27 February 2005

Song of the day: "All by myself" by Irving Berlin

The Ella Fitzgerald rendition of this song rocks! I'm particularly fond of music that twists from minor to major melody and music with unusual rhythm. This song possesses both qualities. I love how songs written in the 20s and 30s have prologues. Sometimes performers cut the prologues, but I prefer to leave them in.
I'm so unhappy
What'll I do?
I long for somebody who
Will sympathize with me
I'm growing so tired of living alone
I lie awake all night and cry
Nobody loves me
That's why

All by myself in the morning
All by myself in the night

I sit alone with a table and a chair
So unhappy there
Playing solitaire

All by myself I get lonely
Watching the clock on the shelf

I'd love to rest my weary head on somebody's shoulder
I hate to grow older
All by myself

26 February 2005

Life beyond theoretical physics

What can you do with a degree in theoretical physics besides teaching, research, or Wall Street?

Here's an interesting answer. Martin Fisher is spending his life developing technology for Third World countries. His story is described in this Physics Today article.

If you're a condensed matter theorist, you might know that Martin is a member of the famous Fisher family, which has produced three top-notch theorists: Michael (the father) and Matthew and Daniel (both brothers of Martin).

Perspectives on the Larry Summers controversy

I'm frankly tired of discussing President Summers's remarks, but I thought I should get some personal closure on the topic by writing one last post.

First, here are some other people's perspectives from various personal conversations.

One woman graduate student (in science) told me that she didn't feel discrimination. However, her work and accomplishments were constantly undervalued because certain men believed her success was solely due to affirmative action.

Another woman graduate student (in science) said that she had been discriminated against and often felt like she didn't quite belong in her field. However, she said that these were minor issues compared to the "two-body problem." She is getting married to a fellow scientist. It will be extremely difficult for both of them to get great jobs and have a family.

A woman graduate student (in humanities) felt like Larry Summers's comments were yet another manifestation of men questioning the ability of women. Formerly, these type of speculations had been directed towards women in humanities but now the arena has shifted to science.

Another woman graduate student (in science) defended Larry Summer's comments. She thought the public outcry was disappointing and found Nancy Hopkin's behavior particularly disturbing [Hopkins walked out of the conference and phoned the Boston Globe to report Larry Summers's remarks]. She said there was nothing wrong with speculating about genetic differences between genders. She thought that, rather, the most troubling issue facing women in science today is the difficulty for a woman to do science and have a family at the same time. For the moment, she has chosen to be a mother rather than continue her scientific career.

A male friend told me that there is discrimination all the time against women and men. The women shouldn't be treated as a special case. In the long run, though, arguing about discrimination is a waste of time. Every person is an individual and should be judged on his/her own merit. We all have our advantages and disadvantages in both genetics and socialization, but it's up to us to make the best of what we have.

As for myself, I agree most with the last two comments. If you have enough self-confidence and motivation, discrimination can be largely ignored. It's up to society to raise its children with strong characters and constitutions so they can grow up to realize their full potential, whatever that may be.

Movie review: The Notebook

The Notebook is an idealistic story about first love, young love, and true love (if such a concept really exists). Noah is a working class boy who works at a lumber yard. Allie is a well-educated girl from an old money Southern family. One summer vacation, Allie's family stays in Noah's town. Noah spots Allie at a carnival and wins her heart with a little persistence. They proceed to fall madly in love with each other, but the romance breaks up because 1) Allie's parents disapprove and because 2) Allie goes off to a women's college. I won't give away the rest of the story, but will merely say that true love triumphs in the end.

I'm a bit of a romantic, but even I had trouble sometimes giving way to the utter optimism and sappiness at some parts. I did enjoy the chemistry between the actor playing Noah (Ryan Gosling) and the actress playing Allie (Rachel McAdams). They made the true love aspect of the story believable. According to the commentary on the movie DVD, Ryan Gosling is an outstanding actor but he is more well-known for intense, dark, brooding roles. Maybe that is why I liked his character; he seemed serious and self-assured but young and ardent at the same time.

Overall, the Notebook is an average movie for average circumstances, a good movie for a date, and a delightful movie for the hopeless romantic.

25 February 2005

Music from "Nature's Symphony"

For you classical music lovers out there, here's a great selection of music that was used in "Nature's Symphony" (think of it as a music video on American national parks). The list I have here was taken from Michael Wanger's website.

1. Holberg Suite, First Movement, by Edvard Grieg
Program Introduction and Title

2. Vissi d' Arte from Tosca by Giacomo Puccini
Snowstorm, Sun after Snowstorm, Snow Falls from Trees

3. Troika from Lieutenant Kije Suite by Sergei Prokofiev
Icy Rivers and Waterfalls

4. Return to Rundarne by Edvard Grieg
Spring in the Yosemite High Country

5. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Fourth Movement
by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
High Mountain Rivers, Waterfalls and Wildlife

6. Symphony No. 9 in E Minor ("From the New World"), Second Movement (excerpt), by Antonin Dvorak
High Mountain Sunset, End of First Day

7. Overture to Mignon (excerpt) by Ambroise Thomas
Spring Rain, Spring Flowers, Green Hills, Wildlife

8. Overture to The Gypsy Baron (excerpt) by Johann Strauss, Jr.
Wildlife, Yosemite Valley, Forests

9. The Musical Snuff Box by Anatol Liadov
Spring Flowers, Bumblebee in Lupin

Transition: Summer in Yosemite Valley

10. Ballet Music from Aida (excerpt) by Giuseppe Verdi
Yellowstone Bubbling Pots and Shooting Geysers

11. Theme from Swan Lake (excerpt) by Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky
Waterfowl, Upper and Lower Yellowstone Falls, Yellowstone Canyon

12. Rumanian Rhapsody No. 1 (excerpt) by Georges Enesco
Forest and Autumn Wildlife

13. Serenade by Franz Josef Haydn
Autumn Colors

14. Praeludium by Armas Jarnefelt
Autumn Wildlife at Play

15. The Pines of Rome (excerpt) by Ottorino Respighi
Winter in Yellowstone

16. La Mer (excerpt) by Claude Debussy
Full Moon and Dawn to Midday in the Grand Canyon

17. A Night on Bald Mountain by Modeste Mussorgsky
Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, Sunset, Moonrise

18. Concerto for Trumpet, Third Movement (excerpt)
by Franz Josef Haydn
Closing Credits

23 February 2005

What do Feynman diagrams mean?

I've been really busy lately and haven't had a chance to post. But for now, check out the latest post on Serkan Cabi's blog about Feynman diagrams. Be sure to read the comments.

12 February 2005

Statement by the presidents of MIT, Stanford, and Princeton

The presidents of MIT, Stanford, and Princeton have prepared a response to Larry Summers' comments. They are all scientists or engineers. Two of them are women.

It's a bit politically correct and has strange wording like "our nation will be considerably less than the sum of its parts." However, I think the main message is right. I like how the authors emphasize that we don't just want more women in science and engineering, we want to make sure that the really talented ones who are interested in science and engineering, that these people stay in the system.

10 February 2005

Bob Laughlin on "Reinventing Physics"

Bob Laughlin, the 1998 Nobel Laureate in Physics, has just written an article about the future of physics. Basically, he slams particle physics and its reductionist philosophy. He claims that string theorists and cosmologists are particularly arrogant to think they have the monopoly on the secrets of the universe. He further advocates that collective behavior, as studied by condensed matter physics, will be the next frontier.

06 February 2005

Go Patriots!

Tom Brady (a Bay Area native!) and the New England Patriots take on the Philadephia Eagles tonight in the Super Bowl. Having lived near Boston, I've adopted the Patriots and Red Sox as favorite teams (along with the San Francisco 49ers, San Francisco Giants, Oakland A's, and San Jose Sharks). How fortunate for me; the Patriots and Red Sox have had astounding success in recent years.

If you haven't been to a Red Sox game at Fenway Park, I highly recommend it.

But back to the main point, go Pats!

05 February 2005

Washington Post article about women in physics

To get some perspective on Larry Summer's comments, the Washington Post asked Professor Meg Urry to write an article about women in physics. She's a tenured professor in the Yale astronomy and physics departments.

The article relates Urry's personal experiences with discrimination throughout her academic career. The article is well-worth reading. The other articles I have read on this topic have always been rather vague and abstract whereas Urry's writing is very personal and eye-opening.

04 February 2005

Sophistication in the English language

A fellow graduate student and I were discussing the following topic during dinner. Why has English writing become less varied and sophisticated with time? Even the everyday literate person in the 1880s or supposedly even the 1960s could write better than today's American college graduates. Our vocabulary has diminished and the length of our sentences has shrunk. The graduate student I was speaking with claimed that she was told in Britain that one should only use words with Anglo-Saxon roots and not words with Latin roots. Yet there are many words in each system that have no duplicate (in connotation) in the other system. It's not just that our present day vocabulary is smaller; the way we use it is also less sophisticated. I sometimes have to re-read passages in Victorian novels because the sentences are far longer and convey so much meaning. I've also been told that biology students who have read articles from the 60s are struck by their clarity and elegance.

My graduate student friend argued that society has an obligation to educate its citizens in the better usage of language. If journalism and media raised their standards, everyday people would, too. Even in the academy, both of us have been told to use the simplest language. The advice makes some sense in science where articles are read by an international audience. However, it is strange that this tenet holds in humanities culture as well.

Perhaps I will make it my goal to write science beautifully.