Perseids, Meet Supermoon!

So tonight (meaning the wee hours of Monday morning and the next few mornings, for optimum viewing – more civilised hours might work too, of course) the Perseid meteor shower will be on view! Have a look at this site (picked at random; there are many more) for more about how to view the meteors, in case you’re not sure. Well, here’s an interesting thing. The moon will be at its brightest as well, so that’ll mean that the viewing conditions for meteors will not be ideal, unfortunately. And it really will be extra bright (well, slightly, to be honest) because tonight’s full moon is during the moon’s closest approach to […] Click to continue reading this post


It is the blog’s fifth birthday today, July 27th! I actually started it here in Aspen (if I remember correctly – I certainly remember painting and photographing the logo here) on this date in 2006, with my first post here. It has been very enjoyable writing all these years, sharing thoughts and ramblings, and it is still great to learn of the variety of people who are reading, and of the core of people who’ve stayed with the blog through rain and shine.

As in previous anniversary posts (see here, here and here – I was neglectful last year), I put together a little celebratory drawing of sorts*. This time […] Click to continue reading this post


Dear Readers following Asymptotia on Twitter. You’ll have noticed that there have not been any twitter updates since January. I’ve only just noticed that the settings in Twitter Tools were not set right since the last update, and so you may have missed out on two months of juicy blog material. I’m very sorry.

I’ve updated a few posts from the last few weeks to start up the twittering again. Be sure to come to the blog and read up on what you missed. People seem to have been enjoying the Walkabout series, for example. Start reading that post, and if you scroll to the bottom of it, after the comments you’ll see pingbacks from later posts that cited it. So you can read those too… and so on.


-cvj Click to continue reading this post

The Write Stuff

A little while ago, this season’s edition of the USC College magazine came out, and it is available online. Notably, it is featuring writers and writing, and there are several pieces in there about both faculty and students and their writing, in various forms. There are articles about superstars such as TC Boyle and Aimee Bender, as well as pieces by excellent writers such as California Poet Laureate Carol Muske-Dukes, and M. G. Lord. I recommend having a read of it.

It is with a mixture of mild amusement and embarrassment that I mention that among all that excellent writerly material is, perhaps oddly, an article on yours truly. It is about this blog, what it is about and for, and why I do it. (The blog is, of course, not to be mistaken for great writing, and so I will apologize personally to Aimee […] Click to continue reading this post

Happy New Year!

(Since it is bowl season…)


It has been rather pleasant here in Los Angeles over the last week or two, since there has been a mixture of rain, cloud, and sunshine that has been very good for all concerned: climate, mood, garden, etc.

Perhaps you’ll have noticed that I’ve been quiet with regards writing here over the holiday period. This is not because I’ve fallen off the planet or anything! I’ve been […] Click to continue reading this post

Twice 50 Science Online Destinations

50_listI got these two items about lists of 50 things within 8 hours of each other. They don’t seem connected, so I think it is a coincidence of some kind. Interesting…

(1) The e-Health news blog has published a list of 50 websites under the heading “Top 50 Free Open Courseware Classes for Aspiring Scientists”. It includes sites with open access course materials.

(2) The site Accredited Colleges Online (.org) has compiled a list they call “50 Best Physics Blogs”. Our* little effort, Asymptotia (which I think of as a blog that happens to be […] Click to continue reading this post

Mailbox Matters, 1

mailbox_imageI realized just now that I spend a lot of time answering questions over email from readers of the blog, friends, readers of articles I’ve written, audiences of events I’ve appeared at, family, people I’ve met on the bus, on the subway, or in a bar, people who’ve seen me on one TV show or another, dates, former dates, colleagues, people I’m consulting for on a TV show or a movie, people in prison, artist or writer friends trying to get insight in to a scientist’s view of a particular issue or idea… and so on and so forth.

I usually send off an email response that reflects what I’m thinking at the time, that may be long or short and that may or may not be my definitive answer on some matter or other, but is at least a response that may be helpful to the person who wrote in.

I think that it might be worth occasionally posting the questions and answers here. Sometimes my answers (or the questions) are longer and maybe more interesting […] Click to continue reading this post

Testing, Testing

Fascinating. I am testing out a new method of posting to the blog. I replaced my ancient and frustrating ipod (I think enough time has been spent tinkering around in its innards (see e.g. here) and now I realize the hard drive itself is now damaged) and my old Palm Tungsten by one new device, an iPod Touch. It seems to work well, and is my compromise to the iPhone mania – I find the fact that you are forced by AT&T into an expensive data contract for the iPhone a bit objectionable, and I certainly don’t want to pay that much to be connected all the time, and moreover have no wish to be connected all the time, and my current phone is a really good phone that does more of what I want than the iPhone does (my phone has a radio for example – it is free and works whether you have a connection to the web or not – good old-fashioned FM) and I am not really one for getting new devices just for newness’ sake. (I’ve realized to my delight that this solution also means that I get to continue saying that I’m the last person in LA without an iPhone. :) )

Since I needed to replace the other things and since the Touch does have Bluetooth and wireless, this seemed like a good move. I can reliably listen to music again, and It will help with productivity too, I can do some communication on the move […] Click to continue reading this post

Facing Up To Social Media

Ok. So here’s a little experiment. I’ve noticed (perhaps you have too) that everyone seems even busier than they did a couple of years ago, and furthermore, that facebook, twitter, and other such social networking sites have fragmented and otherwise mopped up some of the conversation that used to take place a lot on blogs. You might say that there’s nothing wrong with that since the conversations are still happening somewhere, but the problem with that is the fact that if parts of the conversation disappears behind the horizon of people’s facebook accounts (so that only their friends can see it) it takes away from a lot of what I think is the best spirit of an open blog – (1) anyone can join in, (2) the conversation is there on the web to be searched for and used as a resource later, and so on and so forth. Besides, in my opinion there’s a lot of fun chatter on facebook, etc, but it is mostly the exchange of (sometimes playful) short remarks about a status update or a picture of something. Conversations can be more than that, but I’ve found little of that there. (Of course, as we know, conversation can rapidly deteriorate on blogs as well, for a variety of reasons. As you know I’ve tried to steer clear of the shouty stuff here for that reason.)

Anyway, I’m not expecting a huge change as a result of this, but in an effort to try to connect thoughts expressed here to conversations inside facebook, I’m trying out […] Click to continue reading this post

Some Changes, and Connecting with Facebook

Well, I’ve upgraded my Wordpress installation and since some plugins might be not quite working with the newest version, things are going to look slightly different for a bit. But not hugely so.

Oh, if you are on facebook, you might like to know that I have put Asymptotia on the NetworkedBlogs application so that you can sign up and get a feed directly within facebook. Click through to here if signed in. Please note the difference between me, my facebook page, my blog Asymptotia, and Asymptotia’s space on facebook. All four are different. I’m just sayin’. Don’t forget to keep visiting here, for example.

Strangely, as a result of upgrading a few things, something weird happened that I […] Click to continue reading this post

One Million!

millionHmmm. With all of the current bandying about of “Billions” and “Trillions” in the news (at least over here in the USA – referring to dollars, and economic stimulus packages and so forth), every single day, “One Million” sounds decidedly underwhelming doesn’t it? Perhaps I should instead write 10^6. Does that help?

Why am I focusing on this number? Well, while I’ve been in hermit mode the last week (uh… yes, that’s where I was and I’ve got the beard to prove it – was resetting my head over Spring break – more later) the sitemeter counter continued ticking away and sometime today passed the One Millionth Visitor To Asymptotia mark! So we have a landmark of sorts. One worth noting. So…


I’d planned to note carefully that visitor’s data (you can tell roughly what part of the […] Click to continue reading this post

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

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


Asymptotia's Second Anniversary!Well, you know I almost missed it: Asymptotia, this little blog that you come to read from time to time, is two years old today! It has been a pleasure and an honour being part of this community we’ve formed, made up of you the reader and maybe sometime commenter, and me tossing up a few things to look at, consider, laugh at, and/or discuss from time to time. I really enjoy the kind of connections that are made, and seeing people brought together (both on- and off- line) using Asymptotia as a focal point. Have a look at what I said on this date last year, and in the inaugural post.

For those of you who are not regulars, assuming you’ve already read the about page, let me mention that I think of this blog as a bit like a gathering (a party, if you will) in a comfortable home, with people in several rooms carrying out (or just listening to) conversations of various sorts. Some rooms just have things to look at. Some people […] Click to continue reading this post

Random Web Stuff, I – The Princes

Well, every now and again the link tracker from google’s blog search engine (which reports some links to the blog to me on the blog software’s control panel) throws up some weird random stuff. the princesThere was a funny one today. Some site that aggregates random stuff had a post about the Fresh Prince. It then gathered images from the web to illustrate, and somehow grabbed an image from this blog among the haul, which is why I knew of this. Two that ended up together are to the right.

Prince pictures, it said. Excellent. […] Click to continue reading this post

Almost Back

Well, I’m standing here at 11:45pm slowly stirring some tasty custard I’m making to pour onto a slice of steamed homemade date pudding. A while ago the wonderful Margaret Atwood was on the radio (talking about an influential editor who died recently – can’t recall the name), which is bliss for me since I love hearing her talk about anything. Absolutely anything. I just love her voice, tone, and turns of phrase. There’s a cold wind blowing outside…

Why am I doing all this? Well, it’s really cold outside for a start (yeah, I know) so I need some warm comfort food, but mostly I’m treating myself after a long night of writing php scripts and css code, remembering stuff I learned two years ago, with the aim of rebuilding the old look for the blog. I’m really tired of the clunky default style I’ve had […] Click to continue reading this post

Asymptotia Attacked!

Sigh. It was too good to be true. Hours after updating the site (and feeling pleased with myself) because I caught a whiff of something threatening it, a blistering attack came along, in the form of essentially a denial of service attack from hundreds of separate machines/robots all from the same referring site. (See Josh Davis’ report on such things for the Wired Science TV show last year. Video here.) I tried everything I could think of to get rid of it and could not win. In the end, my hosts shut down my account and suspended the domain (fair enough – actually might have helped), and (not cool) one of their fine technical support people blamed me for the problem […] Click to continue reading this post

NPR on Blogging

Well, it is more or less the tenth anniversary of the blog. Not this blog – the whole weblogging thing. NPR did a rather nice radio pastiche to survey the business of blogging. It was done with good humour – they made a radio blog, with audio versions of hyperlinks, scrolling, and so forth. It’s rather amusing, and even somewhat informative as a bonus. They interview various people including (of course) Justin Hall who is identified as one of the earliest bloggers. He’s an interesting guy. I met him briefly when he was here at USC’s Interactive Media Division, during that meeting on academic blogging I blogged about a while back. You can start out finding out a bit more about him and blogging by google searching. Sooner or later you’ll hit the […] Click to continue reading this post

A Hole in the Blog

Definitely time for a gin and tonic, a long groan of exasperation, and a lie down on the sofa.

As you can see by scanning down the page (if you’re a regular), all the blog posts and comments since October 11th right up until today have been lost. The blog was hacked a few hours ago, and it was being redirected to a site in the Middle East. I’ve no idea why.

Anyway, I’ve managed to get (withe the prompt help of the good people at Bluehost) everything restored since the last backup. It turns out that I thought i had more regular backups enabled, but it was not set properly.

I’m going to have to rebuild a number of customization elements of the blog to make it compatible with the newer (and supposedly more secure) version of the blog software I am running, and so the site might look a bit weird for a while until I complete that.

In the meantime, I need to see if I can find some way to get those old posts back and […] Click to continue reading this post


Some big news:

wired science bannerAs I said in the previous post, there’s more to the new WIRED Science TV show on PBS than just the TV show. The website is going to be full of quite a lot of additional material, starting next Wednesday. There’ll be show episodes, extensions of some of the segments, extra links to expand upon the stories, materials for schools, and so forth. But there’s also something else in the works. There’ll be a dedicated blog for the show, and it is called “Correlations”.

Correlations is a new group science blog, with bloggers of a range of interests. It will be connected to the show in many ways, but will expand well beyond the show into aspects of science and technology of all sorts, according to the tastes of the bloggers involved. There’ll be all sorts of interesting material, from serious stuff to fun stuff, and points in between. I think that it’s a great combination of bloggers (the team was assembled by Leighton Woodhouse, of KCET – we had a great conversation about the whole business of science blogging and science bloggers back during the Summer) and I’m quite excited to see how it goes. Who are they? Well, here’s the list:

[…] Click to continue reading this post


first anniversary sketchOne year ago today, I did the Welcome post on this blog. It is Asymptotia’s first birthday anniversary!

It has been a very enjoyable year of blogging here, and sharing the company of so many of you who visit occasionally or regularly to read, and perhaps share a thought, joke, an idea, or an anecdote. This sort of blog, with its wide (and perhaps odd) selection of topics, from the fun to the serious, the trivial to the profound (well, I’m still working up to a profound post!), the light to the heavy, and the local to the global, is not to everyone’s tastes, and that suits me fine.

It’s just been great to have the freedom to pick and choose topics as I please, knowing that you in turn will come and go as you please and use the scroll bar as much as you see fit. It’s an excellent arrangement.

If you have been coming back for more, then it must suit you to some extent too, so that’s great. Thanks for your readership, participation, and support. In case you’ve […] Click to continue reading this post

Location, Location, Location

Some interesting news about the outreach mission. From time to time, Asymptotia posts get picked up by some of the local blogs of note, such as LA Observed, and that’s just great, since many things I talk about here are right at the intersection of local interest and the arts and sciences, especially education (such as talking in a local school), events such as the Categorically Not! ones at Santa Monica Airport, and issues such as the environment, in addition to the pure fun stuff, and the tasty stuff. For example, Kevin Roderick at LA Observed was kind enough to mention the posts about the Griffith Observatory (the new relaunch, and the controversy about the use of actors in the planetarium show), judging at the Science Fair at the California Science Center, as well as the post on the open day at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the post about cycling in the city (perhaps in combination with public transportation, as an alternative to blindly using your car/SUV for most journeys.)

Well, I was pleased to get an email a few days ago telling me that Outside.In have added added Asymptotia to their list of LA neighbourhood blogs, and the posts will be scanned for local references, and then added to a location map of all blogs posts. So what happens is that you can look at a neighbourhood in Outside.In (I tailored the previous link to 90089, the zip that USC is in, for example) and see marks on a map where blog posts have pointed to, or lists of posts that pertain to a particular zip code or neighbourhood. You can then follow those marks back to the blog posts! It’s very cool indeed. This will work for your neighbourhood too, where ever you are (in the USA) – just put in your zip code.

Each blog in the system also has their own page, and the one for Asymptotia is here. You should go to it to experiment with the clickability, but I also took a screen shot (since I can’t see how to live-embed the map), and so this is it earlier:

outside in blogging map

So far it seems a bit inconsistent with picking things up and I don’t know why, – it might […] Click to continue reading this post