Lessons from Uncle Albert

By Ira Mark Egdall

I’m doing my Einstein survey dressed as Einstein and this little boy comes up to me and asks “Are you Santa?”

Then an eight-year-old girl says “I know who you are. I studied Einstein in school.”

“What do you know about Einstein?” I ask.

“He’s smart – they examined his brain.”

Her comment made me think. We are taught that Einstein’s intelligence is what led to his great accomplishments. This is only partly true.

Einstein spent ten years thinking about the nature of light and time (starting at age 16!) before he finally came up with his theory of special relativity in 1905.

It was another ten years before he came up with his new theory of gravity. From 1912 to 1915 he worked on nothing else, driving himself to exhaustion to produce his life’s masterpiece — general relativity.

“I am neither especially clever nor especially gifted,” Einstein once said. “All I have is the stubbornness of a mule . . . I think over and over. Ninety-nine times I am wrong, the hundredth time I am right.”

Einstein’s epic struggles and magnificent triumphs are a life lesson. They show it is persistence and strength of will even more than prodigious talent which ultimately leads to success. That is what they should teach in school.


My website: marksmodernphysics.com

From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

by Ira Mark Egdall

If you happened to be on Hollywood Beach in Florida the other day, you may have come across a wild-looking man with flying white hair, a white mustache, an old-fashioned pipe dangling from his mouth, a tie with E=mc2 on it, and a sign on his back saying: PLEASE TAKE THE EINSTEIN SURVEY – FOUR EASY QUESTIONS. No it was not Mark Twain. That was me dressed up as Albert Einstein.

Ya see, I’m writing a popular science book on Einstein’s sublime theories. In it I try to explain his great ideas in everyday language, so the average person can truly understand them. Ever wondered how he came up with his theories of relativity? If your answer is yes, then this is the book for you.

Anyway, it turns out that it’s real hard to get a non-fiction book published these days unless you are somebody famous. You know, like Sarah Palin or some other great American icon like Paris Hilton or Snookie from Jersey Shore. Have you ever heard of a nerd named Mark Egdall who thinks relativity is cool? Didn’t think so.

So I get the bright idea to make up a survey. If I can get say 1000 responses, maybe I can convince a publisher that there is a market for my book. I keep it to a few simple questions. Like how much you know about Einstein’s theories and whether you would be interested in a book like mine. Hey, I figure there must be lots of people out there who are fascinated by this stuff, just like me. (I’m a dreamer.)

When I retired, I moved to beautiful South Florida and settled in Hollywood. I loved the informal atmosphere and especially family-oriented, quirky Hollywood Beach. I also got to fulfill a lifelong dream — to teach. I do this at Lifelong Learning Institutes. And I love it.

What’s a Lifelong Learning Institute? It’s a place where people age 50 plus can take personal enrichment courses like mine. Attendance is voluntary for these non-credit courses — so I am surprised when people actually show up for my classes, and even more surprised when they continue to show up!

I had difficulty finding the right book on Einstein’s theories for my students, so I decided to write my own book on relativity. One that is comprehensive, entertaining, and most of all, understandable. I’m almost done. It’s a lot harder than I thought. But trying to get it published – well that’s the really hard part. So I concocted the survey.

I decide to take the crazy route. “I think I’ll buy a wig and mustache and dress up as Einstein,” I tell my dear wife Pat. She gives me that look only a married man knows — a combination of oh my God I actually married this fool and deep sympathy for the mentally deranged.

So here I am trying to look like Einstein, walking down Hayes Street to the beach, and feeling ridiculous. I wonder if Stephen Hawking had to dress up like Isaac Newton to get his first book published? Nah. He was already famous. And much, much, much, much smarter than me. (Not enough muches.)

Pat tags along, walking behind me. It’s not deference to my exalted position — she just doesn’t want to be seen with me. Still she feels the need to maintain a protective eye — me in my delicate condition. I pass the dog at the cycle rental shop. No reaction. So far so good.

I’m on the broadwalk. Hey people are smiling. Most walk by with bemused looks on their faces. Then someone comes up to me. “Can I take the survey,” she asks. My first customer. Despite the tickle from the mustache and the heat from the wig, I am beginning to feel comfortable. A former chemistry teacher takes the survey. A few tell me they are writing their own book. Someone says his grandmother was a cousin to Albert Einstein’s first wife Mileva Marić. Some guy tries to sell me an “original” photo of Albert Einstein at the Grand Canyon for the bargain price of only $15,000. Another says his son is an engineer and would love a book like mine. Hey, hey, hey (with apologies to Fat Albert), I’m getting into the swing. Even Pat is now making eye contact with me.

So if you see me on the beach, humor me — wave and say hello. If you care to, take my survey. Four easy questions. And tell me your story. There’s a million of them.

Interested in my book? Please go to marksmodernphysics.com and take the Einstein survey.

(The above article appeared in the Spring 2011 Hollywood Cahoots Quarterly newspaper.)

Global Warming II

By Ira Mark Egdall

From Physicsworld.com, Aug. 30, 2011:

Climate scientist cleared of research misconduct.

“Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) climate scientist Michael Mann has been cleared of research misconduct following an inquiry by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) at the National Science Foundation (NSF). The OIG agreed with the conclusions of a previous investigation by the university last year that ‘cleared [Mann] of any wrongdoing’ and has now closed the case.”

Aha. So Mann has been exonerated, and the so-called “Climategate” issue dispelled. Some sceptics had charged Mann and colleagues with “falsification and destruction of data.” Feeding on this, some politicians declare human-influenced global warming is a hoax based on climate scientists manipulating data.

This is an old lawyer trick. If you can’t dispute the facts, challenge the integrity of the source. Please don’t fall for it. Will these pundits and politicians now announce that Michael Mann has been cleared of any wrongdoing? I doubt it.

It is all so sad. This should not be a political issue. It is a science issue. CNN reports that 97 percent of climatologists agree that global warming exists and that humans play a role (see link below). I am not a climate expert, but this overwhelming consensus scares the hell out of me. As one of my friends put it, if you were told by 97 out of 100 doctors that you, God forbid, had cancer — would you do nothing about it?


My website: marksmodernphysics.com