New Things…

This week sees the beginning of the new semester here at USC. I’ve been easing into my new class, which is a graduate level electromagnetism course. It is fun material to teach, and so I expect to enjoy it. I taught it back in 2009, and you can find some posts I did on some of the material if you dig into the archives.

It is going to be a hugely busy semester, and in fact has started out that way already. I’m on far too many committees, boards, and working groups, both within the university and beyond, and have been invited to be on a number more that I’m thinking about, some of which probably I should say yes to. This is all in […] Click to continue reading this post

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the…

On Tuesday I headed to Santa Monica. Two dear friends of mine had invited me to a private screening of a film they’d just completed, one as writer+director, the other as producer. The film was a labour of love, and I’d not heard much about its progress since earlier in the year, and so I was delighted to be back in town to go to it. I took a friend along, and we decided to leave early enough to go to the beach for a little while – the traditional antidote to the high heat of the last several days.

To cut a long story medium, at some point I was wading up to my knees in the water. I’d just replied in reassurance that I’d be quite fine still wearing my glasses (with sunglasses attachments on) since I was not going to swim when a larger than average wave surged forward and knocked me off my feet with such stunning force that I thudded to the bottom on my knees, and my face and hands got tangled up in seaweed! Moments later, the undertow pulled everything back I and I was standing back up, fumbling with seaweed, and missing my glasses! This began a period of considerable activity at the sea, with large surges and strong pullback so that it was difficult to stand still to look for anything, and moreover, it was impossible to see anything since the sand was churning around too much.

It all seemed very funny to me. It was clear after a while that there’d be no reappearance of my glasses. No amazing story where the sea threw them back out after a while, twisted, maybe missing the arms, but at least useable for some kind of vision… There were simply no glasses to be had. Luckily, my friend had driven us, so I did not have to worry about that. There was little time to dash back home to get an old pair and return for the screening. I’d have to figure out how to manage without them. Now bear in mind that I am very short sighted indeed. If I was sitting five feet […] Click to continue reading this post

Well, Can the Physicists?

Back in Los Angeles, where I can start the process of working colour under the inks and building the images into the pages where they belong. Here’s a panel from mid-conversation.

I’ve been quiet here for the last five days for a variety of reasons. One of them is that I got a bit of a nice routine on some work going (finally), and so wanted to milk that… and another is that I got a bit ill, and needed time to recover.

I’ve lots to tell, but might not get to much of it due to getting on with doing several things. There’s one interesting series of events (amusing mishap, […] Click to continue reading this post

New Inks

Part of the process of redoing some of the work I did in the prototype story for The Project. This is an inked treatment of one of a trio of panels in the story entitled “The Arena”. (Warning: Some of the cross hatching has become a little muddied in this reproduction, and the paper has come out somewhat dark. This is because I took a snap with my camera… A proper scanner will resolve all that when I get back to my office.)

While redrawing, I noticed that one of the things that was unsatisfactory about the old version is that the entire light model was wrong. The bright window in the setting, from where the natural light comes, is to her left, not her right. I must have changed the characters’ relative sitting positions at some point in the story but forgot to adjust the light… I’ve noticed it on more than a couple of pages…

It might not seem like much, but you the reader are more aware of […] Click to continue reading this post

Technology, Teaching, and the Difference

There’s a nice piece* over in the Chronicle of Higher Education entitled “Don’t Confuse Technology With College Teaching”, by Pamela Hieronymi. I like it because it expresses nicely some of the thoughts I try to inject into the discussion when people begin to go all gaga over technological supplements in teaching, going too far and thinking that somehow it can be used to replace classroom teaching.

Hieronymi talks about the online lectures that are being rolled out with great fanfare in recent times by some of the famous institutions. (Online lectures have been out there for a while, but have been making the news more now that the big names have been doing it…of course.) The issue of the use of technology in the classroom itself (clickers and so forth) is not discussed in her piece, and rightly so… I think there are more nuanced discussions to be had there, and it should not be confused with the matter of online lectures.

Overall, I think that the online lectures are really excellent services that different people can use in a variety of ways, and it is great to have them out there. But […] Click to continue reading this post

Nostalgia for the Light

Have you heard about the film “Nostalgia for the Light“, by Patricio Guzmán? As you know, one of my main cares in the business of communicating science broadly is having it be mixed up nicely with the rest of the culture (not making it a lecture all the time). This helps reach broader audiences, for a start. In a sense, this looks like a film that is doing that. It seems it was released in 2010, but is appearing on some big screens for the first time this year, in some places. I’ve not seen it, but it is soemthing I intend to see, based on the synopsis alone. I thought I’d mention it to you.

The summary from the Guardian film site says “Drama in which a group of Chilean astronomers’ search for the origins of life is contrasted with local womens’ efforts to find the bodies of loved ones killed by the Pinochet regime.”

There’s a trailer here:[…] Click to continue reading this post

The Future of Physics

On Saturday we had another series of celebration events for the 50th Anniversary of the Aspen Center for Physics. It began at 2:00pm with a discussion in Paepke auditorium entitled “The Future of Physics”, and it was introduced by Michael Turner, and moderated by Lisa Randall, with three Nobel Prize winners forming the panel: David Gross, Bob Laughlin, and Adam Riess. (I decided to do a short sketch during some of it, and then quickly splashed on some colour later in the evening*. The result is above. The sketches are meant to give a sense of the stage and people on it, not be representative likenesses, so I refer you to pictures of them for actual portraits…)

There was an excellent turnout, and audience members were treated to a good and wide-ranging discussion. It was a difficult subject to grapple with, and Lisa started out in a good place, by getting each panelist to take turns to describe their way into physics, then around again to talk about the areas they got their Nobel Prizes in. She supplemented their contributions with some of her reflections on her own experiences and points of view, and tried to unpack some of the concepts brought up here and there when she thought it might help the audience.

From there, things became a bit tricky, since there were several directions in which to go and it was not clear what the best structure to follow was, given the time allotted and that they needed to stop and get members of the audience involved. Like I said, it was a difficult assignment for all of them. What emerged was a loosely structured series of interesting reflections from each of them at various points, some healthy disagreements there and here (I think it was good for the public to see that we’re not all cut of the same cloth) – for example between David and Lisa on the meaning of […] Click to continue reading this post

In Defense of Teaching Algebra

Over at HuffPo, my colleague Nick Warner has posted a piece about why we teach algebra to people who supposedly “won’t need it”, and he makes some excellent points. (Recall the silly New York Times piece by Andrew Hacker entitled “Is Algebra Necessary?” that I mentioned a few posts ago.)

I recommend Nick’s piece.

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Strings 2012 Talks

I did not make it to the annual “Strings xxxx” conference this year (where xxxx = current year), but I heard that it was good. It was held in Munich. See the lovely poster on the right. (I wonder who did the splendid painting?)

The organizers did a great job of rapidly updating the website with slides and video of the talks so that a wider audience can benefit from them. The video page is […] Click to continue reading this post

Red, Gold, and Green

Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles, the garden continues to produce tasty things. (I had to sneak back from Aspen for a few days for some meetings, and a couple of business-social events…) There are still several varieties of tomatoes producing, and I got to spend some time building new stake supports for the various plants as they are much more extended and weighed down than just a couple of weeks ago…

There’s a runaway giant flying saucer squash, ready for turning into something […] Click to continue reading this post

Curious about Curiosity?

So, if like many people, you are excited about the (late) weekend landing of Curiosity (the roving Mars Science Laboratory) on Mars, and/or if you want to know more, Kenneth Chang has an article in the New York Times all about it here. (Image right is an artist’s impression done for NASA/JPL.) The sequence of operations that have to go right for Curiosity to, er, stick the landing* is quite amazing, and so let’s all wish them good luck. Have a […] Click to continue reading this post