Friday, March 26, 2010

Silly and Poor Jokes - 2

Heard this on "The Big Bang Theory".
Q: Why did the chicken cross the Mobius Strip ?
A : To get to the same side.

A neutron went into a bar and ordered a drink. The bartender served it and said, "No charge for you".
I am thrilled to hear geeky jokes on a mainstream sitcom.


Hydrogen : The Essential Element

Book Review : Hydrogen : The Essential Element
Author : John Ridgen
My Rating : 3 out of 5 stars
When I picked up this book, I was expecting a treatment more from the point of view of Chemistry than Physics. As it turned out, this book covers the role Hydrogen has played in theoretical physics with almost no mention of chemistry.

This is still an interesting premise. Hydrogen was formed in very early phases of creation of the universe and is still the most abundant element. Being the smallest element, with just one proton and one electron, many theories of atomic structure were tested against the hydrogen atom. So it's very fruitful to survey the history of Theoretical Physics with only hydrogen in mind.

In spite of this novel idea and good penmanship from John Ridgen, I came out a bit disappointed. It's most likely due to expectation mismatch. Ridgen focuses almost solely on 20th century physics. As interesting as this trip is, it gets very detailed at many places. From the introduction, we gather that Ridgen wrote a biography of physicist Rabi. This explains the detailed knowledge Ridgen has about that period in history. But overloading this book with exact dates and who said what to whom, distracted me. The plus side was the details about lab experiments that are often skipped by popular science books.

On the other hand, I would have loved to see more explanations of the theories. There is some discussion, but that's not enough as the focus seems to be on history.

It's a short book. I enjoyed it, but didn't learn a whole lot about science as I have from many other books on popular science. And all the historical trivia I read, was soon forgotten. If you read it with right expectations, you will enjoy it as well.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Bumper Stickers - 1

Probably the best I have read so far.
Support American Democracy.
Buy a Congressman today !

Friday, March 5, 2010


Movie Review : Proof
Released : 2005
Director: John Madden
Genre : Drama
Starring : Gwyneth Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins, Jake Gyllenhaal, Hope Davis
My Rating : 10 out of 10

Movies based on stage plays feel very different than other movies. Much of the story happens in limited settings, the focus is completely on characters and dialogues replace action. I have a strong bias towards such movies.

In addition, Proof is about mathematicians. Being in love with Math, I definitely was predisposed to liking this movie. But objectively, is this a good movie ? Yes, a strong resounding yes. In fact, in this genre, it's near perfect.

The story is simple. A famous mathematician Robert (Anthony Hopkins) - well past his prime, and suffering from dementia - has died. His daughter Catherine (Gwyneth Paltrow) gave up her career as a mathematician to take care of her father in his dying years. Catherine's older sister (Hope Davis), who stayed away for all this time to pursue her career, comes back to take care of practical matters. In the meanwhile, Robert's student Hal (Jake Gyllenhaal) goes over a pile of notebooks he finds in Robert's room, to see if there is anything worthwhile. And he finds a remarkable proof. Did Robert really write that ? Or was it Catherine ?

It's not much of suspense. But it's presented in a non-linear order and clues are offered via flashbacks, and hence there is a tiny bit of suspense for first half of the movie.

While the suspense if not the reason to watch this movie, Math is not the reason to avoid this movie. There is very little math-speak in the movie. There is almost nothing about the actual proof. Based on the very vague hints given in the movie, we can only speculate for fun about the topic. Could it be Goldbach's conjecture ? Riemann Hypothesis ? Doesn't really matter.

The movie is definitely about Catherine. And her interactions with 3 people in her life. Her father, her sister and her boyfriend. This is the core of the movie, and it shines brightly there. I was also particularly happy about the way her sister's character is portrayed in the script and played admirably by Hope Davis.

Gwyneth Paltrow gives an unbelievably breathtaking performance to bring out so many shades of Catherine's personality. She is strong at times, but very vulnerable at other times. She knows she is a genius, but sometimes wonders if she is mad. She knows her sister means well, but she is frustrated by the lack of understanding. Her acting is just perfect. Director John Madden teamed up with her before ,in "Shakespeare in Love", and although that movie is far better known, I think Proof is way much better for both of them.

Why are there so few women mathematicians ? That's a controversial subject. Proof does not really address it directly. But keep the question in mind, and you will understand Catherine better.

I haven't watched the Pulitzer winning play on which this movie is based. To me this is as perfect as movies can be. This is a must see movie for every serious fan of this art.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Carmel and 17 Mile Drive

One of the standard tourist stops near Bay Area is Carmel and the near-by 17 mile drive. The Carmel town is very cute, but I find the 17 mile drive good but a bit overrated. Both offer numerous opportunities for photography.

I found a nice alley in Carmel downtown.
Carmel also has a mission.
The 17 Mile drive takes you via many famous spots. One being the Restless Sea.
And other picturesque locations.
Some of the beaches are easily accessible, with interesting habitants.
On that particular day, a squirrel and a bird were completely unafraid of the humans. Even without a decent zoom, I managed to take these pictures.


And of course, the drive is not complete without the famous Lone Cypress tree

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