Back to Basics

back_to_basicsHappy to say that I’m back to regular bread-making! The oven had some problems for a while and since I Was distracted by far too many things, I did not have time to get it fixed until recently. It is working again, and now I can make bread once more, and all is well with the world. Here is some of last week Sunday nights’s batch. (Seven other rolls were made, but those are bagged and frozen already…)


-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Red and Round…


Some more good results from the garden, after I thought that the whole crop was again going to be prematurely doomed, like last year. I tried to photograph the other thing about this year’s gardening narrative that I intend to tell you about, but with poor results, but I’ll say more shortly. In the meantime, for the record here are some Carmello tomatoes and some of a type of Russian Black […] Click to continue reading this post

Almost Done

So Tuesday night, I decided that it was imperative that I paid a visit to one really good restaurant (at least) before leaving Santiago. My duties at ICMP2015 were over, and I was tired, so did not want to go too far, but I’d heard there were good ones in the area, so I asked the main organizer and he made a recommendation.

imageIt was an excellent choice. One odd thing: the hotel is in two separate towers, and I’d noticed this upon arrival and started calling it The Two Towers in my mind for the time was there. Obviously, right? Well, anyway, the restaurant is right around the corner from it plus a two minute walk, and…. Wait for it…it is called Le Due Tonni, which translates into The Two Towers, but apparently it has nothing to do with my observation about the hotel, since it got that name from a sister restaurant in a different part of town, I am told. So… An odd coincidence.

I will spare you the details of what I had for dinner save to say that if you get the fettuccini con salmon you’re on to a sure thing, and to warn that you don’t end up accidentally ordering a whole bottle of wine instead of a glass of it because you’re perhaps used to over-inflated wine prices in LA restaurants (caught it before it was opened and so saved myself having to polish off a whole bottle on my own)… Another amusing note is that one of my problems with getting my rusty Spanish out for use only occasionally is that I get logjams in my head because vocabulary from Spanish, French, and Italian all come to me mid sentence and I freeze sometimes. I’d just been getting past doing that by Tuesday, but then got very confused in the restaurant at one point until I realized my waiter was, oddly, speaking to me in Italian at times. I still am not sure why.

It was a good conference to come to, I think, because I connected […] Click to continue reading this post

On the Road, with Whiskey…

I’m on the road. I gave a seminar at the University of Michigan yesterday, and spent the working day chatting with various physicists at the department there, exchanging ideas, catching up on what people are up to, etc. The seminar itself went ok. I’ve been talking about extended gravitational thermodynamics, the subject of all my papers so far this year. I think I paced things a bit poorly (trying to squeeze in results from two papers while at the same time being pedagogical about the basic material since it is not familiar to most), so had to rush at the end, but I got the main points in. Lots of good questions.

At the end of the day, I was pleasantly surprised by the offer of whiskey in the break room. Apparently it is a Friday tradition. I began to wonder, and made some inquiries and found out to my delight that it is a direct decendant of a tradition that I (co-) started back in the mid-90s in Santa Barbara!


It was a long time ago, so I am hazy on who the core people were who regularly kept […] Click to continue reading this post

Baby Mothra!!!

So I discovered a terrifying (but also kind of fascinating and beautiful at the same time) new element to the garden this morning. We’re having a heat wave here, and so this morning before leaving for work I thought I’d give the tomato plants a spot of moisture. I passed one of the tomato clusters and noticed that one of the (still green) tomatoes had a large bite taken out of it. I assumed it was an experimental bite from a squirrel (my nemesis – or one of them), and muttered dark things under my breath and then prepared to move away the strange coiled leaf that seemed to be on top of it. Then I noticed.

It wasn’t a leaf.


It was a HUGE caterpillar! Enormous! Giant and green with spots and even a red horn at one end! There’s a moment when you’re unexpectedly close to a creature like that where your skin crawls for a bit. Well, mine did for a while […] Click to continue reading this post

Making and Baking….

Back in LA, I had an amusing day the other day going from this* in the TV studio…
photo_laser_mirage_shoot_small involving a laser and liquid nitrogen (so, around -320 F, if you must use those units), to this in the kitchen:
tasty_things_1 involving butter, flour, water and shortening… (and once in the oven, around +350 F) which ultimately resulted in this: […] Click to continue reading this post

Pot Luck

pot_luck_25_04_14_6Here in Aspen there was a pleasant party over at the apartment of one of the visiting physicists this evening. I know it seems odd, but it has been a while since I’ve been at a party with a lot of physicists (I’m not counting the official dinners at the Strings conference a fews weeks back), and I enjoyed it. I heard a little about what some old friends were up to, and met some spouses and learned what they do, and so forth. For the first time, I think, I spoke at length to some curious physicists about the graphic book project, and the associated frustrating adventures in the publishing world (short version: most people love it, but they just don’t want to take a risk on an unusual project…), and they were excited about it, which was nice of them.

pot_luck_25_04_14_1It was a pot luck, and so although I was thinking I’d be tired and just take along a six-pack of beer, by lunchtime I decided that I’d make a little something and take it along. Then, as I tend to do, it became two little somethings…and I went and bought the ingredients at the supermarket nearby and worked down at the centre until later. Well, first I made a simple syrup from sugar and water and muddled and worried a lot of tarragon into it.

pot_luck_25_04_14_2 Then in the evening, there was a lot of peeling and chopping. This is usually one of my favourite things, but the knives in the apartment I am staying in are as blunt as sticks of warm butter, and so chopping was long and fretful. (And dangerous… don’t people realise that blunt knives are actually more dangerous than sharp ones?) […] Click to continue reading this post

Morning Sex

gardening_3rd_july_2014_2Yep. This is an exciting new discovery for me. No, it is not what you think! I’m talking about gardening matters. It seems that a lot of my cucumber and squash plants are not producing a great deal this year, (with several small squashes not developing much before falling off) and I could not figure out why. On the other hand, I’ve done a better job of building sun shields for them, to stop them being fried by the intense heat over the course of a hot day. I now think that maybe these things are connected. First of all, I’m not seeing a lot of bees of any sort in the garden, and so I wonder if it is simply that there’s not a lot of pollination going on. Couple this with the fact that the sunscreens (some quite low) are probably hiding them from some bees that might be passing by, I’ve begun to wonder if it is time to help things along a bit. […] Click to continue reading this post

Shade Emergency!

Well, making it was a bit like a Lego project, and so… fun! Basically, it is ridiculously hot here. The last couple of days have been over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and there are more days of this sort to come. This is not pleasant, in my view. I tend to operate very poorly at such temperatures, and the sun is oppressively hot, feeling like it is hammering on your head, neck, any exposed areas. (We had a wave of this sort a few weeks ago too, which resulted in a new investments in a new shape of hat.)

My main concern however is the various plants in the garden. The planting of Summer crops this year was quite late (largely because the Winter crops were slow to develop due to lack of Winter rain) and so they are still at the delicate stage where a day or two of strong hot sunlight can destroy them completely. No amount of watering can save them from this sun. So I decided to make some shades to reduce the amount of sun on various plants in the garden and on the patio. The idea was to make a nice geometrical shape that allows the plants to be nicely displayed while at the same time protecting them from that mid-morning to mid-afternoon hammering heat that I’ve seen burning the leaves on several plants. I put together a prototype design, and you can see the steps in the photos: […] Click to continue reading this post

Self-Similar Dinner

Eventually, although a bit over-priced in the Hollywood farmer’s market, I do fall for these at least once in the season. As someone whose job and pastimes involve seeing patterns everywhere, how can I not love the romanesco? It’s a fractal! There are structures that repeat themselves on different scales again and again, which is the root of the term “self-similar”. Fractals are wonderful structures in mathematics (that have self-similarity) that I urge you to find out more about if you don’t already know (just google and follow your nose). And […] Click to continue reading this post

Festival of Joe

20140226-214941.jpgEarly evening. Cocktail (made with Hendricks gin, muddled tangerine, and basil…). Roast pork on the way. Old haunt.

Where am I? At Roy’s, in Santa Barbara. I’m here for a two day celebration of the work of Joe Polchinski, one of the giants of my field. It all begins tomorrow, and I am taking the opportunity to have a quiet bit of time in an old haunt. I was a postdoc of Joe’s back in the mid 1990s, just when the world of theoretical physics was waking up to the awesome power of D-branes. D-branes are a special type of dynamical extended object in physics, and Joe had discovered their importance for string theory just around that time. Roy’s opened around that time too, if I recall, and a group of us became regulars, helping it along in those early days when it was smaller than it is now. (That small group included my friend and fellow postdoc Andrew Chamblin, who passed away some years ago.)

A D-braneSo I am here to help celebrate Joe’s work on the occasion of his 60th (hard to believe that number, frankly), and it will be good to see all the people who show up, and of course it’ll be excellent to see Joe. Part of my help in the celebrations is to organize and run a panel about D-branes, which will be on at 11:00 tomorrow. I’ll be reflecting a bit on the good old days when D-branes really broke, and turned out to be the key tool of the Revolution that took place in the field. In lectures and writings from that time and long after I used to refer to them as the Heroes of the Revolution, and in honor of that and of Joe I have named this session D-Branes, Tools of the Revolutionary, or something like that. Joe helped bring about the revolution, and his tools were D-branes, you see.

I was lucky to be here as a postdoc at that time, and happily I had the good sense to be quite sure that it was going to be important to quickly spread the […] Click to continue reading this post

When Life Hands You Lemons…


Accidentally harvested a handful of my precious Meyer lemons from the tree earlier this morning while clearing a branch from a nearby tree. They are delicious and I only get a small number of them each year, so I tend to treat them like gold. Will have to make something special with them…

Yes, also, there’s a metaphor somewhere in there for other things going on, so…

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Automatic Beans

self_shelling_beansSo here’s a nifty thing. The beans on the left are a sort of speckled butter bean (or lime bean, if you prefer) that are pretty automatic. Each year, since I first planted them long ago, I get a lot of new bean plants appearing in the patch that the last ones grew in. Basically, the beans tend to [stay on] be left on the vine until they dry and then they pop open and replant themselves, ultimately, since I never find all of the ones that fall on to the ground. This is great, since it means that I never have to actually plant the things again… they just show up and start spreading. I need only put some stakes and climbing frames out, and each year they will just cover it with vines and new beans. This year I discovered another automatic feature. […] Click to continue reading this post

Date Tastiness

walnut_date_bread_6Time for a quick visit to the kitchen. I woke up one Sunday morning with the urge to make a cake. I’d thought about a simple sponge cake for some reason in the days leading up to it, and that must have planted the seed. I was busy and so did not immediately jump into it. But I woke up the Sunday in the mood. (I think it was last Sunday.) So I looked at what I had lying around and remembered that I had some old dates that were needing a purpose. They’d dried out a bit and so were not so great for eating directly, but certainly had a use in cooking. A short time later I had a date and walnut coffee cake sitting on the counter waiting to be eaten.

It was all gone within a short time, and so this morning I thought I’d make some more. The pictures you see are some of the steps.


It is pretty simple, being a fairly basic (baking soda risen) batter. The key novelty is to put together a cup of dates and a cup of walnuts, all chopped, […] Click to continue reading this post

Sunday Preparations…

This is the last day before the new semester starts here at USC. I’ve been wandering around the house a bit slowly. One reason is probably the excellent dinner party last night, which involved a lot of cooking for a lot of Saturday. That went well, and people seemed to enjoy themselves a lot. Good reason for a slow day the day after. The other reason is that it is simply nice to enjoy the calm before the storm of the new semester begins in earnest… So slow wandering around the house doing various simple tasks seems about right.

sunday_bread_1At some point I decided to start looking for my materials for tomorrow’s class. I teach graduate level electromagnetism again this semester (part two of a two part course) and so it is a good time to start looking into old folders and so forth, trying to see what I’ll re-use, what I’ll re-do, and so forth. It seems that last Fall was the first time I did a complete scan of all my hand-written notes into pdfs to allow me to deliver them from my iPad, and so that’s good news right there. I can annotate right on top of those and add new pages if I want to… but it is nice to start with a base of good material to hand right at the starting gate.

While I’ve been looking through materials I’ve also been making bread. I’ll need some for the week, what with sandwiches and all that, and it is a also a pleasantly slow and endlessly rewarding thing to do. I decided to make a more moist final dough than I have in recent times. I think that this will give both a nicer crust and crumb. That blob in the bowl in the picture above left is the result of a very successful first rise. Most of bread making is waiting, and so it is perfect for when you are doing slightly mundane but time-consuming tasks like looking at old files of course notes.

sunday_bread_2I rolled everything out into 12 rolls and a good slicing sandwich loaf and put them to rise again and went back to tinkering with files (analogue and digital). The picture to the right shows the result of that second rise. The oven is being preheated and they are nearly ready to go in. Already the smell is great, even though right now it is just a yeasty-doughy smell.

I’ve been wondering whether to jump ship and abandon Jackson as the main text for the class (shock! horror! – Jackson is a staple of so many graduate courses in physics) and go with something new. There have been two texts of note (that I know of) in the last couple of years that have risen to challenge Jackson’s supremacy, the one by Anupam Garg (“Classical Electromagnetism in a Nutshell”, Princeton), and the one by Andrew Zangwill (“Modern Electrodynamics”, Cambridge). My feeling is that both these books (I’ve looked at Garg more than Zangwill [update: see later remarks]) do a good job of making the subject seem alive and modern. Jackson has a great deal of useful material, presented in a firmly sensible way that is hard to argue with, and it will always remain a classic, but sometimes I think it suffers a bit from feeling somewhat old. I like that, for example, there’s a nice treatment of the beam of a laser in Garg as an […] Click to continue reading this post

When Life Hands You Tomatoes…

… make chutney!


So the garden has been yielding a great deal in the tomato department, as you saw from earlier posts. There’s been quite the fig surplus too, but more on that later. Last night – late last night – I decided to work on another food item that allows me to use them up and save this glorious condensation of Summer for a later time. I decided to make a tomato chutney. Well, I’m making two. I wanted to take the yellower tomatoes to make one with a lighter colour and flavour, and I will (later tonight perhaps?) make another, darker one with red tomatoes (with a little pepper from the garden for warmth).

A chutney is simple. It’s a bit like a savoury jam but even easier. I halved the little yellow pear variety tomatoes, and chopped a yellow onion – about half as much in volume as I had tomato. (Some extra tomatoes showed up late – I found a few green […] Click to continue reading this post


TwentyWonder is tonight! Come along if you’re in the area. Some quotes from the site:

A mindblowing cultural mashup. One night only. Only in LA.

Art. Science. Music. Comedy. Food ‘n Drink. Weird Geeky Stuff. …and Roller Derby!

Feel the Love. All proceeds go to the Downs Syndrome Association of Los Angeles.

See you there?

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Red, Gold, and Green

red_gold_green_july_2013_2Happy 4th of July, those of you who are celebrating it. I should have brought you Red, White, and Blue, but those are not the colours prevailing in the garden right now. Also, I don’t know of any blue tomato varieties. There’s a bit of a bonanza of tomatoes right now, I am pleased to report. All that time spent composting is paying off again, perhaps. A small part of the harvest is in the photograph above, showing six of the varieties in the garden this year. (Click for a larger view.) I don’t recall all […] Click to continue reading this post