Category Archives: physics

What is that 96 Year Old Doing in the Basement?

By the time you reach the ripe old age of 96, folks start fussing over you. They worry that you might not be able to figure out how to open the bathroom door. And “did you take your meds?” “Do you have to go again?”

But if you were Arthur Ashkin, things might be different. Ashkin just became the oldest person ever to win the Nobel Prize. Granted, he won it for work he did long ago. But he is still tinkering around in his lab — which happens also to be the basement of his house.  He says

“I’m making cheap electricity,”

That masks the complexity of what he is really doing down there..

Ashkin’s new invention uses geometry to capture and funnel light. Essentially, it relies on reflective concentrator tubes that intensify solar reflections, which could make existing solar panels more efficient or perhaps even replace them altogether with something cheaper and simpler. The tubes are “dirt cheap,” Ashkin says — they cost just pennies to create — which is why he thinks they “will save the world.”

Did you get that? Here is good old Arthur

Image result for Arthur AShkin'

It is said that he can get a bit grumpy now and then. I would excuse it in his case. Wouldn’t you?

The Mathematical Matchmaker

Delve into the heart of our deepest thought if you dare

Despite Michael Atiyah’s many accolades—he is a winner of both the Fields and the Abel prizes for mathematics; a past president of the Royal Society of London, the oldest scientific society in the world (and a past president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh); a former master of Trinity College, Cambridge; a knight and a member of the royal Order of Merit; and essentially Britain’s mathematical pope—he is nonetheless perhaps most aptly described as a matchmaker. He has an intuition for arranging just the right intellectual liaisons, oftentimes involving himself and his own ideas, and over the course of his half-century-plus career he has bridged the gap between apparently disparate ideas within the field of mathematics, and between mathematics and physics.

The Eternal Trade off – Productivity Versus Creativity

I have felt it and I would guess that you have as well. There are times in our lives when we get caught up in day to day pressures. We have to produce. And during those times, we can’t help but lose our broader perspective. We narrow our focus to what needs to get done rather than think about what is possible.

That realm of possibility has never been more broad than now. Why? Because mankind has never had so many tools to make work easier. Of course, we don’t see that. Our deadlines and schedules fool us into believing that life has never been so stressful. We tell ourselves that we have no choice but to live this way.

Perhaps. But consider the choice that Willa Cather made. She was, in one moment one of the most powerful people in journalism. But that precluded her from writing. And she chose to away from productivity to lay claim to the life she wanted to live.

Mark Bittman is Conflicted. I am Less So

It is easy to poke fun at Mark Bittman. He wrote for NYT, had a TV show, frolicked around with stars, and wrote cookbooks. He also had some smart things to say about the unhealthy ways that Americans produce and consume food.. So what could be wrong?

Mark recently quit his job to work for a start up. He bares his soul in a recent article where he says … drum roll please … he writes

In my heart, I don’t believe making money is an honorable goal, even if it’s ostensibly linked to doing good things.

And how does this square with reality?

On the other hand, I’ve been entrepreneurial. I haven’t had a “real” job since 1987—I was editor of the original Cook’s Illustrated (after six months, I quit and got fired on the same day). Furthermore, my father—who died last year—was a Lombardi-like businessman who believed that money wasn’t everything, it was the only thing. And I’ve spent much of my life selling things (“literary works,” as it says on my tax return), even if I pretended otherwise. My writing career has, of course, been a business; almost everyone’s is. (Samuel Johnson: “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.”)

Ok Mark. Let’s toke up and get to the ponit

Like I said, it’s complicated.

 Indeed it is. I see a novel coming soon about a sensitive food writer tries to make a go of  working in a food start up. Check out Mark’s article if this fits your mood.

He does write well. I give him that.


Physics Lovers Unite!

My son loves physics and is studying it in university.  It is a subject that I know very little about and I felt pretty useless. That is until I realized that while I don’t know much about physics, I can track what folks are saying about physics in the media. Aha!

Of course, he could do this himself. But it is easier to just receive one e mail a day from dear old dad that links to an article. He can read it if he wants to or keep it or trash it. It is a small thing but a nice thing!

So here is the deal. If you are crazy about physics or just studying it and want a quick reference to articles – one a day – let me know in a comment with you e mail address. You will go on the list. and I will delete your e mail from the comment.

It’s free and no obligations and of course I will not bomb you with any other e mails or share your e mail with anyone.

So sign on if you want to plug in.