Archive for the 'Personal' category

A mini milestone...

Jun 17 2010 Published by under Personal

In the midst of all the work I've been doing lately, I almost completely overlooked the fact that I've passed the 400,000 page view milestone!  It was less than a year ago that I hit the 300k mark, so I'm apparently doing something reasonably well.  Thanks to all who stop by and read!

8 responses so far

Mathematical Methods for Optical Physics and Engineering on Amazon!

Apr 26 2010 Published by under Personal

Couldn't resist posting a short note that my textbook now has an Amazon page!  The cover image hasn't been added yet, so I may have to take matters into my own hands and put it up myself:

5 responses so far

Some happenings

Apr 10 2010 Published by under Personal

I'm in the midst of a few new science blogging posts, though all of them involve me doing a lot of research and learning about things I don't know as well as I thought I did!  In the meantime, I thought I'd share a few miscellaneous bits of personal news.

First, thanks to Personal Demon for the gifts!  In the mail yesterday, I received from him the first xkcd compilation, volume 0:

and the following xkcd t-shirt, which I will probably wear to class on Monday:

I'm not sure what I've done to earn such gifts, but they are appreciated!

In other news, my "official" book cover was sent to me by Cambridge University Press yesterday:

The only change I might request is the use of my full name, with middle initial, as suggested by my wife.  (I do find it amusing that the cover is essentially the image I sent them, with some text thrown on.  Apparently I'm an awesome book cover designer.)  Let me know what you think!

Speaking of books, a friend of mine, Brad Craddock, has made it to the quarter finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards (ABNA), with his book Alice's Misadventures Underground!  He now needs some help in the form of some nice reviews to help move the book into the next round. Quoting from his email,

In the next few days (or weeks) until April 25, Amazon is asking for reviews of the first 5,000 words or so of each entry novel. Feel free to tell the truth, but be generous and nice overall since lots of glowing reviews may help me move to the next round.
If you have a kindle  you can read the first few thousand words and rate the book. I think you can also download it, even if you don't have a kindle. In any case, any reviews you make can help. If you've read the entire book, you can comment on that as well.
Here's the link (copy and paste in the address window):
and here's the instruction page:
and here's the contest info:
And if you haven't bought the book yet and want to, here's the link:

For those familiar with Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, I can recommend Brad's entertaining take on the tale.

A book publisher could also use your help: Valancourt Books, which specializes in lovely reprints of rare and long out-of-print texts, has had some major computer problems that has put their efforts on hold until they can scrounge up enough money for a replacement.  They would really appreciate it, and you would too, if you could throw some support their way by purchasing one or more of their excellent titles.  I've reviewed many of them on my blog, including the excellent works of Richard Marsh, Bertram Mitford, and Marie Corelli, and have yet to find a book I didn't like.

Did I mention that I'm now a tenured Professor?  I got the official letter on Wednesday of this week, and posted on Twitter, but I wanted to mention it on the blog as well for those non-Twitter followers.  The amusing thing is that the letter is dated April 1st; I have disturbing visions of being told six months from now that it was all a joke...

Finally, let me note that we've got a new houseguest!  A few weeks ago we put up a bluebird house outside of our front window, though we were worried that it was already too late in the season to get a resident.  Our fears were unfounded, however:

Fortunately, the bluebirds don't seem to shy about having their picture taken, unlike the woodpecker who pops by now and again at our feeders...

19 responses so far

ResearchBlogging Awards voting open!

Mar 06 2010 Published by under Personal, Science news

I should remind folks that voting is now open for the ResearchBlogging Awards 2010!
Research Blogging Awards 2010
If you are a research blogger and have an account on, don't forget to vote for your favorite research blogs in a variety of categories, including the Research Blog of the Year, for which I have been nominated!

I would encourage people to vote for me, but I don't want to overstep my bounds and get banned from the awards ceremony and accompanying party.  (There is going to be a ceremony and party, right?  Right?)

No responses yet

Research Blog of the Year finalist!

Feb 25 2010 Published by under Personal

Today I received a very pleasant surprise: this blog has been nominated as a finalist for Research Blog of the Year!  This is the highest award of a new series of awards based on and sponsored by Seed Media Group.  My blog is one of ten finalists that were picked by an expert panel of judges from a set of some 400 that were nominated.

I don't think it really hit me right away how much this means to me, and how much I appreciate being chosen as a finalist.  This blog really started, like many do, as a hobby that I never necessarily thought would garner much attention, and it is really great to get such an affirmation that I'm doing something right!

The final choice for "blog of the year" will be made by the community of research bloggers, namely those who are registered and blog through  From the announcement:

Voting for the winners will be conducted by invitation to bloggers registered with Invitations will be sent on Thursday, March 4. If you're registered with us, you may want to check your account to make sure your email address is up-to-date. If you're not registered (and you blog about peer-reviewed research), you still have time to register so you can vote. Visit this page for more information.

I don't really expect to win -- I'm up against some really stunningly awesome competition -- but if you're a research blogger, I hope you'll consider throwing me a vote!

In any case, I've always heard that "It's an honor just to be nominated," and now that I'm in that position I can really say that it's true!  (I should also say "thank you" to the person or persons who put my blog up for the awards in the first place.)  I'm also delighted that I get to put this badge on my blog:

Research Blogging Awards 2010 Finalist

Speaking of research blogging, I really need to get back to some -- my impending book deadline has been eating up all my non-work time recently!  I do have a post on the Talbot effect that I'll hopefully put up in a few days; it took me almost a month to decide how to explain the effect with a minimum of mathematics!

Update: For those stopping by from the "finalist" page, to see some of my research blogging please check out my "physics", "optics", and "history of science" categories!  As I noted above, my blog has been a little quiet lately due to numerous deadlines.

7 responses so far

Tensor? Tensor? I've been getting tenser all week!

Feb 22 2010 Published by under Personal

Whew! For those not following my Twitter account, let me declare that I finished the last major section of my textbook today!  Now I'm going to do a bit of touching up of various sections that I worked on recently, and I should get rid of the whole damn thing first thing next week.

Today was a real brain-buster for me -- I finally sat down to face the section on tensor analysis.  For those not familiar, tensor analysis is a very abstract and hard-to-digest field of mathematics, and the hardest one in my book.  To give you an idea of how painful it is, Einstein formulated his general theory of relativity using tensor mathematics.

I've been reading about tensors for months now, trying to get a good enough understanding to write a clear, concise section for the book.   The experience really drove home for me the difference between understanding something and understanding it well enough to teach it!  I was determined to get through it today, no matter what, and fortunately it finally clicked.  (Though I'm pretty sure I'll need to revise the text significantly later this week.)

The amusing thing is that the section on tensors is one of the less important ones in the book but one that may be absolutely essential in the future.  The relatively recent introduction of "cloaking devices" has spawned a new field of optics referred to as transformation optics, in which the ideas of general relativity and the tools of tensor analysis are used to design materials that manipulate light in novel and even "unnatural" ways.  Though the field isn't a standard topic in optics education, I didn't want to leave out such a possible glaring omission.

Fortunately, I'm done!  Just a few revisions, and the addition of a few additional exercises, and I can get rid of it!  At least until the editor's comments start rolling in...

3 responses so far

Announcing: Mathematical Methods for Optical Physics and Engineering!

Feb 10 2010 Published by under Optics, Personal, Physics

I've mumbled various random things in the past about my upcoming textbook project; this week, I finally got approval from the publisher to start hyping it on the blog.  (Actually, they never prohibited it, but I just got around to asking them last week if it was okay.)

Announcing:  Mathematical Methods for Optical Physics and Engineering, by Greg Gbur, to be published by Cambridge University Press!  The raw image that I have submitted to be turned into beautiful cover art is shown below:

(I'll leave it for the readers to guess what the image represents; feel free to speculate in the comments.)

There are plenty of "mathematical methods for physics" books out there -- why did I feel the need to write another one?  Well, I've been teaching a graduate course on mathematical methods in my department for five years -- and actually taught one while still a grad student, too.  My department focuses on optical science and engineering, so most of the students I get are (a) interested specifically in optics, and (b) often coming from an engineering background with much less abstract mathematics.

Most mathematical methods for physics books are geared towards a general student of physics.  This was a bit irksome for both me and the students while I taught the class, because optics requires a slightly different set of mathematical tools, in particular more emphasis on signal processing, integral transforms, and Green's functions.

Furthermore, math methods books typically draw from a wide variety of physical topics for exercises and examples.  This is, in my opinion, sometimes futile -- for most students, examples drawn from general relativity (or even statistical mechanics) are no better than abstract mathematical ones.

Optics has become a significant field of science in its own right, with dedicated schools in Arizona, Rochester, Orlando, and Charlotte (my home base).  Plenty of other departments of physics and engineering have a strong focus on optical science.  I decided to take a stab at revising the curriculum for those optics-centric programs, and introduce my own mathematical methods book that would complement an optics undergraduate or graduate education.

One of the biggest problems in teaching mathematics is making the connection between the math itself and the application of said math.  To try and address this, (almost) every chapter begins with an introductory application for the technique to be studied, and ends with a more detailed study of how the math is used in solving an optical problem.  I've tried to pick optical problems that don't typically appear in other optics textbooks, for instance: the Talbot effect, Zernike polynomials and aberrations, optical vortices, X-ray crystallography, computed tomography, and even optical cloaking!  I've also taken the unusual step of including essay questions in the exercises: read a given scientific paper and answer questions about its relation to the given mathematical topic.

Though academic optics programs are becoming more common, I'm hoping the book will catch the attention of instructors teaching general math methods for physics courses.  I've tried really hard to approach many of the traditional topics from a slightly different angle.  I'm endeavoring to pass through a very narrow opening between "qualitative understanding" and "mathematical rigor" -- I only include the rigor when it genuinely helps in applying the given methods.

I've also tried to make this book a little more portable!  Most math methods books are well over 1000 pages, but mine is targeted at 850.

Obviously, this book won't be for everybody, and probably won't appeal to many of the readers of my blog, for instance those interested in non-technical explanations of optical phenomena!  (This project was conceived long before I started a blog; my next writing project will be a more popular science/history book.)  Hopefully everyone will benefit from my efforts, however -- over the next few months, I'll write non-technical descriptions of many of the optics examples that I've used in the book.  I'll also give more descriptions of the book and the process of finishing the book at time progresses.

16 responses so far

Now on Twitter!

Feb 03 2010 Published by under Personal

I really vowed that I would never "tweet", but I seem to have found myself with a Twitter account anyway!  I can be found "tweeting" as drskyskull, if anyone is interested in following.

I've been part of a group in my department brainstorming ideas for internet outreach and communications.  Since I suggested that a department Twitter feed might be a helpful possibility, I thought I should get some experience with the medium.

I'm not sure how much I'll be "tweeting"; this is a bit of an unknown quantity to me.  I'll have to see how it goes...

P.S. Any iPhone Twitterers out there that can recommend a good iPhone Twitter app?

4 responses so far

Visiting San Francisco!

Jan 23 2010 Published by under Personal, Travel

This post chronicles two firsts: my first trip to San Francisco and my first iPhone-written post!

I'm in town to attend Photonics West and meet with colleagues; today the wife and I were wandering around to see the sights.

I'll post some pics and a travelogue, though it may take a couple of days - my $200/night hotel only has wired Internet, which they charge $12/day for. They also provide only a 2 ft Internet cable.

2 responses so far

Back from ScienceOnline 2010!

Jan 17 2010 Published by under Personal

Well, I'm back home from ScienceOnline 2010!  I only stayed for the first day of the conference this year, but I enjoyed all of the sessions that I attended and collected a lot of food for thought.

It was especially nice to catch up with blogging friends that I met last year, meet in person for the first time plenty of people I've only interacted with on the internet, and meet lots of new folks as well!  It was a fun time, and I hope to run into all of you again soon!

P.S.  Things went by so fast, Blake, we didn't get a chance to watch The Prisoner or MST3k!  Next time, hopefully?

2 responses so far

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