Archive for December, 2008

The year in review.

This is probably the last post of the year, here at the Shores of the Dirac sea. So here is what happened.

We’ve been up and running for four months. This is the 74th post so far (not too bad for a start). Now that the initial hoopla is gone, we are at about 380\pm 100 views per day. I’m not sure if that is good or bad. The busiest day so far was the day when there was worldwide panic that the end of the world was due: the turning on the LHC was all the rage and since the world did not end, that was that.

The most visited post was “Emergent gravity“, showing that there is a lot of interest in areas of physics where we don’t yet know the rules. This was closely followed by the much lighter “The value of a spherical cow“, where controversy was nowhere to be seen.

But what do these numbers mean however? For the time being, that we are here to stay for a while longer :D .

Happy new year everyone. May the new year be fulfilling and full of joy.

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Newton in the NYT

Well, we have not said anything new while the holidays have been going on.
That’s not about to change.

In the meantime you might want to take a look at the op-ed blog article in the New York Times about Newton. It actually explains quite a bit about calendars and various fixes that were put in place as the measurement of what we call a year improved. This also explains why we should celebrate Newton’s birthday for ten days instead of one.

Also, if you feel nostalgic for video games from the 70′s and early 80′s, maybe you can add a bit of gravity for the occasion.

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For some reason this year I’m getting into the Holiday spirits. I would like to wish all of you a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah or happy whatever else you might be celebrating.

Clearly, you should take advantage and celebrate Festivus tonight with your family or friends. This year seems most appropriate for this celebration, as it involves rituals like the Airing of Grievances. This ritual consists of lashing out at others and the world about how one has been disappointed in the past year. So pack your bags, we’re going on a guilt trip.

I’ll take a stab at complaining about the weather in Santa Barbara. It has been raining lately and it has been cold (about 50 at night). What gives? I was promised eternal perfect weather when I moved here.

In more news of the world, Cara King has a great post about 2008 . Cara is a good friend and a writer. She writes amazingly funny new year’s letters that I look forward to every year.

Also, you should check Dmitry’s Xmas entry for today. That could put you in the mood to have some fun.

Now, being slightly more serious, you might not have found time to stuff your stockings yet. So as a public service I’ve made a stocking stuffer list at Amazon for those people who like reading Science Fiction and Fantasy. It contains some of my favorite books and authors with descriptions of my impressions. These books I’ve selected are not your standard SF&F. Rather they are darker and more visceral than many others out there: not for the faint of heart. I chose three authors, two books each. Best of all, you don’t have to like them.


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Blog aggregators?

I got an e-mail today from Regator, informing me that we at the Shores of the Dirac Sea have been picked to be in their physics section. The e-mail is from a blog aggregator site. As it sounds, this is a site that links to blog posts and organizes them. It is supposed to help you find quality blogs on various subjects. I thought most of these aggregator sites were self-nominated, but it seems that this one pays a little bit more attention to the content of the sites.

You might recognize a lot of the other physics blogs featured there. I also found this gem while I was browsing around their website, so I thought it was interesting enough to send you guys browsing around to report back ;) . Heck, it might even be useful…

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I’ve always wondered if this blog medium might be useful for doing research. The natural place for academic physics research usually goes by publishing papers and waiting for a response in the form of other papers. This model works extremely well, until one finds oneself publishing something extremely speculative, in which case it does not usually live up to its expectations: usually there is no feedback, or even worse, only negative feedback in a referee report.

Sometimes I have a half-baked idea with few chances of it ever seeing the light of day and I would anyhow like some kind of input on the idea from a more general audience. Blogging about it is not as crazy as it sounds. So long as enough warning signs are put at the beginning of a post, it should be possible to have a serious discussion about interesting stuff. 

Of course, there is also the signal to noise factor (number of comments that are useful/ number of total comments), which tends to be small. But compared to zero or negative feedback, that might not be as bad.

Rather than philosophize about it too much, I thought I would ask your opinion instead, and perhaps in the future I will have a post on some of these half-baked (almost crazy) ideas of mine.

I’m waiting for your opinions.

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Walking on eggs


It's not as hard as it looks

It's not as hard as it looks!

I’m in a mood today. I have a slow internet connection and all of you should be walking on eggs in my presence. As the picture above shows, I have been able to do that in the past.


Any reply to this post that I don’t fancy shall be deleted without comment.

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For the most part of last week I was attending a conference on Gauge/Gravity duality in Stellenbosch, South Africa. That was the reason I was in Africa in the first place. The link to the conference site is here, and pretty soon they will have the slides and audio of the talks online. 

We were in the brand new Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced study . It is new because now it has become independent. They also have a very nice building and the kitchen staff is phenomenal: they produce really good food. This is the one picture I took of the building from the inside overlooking the terrace.











One of the nicest things about this conference was the schedule. There was plenty of free time to talk with one another and discuss various things in the afternoon. I like those situations because one can get some work done and exchange ideas very fruitfully.


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The call of the wild.

I was without e-mail or the internet for a while falling in love with Africa. Now I’m back tending the fort and I find that I missed the very interesting discussion on AdS/CFT that happened in the meantime.  I’ll tell you more about South Africa later on, but let me tell you that petting the cheetah was awesome.


Also, this trip made me realize that the biggest threat to various endangered species is population growth which results in encroachment of habitat.

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One more thing

For the small minority of readers who are not entertained by ancient Jazz clips, here is a quick puzzle. Consider the quantum mechanics of a particle moving in a plane, paramatrized by coordinates x and y, and feeling the effect of the potential V(x,y) = x^2 y^2,  is the spectrum continuous or discrete?

(For a certain generation of string theorists this may bring back memories…)

The answer will come much later, as I am now hopping on a plane. Shame to leave really, looks like it is going to snow sometime soon.

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A short break

This week marks the end of the semester, and as an academic my life is organized by semesters. This is then the end of my first semester blogging. I have enjoyed many interesting discussions with many of our readers, mostly about quantum gravity . Many concerns I’ve had proven to be a non-issue, I’m pretty happy with the level of civility in our discussions, and with my current frequency of posting this hobby is not such a big burden on my time. So far so good,  I intend to continue for the time being.

But for the rest of the year I will be taking a break. First, as part of the promised theme of marital bliss, I will be travelling to a warm place in the southern hemisphere. Afterwards, combination of holidays and work, mostly for the grant agency I got sucked into, will probably mean sporadic to non-existent blolgging.

I hope David will be back to entertain you. In the meantime you can rely on Bill Evans, in one of my favorite pieces from him, originally from Miles Davis’ “Birth of the Cool” album, titled “Israel” (this is the most patriotic I ever get).

Update: As a bookmark for myself, if nothing else, here is another wonderful piece from the album “Explorations”, this one called “Beautiful Love”.

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