Category Archives: mood

Tandem listen

Songs have this ability to make me travel in the past. Every time I hear a song I like, I can associate a corresponding time in my life. This is very helpful to keep track of seasons, especially at a time where it’s hard to separate events from each other, where even the concept of event has become some blurry. I was going through my Spotify playlists lately , and each playlist tells a story: of elation, of break ups; of happiness and of sadness.

I also like to put songs together, to bend the passing of time and bring together eras and ideas. Here’s a list of tandem listen I curated. I hope you’ll enjoy these pairings!

I love skyrmions

Tandem #1: Obamas
No Man Is Big Enough for My Arms, Ibeyi
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AzxDKqdfPr0
Una Rosa Blanca, Ibrahim Maalouf
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EY2CGLWpkuI

Tandem #2: Strangers
Stranger, Anna van Hausswolff
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DbjkjTsOKx8
Stranger, Portishead
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HbSu2UM8kcQ

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Poetry interlude

During the pandemic, I had the leisure to read more poetry, and revisit some poems that I have enjoyed over the years. Here’s a small selection: they’re mostly about love, for it is the most pleasant subject of poetry and something that philosophy isn’t capable to treat seriously (see Poetry as philosophy in action.)

Waterfalls – Thomas Danthony

We’ll start by English poets, with Lord Byron, a giant of poetry (where I came to by way of Stendhal):

6.
Perhaps the workings of defiance stir
Within me—or perhaps a cold despair,
Brought on when ills habitually recur,
Perhaps a kinder clime, or purer air
(For even to this may change of soul refer,
And with light armour we may learn to bear),
Have taught me a strange quiet, which was not
The chief companion of a calmer lot.

Lord Byron – Epistle to Augusta

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Plans for the roaring 20’s

I was recently featured twice by Berkeley Lab, first about my work on ALS-U:
Berkeley Lab The Next 90 – Accelerators: Conversation with Antoine Wojdyla.

It was a nice occasion to pay tribute to my grandpa and my grandmother, who passed away last month, and give some representation to the people from the Caribbean. And also explain what I do, and what I’m dreaming up.

Incidentally, I had to clear out my grandparents house, and set foot in his shop, where he was cutting glass and carving wood. In a way, that’s what I am doing right now, studying mirrors and carving out matter, albeit with tighter tolerances.

My grandpa’s shop stockroom (August 2021)

I also had an occasion to share with my colleague Alisa our vision for the Global ERG, which is an association at Berkeley Lab whose goal is to help out international colleagues – many of those who joined lately barely had a chance to meet anyone.
Berkeley Lab The Next 90 – Global ERG: Conversation with Antoine Wojdyla and Alisa Bettale

The scourge of sargassum

I am currently on the island of Saint-Martin, in the French West Indies, about 200 miles away from Puerto Rico, because I couldn’t fly back directly from France, which is still under a Travel Ban order from the US. I have two spend at least two weeks so that I can fly back to Berkeley.

Saint Martin on the map

Walking on beach, it is sad to discover that is littered with sargassum, an invasive algae that barely existed when I was walking my dogs on the beach many years ago. This infestation is quite recent in fact, and somehow started in 2011 (see the excellent piece in The Atlantic by pre-Pulitzer Ed Yong: Why waves of seaweed have been smothering Caribbean beaches.)

Sargassum on Orient Bay, fresh and old (September 2021)

It appears that the bloom may come from the increase in nutrients carried by the Amazon river and making it to the ocean (The great Atlantic Sargassum belt.) Apparently, the problem is becoming more and more acute, and I’ve recently learned that researchers (like my colleagues at Berkeley Lab Lydia Rachbauer) are trying to find enzymes in fish that can actually digest these algae.

Because these algae float in the water, they are effectively a a mix of large floating solar panels, and a potentially a great resource of biofuels, where nothing is needed, since the nutrients are provided for free by farmers from the Amazon river. Apparently, there are companies such as C-combinator who are trying to extract the energy from these algae. I can’t really judge if the economics makes sense (harvesting the algae might be complicated, though they seem very easily visible on satellite images so that might help), but developing adequate techniques for a problem that may blow up seems a good idea.

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Fifteen minutes

In times of pandemic, there were no coffee room to distract yourself, exchange ideas with other colleagues or just chat about the state of the world. In a certain sense, Twitter has been the equivalent of a coffee room, and I’ve probably spent more time than I should have on there, but I’ve also learned quite a lot about science – not the natural world in itself, but how it works as an enterprise, some of its limitations (e.g. publishing), some of its problem (e.g., mental health issue, impostor syndrome; systemic discrimination) and also participate to the conversation on how to improve things.

The way you use Twitter is personal; some spend a lot of time but stay in the shadow, some like to share everything they see as they would do on Instagram. For me, I use it as a bookmark for tiny ideas (I often use the Twitter advanced search to find a resource I know I shared at some point), and I try to post something every once in a while, to tell the others I’m here. And more and more I use it to boost some messages (propping up students and announcements), which I can do now that I do have some followers with large reach (@Cal, @UCBerkeley, @BerkeleyLab or @SPIEtweets or influential people.)

Lots of various interests converge in my following

Sometimes I post a tweet that blows up, and I wander in the Twitter Analytics to look at the aftermath. There, you realize that even with a tiny following, you can reach a lot of people (At the present moment I have 450 followers, and 120,000 impressions.)

This was a month with a particularly high number of tweet impressions

The good thing about Twitter is that there’s no filter: anyone can say anything they want, and sometimes you happen to produce something interesting, something that others needed without knowing it was there (that’s the essence of virality.)

This one I showed to my mon

The flip side of course is that you have to be mindful of what you say – what people call cancel culture is often the absence of an editor, or simply time to fine tune their message, to tell them they’re going too far. In the extreme, you get incendiary content that get amplified in weird ways by algorithms that are extremely good at hacking your dopamine pathways (here’s an excellent thread on that topic)

On Twitter, you also get to meet people you wouldn’t otherwise – people that are not in your existing network, but are expert and willing to help (you also realize that a lot of people you admire are on Twitter – or is it just the opposite?)

Something I didn’t expect is that I would meet in real life people I got to know from Twitter, and some who are now lifelong friends. People with who you share affinity with and a common sense of purpose.

I do like Twitter, and even though it has some similarities with drugs (I used to smoke cigarettes, and the urge to check Twitter whenever you’re idle is strangely similar), it is much better than most other social media. Somehow, they managed not to grow it too big, and it is still a very civil space from where I learn a lot.

Hikes in Berkeley and around

Some times ago I gave a talk to the Berkeley Lab Postdoc Association about the many hikes around Berkeley.

The slides are available here: go.lbl.gov/blpa/cultural_aw21

And the recording is here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/124Rh0-5q0oVF_tX5_3WV1yd8wW5jKBlz/view

Other resources on this blog:

Dreams

I made it – I finally reached a dream, a promise I made to my mom at the dawn of my life, thirty years ago:

I have become a savant!

We’re going through difficult times, but this news obviously bring some light into this darkness.

Berkeley women supercharching the US government

There’s been quite a shift in the US government, and I am thrilled to see that Berkeley, my town of adoption, is very well represented in the new administration. It shouldn’t be a surprise given a premier public university is obviously a great pool of talent, but there is something about the place and its people that is very special and I cannot pinpoint. Among the Berkeley representatives in the new government:

  • Kamala Harris, the Vice-President, who grew up in Berkeley and whose mother worked at Berkeley Lab
  • Jennifer Granholm, the Secretary of Energy, who is professor at Berkeley and technically a colleague from Berkeley Lab
  • Janet Yellen, the Secretary of Treasury and a former Berkeley professor.

It is my experience that the US administration can be extremely competent under a good leadership, a point made by Michael Lewis (another Berkeley resident) in his book The Fifth Risk, where he was trying to explain how we might survive a deficient head of government (it seems he’s been right on that one, though we lost half a million people to a pandemic that could probably have been contained much better.

Building on 4th Street, Berkeley

In terms of science, the outlook is pretty good, with people. It also happens that Frances Arnold, Nobel prize laureate and Berkeley alumni, will be part of the government, will help Eric Lander whose role at the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy has been elevated to cabinet role. There’s also the Endless Frontier bill that would double the funding of science in the US and likely to pass thanks to bipartisan support.

It’s quite a home run year for Berkeley women, with Jennifer Doudna who was awarded a Nobel prize for her discovery of CRISPR/Cas9.

More:

Michael Lewis: ‘Trump is like a psycho dad to America’ – The Guardian

Flights

A friend of mine offered me a drone late last year, and since then I’ve been flying it every time the wind is not strong enough for kites (kites have been my lifeline during the pandemic.)

Here is a bunch of drone flights (Youtube), and below a selection of my favorite ones.

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aknownspace

My friend Sana has started a wonderful literary project called “A known space.”

Here’s the first issue: A known space: Vol. 1: Nucleus (my personal contribution: The Sound of the waves)

credit: Szymon Kobusiński – TRANSSUBSTANTIATIO

Wade on!