science

Pulp fiction in KL?

Freshly roasted coffee, Pulp, Papa Palheta, KL

Coffee on the cutting machine at Pulp

There have been a few great cafés opening up recently in Kuala Lumpur, including Pulp by Papa Palheta in Lucky Gardens. However the space that Pulp occupies is unrivalled: The old cutting room of the Art Printing Works. It really is geek meets hipster in this café, with old electric fittings and the original paper cutting machine housed alongside a fantastic range of freshly roasted coffee.

There is a great range of coffee on offer too. From pour-overs to espresso based drinks and cold brew, Pulp is a great place to discover a wide range of coffees. I had a pour over Ethiopian (Suke Quto) that was beautifully presented with tasting notes ready for me to enjoy. A nice touch was that the cup had been pre-warmed so I got no condensation around the rim of the mug when I filled the cup with coffee. The coffee itself was very fruity, presumably very lightly roasted in order to retain the fruity notes of the beans. (On a second visit I enjoyed a long black which was also very fruity though less so than the pour-over).

pourover at Pulp, Papa Palheta, KL

Taking time with a beautifully presented pour-over

Although there are plenty of seats in this café, on both occasions we visited it was crowded and hard to find a seat. It seems that this is a very popular spot for good coffee in KL, so do be prepared to share a table! Indeed, one of these ‘tables’ is formed from the old cutting machine itself, the machine that used to prepare the paper used for newspapers and books. Sipping coffee here, in a place steeped in the history of printing, it seemed only natural to consider the role in our current society of fake news and whether there is anything that we can do about it.

The issue of fake news or of exaggerated or incomplete news stories is not just limited to issues surrounding the recent US election. Reporting our experimental results honestly and our theories thoroughly underpins all scientific research. However, as funding decisions and employment prospects increasingly depend on publications in prestigious journals, question marks can start to hover over each scientist’s paper (the “publish or perish” problem). Does reporting a result honestly include waiting for that last result (that could contradict or delay the ‘story’ thereby making publication in “high impact” journals such as Nature less probable)? Do we read the papers of others thinking that they have reported everything as truthfully and fully as possible or do we shrug as their next paper (in a lower impact journal) reveals the ‘caveats’ on their previous work? The chemist and scientific philosopher, Michael Polanyi wrote in 1946:

… Suppose scientists were in the habit of regarding most of their fellows as cranks or charlatans. Fruitful discussion between them would become impossible…. The process of publication, of compiling text books, of teaching juniors, of making appointments and establishing new scientific institutions would henceforth depend on the mere chance of who happened to make the decision. It would then become impossible to recognise any statement as a scientific proposition or to describe anyone as a scientist. Science would become practically extinct.“∗

Pulp, Papa Palheta KL

Where else could you see all these old electrical boxes?

Although we are hopefully still very far from that scenario, it is fairly clear that similar levels of trust are required for our society to function well too. For our society to flourish, these same standards of integrity are required of our press (and indeed of ourselves if we publish – or share – articles online). The perception that our society is moving into an era where fake news is as valid as proper investigative journalism has led to some calling ours a “post-truth” era. However, as Emmi Itäranta has argued, we should endeavour to avoid calling our times “post-truth”, in part because the term itself is not neutral. Our words and language matter and when we use the term we contribute to the idea that truth is no longer meaningful.

Such thoughts remind us of our own responsibility and contributions to society. If we don’t want fake news to influence politics, we need to be careful what we share or publish online. From our language to our values, we need to behave as if truth matters. And, to me at least, it seems that enjoying a coffee can help us with that. Stopping to appreciate the moment as we savour our well prepared coffee, we can step-back from the “retweet” or “share” button and think, is this evidence based and true or else, what is it that I gain by sharing this?

It strikes me that cafés such as Pulp, with their mix of great coffee and interesting surroundings are perfect spaces in which to slow down and think rather than react and retweet. Perhaps that is what we need for 2017, more time contemplating in cafés, less time on social media. Let’s hope for some quiet time ahead.

Pulp by Papa Palheta is at 29-01 Jalan Riong, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia,

∗Michael Polanyi “Science, Faith and Society”, Oxford University Press, 1946

 

Reflections on physics and coffee

BeanThinking started as a way of slowing down and appreciating connections, often between a coffee and the physics of the wider world but also in terms of what can be noticed in any café. Perhaps, for this first post of 2017, it’s worth spending five minutes looking at your coffee while you drink it to see what you notice. Here are a few coffee connections that occurred to me recently:

reflections, surface tension

Reflections on a coffee.

Parallel lines and surface reflection: The parallel lines on the ceiling of a café were reflected in a long black. Surface tension effects on the coffee meant that the reflections were curved and not at all parallel. A piece of dust on the surface of the coffee was revealed in the reflection by the curved reflections of the ceiling. Astronomers can use similar effects (where images of a star appear in a different location to that expected) to infer the presence of dark objects between distant stars and their telescope. This gravitational lensing can be used to detect quasars or clusters of galaxies.

 

 

 

layering of coffee long black

Layers of coffee

Layering of crema as the coffee is consumed: The coffee stain effect and this layering of the crema suggests a connection between a coffee cup and geology. It used to be my habit to take a mug of tea with me when I taught small groups of undergraduates. In the course of one of these tutorials, a student (who had been observing similar layering in my tea mug) said, “You drink your tea faster when it is cooler than when it is hot”. Full marks for observation, but not sure what it said about his attention during my tutorials! Similar observations though can help geologists estimate the age of different fossils.

 

interference patterns on coffee

Bubbles in coffee

Bubble reflections: An old one but the interference patterns caused by bubbles on the surface of the coffee are full of fascinating physics. The fact that the bubbles are at the side of the cup and seem to be grouped into clusters of bubbles may also be connected with surface tension effects (although there is a piece of weather lore that connects the position of the bubbles to the weather. If anyone ever does any experiments to investigate this particular lore, I’d love to hear about them).

 

 

Coffee, Van Gogh

Art in a coffee cup

Van Gogh’s Starry Night: The effects of vortices and turbulence caused the crema of a black coffee to swirl into patterns reminiscent of this famous painting by Van Gogh. As a result of posting this image on Twitter, @imthursty sent me a link to this preprint of a paper submitted to the arxiv: the connections between Van Gogh’s work and turbulence. A great piece of coffee combining with art and science.

 

So many connections can be made between tea, coffee and science and the wider world, I’d love to see the connections that other people make. So, if you see some interesting physics, science or connections in your coffee cup, why not email me, or contact me via FB or Twitter.

 

Science & Religion at Rag & Bone Coffee, Westminster

Rag&Bone, Rag & bone, coffee Victoria, coffee Westminster

Rag & Bone Coffee in front of St Matthew’s Church.

Can a coffee cart provide the time and space for reflection and enjoyment of a coffee just as a sit-down cafe can? In seeking an answer to this question (as well as on a quest to find more great coffee in the Victoria/Westminster area), I turned up at Rag & Bone coffee on Great Peter St. It was quiet when I arrived in the courtyard of St Matthew’s Church, and the barista took time to make me a lovely, fruity and full bodied Americano (with beans roasted by Old Spike Roastery). Obviously, there is no seating around the bar but, the church behind the cart is open everyday and offers a rare quiet spot in Victoria to sit and reflect, should you want to do so, before you buy your coffee of course! Sadly, as this is a cart and not a sit-down cafe, the cups provided are disposable, but there is nothing to stop you taking your keep-cup along in order to enjoy your coffee. Just behind the cart, a crucifix above the door of the church caught my eye. And that got me thinking about something, perhaps slightly tangential to the ordinary cafe-physics reviews of Bean Thinking, why do some people imagine there is a conflict between religion and science?

I could see how there could be a disagreement if a religion took an overly literal interpretation of a text (as can happen with disputes over evolution). Or if someone used science as an argument against ‘belief’ while failing to appreciate that science too is based on belief (albeit beliefs that we are most likely just to assume as facts without questioning: particularly that our world exists and that it can be understood). But outside those extremes, and if we look at the motivations of both religion and science, it is surely that both religion and science aim to discover or value truth. If both sincerely follow that aim there can be no real conflict, for truth cannot contradict itself.

Earth from space, South America, coffee

One planet. One home.
The Blue Marble, Credit, NASA: Image created by Reto Stockli with the help of Alan Nelson, under the leadership of Fritz Hasler

Instead the investigations of one can inform the other and help both to advance our understanding of the world. Take for example the urgent issue of climate change. Scientists, using science as a tool, can investigate and highlight areas of concern for our planet (increasing CO2 levels, rising sea temperatures, a probable increase in extreme weather events, etc) but strictly speaking, as a tool it can go no further. If a scientist then urges us to do something to mitigate climate change, they are not speaking as a ‘scientist’ but as a human being; a human being who is informed by ethical concerns. It would be perfectly logical for someone to recognise that climate change is happening while holding that there is no obligation on our current generation to do anything about it. We may find such an opinion objectionable but that is the crux of it, we have introduced values to the discussion in the form of ‘right and wrong’ and ‘good’. We have moved beyond the remit of science. Religions have had millennia to consider the human condition and what constitutes ‘good’ or ‘right’. For us to combat climate change we need not just the evidence that it is happening, but an idea of a better, or more ‘just’ world. Ethical systems are of course possible without religion, but discussion informed by religious concern can help to change ‘concern for our planet’ into the concern for and protection of ‘our common home‘.

Artemisworks photography, rosary and keyboard

Prayer beads on a keyboard.

Then there is a link between religion and science that brings us right back to Rag & Bone Coffee and St Matthew’s church yard. When St Matthew’s was built back in 1849, the area surrounding it was squalid, conditions were so bad, the area towards Victoria St. was known as the “Devil’s Acre“. The Dean of Westminster, and the new vicar of St Matthew’s recognised that, to help people out of poverty, drastic steps would need to be taken and one of these was to improve education. The Dean of Westminster died soon after St Matthew’s was built but his wife, Mary Buckland, who was also a palaeontologist, wanted to continue his work with the poor. In order to improve the conditions for those living in the slums in the Westminster area, “Mrs Buckland” established a coffee house on Old Pye St, that was cared for by the Revd. Richard Malone, vicar of St Matthew’s. The coffee house was a place where lectures were given and a library was set up. The church and people in the scientific world, worked together to help the poor of the area positively change their living conditions.

The coffee house eventually had to close but, perhaps it could be said that, in a sense, the presence of Rag & Bone coffee in the courtyard of St Matthew’s, continues this work. Although times have changed, and the area is no longer a slum, there is a different form of poverty, people who are time-poor and harassed, working in the offices that now surround the church. In this sense, Rag & Bone Coffee offers not just refreshment, but a brief time-out from the daily grind for the people who now pass by this space. As making coffee is both an art and a science, perhaps we can also say that here too, science and religion work together, with coffee, to make the world a better place.

Rag & Bone Coffee can be found in the courtyard of St Matthew’s Church, Great Peter St. SW1P 2BU.

 

Time for a slow coffee?

enamel mug, teh halia, Straits Times kopitiam

This enamel mug connected glass to the Giants Causeway (Straits Times kopitiam)

Every two weeks, the Daily Grind on Bean Thinking is devoted to what I have called a cafe-physics review. The point of these reviews is to visit a café, slow down and notice what has been going on in a cafe physics-wise. I focus on physics because it is my ‘specialist’ area but the point is to notice the connections between the coffee, or the cafe and the world around us. To see how what is going on in your mug is reflected in the science of the wider universe. Realising that things that seem disparate are in fact connected: It is the same maths that describes electrons moving in a metal and the vibrations on the surface of a cup of coffee. That sort of connection to me is mind boggling. Yet there is more. Thinking about the connections between physics and coffee can lead to meditations on the environment and sustainability, or considerations about how our attitude to drinking coffee changes our perception of it.

Everything is connected.

Parquet floor at Coffee Affair

How many people have walked on this floor? The story of evolution at Coffee Affair

It is my strong belief that whenever we go into a cafe, order a coffee and then proceed to sit down with our smart phones or tablets and check our e-mail or our Twitter accounts we lose a fantastic opportunity. It is the opportunity to be properly present and to notice what is going on around us. It is the opportunity to slow down and to appreciate what life has given us and the surprising things that the world has to offer. To look at the beauty and the complexity of the world and to say ‘wow’.

This appreciation is open to us all, provided we seize the opportunity to slow down and take that time to enjoy our coffee.

So, this week’s Daily Grind is an invitation. It is an invitation open to anyone who sits down with a coffee. If you notice anything peculiar, or interesting, that you feel deserves a mention as a cafe-physics review why not write an edition of the Daily Grind? It does not matter where in the world you are or what your level of science knowledge is. If a full Daily Grind article is too much but you have a great observation, write a paragraph review of your favourite cafe and I’ll add it to the cafe-physics review map. Think that you don’t know enough science? Never mind, share your idea with me and we can work on it together.

Hasten coffee, long black, black coffee, espresso base

Sometimes the link with physics/science is a little bit tenuous, as it was at Espresso Base

Your observations need not be physics-based. It would be great if it is based on some aspect of science, but, as past examples have shown, this link can be a little tenuous if the cafe/subject warrants it.

So, over to you. I hope that someone will respond to this invitation. Please do contact me if you would like to pen a review or if you have any questions. It is my hope that you are all enjoying such great coffee in the huge variety of cafe’s that we now have that there will be plenty of opportunities for people to slow down and to notice and then to share it with the Daily Grind.

Please contact me here, or in the comments section below. I look forward to hearing from you.

 

Some brief guidelines for a cafe-physics review:

1) The cafe should, preferably, be a good independent.

2) Any science/history etc. needs to be verifiable but, as mentioned, if you’ve noticed something great but are unsure of the science, get in touch and we’ll work something out together.

3) If you have noticed something fascinating with your coffee but at home and not in a café, contact me anyway.

4) Please do not write a cafe-physics review of any cafe you are financially associated with. I will have to refuse/delete any ‘reviews’ that I find are adverts.

Introducing Bean thinking

As this is the first true blog post, let’s do the introductions. What is Bean thinking and who is @thinking_bean?

Breakfast coffee, introductionThe human bean behind @thinking_bean has worked for a fair few years in university research centres, researching obscure but fascinating areas of physics where magnetism meets superconductivity. Such research fields can be very beautiful but perhaps not of immediate technological relevance. Understandably, this can cause some in our society to question the utility of investigating these phenomena. Part of the motivation behind Bean thinking is to explore this question, why do we do science?

A second motivation is to share the wonder of the world that today’s understanding of physics gives us. Some of these beautiful areas have not yet been fully understood even though they occur in something as apparently simple as a coffee cup. Through teaching, outreach, talking to friends and even in conversations with some colleagues, I became aware of the way that science, perhaps particularly physics, can be perceived as a very interesting, but perhaps very difficult subject, far removed from people’s everyday lives.

Yet this is not true! Slow down, put down your smart phone, e-book or tablet, observe the world. Physics is all around you. Warming your hands around a mug of hot coffee, you may not realise how it is related to the Big Bang. Looking at a glass of milk can illustrate the reasons that the sky is blue. Even the mere act of stirring coffee can be related the Heathrow minute (link, link2).

Hence Bean thinking, which hopefully will become a space where curious individuals can come and discuss interesting phenomena that they notice in the day to day. If this can be done with a cup of coffee, all the better. The point is to slow down and start noticing. Each Wednesday I will update the Bean thinking blog, the “Daily Grind” with things that I have noticed or that I find interesting. Who knows, if anyone starts to read this and shares their observations perhaps the Daily Grind can also include these. As this website develops, I may add a forum, but for the moment, please let me know what you think about the concept and what you observe around you in the comments section below.