Thursday, October 23, 2008

Save Italian Physics from Il Buco Nero (The Black Hole)

Il Buco Nero - sito dei lavoratori precari INFN (Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare)I received this from a former colleague of mine, an American who moved to Italy for his scientific career. Normally, I wouldn't forward this, but it's quite alarming (and it involves black holes, in the most negative, and essentially real, way possible):

Dear friends and colleagues,

I am writing to enlist your support in our protest against new funding cuts and hiring restrictions that threaten the future of Italian research. These new laws were described in a recent article and editorial in Nature (455, pp. 835 and 840). In the specific case of the INFN, these cuts put most of the temporarY staff (including most young researchers) at risk.

I would like to ask you to read and consider signing our petition on our web site:

Under the heading "In English" there is much additional background information for the international community (including links to the Nature articles). We would also be greatful if you could bring this issue to the attention of your interested colleagues.
I can't think of any good reason not to sign, so I did.

Pong - invented by Nuclear Physicists

This is fantastic:
In 1958, William "Willy" Higinbotham designed what he considered to be a simple electronic game using an analog computer, two clunky metallic controllers and an oscilloscope screen. Named Tennis for Two, his game would become part of the groundwork for a multibillion-dollar industry.

At the time, Higinbotham was a nuclear physicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton. Looking for a way to draw people to the lab's annual visitors' day, he came up with the concept of the game.

On Friday, the laboratory will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Tennis for Two with a re-creation of the game and a tour of the instrumentation division where it was created. Bob Dvorak Jr. remembers being the first child to play the game.

I knew this story, but never thought of it before as an equivalent to the WWW being invented at CERN. If this is what physicists do for fun (i.e. spawn multi-billion dollar industries), maybe the world (and specifically the US) should Fund. More. Physics.

Anyway there's also this nice article at BNL.

And of course, a video:

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Fright Night

Yes I saw the Palin cold open on SNL, and I got the point. She's trying to show that she's a good sport, she can face down her critics on their own turf, and so won't seem as lame and out of touch if McCain loses and she needs to go from running for VP to something more manageable, and less dangerous for blue staters everywhere, like Senator of Alaska. But while canny, she did nothing to mitigate my outright fear of her taking power of any sort. Put simply, she freaks me out a bit.

I went canvassing for Obama several weeks ago, and when the good folks in Bucks County, PA asked me why they should vote for Obama, something like this jumped to mind, although I wasn't sure if I was just overreacting -- so it's nice to find out that I'm not alone:

Her vaulting ambition scares the living daylights out of me.

Art & Science: All in the Family?

David at symmetry breaking points out the question of musicians (by which he means serious musicians, or at least rich/famous ones) with physicist parents. David's got Mark Everett (whom I wrote about a few years ago) and I've noticed a surprising number of well-known creative children with physicist parents, particularly folks in the motion picture (TV & film) industry:
Of course, the begged question is if the rates of talented kids from physicists in any sense exceeds those descended from other professions. Anyone with insight on this? I personally came from a family with deep involvements with the arts (art history majors, sibling with MFA, art collecting, etc.) and I ran as fast as I could to the sciences, so I could imagine the inverse effect (by detailed balance, natch).

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Secret Web

So with K out of town, I ventured a few blocks away to Union Square (after a few Chelsea openings -- more on this later...) to see the Secret Machines at Webster Hall. The latter was an eye-opener it itself, with lurid, outrageous reliefs on the walls, but the band did not disappoint either (although they trended a bit proggy for my tastes in this show). In particular, the stage set was striking, both in how what seemed like inocuous gauze strips attached to plastic piping suddenly transformed into a compelling geometric pattern (Moire, even?) with only a few twists and a few cable ties.

I dug around for a bit and found out that it was designed by Es Devlin, a European set designer:
The visual elements are a direct instinctive response to the qualities of the music. The band will be caught within a Naum Gabo-inspired romboid structure surfaced with gauze and punctuated with radiating tensioned cables which will catch the light in a more lyrical way than a pure saturated block of back light - we might combine them and counterpoint them with pure blocks of backlight too. What the fans see will be a visual expression and counterpoint to what they hear allowing them the space to project their own interpretation of the music and the courage to intensify it.
I'm still not sure this tells me exactly what I wanted to know (I didn't associate the word "romboid" with this kind of pattern...), but fun nonetheless. Naum Gabo, eh? The word seems to be "linear construction" but there has to be a more general term for this kind of thing, especially the "fixed" points these twists generate. Live and learn.

And I just remembered, I've blogged about these guys before. Feels like a lifetime ago, so I feel even older now.

And for fun, here's the silk screen poster (I got 87/400), keeping up with the "linear construction" theme. Strange that just a few hours beforehand, I was admiring a set of multi-layer lithographs at a Chelsea gallery by Stefan Kurten. Much more intricate than this, but a neat coincidence.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Obama v. Einstein

I haven't seen much discussion of science in this campaign season, and this video doesn't really fit the bill either, but I found this discussion cryptic as well, so it's nice to see people thinking out-of-the-box...right?