Postcards from geek holiday-makers

Stefan sez, "Science Impresario John Brockman's brain trust write to describe their summer vacations:"

Here we are in a little village on the Mediterranean, where I am working for a few weeks with my friend Carlo Rovelli, who is a Professor nearby in Marseille. Carlo and I discovered the main ideas that went into loop quantum gravity working together in a setting like this, in Verona, getting together each day to talk, and then going home to calculate and check on our own, and it is wonderful to be back working with him. We understand each other easily, and from long experience know how to compensate for each other's strengths and weaknesses and so we work quickly. We are making fast progress on understanding the implications of the existence of a cosmological constant for quantum gravity. I had taken a detour of a few years to apply what we had learned about quantum spacetimes to string theory, but there is so much about nature, not the least the apparent fact that there is a cosmological constant, that string theory seems not to incorporate. Now it is wonderful to be back in reality, four dimensional and non-supersymmetric as it seems to be after all.

From the patio where I work I have a view of the bay of Cassis and the beautiful cliffs that rise to the east of it. Today there is little wind on the bay and the sailboats hardly move. Yesterday was windy and we took Carlo's boat out. He has bought an old wooden boat, built a century ago in this harbour, five meters, open, symmetric front to back, with gentle curves such as one sees in old paintings. Working from drawings in 19th century books Carlo has restored it to what might have been its original design, adding a mast, sail and rigging of the style used in the Mediterranean from the middle ages to the advent of modern, triangular sails. The sail hangs from a pole, which in turn is hung by a complicated organization of ropes from the top of the mast. Carlo has a lot of fun watching me try to sail his boat. Downwind we do get some speed, but the boat will hardly go upwind, and coming about takes practice. In such a boat one understands why it took Ulysses so long to get home and one wonders, watching the modern fiberglass sloops speeding by, whether it was a matter of materials or imagination that it took more than 20 centuries for people to realize it's much better to attach the sails directly to the mast.



(Thanks, Stefan!)