Friday, June 24, 2011

Judging People

I like to think I'm not a really judgmental person. Certainly not in terms of one person being "better" than another. If someone lingers just outside the entrance to a building smoking and then tosses the cigarette on the ground, I'll certainly think ill of them, but not in terms that I'm somehow better than they.

In any case, when it comes to physics you must judge, in terms of ability. You need to find out if you might want to work with them, or what particular knowledge/experience you can take advantage of with questions and which questions you might as well not ask.

So when I google people after seeing them at conferences, you can usually find out their pedigree (education, advisors, etc). It's usually better to judge by asking them questions, but sometimes you use shortcuts. So when I find paragraphs written by them online and they're horribly written, that's not a good sign. When I then see that they were English or other liberal art majors at one point and they have grammatical errors, I judge them harshly.

And then there's the issue of what schools they've attended. Despite the fact that I attended a very elite school, I try not to count this much. But if they've attended some non-elite school and follow that up with a non-elite grad school, it's hard not to feel that they've essentially got to prove their worth to you.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Physics in Fiction

I saw the movie Rabbit Hole recently. Pretty decent and not terribly long. Not a fun movie though. The reason I mention it here is that the idea of parallel universes makes an appearance (as in the universes associated with eternal inflation, not quantum mechanics; or are they the same thing (see Sean's recent discussion]). Anyway, I thought its mention was largely sensible and reflects a bit how physics shapes ones worldview. This contrasts sharply with the physics one often sees as something else...something bad (as in weapons) or geeky (e.g. a Seth Green type role) or hard (e.g. Breakfast Club [one of the best ever]).

Monday, June 13, 2011

Give a man a fish...

A couple of recent posts, one by Chad and the other by the Female Science Professor, have me thinking about what we owe to our students.

For starters, I share with Chad an unbroken streak of graduations, but with the opposite polarity. That is, I've never attended my school's graduation ceremony. I don't like crowds, and don't relish having to make small-talk with seldom seen colleagues from across the University.

As for the FSP's commitment to students, for some classes I'll make a PDF of slides available, usually just a half-hour before class and I certainly don't print them out for students. In general, I severely limit how much time I spend on classes. With that said, I do feel a commitment to them, but generally prioritize avoiding diminishing returns. Talking with them, helping them understand, all that stuff I do without hesitation (except in rare cases where I can't stand a student). Elaborate preparation I avoid. Some of my best classes arise when I'm least prepared (though I don't think this should be taken as any sort of advice).

Thursday, June 09, 2011


Yesterday, was a slow day. Certain things had kind of wound down, and I wasn't sure what tasks to do. So I took it easy, caught up on reading some arXiv papers that were clogging up the tabs on my browser. I thought about starting up one of my unimportant (to anyone else), side projects, but I knew things would pick back up...I'd have an idea for the project that's finishing, I'd get a couple emails from folks needing help with their aspects, etc. And now I'm busy, or rather I should be busy, but figured I'd get out this post first.

One other thing, if you're interested in good photography of nature, you might checkout these winning photos. In any case though, you presumably have an interest in physics, so you should definitely checkout the picture of the ocean wave at the beach. One sees these...well I'm not sure what one would call them. Perhaps one would call them vortex lines or just vortices. In any case, pretty cool and dramatic.