Feynman Day comes Sunday; celebrate with your mother, and fly the flag!

May 9, 2014

No, we’re not joking.

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

In 2014, his birthday falls on Sunday, Mothers Day.  Mothers Day is one of the designated-by-law days to fly the U.S. flag — so fly your flag!  You can tell your mother it’s for her — but it’s also for Richard Feynman.

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.

    A special postal cancel was authorized by the USPS (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 electro dynamics?  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.

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:

Have a great Feynman Day!

Much of this is an encore post.

 


Top o’ the world to you

September 3, 2013

Top of Colorado, anyway.

View from Longs Peak, yesterday:

View from Long's Peak, September 2, 2013; 14,259 ft.  Photo by Xiang Li.

View from Longs Peak, September 2, 2013; 14,259 ft. Photo by Xiang Li.

Xiang Li and James Darrell summited the mountain yesterday, a bit tougher climb than they had expected.  No view like that comes without some great effort somewhere.  They topped Grays Peak a couple of weeks ago — a slightly higher mountain (20 feet), but an easier climb.

Long’s Peak is the highest point in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Longs Peak is one of the 54 mountains with summits over 14,000 feet in Colorado.[3] It can be prominently seen from Longmont, Colorado, as well as from the rest of the Colorado Front Range. It is named after Major Stephen Long, who explored the area in the 1820s. Longs Peak is one of the most prominent mountains in Colorado, rising nearly 10,000 feet above the western edge of the Great Plains.

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Does a black cat know that it’s black?

August 21, 2013

Looking for the main cat, Luna Lovegood.*  Couldn’t find her.  Cats are like that.  They hide in wonderfully difficult-to-find places, and they resist entreaties to come out, even for dinner.  Luna wasn’t coming when called . . .

In the bedroom, looking around, calling, to no avail . . . 25th call (or thereabouts), a black plastic bag on the bed sorta came alive.  Luna opened her eyes, and outed herself.

Hiding in plain sight: Luna Lovegood remained invisible to me, until she opened her eyes.

Hiding in plain sight: Luna Lovegood remained invisible to me, until she opened her eyes.

Do black cats know that they are black cats?  I think they take advantage of their mono-color camouflage, and that they do it knowingly.

I also think they do it because they think its funny we can’t see them.

Does a black cat know she's a black cat?  Closing her eyes, she disappears.

Does a black cat know she’s a black cat? Closing her eyes, she disappears.

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* We adopted her from the pound, through Pet Medical Center of Duncanville.  As a black cat, she wasn’t much adoptable, and had spent six months waiting for a home.  She was named by the pound, or the vet.  Since she answered to the name, she kept it.


Signs of life: Tufte’s signs that ought to be

August 7, 2013

From Edward Tufte:

Edward Tufte, Road Never Ends, print on canvas, 29 ½

Edward Tufte, Road Never Ends, print on canvas, 29 ½” x 29 ½”, edition of 3

Philosophy on road signs.  Will it catch on?  Has it caught on already?


Great obits: Scott E. Entsminger, and six Cleveland Brown pall bearers

July 28, 2013

Published in the Columbus Dispatch, July 7, 2013; highlighting the best part:

Scott E. Entsminger, at Corvette Forum

Scott E. Entsminger. According to Corvette Forum: The family also has requested that “everyone” wear their Browns clothing to Entsminger’s funeral Tuesday. Browns public relations director Zak Gilbert told ESPN.com that as soon as the Browns learned of Entsminger’s death they contacted his widow, Pat, to express their condolences. “She told us that Scott’s favorite player was Lou Groza, so we had a 76 jersey customized with Scott’s last name,” Gilbert said. A representative from the Browns’ front office will personally deliver it to Pat Entsminger at her husband’s memorial service Tuesday afternoon. Image from Corvette Forum

Entsminger — Scott E. Entsminger, 55, of Mansfield, died Thursday, July 4, 2013 at his residence. Born January 8, 1958 in Columbus, Ohio, he was the son of William and Martha (Kirkendall) Entsminger. He retired from General Motors after 32 years of service. He was an accomplished musician, loved playing the guitar and was a member of the Old Fogies Band. A lifelong Cleveland Browns fan and season ticket holder, he also wrote a song each year and sent it to the Cleveland Browns as well as offering other advice on how to run the team. He respectfully requests six Cleveland Browns pall bearers so the Browns can let him down one last time. Scott was a fun loving, kind and caring man who enjoyed gardening and fishing but his greatest enjoyment was spending time with his family. He is survived by his wife of 16 years, Pat Entsminger; a son, Aaron Entsminger of Columbus; a brother, Bill (Kathy) Entsminger of Grove City, Ohio; a sister, Lois Courtright of Galloway, Ohio; a sister-in-law, Carol Ferrall of Georgia; four nieces, Kristi Nunamaker, Allison Courtright, Emily Ferrall and Ashley Ferrall; a nephew, Benny Entsminger; his three dogs, Blackey, Shadow and Jezebel; his step mother, Lil Entsminger; a special aunt, Ginny Entsminger; and several cousins and other dear relatives. In addition to his parents, he was preceded in death by a brother-in-law Harry Courtright. Memorial services will be held at 2 p.m. Tuesday, July 9, 2013 at the Life Celebration Reception Center, 129 South Main Street, Mansfield, Ohio 44902. Friends may call one hour prior to the service, from 1-2 p.m., on Tuesday. The family also encourages everyone to wear their Cleveland Browns clothing to the service in honor of Scott. The family suggests that something be planted in his memory. Online guest registry at www.wappner.com

– See more at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/dispatch/obituary.aspx?n=scott-e-entsminger&pid=165695591

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Mr. Entsinger's favorite player was Lou Groza, who wore #76 for the old Cleveland Browns.

Mr. Entsminger’s favorite player was Lou Groza, who wore #76 for the old Cleveland Browns.


Living with a pirate cat: Cap’n Jack

July 14, 2013

A true story.  I know the woman who wrote it.

Cap'n Jack Sparrow, the pirate cat

Cap’n Jack Sparrow, the pirate cat. Note the hole in his right ear, no doubt left from when he wore an earring. This photo was in the vet’s office, the day he got his cone of shame off, after his tail stub had healed sufficiently.

From the Animal Rescue Site, back in April:

I was walking to my truck at the commuter rail parking lot when I heard a cat crying loudly. He was under the truck. I knelt down and held my hand out and he came over for scratches. Of course I scooped him up — no way was I leaving him in that parking lot on a cold December evening. He sat next to me the 8 miles home purring loudly while I petted him. He was a small, very dirty black kitty with a hole in one ear, a terrible wound all the way around his tail, scratches on his face, worms and fleas — he was a mess. The vet had to amputate his tail, now a little nub. We weren’t going to name him, because we already had an elderly dog and older cat and didn’t want more animals, so we figured to find him a good home and let the new owner name him. The vet had other ideas. She looked at the hole in his ear, announced his name as Captain Jack Sparrow and we just HAD to keep him because he was such a love sponge. We thought he was a kitten because of his size, but she said the worms had stunted his growth and he was actually a young adult. Four months later he is a healthy, very finky force to be reckoned with — tearing around the house, tormenting the older cat and dog. But when he puts his paws around my neck, purring and rubbing my face, all is forgiven. The name really does fit him — he’s a fierce little pirate who knows the way to your heart.

Anonymous
Dallas, TX

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What would a Boy Scout do in this situation?

June 25, 2013

This parallels my experience:

How about your experience with Boy Scouts?

Have you seen this PSA on television stations in your town?  Call the stations, ask when they run it.

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