Red, Yellow, Blue, Green…

red yellow green blue…among other colours.

View of the day from the garden. (Winter. Number x in a limited series of y.) (Click for larger view.) The rains have gone for a while. The sun is back, with clear blue skies to close out the year.

I’m trying to rest. Well, I’m working on various projects at home, mostly. Colours are on my mind a bit in one of these projects, actually. Later today I’m going to be down in the (only slightly mad-scientist) workshop making a portable screen on which to project films.

Projecting onto the wall is good, but I want to make a silver-grey screen with a dark border that will really pop the colours out. Some of this is about not projecting onto […] Click to continue reading this post

Summer Reading: Fresh Air From Pollan

I’ve been meaning to tell you more about Michael Pollan. I’ve been planning a post or two about Summer reading, and was going to discuss the books of Michael Pollan to kick off a possible series. That plan was hatched in the late Summer of 2007… then the Fall came, and then the Winter and Spring… then Summer of 2008… never got around to it. Drat. (Checking back, I see that I started the series by talking about Haruki Murakami, here. So I’ll call this part of the series too, even though it is not really Summer.)

Anyway, the good news is that Pollan was on Fresh Air (NPR) yesterday, and as usual he was excellent:

In an open letter to the next president, author Michael Pollan writes about the waning health of America’s food systems — and warns that “the era of cheap and abundant food appears to be drawing to a close.”

The future president’s food policies, says Pollan, will have a large impact on a wide range of issues, including national security, climate change, energy independence and health care.

Here’s the link to the audio. Before you rush off to that, let me continue what I was going to say, at least in brief.

Pollan has risen to prominence, justifiably, mostly as a result of his excellent book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History Of Four Meals”. It is a delightful examination of the food industry, charting the route of much of the food that you eat […] Click to continue reading this post

Monsters, Etc

Well, it was quite a fascinating and fun Sunday afternoon, all in the spirit of art and community. And the story has a twist or two before the end.

Where do I start? Well, it was the second LA area Monster Drawing Rally (organized on LA by the Outpost for Contemporary Art), held over in Altadena. A friend of mine, artist and playwright Nancy Keystone, told me about it. Over four hours, many artists (Nancy included) would draw, in hour-long shifts, and then the results would be sold at $75 each. There’d be people looking on, general fun, food, beer, wine, and so forth. Of course I’d go! (As a bonus, there was even belly-dancing at one point. Go figure.)

It was rather excellent. There were artists of all sorts, doing a wide variety of things under the banner “drawing”, and lots of people to chat with and things to chat about. Nancy drew faces in brushed ink on pages of the phone book, which I thought was a lovely idea (unfortunately, I missed getting a shot of her in action), and there were people cutting up bits of paper and gluing, blowing things, measuring and calculating things. More on that latter later. (Click for larger views.)

scenes from the monster drawing rally 2008 scenes from the monster drawing rally 2008

It was another great community event, and I recognized faces of friends and strangers from other things I go to around the city, such as the farmer’s market, Categorically Not! events like this recent one, and the wonderful Urban Homestead Speakeasy organized by Christine Louise Berry that I reported on not long ago. My friends Marc Kamionkowski (Caltech) and Robert Caldwell (Dartmouth) (cosmologists/astrophysicists) showed up at some point, and it was great to see them and catch up a bit.

Every hour the artists changed over, finishing their work and another set of artists seat themselves and get to work. So it was quite a dynamic event. As the 5:00pm session […] Click to continue reading this post

Saturday Calm

october rosesWell, another super-busy week has gone by. Work has been crazy, life has been crazy, and so forth. It is so good to be able to sit here for a while on a sunny Saturday morning and reflect. I thought I’d take you with me on some of the reflections.

The Nobel prizes seemed to come up so much faster this year, and go by even more quickly. I’ve not had as much time to contemplate them as I’d have liked. It was certainly really good to see that the physics one was a celebration of some of the key ideas in my field (see here), of course, but I’d have liked to have had more chatter about all of them, as I usually try to do. It is good to learn more about other things – get out of one’s comfort zone. Two years ago while I was departmental colloquium organizer, I set aside one date to be a colloquium where the three science prizes were highlighted – “Who, What, Why?” There’s always going to be local faculty who can […] Click to continue reading this post

A Farewell To Arms

cut off arms from shirts

When I look at this, it sort of scares me a touch. Just a touch. There’s a memory of the arms – flesh and blood ones – inside them, and there goes a shiver down my spine. But it’s all fine, really. There’s nothing sinister going on, and no horrible subtext lurking at all. What I was doing with my Labour Day holiday was all perfectly innocent. Nobody’s arms – not mine or anyone else’s – were or will be hurt! (I’m rather pleased with the title of the post, I have to say.)

What was I doing?
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Ferrous Thoughts

I spent an awful lot of time as a child and teenager tinkering with various projects. I’d have lots of projects on at any one time, brewing in my head for a while, and making their way to notebooks and scraps of soldering iron, meter, …paper, then to elaborate drawings showing the technical details, and ultimately to some sort of realization in the real work, some percentage of the time. In the Summer time, I would probably have one Big Project and that would occupy my thoughts for a great deal of time, and would involve a lot of hiding away doing things. Lots of these projects would involve electronics (increasingly as time went by and I Learned more and my various part time jobs could support more) and there’d be lots of tinkering with all sorts of items, and a constant feature would be the soldering iron, one not so different from the one that you see to the right.

Well, one of the many things I liked about the Iron Man movie (yes, I was right there to […] Click to continue reading this post


While the wonderful downpour carries on outside (the whole of Southern California is in the grips of a powerful storm), I’ll continue with the discussion of the re-invigoration of the study that I started a short while ago

study project - plane
(One of my all-time favourite wood-working tools. The good old-fashioned plane. Planing a bit of wood is jolly good therapy too.)

One of the main things I envisioned, and put into my sketches, was lots of space for books. Lots. I wanted big bookcases that fit the room, and so I planned a simple but robust design that stretched them eight feet from the floor to the ceiling. Of course, I wanted to make them myself – Building them myself would be more fun and much […] Click to continue reading this post

In Which I Fail Physics 101…

… but pass it on a retake!

While quickly building an ad hoc washing line pulley assembly from a bag of hooks, eyes, and pulleys, and a 2×4, I put this together at first (blotted out some background for privacy of myself and neighbours – click for larger view):

bad design

Huh. Does not want to hang level. Why? A tenth of a second after the thought, I burst out laughing loudly at my error. Ironic since I love teaching about pulleys in basic physics, and for some reason students are scared of pulleys. (Not as scared as they are of torque (why?), but scared nonetheless. I try to help them overcome those fears.) I made an obvious mistake. (Do you see it?)
[…] Click to continue reading this post

A Retreat

sketches for studyAs I get older and busier, I seem to increasingly value quiet spaces. I always loved them, but now they seem more vital to me than ever. So I seek them out constantly. It’s important to note that it is, as they say, all relative. My whole house is a quiet space in a quiet part of a neighbourhood, which is itself in a relatively quiet part of the city. Nevertheless, I’ve been monitoring my working patterns of late and noticed quite a bit of fragmentation, which bothers me a lot. Sure, a lot of it is self-inflicted (email, blogging, and so forth can always be managed better – that’s another issue to discuss), but some of it has to do with finding good spaces to work, depending upon the type of mood and type of work to hand.

I’ve lots of favourites, and many of them are cafes and bars around the city, some places on campus (my office is not high on that list though), the odd bench in a park here and there, and so forth. But those are mostly for working in my “public space” mode. Sometimes I want to work in a different mode, or sometimes I want to just stay […] Click to continue reading this post


Surprisingly satisfying sound to it, that word… Bench.

Feeling a bit off the tracks, internally, in one way or another and so I’ve decided to opt out of Thanksgiving this year and spend some time hiding out on my own. Consequently, there’ll be no cooking post, I’m afraid. I’ll have to refer you to last year’s. However, there are other arenas of derring-do besides the kitchen. Today, Asymptotia goes down to the workshop…

I’ll probably be drummed out of the Theorists’ Guild for admitting this, but I can’t go for long without making or doing something constructive with my own hands. The mood to make something hit me hard the other day. Not long ago I began to eye various aspects of my office (at home) and try to understand why I only use it to pick up printouts, find a book on a shelf, and add to the giant piles of paper on every surface. I never sit in it and use it, and I did not know why, annoyingly enough. Well, I think I figured it out, and after making a series of investigations, and a series of detailed measurements, the solution is on order. I will report later. The solution (and some other projects I have in mind) will require some careful woodwork, and I’ve not really got a good working space for that, having mostly done all my woodworking on the ground, patio, steps, and other improvised places.

So today’s project was to fix this. The plan began with a spontaneous purchase (for […] Click to continue reading this post