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.

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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.










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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…

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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).

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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.


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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.

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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.


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