An Engineer's Literary Notebook

Exploring the real and surreal connections between poetry and engineering

Archive for the ‘Time’ Category

Of Beauty and Truth, Denied

Posted by xbanguyen on November 27, 2016


Should an engineer attempt to prove the assertion that beauty is truth, truth beauty? I say yes even after realizing that the term negative capability also comes from the same source, the poet John Keats, and to possess negative capability is to be able to contemplate the world without the desire to reconcile the contradictions it contains.  Given that to be dispassionate is to have no desire at that moment, to see an engineering problem clearly it helps to be dispassieulerequationonate while examining the problem from different angles. Any contradictions observed are to be noted because they may contribute to the solution.

The subjective nature of beauty may be bounded if we postulate that elegance is beauty.  Among the sciences, theoretical physics stands out in its use of elegance as a criteria when evaluating a physical theory.  In this application, elegance is defined as “the principle that postulates the adequate representation of a physical problem in mathematical formulae that bestow unity, symmetry and harmony among the elements of the problem.”  The Euler equation that encapsulates the pure nature of the sphere comes to mind, as doespecialrelativityequations Eisntein’s special relativity equation that shows how time dilates.

The purpose of science is to build true knowledge of the cosmos.  If elegance is synonymous with beauty in this discourse, and if elegance is a criteria to weigh the validity of scientific theories then yes beauty is truth. As I attempt to prove that the converse is true, I struggle still with the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. I have not been able to come to terms with the evidence that truth can be ugly, and worst of all, truth did not matter to many of my species who processed the same stimuli using similar faculties.  We all heard and saw the same events. There was only one frame of reference. There is only one truth.  Furthermore, there are no other words in this bountiful language of ours that are synonymous with truth because it is unique.  So why did many people pay no heed to truth? Every action will reap a reaction. In this case, the equal and opposite part of Newton’s third law is not adequate because the magnitude of the consequence of not paying heed to truth is far worse. Our collective past is now marred with an ugly enormity that will have a profound downward influence on our future. Unlike the expanding universe, our earth is finite.  For the good of our species, we must recover from this lapse of judgment. We also must transcend narrow nationalism so that our species will survive.

While we find our ways, and we will, to move forward,  solace can be found when turning to poetry, at times.


Not unlike Keats’s urn, the vase on my desk, empty now from the roses of summer, remains stoic as it is meant to be and I must find that stoicity comforting. Or I could turn to Dylan Thomas’s Fern Hill to find beauty in his remembered childhood even as he was chained by time. In the presence of such beauty, I must believe in truth, in the many kindred spirits who share the same vision and prevail by steadfastly refusing to normalize untruth.


Thank you for the prescient observation, dear muse.



  1. The weeping Statue of Liberty image is from
  2. The Grecian urn image is from
  3. The beautiful equation images are from
  4. The definition of elegance as quoted is from “Simplicity And Elegance in Theoretical Physics” by John D. Tsilikis

Posted in Keats, Math, Physics, Time, truth | 1 Comment »

Romancing the Light

Posted by xbanguyen on September 24, 2011

Would you rather know that there is less than one ounce of astatine in the earth crust at anytime, and that the speed of light is 299,792,458 meters per second, or would you rather know that the chemist Archie Randolph Ammon wrote poetry, as did James Clerk Maxwell the physicist?[1] In this late summer evening I would rather watch the gradual departure of daylight softens

the demarcation between the mountains and sky beyond. Of course the lingering light does not go from the Olympic Peninsula to my retina instantaneously. Many years ago, Galileo attempted to measure the speed of light using two lanterns on a windy night atop those Florentine hills – I imagine the windy bit as you already guessed. Even though the experiment failed to yield a measurement, some years later it spurred the Danish astronomer Ole Roemer to note the time it took for the moon Io to revolve around Jupiter to come up with a measurement for the speed of light that was not too far off.[2] Preoccupied  with nostalgia, tonight I have succumbed again to the longing for permanence and felt comforted in knowing that there is such a cosmic limit as the speed of light that is constant for all frames of reference.  That equation E= mc2/sqrt(1-v2/c2) describing the energy of a particle with rest mass m moving with speed v can be used to show that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light because  infinite energy would be needed to accelerate v to approach c.[3] This limit makes it impossible for us to travel back into the past nor to see into the future.  Would you want to see the future, or just be content observing the light of September and be reconciled to the changing of seasons?

Paradoxically, the broken shadows illuminate for me the beauty of having four seasons, made possible only because of time. The lyrical uncertainty that light is neither before or after reminds me of  the dual nature of light as particles and waves. Akin to D.H. Lawrence’s torch of blue gentians, the cheerful yellow mullein can also be torch-like.  Phonetically, the mullein brought to mind the mullioned windows of a certain cathedral in Emily Dickinson’s mind when she felt the weight of that slanted light. The weight she felt is not only metaphorical but also physical because its particulate nature enables scientists to hold light captive in chambers containing a specific mixture of gas. The captured light can be released by flashing a second light through the gas.[4] I wonder if the newly freed light, when departing from the holding chamber, left something like regrets in its wake.

Thank you for the book filled with light, dear muse






[5] The Gaileo’s lantern picture is from

[6] Jupiter and its moons picture is from

[8] A swatch of the universe photo is from


Posted in Ammon, Galileo, Merwin, Physics, Time, Visual | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

The Malleability of Time

Posted by xbanguyen on May 15, 2011

The word elegiac comes to mind today for no discernible reasons because conventionally elegiac is a wintry word and we are well past that season, aren’t we. The primroses have run their course, the disheveled leaves a fair price to pay for the boisterous beauty of the flowers enjoyed earlier.  Thankfully, the leaves on the rose bush “Jude the Obscure”  are glossy, sturdy foils for the swollen buds from which fat buttery blossoms will surely emerge. June is but a couple of weeks away, but it is easier to be in tune with the passing of time when gardening.  So then why elegiac? Could it be because I lack the ability to stay in the present but race forward already to winter while summer is not yet here even while aware that spring will come again?   A competent engineer specialized in digital design should be more mindful of the cyclical nature of most matters as she must ensure that the clocks governing the digital FPGAs are precise in their cyclic property. On the one hand, it is desirable for a clock to have a narrow spectrum so that the timing budget for setup and hold is maximized as there is no wasteful uncertainty to be subtracted from the clock period. On the other hand, having all energy concentrated at a single frequency carries some perils, most notably causing interference to other signals in wireless communication. The spectral density of signals in a system influences the electro magnetic interference (EMI) emitted.  One method of reducing EMI is spread spectrum clock generating (SSCG) by which the clock signals are distributed across a wider band of frequencies.  Here randomness has its use because a noise-like signal from a pseudo-random number generator is applied to spread a clock in one technique.(1)  And if you happen to be in need of hiding a signal, this technique is also useful.  In the heart of that apparent randomness, a precise signal dwells. Is there an analogy to that of what dwells in the human heart?

The wind blows

through the doors of my heart.

It scatters my sheet music

that climbs like waves from the piano, free of the keys.

Now the notes stripped, black butterflies,

flattened against the screens.

The wind through my heart

blows all my candles out.

In my heart and its rooms is dark and windy.

From the mantle smashes birds’ nests, teacups

full of stars as the wind winds round,

a mist of sorts that rises and bends and blows

or is blown through the rooms of my heart

that shatters the windows,

rakes the bedsheets as though someone

had just made love. And my dresses

they are lifted like brides come to rest

on the bedstead, crucifixes,

dresses tangled in trees in the rooms

of my heart. To save them

I’ve thrown flowers to fields,

so that someone would pick them up

and know where they came from.

Come the bees now clinging to flowered curtains.

Off with the clothesline pinning anything, my mother’s trousseau.

It is not for me to say what is this wind

or how it came to blow through the rooms of my heart.

Wing after wing, through the rooms of the dead

the wind does not blow. Nor the basement, no wheezing,

no wind choking the cobwebs in our hair.

It is cool here, quiet, a quilt spread on soil.

But we will never lie down again.

Deborah Digges

The imagery within the poem resonates. The teacups full of stars bring back a childhood desire to raise a ladder leaning against the sky to paste more stars there. The wind comes alive in the poem. It could be the same wind painted by Edward Rochester’s Jane depicting her interior landscape. Refraining from analyzing the poem, I find it a pleasure just to quietly acknowledge the electrical signals emitted  in those four chambers of mine, gentle like a sign, as I read it one more time.  How much of that is physiologically induced – what the eyes read, the mind comprehends, the heart empathizes, I do not know.  The number of neurotransmitters  involved in the entire process is an esoteric matter.  I’ll continue to be grateful for the power that poetry can induce, unquantifiable though it may be.

Thank you for the subject, dear muse.


2. The rose photo is from
3. The spread spectrum waveform is from
4. The neurotransmitter image is  from 

Posted in Colors, Deborah Digges, Digital, FPGA, Gardening, Time, Visual | 2 Comments »

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