Thursday, July 17, 2014

Baghdad's National Museum...a decade later

"National Museum, Baghdad: 10 Years Later"


Andrew Lawler


The round hole made by an artillery shell was visible long before we pulled up next to the National Museum in Baghdad in early May of 2003. The puncture, just below a frieze of a king in a chariot, was in the replica of a Babylon gate next to the exhibit halls. An American tank sat in the archway. Though I had seen images of the destruction that took place a month before, the sight was startling.

Inside it was worse. The administrative area was in shambles. Filing cabinets were turned over, and papers dating back to the museum’s founding by British archaeologist Gertrude Bell in the 1920s, were strewn about. Small fires had destroyed some offices. In the display area, angry mobs had shattered the cases and smashed 2,000-year-old statues. The primary storage facility had been breached, and some 15,000 objects—no one knows exactly how many—were gone. Among the missing pieces were thousands of tiny cylinder seals, as well as several iconic artifacts such as the Lady of Warka, a stone head of a woman found at Uruk, which is considered the world’s oldest city.

Had museum officials not hidden 8,366 of the most valuable artifacts in a safe place known only to them, this event might have been a catastrophe for cultural heritage in Iraq. For a while, no one knew for certain how much damage had been done; I was with a team of U.S. archaeologists who arrived to assess the situation. Most of the museum’s estimated 170,000 artifacts were eventually found to be safe. The rampage had earned front-page headlines across the world. It was entirely preventable.

Some 2,500 years earlier, the Persian king Cyrus the Great was able to storm nearby Babylon, then the world’s largest city, but texts from the time relate that there was no chaos or looting. However, in 2003, American troops failed to secure what was second on their own list, after the Central Bank, of important places to protect in the modern Iraqi capital. Archaeologists had visited the Pentagon prior to the invasion to provide military officials with detailed coordinates of all major Iraqi cultural heritage sites.

The looting of the museum was over less than 48 hours after it began on April 10, 2003. But it was only the start of a decade of disaster for Iraq’s cultural heritage, a heritage that includes the world’s first cities, empires, and writing system. More than ancient vases and display cases were affected. The invasion began a grim era of sectarian violence and lawlessness in the very land that developed the state, legal codes, and recorded history itself. That era continues. “These are still very tough days,” says Abdul-Amir Hamdani, an Iraqi archaeologist who today is working on a doctorate at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Stony Brook. I first met Hamdani in May 2003 on the sidewalk outside U.S. military headquarters in the southern city of Nasiriya, where he was desperately attempting to get help to stop the vandals poaching ancient sites. “There is still nothing protecting many sites from looting and destruction.”

Looting, particularly in southern Iraq, which was the center of ancient Mesopotamia, had already begun in earnest in the late 1990s and grew to alarming proportions by 2004 and 2005, long after the National Museum was secured. The United States, its allies, and the fledgling government of post-Saddam Iraq did little to address the sources of the problem. Looting notwithstanding, Hamdani says that today’s principal threat is unbridled development; he served time in jail a few years ago for protesting construction on ancient sites. It is true that, now, foreign archaeologists are working in the northern part of Iraq called Kurdistan. A few western excavators are even digging in the southern regions that have long been off-limits. Looting at archaeological sites has decreased. But young archaeologists in the country long ago drifted to other less controversial and more remunerative work as the older generation retired, emigrated, or died.

More ominously, a new generation of Iraqis has grown up without any access to the impressive network of museums across the country that were once crowded with schoolchildren. They know little of their ancient past. Many Iraqi politicians today have a bent toward Islamic fundamentalism that is no friend to secular archaeology. Liwaa Semeism, the tourism minister overseeing the State Board of Antiquities, is a member of a splinter Shiite party. He has reduced the board’s authority and is openly hostile to foreigners. American archaeologists are now forbidden to excavate in Iraq until a trove of Jewish artifacts removed by the U.S. government is returned. And Semeism recently suggested that Germans might not be welcome either until the famous Babylonian Ishtar Gate—the model for the National Museum gateway—is returned.

The National Museum of Iraq today has beautifully renovated galleries and state-of-the-art climate control and security systems run by a staff that still consists of a core of underfunded but dedicated curators. But despite all the effort and money lavished on it by foreign governments, the museum remains closed to all but the most senior VIPs in an attempt to protect it. The fear is that throwing the museum’s doors open to the public exposes the collection and the newly-restored building to risk from another attack.

New elections later this month could bring greater political stability to the country. Eventually, as they have done from Nebuchadnezzar to Saddam, Iraqi leaders may again see their heritage as a major asset. “If you want to think about unity, then the ancient past is a broadly shared culture,” says Elizabeth Stone, a SUNY Stony Brook archaeologist who spent years excavating in Iraq. “Ancient Mesopotamia was real, and that could be used as a basis for natural unity.”

Hamdani will be returning to his home country this summer to continue his research. More than half of the stolen objects from the National Museum have been recovered, the gaping hole in the gate has since been carefully patched, and the tanks are gone. It is worth noting that there were no follow-up congressional hearings or independent investigations to pinpoint the parties responsible for the negligence connected to the museum debacle. No one in the U.S. military was criticized, demoted, or court-martialed. A Marine, who blamed Iraqis for using the site as a base to fight the Americans, wrote the only formal report on the matter.

The chaos that engulfed this land may finally be receding. A decade later, however, the true cost to our understanding of such a rich share of humanity’s heritage has yet to be tallied.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

White and goes physics

Loraine Decherd

"We Know Physics is Largely White and Male, But Exactly How White and Male is Still Striking"

Most current physics students will likely never have an African American physics teacher, says a new survey


Shannon Palus

July 14th, 2014

In the entire United States, of the thousands and thousands of college physics and astronomy faculty, only 75 are African American or Hispanic women, says the American Institute of Physics. According to a new survey by the AIP, female racial minorities make up less than 1% of the 9,050 physics faculty members in the country.

According to the new survey data, just 2.1% of physics faculty in the country are African American and 3.2% Hispanic. Those values come nowhere near the representation of those groups in the general population, where 13% of Americans are black and 17% Hispanic. The overwhelming majority--79.2%--of physics faculty are white. “[M]ost physics students will never see a black faculty member,” says the AIP report. And the situation doesn't look set to change: the number of African American faculty members has flatlined since 2000.

Last year, a separate report from the American Institute of Physics found that women aren't doing any better. They found that the representation of women in physics is still incredibly low. But unlike the lack of movement in physics' racial diversity, the outlook for women is slightly more optimistic: while 14% of all faculty members are female, more than 25% of the new hires in 2010 were female.

Minority women in science “have traditionally been excluded because of biases related to both their race or ethnicity and gender, constituting a double bind,” explains a 2005 report from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Maleness and whiteness, even separated, hijack diversity efforts says the AAAS: “[W]omen's science organizations are overwhelmingly white, and the minority science organizations, overwhelmingly male.”
The number of staff on the payroll, though, is only part of the picture, says the AIP:

    Counting numbers of faculty members cannot tell us about the everyday experiences and workplace environments of academic physicists. It also does not tell us about possible inequities in salaries and in promotion and tenure rates.

As a 2012 study showed, biases are often unconsciousness. In their study, the researchers found that both female and male faculty members were less likely to hire an "applicant" for a lab position when the resume had a female name at the top.

The roots of bias run deep, and in some part stem from the idea that physics is a select club, the exclusive realm of brilliant, excentric white men: “The image of Einstein, with his shock of white hair and seemingly superhuman intellectual accomplishments, is not one that most people would gravitate toward nor view as achievable,” says a 2005 International Conference on Women in Physics presentation. A 2006 American Physical Society presentation expands: “And for African American Women this image is less attainable than for most, for we have less in common with him than the majority of the physics community.”

We revere people like Einstein, Newton, Hawking and others because their intellectual pursuits broke the mold of the time--their thinking expanded our knowledge of the universe and helped us to understand our place in it.

Yet just like for these great white men, new ideas often come from new ways of thinking. The different perspectives and experiences of those who--by nature of their gender or skin color--have tred a different path through life should be valuable to all people who care about scientific discovery. Not just because diverse ways of thinking could set the stage for new scientific ideas but because, at its heart, physics explores the underpinnings of the universe, and the keys to the cosmos should be accessible to everyone.

There are exceptions...

University of Texas

Off to be scrapped...Costa Concordia

"It’s Make or Break for the World’s Biggest Marine Salvage Operation"


Per Liljas

July 14th, 2014


It’s a record attempt in heavy lifting that nobody wishes to ever be matched. On Monday, the operation to raise and refloat the capsized 114,500-ton cruise ship Costa Concordia was finally started. If all goes well, the vessel will be towed away to the Italian port city of Genoa, where it will be decommissioned. However, after more than two and a half years on the sea floor, experts fear the delicate maneuver will rupture the prone ship’s hull, spewing out its toxic load — including fuel and dangerous chemicals — into the pristine Tuscan archipelago.

The Costa Concordia veered off course and ran aground outside the island of Giglio in January 2012, killing 32 people and leaving the enormous liner partially submerged in the shallow waters. In tandem with a legal process against the ship’s captain, a salvage operation of unparalleled proportions was commenced. All but one of the victims’ bodies have been recovered, and in a massive September 2013 exercise, the ship was turned upright (parbuckled) and secured on an artificial platform.

Now begins the final phase. Giant tanks welded to the sides of the 290-m-long wreck will be emptied of water, slowly raising it out of the water. Every floor surfaced will be cleaned of debris and potentially harmful substances that could spill into the sea. They will also be surveyed for signs of Russel Rebello, the Indian waiter who remains missing.

“I strongly believe they will find the body of my dear brother,” writes Russel’s brother Kevin in a Facebook post.

Weather conditions have delayed the operation on several occasions, but even though the forecast still isn’t ideal, the salvage crew has pushed ahead, since the hulk would unlikely survive another winter. In fact, it could already have deteriorated too badly for the refloating procedure and subsequent 240-km tow to Genoa. The first 2 m of the raising are the most dangerous, and the hull will constantly be monitored for possible cracks and fissures.

Cutting up the ship in place is not an option. “It’s far more dangerous to the environment to leave it where it is than to tow it away,” Italy’s civil-protection chief Franco Gabrielli explained to Giglio residents. With luck, they could bid farewell to their unwanted, view-spoiling neighbor in just a couple of weeks. Refloating Costa Concordia and moving it into open waters is estimated to take between five and seven days, tugging it to safety another four to five.


Remarkable engineering feat

Now Germany's soccer team must face the tough Greeks


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Deceased--Frank M. Robinson

Frank M. Robinson
August 9th, 1926 to June 30th, 2014

"Frank M. Robinson dies at 87; author and Harvey Milk speechwriter"


Steve Chawkins

July 9th, 2014

The Los Angeles Times

Frank M. Robinson, an author of thrillers and science fiction who also helped slain San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk craft some of his most powerful speeches, has died. He was 87.

Robinson's June 30 death while under hospice care at his San Francisco home was confirmed by Daniel Nicoletta, a longtime friend who, like Robinson, was part of Milk's inner circle. Robinson had a history of heart problems, Nicoletta said.

As a fiction writer, Robinson told stories set in burning skyscrapers, sinister hospitals and Utopian spaceships drifting a thousand generations into the future. With Thomas Scortia, he wrote "The Glass Inferno," a 1974 novel about a catastrophic blaze. It, along with Richard Martin Stern's "The Tower," formed the basis of the 1974 blockbuster movie "The Towering Inferno."

A sci-fi fan since his teenage years, Robinson also made a living in nonfiction.

Without revealing his gay identity, he wrote Playboy magazine's Playboy Advisor column from 1969 to 1973.

"I didn't trust the outside world," he told the Portland Oregonian in 2008. "I was frightened. Frightened I'd lose my job and my friends."

At the same time, Robinson wrote and edited "Chicago Gay Pride," a 1971 publication that promoted the city's Pride Parade. He kept his byline out of it.

Moving to San Francisco in 1973, he did not intend to throw himself into politics. But strolling by Milk's camera shop in the Castro district, he befriended the man who was to become the first openly gay American elected to a prominent office.

Milk had won 15,000 votes in an earlier, unsuccessful bid for supervisor. Now he was running again and was looking for a speechwriter.

"I never for a moment thought he would win anything," Robinson later wrote. Still, he signed on.

Robinson worked on Milk's stirring "You've Got to Have Hope" speech — a call for gay pride that included Milk's recounting of an anguished call from a confused young boy in Altoona, Pa.

"Harvey polished the speech and used it often,"
Robinson wrote in his foreword to a collection of Milk's writings, "though the rest of us kidded him because some days the boy lived in Altoona, other times in San Antonio or Buffalo. The boy really got around, we thought."

Eventually, Robinson became such a trusted advisor that Milk, preoccupied with the possibility of his own assassination, left a "political will" designating him as his preferred successor.

"If there were any problems, he would be able to carry on the philosophy and idea of what I stood for," Milk said in a 1977 tape recording he left with his attorney.

On Nov. 27, 1978, Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were shot to death by former supervisor Dan White.

Always uncomfortable in the limelight, Robinson never sought office and continued to write books.

Born in Chicago on Aug. 9, 1926, Frank Malcolm Robinson served in the Navy as a radar technician during World War II and the Korean War. Between his tours of duty, he graduated from Beloit College in Wisconsin. He later received a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University.

He wrote or co-wrote more than a dozen works, including coffee-table books that reflected his passion for garishly illustrated, campy pulp magazines.

His 1956 novel "The Power" was about a murderous superman with psychic powers. In 1968, it was turned into a film starring George Hamilton and Suzanne Pleshette.

His 1991 novel "The Dark Beyond the Stars" received a Lambda Literary Award for gay men's science fiction and fantasy.

Robinson's stories feature occasional bisexual or gay characters but are not built around gay themes, said Robin Wayne Bailey, a novelist and past president of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

"He used to say he was never in the closet but he was never out waving the flag every day either," Bailey said.

Persuaded by director Gus Van Sant, Robinson reluctantly played a cameo role as himself in the 2008 film "Milk." The scene involved one of Milk's pet crusades — cleaning up after dogs in public spaces — and Robinson's only word was one in common use to describe dog droppings.

"I said I thought I could manage that," Robinson recalled, "and my career as a movie star was born."

Robinson leaves no immediate survivors.

"Frank M. Robinson Dies at 87; Author and Adviser to Harvey Milk"


Paul Vitello

July 4th, 2014

The New York Times

Frank M. Robinson, a well-regarded science fiction writer whose credits include a novel adapted for the 1974 blockbuster film “The Towering Inferno,” and who was also a speechwriter and adviser to Harvey Milk, the San Francisco city supervisor assassinated in 1978, died on Monday at his home in San Francisco. He was 87.

The cause was heart disease and pneumonia, said Robin Wayne Bailey, an author, friend and former president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, which announced the death.

Mr. Robinson had moved to San Francisco from Chicago in 1973 to work with a friend and fellow writer, Thomas N. Scortia, on a novel about a skyscraper fire. While writing the book he befriended Mr. Milk, who owned a camera store in the neighborhood.

“The Glass Inferno,” their 1974 novel, was mined for parts in creating the final script for “The Towering Inferno,” the producer Irwin Allen’s disaster-film follow-up to “The Poseidon Adventure” (1972). Parts of Richard Martin Stern’s 1973 novel, “The Tower,” also found their way into the movie. All three authors earned screen credit and substantial paydays.

Mr. Robinson used his money to settle in San Francisco, and to help Mr. Milk in his quest to become one of the first openly gay elected officials in the country.

“It came up that I was a writer,” Mr. Robinson said in a 2008 interview with The Chicago Reader, describing the conversation that began his political partnership with Mr. Milk. “He said, ‘Hey, why don’t you be my speechwriter? It’ll be a hoot.’ ”

“I figured it would be a lot of fun,”
Mr. Robinson recalled — “and I might meet somebody.”

Mr. Robinson was also gay, but not publicly. In Chicago, where he spent the first half of his life, he had earned his living as a writer and editor for men’s magazines like Rogue, Gallery and Playboy. At Playboy, where he worked from 1969 to 1973, he had ghostwritten the “Playboy Advisor” column, a colloquium of sex and lifestyle advice for men.

His reputation as a science-fiction author was established with “The Power,” a 1956 novel about a man with advanced mental powers. Considered a classic of the paranormal genre, it was made into a television special in 1956 starring Theodore Bikel and a film in 1968 starring George Hamilton and Suzanne Pleshette.

In the 1970s and ’80s, Mr. Robinson teamed with Mr. Scortia on several projects. Besides “The Glass Inferno,” they wrote “The Prometheus Crisis” (1975), “The Nightmare Factor” (1978) and “The Gold Crew,” a nuclear-nightmare thriller.

His 1991 novel, “The Dark Beyond the Stars,” a space travel reimagining of Christopher Columbus’s journey, was selected as one of The New York Times’s notable books of the year.

Frank Malcolm Robinson was born in Chicago on Aug. 9, 1926. After a tour of duty in the Navy during World War II, he graduated from Beloit College in Wisconsin and then was drafted again to serve in the Korean War. He earned a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and worked in the magazine business while writing fiction.

He is survived by a brother, Mark.

Mr. Robinson had a small role in “Milk,” Gus Van Sant’s 2008 film about Harvey Milk, and was interviewed extensively by Sean Penn, who played the title role, for his insights about his friend. Mr. Milk was killed along with Mayor George Moscone at San Francisco’s City Hall on Nov. 27, 1978, by a disgruntled political rival, Dan White.

Mr. Robinson had little or no dialogue in most of his scenes. But at one point he improvised a line, standing at a window to shout a profane coming-out announcement about his sexuality. “I’ll tell my brothers!” he said. Mr. Van Sant liked the moment well enough to film it a second time.

Mr. Robinson had never told anyone in his family that he was gay, neither his parents nor his four brothers. And though the scene did not end up in the film, saying the words had made him tremble with emotion, he told The Chicago Reader. It had been his coming out.

“I suddenly realized I was saying goodbye to all that baggage.”

Frank M. Robinson website

Frank M. Robinson [Wikipedia]

Two samples...


The Worlds of Joe Shannon

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Deceased--John King

John King
1925 to July 6th, 2014

"John King, professor emeritus of physics, dies at 88"

Innovative researcher and educator was a champion of attacking science problems with “ferocious vigor.”


Teresa Lynne Hill

July 7th, 2014

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Professor emeritus John G. King ’50, PhD ‘53, an experimental physicist, transformative physics educator, and leader of the MIT Molecular Beams Laboratory in the Research Laboratory for Electronics for 42 years, died on June 15 at his summer house in Wellfleet, Mass. A longtime resident of Cambridge, King was 88. The cause of death was congestive heart and renal failure.

“John was an inspiring teacher and experimentalist. His educational passion was creating hands-on experiments built from ordinary parts you can find at any hardware store, what he lovingly called ‘mulch,’” said MIT senior lecturer in physics, and former King student, Peter Dourmashkin ’76 (physics), ’78 (math), PhD ‘84. “He was MITx before MITx.”

King was born in London and educated in France, Switzerland, and the United States. He came to MIT as an undergraduate in 1943 and completed his undergraduate studies in physics following war service for the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, and the Harvard Underwater Sound Lab. He joined the MIT physics faculty in 1953. King was named the Francis L. Friedman Professor of Physics in 1974 and retired from MIT in 1996.

King was renowned for his null experiments — those designed to test fundamental principles. He helped develop the atomic clock and invented the molecular microscope. King’s best-known experiment, still found on the first page of most electricity and magnetism textbooks, is the measurement of the charge magnitude equality of the electron and the proton, and the neutrality of the neutron to a 10-20 of an electron charge. King also conceived an imaginative experiment, prompted by cosmological ideas, to set a hard limit on the possibility that matter, over cosmological time, begets new matter, a version of what was once called the steady state cosmology.

Building atomic and molecular beam research

Professor of physics emeritus Rainer Weiss ’55, PhD ’62 was a colleague of King throughout his student and faculty years at MIT and considers him to be “one of the most creative and imaginative experimental physicists of his generation.” Both physicists were students of Jerrold Zacharias, who began the Molecular Beam Laboratory at MIT shortly after World War II. Molecular beam experiments measure the properties of individual atoms in a vacuum unperturbed by interactions with other molecules. The technique provides precise and universally reproducible values for the energy levels and other parameters of these quantized systems. King began his work in molecular beams by pioneering new methods to measure the charge and current distributions in the nuclei of the halogens. He discovered the magnetic octupole moment of the common isotope of iodine.

During his years as director and principal investigator of the Molecular Beam Laboratory, King transformed the research conducted there. It branched into molecular beam techniques applied to collective body physics, cosmology, and biophysics. More than 100 undergraduate and 25 doctoral students obtained their degrees working on these topics during King’s tenure at the laboratory.

At a 2000 gathering to celebrate King’s career, Fred Dylla ’71, SM ’71, PhD ’75 described working in the Molecular Beams Lab as “getting your hands dirty and being surrounded by brilliant students who were around all the time.” Dylla is currently executive director and CEO of the American Institute of Physics (AIP), a nonprofit umbrella organization for 10 scientific societies that publishes scientific journals and provides information-based products and services.

Applying atomic beam techniques to biophysics, King invented a molecular microscope using water molecules rather than light as the illuminating projectile. His idea was to map the locations where water would evaporate or stick on small biological samples such as cells with biologically interesting spatial resolution. Working models of the device were developed for some biology labs, though the technique has yet to be widely adopted. 

When inventions such as the molecular microscope were not as successful as he had hoped, King attributed the failure to insufficient effort in combining enough money and skilled personnel. Achieving this winning combination required, in his view, an attack on the problem with “ferocious vigor.” Moderate vigor was not enough.

Reinventing physics education

Dissatisfied with the lab exercises used in mid-century physics pedagogy, King worked tirelessly on innovative methods that stressed hands-on learning and independent thinking. In 1966, he initiated the Project Lab, in which students developed their own open-ended research projects. His belief that anyone could “find something interesting to study about any mundane effect” reflects the independent spirit of King’s own early and eclectic science education. He told his students that “the best way to understand your apparatus is to build it.”

As an adviser, King quickly became a project participant. Charles H. Holbrow, professor of physics emeritus at Colgate University and currently a lecturer at MIT, recalled that King had “the wonderful gift of seeing physics in everyday phenomena and turning these into research projects.” Some 2,000 MIT undergraduates experienced Project Lab.

Approached by a student seeking a thesis experiment or a colleague with an idea, King would, before long, be sketching ideas on the backs of envelopes, estimating orders of magnitude, and offering ideas on how to build and run the experiment.  Fred Dylla’s own undergraduate thesis with King was designed to determine the difference in charge between an electron and a proton. Still considered a highly sensitive measurement, the experiment utilized $20 worth of equipment.

A King student from his MIT sophomore year through graduate school, Samuel A. Cohen, director of the Program in Plasma Science and Technology at Princeton University, learned how to operate a drill press and to build his own electron multipliers. At the same time, he was being influenced by King’s ideas. He says, “John’s mind kept jumping decades ahead, from atomic beams to superfluid He3 to molecular microscopy — always decades ahead.”

King believed that an understanding of fundamental science concepts should extend beyond physics course curricula. For years he championed the creation of a “Corridor Lab.” Never entirely realized at MIT (a couple of experiments now grace the Infinite Corridor), Corridor Lab would have placed 100 experiments, each demonstrating a scientific principle, along the miles of MIT hallways. Anyone passing could interact with an apparatus; faculty members could send students to experiment with them; and other departments could participate. King envisioned similar modules in a wide range of venues to further public understanding of science.

With other educators in the late 1950s and ‘60s, King worked on the revitalization of high school physics, following the startling realization on the part of Zacharias that “while students had taken physics, they didn’t understand anything.” When the 1957 launching of Sputnik spurred a nation-wide alarm and allocation of money to improve science teaching, King became deeply involved. In cooperation with the influential Physical Science Study Committee (PSSC), he produced — and acted in —eight physics movies, including “Times and Clocks,” “Interference with Photons,” “Size of Atoms from an Atomic Beam Experiment,” and “Velocity of Atoms.” One of the films featured King demonstrating a principle of physics by driving one of the Bugatti automobiles he had meticulously restored down the Massachusetts Turnpike at high speed.

A lengthy 2009 interview for the Center for History of Physics at the American Institute of Physics shows King’s ongoing interest in science as a basis for a healthy and rewarding intellectual life. Speculating on the significance of the earliest point on the educational spectrum, he proposed that each child at birth be equipped with a kit of simple tools (balls, funnels, etc.) designed to stimulate a life of joyful investigation. A more advanced set of gear would be universally furnished at age six.

A life of invention

Family, friends, and colleagues paint a portrait of an energetic, curious, and engaging man who applied these characteristics equally to his intellectual, professional, and personal lives. King’s wife, Jane Williams, recalls him as “interesting, imaginative, ingenious and lots of fun.” In addition to his enthusiasm for physics and the value of science as the basis for understanding the world around us, she says, he was throughout his life “passionate about classical music, poetry, and any kind of dictionary. Since his early years were spent in France, he cared about things French, including French wines.”

King’s French stepfather introduced him to the tinkering that informed much of his approach to science, especially science teaching. As a high school student at Phillips Exeter Academy, he had his own laboratory. In life, as in science, he remained a relentless tinkerer, once rebuilding a bus, complete with bunks, to transport his large family to the farm in Woolwich, Maine, where he and his first wife, Elizabeth, lived for many years. She and several of their eight children still live in or around Woolwich.

King was the recipient of many honors and awards for contributions to physics and physics education. These include the Alfred P. Sloan Award (1956), the AAPT Robert Millikan Medal (1965), the E. Harris Harbison Award (1971), and the Oersted Medal (2000), the most prestigious award of the American Association of Physics Teachers. His numerous publications include co-authorship with Paul Gluck of Jerusalem of “Physics Project Labs,” (Oxford University Press) to be published in fall 2014.

In addition to his wife, King is survived by a daughter, Martha, and sons Andrew, James, Charles, David, Benjamin, and Matthew; granddaughters Sara, Katy, and Lily; stepchildren Cynthia, David, Catherine, and Nicholas; and eight stepgrandchildren. His oldest son Alan predeceased him.

A memorial service will take place at MIT in October.

John G. King [Wikipedia]

Butt, butt, butt...I don't have £15,500

"Athena 'tennis girl' poster dress sells for £15,500 at auction"

Dress featured in classic 1970s poster fetches eight times its original estimate with racquet


Chris Johnston

July 5th, 2014

The white minidress worn by the model in the famous 1970s "Tennis Girl" poster has been sold for £15,500 at auction.

The price was almost eight times the £2,000 estimate set by Fieldings Auctioneers in Stourbridge, which offered the dress along with the tennis racquet featured in the image and two copies of the poster.

The picture featured 18-year-old Fiona Butler and was taken at the University of Birmingham by her boyfriend at the time, Martin Elliott. She was not paid for her modelling.

Elliott, who died in 2010, sold the image licence for the 1977 Athena poster, which sold more than 2m copies.

The identity of the woman in the picture had been unknown until Fiona Butler – now Fiona Walker, 55 – came forward in 2011. "It never ceases to make me smile when I see it," she said at the time.

The dress was made by Butler's friend Carol Knots. "As I played tennis at the local club in Stourbridge, I bought a 'Simplicity' pattern and made my own dress, complete with lace trim. Fiona was a friend and one day asked if she could borrow my dress and racquet," she said before the auction.

"When she returned them, she gave me a big box of chocolates as a thank you. I've had the dress tucked away in a cupboard for all those years. It's a little piece of tennis history and I hope someone might find it an interesting novelty item to buy," she said.

Elliott, whose reputation as a photographer was established by the global success of the picture, split with his girlfriend three years after it was shot.

Walker's pose has been imitated by many over the years including pop star Kylie Minogue, comedians Frank Skinner and Ricky Gervais, and tennis legend Pat Cash, as well as Britain's Got Talent judge Amanda Holden, who was photographed in her tennis whites last month.

The identity of the purchaser has not been revealed. The auction was held ahead of the Wimbledon ladies' singles final.