The Dining Society


Not having hosted any dinner gatherings myself this Summer, for one reason or another (I seemed to have had a lot in the previous two Spring/Summers, so perhaps this was a good rest), last Sunday I was delighted to go along to one of the underground dining phenomena that some are whispering about excitedly in Los Angeles in recent times (part of, but different in spirit to, the pop-up restaurant movement). I was a bit tired and poorly (and had spent a big chunk of that day and the one before holed up, interviewing candidates for our new Provost. Announcement of the -fantastic- result here) but was determined to go and take up the spot I’d promised to fill.

The Dining Society has no fixed abode and pops up in a variety of interesting places […] Click to continue reading this post

What are We Doing?

This is a really excellent talk* about how we educate, why we do so, and what has changed about what’s needed in education and society and why we may not have changed our methods enough to keep up with those needs. It is by Sir Ken Robinson, and was given at the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) earlier this year. I love the way it is produced – using an animation/whiteboard-writing overlay for the visual concepts – partly because I had an idea of doing a series of short films with a filmmaker friend some years back that would do a similar thing (I had chalkboards)… but in a much less beautifully accomplished way than this! More examples are here. But, enjoy the talk… it is a superbly framed discussion, including many of the frustrations I’ve found myself expressing (sometimes here) about the system of which I am part! Thoughts welcome.
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Make some Graphene at Home Today

As I prepare for the second of the Nobel lunches to be held on campus here today, I’m recalling last week’s which was a huge success. I’ll try to share more about that with you later. One of the things that I showed at the end, once the Physicists had talked about the Physics prize, was a lovely video showing just how easy it is to make graphene (the substance that was the subject of that prize) using sticky tape. People seem to find it hard to believe that it can be so simple, and that Nobel prize work can come from something so simple, but that’s the joy of this whole science research enterprise. You never know where the useful surprises will turn up. (You can get the raw material – the graphite flakes – from your local art supply store, by the way, or just break open a pencil…) Enjoy the video: […] Click to continue reading this post

SCIBA Awards 2010

lemon cake coverDuring my blurry cold-ridden awakening this morning, I heard some good news on NPR.

You’ll recall me talking about my friend and fellow USC professor Aimee Bender’s excellent new book, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake earlier in the Summer, including baking chocolate covered lemon cupcakes in honour of it.

Well, the book has won the SCIBA award for fiction. It was announced on Saturday, and it seems I get to announce it […] Click to continue reading this post

Department of Special Circumstances

I’ve been quite ill today. Second bad cold in three weeks. This tells me that I am severely overdoing it, stressing myself out with too many tasks, jobs, errands, and so forth. Need to slow down. Well, today I canceled my office hour and decided to try to rest at home to recover. I wrote my lecture for the class at 3:30pm and ordered the demo equipment I needed. It was going to be a perfect class, in which I would make up the approximated half an hour of lag I feel I’ve been in the last week in terms of the material I’m scheduled to cover in order to be at the same place as the similar class taught by my colleague Doug. Unusually, I decided to drive to work, so that I could get in and out fast and go home and continue recuperating after (as I am supposed to be now, but inexplicably I am… blogging…) and it was all timed nicely. In – perfect lecture, catching up on everything – out. And then to bed.

Of course, that meant that something had to go wrong. This time it was quite spectacular. As I reached USC, going along Exposition Blvd. to find street parking, within minutes of class starting, something did happen. There was something blocking traffic in my lane and I saw that an Infiniti SUV had just stopped in the lane, and so cars were going around it in a noisy huff. annoyed at the driver for delaying them. I pulled around it too, and saw that there was a woman slumped over to one side! So of course I stopped my car, put on the hazards and ran back to see what the matter was. The woman had fainted, it seemed, and as I approached she seemed to stir out of her haze somewhat, so I asked her if she was ok. She said no. So I said I would call the emergency services. Did she want me to? Yes. Shall I use your phone? Ok. At this point I started fiddling with her phone only to realize that I had no idea how to make a phone call on an iphone, and so I ran back to my car and got my phone and called. I’d never called 911 before!

I was passed on to a paramedic who ran through some questions after I described the circumstances and our location. He wanted me to ask her various things (age, […] Click to continue reading this post

Another Friday, Another President

inauguration_3The picture on the right is a shot from us all merging into an orderly line (not there yet) to emerge from the gate and march to the inauguration of President Max Nikias last Friday. See my previous post for more pictures. (Still looking for video of the highlight for me – the performance of the string quartet that day. Let me know if you find some.)

This Friday, near the very same spot where the Inauguration was, USC will be hosting another President. The one from Washington DC, i.e., USA President, not USC President. President Obama is speaking here at a big student-organized rally.

I’ll be staying away from the Obamamania going on at campus today. Yes, it would […] Click to continue reading this post

Start the Week

“A loose cat in Colorado must wear what?”

(I thought about this for a while, and could only come up with bawdy humorous answers…)

“A tail light.”


[Post written yesterday.] Yes, I am on the bus to work (above was from the on board entertainment system that sometimes asks quiz questions) and it is the start to another week. Another very full one, it is shaping up to be too. I find these days that if I am not careful I tend to measure a week’s potential a mostly in terms of how much time I will have to work on the Project. Like my research, it is not something that is served best by being chipped away at, catching a few minutes here and the between things, but involves a fair amount of immersion. (Having said that, I am getting better at finding tasks that I can allocate to chipping-away time, and I have even found certain things for it that I can do on the bus… A lot of this will become clearer later, I promise.)

inauguration_2There was certainly a lot going on last week, as I mentioned, and I did not even tell you the half of it. Things like going to see Ira Glass talk about his radio show, essentially doing it in the style of the show, and of course about four hours on Friday spent in costume with hundreds of my faculty colleagues marching in a parade and listening to long (but mostly good) speeches from various Vice-chancellors, Chancellors, Trustees, the Mayor of Los Angeles, and of course, the man of the hour(s), our new President Max Nikias, who we were, er, installing. (When people use that term, and they do here a lot, I always think of plugging in a new electrical appliance, or a new piece of software… I suppose the latter is closer to what we are doing than the former.)

This week sees a lot coming up too, the main thing probably being the first of the Nobel Lunches, scheduled for Thursday. I’ve been very pleased with these events – I […] Click to continue reading this post

Guide To Science Writing

One of the things I pointed to in my discussion of science writing issues yesterday (see previous post) was this brilliant Guardian article by Martin Robbins. Of course, the classes had already seen it, and it is several weeks old now, but if you have not seen it, you simply must. It is so hilarious and so sharply observed that it should be as widely seen as possible.

Many of the comments left are brilliant too, written in the same style.


-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Multiple Updates

(Waiting for the kettle to boil…)

It has been a rather hectic week for me here in the city of Angels. It is difficult to pull it all together in my mind and recall all the contributing elements, but they have been varied and more or less interesting and useful activities, ranging from various committees, teaching issues, research issues, event planning, event attending, and of course, the Project.

(Kettle’s boiled. Water poured on tea. Assam/Ceylon blend…)

gerardo_hacer_dogami_1I want to work for a bit before going to bed, although I’ll knock off early (midnight) because I’ve got to get up very early in the morning to get prettied up a bit, walk to catch the bus to campus, and get there by 8:15am or so. This is so I can get to my office and put on a cap, hood and gown and play dress-up (remember last time?) with hundreds of colleagues and so forth. The event? The inauguration of our new University President.

I’ve just returned from a long afternoon and evening in which I appeared in two of the classes of my colleague KC Cole (the science writer) talking about the issue of science, and how I do various aspects of communicating it to the public through various means (writing, film, tv, radio; factual, in fiction/drama, through blogging, in speaking engagements), and the broad issue of writing and journalism in that area. Two groups of extremely engaged and bright students in a row, separated by a quick […] Click to continue reading this post

CicLAvia Report

ciclavia2010_4Well, it is not often I get to say this, but Sunday’s CicLAvia event was, for me, completely perfect. It was simply about community, family, and enjoying the streets. It did not have an overtly political or activist vibe to it (as is often the case when you try to do some things a little differently from others in this town, like ride the bus or walk to the grocery store), and I saw a lot more people simply enjoying (and remarking on it out loud) the fact that they were out on the streets of the city than I saw people proclaiming rabid anti-car sentiments, as I’ve seen at bike-centric events before. I think the former feeling will go a lot further in making lasting change than the latter in the long run. There was some political content around, but it was largely confined to the steps of City Hall, where (when I passed) there were endearingly naive chants being led by a bloke with a microphone about “LA saying no to oil!’ and “no to coal!”. Don’t get me wrong – naive is not necessarily used as a derogatory term here. Noble dreams begin with a heavy dose of naivete, I believe. Hope, against the odds, for significant change, and so forth. (I could use the fully decorated version, naïveté, but it looks a bit pretentious to me today…)

So the event was mostly about people getting out there and enjoying the city streets, and sharing their enjoyment by doing it together. I was impressed with the turnout […] Click to continue reading this post

Off to CicLAvia…

Getting ready to disappear off to explore. the route. Should be fun, although it is a tad too hot a day for it to be perfect for cycling and wandering long in the sun. On the other hand, that will bring a lot of people out to enjoy their Sunday outdoors, I hope, walking, cycling, rollerblading, skateboarding, running, etc. […] Click to continue reading this post

Nobel Prize for Literature 2010

This morning’s announcement reminds me of an author I’ve yet to read any works from:

nobel_picture_literature_2010The Nobel Prize in Literature 2010 was awarded to Mario Vargas Llosa “for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat”.

The press release is here. I hope to hear more about this man and his work next week. I’m organizing the Nobel Lunches again this year (and event I told you about last year that I started with the support of the College Commons) and so I will be spending the next several days trying to find […] Click to continue reading this post

Carbon Focus

Seems that carbon might be a theme in this week’s Nobel slate, on the science side, so far. It was graphene in the Physics spotlight yesterday, a two dimensional carbon material, and today’s Chemistry announcement features carbon molecules too:

nobel_picture_chemistry_2010The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 2010 to Richard F. Heck (University of Delaware, Newark, DE, USA), Ei-ichi Negishi (Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA) and Akira Suzuki (Hokkaido University, Sapporo, Japan), “for palladium-catalyzed cross couplings in organic synthesis”

It is all about organic chemistry, and in the press release, you can learn more.

On the other hand, the prize for Physiology or Medicine (to Robert G. Edwards […] Click to continue reading this post

Don’t Forget CicLAvia!

ciclavia_logoThe first CicLAvia is this Sunday! Don’t forget! The sudden Winter weather we’ve been having will have vanished by then, and it will be a lovely day. There’s a seven-mile route of city streets for you to walk, bike, run, etc. Should be fun!

See my description of one I saw in Morelia, Mexico, here. More information on this first LA one here. […] Click to continue reading this post