The Reply

Explorer 1 SpacecraftToday is the 50th anniversary of the day the USA replied to the world-changing Sputnik launch by the USSR almost four months earlier (see my post), as well as Sputnik 2 (carrying the dog Laika) a month after. In some sense, the space race began in earnest with this launch of the craft called Explorer.

A great thing about the Explorer 1 craft was that it even did some groundbreaking […] Click to continue reading this post

Oliver Sacks on Music

Oliver Sacks must have a new book out or something*. I’ve heard him twice in as many days in radio pieces, and that usually means only one thing. He’s always an interesting interviewee, and this time the focus is on music. The first piece I heard was one of those amusingly produced pieces by Robert Krulwich, on NPR’d Morning Edition. It was all about people who essentially hallucinate music – it spontaneously appears in their ears and there’s often nothing they can do about it. The audio for the piece can be heard here. It was quite a good piece and I recommend it.

The next thing I heard was on the BBC World Service (my usual late night listening) the segment called “The Interview”. This is a much longer piece, talking about the role of […] Click to continue reading this post

Science Communication

At the Science Blogging conference earlier this month, there was a very interesting discussion about communication of science, science and the media, and science in politics. It was led by Jennifer Jacquet of Shifting Baselines, and Sheril Kirshenbaum and Chris Mooney (both of The Intersection), who each did a mini-presentation (Sheril and Chris doing a sort of tag-team double act, starting off with discussing Sciencedebate 2008, and moving into discussions of “framing” science, the separation of the cultures, and so forth – and of course, opportunities for bloggers). Happily there was a video made, and I’ve embedded it below (the quality is mixed, but overall […] Click to continue reading this post

Near Enough

asteroid 2007 tu24It’s not going to be naked-eye visible, but give a thought tonight to the 250 metre asteroid (2007 tu24) that is going to swing by close to earth tonight! Or, if you have a “modest” telescope, go and look at it. It’s going to scrape by at 1.4 times the distance of the moon. That’s pretty close, by astronomical standards, and gives scientists a chance to see a near earth object rather more closely than usual. From the […] Click to continue reading this post

Almost Back

Well, I’m standing here at 11:45pm slowly stirring some tasty custard I’m making to pour onto a slice of steamed homemade date pudding. A while ago the wonderful Margaret Atwood was on the radio (talking about an influential editor who died recently – can’t recall the name), which is bliss for me since I love hearing her talk about anything. Absolutely anything. I just love her voice, tone, and turns of phrase. There’s a cold wind blowing outside…

Why am I doing all this? Well, it’s really cold outside for a start (yeah, I know) so I need some warm comfort food, but mostly I’m treating myself after a long night of writing php scripts and css code, remembering stuff I learned two years ago, with the aim of rebuilding the old look for the blog. I’m really tired of the clunky default style I’ve had […] Click to continue reading this post

Gandalf, Balrog, Physics…

So while you have a look at the following enthusiastic and amusing discussion about how far the Balrog and Gandalf must have fallen (in the film version of the Two Towers), involving discussions of terminal velocities and Balrog profile approximations for air resistance estimates (and so forth)…

(links here, here, and here*)

…ask yourself why on earth nobody in the discussion (as far as I can tell from a quick […] Click to continue reading this post


While the wonderful downpour carries on outside (the whole of Southern California is in the grips of a powerful storm), I’ll continue with the discussion of the re-invigoration of the study that I started a short while ago

study project - plane
(One of my all-time favourite wood-working tools. The good old-fashioned plane. Planing a bit of wood is jolly good therapy too.)

One of the main things I envisioned, and put into my sketches, was lots of space for books. Lots. I wanted big bookcases that fit the room, and so I planned a simple but robust design that stretched them eight feet from the floor to the ceiling. Of course, I wanted to make them myself – Building them myself would be more fun and much […] Click to continue reading this post

Planck Meets Fleming

So yesterday at Pinewood Studios they announced the name of the upcoming second James Bond film in the new series that (excellently, in my opinion) re-envisions the Bond movie universe. Last year’s first one was “Casino Royale”, you may recall. Did you hear what the next one will be called? […] Click to continue reading this post

Clinton Fun

Taking a break from scribbling equations, I confirmed the he-must-be-crazy suspicions of people around me in a cafe the other day by bursting out laughing out loud at this Onion article: Bill Clinton: `Screw It, I’m Running For President’:

After spending two months accompanying his wife, Hillary, on the campaign trail, former president Bill Clinton announced Monday that he is joining the 2008 presidential race, saying he “could no longer resist the urge.”

You’ve probably heard about it already (it was even mentioned on today’s Morning Edition on NPR), but in case you have not, it’s a timely read. My favourite bit:

“No longer will I have to endure watching candidates like Hillary Clinton engaging in single-pump handshakes with voters, as I use every last […] Click to continue reading this post

Categorically Not! – Science Goes Hollywood

Reza Aslan at Categorically Not!The next Categorically Not! is on Sunday January 27th (upcoming). The Categorically Not! series of events that are held at the Santa Monica Art Studios, (with occasional exceptions). It’s a series – started and run by science writer K. C. Cole Reza Aslan at Categorically Not! – of fun and informative conversations deliberately ignoring the traditional boundaries between art, science, humanities, and other subjects. I strongly encourage you to come to them if you’re in the area.

Here is the website that describes past ones, and upcoming ones. See also the links at the end of the post for some announcements and descriptions (and even video) of previous events. (Above right and left: Reza Aslan speaking on the origin of various ideas in Religion at the event entitled “Beginnings” on 16th December, 2007. Click right one for larger view.)

The theme this month is Science Goes Hollywood. Here’s the description from K C Cole:

Despite our prejudices to the contrary, Hollywood and Science have a lot to say to each other. Take special effects: Nothing Disney dreams up can […] Click to continue reading this post

Lousy Book

louse by louis de vosWell, actually it sounds like a really lovely book, and the louse to the right (among other creatures) is featured. (Photo by Louis de Vos.)I read about it in a splendid little article in LA Weekly today on the bus home on a wonderfully rainy afternoon here in LA. The book’s all about the common creatures in our homes – “bugs” of various sorts, and the LA Weekly article by Gendy Alimurung is mostly an interview with the authors, Joshua Abarbanel and Jeff Swimmer. The book is called “A […] Click to continue reading this post

Asymptotia Attacked!

Sigh. It was too good to be true. Hours after updating the site (and feeling pleased with myself) because I caught a whiff of something threatening it, a blistering attack came along, in the form of essentially a denial of service attack from hundreds of separate machines/robots all from the same referring site. (See Josh Davis’ report on such things for the Wired Science TV show last year. Video here.) I tried everything I could think of to get rid of it and could not win. In the end, my hosts shut down my account and suspended the domain (fair enough – actually might have helped), and (not cool) one of their fine technical support people blamed me for the problem […] Click to continue reading this post