Friday, December 28, 2007

Brought to you by Goldman Sachs

  • I really can't see wondering into a bookstore, and just buying a book because it looks good. I'd want to see what others have to say about it first or maybe even google some reviews or something. I wonder if any brick & mortar stores are including terminals with which to check reviews. It's not just the money but my time I don't want to waste on a stinker.
  • Anyone know of a good shopping list generator? Not something tied to recipes, but just one that let's you select the stuff you usually buy from some comprehensive list. Then, before each time you go to the store, you can look at what you often buy and pick what you actually need or want? So that, for example, if you try some new dish one week, it doesn't evaporate into memory..instead its ingredients can be put on the comprehensive list so you might actually remember to say, "Hey, I liked such-and-such, I'll buy the ingredients again."
  • Why can't the Registrar post the finals schedule at the beginning of the semester? There must be some motivation for waiting till just a few weeks before the end of the term?
  • The NYT a few days ago covered the status of particle accelerators in use for treating cancer. An interesting article which I think, despite the costs, points to the future of modern medicine. For any physics students so inclined, it's probably a good idea to head in this direction.
  • Via the Freakonomics Blog, here's a cool article concerning

    You don't see with the eyes. You see with the brain.

    As a half-hearted solipsist, I've always been fascinated by the senses.

Friday, December 21, 2007


Sean correctly closes the comments in a car-wreck of a physics discussion...a horrible mess which is nevertheless difficult not to look at:

Okay, children. Essentially everyone in this comment thread has managed to be some combination of whiny, obnoxious, incorrect, disingenuous, unhelpful, and plain old embarrassing.

Trying to crystallize my own feelings on it, I happened, funnily enough, to catch this quote from Professor Frink on The Simpsons this morning

It should be obvious to even the most dimwitted individual who holds an advanced degree in hyperbolic topology that Homer Simpson has stumbled into the third dimension.

To find the precise wording, I found this article which, to introduce the above quote, states

The Simpsons writers often play on mathematical cultural stereotypes, extracting humor by exaggerating both the mathematical illiteracy of the U.S. public and the nerdiness and self-aggrandizement of the mathematically gifted.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


I wanted to be the first (of what I'm sure will be many) blogger to link to this article at the NYT about Walter Lewin's popularity in his online lecture videos. You've probably seen this MIT physicist on many NOVA shows such as "The Elegant Universe."

Speaking of vids, I just finished watching "No End In Sight." I watch it and just cannot fathom how otherwise respectable people still support this administration. If nothing else, it is at least somewhat heartening to think that the legacy of these people (Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and probably to a lesser extent, Rice) will in fact suffer quite a bit...though I suppose we'll have to see who writes the textbooks under possible legacy administrations by Jeb and Jenna.

This viewing follows a recent viewing of "Sicko" which interestingly points out an apparently key decision by the Nixon administration leading to a for-profit health care system in this country. Both of these really go a long way toward showing sane people how important government and competence is (as I expect will my planned viewing of "When the Levees Break" about Katrina). Of course on the other hand, I suppose insane people take such documentaries as signs of a liberal or terrorist conspiracy (if they see a distinction between the two).

Sunday, December 16, 2007


ROTD: Your reading for today consists of a couple bio's of some scientists. The Washington Post does a nice job w/ Neil deGrasse Tyson who probably needs no introduction. There's a bit about the movie Titanic at the end if you need a hook to keep you reading.

The other is a story of an up-and-coming biologist which I spotted via the Freakonomics blog, but then subsequently saw Lubos talking about it and his previous interview with her. Reader beware ;), a number of properties of the subject are mentioned in the article such as her weight, hipness, and previous training as an 18-wheeler driver.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

An Interview with a Relativist

Kip Thorne, in an interview published by Discover magazine gives a couple interesting quotes

  • Regarding rumors that he's working with Steven Spielberg:

    I’m working on a science fiction film with Steven that’s based on a treatment I coauthored with the producer Lynda Obst. I will be an executive producer on the film, basically focused on bringing good science into it. I expect that nothing in the film will violate fundamental physical law, and all the wild speculations in the film will spring from science. The working title is Interstellar, but it’s unlikely that will be the final title. It is a story in which the warped side of the universe plays a major role.

  • Regarding the merits of string theory:

    It shows many signs of being on the right track toward a correct quantum theory of gravity. It has given rise to a number of very important ideas that have a good shot at being correct, such as higher dimensions, such as the possibility of forming mini-black holes at the LHC [Large Hadron Collider, a new particle accelerator that may be up and running next year], and thereby probing higher dimensions. String theory is now beginning to make concrete, observational predictions which will be tested. Claims that it is just theorists playing mental masturbation are, I think, nonsense.

    Interestingly, the article provides a link with the words "mental masturbation" to an article about Peter Woit's book, though it's not perfectly clear (to me at least) that Kip is refering to "Not Even Wrong." Not to mention the fact that both Woit's and Smolin's criticisms don't really reduce to that particular alliterative phrase. Have either of these two, or anyone else for that matter, used such a criticism?

(via It's Equal, but It's Different)

Monday, December 03, 2007

The State of Physics in 100 Years

First, I wanted to point out a good read on math/science achievement differences between the sexes which I found via the Freakonomics blog.

I took a poll in my class the other day asking the students to rate their "belief" in certain aspects of modern physics. To get them started and to normalize the 0..10 scale, I basically asked them the probability they felt described the chance that a given theory/idea would still be around in 100 years. I put up the following (roughly in order of how I would rank them):

  • Special Relativity (SR)
  • Quantum Mechanics (QM)
  • General Relativity (GR)
  • The Big Bang (BB)
  • Inflation

SR finds itself at the top because it's hard to see how any new theory wouldn't conform to it. Likewise w/ QM, but to perhaps a somewhat lesser extent with hidden variables, non-locality, and interpretations. GR, despite its success, will surely come up for some modification, if only to fit into quantum gravity. But of course, there could be higher order curvature terms, other couplings, etc. Even more far out, maybe gravity is emergent. As for BB, depending on how one limits the theory, will surely be around, but to what extent? How changed will it be? And then there's inflation, and to this, one could add the anthropic principle. I'm not sure how much I want to say here, but I suspect we're getting pretty controversial. Of course, I wisely left off any theories-which-must-not-be-named, I think I'd rather go off and name a Teddy bear "Mohamed," than open that can of worms.