May 11 is Feynman Day! How to celebrate? (It’s his centenary!)

May 8, 2018

May 11, 2018, is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Richard Feynman (born 1918, died 1988).

Most Feynman fans are celebrating through the entire year — appropriately, for a man so much larger than life and unable to be constrained after death.

We should mark the actual day, I think. It would be a good thing to celebrate science on May 11 in his honor, I think. And, there are lots of other good ways to commemorate a great guy.

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 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. Women should read it, too, to know what’s happening. Consent is necessary. 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 thought 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, May 11!

This is an encore post.

Yes, this is an encore post. Defeating ignorance takes patience and perseverance.

 

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May 2018, flag-flying dates

May 8, 2018

"Early Morning on the Avenue in May 1917," Frederick Childe Hassam, oil on canvas, 1917; Addison Gallery of American Art

“Early Morning on the Avenue in May 1917,” Frederick Childe Hassam, oil on canvas, 1917; Addison Gallery of American Art.
Description from the Addison Gallery: “Early Morning on the Avenue in May 1917 belongs to a series of flag paintings that Frederick Childe Hassam created during World War I, between 1916 and 1919. Totaling nearly thirty canvases, the series constituted the artist’s last significant body of work. It demonstrates his vigorous brushwork, bright palette, and what the critics called his truly American interpretation of the French aesthetic of Impressionism.
“French Impressionists had recorded contemporary life, usually under bright, sunny spring skies. Hassam was also interested in capturing weather conditions: Early Morning on the Avenue is distinct in the series for its overall whiteness, the brilliancy of the hue transforming the cloudless blue sky to a pearly white and bleaching the buildings and sidewalks to opalescent tones. The flag paintings, however, were not just about weather and light. They were begun in response to the flag displays and parades that were organized in New York City as part of the war effort. Hassam was a patriot and an ardent Anglophile, and he used these paintings to demonstrate his support for the Allies. Color and light therefore took on a metaphorical significance, the pervasiveness of white in Early Morning on the Avenue suggesting purity and the righteousness of the Allied cause.”

May has three days designated for flying the U.S. flag out of the specific days mentioned in the U.S. Flag Code, three days designated in other federal laws,  and three statehood days, when residents of those states should fly their flags.

Interestingly, the three designated days all float, from year to year:

  • Mother’s Day, second Sunday in May (May 13, in 2018)
  • Armed Forces Day, third Saturday in May (May 19)
  • Memorial Day, the last Monday in May (May 28)

Residents of these states celebrate statehood; South Carolina and Wisconsin share May 23:

  • Minnesota, May 11 (1858, the 32nd state)
  • South Carolina, May 23 (1788, the 8th state)
  • Wisconsin, May 23 (1848, the 30th state)
  • Rhode Island, May 29 (1790, the last of the 13 original colonies to ratify the Constitution)

In 2016 President Obama issued a proclamation calling on citizens to fly the flag on May 1, Law Day. It’s also Loyalty Day, which got a proclamation from President Obama calling for flag flying in 2016, and from President Trump in 2017.

May 8 marks the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day, the day the Axis Powers in Europe surrendered at the end of World War II.  Some years that day is marked by a proclamation calling for flag flying.  (You may fly your flag then even if Congress and the President do nothing.)

In recent years President Obama proclaimed May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day, with flags to fly at half-staff. We might expect another such declaration in 2018, but we’ll see next week.

May 22 is National Maritime Day, under a Joint Resolution from Congress from 1933. President Trump may proclaim that day as a day to fly the flag, too.

Twelve events on fourteen days to fly the U.S. flag.  May could be quite busy for flag fliers.

  1. Law Day, May 1, AND
  2. Loyalty Day, May 1
  3. Victory in Europe Day, May 8
  4. Minnesota Statehood, May 11
  5. Mothers Day, May 13
  6. Peace Officers Memorial Day, May 15 (half-staff flags; the law for Police Week calls for flags to be half-staff the entire week in which May 15 occurs, May 14-20 in 2017)
  7. Armed Forces Day, May 19
  8. National Maritime Day, May 22
  9. South Carolina Statehood, May 23, AND
  10. Wisconsin Statehood, May 23
  11. Memorial Day, May 28
  12. Rhode Island Statehood, May 29
US flag flying at the U.S. Supreme Court's west portico, suitable for Law Day, May 1. (But this photo was taken in June, 2012; Alex Brandon/AP)

US flag flying at the U.S. Supreme Court’s west portico, suitable for Law Day, May 1. (But this photo was taken in June, 2012; Alex Brandon/AP)

 

This is an encore post.

Yes, this is an encore post. Defeating ignorance takes patience and perseverance.

Save

Save


May 1 is Law Day – fly your flags

May 1, 2018

Wait. You didn’t fly your flag today because you were waiting for me to tell you to do it?

Oh, you know Congress passed a resolution years ago encouraging flying the flag, even when the President of the U.S. doesn’t issue a formal proclamation, right?

President John F. Kennedy at the 1963 State of the Union Address, in front of the U.S. flag displayed in the chamber of the House of Representatives. Kennedy signed the law designating May 1 as Law Day, in 1961. Photograph by Cecil Stoughton, White House, in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. Public Domain

President John F. Kennedy at the 1963 State of the Union Address, in front of the U.S. flag displayed in the chamber of the House of Representatives. Kennedy signed the law designating May 1 as Law Day, in 1961. Photograph by Cecil Stoughton, White House, in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. Public Domain

President Trump declared May 1, 2018, as Law Day, and a day to fly the flag.

President Donald J. Trump Proclaims May 1, 2018, as Law Day, U.S.A.</3>

April 30, 2018

On Law Day, we celebrate our Nation’s heritage of liberty, justice, and equality under the law.  This heritage is embodied most powerfully in our Constitution, the longest surviving document of its kind.  The Constitution established a unique structure of government that has ensured to our country the blessings of liberty through law for nearly 229 years.

The Framers of our Constitution created a government with distinct and independent branches — the Legislative, the Executive, and the Judicial — because they recognized the risks of concentrating power in one authority.  As James Madison wrote, “the accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands . . . may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”  By separating the powers of government into three co-equal branches and giving each branch certain powers to check the others, the Constitution provides a framework in which the rule of law has flourished.

The importance of the rule of law can be seen throughout our Nation’s history.  This year marks the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment to our Constitution.  The Fourteenth Amendment prohibits States from denying persons the equal protection of the laws or depriving them of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.  The commitment to the rule of law that led the country to ratify that Amendment was no less powerful than the commitment to the rule of law that led the country to ratify the original Constitution.

That commitment to the rule of law lives on today.  It drives the debates we see around the country about the growth of the administrative state and regulatory authority, and about the unfortunate trend of district court rulings that exceed traditional limits on the judicial power.  We also see that commitment in the people’s demand that their representatives comply with the Constitution, and in the Representatives and Senators themselves who take seriously their oaths to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower first commemorated Law Day in 1958 to celebrate our Nation’s roots in the principles of liberty and guaranteed fundamental rights of individual citizens under the law.  Law Day recognizes that we govern ourselves in accordance with the rule of law rather according to the whims of an elite few or the dictates of collective will.  Through law, we have ensured liberty.  We should not, and do not, take that success for granted.  On this 60th annual observance of Law Day, let us rededicate ourselves to the rule of law as the best means to secure, as the Preamble to our Constitution so wisely states, “the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

NOW, THEREFORE, I, DONALD J. TRUMP, President of the United States of America, in accordance with Public Law 87–20, as amended, do hereby proclaim May 1, 2018, as Law Day, U.S.A.  I urge all Americans, including government officials, to observe this day by reflecting upon the importance of the rule of law in our Nation and displaying the flag of the United States in support of this national observance; and I especially urge the legal profession, the press, and the radio, television, and media industries to promote and to participate in the observance of this day.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirtieth day of April, in the year of our Lord two thousand eighteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-second.

DONALD J. TRUMP


Signs of life: Newt Crossing

April 28, 2018

From Instagram: pkwanpiOf course there's a #newtcrossing -- this is #berkeley after all! In Tilden Regional Park

From Instagram: pkwanpiOf course there’s a #newtcrossing — this is #berkeley after all! In Tilden Regional Park

Oakland side of San Francisco Bay has a stunning string of parks from the water’s edge, following abandoned rail lines, through parks in the city, wending and winding up into the mountains into real wilderness. It’s impressive, decades later, to remember the President’s Commission on Americans Outdoors touring these sites as they were being redeveloped from abandoned industrial sites, real brownfield recovery — and see what a grand complex it is now.

And there, one may find a newt crossing one’s path. Watch out for the newts!


Something in the way ice moves on Utah Lake

April 25, 2018

Ice on Utah Lake, from a drone movie by Bill Church, screen capture.

Moving ice on Utah Lake, from a drone movie by Bill Church, screen capture.

Where does the great @BillChurchPhoto post his photos? (Update: On Instagram, and sales at BillChurchPhoto.com.) His work around Utah Lake, and Utah, is spectacular (and I hope people buy his images so he’s making money off of the great art he’s captured).

Here is a photo of plain old Utah Lake, in February. Church makes it look beautiful and exciting, instead of just cold and muddy.

Not sure I can embed this movie any other way:

More:

Tip of the old scrub brush to Utah State Parks on Twitter.


Perils of self-publishing, a book lovers’ event!

April 19, 2018

Poster on the event!

Poster on the event! “Joys and Perils of Self-Publishing,” April 26, 6:00 p.m., Half-Price Books at Northwest Highway in Dallas (the Mother Ship). Bob Reitz and Gardner Smith.

Bob Reitz is the curator of the Jack Harbin Museum at Camp Wisdom, one of the finest museums of Scout materials in the country, focused on Scouting in the Circle 10 Council BSA (Dallas and surrounding counties). He and Gardner Smith trek and travel about Texas and the West, and for a time published a series of exquisite books, string bound, fancy paper, and extraordinary content. Great reads.

This presentation is probably a good one for authors, publishers, book lovers, poetry lovers and travelers.

I wonder if there is CPE credit available — and for which professions?

Bob Reitz at an earlier presentation

Bob Reitz at an earlier presentation, on Dallas history.


Ben Franklin’s papers online!

April 17, 2018

Good news for students, probably for teachers — and of course, for careful historians.

The Library of Congress digitized Ben Franklin’s papers. They are online for investigation (and use in student projects, and creation of lesson plans, Document-Based Questions (DBQs), etc.).

Now we can put to bed all those fake quotes attributed to Franklin, and discover again great stuff he said that is too often ignored, right?

Press release offers details.

New on the Web: Papers of Benjamin Franklin Now Online

This print shows Benjamin Franklin seated at a desk, looking to his right at an electrical device. In his left hand are papers upon which he is taking notes, and visible through a window to his left is lightning striking a building. (Edward Fisher, engraver, after a painting by Mason Chamberlin, 1763. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress)

This print shows Benjamin Franklin seated at a desk, looking to his right at an electrical device. In his left hand are papers upon which he is taking notes, and visible through a window to his left is lightning striking a building. (Edward Fisher, engraver, after a painting by Mason Chamberlin, 1763. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress)

The papers of American scientist, statesman and diplomat Benjamin Franklin have been digitized and are now available online for the first time from the Library of Congress. The Library announced the digitization today in remembrance of the anniversary of Franklin’s death on April 17, 1790.

The Franklin papers consist of approximately 8,000 items mostly dating from the 1770s and 1780s. These include the petition that the First Continental Congress sent to Franklin, then a colonial diplomat in London, to deliver to King George III; letterbooks Franklin kept as he negotiated the Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War; drafts of the treaty; notes documenting his scientific observations, and correspondence with fellow scientists.

The collection is online at: loc.gov/collections/benjamin-franklin-papers/about-this-collection.

“Benjamin Franklin made history and won respect around the world as a diplomat, publisher, scientist and scholar,” said Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. “We are thrilled to make this collection of documents by one of the nation’s founding fathers available to highlight his unique role in American history.”

Highlights of the Franklin papers include:

  • Two copies of the petition the First Continental Congress sent to Franklin to present to King George III in 1774 “to lay our grievances before the throne.”
  • Franklin’s scientific speculation on the speed of ships in 1775 while on board a vessel returning from England to America just before the Revolutionary War.
  • Correspondence with John Adams, King George III, Thomas Jefferson, the Marquis de Lafayette and George Washington, among others.
  • Franklin’s Craven Street letterbook, one of the few pre-Revolutionary letterbooks from Franklin to survive, documenting his life as a colonial diplomat in London.
  • Letters exchanged with his wife, Deborah Read Franklin, and his son, loyalist William Franklin, before their estrangement.
  • Franklin’s drawing of bifocal glasses, which he is credited with inventing.
  • Franklin’s letter explaining the effects of lightning on a church steeple.

The Franklin papers have been at the Library of Congress for more than 100 years but had a turbulent history. Many of Franklin’s early papers were scattered and damaged, though he accumulated many more. When he died in 1790, Franklin left his papers to his grandson, William Temple Franklin, who published some of them as the “Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Benjamin Franklin” in 1817-1818. Some of the papers Temple Franklin published were later found cut up in a London tailor shop. The papers were eventually returned to the U.S., purchased by the U.S. government and kept at the U.S. State Department until the early 20th century, when they were transferred to the Library of Congress.

Additional Franklin papers are held by the American Philosophical Society and the University of Pennsylvania, both of which Franklin founded in Philadelphia.

The digitization of the Franklin papers is part of a larger effort to make historical materials available online. Other newly digitized collections include the papers of U.S. Presidents James Buchanan, Ulysses S. Grant, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce and James K. Polk, and the papers of Alexander Hamilton, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States—and extensive materials from around the world—both on-site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. Explore collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit at loc.gov; access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at congress.gov; and register creative works of authorship at copyright.gov. [end press release]

Had I more to say, I’d say it.

Explore the papers, let us know what you think. Comments are open. 

(Is it odd that we know more about Ben Franklin’s taxes than we know about Donald Trump’s?)


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