25 April 2005

Being thankful

We physicists grumble a lot. Maybe we should look to the example of Eric Cornell, 2001 Nobel Laureate in physics. He lost an arm and shoulder to a deadly bacterial infection yet he told the media that it was merely "inconvenient." A full text interview with Eric is available at the NIST website. Here's a photo of Eric after surviving his near-death experience.

This story reminds me of another physicist who lives with a disability: Ian Shipsey, a physics professor at Purdue. He lost his hearing while taking drugs to treat a deadly illness. After 11 years, he got a cochlear implant and heard his daughter's voice for the first time. He also remarked that his wife still had a beautiful Italian accent; he thought she would have lost it by now after living in America for so long. I wrote about Ian in an earlier post.

23 April 2005

Relative attractiveness of men and women in academia

Following up on my entry about the dressing habits of women physicists, I spotted an entertaining writeup by Sean Carroll. In his original post, Sean said that women physicists are, on average, more physically attractive than male physicists. Unfortunately, due to a barrage of comments (which are fun to read), the original post was taken down.

Some people found Sean's opinion offensive, but I thought it was quite insightful. When I look around at my graduate student colleagues (across all fields in the academy), the number of really attractive women is much higher than the number of really attractive men. I hope it's not the case that male mentors encourage more attractive women to attend graduate school over less attractive women. That is not to say that a great mind is not attractive either. As Sean comments in an earlier post, women really like Nobel Prize winners.

In general, I find that most science/engineering professors (of both genders) aren't very attractive, but the few who are good looking really stand out. What can be better than a guy/gal with a great mind and body?

Before I get attacked, let me say that I rarely think about the looks of my colleagues on a daily basis. But just because we're intellectuals doesn't mean we should stop being human.

18 April 2005

Music of the day: Cuban son

My sister introduced me to Cuban son music recently. A prime example of this style is the Buena Vista Social Club soundtrack. The Buena Vista Social Club is actually a documentary about the aging Cuban son musicians. Another good album is Buenos Hermanos. Ibrahim Ferrer, a 70+ year old man, sings the lead vocals.

Here's what Rhapsody has to say about the history of Cuban son:

The Son was created in the nineteenth century in Santiago de Cuba from a mix of French, African, and Spanish elements that came together as a result of Haitian immigration. The Son developed as the Spanish decima (a ten line poem) and French parlor music brought melody and harmony to African rhythms. Standard Son was played on (tres) guitar, acoustic bass, maracas, bongo, and most importantly, the clave - two sticks that mark the rhythm when struck together. In the early twentieth century, Septeto Nacional, Trio Matamoros, and Sexteto Habanero popularized songs such as "Manicero" (the Peanut Vendor). The addition of trumpets made the conjunto sound of artists such as Arsenio Rodriguez jazzier and more urban, creating the template for modern Salsa. Its lyrics are generally about love, women, and country life, as exemplified by the song "Guantanamera." The Son is the true godfather of Cuban music, giving birth to many forms such as the son montuno, guaracha, guajiro, and later, the modern songo of Los Van Van.

Philanthropy as a future of basic science funding?

If the federal government is reluctant to fund basic science, at least we are getting a little help from some enlightened benefactors. One such person is Fred Kavli who was recently profiled in the following New York Times article. He has given money to establish centers of research in nanoscience, neuroscience, and cosmology. Kavli also has the clever idea of awarding $1 million prizes in these areas to draw media attention to basic science. Another idea I admire very much is prize postdoc fellowship sponsored by Neil Pappalardo. The money allows the awarded MIT postdocs to pursue their own independent research. I think the idea is similar to the Harvard Society of Fellows but the Pappalardo Fellowships are restricted to MIT physics postdocs.

10 April 2005

Music of the day: Van Cliburn playing Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff

I'm hooked on a new CD of Van Cliburn playing Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor, Op. 23 and Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18. These are showpieces and you won't be let down.

The CD was produced shortly after Van Cliburn (a lanky Texan) won the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow during the Cold War. He instantaneously became a sensation and a hero for Americans. Supposedly small children grew up hearing his legendary recordings.

The Cold War seems to have inspired many good things in the United States. For instance, the Russian Sputnik launching created a huge interest in pushing American children towards science. Too bad there isn't anything like that nowadays. Young people these days tend towards safe, lucrative careers (law, medicine, business) -- though there are some admirable individuals who opt for service careers (Teach for America, Peace Corps, etc.) At the university where I study, there has also been a surge of interest in Arabic languages and current events.

07 April 2005

Public art - Bottleproject

A friend of mine sent me a link to an interesting art project in Philadelphia. It's the work of a UPenn student.

The idea is to put messages in bottles and place the bottles around the city, then see what happens. There is an email address on the bottles so people can write back to say where they found the bottle.

06 April 2005

Funding in particle physics

There have been some recent posts by Sean Carroll and Peter Woit related to a recent Science article about the decline of high energy physics in America.

05 April 2005

Trouble waking up?

If you have Winamp mp3 player, you can turn it into a nifty alarm clock with the plugin WinAlarm.

If you really have trouble waking up, maybe you can be the first one to test the prototype "Clocky." It's an alarm clock modelled after your most annoying pet.

Eli Yablonovitch on the future of semiconductors

See this neat report about Eli Yablonovitch's Loeb Lecture at Harvard (thanks to Lubos Motl).

01 April 2005

Cuts in federal money towards basic research

The New York Times reports that DARPA is scaling back funding of basic computer science research.

Physicists have been complaining for the last few years as the NSF budget for basic physical science research keeps dropping. Now the computer scientists are in trouble, too.

This trend is disturbing, particularly for young scientists. How can we convince Congress to fund basic research?