Archive for December, 2006

Kaua’i Vacation

Tree above Kalalau Valley on Kauai, HawaiiFor the last four days I have been on the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i in with my parents and sister. This is Mom’s devious little plan to force us to spend quality time together during the holiday break, and yet it would be crazy to not go along with it. So, here we are, in Hawaii! On our first day here we drove to the end of the road on the north shore and the edge of the famous Na Pali Coast. Along the way we stopped at three beaches and made the acquaintance of many of the local chickens. (Wild chickens are everywhere, many with a flock of cute little chicks.) On the second day we drove south (we are staying in Wailua, on the east shore) and up to views of Waimea Canyon and the Kalalau Valley, both incredible sights. Though a bit smaller, in terms of beauty and impressiveness Mom rates Waimea Canyon higher than the Grand Canyon. Kalalau Valley is even deeper and lusher; it drops 4000 feet from the viewpoint down sheer cliffs and narrow terraces to the ocean in the distance. I might rate it even higher than the other two. On the third day we visited the McBryde National Tropical Botanical Garden and Poipu beach. At Poipu beach we checked out the snorkeling possibilities as well as a couple of the very endangered Hawaiian monk seals sunning themselves at the water’s edge.

It hasn’t just been nice scenery: I’ve been eating ahi (yellowtail) tuna sashimi at nearly every opportunity and in many permutations. I’ve yet to tire of it, though tonight I broke down and tried some seabass that turned out to be incredibly well prepared. Today we also visited a Hindu monastary, and now we appear on their blog (I’m in the group photo that is the second to last picture, I am behind Mom, who is behind a man in a yellow coat). A monk gave us a tiny review of Hinduism while guiding our group on a tour of the incredibly beautiful grounds. Supposedly 140 people, in two groups, showed up for the tours, despite the persistent rain. The best part was almost certainly the close-up look at the construction of their new temple, built entirely of hand carved granite. Most of the carving is done in India, but some finishing work is done on site, and the workers eagerly gave us demonstations of their carving techniques (we were lucky to have a few Tamil speakers in the group to do interpretting for the rest of us.) Their skill and patience with a chisel is incredible.

Tomorrow evening we head for home, to be back in time for the new year celebrations. Hopefully tomorrow we will do some snorkeling before we go. It will be sad to leave the warmth, the sea, and this gentle green island but in the end I think the trip has been just the right amount of everything, including malasadas (2 1/2 dozen, and counting).

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It’s Math, not Physics

Jackson Pollock paintingYears ago, when I heard about Richard P. Taylor’s work quantifying the qualities of Jackson Pollock’s paintings using fractal concepts I was vaguely amused. Supposedly he could discriminate Pollock’s work from that of other drip painters purely algorithmically. It seemed suspicious, but within the realm of plausibilty, and considering he convinced Nature to publish his work I was willing to go along with the idea. During idle chit-chat I’m sure I pulled the topic out of my trivia hat from time to time in the intervening years. Now it seems the reliablity of the fractal method is in question, and the issue is pressing: someone claims he holds a number of undiscovered Pollock paintings that could could be worth millions if authentic. Taylor analysed the works and determined that they show significant differences from know Pollocks. But, a new article in Nature claims Taylor’s work was flawed. So, are the dribbles original or derivative?

I don’t really care. Mostly what I care about is the last word in the headline, “The Case of Pollock’s Fractals Focuses on Physics.” Physics? To an unreasonable extent this pisses me off. What about this analysis is physics? Just because physicists did the work doesn’t make it physics. The mathematics that is used may also have physical motivations and applications, but it still is distinctly mathematics and nothing more. I’m sure my bitterness stems from the fact that physicists seem to get all the glory in the press. And, even though I am now one of those glorious physicists, I will always have much empathy for mathematics. With popular media equating mathematics with the mentally disturbed, will science’s crazy uncle ever get the regard that he deserves?

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Turtles Live Forever!

Turtle with long neckI think this story in the NYTimes has made me just a little bit fonder of turtles. It’s standard elementary school trivia that turtles and tortoises can live well beyond us, but this article points out that in fact scientists don’t observe any aging at all.  As far as we know they die only as a result of predators, accident, or disease.  Even with my new found appreciation I’m still not about to have one as a pet, frankly, they are very dull (not to mention the 100 year commitment!)  But, maybe when I stroll past a pond and just catch one slipping off a floating branch I will take the moment to appreciate my brush with immortality.