Arcadian Functor

occasional meanderings in physics' brave new world

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Marni D. Sheppeard

Thursday, July 10, 2008

FQXi Proposal

Well, Schreiber et al on the FQXi panel of seven judges for large grants have rejected my proposal for a postdoctoral stipend of 22000 dollars per year. Since this was expected, I have already resigned from my waitressing job and I will be moving to Wanaka at the end of the month to be closer to the mountains. When the contaminated, rotting flesh starts falling off academia, I will be far away.

26 Comments:

Blogger CarlBrannen said...

Marni, congratulations on the new locale and best of luck for academia.

July 10, 2008 10:38 AM  
Anonymous Tony Smith said...

I am sorry that your proposal
"Higher Operad Combinatorics in Topos Gravity"
was rejected by FQXi.

Are you sure that Urs Schreiber voted against you?
Who were the other 6 on the FQXi panel?

Were you to some degree in competition with Chris Isham of Imperial College, who (along with his co-investigator Andreas Doering) has a $75,000 FQXi grant for "Topos Quantum Theory" ?

Anyhow, I wish you the best in Wanaka,
and I hope it is free from the stink of the rotten stuff that we here in the USA experience, coming from many parts (including but not limited to academia) of the economic/social/political system.
(One of the latest fun things our government is considering is putting taser-like shock bracelets on airline passengers, so they can be immobilized (and maybe even killed) remotely at the whim of whoever has the control button.)

Are you going to do heli-skiing there?

Tony Smith

July 10, 2008 7:22 PM  
Anonymous chimpanzee said...

"In a time of need, you know who your real friends are"

I should be able to come in & get you some support.

How are you supporting yourself then?

I am working on my own proposal to a small think-tank company (outside Disney Studios here in Burbank/CA). Its founded by a famous MIT PhD D. Hillis (pioneer in supercomputing, formerly VP of Research @Disney), who was good friends with R. Feynman. He would be very interested in your _package_ (outdoorsmanship, musicality, academics), since this comprehensive portfolio is the key to taking Physics to the masses. He & everyone else are no doubt concerned about the depression in SET (Science/Engineering/Technology): educational system is failing.

He's the guy in the turqoise T-shirt (L. Randall's favorite color, btw) in the NOVA episode on R. Feynman:

http://youtube.com/watch?v=knDXAr4ltMA

I know him (he & I did research about the same time, Artificial Intelligence/Computer Vision/Robotics), & we have spoken. I live only 2 blocks from Caltech, & have some key contacts there (Computer Science & Electrical Eng). I have a hot idea, involving the symbiosis of EE & Physics

[ Dr. Carver Mead of VLSI fame interacted with RPF, & had a group "Physics of Computation" which dealt with Neuromorphic Engineering & Computational Neuro Sciences. The latter overlaps with Computer Vision (my PhD research area), & Artificial Intelligence (D. Hillis area) ]

Like J. Hewett/SLAC said publicly, the problem with HEP is "you're considered useless if you can't relate a PRODUCT to the public". Witness the recent Fiscal 08 HEP funding crisis in USA, affecting Fermilab & SLAC. My ex-officemate in grad-school (M. Eberhard, who lives only a few miles from me & Caltech) founded Tesla Motors, & created the Tesla Roadster to jumpstart the world into Electric Vehicles (Alternative Energy). THERE is your "product" for HEP, since it amounts to "energy transfer" (the famous Feynman anecdote on "energy makes the toy car go"): chemical energy (Li-ion battery) to kinetic energy (vehicle travel). Caltech has been a major force behind EV (electric vehicle) development:

- Alan Cocconi
principal engineer @Aerovironment (founded by legendary Caltech aeronautical PhD), that developed the General Motors EV1 breakthrough car. Later on went to start AC Propulsion (which was saved from bankruptcy by M. Eberhard/Tesla Motors). AC's parents are CERN physicists, he's from Switzerland. Wally Rippel (Caltech alumni) worked for AV, & ended up at Tesla Motors. He had a blog entry about R. Feynman ("an unusual character")

- Caltech brain trust
Ex vice-provost Dr. David Goodstein (physics prof, Feynman's protege..as per "Surely you're Joking Dr. Feynman"), wrote a book "Out of Gas". He used to come by my JPL Computer Graphics group, to work with Dr. James Blinn (of Voyager animation fame, famous Computer Graphics researcher) to work on "Project: Mathematics" (outreach for high-school students)

Dr. Stephen Koonin (ex provost, physics prof) is on leave at BP/British Petroleum to initiate a paradigm shift in the Oil Industry (encouraging R&D in Alternative Energy, e.g. electric/solar/geothermal/wind)

Now, you can tie-in Physics to the hot trend of "Alternative Energy". This is how you & other membes of the HEP community can benefit. They NEED "blue sky" Curiosity Research (pure research) to push the Technology. You DID say you were "working on Applications", so..what ever happened with that?

My Jumplive.com project (physics blogosphere knows me from my tests at SUSY '06, Strings '07) led me to Caltech Mechanical Eng Dept, who had a team in the DARPA Grand Challenge (robotic offroad race). I spoke with 1 of their faculty advisors (Stanford PhD), & we were talking about a DARPA funded project (note that DARPA is funding some exotic research in pure mathematics). My other officemate in grad-school Dr. Steve Cross (along w/M. Eberhard) is now Vice President of Georgia-Tech (& President of GTRI/Georgia Tech Research Inst), whose ex-Gatech colleague is now President of Caltech (!). GaTech has a strong Engineering/Computer Science Dept (btw, Lisa Randall's sister Dana is a prof there), so they are a key element to some Interdisciplinary Research in Alternative Energy. An "add on" to my own proposal for my project.


Since D. Hillis is an expert in

A) Technology
he is into Physics & Computation (recall RPF's interest in Nanotechnology & computation), & collaborated with RPF

B) Entertainment
that's the business Disney is in: TV & film

he is looking for a "star" (like yourself) to take Physics to the mainstream. Your star potential can become very lucrative. I.e., a team will be assigned to you for "brand name management". TV & book deals can be supplementary income. I've been contacted by National Geographic documetary division, BBC documentary division, head of prime-time programming for ABC, etc...since I'm with Getty Images. I can easily setup a deal, where D. Hillis company would be the "instrument" for your star power.

The above is along the lines of Brian Greene's effort at the recent World Science Festival:

http://www.worldsciencefestival.com/

A paradigm of "Art & Science", that does public outreach for Science. A better informed Public on Science, will result in more public funding (i.e., govt based) for "blue sky projects" like particle accelerators, space telescopes, Pure Research ("curiosity research", like your Category Theory). They want to project Physics (& physicists) as INTERESTING. Not just "boring" dry researchers. ACTION is the keyword, & your outdoorsmanship is a VERY strong point. You're package is the strongest, followed by L. Randall. Both of you are athletic outdoorswomen (with some hair raising crises & injuries), as well as being intellectual.

"Facts tell, Stories..SELL"

You are a "jewel in the test tube", whose story is waiting to be told. Just sell the rights to your survival encounter to a Hollywood producer. Nice lump sum payment towards your Category Theory Institute. Do a book deal, to complement the film deal.

I'm tied up with the Aug. 1 solar eclipse in China (I leave in 2 weeks). But, when I come back I am game on pushing the above thing through for researchers interested in an Alternative Method (for myself, & others like yourself).

Another alumni from my grad school days (Dr. A. Chien) is now Director of Research & VP Corporate Technology @Intel. Whose interest is in Inference Computing. That's Intel..as in Gordon Moore (Intel founder), & philanthropist to Caltech. This all plays into my idea of a Mobile Scientist, who can travel the world doing research in a Mobile Architecture. You are right about the "rotting stench" of Academia. Bee/Backreaction is making noise about how the current research paradigm is destructive to lives.

Hang in there, baby.

"Blue skies, baby..BLUE SKIES"

July 10, 2008 7:26 PM  
Anonymous a quantum diaries survivor said...

Aww Kea, that sucks big time.

Unlike Chimp up here, I have nothing to offer, no connections, not even a seminar around here (we try to organize seminars in our university, but they are attended by 5 people on average, including the organizer...)

I do hope this is just a unlucky moment, and that things will clear up for you.

T.

July 11, 2008 12:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Since D. Hillis is ... looking for a "star" (like yourself) to take Physics to the mainstream. Your star potential can become very lucrative. I.e., a team will be assigned to you for "brand name management". TV & book deals can be supplementary income. I've been contacted by National Geographic documetary division, BBC documentary division, head of prime-time programming for ABC, etc...since I'm with Getty Images. I can easily setup a deal, where D. Hillis company would be the "instrument" for your star power." - Chimpanzee

It will be great fun to watch Kea on TV, if you can pull that deal off. There's a sad lack of interesting physics serials on TV. The BBC produce some one-off episodes about specific ideas, and there are Discovery Channel programs, but it would be great if there was a weekly physical science review program.

I'd particularly like to see her pouring cold water on speculative hundred-author groupthink reports on projects that have failed to connect with nature after decades of mainstream funding...

You'd probably need to book a flight from New Zealand to California and convince her she can enjoy climbing and skiing the mountains in California, while continuing research. Otherwise, the idea wouldn't get very far.

(Urs Schreiber is most concerned with mainstream ideas like string theory. So it's very surprising that he agreed to be on the review panel of FQXi's funding program for "unconventional" ideas.)

July 11, 2008 1:50 AM  
Blogger L. Riofrio said...

So sad that they should reject such an inexpensive, yet useful grant. We have all been there at one time or another; it can get one angry or discouraged. Like Newton leaving Cambridge for the plague, or Einstein's exile to the patent office, you may find more inspiration in the mountains.

No promises yet, but alternative energy is a hot topic that could lead to employment.

July 11, 2008 4:58 AM  
Blogger Kea said...

Thanks, everyone. You have understood the main point, Louise. They carefully stipulated that the judgement would be based on value per dollar, and I fail to see how giving money to established physicists can possibly be considered better value per dollar than employing me for such a measly wage.

July 11, 2008 9:13 AM  
Blogger Kea said...

Tony, the 2 line 'report' on my proposal gave me no indication how individual panel members judged the proposal. But given the combination of Schreiber's immaturity, ignorance of physics, recorded dislike of my ideas, and expertise in Category Theory, one can only estimate the probability of his negative influence highly.

July 11, 2008 9:22 AM  
Anonymous Tony Smith said...

Chimpanzee mentioned Georgia Tech in saying that his "... other officemate in grad-school Dr. Steve Cross (along w/M. Eberhard) is now Vice President of Georgia-Tech (& President of GTRI/Georgia Tech Research Inst), whose ex-Gatech colleague is now President of Caltech (!). GaTech has a strong Engineering/Computer Science Dept ... so they are a key element to some Interdisciplinary Research in Alternative Energy. An "add on" to my own proposal for my project. ...".

Chimpanzee is correct that the Ga Tech EE department is one of the best in the world.

Most of my ties with Ga Tech are not only no longer active, but some of them are with Physics instead of EE. Ga Tech Physics (usnews 2008 rank 36) is not anywhere near as highly rated as Ga Tech EE (usnews 2008 rank 7 - only behind MIT, Stanford, UC Berkeley, Illinois, Caltech, and Michigan).

On the other hand, I am geographically close to Ga Tech and do know some people there
so
if it would be helpful I would be happy to hand-carry letters of reference from Chimpanzee and letters of proposal from you to relevant people at Ga Tech.
Sometimes hand-carried stuff from a live person willing to follow up can get stuff done with less likelihood of being lost in bureaucratic shuffles.

Since EE would likely be your focus, it might be good for any proposal to Ga Tech EE to emphasize actual experimental stuff, with theoretical underpinnings sort of hidden under the hood,
or (in the case of category theory) linked to computational algorithms etc.

For example, about te years ago a good friend of mine got a joint PhD at Ga Tech from EE and Physics,
and it worked well because he could tie his work to microwave observations of sulfuric acid in the atmosphere of Venus.

Whatever you decide, please keep everybody up to date with your progress on your blog.

Tony Smith

July 11, 2008 10:50 AM  
Blogger Kea said...

Chimpanzee, thanks for all the support, but I'm afraid that your idea of an ideal job differs dramatically from mine. What I want is a little office somewhere and time to work in peace and quiet on pure physics. I can assure you that I am probably one of the least talented TV personalities that ever existed. I can be sociable, but it is not really my nature.

July 11, 2008 10:59 AM  
Anonymous chimpanzee said...

Kea:

What I meant was selling your survival story

http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/12/30/1072546533844.html?from=storyrhs

to a Hollywood producer, for a made for TV (or film) drama. Or, sell it to a documentary producer (National Geographic, BBC). Similar, for a complimenary book deal. I.e., you don't have to do anything other than sit back & collect a check. Oh, maybe an appearance here or there, for a book signing or the film opening.

You would need professional management (i.e., an agent) to handle all the dealmaking. For example, I have Getty Images (formerly Gamma Liaison) do all the legwork for marketing/sales..I just get a check in the mail every few months. E.g., clients like Spiegel TV, Brazilian mags, Swedish mags, et al. Think, "content & distribution". Lisa Randall/Harvard has an "agent" who handles all her public appearances for outreach (they do the legwork in arranging deals), she just shows up at said event. There's an interesting parallel between Lisa & yourself, it's Complex Variables. She won a Westinghouse award (in high school), you have that anecdote about complex variables in high-school. This double "angle" (1 is an established Harvard physicist, the other is an up & coming..yet to be discovered..physicist), is what film/TV producers are looking for.

D. Hillis company "Applied Minds" (http://www.appliedminds.net) would be very interested in you, that's all they do: interesting projects. They are definitely not mainstream, D. Hillis is a very creative person

[ started Connection Machines while at MIT, which hired R. Feynman that one summer. My ex-UIUC Computer Science professor Dr. Dave Waltz (famous MIT PhD in Artificial Intelligence) abandoned Academia (does that sound familiar?), & worked for CM. Who went on to be Vice President of NEC Research in Princeton/NJ, now is Columbia CS pro ]

who is very much like R. Feynman. Likes "the beat of a different drummer", which is the theme of Alternative Models in Physics (like the path you're pursuing).

Applied Minds hires the best talent out of MIT, Caltech, etc. His former employer is Disney, which owns ABC (who in turn owns ESPN, the mega worldwide sports network. Hint: outdoor sports, like your mountaineering/skiing). Steve Jobs/Apple is on the BoD/Board of Directors

[ since Disney Animation merged with PIXAR..that amazing animation company owned by former physics major Ed Catmull, turned computer scientist/filmmaker. EC is really into math/physics. PIXAR is another angle for yourself, they hire math PhDs to handle all the intensive research that goes into fancy computer animation: 3D modeling, rendering & motion control. You mentioned "applications", so..there you go ]

so there's the link to Apple's iTunes AMAZING worldwide Content/Distribution megaloth. My presence in Physics blogosphere is due to video-blogging & distributiion to iTunes video-podcast (SUSY '06, Strings '07, et al). I was working closely with one of the organizers at Strings '07 (postdoc in string theory @Madrid), & we got as far as getting a response from Apple to do an online article "How Apple Technology is changing/helping Physics research". I still have to followup on that thing. Obviously, Arcadian Functor is an example of a physics blog which is a networking tool for research (techically intensive). It needs more multimedia (pictures & video), so it will get the attention of Apple. Then, it can be mentioned in that upcoming article. This is why I've been mentioning getting a cool Canon Powershot 720 (8M pixel, does panoramic stitching & great video) for yourself as a blogging tool..a measly $200!! Surely, a group of AF fans could contribute say $20 per..to get you this camera.

Your intellectual property is not only your Academics (mathematical physics), but your hobbies: outdoorsmanship (mountaineering, skiing, tramping) & opera singing ("Art"). Using the "Art & Science" paradigm is a hot thing, as per Brian Greene's "World Science Festival" (where they brought in dancers, etc). This "Action" component in your portfolio, just begs for video medium.

"Physics in high school was INCREDIBLY BORING"
"then things were intersting in college, with Quantum Mechanics"
-- M. Gell-Mann, "From Student to Scientist"
[ I used Harvard Project Physics curriculum in high-school, which added the "human interest" to physics instruction. Personalities & history of the scientist THEMSELVES. This is where you (& Lisa Randall) would come in, with your "action" portfolio ]

This is why I consider yourself a savior to Physics. You would be the lead scientist, to garner public interest in SET (Science/Engineering/Technology). Lisa Randall is a close 2nd. She started writing "Warped Passages", while bed ridden due to a rock climbing injury ("she woke up unconscious in a helicopter"). I.e., a crisis led to her major effort in Public Outreach (a book). Similarly, your aforementioned crisis (FQXi proposal) apparently is leading you down a similar path: a potential book/film/TV deal.

"Deals are what make the world go 'round"
-- Shawn H, lawyer friend

Kea, time to "score a deal". The bottom up approach of physics grant funding is abysmal..EVERYONE is experiencing this. There's no money, Lisa Randall has mentioned this ("you don't get into physics for the money")

"Timing is Everything:
-- business saying
[ i.e., not only do you have to propose a killer solution..but the Market has to WANT it at that particular time ]

The "timing" is good, due to the Fiscal '08 crisis in HEP funding. SLAC & Fermilab have been affected (although there has been a recent "save", from a personal benfactor & some last minute Congress antics), which is affecting ILC & the future of HEP..worldwide. They (physics community) are going to want to find a solution to this crisis, & that's where "changing public perception of Physics (& Science as a whole)" via "stars" like yourself & L. Randall (with exciting "human interest" component).

You bet D. Hillis/Applied Minds (with his connections to Disney, ABC, Apple/iTunes) will jump on this idea. A couple of female physicists (the whole idea of EOP is a hot thing) who have exciting lifestyles just BEGS for visual medium delivery. I can setup a "Arcadian Functor" iTunes video-podcast in 12 hrs (or less), I just need a video of yourself. So, I can submit it to iTunes store. Take a look at:

http://strings07thu.blip.tv

[ note L. Randall's talk. The uploaded videos automatically get organized as this video-blog, with distribution ("syndication") to iTunes as video. Compare this to the PI solution PIRSA, which is only a web-based distribution. Not as powerful as iTunes, which has worldwide brand name recognition ]

I simply transcoded the Strings 07 videos to iPod/iPhone/iTunes/AppleTV compatible format (.m4v), put them on Blip.tv. This is a 1st step in demonstrating how the new Distribution paths (because of hot new video RSS technology) can give Physicists the ability to "connect to the Public".

"There are many many people who strived for a career as a concert pianist [ scientist ]
ahh..the Ones that SUCCEED..just accept the fact that they have fabulous technique..and accept the fact, you know, they can play the instrument..WHAT makes people SUCCEED, is how they are able to CAPTURE THE AUDIENCE"
-- Schuyler Chapin/Impresario
[ he was behind Vladimir Horowitz comeback at Carnegie Hall/NYC ]

There you go, he hit the nail on the head. I don't care if it's classical music ("stringing") or Theoretical Physics (e.g., "string theory", LQG). Having a background in opera singing, you fully understand this universal concept.

from Hilaryhahn.com (inteview with Natalie Zhu):

Q: Classical music in schools – what difference does it make, and why is it important?
[ they're talking about outreach to the public, the same issue Science has ]

A: It's our responsibility to teach this art form and to make it relevant. I feel classical music is getting further and further from our generation; there is so much other music out there, like pop, rock, rap, etc., that classical music also needs to be taken seriously. Studying classical music helps kids to develop many skills, such as math and general learning skills, and it improves coordination and thought processes. It encourages self-discipline, too.

Keyphrase is "making it relevant". This is what the Physics community has basically failed to do (which explains the US Fiscal '08 HEP crisis), they became isolated from the public. Interesting female physicists (with an outdoor "action" portfolio), Tesla Roadster (a product which demonstrates "energy transfer", where Tesla Motors is possibly getting 100 million subsidy from DoE/Dept of Energy)..

Any others?

Hilary Hahn is an interesting person, likeable & down to earth (like Kea). She has scored a deal with Deutsche Grammophone (major musical label), so she's making it. Kea has the content to do similar via film/TV/book deal. Interesting thing, HH has collaborated with a New Zealand conductor (who has a math background)

http://www.hilaryhahn.com/opinions04.shtml

Hilary Hahn: What drew you to music in the first place?

Grant Cooper: My mother was an opera singer in New Zealand, so from birth, music was around me all the time. I was really moved by my mother's singing and her ability to communicate with an audience. Originally, I was going to go into science like my dad, who was an engineer, and in fact I completed a degree in mathematics. As a kid, I took piano lessons and, following my school's tradition, I composed the school musical in my final year of high school. Pivotal performing experiences at the university made me realize that my life should be in music.
=========

Another great idea is to use the "Crossover Strategy", & team up with like-minded musicians for Public Outreach. H. Hahn would be a great candidate (she & Natalie Zhu are friends, & are Curtis Institute grads). There are a LOT of female musicians (piano & violin) who are active on the blogosphere (plus Youtube & iTunes), trying like HELL to get their niche-market (Classical Music) out to the masses. Classical Music & Physics have something in common: it's a niche-market that does NOT have mass-market penetration. The "scratching for an existence" lifestyles are ample evidence.

But, Technology to the rescue! (massive Content/Distribution models like iTunes, Youtube, Facebook, Myspace)

BTW, 2 of the Youtube founders are UIUC Computer Science alumni (Steve Chen & Jawed Karim). S. Chen was on the video blogging group back in '05 (when Youtube was founded), along with me & others. Betsy Wilzcek (F. Wilczek's wife, who is a Princeton engineering alumni) privately emailed me: "Web video is exciting". She is friends with Dave Winer, who is the creater of RSS (which is the software "hook" behind the RSS feeds to iTunes). Betsy is an avid photo blogger for Frank (public outreach), so she is also a great partner for Kea to work with.

"Win as a team, Lose as a team"

This entire post is about networking, Conceptual Development, Team Building.

July 11, 2008 2:17 PM  
Blogger Kea said...

Chimpanzee, given the large range of IP addresses from top universities that anonymously access this blog, along with the fact that I have received ZERO job offers from anybody anywhere, I can only conclude that the people you refer to would also not be interested in offering me a job to my liking. Enough of these words, please.

July 11, 2008 3:11 PM  
Blogger Kea said...

And I haven't (a) sung for many years, due to a problem with bronchitis or (b) played the clarinet for a very, very long time, due to an extremely foolish ski jump that I made without properly investigating the landing when about 20, which led to some minor but permanent damage of my right hand.

July 11, 2008 4:00 PM  
Blogger Matti Pitkanen said...

Dear Kea,

I have also often found me saying to myself how ridiculously little I would need. Just a computer in a small room and a minimal income but not from social office. No great projects, no institutes, no bureucracy.

Average westener consumes ten time more that I would need and it would be ridiculously simple to gather this money. But this is not possible.

Those deciding about science funding want organization, buildings, something big, something which costs, and the basic goal of any organization is to survive as institution.

Real scientists are for academies like mystics
for organized religion: something that must be tolerated.

July 11, 2008 5:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Marni, I don't know if you remember me. We were doing undergrad physics together at UNSW approximately 1 lifetime ago. I stumbled across your blogs and thought you might be the Marni Sheppeard I studied with. I mean how many people with a natural talent for maths and physics are named Marni Sheppeard. If you are the Marni I knew, well hello :) It is so fantastic to see what level your maths had progressed to ... brilliant. Can't say i understand any of it unfortunately but I know enough to say wow!
I haven't told you who i am yet. Do you remember a naive little nerd called Alex? Anyway if you'd like to catch up via email (I see you're in NZ. Ironically i almost moved to NZ a few years ago) that would be great. The best email to get me is my work email AVOUK@email.cs.nsw.gov.au
cheers

July 11, 2008 5:16 PM  
Blogger Kea said...

Hi Alex! I think I know which Alex you are, although I've probably met several thousand in my wide travels. Good to hear from somebody from those, er yeah, long ago days. Will email.

And Thanks, Matti.

July 11, 2008 5:19 PM  
Blogger kneemo said...

Kea

chimpanzee brings up a good point: Similar, for a complimenary book deal. I.e., you don't have to do anything other than sit back & collect a check. Oh, maybe an appearance here or there, for a book signing or the film opening.

There would be millions of people interested in reading a book on quantum gravity, written by a broad-minded intellectual like yourself. I know I would buy it, as most books listed on amazon, borders, barnes & noble, etc. never touch upon Topos Gravity and other mathematically advanced approaches.

The public wants to know what's on the cutting edge, no matter how speculative the ideas may be. Since you're knowledgeable in stringy and non-stringy approaches to quantum gravity, you could give a nice survey, I'd think.

July 12, 2008 6:45 AM  
Blogger Kea said...

kneemo, I am interested in writing books, but as I have said before, I need to see the means before I believe it, because I gave up believing in fairy godmothers a long, long, time ago.

July 12, 2008 8:22 AM  
Blogger nige said...

"There would be millions of people interested in reading a book on quantum gravity, written by a broad-minded intellectual like yourself. I know I would buy it, as most books listed on amazon, borders, barnes & noble, etc. never touch upon Topos Gravity and other mathematically advanced approaches.

"The public wants to know what's on the cutting edge, no matter how speculative the ideas may be. Since you're knowledgeable in stringy and non-stringy approaches to quantum gravity, you could give a nice survey, I'd think." - Kneemo

Maybe Kea will put up with my comment about this suggestion? (I'll try to be helpful and as well as just critical.)

Carlo Rovelli wrote a popular book on alternative-to-mainstream "Quantum Gravity" (published in the Cambridge Monographs on Mathematical Physics in 2004), which is currently only rated number 633,392 in Amazon.com book sales. It certainly hasn't sold millions.

Kea and Carl Brannen are both educated in very advanced mathematical physics, so the temptation in writing with both of them (I fear) that the text will be full of similarly advanced mathematical concepts, which will pose the problem of trying to explain such ideas in an exciting and reasonable way to the lay readership of millions.

So whatever innovation you make, whether it's a simple new principle based on a new use of existing facts, or whether it's relatively subtle and abstruse mathematics, you've got a very hard job to do to make any impact.

If your key idea is a simple new interpretation of the existing facts, it will be ignored and rejected just as Aristarchus's solar system idea was ignored. On the other hand, if you present sophisticated mathematical advances, it will be hard to get millions of people to grasp what you are writing about sufficiently to buy the book. I think that this was Rovelli's problem.

A better book in popularity terms and maybe overall usefulness than Rovelli's monograph is Misner, Thorn and Wheeler's 1215 pages long book, "Gravitation", published in 1973 and still rated today as 132,138 on Amazon.com, which is ahead of Rovelli's more recent book, despite the fact that "Gravitation" is priced $125.95.

Maybe I'm a fool, but I'd say that Kea should try to do for quantum gravity what Misner et al. did for essentially classical gravitation. Maybe not writing such a long book, but going into it in that style. I don't think that can be achieved by a single author single handed, but would be a joint project.

Suppose Carl or Kea, or both jointly, were to write a bestselling physics book. It would have to be written so that millions of people could and would want to read it. So it would have make promises to deliver physics more usefully to a wide range of readers than previous books on the subject, and it would have to deliver on those promises (or else it would soon get poor ratings and reviews, reducing sales).

I think that Kea maybe in collaboration with Carl should try to write a popular physics book, since they are mathematically qualified to do so and have had an active interest in the subject for years. Possibly they should try collaborating on a book, emailing the draft back and forward for editing it, because editing is crucial and it's sometimes impossible for a person to see their own ideas and presentation from another point of view, which is vital to explain things well and keep the text concise and fun.

There is risk that it will be a "fairy dream" project as Kea says that will be ignored by everyone, and that the effort put into writing might not be repaid. But co-authorship would halve the amount of risk per author, it would make the project of writing the book maybe easier and quicker, and the result might easier to get published by a commercial publisher, because I've noticed that publishers are more impressed by co-authored technical submissions (both technical articles and books) than lone-efforts, and if the collaboration works properly then the book is a lot more lively and fun to read than a technical book by a lone author. Royalty payments would obviously be halved, but so would the amount of effort and risk taken on by the collaborators.

(Sorry if this comment is just another badly thought out waste-of-space.)

July 13, 2008 9:19 AM  
Blogger kneemo said...

Carlo Rovelli wrote a popular book on alternative-to-mainstream "Quantum Gravity" (published in the Cambridge Monographs on Mathematical Physics in 2004), which is currently only rated number 633,392 in Amazon.com book sales. It certainly hasn't sold millions.

I had more of a "Warped Passages" popular book in mind, as chimpanzee was comparing Marni to Lisa Randall. Warped Passages currently has rank #148,106 on Amazon.

July 13, 2008 10:44 AM  
Blogger Kea said...

Nigel, I would rather write a textbook than a popular physics book, but despite your skepticism I believe it is possible to write simply and clearly about the most abstract ideas in quantum gravity. And as kneemo points out, there are NO books about this approach to QG out there. Rovelli et al, despite appearances, are actually not at all mathematically sophisticated, having been trained as physicists in the latter 20th century. There would be little intersection between a book that I would write and those books.

July 13, 2008 1:39 PM  
Blogger nige said...

Thanks Kneemo and Kea,

I was actually suggesting that Rovelli's book on Quantum Gravity wasn't the ideal style; instead the collaborative style of Misner, Thorne and Wheeler's "Gravitation" might be best. Possibly a collaboration with another mathematician would be best to speed it up and minimise the risks per author of spending time on a risky project? As stated, despite being published in 1973 and currently priced over $125, Gravitation still relatively popular because it's useful. I like the style of "Gravitation" with its many boxes and sections that break down subject into nice chunks. I've read Randall's "Warped Passages" and it's entirely non-mathematical! It may quote Einstein's field equation, but it delivers very little mathematical physics knowledge to the reader.

July 13, 2008 10:47 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Hi Kea,

You may also want to consider movement to the multidiscipline Nobel category of Physiology which is at least as important as physics.

Leonard Susskind has some comparisons of biology, a subset of Physsiology, to physics in conversations 3, 4 and 5 of interviews on The Paula Gordon Show.

I tend to modify his 'anthropic principle' to 'anthropic perspective' since we humans are using our measurements for data in all Nobel categories.

Susskind also talks about black holes as 'information scramblers' in his battle with Hawking on " California Literary Review. This is what biophysical black holes such as the gastrointestinal tract do. Physics, chemistry, engineering and economics are involved in this physiology.

July 14, 2008 9:01 AM  
Anonymous paolo said...

Hi Marni, You probably remember me (We met in Macquarie university in October 2006). I really understand very well the disappointment for the result of the FQXi selection ... on the other side, as a small consolation, I sincerely congratulate with You because at least Your research proposal was actually selected for the final round of evaluation!!

My own research project submitted to FQXi did not even pass the very first round of selection and was immediately rejected on January 30 without any justification at all.

This has been the second and the LAST (!!) time that I applied for such "grants" and this not because I think that they are supporting people that do not deserve it (!!) ... to the contrary, most of the researchers awarded with the inaugural grant in 2006 are some of the best and most promising in the field ...
The problem is that, in complete contradiction to what FQXi people like to say, (probably with the only exception of Garret) the grants went to researchers that are all very well into the academic system, well known (many of them are full professors in top level research institutions! Almost exclusively from USA and UK!!) and in most of the cases already supported by other grants for similar purposes.

As regards "the rotten academia" ... well ... "science" (at least this is my opinion) is essentially a social construct (mostly for social gratification/exploitation of social misfits) and everything in it works exactly as in any other such human activity: "who You know" is much much more important than "what You do". They can change the name of the game, make it fashionable, but when it comes to power, money and recognition/resources (and that is what it really is about), the connection with people with power is what You have to look for in order to get something !
Furthermore in math/physics these are very very hard times to get support also for "clever and/or famous guys" ;-D

As possible job suggestion ... if really You have nothing else better, if You are a bit adventurous ... and You might like to work in developing countries (as I do) ... a teaching position in university is not that impossible to find ... as long as You are satisfied with a total of 700 Euros per month, without any retirement plan, insurance, travel and research support apart from the bare salary.
As long as You can work alone it is not that bad ... the problems begin as soon as You start some collaboration and/or need to travel to offer talks, attend conferences or to visit colleagues ... since Your bare salary is the only thing that You can use to support these kind of plans ... (at least in the place where I work !).
In any case I wish You all the Best for any future project/research/job ;-)
Paolo

July 14, 2008 11:10 PM  
Blogger nige said...

"... to the contrary, most of the researchers awarded with the inaugural grant in 2006 are some of the best and most promising in the field ...
The problem is that, in complete contradiction to what FQXi people like to say, (probably with the only exception of Garret) the grants went to researchers that are all very well into the academic system, well known (many of them are full professors in top level research institutions! Almost exclusively from USA and UK!!) and in most of the cases already supported by other grants for similar purposes. ..."


That's what I noticed when I looked at the previous awardees page at FQXi. On the main page it says that the purpose of their rewards to to support research which is so unorthodox which would not get mainstream funding, then when you look at what they fund, the first thing on the list (given the most money) is for a repeated extrapolation of the future of the universe, something that's already been done. It's not supporting real innovation, just research that's usually too boring to attract mainstream funding. The people being funded have well paid jobs for the most part, with a few exceptions like Garrett Lisi, who is relatively famous anyway.

In other words, they're funding safe choices. Kea's request was for a very small allowance compared to the sums previously awarded to programs which didn't have any hope of discovering any fundamentally new about nature.

I think it's the political committee effect at work. Anyone on the committee who would be sympathetic to Kea's proposal would find violent opposition from others, and in the end they would have to agree to fund only mainstream researchers with proposals that are so boring (just rehashing old ideas) they can't attract funding from other sources.

July 15, 2008 4:25 AM  
Blogger Kea said...

Hi Paolo. Thank you for dropping by, and I'm sorry to hear that you were also turned down. Of course I remember meeting you at lunch at Macquarie that day, when you gave an excellent seminar, and I think that even Schreiber would agree that your research deserves support.

By the way, my application was officially supported by the University of Canterbury, so I went to some effort to make myself a part of The Establishment for the proposal. Like you, I will not be applying for FQXi funds again, because it is clearly a waste of time.

July 16, 2008 3:43 PM  

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