Thursday, October 8, 2015

What Neutrinos Reveal

Photo: Volker Steger/Science Source

The New Yorker

This is, remarkably, the fourth Nobel Prize associated with the experimental measurement of neutrinos.

One might wonder why we should care so much about these ghostly particles, which barely interact with normal matter.

Even though the existence of neutrinos was predicted in 1930, by Wolfgang Pauli, none were experimentally observed until 1956. That’s because neutrinos almost always pass through matter without stopping. Every second of every day, more than six trillion neutrinos stream through your body, coming directly from the fiery core of the sun—but most of them go right through our bodies, and the Earth, without interacting with the particles out of which those objects are made. In fact, on average, those neutrinos would be able to traverse more than one thousand light-years of lead before interacting with it even once.

The very fact that we can detect these ephemeral particles is a testament to human ingenuity. Because the rules of quantum mechanics are probabilistic, we know that, even though almost all neutrinos will pass right through the Earth, a few will interact with it. A big enough detector can observe such an interaction. The first detector of neutrinos from the sun was built in the nineteen-sixties, deep within a mine in South Dakota. An area of the mine was filled with a hundred thousand gallons of cleaning fluid. On average, one neutrino each day would interact with an atom of chlorine in the fluid, turning it into an atom of argon. Almost unfathomably, the physicist in charge of the detector, Raymond Davis, Jr., figured out how to detect these few atoms of argon, and, four decades later, in 2002, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for this amazing technical feat. Continue reading at The New Yorker

Michael Lewis | How Tom Wolfe Became … Tom Wolfe

Wolfe in his white Cadillac DTS. Photo: Annie Leibovitz

Vanity Fair

He was accepted at Princeton but chose to attend Washington and Lee, to remain close to home.

After college, he took the advice of his professor and went to Yale, for a doctorate in American studies—and right up to this point in his life there isn’t a trace of institutional rebellion in him.

The moment he leaves the South, something comes over him.

He happens to have landed in a time and place in which art—like the economy that supports it—is essentially patricidal. It’s all about tearing up and replacing what came before. The young Tom Wolfe is intellectually equipped to join some fashionable creative movement and set himself in opposition to God, Country, and Tradition; emotionally, not so much. He doesn’t use his new experience of East Coast sophisticates to distance himself from his southern conservative upbringing; instead he uses his upbringing to distance himself from the new experience.

He picks for his Ph.D. dissertation topic the Communist influences on American writers, 1928–1942. From their response to it, the Yale professors, who would have approved the topic in advance, had no idea of the spirit in which Wolfe intended to approach it:

“Dear Mr. Wolfe: I am personally acutely sorry to have to write you this letter but I want to inform you in advance that all of your readers reports have come in, and … I am sorry to say I anticipate that the thesis will not be recommended for the degree…. The tone was not objective but was consistently slanted to disparage the writers under consideration and to present them in a bad light even when the evidence did not warrant this.”
Letter from Yale dean to Tom Wolfe, May 19, 1956

To this comes appended the genuinely shocked reviews of three Yale professors. It’s as if they can’t quite believe this seemingly sweet-natured and well-mannered southern boy has gone off half cocked and ridiculed some of the biggest names in American literature. The Yale grad student had treated the deeply held political conviction of these great American artists as—well, as a ploy in a game of status seeking. This student seemed to have gone out of his way to turn these serious American intellectuals into figures of fun. “The result is more journalistically tendentious than scholarly…. Wolfe’s polemical rhetoric is … a chief consideration of my decision to fail the dissertation.”

Which is to say that, as a 26-year-old graduate student, Tom Wolfe was already recognizably himself. He’d also found a lens through which he might view, freshly, all human behavior. He’d gone to Yale with the thought he would study his country by reading its literature and history and economics. He wound up discovering sociology—and especially Max Weber’s writings about the power of status seeking. The lust for status, it seemed to him, explained why otherwise intelligent American writers lost their minds and competed with one another to see just how devoted to the Communist cause they could be. In a funny way, Yale served him extremely well: it gave him a chance to roam and read and bump into new ideas. But he didn’t immediately see that:

“These stupid fucks have turned down namely my dissertation, meaning I will have to stay here about a month longer to delete all the offensive passages and retype the sumitch. They called my brilliant manuscript ‘journalistic’ and ‘reactionary,’ which means I must go through with a blue pencil and strike out all the laughs and anti-Red passages and slip in a little liberal merde, so to speak, just to sweeten it. I’ll discuss with you how stupid all these stupid fucks are when I see you.”
Tom Wolfe, aged 26, letter to a friend, June 9, 1956

Continue reading at Vanity Fair

Watch a recent video featuring Tom Wolfe and Michael Lewis about Wolfe’s 1965 Esquire article on Junior Johnson, The Last American Hero.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The iONic Galaxy I, II, III

Lady Gaga Kills In American Horror Story | Hotel


In Hotel, Gaga’s “The Countess” is a mysterious vamp exuding a striking sort of glamour that’s both old Hollywood and mod-art chic.

The unquestioned doyenne of the Hotel Cortez has a creepy 1940s dame accent and looks that skew slightly more elegant than avant-garde, a fashionable hemophiliac whose appetites blend sex and death freely.

Inside “The American Horror Story’ Hotel, LAist
Gloom Service: A Night at the Cecil Hotel, Where Serial Killers and Eerie Deaths Abound, LA Magazine

Below: The Ten Commandments in neon.

50 Lane G4 Beijing-Hong Kong-Macau Expressway Traffic Jam

Daily Mail

When half of the Chinese population hits the road at the same time, an endless traffic jam seems inevitable — as thousands of Beijing motorists found out.

The congestion was caused by a new checkpoint at the other side of the toll, which reduced the width of the road from 50 to less than 20 lanes.

The shocking scenes were one of the many traffic nightmares across the country yesterday. Motorways in other major cities, such as Shanghai and Nanjing, also saw serious congestion.

Known as the ‘Golden Week', the Chinese National Day celebration witnesses an explosion in tourism every year. It's one of the few opportunities for people to get time off work and enjoy a long-distance holiday.

China's National Tourism Administration estimated that more than 750 million Chinese would be on the move between October 1 and 7, which is half of the nation’s population.

Monday—Pilot Dies Inflight | Tuesday—Co-Pilot Passes Out

The Wednesday Show

The Wednesday Show

Part 1
Part 2
7 October 2015

Neutrinos Grab Nobel Prize

Artistic rendering of the South Pole’s IceCube Neutrino Observatory's digital optical modules.
5,160 digital optical modules suspended along 86 strings embedded in a cubic kilometer of ice,
almost a mile underground. Instead of concrete shielding, this detector uses the Earth itself to
block out other particles; when a neutrino collides with an atom in the Antarctic ice, it produces
light that the DOMs pick up.


This year, the Nobel committee honors the ongoing quest to understand the subatomic particle called a neutrino, the second-most abundant particle in the universe…and the most elusive.

Neutrinos come in three flavors—tau, electron, and muon—and none of them interact much with normal matter. Which makes detecting and studying them a wee bit difficult.

That’s what makes the work of the two physicists, Takaaki Kajita and Arthur B. McDonald, so cool. Working at two different neutrino observatories, they built experiments to pick out the evanescent signatures of neutrinos and catch them in the act of transforming from one flavor to another.

Both of those results flipped the field of physics on its head. Before their work, most researchers assumed that neutrinos had no mass—primarily because they pass like ghosts through matter and seem to move near the speed of light. The Standard Model of physics—you know, the fundamental underpinnings of physics’ understanding of matter and its behavior—requires that neutrinos be massless. But the numbers say that if they oscillate, they have mass. So something in the model is off.

That might sound like a funny thing to award nearly $1 million for, but physicists love it when something in the Standard Model is off. It gives them something to do. Any time anyone pokes a hole in the Standard Model, it’s an opportunity to find new physics—new rules to govern the universe. And continued work at the dozens of neutrino observatories around the world is still trying to nail those rules down.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

What ‘Youth’?

What ‘Youth’?

Part 1
Part 2
6 October 2015

Hey Harry Hey Matilda

HEY MATILDA, I've been reading John Cage’s Rules for Students and Teachers: Rule #8: Do not try to create and analyze at the same time. They are different processes. Do you know what rule #9 is? Rule #9: Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It is lighter than you think. I tell this one to my students all the time. HEY HARRY, #9 is a made-up lie. Do your students call you on it? I fell asleep with my headphones on last night. I woke up with my music still blaring, in a cold sweat. The lyrics, Harry. tell me what you know about dreams, dreams tell me what you know about night terrors, nothin’ you don’t really care about the trials of tomorrow rather lay awake in a bed full of sorrow HARRY, Do you ever feel like the universe is giving us hints about our future all the time but we’re unable to understand?
A photo posted by Matilda and Harry Goodman (@heyharryheymatilda) on

With print obsolescing, writers are finding more and more novel ways of sharing their stories.

Last year, David Mitchell, the author of Cloud Atlas, posted his short story The Right Sort on Twitter, in a series of 280 tweets over the course of a week.

And currently, author and photographer Rachel Hulin [Rolling Stone, RADAR Magazine and] is releasing her new novel on Instagram.


Hulin’s Hey Harry Hey Matilda follows the story of Harry and Matilda Goodman, 30-something paternal twins from New England. Matilda is an artist in Brooklyn, though she’s begrudgingly making a living as a wedding photographer (she even has her own website!). Harry is a writer and an untenured English professor at the University of Connecticut. The novel follows their correspondence as they fumble through adulthood and their romantic feelings for one another.

Matilda lives with her boyfriend and Harry has recently taken special interest in a student of his, named Vera. Without giving away any spoilers: The three main characters—Harry, Matilda and Vera— each tell a lie, from which they must disentangle themselves, confronting major life issues in the process.

Hulin began to share pieces of the novel’s nearly 200 pages on @heyharryheymatilda a few weeks ago, and plans to roll the story out over the next nine months—a period that roughly follows the timeline of her story. The narrative is meandering and indirect, building up slowly over time through seemingly random conversations. The format is simple: Hulin shares a seemingly innocuous photo and uses the caption to tell the story in the form of emails between Harry and Matilda [Instagram readers leave their comments as the story unfolds].

An interactive website accompanies the Instagram account, creating a multimedia experience. Readers can listen to music and learn humorous tidbits about the the two characters.