Just finished reading A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking. And although everyone I've spoken to about it so far (OK Richard and Xander) has said they didn't get the last bit, I am happy to report that I think this is a fault of the writing and not my family's brains. I know I've seen better explanations of string theory in tv documentaries. Perhaps it's the age of the book (it was first published in 1988), but it seems to me to lack a couple of paragraphs on the actual why of strings, as opposed to the how and what.
So I went searching for more and have discovered the Official String Theory Web Site (of course!). In particular this made a lot of sense to me:
But it wasn't enough that there be a graviton predicted by string theory. One can add a graviton to quantum field theory by hand, but the calculations that are supposed to describe Nature become useless. This is because, as illustrated in the diagram above, particle interactions occur at a single point of spacetime, at zero distance between the interacting particles. For gravitons, the mathematics behaves so badly at zero distance that the answers just don't make sense. In string theory, the strings collide over a small but finite distance, and the answers do make sense.
I am completely blown away by this research that was featured on Catalyst last night. Dr Cameron Jones is growing fungus and bacteria on audio CDs and CD-Rs holding still images and video footage. The result when the media is played is a "re-mix" as the laser interprets the patterns left by the fungus as audio or video information.
I actually thought a bit more of the raw results than the reporter did, but even using them as design aids is a fabulous idea.
There are many examples of this Molecular Media Project available here, including Bela Lugosi treated with the fungus: Pycnoporus cinnabarinus and new versions of Soft Cell's Tainted Love and NIN's Hurt.
Eerily beautiful images of Playboy centerfolds averaged.
If you want to write anything that works, you have to go with the grain of your talent, not against it. I still haven't learnt this lesson.
Phillip Pullman writes for The Times. (via neilgaiman.com)