Category Archives: Damn!

Fascinatin’ rhythm: Four Brits on Gödel

I’ve got only a superficial understanding of the revolutionary incompleteness theorems that Gödel brought forth while a preternaturally gifted young man.  It will be the work of a remaining lifetime to learn it in any detail but it stimulates periodic revisits.  This podcast from the BBC’s In Our Time series smacked my gob when I came across it:  A very well-prepared moderator and three distinguished scientists discuss its impact.  It starts with a punch and soars from then on.  Yes, it is true that the posh accents predispose to trust but beyond that it is 40 minutes of serious yet freewheeling fluffless conversation that compels the listener to pay attention in the now and do homework afterward.  The presumption on the listener to be prepared, attentive, and engaged is exhilarating.  I can’t imagine such an exchange prepared for broadcast in the modern United States even by the remaining cultural outposts like NPR.

Youtube Channel: Philosophy Overdose

Theme and Variations: Nahre Sol adapts and explains ‘Happy Birthday’

Pianist Nahre Sol delightfully explains sixteen levels of pianistic complexity in about ten minutes.  That doesn’t mean there are only sixteen but, damn, what a lower bound for the recreational pianist to aspire to!

Youtube Channel: Wired
and the separate Nahre Sol Youtube Channel

Sol is in good company.  Here are Mozart’s Variations on “Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman” which we know as something else.

Youtube Channel: Canacana Family


Horizon Event: The big EHT reveal

The Event Horizon Telescope team announces its major discovery following two intense and quiet years of data analysis on top of a longer period of development.   A nice testament to aperture synthesis and international collaboration as the rest of the world spirals into madness.  Damn!!!

Youtube Channel: National Science Foundation

Context for the interested public:
Youtube Channel: Sixty Symbols


Seawater: Armando Hasudungan on carbohydrates

The reputation of carbohydrates waxes and wanes depending on trends in nutritional science and public interpretation.   Chemical facts that I learned years ago still hold.  Take one carbon, two hydrogen, and one oxygen, CH2O (or seawater, ha!) and repeat in quantity n to get the empirical formula for the carbohydrate family: (CH2O)n .  From there it quickly gets very interesting and very complicated.  These handed molecules can form five- and six-membered rings and the rings can join together in marvelously intricate ways.   Beyond mere aesthetics they form through sugars, starches, and cellulose the code, fuel, and structure of life.   Here is Armando Hasudungan explaining more than what I once knew but since have much forgotten about these compounds.  His channel is a gold mine for aged chemists and aspiring medical students.

Youtube Channel: Armando Hasudungan


Master of the Integral and Differential Calculus: Flammable Maths

Facility with calculus, specifically integration and differentiation, is mandatory for just about any technical discipline.  Slog the first is setting up the problem, Slog the second is hacking through whatever differential equations and/or integrals present themselves.  For those of us of a certain age, getting to calculus in high school was a badge of honor and being able to evaluate difficult integrals through clever substitutions and grit a point of pride.

Time has passed and the standards have gone up.  Way way up.  The kids these days are learning more, learning it earlier, and are scaling peaks we didn’t know existed.  The mathematics subculture on the Internet is fueling this fire and a particular segment of Youtube is devoted to these calculations both for fun and for education.  MIT has even held an “Integration Bee” for many years where students go head-to-head under time pressure.

Leading this pack is Jens Fehlau, an early twenty-something bro from Germany whose skills and presentation style make us glad we aren’t in a class where he’s ruining the curve.  His Flammable (formerly Fappable) Maths channel  has a strong following with early videos in German and more recent ones in excellent English with calming sounds of chalk on a chalkboard.  Fehlau also reminds me of a college classmate of mine who did exactly that and is now an eminent professor of chemistry.

Here’s one of his playlists.  Fair warning – the language can get salty at times.

Youtube Channel: Flammable Maths

So, is he a wunderkind, discovered young and educated for future Math Olympiads and a Fields Medal?  Nope.  He’s trained as a baker and hopes to teach school.


How to Masterclass like a Sir: Schiff teaches Schubert

I’ve studied Schubert’s Op.90 E-flat Major Impromptu off and on for years, long before I was ready for it.  In fact, I’m still not.  With expert teaching, even novices can use the great repertoire to learn and develop technique as a complement to scales, pedagogical exercises, and short pieces.  Up and coming pianist Martin James Bartlett has, at the age of 22, a mantelful of awards and a promising career ahead of him.   This Impromptu is no challenge for his considerable technique.  Nevertheless, Knight Commander András Schiff gently guides him towards bringing out the orchestral colors hidden in the piece, to bow a percussive instrument like a viol, and frees Bartlett’s voice without imposing his own will on the young musician.   Schiff’s legendary dry wit never oversteps into unkindness, except of course to the very late Carl Czerny who often takes it in the shorts in Schiff’s Guardian Lectures on the Beethoven Sonatas. It is gratifying to see that the steps to improvement at ones own level often recapitulates those of experts.   This is education at its finest.

Youtube Channel: Royal College of Music


Not just hot air: The GE MS9001E gas turbine

Without much further comment, here’s a very deep look into an industrial gas turbine engine. The CAD/CAM work is terrific and one wonders at the design and manufacturing effort put into just this one product.

[Edited 3 September 2018: Original video was taken down by the Youtube poster. Replaced with another link]
[Edited 6 January 2019: No longer available on the backup site, either.  Takedowns suspected]
[Edited 13 March 2019: Aaand it is back.  For now]

Youtube Channel: Ahmed Gaber


Eric Betzig goes deep, again: 3D movies of cellular activity

Eric Betzig‘s lab at the Janelia Research Campus has just released a jaw-dropping high-definition 3D movie of cellular machinery in motion.  Words are not sufficient to describe the beauty of the data and the impact of the method which will soon be made available to researchers interested in using or developing it.

I met the man a few times during my postdoctoral life at Bell Laboratories where he was a research scientist.  An acknowledged star in a building full of brilliant people, his Near-Field Scanning Optical Microscope was considered Nobel worthy.  The Labs went down the tubes a few years later when the MBA visigoths took over.  Betzig left, reinvented himself a couple of times, and came back with even more pathbreaking ideas in microscopy that overcame what he felt were insurmountable limitations of his first breakthrough.  He went to Stockholm in 2014 for the newer inventions and the doors they opened.  The Prize has not slowed him down.

The Janelia public release has details and links to several videos, including the one below.

The technical paper appears in the latest issue of Science Magazine.

Observing the cell in its native state: Imaging subcellular dynamics in multicellular organisms
T. Liu
Science 360, eaaq1392 (2018). DOI: 10.1126/science.aaq1392
The Abstract is also available through PubMed

Youtube Channel: The Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Calling the shot: Brian Metzger on kilonovae

Soon after LIGO‘s first detection of a black hole-black hole merger, the astronomical community was hinting about a potentially more scientifically  exciting event within the interferometer’s grasp: The merging of two neutron stars. When two dark objects coalesce, the product is unsurprisingly dark. Colliding neutron stars on the other hand might emit light of some kind and the collision product need not necessarily be a black hole. More intriguingly, so-called kilonovae resulting from neutron star collisions have been proposed as the actual origin in our universe of many elements heavier than iron, challenging the conventional wisdom of these coming from supernovae.

Here’s a prescient talk by Prof. Brian Metzger of Columbia University and coiner of the term ‘kilonova’ on the consequences of neutron star binary mergers. He discusses their signatures in the gravitational wave record and across the electromagnetic spectrum to their ultimate role in nuclear synthesis. Given at Harvard on 16 March 2017, it is quite accessible for a technical colloquium presentation. A mere five months later on 17 August 2017, LIGO and its European counterpart VIRGO indeed detected the merger of two neutron stars and set of a flurry of observational activity across the globe and in space which confirmed at least qualitatively the predictions by Metzger and his group.

The details are still confusing.  For example, we can assume that it takes a long time for two neutron stars to form, presumably from the death as a supernova of each of a large, but not too large, binary pair.  These violent events will eject a lot of material into the interstellar medium.  The neutron stars then spiral slowly and combine, releasing a lot of neutrons to stick to light elements, transmuting them up the periodic table through the r-process.  But, where do these light elements come from if the ejecta from each of the progenitor stars has had a very long time to spread? (*)

Harvard’s Edo Berger has a concise summary of the multimessenger gold rush incited by the event in a special issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters.  Many of the papers are free to download.  As an aside, I was acquainted with Edo when he was an undergraduate physics student at UCLA while I was a researcher in the same department.  I had no idea then he’d become one of the Dukes of Earl of  high energy astrophysics.

(*) Addendum 20 April 2019: After a year of futility in not finding an answer to this question, I emailed Prof. Metzger and asked.  In a prompt and gracious reply he said that the ejecta from the merging neutron stars create the seed nuclei required for the r-process.  There are sufficient protons (10-30%) in the ejecta to form nuclei of mass number ~100 within milliseconds.  These then absorb further neutrons within the constraints of beta decay to create very heavy elements within a few seconds.  So,  it seems that neutron stars aren’t neutrons all the way down!

30 May 2020: New video source; prior channel was deleted.

Youtube Channel: CfA Colloquium


Youtube Channel: Kowch737