Chocolaty Book Fun

Ah yes, it is that time of year again. The LA Times book festival is on, starting today, and it was kicked off with the swanky Book Awards festival last night, followed by a reception. This all takes place on the UCLA campus, in Westwood. You might recall that I went last year and reported on it. [(Update: A version of the post is here.] (If in town, go to the LA Times website for more information and find your way over there either today or tomorrow!)

So I went to the Awards show again because:

  1. I enjoyed it last year,
  2. I like “book people”,
  3. I like the idea that in the city where there’s a swanky Awards ceremony for everything else, they have one for books,
  4. I like the unashamed delight that everyone takes in the value of the word on the page… there were some very nice speeches from the master of ceremonies (Jim Lehrer this year) and the various presenters in each category (all authors themselves) about the various aspects of this (all the way from history to Children’s books, to Science…)
  5. I wanted to see if they would have chocolate fountains again. They did.
  6. I wanted to see if they had old typewriters embedded inside ice sculptures again. They did.
  7. I can never be mistaken for an actual author at the reception too many times,
  8. I like dressing up, from time to time. (Never let it be said that I am not honest with you on this blog.)

book prizes   book prizes

(Above: MC for the night, PBS Newshour host Jim Lehrer, and the LA Times’ Kenneth Turan, on the set/stage. I really like the work of both of these guys…)

Spent most of the evening after the ceremony at the reception talking with LA Times (or related) people and their spouses. This was not my intention, but it was a happy occurrence, as they were all really interesting people – two science writers (Rosie Mestel and Alan Zarembo, who I’d not met before and who were just great to talk to) and also some more general columnists, such as (novellist and essayist) Meghan Daum and others whose names escape me now. K C Cole, my friend and USC colleague – and ex-LA Times science writer – was there for good conversation, as was Tom Siegfried. So it was just excellent to stand around and munch on the excellent food, drink the wine, and talk (and yes, sometimes gripe) a bit about science coverage and science writing. Briefly chatted with poet and author Michael Datcher (remember him from the point of view event?) and his wife as well, who told me about an upcoming event I’ll be mentioning later, I hope.

Rosie and I turned out to have some interesting points of commonality, which was a pleasant surprise, and so we talked about not just science and science-writing, but England, gardening, and the East/West divide in Los Angeles.

book prizes

(Above: Available light (sorry) shot of Alan Zarembo dipping a bit of pineapple into the chocolate fountain. Meghan Daum and Rosie Mestel look on.)

Some friends and colleagues from USC were there in an official capacity as well, such […] Click to continue reading this post

When Worlds Collide, III

Well, the cat’s out of the bag. Since Tuesday, in fact. What am I talking about? I’m going to get so beaten up in the playground for this…

casino royaleWell, I did a post a while ago about a trip I did to New York to take part in a day long shoot for a magazine, all dressed up in my tuxedo on a “Casino Royale” themed set. You can read about it in full here. What was the point? Reaching out. More science in the public domain, and on the lips of the regular person on the street. The usual things you know (from my writing here and elsewhere) that I’m passionate about. The readership of the magazine in question is not commonly exposed to images of scientists. The world of science and practicing scientists hardly intersects with the world of R&B, hip-hop, sports, fashion, the primary foci of this magazine and many others. I see no reason why not, but those who work in the media that control most of the images we see think otherwise.

Except for some creative people at King magazine. King magazine is a men’s magazine aimed primarily at young African Americans. (See a Wikipedia summary here, and the magazine website here. Warning! This is a men’s magazine aimed at a very specific demographic/readership, and while it does not warrant being on those shelves in the store that are behind the black glass, it is decorated from cover to interior in a manner that is… shall we say “somewhat differently” from the magazines I usually point to, such as SEED, National Geographic, or Scientific American! Ok?)

Every year, King magazine does a feature shoot of a group of people making interesting noises in their respective fields, people that you’ve either heard from (if you’re into those fields, and sometimes even not) or that they expect you’ll hear from soon. It’s all glossy and fun and so forth, and they decided (to my lasting surprise) to call me and ask if I’d take part. Hence the New York trip. The magazine is out on the stands now, and you can go and look at it.

I took the liberty of making some scans of the pictures for you (I hope the magazine’s staff don’t mind!), since I’d teased you so much in the last post with some of the shots I took, but could not reveal details about who was in the group, etc. There’s more in the actual magazine, such as quotes from the subjects about their work, life, etc.

So here goes:

[…] Click to continue reading this post

Fuzz Ball

hot fuzzSaturday night was movie night too. This time it was the Arclight (that modern movie palace I love so much) for the venue, and the movie was “Hot Fuzz”. My normal practice of remaining in stealth mode when I hear other British people nearby was abandoned at some point – I could not resist surprising someone in the line for ice cream and coffee (well, that’s what I was getting, ok?) by speaking to them with my English accent to point out conversationally, as an opening gambit, that half the line (maybe a good percentage of the movie’s audience, by extrapolation) had British accents. This unveiling almost always throws people (wherever they are from since I do not fit most people’s idea of what a British person is “supposed to” look like, especially in an American context). Anyway, to the movie… […] Click to continue reading this post

Because Everyone Wants to see the Woman with the Gun for a Leg

Last week, Friday night was movie night. (Actually, so was Saturday night, but that’s another story.) The venue: The wonderful Vista theatre, one of the great old movie palaces. The movie: Grindhouse. Why? See title (let’s be honest here), and I love well made terrible films (if you see what I mean) but also because I really do enjoy (overall) Quentin Tarantino’s dialogue1.


To get to the Tarantino segment (a movie called “Death Proof”), you have to wade through Robert Rodriguez’ “Planet Terror”, the first part of the double bill. This is a very well done (but maybe half an hour too long?) celebration of the Grindhouse spirit, complete with missing reels, scratchy film stock with burnt out patches, the works. (Clever idea to put in the technical difficulties – including using a missing reel excuse at a pivotal moment – the second film uses that joke too). The level of humour was very high indeed, through all the remarkable and cartoonish slime and gore… It was just the perfect venue that I (with two other friends) had chosen to see this in: Friday night at the Vista with an appreciative Silver Lake/Los Feliz crowd (from the neighbourhood).

Combine Planet Terror iwht the long and marvelously terrible spoof trailer for the movie “Machete”, and that would have been a fun night out on its own. But Planet Terror ended, everyone took a deep breath, and the opening credits Tarantinos’ “Death Proof” began to roll. […] Click to continue reading this post

Point of View, II – The Event

Thursday 12th’s “Point of View, II” event was a huge success. See here for the blurb on what was coming up. Below I intersperse that with a little about what actually took place, and give you a link to video of the event.

One of the great things about the format is that we’ve no clear idea what each presenter is going to do, where they will take things in their examination of the theme, so it adds somewhat to the excitement of the events. Do come along to some of the Categorically Not! events (of the same type) which happen every month at Santa Monica airport. Web link here.

Don Marolf of UCSB will tell us what Einstein’s relativity REALLY means to the physicists who study our world. Different observers’ perceptions of space, and even of time itself can give different answers. How do we make sense of that, and what are the consequences?

don marolfWe started with Don Marolf (click left for larger), who did a really great job of telling the audience about what the theme “Point of View” meant to physicists, in the context of Relativity. He had some great computer slides, but in addition he produced various items from his pockets during the talk to use as props to illustrate things. Don is an excellent presenter with a huge amount of charm and energy and an infectious laugh and so gave us a great start to the evening.

Poet and author Michael Datcher, who teaches literary nonfiction and poetry at Loyola Marymount University, will talk about the role of the writer as a witness and also his newly launched journal of literary nonfiction, The Truth about the Fact.

michael datcherWe then went in a very different direction with Michael Datcher […] Click to continue reading this post

Another Earth?

Spotted on the BBC News website: A story about the discovery of an earth-like (or at least more Earth-like than Jupiter-like) planet in the “Goldilocks” zone of a star a mere 20 light years or so away!

another earthThe planet orbits the faint star Gliese 581, which is 20.5 light-years away in the constellation Libra.

Scientists made the discovery using the Eso 3.6m Telescope in Chile.

They say the benign temperatures on the planet mean any water there could exist in liquid form, and this raises the chances it could also harbour life.

“We have estimated that the mean temperature of this ‘super-Earth’ lies between 0 and 40 degrees Celsius, and water would thus be liquid,” explained Stephane Udry of the Geneva Observatory, lead author of the scientific paper reporting the result.

“Moreover, its radius should be only 1.5 times the Earth’s radius, and models predict that the planet should be either rocky – like our Earth – or covered with oceans.”

Reading a bit further on: […] Click to continue reading this post

Gardening Update

Well, among the many things that took place over the weekend (more later I hope), I found a good chunk of time for some gardening. The primary objective on Saturday was to prepare the ground and plant some young plants for future vegetable goodies. I planted three types of squash, three types of tomato, two types of corn, and harvested some peppers from the pepper tree (I might plant some as seeds for new pepper trees, since they are so beautiful) as it is producing a huge new crop already.

pepper harvest

I’ve also planted three types of peas. Here are some pictures (click for a bit larger). In […] Click to continue reading this post

Jazz and Women

Passing near the Catalina Bar and Grill last night (on my way to the Cat and Fiddle) put me in mind of the Roy Hargrove concert there of a couple of weeks ago (see also here), which in turn put me in mind of a conversation I had a week later during which something slightly disturbing occurred to me. Let me explain. (A clickable picture of Roy Hargrove in action at the concert is below)

roy hargroveI was having dessert over at a friends house after a nice dinner in Pasadena, and three of us were kicking around thoughts, stories, and ideas. The subject of musical likes and dislikes came up – I think because someone put something on the CD player, and one of my friends said that she did not like Jazz. I was not quite sure what she meant by this, and since she’s a friend who I like a respect a lot, I probed further. I tried to ascertain how much she’d actually heard, since I my opinion Jazz is a very large and many-splendoured thing and to say you don’t like it after having heard a little is like trying sweet and sour pork, not liking it, and then deciding that you don’t like Chinese cuisine. I explained this opinion, and having established that she preferred “classical” music, (another large and encompassing term for a huge variety, of course) I tried to explain how she might find a way into Jazz by using that as an entry point.

My point was not that she was wrong to not like Jazz, but that she should keep an open mind about it until she’s given it a fair chance. I explained another key point that might help. It usually becomes clear at a point like this in a conversation of this sort that one of the key problems for the listener is that they’re not aware of a great deal of what is going on in the music, that there are often several layers of interesting […] Click to continue reading this post

Remote Thoughts

While coming into work today just before lunchtime, I carried with me one of those little remote controls for today’s seminar speaker to use to click through his computer slides (I highly recommend such a remote, by the way, as they completely free you from having to stand next to the computer, often resulting in a better presentation for all concerned).

Thinking idle off-beat thoughts as I sometimes do, I couldn’t resist pointing and experimentally pressing the button a few times. What was I thinking? Well, it would have been nice to:

    remote 1

  • STOP the 11:55am bus I just missed, and used the BACK button to bring it back to the stop so I could get on it. This would have been useful since (a) I would have made it to the seminar at the right time, and (b) I’m sure I would have sat next to and talked to that fascinating and beautiful woman I’m supposed to meet on some sort of public transport some day. She must be on that one I just missed since she sure as hell is never on the bus I manage to catch! (Wait… maybe I had my one shot at that and blew it already. I remember now…)
  • remote 2STOP that toddler over there from enthusiastically licking the hand rail (I got a bus 9 minutes later) while his mother is not looking! I’m all for kids interacting a bit with the world to auto-immunize, but this seems a bit of an overdose.
  • STOP not just my watch, but all time just for about 9 minutes in order to catch up and make the seminar.

Well, none of that happened (you’re probably not surprised to learn), and the remote stayed in my bag for most of the rest of the journey….

A bit later I realized why the button would not work! […] Click to continue reading this post

New Tolkien!

tolkien novel coverI don’t care what they say – I’m excited!

Having consumed (a number of times) the several books worth of J. R. R. Tolkien material scraped together from his papers by his son Christopher Tolkien (they sit here on my shelves…. The Book of Lost Tales (I and II), the Lays of Beleriand, Sauron Defeated, Morgoth’s Ring, and so forth…), and thirsted for more, this is just excellent news:

From Reuters, in an article by Mike Collett-White, I read:

More than 30 years after his death, a “new” book by J.R.R. Tolkien goes on sale on Tuesday which may well be the author’s last complete work to be published posthumously.

Tolkien’s son and literary executor Christopher, now in his eighties, constructed “The Children of Hurin” from his father’s manuscripts, and said he tried to do so […] Click to continue reading this post

Red Square

Have a look at this lovely image of the Red Square nebula:

red square nebula

It’s been making the news recently because (in addition to being a rather strikingly beautiful image – the colours should not be taken too seriously, as it is actually an infrared image) it is an extremely symmetrical object. Surprisingly and unprecedentedly so, apparently. A nebula of this sort (with a dying star, MWC 922 […] Click to continue reading this post

Saturday Scenes

alonys red
(The striking central red piece above is by the artist called Alonys (as are the ones surrounding). You can see more things of hers at her myspace space.)

Well, it’s been a busy week here, and I had tons of things to tell you in about five or six extra posts (beyond the quick ones I did) that never made an appearance. I had several for last weekend too. I ought to start by catching up from there. Here goes a bit of recollection and reflection:

Saturday was interesting since I ended up cramming three different activities into the evening, after a day of gardening and errands (mostly the latter), if I recall correctly.

gatherd crowdThe evening began (as it did the Saturday before) with a trip to an opening at an art gallery. This time it was downtown, near Gallery Row, (it is called Crewest) and it was featuring the work of some up and coming female artists. Overall, I was not overwhelmed with things I thought were great, but the exhibition was not without some interesting pieces on the walls (see above – some of her 3d sculpture-meets-painting works were fun too) and sometimes interesting people milling around. There was even a DJ, but sadly no wine (I’d been spoiled by the last gallery reception, I suppose.) […] Click to continue reading this post