Archive for March, 2009

As everyone knows (this is in jest, for not everyone really knows), the quarks were named quarks after a short poem of James Joyce in Finnegans Wake. So far, I have been able to not finish any novel by James Joyce, even though I have started them many times. They are too dense and I get lost in them. I have finished some short stories in Dubliners. At least you can look at the entry of Wikipedia for quark for some such delightful physics trivia.

In a certain sense, physics naming conventions are non-existent, and to the extent that they exist they are rather boring. For examples, for quarks we call their quantum numbers color and flavor and charge and spin. Even though they don’t taste good nor do they look pretty. And the quark names are not that much fun either. 

Here is an attempt at doing some (very short) literature with quark names.


Up and Down they go, on the seesaw.

Strange smiles they receive from passers by.

Their Charm is lost, for they are too old.

Gum is found stuck at the Bottom of their shoes

Now, a race ensues on the hill, all the way to the Top.


It took five minutes to pen. Now, how do I fret. Did I show it to you? What have I done?


Of course, this is a new contest! (Remember this one?) You are supposed to not worry about how other people think of you because you do silly things like I do. Challenge some conventions. Write a few lines with the quark names so that they make sense in complete sentences (like the example above). Consider it a writing exercise with constraints. A game so to speak. I’m looking for something inspirational. Otherwise I will keep on droning the six letters of the alphabet u,d,c,s,t,b. There must be definitely something better than what I did above.

The top and bottom quark were called truth and beauty in some other age. Are those words better? Top/Bottom is better for remembering their positions ( a mnemonic device). You can use these old names if you prefer. And if you’re not original, at least gives us the source.


And the winner gets named, etc, etc.

Read Full Post »

Monsters vs. Cliches

I went to see Monsters versus Aliens tonight. It was in 3D and it was great fun in a childish sort of way, where there are no consequences nor after effects to seeing the movie. Now I’m rapidly typing, trying to see if I can beat Clifford to a movie review.










Read Full Post »

Some links

While I am still snowed under, and in the process of finding out how to automate posting my Delicious links to this blog, here is a manual dump of some of the things I found interesting recently. Let me know in comments if you know how to generate weekly (not daily!) link posts like this one automatically, without having to learn Perl in the process.

Google and the future of books

Interesting article about the consequences of having an unprecedented amount of information available, and the dangers of having it all concentrated in one place.

The way of all debt

Everyone is talking about the economy these days, here is an interesting angle, review of Margaret Atwood’s recent book on the subject.

Shall we get rid of the lawyers?

The title says it all…

Lectures on holographic methods for condensed matter physics

Excellent introduction to one of the major recent developments in string theory. Inserted in part to avoid having all links today point to the NY review of books.

Enjoy! I’ll be back pretty soon with some real posts.

p.s: another one, which I find really funny for some unclear reason.

pps: This is written using Ecto, from my new Macbook. Thanks to all the excellent advice I got in response to my post, the transition was really easy. It is also clear, after only a few days, that there is simply no going back…

Read Full Post »

On Freeman Dyson

The NYT has an interesting article on Freeman Dyson and his views on science.  I recommend reading it. I also recommend reading the book  Project Orion, by George Dyson (Freeman’s son).

Read Full Post »

For restful moments.

When I have a change of pace and need some calm in my life, I sometimes listen to Keiko Matsui. She is a very talented jazz pianist. The song below is called Water Lily. I also recommend Flight of the Angels (I couldn’t find a good video) and Steps of Maya.


Read Full Post »

Poor planning from students

Students tend to suffer from poor planning strategies. Right now I  can see this happening with the final projects that the students in my class have to turn in. Many left it for the last minute, even though they knew they had to work on them since the class began and even though I tried to remind them periodically to pick a topic and start working on it. This is part of the skills one has to develop at some point.

Here is a bit of advice from experience:

  1. If you know you have a project to turn in on some date, start working on it early.
  2. Find resources and ask for guidance sooner, rather than later. This is especially true for academic work which might require digging through a whole bunch of almost incomprehensible and outdated material that contains the answers one needs. Usually it takes a while to decipher old notation, etc.
  3. If you get stuck in a calculation, ask for help. At least you might be pointed in a different direction than you have been attacking the problem.
  4. Make time for sleep. Studies have shown that people who try to cram at the last minute have almost no retention of material. Good sleep makes a huge difference in performance.
  5. Sometimes there are inputs into calculations that are ‘obvious’ but never stated. Especially if one has matched to some piece of data.
  6. If you have a final exam, start studying for it from the beginning of the term. It makes a huge difference: if you don’ understand something you have ample time to ask questions and to get the information. Studying in groups is also helpful: some people can only really learn something if they are trying to explain it to someone else who points out the deficiencies in the arguments.

Also important: get proper nutrition,  make sure to get some exercise and don’t forget to socialize a little bit.

Read Full Post »

Recently I went to the dentist and had a full set of routine X-rays taken. The technology has changed a lot since my childhood. Mostly because now my dentist hooks up his laptop to an electronic device that is put in my mouth and the X-rays are ready within fractions of seconds after exposure. This way I don’t have to wait as much for the X-ray films to be developed and in the end this is a cheaper way to get the information. I’m also assured that the new electronic readers require less exposure than film so that my total radiation exposure is reduced by quite a bit.   I also get to wear the lead apron to prevent some of the soft tissues in my chest cavity and lower body from being exposed to unnecessary radiation. 

So what do X-rays actually measure? This is what I thought I would ask and answer today for my first post in a long time. Part of this question is about how the photons in the X-rays interact with matter and why is lead used to stop X-rays. 

This is very different than the superhero X-ray vision. Surprisingly, for most superheroes it is still true that lead will stop them from seeing an object.


Read Full Post »

Our first guest blogger is Simon Catterall from Syracuse university, who graciously agreed to write a post about the ongoing research attempting to formulate supersymmetric theories on the lattice. Enjoy!


The problem of formulating supersymmetric theories on lattices has a long history going back to the earliest days of lattice gauge theory. However, after initial efforts failed to produce useful supersymmetric lattice actions the topic languished for many years. Indeed a folklore developed that supersymmetry and the lattice were mutually incompatible. However, recently, the problem has been re-examined using new tools and ideas such as topological twisting, orbifold projection and deconstruction and a class of lattice models have been constructed which maintain one or more supersymmetries exactly at non-zero lattice spacing.

While in low dimensions there are many continuum supersymmetric theories that can be discretized this way, in four dimensions there appears to a unique solution to the constraints — N=4 super Yang-Mills. The availability of a supersymmetric lattice construction for this theory is clearly very exciting from the point of view of exploring the connection between gauge theories and string/gravitational theories. In this posting I will outline some of the key ingredients that go into these constructions, the kinds of applications that have been considered so far and highlight the remaining difficulties.


Read Full Post »

The past few weeks have been a non-stop roller coaster of deadlines that I have had to meet. Althought I have started to learn to say NO to people when they ask me if I can do certain things, I have said YES for too many things that have had a deadline recently, and I’m not out of the morass yet. This was an unforeseen scheduling issue where I thought some tasks would take a lot less time than they actually did, so I was caught with poor planning in a situation where I have to live with turning in the work for the deadline of the day and foregoing every other activity (except those that are absolutely necessary to retain my sanity).

The biggest issue is that on many of these tasks I felt a strong moral obligation to do the jobs required, because they have to be done by someone, and they are important. This is after I had committed myself to some less important tasks.

The rate of headaches I’ve had recently has increased, my intake of coffee and sugar to deal with them and to help me cope has increased and overall the stress factor has been demoralizing. The good news is that now I can start to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I’m not there yet.

I thought a five minute rant on the blog would help. I also thought that it would be good advise to tell people to keep track of deadlines so that they don’t pile up as much. Sometimes it is inevitable and as they say, “you have to roll with the punches”.

Feel free to vent on this space if you are feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders at the moment.

Read Full Post »


My love affair with computers and computer science started before entering high school. During seventh grade, I used to pack my lunch twice a week, and take the bus after school to Tel-Aviv university. There I got acquainted with a whole new world, involving programming languages, punch cards, and room-filling humming machines called computers. Those monstrosities could do amazing things if you patiently feed those punch cards to them, one by one, and wait, and wait…Unless of course there was a syntax error, I became sort of an expert on those.

My love affair with computers and computer science ended in college, after one semester as a computer science major. I still think that the ideas behind theoretical computer science are some of the deepest I was ever exposed to, and discrete mathematics continues to be my paradigm for a grab bag full of pleasingly clever tricks. But, the thing I took most from that semester is the following insight: the only thing more mind-numbingly dull than writing code is debugging code. Any profession that would involve large dose of those pleasures will seriously compromise my ability to hold on to my sanity, not to mention my pleasant demeanor and good manners.


Read Full Post »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 42 other followers