News from the Front, XIII: Holographic Heat Engines for Fun and Profit

I put a set of new results out on to the arxiv recently. They were fun to work out. They represent some of my continued fascination with holographic heat engines, those things I came up with back in 2014 that I think I’ve written about here before (here and here). For various reasons (that I’ve explained in various papers) I like to think of them as an answer waiting for the right question, and I’ve been refining my understanding of them in various projects, trying to get clues to what the question or questions might be.

As I’ve said elsewhere, I seem to have got into the habit of using 21st Century techniques to tackle problems of a 19th Century flavour! The title of the paper is “Approaching the Carnot limit at finite power: An exact solution”. As you may know, the Carnot engine, whose efficiency is the best a heat engine can do (for specified temperatures of exchange with the hot and cold reservoirs), is itself not a useful practical engine. It is a perfectly reversible engine and as such takes infinite time to run a cycle. A zero power engine is not much practical use. So you might wonder how close a real engine can come to the Carnot efficiency… the answer should be that it can come arbitrarily close, but most engines don’t, and so people who care about this sort of thing spend a lot of time thinking about how to design special engines that can come close. And there are various arguments you can make for how to do it in various special systems and so forth. It’s all very interesting and there’s been some important work done.

What I realized recently is that my old friends the holographic heat engines are a very good tool for tackling this problem. Part of the reason is that the underlying working substance that I’ve been using is a black hole (or, if you prefer, is defined by a black hole), and such things are often captured as exact […] Click to continue reading this post

BBC CrowdScience SXSW Panel!

They recorded one of the panels I was on at SXSW as a 30 minute episode of the BBC World Service programme CrowdScience! The subject was science and the movies, and it was a lot of fun, with some illuminating exchanges, I had some fantastic co-panellists: Dr. Mae Jemison (the astronaut, doctor, and chemical engineer), Professor Polina Anikeeva (she researches in materials science and engineering at MIT), and Rick Loverd (director of the Science and Entertainment Exchange), and we had an excellent host, Marnie Chesterton. It has aired now, but in case you missed it, here is a link to the site where you can listen to our discussion.

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Some Panellists…

SXSW panel groupMy quick trip to South by Southwest was fruitful, and fun. I was in three events. This* was the group for the panel that was hosted by Rick Loverd, who directs the Science and Entertainment Exchange. We had lots of great discussion about Science in Film, TV, and other entertainment media: – Why it is important to make films more engaging with richer storytelling, to help build broader familiarity with science and scientists, and so on. There were insights from both sides of the “aisle”: I spoke about what the kind of work I do in this area, coming from the science side of things and Samantha Corbin-Miller and Stephany Folsom discussed things form their points of view of writers of TV and Film. (I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I’d recently (last Summer) looked at Stephany’s work in detail: She wrote the upcoming movie Thor: Ragnarok, and I had studied and written notes on the screenplay and met with the production team and director to give them some help […] Click to continue reading this post

Upcoming Panels at SXSW

(Image credit: I borrowed this image from the SXSW website.)

It seems that even after finishing the manuscript of the graphic book and turning it in to the publisher*, I can’t get away from panels. It’s a poor pun, to help make an opening line – I actually mean a different sort of panel. I’ll be participating in two (maybe three) of them this Saturday at the South By SouthWest event in Austin, Texas. I’ll give you details below, and if you happen to be around, come and see us! This means that I’ll not get to see any of the actual conference itself since two (maybe three) events is enough to wipe out most of the day, and then I jump on a plane back to LA.

They’re about Science and the media. I’ll be talking about the things I’ve […] Click to continue reading this post

Sandwich Bag Graffiti

A little while back, toward the end of December last year, I did a long stretch of days where I needed to change my routine a bit to take advantage of a window of time that came up that I could use for pushing forward on the book. I was falling behind and desperately needed to improve my daily production rate of finished art in order to catch up. So, I ended up ditching making a sandwich in the morning, instead leaving very soon after getting up to head to my office. I then stopped taking my sandwich altogether when I ran out of bread and did not make the time in the evening to bake a fresh batch, as I do once a week or so, because I was just coming back home and falling into bed.

The USC catering outlets were all closed that week. This meant that I ended up seeking out a place to buy a sandwich near my office. I found a place […] Click to continue reading this post


Hands have become almost as important as faces for helping communicate both ideas and emotions in the book. I’ve become a fan of constructing hands in various positions. In fact, I like it to an almost perverse degree, some might think, especially given how little people might even look at them. But then again, I’m known for actually enjoying -even looking forward to- dentist visits, so maybe this was predictable.

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Of Course You Knew…

Of course you knew that I had to do this… Let me explain, perhaps for your Sunday reading pleasure.

The prevailing culture is surprisingly and frustratingly simplistic when it comes to graphic books and comics. As late as 2017, we’re still at the stage that most people in the USA (and the UK), if asked, will associate the form with the superhero genre: people in capes and/or masks fighting crime and/or saving the world. The other association is with the Sunday funnies. This is unfortunate, and, in case you don’t know, far from the case in other places such as various European and Asian countries where the boundaries between written and visual literature are less rigid.

The confusion of form (visual narrative on the page) with genre (the subject of the narrative itself) drives me nuts, as it makes it very hard to get people to […] Click to continue reading this post

Through a Glass….

Loving this looser, pencil-finish style. My only wish is that I’d discovered it in August. But of course I know that I needed to do what I was doing in August in order to get to where I am now. So there it is. Personal evolution is a wonderful thing, isn’t it ? (Click for larger view. More about the book here.)

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Another Signing!

Now here’s an interesting coincidence! I came on to write a post about something I did earlier today – signing a contract for publishing The Book, with an exciting new publisher(!) – and then I was reminded of a post I did here exactly two years ago: it was about signing a contract with the previous publisher (who I later parted ways with – see this post).

Anyway, I had a picture in that post (have a look) of me signing the actual paper contract (in triplicate) that had been sent over the ocean on nice paper by pony and so forth, and then I sent it back over the ocean by return pony, and then a countersigned copy was sent over again by yet another pony… Instead, all I have to show you (above) is a screen shot of the electronic signing process I did this morning. Minutes later the countersigned version came back and all was done.

Anyway, in brief, because I should be working on the book (trying to finish a remarkable four pages of art today in one long 15 hour session in the office…), the back story is as follows: […] Click to continue reading this post

On Arrival…

Arrived at your (Thanksgiving) destination yet? I hope all went well. Now, here’s some exciting news… This year’s Thanksgiving episode of Screen Junkies is another Movie Science special! This means, as usual, that I sat down with presenter Hal Rudnick to talk about some science ideas and portrayal of scientists in the movies.
movie_science_screen_junkiesThis time, the film is Arrival. We actually had a great in-depth conversation, and a lot (not all) of it made it to the episode, so have a look. (Most of the episode assumes that you have seen the film since there are a lot of serious spoilers that will take away from the movies intended unfolding as you view… There are mild spoilers in the form of general discussion about the film to start, and then Hal stops and warns you that we’re going deeper into the details.)

The embed is below, and then after that I say a few spoiler-y things to end this post:

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(Dry) Watercolour

watercolour_share_26_oct_2016All change! Last week another style change took place, in service of a new story/chapter for the book. I’ve transitioned to a looser style, with final line art done with a charcoal-like finish, and the colour done as watercolour. (Click for a slightly larger view.) It turned out that back in March when I went and hid for a week to work on the book, I thumbnailed and roughed a lot of pages (on two stories I think?) in a pretty tight manner, and so I’ve decided that I’m simply going to go in and sketch the final material all by hand, with no elaborate construction work for placing backgrounds (neither analogue nor digital), no measurements, no drawing of perspective grids, etc.

This turns out to mean that I can get the pre-colour work done pretty swiftly on some pages. Rather than take this as an opportunity to sprint ahead and make up some lost time, I decided to […] Click to continue reading this post

The 2016 Physics Nobel Prize goes to…!

Wow! Topology in the mainstream news. I never thought I’d see the day. Congratulations to the winners! Citation:

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2016 was divided, one half awarded to David J. Thouless, the other half jointly to F. Duncan M. Haldane and J. Michael Kosterlitz “for theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter”.

Here is a link to the Nobel Prize site with more information, and also, here’s a BBC breakdown of some of the science.

An important (to some) side note: Duncan Haldane was at USC when he wrote the cited papers. Great that USC was supportive of this kind of work, especially in that early part of his career.

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