May 11, Feynman Day! How to celebrate?

May 11, 2017

May 11 is the anniversary of the birth of Richard Feynman (born 1918, died 1988).

Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman. Borrowed from Luciano’s Tumblr, LikeaPhysicist

Feynman’s birthday falls on Statehood Day for Minnesota.  You can fly your flag for both causes, if you wish, Minnesota’s statehood AND Feynman’s birthday.  No proclamation will issue from the White House, but you can fly your flag any day.

Why Feynman Day?  To celebrate invention, physics, interesting characters, and that essential, American quality of je ne sais quoi.

In addition to his winning the Nobel Prize for Quantum Electrodynamics (QED), Feynman popularized the critique of science and other enterprises with what we now call Cargo Cult science, or education, or whatever, where people follow the dance steps, but without the rhythm and music.

Those two things alone would make him a remarkable man.  But, like a product offered for $19.95 as a good buy in a 2:00 a.m. infomercial, with Feynman, there’s more.  With Feynman, there is always more.

I got alerted to Feynman in the first days of the old Quality Paperback Book Club, when they featured his new memoir, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!  QPBC was hot on the book, and with a title like that, how could I resist?  When I got the book a week or so later, I read it within two days, while attending law school and working full time.  I remember Feynman.

Norton published the book — and their description, alone, should make you want to read it:

A New York Times bestseller—the outrageous exploits of one of this century’s greatest scientific minds and a legendary American original.

In this phenomenal national bestseller, the Nobel Prize­-winning physicist Richard P. Feynman recounts in his inimitable voice his adventures trading ideas on atomic physics with Einstein and Bohr and ideas on gambling with Nick the Greek, painting a naked female toreador, accompanying a ballet on his bongo drums and much else of an eyebrow-raising and hilarious nature.

All true, and that’s not even the half of the outrageousness, all done with great good humor, about a life lived in great good humor through what should have been a memorable age, but often was just terrifying.

I think sometimes that Feynman’s calm, alone, borne of that great good humor and insatiable curiosity,  may have gotten us through the birth of the atomic age and the Cold War.

Feynman was a giant, and we don’t revere him enough.  Consider:

  • Feynman’s high school sweetheart, Arlene, came down with tuberculosis.  He married her, and took her with him to New Mexico to make the atom bombs.  The stories of her confinement to a hospital, and the laborious trekking he had to make between Los Alamos and her bedside in Santa Fe, are touching, and heartbreaking.  It is one of the great love stories of the 20th century, certainly, and perhaps for all time.  It also provided the title for his second memoir, What Do You Care What Other People Think?
  • Every single, college-age man should read Feynman’s stories of how to date, and how to seduce women.  His approach was unique, and endeared him to women — in legend, to many women.  Feynman’s dating must have been part of the inspiration for the comedy series, “Big Bang Theory.”  Feynman’s stories are better.  (Heck, it’s even the subject of a popular, classic XKCD comic — probably only Feynman and Einstein among Nobel-winning physicists have made so much money for so many cartoonists.)
US postage stamp featuring Richard Feynman

US postage stamp featuring Richard Feynman

  • Yeah, he’s already been featured on a postage stamp, see at right.  That’s not good enough for Feynman, though — the U.S. Postal Service created a special cancellation stamp for Feynman, featuring a version of his Feynman Diagrams.

    USPS authorized a special postal cancel (United States Postal Service) to honor the 80th birthday of Richard Feynman. This cancel was used in Lake Worth, Florida. For this special day the post office was renamed “Feynman Station.”
    Feynman Commemorative Cancel Feynman Diagram

    The Feynman Diagram used for the postal cancel on this envelope depicts what is known as a “bubble process.” It shows a high energy particle, for example, a cosmic ray (a) from a distant supernova, which emits a high energy photon, for example, a gamma ray (b). The photon, in turn, creates a particle (c) and an anti-particle (d) that exists for a brief moment and then recombines.

    As Feynman liked to point out, an anti-particle is the same thing as a particle with negative energy traveling backward in time (which is why the arrow at (d) points backwards, i.e. to the left). So you could say the photon created only one particle that, at first, traveled forward in time (the bottom semi-circle) and then reversed and went back in time (the top semi-circle) and annihilated itself! By inventing diagrams like this, Richard Feynman made it much easier to understand what is going on in the interactions between sub-atomic particles without getting lost in tremendous amounts of tedious math

  • Working at Los Alamos on the Manhattan Project, Feynman developed a keen appreciation for bureaucracy and all its follies.  His vexations for the security managers are also legendary.  Here’s a quick version of one story — he asked friends and family to write to him in code, but to not include a key to the code, so he’d have to crack the code to read the letter.  Feynman could do it, but the security people couldn’t.  Hilarity ensued.
  • Feynman developed a love for the still-relatively unknown, landlocked Asian nation of Tannu Tuva.  It’s just the sort of place to appeal to a character like Feynman — so obscure most atlases didn’t, and don’t, show it at all — seemingly consumed by the Soviet Union, but held in a special status.  Home of throat singing — and almost impossible to get to.  During the Cold War, Feynman struck up correspondence with people in Tuva, to the concern of Soviet and American intelligence agencies, who seemed not to understand someone might do such thing out of curiosity.  Feynman hoped to travel there to visit new friends, but his final bouts of cancer took him before it was possible.  Tuva, famous among philatelists only, perhaps, honored Feynman with postage stamps and postcards.
  • Just try to find a photo of Feynman not smiling. The man was a joy to be around, for most people, most of the time.
  • Quantum electrodynamics?  No, I can’t explain it, either — but his work had a lot to do with how particles wobble.  I remember that because, according to Feynman, he got the inspiration for the work for which he won the Nobel while spinning plates, like a Chinese acrobat on the Ed Sullivan Show, to the delight of students in the Cornell University cafeteria, and the shock and horror of the food service people.  Who else has yet confessed to such an inspiration for a Nobel?

There’s more — a lot more.  Feynman outlined our current generation of computer memory devices — in 1959.  No, he didn’t patent the idea.  He did patent an idea for a nuclear-powered spacecraft.  Another delightful story.

Feynman in an Apple ad

Feynman was featured in print and broadcast ads for Apple — not one, but two (did anyone else get that honor from Apple?). “Think Different.” This is one of Apple Computer’s most successful advertising campaigns. The theme of the campaign is one that celebrates figures in history who changed the world by thinking differently. Richard Feynman was among the chosen figures. Image from the Feynman Group.

Feynman served on the board that approved science books for the California school system –– his stories of that work will shock some, but it will make others shake their heads as they recognize the current crop of cargo-cultists and political bullies who dominate textbook approval processes, knowing nothing at all about what they are doing, or why.

No, I didn’t forget his brilliant work on the commission that studied the Challenger disaster, for NASA. There’s so much stuff to glorify!

In history, Feynman should be remembered much as we remember Thomas Jefferson, as a renaissance man in his time, a man who put great intellect to great work for his nation and all humanity.

Feynman's second Apple ad

The second Apple ad featuring Richard Feynman. An excerpt from Apple Computer’s campaign commercial: “Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes, the ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them… about the only thing you can’t do is ignore them, because they change things, they push the human race forward; and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

The sages say we shouldn’t have regrets, but I do have one. When the Challenger Commission was meeting in Washington, D.C., I was working on another commission up the street. I knew Feynman was ill, but our work was important, and we’d heard his disease was in remission. I didn’t goof off a day and go to any of the hearings to see him, to get an autograph, to meet the man. I though I’d have other opportunities to do that. Now I regret not having met him in person.

In print, and in film, I know him well. In our family, reading Feynman is something everybody does. Feynman’s memoir was one of the last books I read to our son, Kenny, as he was growing up, and growing into reading on his own. Even reading about Feynman, together, was an adventure. Our son, James, took us into the real physics of Feynman, and though I struggle with it more than James, we still read Feynman, for humor, and physics.

What would be appropriate ways to mark Feynman’s birth? At some future date, I hope we’ll have public readings of his books, showings of the documentaries about him, recreations of his lectures, perhaps. And then everyone can get in a circle, beating drums and singing about getting some orange juice, before sending postcards to our friends in Tuva.

Richard Feynman, we still need you, and miss you dearly.

Tannu Tuva

Tuva’s capital is the delightfully-named Kyzyl. From this map, can you figure out where Tuva is, or how to get there — without Google, or Bing?

Tuva postcard honoring Richard Feynman

Tuva postcard, in honor of Richard Feynman — who loved to drum.

There will always be “More” about Richard Feynman, if we’re lucky:

Richard Feynman, unlikely leader, from Open University

Have a great Feynman Day!

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is much an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

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Signs of life: Private sign

April 9, 2017

“Private Sign, Do Not Read,” from Todd Wilbur’s Facebook feed.

If you can read this sign, you’ve already violated the poster’s admonition.

Todd Wilbur, on Facebook, said this sign is on his California property.

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Serena Williams is REALLY good

March 16, 2017

Serena Williams portrait in the New York Times Magazine. Credit Christopher Griffith for The New York Times. Stylist: Sarah Schussheim. Hair: Johnnie Sapong. Makeup: Fiona Stiles

Serena Williams portrait in the New York Times Magazine. Credit Christopher Griffith for The New York Times. Stylist: Sarah Schussheim. Hair: Johnnie Sapong. Makeup: Fiona Stiles

Tough to track down the original screen capture — genius in recognizing it, whoever did it first — but it’s clear that Serena Williams is one of the better things to come out of America, and to some, America’s only hope in a time of Trump.

Headlines make it appear Serena Williams has a more effective foreign policy and military deterrent than the U.S. under Trump’s regime.

You get the idea.

Two copy editors in different departments write headlines, and they get mashed up by a third editor or some robot. Hope results. Not vain hope, we hope.

Two copy editors in different departments write headlines, and they get mashed up by a third editor or some robot. Hope results. Not vain hope, we hope.

Didn’t know it was an old screen cap — hadn’t seen it before. It’s timely again, and I needed the laugh.

 

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A pie for a Pi! A roundup of justice on π Day!

March 14, 2017

Let’s rerun this one. Again.  I like the photographs. I may go search for a good piece of pie.

Of course you remembered that today is pi Day, right?

Pi Day Pie from Slashfood.com

Happy π Day! Pi Day Pie – Slashfood.com

Oh, or maybe better, π Day.

We’ll start with the brief post from months ago, and then build on it with some activities and posts from around the WordPress-o-sphere.

The good people at PiDay.org suggest a few ways you can celebrate:

Make (and Eat) a Pie – These pie recipes for Pi Day from NPR’s McCallister look incredibly tasty. But, there’s no shame in putting a frozen store-bought pie in the oven, or picking up a pie from your local bakery. Any kind of pie is great on Pi Day! If you’re making your own, get inspired by these beautifully designed Pi Day Pies. Tell us on Facebook: What’s your favorite kind of pie for Pi Day?

Hope your π Day is complete as a circle, and well-rounded!

How are others celebrating?  A look around WordPress:

At SocialMediaPhobe, a musical interpretation of pi featuring the music of Michael Blake:

So Long Freedom:

pidaypieToday is March 14th, also known as “Pi Day” for us math geeks out there because March 14th (3/14) is the first 3 digits of π (3.14159…).  To celebrate “Pi Day” I highly recommend doing something mathematical while having some pie at 1:59 pm.  I recommend Yumology‘s S’mores Pie as it has 3 main ingredients (chocolate, marshmallow, and graham cracker) and about 0.14159 other ingredients like sugar, butter, and stuff.  If you are not a math geek, its okay…you can still eat pie and count things like how many stop signs you pass on your way back to work from lunch.  Or you could go to the library and take out a book on something fun like binary code.  As we like to say, “There are only 10 types of people in the world:  Those that understand binary and those that don’t.”  Seriously, binary is as easy as 01000001, 01000010, 01000011.

Miles Free at PMPA Speaking of Precision:Today 3-14 at 1:59 I will be celebrqting Pi Day. 3.14159 is the value of pi to 5 decimals...

So besides being  the cause of much techie “irrational” exuberance, Pi Day  is a great way to get some engagement with students.

Marymount High School has several activities, last year they had a design competition incorporating pi; the students then made and sold buttons of each design, proceeds going to the Red Cross.

Hmm- math subject matter, design, production, sales, accounting.

Sounds like what we do in manufacturing.
Maybe celebrating Pi Day is not so irrational as first thought.

Free said his pie is peach.

Steve Doyle at CraveDFW:

On March 12, 2009 your lawmakers  passed a non-binding resolution (HRES 224) recognizing March 14, 2009 as National Pi Day. It is one of the more legit holidays we discuss here, and it is actually an homage to geeks everywhere who see the date as a reason to celebrate due to its mathematical implications. We say any reason to celebrate anything is just fine by us.

Since we are predominately about food we will suggest a few places to actually enjoy a pie.

DSC06367

If you followed us at all this week you may have seen the pie at Bowl and Barrel pop up on our pages. This is the uber delicious Butterscotch Pie served as the solo dessert at the bowling alley and restaurant.  Go eat one of these.

He’s got more pi pie, if you click over there.

Gareth Branwyn at MakeZine offers more pie and a mnemonic:

How to Remember Pi to 15 Digits

Pi-Pie--69299

By way of sci-fi author and mathenaut Rudy Rucker’s Facebook wall comes this:

One way to remember the first few digits of pi is to count the letters in the words of this phrase:

“How I need a drink, alcoholic of course, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics.”

[Image via FreakingNews]

Another song, on YouTube, at Awsomesauce:

b.love offers this clock image (is this clock for sale somewhere?):

A clock for pi day

TED Blog offers two videos:

Chirag Singh explains his “passion for pi.”

Daniel Tammet, “Different Ways of Knowing:

Geeks are really out in force today, flaunting pi for all they’ve got.

More:

Hey, students! Did any of your teachers do cool stuff for Pi Day? Tell us what, and who, in comments.

Pi Day? March 14? It's also the anniversary of Einstein's birth . . . Image from Legends102.7.com

Pi Day? March 14? It’s also the anniversary of Einstein’s birth . . . see a resemblance? Image from Legends102.7.com

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.


Signs of Life: Decks, not walls!

March 5, 2017

Wisdom in signs.

Churches say, ‘Don’t build a wall, make the table larger.’

This company puts it in terms more people will comprehend.

A sign of better things to come? Image found on Facebook, tracing back to a Willamette Week Instagram account; where is this company and this sign?

A sign of better things to come? Image found on Facebook, tracing back to a Willamette Week Instagram account; where is this company and this sign?

“Forget the Wall! Build a deck, invite everyone over.” A battle cry for our times.

I wonder where this photo was taken? It says “Milwaukee Lumber,” but I traced it back to an Oregon newspaper, Willamette Week.

Better question: Where are the decks?

Tip of the old scrub brush to Kathryn Knowles.

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Signs of life: Sea monster in the neighborhood

March 2, 2017

Jamelle Bouie is just shooting stuff around the neighborhood. Love this one.

Jamelle Bouie found this in the neighborhood. No, I'm not sure which neighborhood, but clearly it's got some great neighbors.

Jamelle Bouie found this in the neighborhood. No, I’m not sure which neighborhood, but clearly it’s got some great neighbors. Details: Camera: Leica M5 with Canon LTM 35mm f/2 lens. Fuji Provia 100f. Copyright by Bouie, hope he doesn’t mind my using it here.

A more interesting neighborhood, perhaps, than most of us have. Or maybe not.

What’s in your neighborhood? Have you recorded it on film (or electrons), just for history’s sake? Why not?


Life accordion to Trump

January 19, 2017

No typo.

It’s a Finnish accordion, I think. And if Trump plans to use it, he should know the Finns are prepared to squeeze back.

From Accordions.com: 2 Row Finnish Folk Accordion Students - all students of Airi Hautamäki

From Accordions.com: 2 Row Finnish Folk Accordion Students – all students of Airi Hautamäki

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