Friday, September 30, 2011

Everyone gather round to read a solipsist's blog!

  • Great title: Static Patch Solipsism: Conformal Symmetry of the de Sitter Worldline...but can you use such a great word in the title without also including it in the text?
  • By now most everyone has heard about the new FTL result of OPERA. It's really such a shame, but it was fun while it lasted. I mean the climate scientists have long since begun to lose their stranglehold on the AGW conspiracy, so it was only a matter of time until the entire edifice of modern physics is torn down. Of course relativity and quantum mechanics was a snow-job to fool the common person! I mean if Joe-schmoe can't understand it, then it must be wrong. And if it's wrong and more than one person says it, then it is, by construction, a conspiracy. It's now only a matter of a few years until this nightmare of "modern science" is completely ripped asunder and we'll entire a utopia ruled by complete gun and religious freedom. That is to say, the freedom to be white, armed Christians (preferably no Catholics) in the unquestioned greatest country on Earth.
...removing tongue from cheek now.

where's Blogger's preview button?

Friday, September 02, 2011

Hello New Students

This is introductory physics. The goal for this course is three-fold: (i) better understanding of how the universe works at a pretty fundamental level (in other words, this is not biology or chemistry), (ii) better problem solving ability, and (iii) increased quantitative awareness and ability. Students are often intimidated coming into a course such as this. I do not wish to make it hard, but you have to demonstrate some achievement in these three goals.

To give you some sense of how I see the grading in this course a metaphor is in order. Let's say that I'm here to teach you all basketball. You all come in with very different abilities. My tests will have a range of questions...some will be like free throws. An example would be: How much force would one have to exert to accelerate a 2 kg ball at a rate of 3 m/s^2? Some may have no numbers and might be comparable to asking someone to evaluate what kind of defense an opposing team is running. For example, I could ask: What force is responsible for holding a bag of concrete on the back of a flatbed truck as it drives down the highway? More difficult problems might be something like having you carry-out a give-and-go. All of this is definitely teachable, though some will have no problem at all. You all can do this. And, just like in basketball, it will take practice.

Some more involved problems will challenge nearly everyone. They are more akin to looking for you to demonstrate court-awareness and the ability to break-down a defense. You will have to introduce variables not given in the problem, determine a number of equations, and use your math skills to solve them. This can be taught, but is fairly advanced.

In any case, please be aware that you may make a habit of "hiding" in other classes, hoping that the instructor isn't particularly aware of how little one might know. This class doesn't really allow this. I will have a very good idea of both your ability and your understanding, regardless of how little you may participate in class. I want you all to succeed, but you have to do your part. Good luck!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hurricane Denial

If you look at the models of the meteorologists for the track of hurricane Irene, one can see a huge amount of uncertainty and a lack of agreement. One can also see that these meteorologists benefit immensely from these dire forecasts...afterall, to whom will local governments turn the next time one of these so-called storms appears on the 'radar' screens? I can believe that the East Coast is going to get some rain and wind, but I bet the Sun will peak and all will be well.

Friday, August 19, 2011

My First Scientific American paper...

Since it's beyond a paywall, let me just give the essentials:

Needle in a Haystack: Our improbable Universe

About the author:
A former collegiate athlete, the author has been recognized by the APS for his long record of NSF-funded research. Outside of physics, he enjoys skiing, and the occasional glass of wine. A dutiful and doting father, he is generally as much of a prick in person as you might expect from this obnoxious blurb.

Have you ever eaten at a brand new restaurant, and wondered what its chances of success are? More than a metaphor, I establish a correspondence between such a probability and the measure problem of cosmology. Based on how one rates the restaurant, one can thereby deduce a proper normalization to establish the probabilities that others will similarly patronize the establishment. With this insight, I compute the most likely value of the cosmological constant and remarkably find that it occurs with the standard measurement to within 2.31 significant deviations without resorting to any anthropic principle.

Friday, August 05, 2011


  • If I put lots of mouthwash in my mouth is it better than a little? With lots, perhaps I get more cleaning if the wash gets "used up" at all. However, if I go with a little bit, I can really swish it around well and probably get it where it needs to go.
  • Pandora is really finding some good music today. It's hindering my ability to work.
  • I orphan lots of my work. I can't remember how many I truly have abandoned, but right now there are two that I'll talk to people about and they ask when the papers are coming out. But they're just not high priority and I only work on them once a year or so. I have two papers to review, an invited talk to prepare, a review to write, and a regular research paper I'm working on. And then in September I've got two proposals to write. But of course, to all my non-physicists friends, I'm somehow "off from work" during the summer!
  • Why don't European hotels have alarm clocks (or at least some form of clock) in the rooms? Even the crappiest hotel in the U.S. has a clock.
  • I get that Europeans tend to think of Americans as dumb, uncultured, spoiled babies, and perhaps some of that is deserved. However, if you're going to group me in particular with them when you make fun of them, I'm going to take some offense. Especially when you hardly know me and I've given no particular reason for the grouping. And whatever criticism Americans deserve, this hardly means that Europeans are particularly well-behaved or cultured. On the whole, they can be as rude and crass. Of course, by necessity they're very likely going to be more aware of the world.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Cosmic Deviants

  • Why doesn't the U.S. get the Honda Civic Type R?
  • Gosh, thanks for the compliment!
  • This is one way to get physics/physicists into the mainstream media. Speaking of famous atheists, what do atheists, in general, think about the idea of right and wrong? I would think (and actually do) that with no divinity, that right and wrong can have no essential meaning. And so, even the most heinous of activities (say killing for the fun of it) can't be wrong. I imagine this is well established within the entire ethics versus morality difference, but just wanted to make sure. Anyone?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Global warming denial

The NYT has a good opinion piece expressing an argument I couldn't quite formulate. For me, I suppose, it comes down to the difference in the following two examples:
  • I believe in ghosts and it's no surprise that scientists can't prove their existence because...
  • I don't believe in global warming or mankind's contribution thereto because the pro-warming crowd is self-motivated to predict dire things, and I read these retired engineers and meteorologists who have good arguments against aspects of the pro-warming case. And just because there's consensus, the scientific truth of the matter doesn't come down to a vote.
The latter case does not dismiss science, but rather selectively chooses the science they "believe" despite the fact that they have no expertise with which to make such choices.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Electromagnetic wave generation

I like to think of myself as something of a radical, yet pragmatic, progressive in the U.S. I say 'radical' because I try not to get too hung up on things others might hold dear, and pragmatic because whatever I advocate for has to work. So, for example, I'd be fine with applying the death penalty for a huge variety of crimes, except for the fact that the justice system is just too flawed and unfair. In terms of medical care, in general I wouldn't be too bothered by no universal health care. But if our country is going to allow poor people to use emergency rooms and hence we have to pay ultimately, let's do it in a sane way with preventive care.

And so I really can't understand how so many conservatives expect any sane person of taking them seriously when they go crazy about restrictions on light bulbs. We have so many restrictions in our homes, from our toilets (water conservation) to fire alarms (safety). And jeez, candles are still allowed. Anyone know the efficiency of a candle relative to an incandescent? This seems like a good Fermi-type question and so I'll leave it at that.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Lisa Randall

Umm, not sure what compels Lisa Randall (of Warped Passages fame) to publicly comment on the musical The Book of Mormon, but she's very much a public figure so why not.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Turning the tables

Dear Editors,

We unfortunately wish to inform you that your journal has not been accepted for our manuscript. Although your journal is very well-respected (perhaps, because of this reputation), the evaluation of our own anonymous referee indicates serious problems with your publication process. In particular, as is clear from the reports you provided, you received seriously flawed reviews of our manuscript, one indicating total incompetence and the other sheer pomposity. However, our referee also faulted the acceptance process itself. In particular, as editors, one of your roles is to actually edit the paper instead of delegating such work back on the authors. Fine details, picky formatting rules, and simple tweaking should not be passed onto the authors.

We have decided instead to simply note on the arXiv record for our manuscript that, ultimately, it was accepted by your publication. If you would like to appeal this decision, please contact the first author. We hope that perhaps in the future you will consider receiving another of our manuscripts.

the authors

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.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Research Projects

Scott wishes he had a list of research projects for when students come to him wanting to do research. It must be that time of year, because I'm meeting with two students next week about summer research projects. I do have a list of projects, but as Scott mentions, some are trivial and some are incredibly difficult. It's hard to come up with a good project, and even when you do, you've got to match a project to a student's skills and inclination. So no real advice for anyone, but maybe someone has advice for me?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Leaving Academia?

I was surprised to hear that Dave Bacon is leaving UW. And leaving for Google. I hope it works out well for him. Google might be a nice place to work, and I hope he blogs about what he thinks of his new job. I'd also like to hear about how he got the job.

Did you see the most recent episode of "The Office" where they're interviewing various candidates for a the manager position, just vacated by Steve Carell's character? In it, Ray Romano talks himself out of the job, saying that if he were to get it, he would stay in the position for the rest of his life and die there. That's how I felt when I got tenure. I really like my job, I just worry that I'll simply, but slowly and imperceptibly, decay into an unproductive researcher and complacent teacher.

Monday, May 16, 2011


It's been another long while. I continue to get older. I've little problem in terms of my vanity...graying hair, diminished physical prowess, etc. Instead, I'm saddened by the ever increasing bodily intrusions by doctors. Gotta run but will hopefully post more soon.