Tomorrow night and the night after (Sunday and Monday), you should look West just after sunset, if you’ve a clear sky. There’s going to be a rare conjunction of Venus, Jupiter, and the crescent moon. Already, Jupiter and Venus look great together (they make a lovely couple) each night, but the trio – the three brightest objects in the […] Click to continue reading this post


A few Tuesdays back, I went for an early evening hike in Griffith Park to get a burst of energy and clear out the mess in my head, as I am wont to do. I went straight and fast up to the Observatory and then beyond to Mount Hollywood’s lookout point. It was a lovely evening, with a number of people out and about enjoying it. This visit had a different treat than I usually encounter. There was a guy up there playing his guitar… and he was rather good to listen to. mount_hollywood_view_guitar_guy I listened to him for a short while and then he stopped (sadly, just before going beyond four notes of Purple Haze), as his fingers were getting chilly. I applauded, and he looked around, thanked me (not having previously noticed me listening there) and then started to pack up. Then he changed his mind and began playing just one more tune. Wonderfully, he started on one of my favourites, “Redemption Song”, which fit my mood then perfectly, fit with many people’s moods a week after the Presidential elections, and also fits my somewhat brooding and contemplative mood now. It certainly works well on this Thanksgiving Day here in the USA.

It was a lovely few minutes there in the low golden sunlight, with a sense of rest and […] Click to continue reading this post


electoral map of USA by areaThere was a lovely segment on NPR the other day about cartograms – representations or maps of regions that are weighted or highlighted according to the sort of data you’re interested in studying. It was an interview with Mark Newman (Univ. of Michigan) about the book “The Atlas of the Real World: Mapping the Way We Live” (by Daniel Dorling, Mark Newman and Anna Barford).

electoral map of USA by electoral college votesTo the right is an example of the sorts of things they do in the book, showing the re-adjusting the map of the USA to have the size of a state correspond to its electoral college weight (below) instead of its geographical weight (above).

There are examples of the maps they have presented on the NPR site, and of course the audio of the interview (and a short […] Click to continue reading this post

Tales From The Industry XXVII – Light Speed

Here we go again! Tonight sees another new episode of the new series of The Universe on the History Channel (you can watch it as a warm up to The Atom Smashers, on PBS), and the episode is all about the speed of light! I’ve no idea how this one will turn out, but for my segments we did some rather fun things to illustrate some of the key concepts. The main idea is that the laws of physics are rather different from ordinary Newtonian/Galilean ones when you are moving at an appreciable fraction of the speed the light. This is what we learned from Einstein’s Special Relativity. How do you illustrate this for a TV viewing audience? Well, one way is to imagine what would happen if the speed of light was a lot closer to everyday speeds. Then you could illustrate some of the effects in a fun way.

Well, one thing led to another and somehow (after a lot of email discussions of the physics with Darryl Rehr, the writer/director) it ended up that I was supposed to do […] Click to continue reading this post

Particle Physics on TV Tonight

marcela carena in atom smashers independent lens

I learned from Katherine on the US/LHC blog earlier that tonight on PBS is an airing of a documentary called “The Atom Smashers”. It’s about particle physicists at Fermilab, in Illinois (including my friend Marcela Carena in the photo above). I’m curious to see what they’ve put together, hoping that it’ll give the public some insights into the life of the various kinds of scientist involved, and the exciting physics that engages them – and those of us on the outside who eagerly await the results of their work. The search for the Higgs boson is a focus. You can see a trailer here. I’ll be watching, I think. It is at 10:30pm on PBS, in the Independent Lens series, but be sure to check your local listings since times may vary.


-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Tales From The Industry XXVI – Science and Entertainment Exchange

Well, I probably am not worthy of the press credentials I was carrying around with me on Wednesday, as several days later I had still not done my “report” on the event. Well, here it is.

science  entertainment exchange

I went to a press conference and a symposium that relates directly to the issues I was talking about in my Tuesday post and its comment stream. All the things I was talking about with regards better contact between the science community and the filmmaking community so as to make films (and shows) that better represent science and scientists more accurately through something closer to a collaborative mode were brought up in these meetings and discussions. It was great to see this issue being taken seriously, and a well-meant effort being made. The core of the idea is to set up an office that will coordinate things – acting as a sort of clearing house that will put filmmakers (of all aspects of the process whether screenwriter or director) in touch with willing scientists who can be helpful in various topics. This is the Science and Entertainment Exchange.

A key thing that I have mentioned here many times before is the issue of it being about more than just fact-checking near-completed work. If scientists are involved at […] Click to continue reading this post

Brian Eno on Singing

Like singing? Think you can’t? No use for it?

Have a listen to Brian Eno on the issue. He was on NPR’s This I Believe this morning talking about singing. Extract:

I believe that singing is the key to long life, a good figure, a stable temperament, increased intelligence, new friends, super self-confidence, heightened sexual attractiveness and a better sense of humor. […]

[…] a capella singing is all about the immersion of the self into the community. That’s one of the great feelings — to stop being me for a little while and to become us. That way lies empathy, the great social virtue. […]

More here. Take a moment out and sing out loud for a while!

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Asymptotia’s Type

Following Janet, I decided to check to see what my “blog personality type” was supposed to be according to Typealyzer. Apparently, it (and hence, I suppose, the person who writes it) is of type ISTP – The Mechanics:

istp type typealyzerThe independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment are masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously. They generally prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts.

The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters.

Aw shucks. You flatterer, you. (Wow, and they even got my overalls and hairdo right too!)

Then there was some sort of fanciful brain diagram, showing where things are on the […] Click to continue reading this post

Tiring, but Good

mount hood oregonTo the left is Mount Hood, in Oregon. I often see it when I fly on my way up North. I often see it when I fly on my way up North. I love seeing it as it emerges from the clouds rather pleasantly, looking a bit like a cloud itself for a moment, perhaps oddly shaped, but then becoming something rather different entirely.

I was in Vancouver for a few days last week, and chatted with a few friends and colleagues (such as Moshe Rozali, Mark Van Raamsdonk, and Joanna Karczmarek) at the Physics department at UBC, and gave a seminar. I talked about ongoing work on ideas I’m still struggling to beat into shape (mentioned a lot in earlier posts about my retreat at Aspen this Summer). This was a deliberate choice. Sometimes it is very useful to force oneself to do a pedagogical seminar on work in progress. This is not so much because someone in the audience might toss up an idea that you did not consider (this can happen, sometimes as a result of a good question – but it is less likely when the audience has no expertise in the area under discussion, as was the case here) but mostly because of the very act of preparing the seminar itself. It forces you to take the wider view, consider the big picture, and try to motivate why you are doing what you’re doing, or why you picked on path over another along the way. I find this process can be quite valuable as an internal pruning and self-checking exercise.

So it was that I spent three hours at LAX writing the first 2/3 of the talk. This is not […] Click to continue reading this post

Tales From The Industry XXV – Parallel Universes

While most of the episodes of the History Channel’s The Universe series are firmly about scientific knowledge of the universe that has been tested and verified (from planetary science, to solar physics, to stellar evolution, and various topics in cosmology, and so forth), they also like to treat topics that have a higher component of more speculative material. This is of course fine, as long as it is made clear what is speculation, and what is established. Recall that I took part in a really fun episode called Cosmic Holes, which talked about white holes and wormholes -entirely speculative objects – right alongside the physics of black holes, objects that we know are physically realized in our universe. (See here, here, and here.) I think that Laura Verklan, the writer/director, did a really excellent job of separating out the speculative from the established. Similar things can be said for the episode Cosmic Apocalypse, done by writer/director Savas Georgalis (see here), which focused on scenarios about how the universe might end, given what we have already established about how it was in early times and how it is now.

I’m hoping that the upcoming (tonight!) episode entitled Parallel Universes will also be a nice and clear piece of work discussing the speculative ideas concerning the possibility of parallel universes – what the ideas are, why it is a fun idea, what it […] Click to continue reading this post

Einstein on Monday

You’ll perhaps recall that a few days ago I mentioned some upcoming science shows in which I talk about various science ideas. I said, among other things:

[…] one is called Parallel Universes and the other is called (I think) Light Speed, both doing more or less what it says on the packet. I’ve not seen the final cut of either show this time, so I’ll be curious to see how they put the material together. They’ll air in the upcoming new season of the series, on the 18th November and the 25th November, respectively. I think – not 100% sure – that is all that is coming up from me on that series for the rest of this year (there is another thing due on that channel in December, and then that’s certainly enough of me showing up in your living rooms for a while), not counting the reruns […]

Well, I was wrong about the latter. It is on Monday, I was recently informed! This is, i think, going to be a really very good documentary on Einstein and his work, from a somewhat different angle than maybe you’ve seen before. It’ll focus quite a bit on the ideas and concepts and, importantly, the process by which Einstein developed his […] Click to continue reading this post

Science and the New President

Last week the Guardian did a special podcast about Barack Obama’s science policies, and the challenges that lie ahead for the new administration. It’s actually rather good (at least the parts I’ve heard so far – I’m listening to it in pieces while travelling) and I recommend it. They have lots of guests, many of whom you’ve maybe heard of (Lesley Stone, Martin Rees, Diana Liverman, Chris Mason, P Z Myers, Lawrence Krauss, Martin Barstow), and the issue is explored from several angles, from climate change, through stem cells, to the space program. […] Click to continue reading this post

Phoenix Goes Dark

phoenix mars landerAs you may have heard, the Phoenix craft on Mars (remember? seven minutes of terror?) which had already been running beyond its design lifetime, has probably sent its final message from Mars. There is not enough daily solar energy (now that it is Winter) coming in to support its energy needs.

There’s a NASA press release here, with links to the mission pages for a reminder of […] Click to continue reading this post