Kip Thorne on Stephen Hawking

From Cosmic Variance:

He arrives with an entourage of five care givers to tend to his physical needs, one or two family members, several graduate students, and a “graduate assistant” who handles logistics and serves as general fixit-person for his computer system and mechanized wheel chair. His current chair is new and sophisticated. At the flick of a switch, its hydraulics can lift him up to a standing person’s eye level or slide him down near ground level for high-speed chases — he has been known to take pleasure from running over the toes of university presidents.

Hawking’s Pasadena sojourns are rather like Einstein’s in the 1930s. Caltech is an intellectual magnet – a crossroad for ideas about the cosmos and the fundamental laws of nature, which are Hawking’s passion. He contributes mightily to the ferment, and partakes. Our California night life (LA, not Caltech!) is also pretty good; and Hawking, like Einstein, is a party animal, only more so. During his annual month here, my own social life intensifies five-fold just from being his closest California friend. He loves opera, theater, jazz clubs, barbecues that he hosts in the patio of his Pasadena home, and dinners with fine wine – especially an Indian Feast prepared for him by Caltech undergraduates. Yes, we geeks can cook up a storm – well, not me, but the younger generation.

Conversation with Stephen is slow, about 3 words a minute, produced by Stephen moving a muscle in his face (imaged by a lens and photodetector) to control a cursor on his computer screen. It’s slow, but rewarding. You never know, until his sentence is complete, whether it will be a pearl of wisdom or an off-the-wall joke. Faster speeds are on the horizon: computer control via brane waves, without drilling a hole in his head (he’s opposed to that). But he resists changing technology, even without drilling, until forced to. “I can’t believe it’s as good as what I have.” (It actually is; my wife has a friend with ALS who proves it so.)

And if you don’t know who Kip Thorne is, you need to read Black Holes and Time Warps which is an incredible read.