Page 3.14


This time around, the 3.14 Interview tackles the “excessively outspoken and sardonic” Steinn Sigurdsson of Dynamics of Cats.

What do you do when you’re not blogging?
Paperwork—proposals, forms and occasional actual research papers; herding and tending of kids and cats; in between I read and sleep, in that order.

What is your blog called?
Dynamics of Cats

What’s up with that name?
Well, in about 1993, a colleague at CERN sent me an e-mail with a “heads-up” on this new network protocol called http, a significant improvement on previous distributed data protocols. He also said this group at the NCSA in Illinois had implemented a beta version of an application (“Mosaic”) as an interface, and it was “killer.” I had just spent part of the summer at the NCSA and thought this could be good.

So I got me some of that and shortly after decided to make my very own “web page” as they were called back then. The http protocol expected a “title tag” so I had to make one up. We had two cats, and I was doing a lot of dynamics of compact objects, so after rejecting “Dynamics of COATs” I came up with CATs as a somewhat contrived acronym.

It survived all subsequent net technology transitions as my title tag, though the acronym that motivated it is long gone.

How long have you been blogging, anyway?
Just about two years now. First on Blogger then after just over a year on ScienceBlogs.

Where are you from? Where do you live now?
Iceland, born and raised. Then split my time between Europe (mostly the UK and Belgium) and the US (California and Pennsylvania). Right now I am in the Bay Area on a long-term visit, but I live in Happy Valley, Pennsylvania, for most of the year.

Would you describe yourself as a working scientist?
I’d better.

Any educational experiences or degrees you’d like to mention?
Basic education in Iceland. I finished “high school” in England, taking the dreaded “A-levels” (c.f. Harry Potter) and went to the University of Sussex for a B.Sc. in Mathematical Physics (lovely place). I then went to Caltech for a Ph.D. in theoretical physics. Postdocs were at UCSC and Cambridge.

What are your main academic interests, in or out of your field?
Theoretical astrophysics; gravitational physics; astrobiology. Out of field I try to keep up with the broader theoretical physics, on the grounds that it is all relevant to astro, and of course with observational astronomy. I also try to keep somewhat current in as many of the fields relevant to astrobiology as I can, but that is a hopeless task. I have fun trying, though.

Last book you read?
Collapsium, by Wil McCarthy—fluffy science fiction, grabbed to read on the airplane. Before that I read Is Pluto a Planet by Weintraub and Old Man’s War by Scalzi. Coming up next in the pile are a Pynchon, a Margulis and some random light science fiction book and medium-weight history book.

What is your idea of a perfect day?
Swimming with the kids in the morning; wrapping up a paper with hot new results; lunch with my wife (and kids…); hearing I got a proposal award or paper accepted; catching up on some research or hearing a good talk; quick evening swim, then good Mexican or Chinese food. Kids asleep early enough for a quiet evening with my wife, a book and a glass of good red wine.

Or we could just go to the beach or go skiing/sledding all day as seasonally appropriate.

What’s your greatest habitual annoyance?
Paperwork. The contents of the current news.

Who are your favorite heroes of fiction?
Ivan Vorkosigan. C’Mell.

Your favorite heroes in real life?
Stephen Colbert. Kári Sölmundarson.

What’s your fatal flaw?
Excessively outspoken and sardonic on inappropriate occasions.

What would you like to be?
A better paid professor of astrophysics, with enough long-term funding that I don’t have to spend all my time applying for more new funding.