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  • Warren McCullough on Walter Pitts
    • He is the most omniverous of scientists and scholars. He has become an excellent dye chemist, a good mammalogist, he knows the sedges, mushrooms and the birds of New England. He knows neuroanatomy and neurophysiology from their original sources in Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and German for he learns any language he needs as soon as he needs it. Things like electrical circuit theory and the practical soldering in of power, lighting, and radio circuits he does himself. In my long life, I have never seen a man so erudite or so really practical.
  • Greg Mortenson in Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson
    • Each year, whether he was serving as a U.S. Army medic and platoon leader in Germany, working on a nursing degree in South Dakota, studying the neurophysiology of epilepsy at graduate school in Indiana in hopes of discovering a cure for Christie, or living a climbing bum’s life out of his car in Berkeley California, Mortenson insisted that his little sister visit him for a month.
  • Richard P. Feynman in Genius by James Gleick
    • He once offered (and then awarded) a one-thosuand-dollar prize for the first working electric motor less than one sixty-fourth of an inch long, and and his musing on the possibilities of tiny machinery made him, a generation later, the intellectual father of a legion of self-described nanotechnologists. In his youth he experimented for months on end with trying to observe his unraveling stream of consciousness at the point of falling asleep. In his middle age he experimented with inducing out-of-body hallucinations in a sensory-deprivation tank, with and without marijuana. His lifetime saw a stratification of the branch of knowledge called physics.... Democratically, as if he favored no skill above any other, he taught himself how to play drums, to give massages, to tell stories, to pick up women in bars, considering all these to be crafts with learnable rules. With the gleeful prodding of his Los Alamos mentor Hans Bethe (“Don’t you know how to take squares out of numbers near 50?”) he taught himself the trick of mental arithmetic, having long since mastered the more arcane arts of mental differentiation and integration. He taught himself how to make electroplated metal stick to plastic objects like radio knobs, how to keep track of time in his head, and how to make columns of ants march to his bidding. He had no difficulty learning to make an impromptu xylophone by filling water glasses; nor had he any shyness about playing them, all evening, at a dinner party for an astonished Niels Bohr. At the same time, when he was engrossed in the physicists’ ultimate how-to endeavor, the making of an atomic bomb, he digressed to learn how to defeat the iron clamp of an old-fashioned soda machine, how to pick Yale locks, and then how to open safes--a mental, not physical, skill, though his colleagues mistakenly supposed he could feel the vibration of falling tumblers in his fingertips (as well as they might, after watching him practice his twirling motion day after day on their office strongboxes). Meanwhile, dreamily wondering how to harness atomic power for rockets, he worked out a nuclear reactor thrust motor, not quite practical but still plausible enough to be seized by the government, patented, and immediately buried under an official secrecy order. With no less diligence, much later, having settled into a domestic existence complete with garden and porch, he taught himself how to train dogs to do counterintuitive tricks--for example, to pick up a nearly sock not by the direct route but by the long way around, circling through the garden, in the porch door and back out again.... Then he taught himself how to find people bloodhound-style, sensing the track of their body warmth and scent. He taught himself how to mimic foreign languages, mostly a matter of confidence, he found, combined with a relaxed willingness to let lips and tongue make silly sounds.... He made islands of practical knowledge in the oceans of personal ignorance that remained: knowing nothing about drawing, he taught himself to make perfect freehand circles on the blackboard; knowing nothing about music, he bet his girlfriend that he could teach himself to play one piece, “The Flight of the Bumblebee,” and for once failed dismally; much later he learned to draw after all, after a fashion, specializing in sweetly romanticized female nudes and letting his friends know that a concomitant learned skill thrilled him even more--how to persuade a young woman to disrobe. In his entire life he could never quite teach himself to feel a difference between right and left, but his mother finally pointed out a mole on the back of his left hand, and even as an adult he checked the mole when he wanted to be sure. He taught himself how to hold a crowd with his not-jazz, not-ethnic improvisational drumming; and how to sustain a two-handed polyrhythm of not just the usual three against two and four against three but--astonishing to classically trained musicians--seven against six and thirteen against twelve. He taught himself how to write Chinese, a skill acquired specifically to annoy his sister and limited therefore to the characters for “elder brother also speaks.” In the era when high-energy particle accelerators came to dominate theoretical physics, he taught himself how to read the most modern of hieroglyphics, the lacy starburst photographs of particle collisions in cloud chambers and bubble chambers--how to read them not for new particles but for the subtler traces of experimental bias and self-deception. He taught himself how to discourage autograph seekers and refuse lecture invitations; how to hide from colleagues with administrative requests; how to force everything from his field of vision except for his research problem of the moment; how to hold off the special terrors of aging that shadow scientists; then how to live with cancer, and how to surrender to it.
    • One neighbor barged in on Feynman sitting by the window, open, on a wintry day, madly stirring a pot of Jell-O with a spoon and shouting “Don’t bother me!” He was trying to see how the Jell-O would coagulate while in motion.
  • Efrem Lipkin from Hackers by Steven Levy
    • Efrem Lipkin was the kind of person who could look at you with hooded eyes in a long, Semitic face, and without saying a word let you know that the world was sadly flawed and you were no exception. It was the air of a purist who could never meet his own exacting standards.
  • From Chaos by James Gleick
    • Edward Lorenz
      • Indeed, if the eighteenth-century philosophers imaged their creator as a benevolent noninterventionist, content to remain behind the scenes, they might have imaged someone like Lorenz. He was an odd sort of meteorologist. He had the worn face of a Yankee farmer, with surprising blue eyes that made him seem to be laughing whether he was or not. He seldom spoke about himself or his work, but he listened. He often lost himself in a realm of calculation or dreaming that his colleagues found inaccessible. His closest friends felt that Lorenz spent a good deal of his time off in a remote outer space. As a boy he had been a weather bug, at least to the extent of keeping close tabs on the max-min thermometer recording the days’ highs and lows outside his parents’ house in West Hartford, Connecticut. But he spent more time inside playing with mathematical puzzle books than watching the thermometer. Sometimes he and his father would work out puzzles together. Once they came upon a particularly difficult problem that turned out to be insoluble. That was acceptable, his father told him: you can always try to solve a problem by proving that no solution exists. Lorenz like that, as he always liked the purity of mathematics, and when he graduated from Dartmouth College, in 1938, he knew that mathematics was his calling.
    • Mitchell Feigenbaum
      • The police of the small town of Los Alamos, New Mexico, worried briefly in 1974 about a man seen prowling in the dark, night after night, the red glow of his cigarette floating along the back streets. He would pace for hours, heading nowhere in the starlight that hammers down through the thin air of the mesas. The police were not the only ones to wonder. At the national laboratory, some physicists had learned that their newest colleague was experimenting with twenty-six-hour days, which meant his waking schedule would slowly roll in and out of phase with theirs. This bordered on strange, even for the Theoretical Division....The laboratory’s locus of purest thought was the Theoretical Division, known as T division, just as computing was C division and weapons was X division. More than a hundred physicists and mathematicians work in T division, well paid and free of academic pressures to teach and publish. These scientists had experience with brilliance and with eccentricity. They were hard to surprise. But Mitchell Feigenbaum was an unusual case. He had exactly one published article to his name, and he was working on nothing that seemed to have any particular promise. His hair was a ragged mane, sweeping back from his wide brow in the style of busts of German composers. His eyes were sudden and passionate. when he spoke, always rapidly, he tended to drop articles and pronouns in a vaguely middle European way, even though he was a native of Brooklyn. When he worked, he worked obsessively. When he could not work, he walked and thought, day and night, and night was best of all. The twenty-four-hour day seemed too constraining. Nevertheless, his experiment in personal quasiperiodicity came to an end when he decided he could no longer bear waking to the setting sun, as had to happen every few days. At the age of twenty-nine, he had already become a savant among the savants... He thought about turbulence in liquids and gases. He thought about time--did it glide smoothly forward or hop discretely like a sequence of cosmic motion-picture frame? He thought about the eye’s ability to see consistent colors and forms in a universe that physicists knew to be a shifting quantum kaleidoscope. He thought about clouds, watching them from airplane windows (until, in 1975, his scientific travel privileges were officially suspended on grounds of overuse) or from the hiking trails above the laboratory.... In 1974, though a few of his colleagues knew it, Feigenbaum was working on a problem that was deep: chaos.
  • Sujoy Guha from WIRED Magazine 19.05
    • A birdlike man with clear, olive-toned ckin and an elegant manner, Guha seems to have been transported from another century. In a sense, he was; Born in 1940, before independence, he still uses Britishisms like see here and good man. He doesn't waste oxygen on small talk, so when he does speak you know to listen. Nevertheless, he has a lively sense of humor, and when something amuses him he'll burst into a delighted, high pitched laugh. At age 70, he still does not need glasses, which he attributes to his daily eye exercises. Every night, he jogs 2 miles around the IIT campus carrying a rolled-up belt to ward off stray dogs. "Every part of the body must be exercised," he says.
  • Aza Raskin from Fortune Magazine May 23, 2011
    • He gave his first speech on designing interfaces when he was just 10 years old, and he dropped out of middle school for a Socratic education with his father. At the University of Chicago Aza studied mathematics and physics, and his thesis focused on dark matter--the outer reaches of the universe.
apr 23 2011 ∞
feb 22 2016 +