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« nothing like the sun | Main | warped thinking »


Re: talking to reporters, Feynman had a great story about what happened when he won the Nobel Prize. He was constantly bombarded with questions about just why he had won, and quantum electrodynamics is not the sort of thing easily summarized in a sound bite. He eventually thought up a stock phrase about electrons and light and eliminating the infinities in calculations ("sweeping them under the rug"). A taxi driver suggested that he tell reporters, "Listen, buddy, if I could tell you in thirty seconds what it was about, it wouldn't be worth the Nobel Prize."

I found this evasion useful myself, at certain times. "Listen, Mom, if I could tell you over Christmas break what I learned, it wouldn't be worth a degree from MIT."

It's a cheap shot, of course. Feynman, Bohr and lots of other people have endorsed the opposite view, or a moderate form thereof: if you can't explain what you're doing to a patient person with some rudimentary curiosity, you probably don't know what you're doing.

If anybody asked **me** why it was important to measure gravity so carefully, I'd say, "Because there's a chance it will show us that there exist directions of movement at right angles to reality." For a quick, popularized overview of this idea, see here:

Re. Internet: many of my colleagues swear by cellular data service. Verizon is now offering 400-600kbps "EV-DO" service in 180 cities.

"why entropy equations keep turning up in everything from economic theories to parabolic arches"

Entropy =-\sum_i p_i log(p_i) is a measure of how broad a probability distribution is, just like the Variance of a probability distribution. (Except It's better than Variance because it has nicer mathematical properties). Energy is like how expensive it is to do something, like the cost of doing business. The laws of thermodynamics relate energy and entropy (cost and variance).
Energy and entropy are such basic measurements that it is not surprising that they can be applied to so many systems.

One interesting thing about Lorentz invariance is that it's possible for it to be true at the fundamental level, yet it could be apparently violated at an experimental level because of something called "spontaneous symmetry breaking" (see ). This is analogous to what happens when a heated ferromagnet cools off and groups of nearby dipoles in the magnet spontaneously line up, creating "magnetic domains" within the ferromagnet, so that a tiny observer inside a particular domain in the cooled-off magnet would see a magnetic field with a preferred direction in his little "universe". Of course there is nothing in the fundamental laws of physics that cause this direction to be preferred, and the direction would be different in different magnetic domains. Similarly, it's thought that some fields that were symmetrical at the time of the Big Bang could have frozen out with a random preferred reference frame in our region of space (if this was the case the preferred frame would be different in sufficiently distant regions of the universe, maybe beyond the observable universe), so that Lorentz-symmetry might seem to be violated--you can check out for more details.

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    Physics Cocktails

    • Heavy G
      The perfect pick-me-up when gravity gets you down.
      2 oz Tequila
      2 oz Triple sec
      2 oz Rose's sweetened lime juice
      7-Up or Sprite
      Mix tequila, triple sec and lime juice in a shaker and pour into a margarita glass. (Salted rim and ice are optional.) Top off with 7-Up/Sprite and let the weight of the world lift off your shoulders.
    • Listening to the Drums of Feynman
      The perfect nightcap after a long day struggling with QED equations.
      1 oz dark rum
      1/2 oz light rum
      1 oz Tia Maria
      2 oz light cream
      Crushed ice
      1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
      In a shaker half-filled with ice, combine the dark and light rum, Tia Maria, and cream. Shake well. Strain into an old fashioned glass almost filled with crushed ice. Dust with the nutmeg, and serve. Bongos optional.
    • Combustible Edison
      Electrify your friends with amazing pyrotechnics!
      2 oz brandy
      1 oz Campari
      1 oz fresh lemon juice
      Combine Campari and lemon juice in shaker filled with cracked ice. Shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Heat brandy in chafing dish, then ignite and pour into glass. Cocktail Go BOOM! Plus, Fire = Pretty!
    • Hiroshima Bomber
      Dr. Strangelove's drink of choice.
      3/4 Triple sec
      1/4 oz Bailey's Irish Cream
      2-3 drops Grenadine
      Fill shot glass 3/4 with Triple Sec. Layer Bailey's on top. Drop Grenadine in center of shot; it should billow up like a mushroom cloud. Remember to "duck and cover."
    • Mad Scientist
      Any mad scientist will tell you that flames make drinking more fun. What good is science if no one gets hurt?
      1 oz Midori melon liqueur
      1-1/2 oz sour mix
      1 splash soda water
      151 proof rum
      Mix melon liqueur, sour mix and soda water with ice in shaker. Shake and strain into martini glass. Top with rum and ignite. Try to take over the world.
    • Laser Beam
      Warning: may result in amplified stimulated emission.
      1 oz Southern Comfort
      1/2 oz Amaretto
      1/2 oz sloe gin
      1/2 oz vodka
      1/2 oz Triple sec
      7 oz orange juice
      Combine all liquor in a full glass of ice. Shake well. Garnish with orange and cherry. Serve to attractive target of choice.
    • Quantum Theory
      Guaranteed to collapse your wave function:
      3/4 oz Rum
      1/2 oz Strega
      1/4 oz Grand Marnier
      2 oz Pineapple juice
      Fill with Sweet and sour
      Pour rum, strega and Grand Marnier into a collins glass. Add pineapple and fill with sweet and sour. Sip until all the day's super-positioned states disappear.
    • The Black Hole
      So called because after one of these, you have already passed the event horizon of inebriation.
      1 oz. Kahlua
      1 oz. vodka
      .5 oz. Cointreau or Triple Sec
      .5 oz. dark rum
      .5 oz. Amaretto
      Pour into an old-fashioned glass over (scant) ice. Stir gently. Watch time slow.