Stepping back from the unpleasantness going on at ground level for a moment (see the four previous posts, 1, 2, 3, 4), it seems that there is something else going on that’s actually quite fascinating. I went over to the top of one of the USC campus parking structures to take a look and gather some data and I’ve been chatting to people at random about it*. (This might also be a sign that I’m procrastinating on some other task… ) That white part of the cloud is not smoke, is it? It is actually a cloud of vapour. Like a cumulus cloud you’d normally see in various weather conditions. I’ve heard some chatter about these systems “making their own weather”, and I can see that you could get a lot of localized heat dragging air in from other areas and so creating winds and so forth, but is that also generating this cloud? If so, how? Where is it getting all this moisture from? Is it from the water that is being Continue reading ‘Head in the Clouds…’
Monthly Archive for August, 2009
Continuing my series of posts on the approach of the fires to Mount Wilson and the threat to the Observatory (see previous for information and discussion – this morning I am happy to hear that the radio news is now mentioning the Observatory and not just the tv and radio antennae up there)… Last night at about midnight I decided to look out to see whether I could see anything going on, and was greeted with a sight from the pages of Tolkien describing Orodruin (Mount Doom):
You can see the flames in the canyons near Mount Wilson’s summit, and as I watched Continue reading ‘Mount Doom?’
The fires are racing up the sides of Mount Wilson as I write (19:38). They expect the burn to get to the top sometime in the next few hours, and yes, I imagine it’ll affect the Mount Wilson Observatory in some way.
[Update (20:59): You can get regular updates from the director at this page*. Seems that fire crews will remain on site for when/if the fires sweep through the grounds. ]
All of the working scientific equipment, including the solar telescopes and of course the historic telescopes (the 60 inch is pictured to the right) with which astounding discoveries were made about our universe (such as the fact that it is expanding, and the fact that the universe is vastly more than just our Milky Way Galaxy) are presumably in some danger, as well as support buildings of various kinds. I’ve no idea how much since I do not know what fire-proofing measures are in place up there, although I am sure there are several – such as keeping brush away from the buildings themselves. Here’s a camera up there on one of the solar telescopes where you can see regularly updated pictures that it snaps. I grabbed this one just now (click for larger view):
So keep your fingers crossed for luck for the instruments, and of course for all Continue reading ‘Wish the Observatory Good Luck!’
There’s a remarkable amount of smoke in the skies here in Los Angeles. Strangely there is little or no wind to accompany this super-hot day, and so the smoke is largely staying over the region where the fires are – the San Gabriel mountains, North of La Canada, Altadena, etc.
There was a bit of movement of the smoke overnight, and early this morning (while the sun shone dull and red like a sunset instead of a sunrise) there was some ash fall over where I live (I was working outside on some writing while it was still cool), a good number of miles away from the fires, in the city of Los Angeles itself, but this seems to have gone away. So there are clear skies in all directions, and then ominous-looking mushroom clouds in one direction. It is odd. This stillness is the reason the firefighters are having a lot of difficulty fighting the fires, actually – the smoke is affecting visibility for the various ground and airborne crews. There’s a lot of concern about what the fires will do next, (including a threat to the Mt. Wilson Observatory) and so let’s all keep out fingers crossed for luck. [Update: 6:30pm - I've heard that they have no choice but the let the fires take Mount Wilson. I hope that the Observatory survives ok. If you're not familiar with the significance of the Mount Wilson Observatory, read here and here.]
Here’s a recent (about 5:00pm today) shot of the mushroom clouds of smoke. You can Continue reading ‘Smoke’
Heat. Following is a little bit of a whine. You’ll be even less sympathetic once you read the postscript, but such is life. Once the temperature gets up to a certain point, I can’t think any more. Well, not at the level needed to earn my living, if you see what I mean. Long periods of concentration start out well, but usually just turn into a nap. Not good at all, really. For the second or third day running we’ve had super hot temperatures with little movement of air to ensure a decent amount of throughput. This is not always unworkable, since one can simply nap during the day, do tasks that don’t require much sitting and thinking, and then work in the very early morning hours, but this time around there are two additional effects that ruin that approach.
The first is that the heat has been carrying on into the night (as opposed to dropping away rapidly in the evening as is the usual pattern), and the second is that there are two huge fires nearby, making the air a bit… chewy. (Left is a shot I took of downtown Los Angeles from the South showing the huge clouds of smoke from the La Canada and Altadena fires in the San Gabriels’ foothills in the background. From some views it looks like there’s been a small nuke detonated. Anyone remember 24 a few seasons ago? For some maps of the fire’s progress see here, and a view from one of the Mount Wilson observatories is here*.)
Both of these make for less than great sleeping conditions, and the feeling of lack of Continue reading ‘My Achilles Heel’
I learned yesterday that it was the 100th anniversary of Lester Young’s birth. I hope you know who he is. Just in case you don’t, I’ll take a second out to urge you in the strongest possible terms to learn more and listen to his music. He is one of the true giants of so much of the Twentieth Century’s music, and whether you listen to jazz or not (the musical form he is most associated with), you probably will have felt his influence.
He took the tenor saxophone to a new level, and the rest of the music rose to new heights as a result as well. He refined and extended what a soloist does in jazz improvisation, composing, on the spot, wonderfully lyrical extended solos with a clear and compelling logical structure, of such beauty, and in such a distinct and Continue reading ‘Pork Pie Hat Reflections’
Yes, the new semester and new academic year started yesterday, and today saw my first class of a new course for me to teach – Physics 508b: Advanced Electricity and Magnetism. The bad news is that it is a new course for me and so I have to write new material, plan new things entirely, and generally put in a lot of raw preparation from scratch for some things. The good news is that it seems that I have, overall, a good group of students to teach, based upon the willingness to interact that I saw, with good humour, good questions, interjections, and so forth. Further good news is that I’ve an excellent TA for the course (who also does research with me and so we can go back and forth from teaching matters and research matters) and that I’ve taught Physics 408b for a few years. The latter is an undergraduate advanced E&M course (based on Griffith, in case you’re wondering), and while this 508b course (based on Jackson) is heavier in detail and depth on the same material, I can borrow some of the more challenging material from the Continue reading ‘New Beginnings’
On Friday I was involved in an interesting conversation in an unusual format. It was a chat with cosmologist Anthony Aguirre at UCSC, and it was all about research in aspects of cosmology and of string theory, touching on issues such as the nature of quantum Continue reading ‘Talking Heads’
Science writer KC Cole (also a professor at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication) has written a biography of Frank Oppenheimer. She’s been working on it for a very long time and it has just been released, so if you look around, maybe she’s doing a reading/signing about it somewhere near you. (Some events are listed here. Los Angeles readers, she’ll be at Skylight Books tomorrow afternoon.) It is called “Something Incredibly Wonderful Happens: Frank Oppenheimer and the World He Made Up”. She was talking about it last week with Ira Flatow on NPR’s Science Friday. You can get audio here. Or you can listen to it embedded here and read on:
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Sheril Kirshenbaum and Chris Mooney have written a book, “Unscientific America”, with an excellent discussion about science literacy. You know from reading here that this is a favourite issue of mine (look under categories such as science and society), and by far the primary reason I blog, and do the various other activities I mention such as appearing on TV and radio shows, consulting for film, theatre, TV, etc, contribute to popular level articles, making films, and other things. It is vitally important, if we are a truly democratic society, for all to participate in the conversations we have about science – whether it be about issues to do with medicine, lifestyle, environment, energy, or just for its own sake: it is part of our culture. Sadly, science (and scientists) is still on the margins of the national conversation – people are afraid of it, giggle about how bad they were at it at school and then decouple from the conversation, mostly only pay attention to bleak or incorrect pictures of it in the media and entertainment (or for political gain), and so on and so forth.
What Sheril and Chris are doing in the book is examining the extent to which this Continue reading ‘Summer Reading: Sheril on Science Friday’
So the other day I was sitting chatting with someone I’d just met and at some point I looked down…and jumped a little in surprise at what I saw. Those shoes were a surprise since for a moment there I thought the person is rather unexpectedly barefoot – but the colour is even more unexpected. Then there was maybe a tiny X-Men moment (Oh! It’s Mystique…) but this all happened all in a flash before settling on the correct answer – it is a kind of shoe I have not seen before. I’d seen the cloven hoof type of shoe, which can have a sort of cheeky and slightly electric beguile to them when worn by a woman with the right devil-may-care attitude, but these were new to me. Worn with boldness, these can really work too, and maybe in the same way, but it is a dangerous tightrope to tread (the person I was meeting with pulled it off admirably!).
Upon returning home I looked them up a bit more (they are called Five Fingers shoes) and I oscillate between giggling at the whole idea and being intrigued. I gather that they are hugely comfortable and that grabs me. But yes, they are somewhat singular. They are so utterly unconventional that I find myself amused by the idea of all the “inappropriate” places I could wear them to. Witness some of the levels of amusement: Continue reading ‘Toe Temptation’
I learned* a short while ago that the fourth season of The Universe on the History Channel starts tonight! As you may have read from a number of posts of mine over the last couple of months (see e.g. here, here and here), there’s been a lot of filming for this new cluster of episodes. I actually thought it was all going to start airing in the Fall, so this is a surprise to me.
There are some fun topics coming up in this season. There’ll be plenty of interesting things to learn, with contributions from a variety of interesting scientists telling you Continue reading ‘The Universe: Season 4′
Harvest time. Seriously depleted crop due to the Great Tomato Atrocity, but the countermeasures have allowed me to claw back a little satisfaction. Now time to see about making some nice chutneys or other preserves. By the way, have you noticed all the stories in the press about the sudden rise of interest in gardening to grow food at home? See/hear an interesting NPR one here. (Many claim it has much to do with the Obamas’ White House garden, but you and I know it is all because of my blogging about it here over the years, right? …Right? )
Aaaaanyway… here are some other shots of the harvest/harvesting:
Continue reading ‘Red, Gold, and Green’
Harvard has launched a new menswear line, Harvard Yard. They seem to be going for a certain look. Have a look at this article over on Fashion Inquisitor. The first two pictures are particularly hilarious to me. Maybe a new “dork chic” look for the next regeneration of the Doctor?
Dork chic. Hey, did I just invent that term? I like it as companion to Geek chic.
The College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences here at USC has built a new website, and gone quite far in including extra media, and links and portals on YouTube, Facebook and so on. One of the things they did was have a filmmaker make lots of videos. Lots. Things about faculty, research, teaching, learning, etc. All very exciting. Have a look, here, if interested. Mira Zimet, who makes the films, gave me a call and asked me if I’d like to contribute, and I agreed. I chatted on and on for about 45 minutes to an hour and she cut two short films out of it. The shorter one is on the site and has me saying some general things about research, teaching, science, and USC. Mira made the second because she thought it might be a nice extra video for the College’s YouTube portal. It has me talking a bit more about what string theory is and does, Continue reading ‘Scenes from Work’
I’m 24 hours too late to warn you of the peak, which was this morning, but I imagine it will still be very good over the next few nights. This is the Perseid meteor shower. Apparently it is very good this year. So wander out when it is dark enough and see what you can see. Look toward Perseus, of course. More information here, from the Meteor blog, and the ever-excellent Stardate site gives you some directions (or look here).
In a big city like Los Angeles? Don’t automatically believe the lazy excuse that there Continue reading ‘Meaty Meteor Watch’
Since I launched the campaign against Fluffy, I’ve actually been able to eat from my garden. Last week at my film premiere I was able to serve prosciutto-wrapped figs as one of the early courses, for example. (That was aided by also wrapping nets around the fig trees against the birds.)
Very satisfying, it must be said, is the crop of tomatoes of various types that have returned. After the Great Tomato Atrocity, this is very good to see.
It is Friday, so time for a film release. So, get your popcorn, your ice-cold drink, and find your comfy chair! It has been a long time coming (see related posts listed below), but finally the first of the series of films I’ve been talking about is ready for you!
But before I run the projector, let me say a few words. As I said before, this short film is (I hope) fun, engaging, and informative. I hope lots of people take the time to watch it at least a couple of times. A basic scientific knowledge of the world is for everyone. Science is part of our culture and should be more widely circulated. Films such as this is one of the ways the National Science Foundation, who provided the support to make it, is helping to bring science to everyone. For this (and the other ones in the series) to be a success, your help is needed. It needs to be seen. Tell your family and friends, colleagues and students, local teachers, etc., about it. Forward it on to people you know. Blog it, tweet it, facebook share it, etc. Crucially, remember that it is designed to be not just for people who already know they have an interest in science, but others too, so make no assumptions about who might like it… just please send it. Thanks.
Ok, let’s dim the lights! Run the Projector! (Tip: It is a high video quality, so pause it and let it buffer Continue reading ‘Shine a Light’
Sometimes, you get that feeling….
Dennis Overbye wrote a nice summary article in the New York Times about the current status of the delays to the Large Hadron Colllider’s (LHC’s) re-opening. (Photo left by Valerio Mezzanotti for NYT) The issue is very frustrating, overall, even though one knows that delays like this can happen (and ought to be expected to happen) if you’ve built the largest and most complicated machine ever. I (and many colleagues) have in some sense waited for the LHC almost my entire professional career, and last Summer/Fall it seemed so close to finally starting to give us physics, only to have the failure happen, and set it all back. That’s life, of course. These things happen. I’ve a great deal of faith in the Continue reading ‘LHC Update’
[Update: The film is here!]
Well, it is almost the big day! The first of the films I’ve been working on (see several earlier posts listed below), having had its world premiere on Sunday, is about to go on general release. It is the first of a series, and there is a second one to follow later in the Summer.
It’s a fun and educational short that I hope you’ll watch and tell all your friends about. Seriously, if you’re interested in science education (or just science as fun) do spread the word about this by blogging it, tweeting it, and sharing it on facebook and other sites.
This is very exciting! As with most film releases, however, there’s got to be a trailer. Straight out of the editing room to you, I present said trailer. Enjoy!
Check back soon!
I’m sitting here recovering from last night’s event (more later), which, when you clear away the details (and the large amount of left over food, huge number of dirty dishes, glasses, pots, pans, etc.), was all about science, film making and the media. There’s something else that is being discussed a lot recently that is about that too.
It seems to be all over the blogosphere (e.g., here), since apparently Lost is a very popular show, and so I’ll mention it here. You can now enroll in Lost University as part of the DVD/Blueray release of Lost’s Season 5. What you’ll be able to do (it says on their website), is enroll and take courses in Psychology, Foreign Language, Jungle Survival, Philosophy, History, and Physics. The Physics part is all about time travel. Classes are being “taught” by real professors. I mean actual people, not characters. I know this since I’m one of these professors.
Who knew I’d end up being faculty at another university teaching such a popular Continue reading ‘Lost Lessons’
My films are finished! There’ll be more on them here later (including their online premiere), so check back. I might even try to find time to cut a trailer for the first one soon.
Being somewhat insane, I’ve decided on the (sort of) spur of the moment to have a (tongue in cheek) red carpet premiere of the films this weekend. I’ve a confirmed list of 20 hungry guests coming (mostly friends who are filmmakers, writers, actors, journalists, educators and other related professions), and I’ve promised to prepare them lots of food and drink. (Well, the films are very short.) It is already late in the day and I’ve been procrastinating instead of starting my prep. As usual.
Anyway, I’ve decided to plan a few long-prep centerpieces, and will improvise all the other dishes based on whim, the Farmer’s market offerings later, and how many of Continue reading ‘Of Red Carpets, and Cooking’
Took this in the Hollywood farmer’s market a couple of weeks ago, maybe because I probably had particles and holes on the brain (as it were) due to my (recently completed – hurrah!*) project. So I thought I’d share a little of what the world looks Continue reading ‘Particles and Holes’