Monday, February 21, 2011

Coffee Chemistry Lab

I’m always on the look-out for appealing new locations to engage in my independent research activities in astrophysics. The various environmental factors have to be just right – the correct mixture of white noise and ambiance, suitable lighting, comfortable seating with a table for writing formulae. The hang-out also should be cool (just can’t see working on numerical relativity at McDonalds).

This evening I happened by a new place that satisfies all of the above as an appropriate study-hall location: Balconi Coffee Company located in West Los Angeles at: 11301 W. Olympic Blvd, #124 near the corner with Sawtelle Blvd. The proprietor “Ray” just recently opened up after moving from a quaint, though much less stylish location, next to a Palm reading joint.

The reason why I like Balconi’s so much is the long flat wooden bar area that runs the length of the shop. The lighting and flat surface and comfortable chairs are perfect for intense study (not to mention the really nice and eclectic selection of music playing at a reasonable volume level).

But the real appeal of Balconi’s is their “siphon coffee” selections. I tried the Ethiopian and it was heavenly. The preparation of the coffee is 100% individualized and the apparatus looks like a makeshift chem lab. The only downside is that if there is a line waiting to order, you might be there a while since each cup takes about 5 or so minutes to make. All things considered, I find the wait worthwhile, and like I said, hanging around the place while scanning the light curves of some photometric binary star system is my idea of a very good time. Try Balconi’s to break open your science books and be sure to say hello to the Physics Groupie!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Dunk Your Homeomorphic Toroidal Polyhedrons?

You see them in the market, hanging on women's ears (and some men's), dangling through people's noses, orbiting around kid's wastes, and even the token of eternal love at your average wedding. Of course I'm talking about the homeomorphic toroidal polyhedron, aka the donut (or ring, or hoop).

To the mathematician, specifically one who studies topology, this shape is all too familiar. Explained to a child, a torus is a surface of revolution generated by revolving a circle in three dimensional space about an axis coplanar with the circle. So the next time you visit your local Krispy Kreme shop, just ask for a Glazed HTP and see what kind of reaction you get.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Valentine's Nebula

Happy Valentine’s Day! Here is an ode to a love gone lost – by Stephen Hunter-Hanlon. Have a wonderful day and be sure to think about the one your love.

When the stars came out tonight,

you were on my mind,

the planets I see and think of you,

I look closer and see your face.

I see Mercury and the brightness in your eyes,

I see Venus and your pure beauty,

I see Earth and see your life,

I see mars and see my life to come.

I see Jupiter and the storms our love can bring,

I see Saturn and the rings of life together,

I see Uranus and look into your past,

I see Neptune and the seas between us.

I see Pluto and that is my last discovery,

Then I see our Sun again and like you,

My universe is complete,

A thing of beauty life and pure love.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Music and the Cosmos

The link between astronomy and music is not a common one and people who share a love for both can point to few classical music compositions with direct references to astronomy. A couple of pieces come to mind having celestial connotations – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Jupiter” symphony (No. 41, in C Major) and Joseph Haydn’s “Mercury” symphony (No. 43, in E-flat Major). But these names are fanciful additions by others, unrelated to their composer’s musical conceptions.

There are a few other fringe pieces having derivative themes relating to the cosmos – Ludwig van Beethoven’s Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp Minor and Claude Debussy in “Claire de Lune”, both “Moonlight” masterpieces. And then there are the six string quartets comprising Haydn’s Opus 20, known as the “Sun” quartets, and Haydn’s comic opera Il Mondo della Luna (“The World on the Moon”).

The most familiar music conceived on an arguably astronomical subject is The Planets, an orchestral set of seven pieces by British composer Gustav Holst (1874-1934). Written between 1914 and 1917, usually during weekends and holidays scattered between Holst’s day job as a music teacher, The Planets is by far his best-known work.

Still, The Planets was not musical inspiration derived from the night sky. Holst’s eyesight was very poor and he obviously was not a keen observer. Later though, Holst read a popular astronomy text of the time and realized with excitement that the ideas which were put forward in scientific terms were exactly the same as those which he had been trying to express in music. What a wonderful tautology.

If anyone would like to add to my short list here, I’d be anxious to listen to some additional pieces that tie the heavens to musical acuity.