My father is a painter, and I really enjoyed one of his last series of paintings.Here’s his instagram (@romain.wojdyla) and some of his work:More pictures: Continue reading
The movie Gattaca is my favorite movie of all times. It is the story of a person born of natural ways that need to live in a society where everyone has been selected based on their genes. I think it is an absolute masterpiece, with an incredible photography, excellent actors and a very clever script, touching on very deep issues.I got a chance to visit the place where the movie was filmed, which happens to be the Marin County Civic Center, in San Rafael, 20 minutes North of San Francisco. The place is absolutely wild.
While it seems to be a dystopian intrigue around genetic discrimination, it is actually subtle parable for systemic racism. The movie as a whole is a discussion around the fuzzy notion of meritocracy: people are still supposedly selected on their abilities, and it is formally illegal to conduct genetic testing (extending the notion of “protected characteristics”), but this eventually is a sham. It is interesting to notice that the movie has only two black characters – the geneticist (Blair Underwood) and the interviewer (Clarence Graham) – both serving as gatekeepers, closing the door to applicants who would try to escape their condition.Continue reading
I’ve discovered Connected Papers and I think it’s awesome!https://www.connectedpapers.com/
It’s a tool to see the connection between papers, and therefor ideal to get started in a new field or make sure you’re not missing out on some papers when you’re writing a review!
I’m glad to see new tools helping the conduct of science.Bibliography management is always flaky, even if we have better tools now such as Mendeley, and overall gathering information and getting in touch with specific scientist is still pretty bad (Researchgate is not very good.) There are some interesting aspects to ORCID, though it doesn’t have the adoption levels it should have to be very useful, and AMiner provides interesting information (sorting researchers’ work by fields) but it doesn’t work flawlessly.
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.)
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.)
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.)
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.
The problem with Facebook is not *just* the loss of your privacy and the fact that it can be used as a totalitarian panopticon. The more worrying issue, in my opinion, is its use of digital information consumption as a psychological control vector. Time for a thread— François Chollet (@fchollet) March 21, 2018
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_aw21And the recording is here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/124Rh0-5q0oVF_tX5_3WV1yd8wW5jKBlz/view
Other resources on this blog:
#TGIF I just gave a presentation to @BerkeleyPostdoc about my favorite walk-able hikes in Berkeley, and I thought others may be interest too…— Antoine Wojdyla (@awojdyla) February 26, 2021
indulge yourself with a nice hike this week-end!
1/7 ⬇️ ⬇️ ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/HiAcTUNJmb
I found working during a pandemic particularly hard. While there are some people who seem perfectly fine with working remotely, it seems that the unease might have to do both with the kind of person you are (introvert/extrovert), but most fundamentally with the nature of your work.
Asking the right questions is more important than answering them
… to which Benoit Mandelbrot replied “Asking the right questions is as important as answering them.” This is important, because in absence of a well defined scope, it may take much longer to answer a question (a design, a calculation) than you may think, because the task is ill-posed and you can’t reorient the scope (e.g. refine, modify assumptions) to find a solution in due time.
The greatest challenge to any thinker is stating the problem in a way that will allow a solution.
– Bertrand Russell
I’ve learned from a friend that while Amazon initially said at the start of the pandemic that they would be considering more working from options, they now want to bring everyone to office. It is my impression (at least my experience!) that the initial gains in productivity that made them seriously considering WFH might have come from some initial momentum, where tasks were well-delineated, but eventually faded away.It is possible that zoom fatigue is also at play, or simply the effect of isolation on people, but I believe that the general exhaustion may also come from a general lack of direction.edit June 11, 2021: here’s a interesting article from Gibbs at a. at UChicago:
Those who did perceive declines in productivity also experienced lower levels of well-being from WFH. Bellmann and Hubler (2020) find that working remotely has no long-run effect on work-life balance, and that a switch to WFH increases job satisfaction only temporarily. Work-life balance mayalso be affected by decreased commuting time. Barrero et al. (2020) estimate that during the height of the pandemic, WFH reduced total commuting time among US workers by more than 60 million hours per work day.
The upgrade of the Advanced Light Source (ALS-U), the project I’m working on, has received CD-2 approval from the US Department of Energy, meaning that we are gearing up towards final design and will soon start ordering tons of magnets and mirrors, and transform our beloved light source into a laser-like source of x-rays, to enable the next generation in batteries, solar cells, computers and medicines (among many other things:)
Here’s a few recent highlights from the research enabled by the little synchrotron that could:
A last bit of research by my colleague Alex Frañó (and friend from the ALS Users’ Executive Committee) gets my neurons randomly firing up at night: Rethinking the fundamental way electrons interact in superconducting quantum materials. It progressively appear that skyrmions and superconductivity may be intimately related: A New Twist Reveals Superconductivity’s Secrets (Quanta magazine.) If this is true, we’re on the verge of a major shift: we could potentially engineer interfaces to create room temperature superconductivity. That would be a revolution: we could transfer power from a place to another with no loss (electrical line losses are about 50%) and we could democratize magnetic levitation for transportation.
Over the last month I conducted interviews with people from the Berkeley Lab meditation group that we started three years ago.
The meditation group is quite diverse, from members of the National Academy of science to postdocs to building project managers, and it was a blast to get to talk to them and learn about how they see things and what they enjoy! Continue reading
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!
pic.twitter.com/79a5RkC8Fb— Antoine Wojdyla (@awojdyla) March 24, 2021We’re going through difficult times, but this news obviously bring some light into this darkness.
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:
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.
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