout, and the better access to the festival overall afforded by the numerous public transport links I saw people enjoying (had to miss a 200 bus on the way from MacArthur Park to the campus because it was full of people heading to the festival before 10:00am on Saturday. Nice to see.)
[…] Click to continue reading this post →
Well, it was wonderful yesterday. Maybe my best time at the festival over the several years I’ve been going, possibly because I visited more of the ticketed panels, mixing those in with the wandering outdoors looking at the stalls and stages. Might do some more today…
In the meantime, here’s my favourite picture from yesterday. I like it for several reasons, not the least because it symbolizes a major aspect of the whole thing that I consider important – family and the joy of reading – but, well, have a look and see what you can see… (click for a larger view).