As 2008 Draws to a Close…

I thought I’d follow Janet and do a sort of end of year review or summary (or, really, snapshot) in the following style: List the first sentence of every first post of the month for all twelve months. I’ve no idea what this will produce, so here goes:

* * *

I’ll admit that I was quite surprised by this.

Lovely layers in the distance on a hike at Runyon Canyon this morning, looking North East.

A snapshot from last Friday night (a week ago).

Well, I learned recently* that the BBC wildlife program makers have done it again, breaking new ground in scientific discovery while making a new series.

Well, here’s a turn up for the books.

Well, you’ve probably guessed that I’ve been somewhat distracted for several days. […] Click to continue reading this post


freddie hubbard

One of my favourite trumpet players – one who helped transform the instrument – is Freddie Hubbard. He died on Monday morning. Sadly, this means that the last of a line of great trumpet giants of the middle period has passed. (I’m thinking of a line including Fats Navarro, Clifford Brown and Lee Morgan – Hubbard was the next. See my article on this from last year.) There’s a Herald Tribune obituary by Peter Keepnews here, and NPR has a reflection by Howard Mandel here.

There are a lot of YouTube clips of him playing, but sift carefully since (from a quick scan) what’s there is not a great mixture, I’d say. At least to my tastes there’s not enough stuff representative of his greatest periods as compared to the later work. I picked out a few bits for you below, but I’d recommend, if you are looking to more […] Click to continue reading this post

Red, Yellow, Blue, Green…

red yellow green blue…among other colours.

View of the day from the garden. (Winter. Number x in a limited series of y.) (Click for larger view.) The rains have gone for a while. The sun is back, with clear blue skies to close out the year.

I’m trying to rest. Well, I’m working on various projects at home, mostly. Colours are on my mind a bit in one of these projects, actually. Later today I’m going to be down in the (only slightly mad-scientist) workshop making a portable screen on which to project films.

Projecting onto the wall is good, but I want to make a silver-grey screen with a dark border that will really pop the colours out. Some of this is about not projecting onto […] Click to continue reading this post


christmas crackers crackedAt some point during Christmas dinner (prepared in collaboration between my mum and I) I remembered that on top of a high cabinet, out of reach and almost forgotten, there were a few Christmas crackers from three or four years ago.

We cracked a couple, of course. Wouldn’t you have?

These were rather good crackers, with solid presents in them. We popped them open simultaneously, and used the rule that who got the larger portion of a cracker won its contents.

[…] Click to continue reading this post

Goodbye Eartha Kitt

eartha kitt (Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)Sad news from the entertainment world today. Eartha Kitt died today. I thought I’d mark this with a post here. What a wonderfully odd character she was! I’m often a big supporter of those who march to the beat of a different drum, and she certainly fits the bill.

There’s an excellent Washington Post article by Wil Haygood describing a lunch with […] Click to continue reading this post

Tracking Santa

Ok, since it is two days until Christmas I suppose I can stop ignoring all the flashing lights and twinkly things and incessant “Holiday Music”. (Yeah, how time flies..!) I’ll even do a post discussing Santa. You see, it came to my attention that Google Earth, in collaboration with NORAD, no less, will be tracking Santa on Christmas Eve. See here and here for more details.

It sort of got my attention for the obvious reason -they’re tracking Santa!- but then when I went to browse the site, I thought I’d certainly point it out to you since on the further information for kids page (yes, in case you weren’t sure, it seems that children are a major target in this operation – check out the links to, er, fun things for them) there’s an “About Santa” page. Well, I had to click, since I’d certainly learn something. Indeed, I learned that some physics thinking has gone into pondering the Santa Phenomenon: […] Click to continue reading this post

Summer Reading: Falling For Science

(Yes, I know it is not Summer (here), but I love the idea of Summer reading lists so much that I will continue to discuss some books under this series title, whatever the time of year.)

I just heard a piece by Robert Krulwich on NPR about the book “Falling for Science: Objects in Mind”, which is a collection of essays with an introduction by Sherry Turkle, who’s a social sciences professor at MIT. Krulwich says:

“…written by senior scientists (artificial intelligence pioneer Seymour Papert, MIT president and neuroanatomist Susan Hockfield, and architect Moshe Safdie, for example) and by students who passed through her classes at MIT over the past 25 years. They were all asked the same question: “Was there an object you met during childhood or adolescence that had an influence on your path into science?”

And after a tidal wave of Legos (7 different essays), computer games and broken radios, I found a few wonderful surprises. One MIT student reported how she couldn’t stop braiding her My Little Pony’s tail, weaving the hairs into endlessly repeating patterns (a clue, perhaps, to her fascination with mathematics)….[…]”

He goes on to interview software designer Joseph Calzaretta about his childhood encounter with stop signs. It’s a really nice story. The whole radio piece is here, with audio and transcript. (There’s another version here with the excellent “Eggs in a Basket” story emphasized instead.)

This is actually an issue that fascinates me, and I don’t think that the question should be quite as narrow as above – focusing only on people who went into science. I think that -especially as children- we are all scientists, exploring the world around us, […] Click to continue reading this post

Remembering Uncertainty

Gosh, look what I found on YouTube, quite by accident. It is video of the first Uncertainty event I did with science writer KC Cole way back in 2006, and was one of the first Visions and Voices events at USC.

It has as features (about 20 minutes each) Jonathan Kirsch on Monotheism (and how it actually isn’t, really), some opening thoughts by moderator KC Cole, her interview […] Click to continue reading this post

Another Physicist in the House

With more refreshing words about what he thinks science is, and the role science can play in shaping society and steering the country forward, Barack Obama announced several key science posts today. One of them is a physicist by the way. (“Excellent…”, cvj rubs hands together with a gleam in his eye, “…all going according to plan.”)

Here’s a YouTube video of the announcement:

From an AFP piece by Maxim Kniazkov:
[…] Click to continue reading this post


joshua tree at el mirage lake

Today’s shooting circumstances (see previous post) produced an unexpected bonus: Snow. Lots of it! It is always a pleasant surprise to me how quickly you can get from Los Angeles to some good snow cover. I was not expecting to see any snow – or trudge through any – this season, but it turned out that lots of it had fallen where we were scheduled to shoot. So much so that we could not get to where we wanted to […] Click to continue reading this post

Snowed Under

Ok. It’s official. This week I am snowed under with things. Every day I write half a blog post, and then something comes up and I do not got back to it and I fall into bed later, exhausted, some time in the wee hours, only to get up early the next day to carry on with things.

So in case you were wondering, I am still here. Just snowed under. I gave my final exam for my Physics 151 course (Fundamentals of Physics: Mechanics and Thermodynamics) on Monday (hurrah!) and I’ve spent a huge chunk of today playing with various excel files of various chunks of data from the course, trying to turns a sea of numbers into final grades for the students. It has been slow work, and I’m nowhere near done yet. It’s complicated because I must incorporate multiple components of assessment, from three different exams, laboratory work, online homework and written homework, to in-class responses using individual RF transmitters, and online quizzes of various sorts. (All a bit much, in my view, but, well that’s another story…) Every single bit has its own spreadsheet with data that must be uniformized and then combined to give the whole picture of each student’s performance.

It has made me a bit dizzy just talking about it.

But it’s not that simple. Oh no. Here’s a small part of the extra stuff: I’ve been trying to get the exterior of my house painted, and of course there have been (quite fantastic) rainstorms delaying everything and so I’ve been dealing with painters for longer than planned – with the Christmas holiday closing fast, and I’ve got my mum visiting me (hurrah!) and so I must be a good host and so forth and not just hide in the study crunching numbers (she arrived a day earlier than I expected – my fault! – so I’m a bit off-balance about that too), and… and…
[…] Click to continue reading this post

Teachers Rock!

Listening live (over a late breakfast coffee) to the press conference led by President Elect Obama announcing the Secretary of Education. Arne Duncan is the nominee. This is an underrated post in terms of how high profile it is compared to the other cabinet posts… but of course it’s super-important. So it is wonderful to hear the lovely speech from the pres-to-be (and also the one from the vice-pres-to-be). Just really great. It is especially good to hear recognition of the fact that the core of […] Click to continue reading this post

Fat Moon!

Tonight, have a look at the full moon. It’ll be significantly bigger than any of the others you’ve seen this year since the moon is at perigee (as close as it can be in its elliptical orbit). This is not a slight difference that only those deeply into astronomy care about. The moon will be, as the NASA site on this* notes:

…14% bigger and 30% brighter than lesser full Moons we’ve seen earlier in 2008.

Anthony Ayiomamitis\' 2004 apogee perigee comparison

(Anthony Ayiomamitis’ 2004 apogee/perigee comparison.)

Go out and have a look at it at shortly after 4:30pm today when it rises. When the moon is near the horizon, it looks bigger anyway – combine that with the fact that it […] Click to continue reading this post