Friday, August 05, 2005


I just arrived to the Boston area, after stops in Prague, Amsterdam, and Newark and more than 28 hours in transit. If you want to make a purchase in July of an air ticket for early August, and you want to pay less than $2000, it is often necessary to buy such an awkward ticket. Unless you're much more skillful with these matters than I am.

During the flight, I could also read most of the new Czech book by Mr. Pavel Houser "Before a Thylacine Comes" (Czech: "Než přijde vakovlk") - interviews with 14 Czech scientists about various current issues in science. It starts with cosmology "chronologically" (an interview with a Czech physics assistant professor at Harvard); continues with paleoclimate, evolution of dinosaurs and other ancient animal species, old civilizations and their culture, DNA sequencing and then it turns to the future topics. The previous long sentence makes it clear that I know how this book was created - and I am very impressed by the breadth of Houser's knowledge penetrating all of science. He was asking pretty good questions that reveal that for a non-professional, he knows a lot about cosmology and perhaps even high energy physics, and the remaining 13 interviews prove that he may have even a deeper knowledge about the other fields.

Incidentally, only Boston and London offered an easily available wireless connection at the airport, as long as you wish to pay $10 for a day or so. (I was checking them with the MA111 Wireless USB external card bought from and sent via FedEx, one of the U.S. companies I hate.) There is no wireless network whatsoever at the Prague airport (although Ruzyne seems to have the most available power outlets) and the networks in Amsterdam and Newark can't be easily connected to.

Well, despite the years of being slightly transformed by the New World, this is the first early August that I spend in the U.S. The air is obviously more humid here and maybe even hotter than in Central Europe, but you probably know it anyway. Petr Čížek, who was for an unfortunately short period my Czech friend and late mathematician from Rutgers (where we first met, even though we apparently shared an office in Prague in the previous year) who died in a car accident in 1999 or so (with his Russian female friend who was driving and who obviously thought that the road under construction in Minnesota was quite empty so that they could drive in the left lane - it was empty except for the truck; I could not go to their trip because of the qualifying exams), was always describing these hot and humid American summers. This is the first real one for me, a survivor.

Some of the first interesting discussions here were about Strings 2005 and different topics at various conferences (and TASI) - and the Douglas-Kazakov phase transition in the q-deformed two-dimensional Yang-Mills on sphere (it's there, Joe Marsano informed me); equally interesting and probably even the most objective description by Paul Frampton of the early days of string theory in the classical 1968-1974 period (we may write something about this topic later if all permissions work etc.); some work with the Sidneyfest videos (we're still missing Summers' and Steinhardt's talks!); bureaucracy with the Rutgers transcripts that the Harvard International Office needs because otherwise they can't know whether I studied at Rutgers as a physicist or a gender studies expert (imagine how many combinations of the IRS, INS, HIO, CIA, FBI, Rutgers, Harvard you may compose, and each of these combinations seems to require a specific document or three to be developed or copied and sent). :-) I've sent a mail about my opinions whether and how the blogs are transforming the world of physics and physicists' lives; to be discussed later at this website.

At 4:00 pm, I must serve as a committee member during Alex Wissner-Gross' oral exam (greetings to you, if you read it). He seems to be an extremely smart guy (or geek) focusing on various things related to nanotechnology and IT, and therefore his talk could be a lot of fun. Well, I don't want to share various personal and "apartment-related" stories because the expectation is that no one is interested in it. Aren't you also bored by the blogs that describe the size of every piece of waste of the blog owner's cat, for example?

Fortune cookies

Moving back to the U.S. also means a change in the food rhythm. My typical Czech food, such as a sophisticated variation on the Italian concept of the so-called PIZZA (with names such as Hawaii, Alabama, Al Capone), is replaced by a typical U.S. food such as Chinese cuisine and Mexican burritos. The fortune cookie from the Chinese restaurant that I just opened says:
  • You will finally solve a difficult problem that means much to you. Lucky numbers: 20 994 472 770 550 672 476 591 949 725 720
The Chinese cooks have apparently done some research how important it is to find the most fundamental degrees of freedom in string/M-theory or, more precisely, how to generate the rules that allow them to emerge in certain ways and not others, together with the "Hamiltonian" or the "action". Maybe they even know something about the N=2 strings and the del Pezzo surfaces. Sometimes I should write about this approach to TOE and some of my previous detailed errors that have been identified by a closer scrutiny.

But maybe one should not consider the authors of the fortune cookies as terribly trustworthy: they are cooks after all. When you read the cookie message, you must ask: what lucky numbers? The number is the total number of sl(3) representations in AE_3 up to the level 56. But what should I do with it? Count the states in the decomposition of E_{10} or E_{11} to obtain the black hole entropy counting? If the Chinese can't be more specific, why don't they write a message that is almost always correct, for example
  • You are the most charming person in the world. Lucky numbers: 7 7 31 12 2005.
After all, 40 percent of Americans believe that they will be among the richest 1 percent of the U.S. citizens at the end of their lives. Well, roughly 39 percent of Americans are misled about an important question. But belief can make many of them happier.


  1. Hey Lubos,

    I bought a flight ticket to Europe for early August myself. I found that prices were very stable (and high) at all online travel sites with the interesting exception of one week in early July when prices suddenly dropped at some sites (and not others). I was lucky enough to buy that moment and got a round trip to Germany (from Boston) for $710 including taxes. Immediately after and ever since prices have been way up there. I guess it pays to monitor prices well in advance and be ready...

    Best wishes,

  2. Lubos:

    The lucky number is 137:

    1*10^2 + 3*10^1 + 7 = 137
    2^1 + 2^3 + 2^7 = 137

    Also this number is closely related to the Discovery launch. Their originally scheduled launch was on 137: 13th day of the 7th.

    Just kidding.

  3. What is Alex doing these days?

    Everything I can find about him through Google is from a long time ago.

    Did he get anywhere with his GranularInk idea?

    -Gustavo Lacerda