Thursday, December 8, 2022

H.P. Lovecraft does the Brady Bunch

 More ChatGPT madness.  Here is what it gave me when I asked it to rewrite the Brady Bunch theme song in the style of H.P. Lovecraft:

The Brady Bunch theme tune in the style of H.P. Lovecraft would be a dark and eerie composition, evoking the sense of cosmic dread and madness that are common themes in Lovecraft's writing. The melody would be slow and ominous, with a sense of foreboding and impending doom. The lyrics might include references to ancient and unknowable beings, as well as the corruption and decay of the human mind in the face of the universe's horrors.

 Verse 1:

 In the land of the Brady Bunch,

Where the air is musty and stale,

Lurks a darkness, deep and ancient,

That no mortal can avail.


 In the house of the Brady Bunch,

Where the laughter once did ring,

Now there dwells a creeping terror,

That will make your heart take wing.

 Verse 2:

 In the hearts of the Brady Bunch,

Where once joy did reign,

Now there grows a creeping madness,

As they stare into the void.


 In the home of the Brady Bunch,

Where the family once did thrive,

Now there reigns a lurking horror,

That will steal their peace of mind.


 As the stars align in cosmic fury,

And the gates of chaos open wide,

The Brady Bunch will face their doom,

As they confront the Great Old Ones.


 In the world of the Brady Bunch,

Where the sun has lost its glow,

Now there reigns a creeping horror,

As they face the Great Old Ones.

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

ChatGPT and 1960s Television Theme Tunes

 Like many people, I've been playing around with ChatGPT this week.  My colleagues in the Physics Department have discovered that it can generate somewhat credible physics homework problems and solutions.  However, I have been exploring a more important use:  translating 1960s TV theme tunes into classical literary forms.  Here's the theme from Gilligan's Island rendered in the style of Beowulf:

Lo, the theme of Gilligan's Island rings true, A tale of a fateful trip that ended in woe.

The castaways, they set sail on the sea, But a storm, it did arise, and their vessel was tossed.

Stranded on an island, with no way to go, The travelers must find a way to make their home.

There's the valiant skipper, the first mate, and more, Each one with a strength to help them explore.

But the bumbling Gilligan, oh what a sight, His clumsiness leads to problems, day and night.

Together, they must learn to survive, And find a way off the island, if they're alive.

With dangers lurking, and challenges ahead, The castaways must work together, or they'll all be dead.

So let us cheer on Gilligan's Island, As they strive to escape their fateful plight.

And the theme from Flipper in the style of Chaucer:

In the days of old, when knights were bold,

And dolphins roamed the sea,

There was a tale of a noble steed,

Whose name was Flipper, oh so fleet.


With fins as strong as any sword,

And a heart that knew no fear,

He swam the waves with grace and ease,

And saved the day time and time again.


Through storm and strife, through battles won,

Flipper was always there,

A symbol of strength and courage,

A friend to all who knew his name.


So if you ever find yourself adrift,

In danger or in need,

Just call upon the mighty Flipper,

And he will come to your aid, indeed.


For Flipper is the bravest of them all,

A true and noble hero,

And his legend shall live on forever,

In the hearts of those who know his name.

I'm always happy to see the latest technology put to good use.


Thursday, September 8, 2022

I'll be Speaking About the Webb Telescope on Wednesday

 For those of you who live in Nashville, I will be giving a talk as part of the "Profs and Pints" series (yes, that's academics speaking in bars) this coming Wednesday.  Details are here.  I will be speaking about the James Webb Space Telescope, with particular emphasis on what it can tell us about cosmology.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

This Year's Nobel Prize in Physics

Jim Peebles was awarded half of this year's prize for his foundational contributions to cosmology.  I've known him for 40 years -- he was my senior thesis advisor at Princeton and had already been the most influential figure in the field long before I met him.

Cosmology was actually a bit of a backwater from the 1930s until the discovery of the cosmic microwave background in 1965.  Peebles had a tangential role in that discovery (look it up -- it's a very famous story), and he played a central role in the development of the field for decades afterwards.  His most influential work has to do with the way that large-scale structure forms in the universe -- how small fluctuations in the density grow with time to give us galaxies and everything that goes with them.  (Peebles was also the best physics teacher at Princeton, at least when I was there).  So this is a well-deserved prize.  Jim is the nicest of all of the geniuses I've met -- and I've met quite a few.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

David Brin speaking at Vanderbilt Sept. 23

David Brin (author of, among others, The Postman, Kiln People, and the Uplift series), will be giving a special colloquium in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Vanderbilt University on Monday, Sept. 23, at 4:00 in room 4327 Stevenson Center.  The talk is free and open to the public:

Our place in the Cosmos and Is Anyone Out There? 

In both science and literature, the question of ‘others’ can be a mirror illuminating our own origins and plausible destinies. Are we a fluke? Might we be the first to navigate the minefield of existence? Astrophysicist and novelist David Brin will (briefly) survey both what we know and can speculate about life in the universe.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

More on "Portle"

I have a guest blog post about the origins of "Portle" out at the Analog website. You can read it here.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Guest Commentary on "Portle"

My short story, "Portle", has just appeared in the July/August issue of AnalogI'll have a blog post about the story at the Analog website soon, but in the meantime I have this comment about the story from Adrian Melott, a fellow cosmologist (and collaborator) at the University of Kansas, to share:

In the spirit of literary criticism, this is the meaning of your story, which is a parable about physicists. It is true because I say it is, whether you intended it or not. By writing about it, I will make sure that everyone thinks of it this way.

Physicists couldn't tolerate the grandiose vision implied by the many-worlds understanding of quantum mechanics. Retreating from this, they narrowed their consciousness. This is called "collapse of the wave function". What happened to the little girl is a metaphor for the Copenhagen Interpretation.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Does Science Fiction Predict the Future?

Well, does it? I address this question in a brief article over at the online Observations section of Scientific American.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Most Famous Person You Would Never Recognize in a Photo

Think of the most famous people of the past 100 years:  Einstein, Churchill, Gandhi.  All of them, and hundreds more, are instantly recognizable from their photos:

So here is a question to ponder: who is the most famous person of the past century whom most people would never recognize from a photo? I have a nominee -- it's this guy:

Do you recognize him? Who is it? I'm being a little unfair here, as he became famous at a much younger age. Try this photo instead:

Time to guess: who are we talking about?

Friday, February 1, 2019

New Things in Analog

I've just had a couple of items accepted by AnalogThe first is a nonfiction article that discusses the similarities and differences between "doing" theoretical physics and coming up with new ideas for science fiction. (I need to specify here that my cosmology research does not fall under the category of "science fiction"). And the second is the short story to which I alluded here. I can't tell you what it's about -- you'll just have to wait and see.

Friday, September 7, 2018

An Astronomy Math Puzzle

It's pretty easy to measure the radial velocities of distant stars or galaxies. (The "radial" velocity is the motion of an object directly toward or directly away from us). Astronomers use the Doppler shift, the stretching or compression of light from the moving object. Light from stars or galaxies moving toward us gets "bunched up," and the wavelength shrinks, making the light bluer, while light from objects moving away from us gets stretched out and becomes redder. The Doppler effect works so well that we can pin down the radial velocities of the most distant galaxies in the universe -- these observations provided the first evidence for the expanding universe.

But it's a lot harder to measure the sideways, or "transverse" velocity. The only way to measure a transverse velocity is to keep careful watch on an object and wait... and wait... and wait... We've been able to measure the transverse motions of stars for a long time -- the star with the fastest transverse motion is Barnard's Star, named after Vanderbilt's E.E. Barnard. But even Barnard's star is moving at a glacial rate across the sky -- 10 arcseconds a year.  At that rate, it will take almost 200 years to move the width of a full moon.

Galaxies are much farther away than stars, so their transverse motions are minuscule in comparison and have never been observed. But recently the Gaia satellite has allowed astronomers to pinpoint the locations of distant objects with unprecedented accuracy. So there's speculation that if we could monitor distant galaxies for a long enough time (10 years? 20 years?) we might be able to measure their transverse motions.

All of which leads to a puzzle. We don't want to sit around for 10 years, only to discover that we've been watching a slowpoke galaxy that's hardly moving sideways at all. If we could monitor only a handful of distant galaxies, which ones are likely to have the biggest transverse velocities? Are they the galaxies with the largest radial velocities? That makes sense -- a galaxy with a large radial velocity is more likely to have a large total velocity, so the component of its velocity in the transverse direction is also likely to be large. But here's an argument in the opposite direction: if all the galaxies are moving at about the same speed, then a large radial velocity means that the galaxy is likely to be moving almost directly toward or away from us, so it will have a small transverse velocity, while a galaxy with almost no radial motion is likely to be moving perpendicular to our viewing direction and will have a very large transverse velocity. In that case, we should monitor the galaxies with the smallest radial velocities.

So what's the answer?

Friday, July 6, 2018

Time Travel Stinks

Time travel is one of the most enduring themes in science fiction, as well as one of the most implausible -- I've discussed the science of time travel here. But there's one piece missing from almost all fictional discussions of time travel: the smell.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Dark Energy: The Final Exam

Where do theoretical physicists get their ideas? That's a hard question to answer. But in the case of my most recent paper, which just appeared in Physical Review D (the preprint version is available here), I can tell you exactly where the idea came from: a final exam.

Friday, April 13, 2018

What is the Universe Made Of?

Good question.  I gave a public lecture (more specifically, the Lois McGlothlin Donaldson Endowed Lecture in Physics) on this subject at the University of Memphis last week -- if you are interested you can watch it here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

How Did We Survive the 1980s?

I just finished writing a short story that had to be set, for various reasons, in the early 1980s.  And I could feel my characters' pain.  How does one character find out about another one when there's no internet??  I couldn't have anyone type into a computer, call each other on cellphones, or look up facts on Wikipedia.