The Quantum Pontiff

Microsoft Research’s Project Tuva website is up. Project Tuva is a collection of seven searchable Feynman lectures aimed at a popular audience (with extras coming online in the future.) The rights to these lectures were obtained by Bill Gates after he was entranced by them over twenty years ago. Well worth watching, especially if you’re about to give a popular science talk (I’ve always been fascinated by how Feynman uses his hands in describing physics.)

Even more interesting, in my egocentric universe, are the comments by Mr. Gates himself about Feynman:

Someone who can make science interesting is magical. And the person who did that better than anyone was Richard Feynman. He took the mystery of science, the importance of science, the strangeness of science and made it fun, and interesting, and approachable.

He makes physics fun. Some people will laugh at that phrase, but I’m not kidding when I say it.

Compare and contrast to a certain undergraduate at Caltech in a 1996 interview on CNN:

But for students of physics, Feynman is remembered most for his amazing lectures. Part actor, part storyteller, part physicist, Richard Feynman the lecturer first stood at a podium at Cal Tech [sic] in 1950. Until his death from cancer in 1988, he inspired legions of students.

Mention his name to physics students at Cal Tech [sic] today and watch their eyes light up: “One of the reasons it was easier to become a physicist was because he was so exciting and he wasn’t the typical, you know, nerd who doesn’t say anything,” said Cal Tech [sic] senior Dave Bacon.

One of the other students interviewed (and the smartest physicist in my class) attempted to get in a great double entendre involving Feynman’s “little red book” into his interview, but alas either CNN caught onto him, or they just didn’t like the quote.

Comments

  1. #1 D. C. Sessions
    July 15, 2009

    Unfortunately, you need a Microsoft computer to read them. All things considered, it’s cheaper to buy dead-tree versions.

  2. #2 Wim van Dam
    July 15, 2009

    I can’t find a reference to the textbooks on the site, but the video works fine on my MacBook (which I guess is not a “Microsoft computer”).

  3. #3 D. C. Sessions
    July 15, 2009

    the video works fine on my MacBook (which I guess is not a “Microsoft computer”).

    I can’t get that far — it just insists I need to replace my browser.

  4. #4 Dave Bacon
    July 15, 2009

    The site uses silverlight: a compatibility list for browsers/os is here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microsoft_Silverlight#Compatibility

  5. #5 IBY
    July 15, 2009

    I don’t know if he is comparable to Feynman, but I found Walter Lewin’s lecture from MIT to be really good and enjoyable too. He really makes you think.

  6. #6 D. C. Sessions
    July 15, 2009

    The site uses silverlight: a compatibility list for browsers/os is here

    Not surprisingly, it’s as above: dead trees are cheaper than buying a retail copy of MSWindows.

  7. #7 JohnV
    July 15, 2009

    You don’t need windows. Sorry it wont run on your TRS-80 :p

  8. #8 Wim van Dam
    July 15, 2009

    > Not surprisingly, it’s as above: dead trees are cheaper than buying a retail copy of MSWindows.

    Instead or repeating that you can’t make it work, it would be more helpful if you described your system set-up.

  9. #9 Luis
    July 15, 2009

    It does not work on GNU/Linux at present. It may soon work with Moonlight a “free” version of Silverlight. But many people in the Free software camp believe that MONO and related projects (Including Silverlight) are just doing MS job for them and will further increase their control of the market. People should support open standards.

  10. #10 D. C. Sessions
    July 15, 2009

    Instead or repeating that you can’t make it work, it would be more helpful if you described your system set-up.

    Kubuntu 8.04 desktop 32-bit; Firefox 3.0.11; Konqueror 3.5.10

    Bottom line, though, is that the only support for that site is from Microsoft, either for MSWindows or by way of the Microsoft implementation for MacOSX.

  11. #11 Kurt
    July 15, 2009

    Terry Tao provides YouTube links at his blog.

  12. #12 Dave Bacon
    July 15, 2009

    Terry Tao is some much better than me in so many ways :)

  13. #13 Joe Fitzsimons
    July 15, 2009

    The Vega Science Trust has also 4 Feynman lectures available to stream:

    http://www.vega.org.uk/video/subseries/8

  14. #14 Neil B ♪
    July 15, 2009

    I checked around and was surprised at how many errors/typos were in the original set of Feynman lectures. There’s a whole mini-industry built around correcting them, and some are even debatable! I’d like to get a fully “corrected” set some day. I love reading them, it is so unlike reading and trying to parse almost anyone else’s physics books (but I do get a similar experience from Roger Penrose’s material.)

  15. #15 Marion Delgado
    July 16, 2009

    At UA Fairbanks, we were lucky enough to have Feynman come twice, and both times he addressed some physics classes, and both times I was lucky enough to be in those classes.

    I also attended public talks he gave then.

    His ability to communicate physics never deserted him.

    I agree about penrose, neil.

  16. #16 Richard Gayle
    July 16, 2009

    That voice! Brings back such memories. I was taking the ‘easy’ Freshman physics class in 1974 (I was a biologist not a physicist) while Feynman taught the ‘hard’ one. But I sat in a couple of times.

    Don’t really remember exactly what he talked about but I do remember his voice. And I remember his charisma and simply compelling style.

    He made you believe you understood QED or gravitation or even electricity while he was talking. As soon as he stopped, it was back to ignorance but for a few minutes you could really feel the excitement of knowing the inner workings of the Universe.

  17. #17 Richard Eis
    July 17, 2009

    I would have been slightly more impressed with Gates’ showing off Silverlight if it had in fact worked on my XP machine under IE8.
    Microsoft fail.

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