Young Author Meeting!

20140413-110946.jpgIt is nice to see the variety of authors at a book fair event like this one, and it’s great to see people’s enthusiasm about meeting people who’ve written works they’ve spent a lot of time with. The long lines for signings are remarkable! As you might guess, I’m very much a supporter of the unsung authors doing good work in their own small way, not anywhere near the spotlight. An interesting booth caught my notice as I was wandering… The word “science” caught my eye. Seems that a mother and daughter team wrote a science book to engage children to become involved in science… Hurrah! So Jalen Langie (the daughter, amusingly wearing a lab coat) gets to be [...] Click to continue reading this post

Festival of Books and CicLAvia

public crossword at festival of booksBy the way, for those of you in the area, don’t forget that the LA Times Festival of Books comes to the USC campus again this month. It is next week – the 12th and 13th April. The book prizes ceremony is the night before, as usual. on the 11th, and as usual there is an interesting selection of finalists in various categories that you can see online here, for example.

(Happily, there is no clash with a CicLAvia this year! – You might remember the craziness last year – The next Ciclavia is this coming Sunday, the 6th, and it is along Wilshire again. Sadly, I will not be able to attend since I must be away on a trip and do not return until the afternoon on Sunday, leaving little time to get on my bike and get down there. Do head there and enjoy it… the Wilshire route is particularly nice.)

The main Book Festival website has a lot of information up about what is [...] Click to continue reading this post

The Calculus of Gender and Sexuality?

So, I don’t know why, but in addition to the catalogues I get in my work mailbox from publishers of physics books or lab equipment, I’ve started getting a lot about books in the Humanities and related subjects. Is this because those publishers know of my tendency to dabble in other subject? I’ve no idea. In any case, all of those things tend to end up pretty swiftly in the recycling bin nearest the department mailboxes. A suite of lovely new books on teaching Art History is about as valuable to me as a shiny sets of vacuum pumps or electronic controllers. I’ll admit to sometimes looking through and longing for the time I’d need in order to explore such things (vacuum pumps or Art History texts)… but then into the bin they go.

Well, earlier this week a catalogue arrived and one might be forgiven for thinking that they are really trying to get my attention with this one. It is a catalogue of Gender and Sexuality texts from Ashgate, and if the image on the cover is representative (uh, as far as I know it is not!) they’ve really developed some fancy techniques in the field!

Some of the formulae are hilarious! (And I’m trying to understand the, obviously important, inequality right in the middle…) [...] Click to continue reading this post

Discovery Coincidence

chatter_sketch_arenaSome of you are wondering what I’m working on while on retreat. Well, actually there’s a nice coincidence here. I’m working on the graphic book that you may have heard me talk about a bit. “The Project” as I sometimes call it. I’ve been doing things on various aspects of it, such as reworking the description of it for various people to look at, writing new bits, and spending a bit of time pulling together various bits of the prototype story I used to start all of this back in 2010. The prototype bits have all of my experimentation and development of style and technique all over them, and so there are pages that needed a bit of rework (to say the least). So, on Monday, [...] Click to continue reading this post

Englert-Higgs

This morning the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics was announced, and it was given to Francois Englert and Peter Higgs for the 1964 theory of what’s now often called the Higgs mechanism, recently directly confirmed experimentally by the Large Hadron Collider at CERN (as you might recall) by the finding of the Higgs particle. You might recall that the mechanism, also associated with the term “symmetry breaking”, is responsible for the masses of the elementary particles, as has been discussed here and elsewhere a lot. (And recall, that it has little to do with the mass of everyday objects, as people sometimes say. That’s a different matter… everyday objects’ mass is dominated by their binding energy… coming from the forces that hold them together… not the Higgs mechanism.)

The first thing to say is “Congratulations!” to the winners. It is sad that Robert Brout (Englert’s co-author) passed away before he could get the prize as well. A nice thing you can do is take a look at the actual papers that are central to the citation in Physical Review Letters right here, as the APS have made them specially available. It’s good to take a look at what the actual papers look like, to get a sense for how our field works, so go ahead. I also recommend the lovely book of Frank Close, “The Infinity Puzzle” for a very good presentation of much of the ideas and history of this and related chapters in the field of particle physics.

My own thoughts on all of this are mostly of delight, but there’s something else there as well. Without a doubt, it is great to see particle physics and the pursuit of [...] Click to continue reading this post

Busy Weekend

what_are_you_reading_smaller

There’s a busy weekend coming up. Somehow, two of the largest events on the LA calendar have been put on the same weekend – rather unfortunately in my opinion. The LA Times Festival of Books (held on the USC campus) is on Saturday and Sunday, and I’m excited about that (as you know I am every year). festival of books giant crossword I recommend exploring the site for the things you might visit (including the book prizes shortlists – awards will be given out tonight, including special ones to Margaret Atwood and to Kevin Starr!), and then go along and have some fun – all in the name of books, reading, and the worlds that are opened up through books and reading. It should be a great day or two out, and the extra great news is that you can take the subway there. The Expo line goes right up to ten feet from the Festival. You step off at the USC/Expo stop, cross from the platform to the sidewalk, and there you are! Books! Food! Music! Etc…

CicLAvia, another event that brings thousands of people together in the city, is on Sunday. It is extra exciting this year since for the first time it has a route that fully fits with where I think the event should be in the life of the city – it runs from [...] Click to continue reading this post

How is that Supposed to Work, Exactly?

page_sample_good_roughsWell, yes, I’ve been a bit busy and so posting has been slow over the last week. But I am still alive, and here I am with a sample of one of the several things I was doing. It is some work on the graphic book project. (You’ll be happy that I am sparing you details of tedious committees, faculty meetings, confusing snippets of physics, incomplete musings and computations, etc…)

As mentioned recently, I’ve been doing thumbnails and rough page layouts on one of the stories, and that has been useful for editing and rewriting. I went further and improved an earlier story that I’d written that had mostly been drawn already, and so that encouraged me to do slightly tighter page layouts so as to fit them more closely to the story as it was already drawn, for a smoother final read. I’ll need to find [...] Click to continue reading this post

Marius

So one of the reasons I love this blog is the community of people who read, sometimes occasionally making comments or suggestions. On my original post saying I was visiting in Amsterdam a while, there was a suggestion from commenter Kramer to try a restaurant somewhat off the beaten path, but worth a visit. I cautiously did my research, decided that it looked good, and on the last night of the trip, went along with a friend to try it out.

My goodness what an excellent place! It was just wonderful, and one of the things that was great for me was that the restaurant – Marius – is a spiritual cousin of Chez Panisse, Alice Waters’ legendary restaurant in Berkeley that I’m a fan of. (See also an article in the NY Times about it here. Since that article was written, the restaurant has moved to slightly larger premises down the road, and now takes cards.) The chef-owner of Marius, Kees Elfring, worked at Chez Panisse for some time a while back. The same philosophy of locally sourced fine ingredients fuels the place, and (as Kees Elfring told us – he came and sat at the table for a while to chat) Marius is one of the [...] Click to continue reading this post

Science Fiction Special

Just as I left for my shooting trip last week, I had a moment of indecision. I wanted to take something to read during airport and airplane downtime, but wanted to travel light. The books I wanted to take felt a bit big in my bag, somehow, largely because I could not decide what I was in the mood for and so was in danger of bringing more than one. Then I remembered that I was behind on New Yorkers, and was taking my iPad anyway. So I made sure the New Yorker was updated on it, and what did I see waiting for me to delve into on the plane? The special issue on Science Fiction!

It is an excellent issue, with contributions from lots of authors, including several short reflective pieces from legendary authors like Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. Le Guin, Margaret Atwood, and William Gibson and newer authors like China Miéville and Karen Russell talking about things like how they found their way into fiction and science fiction, and its role as a gateway to the larger literary world. Of course, there are also the usual reflections about the snobbery and separation into high and low culture that existed in the early days (and that still persists today) for literature as well as film and TV when it comes to science fiction (see a related discussion here), many of which are humorously done, and will be familiar to many readers from their childhood…. I strongly recommend getting that issue if you do not already subscribe. It may well still be on magazine stands…

In related news, Ray Bradbury died on Monday, I heard on the radio yesterday. This is [...] Click to continue reading this post

Late Night Review

You know, I’d love to pretend that I’ve just come in from hanging out at the Edison, or the Blue whale, or some other fun place, feeling a bit concerned about my morning class on how to write equations for the shape of the universe (we do some cosmology in the General Relativity class tomorrow)… but instead I’m up at almost 1:00am because of a persistent dry cough, indigestion, and a noisy mockingbird in a tree just outside. Are these connected? I do not know. All I know is I cannot sleep.

So I blog.

It has been, once again, a crazy week. There are times when I wonder if this has become the norm, which usually leads me to valiantly fight a bit to ensure that is not the case, resulting a a withdrawal from a lot of stuff to regroup. I hope to do that soon. Although I’ve said yes to so many things, it is looking like July or August before that can happen. That’s bad.

Right now I can only remember back as far as Wednesday, where the day began with a last check of the midterm I wrote for the GR class (second midterm for them) before setting it at 10:00am. (Perhaps the most interesting thing on it was perhaps the computation of the surface gravity of a static black hole, working in Eddington-Finkelstein coordinates…) At 10:25 I snuck out of the classroom to meet with a screenwriting student who is working on a screenplay featuring a physicist character. She was seeking some advice and wanted to exchange some thoughts about the work she’s doing… I got to gripe a bit about my pet peeves about scientist characters (not just the scarcity of well drawn ones – although things have gotten better in recent years) in TV and film. Somehow the rest of Wednesday (after the seminar ended at 1:40) is a bit of a blur, but I think it did involve me leaving campus to head home to hide and do a bit of finish work on a page I mentioned in the last post. Maybe. (Oh, there was also the official opening party for Umamicatessen (new restaurant downtown) in the evening, that kept me out to almost midnight. I’ve been meaning to blog about the place since the official “soft” opening party about two months ago, but had not got to it yet.)

Thursday saw me start the day way too early (as described in that post), and the [..] Click to continue reading this post

LA Times Festival of Books 2012

Don’t forget the big event of the Spring! The LA Times Book Festival is the weekend of the 21st and 22nd April, and we’ll be hosting it on the USC campus. The website is here for more information, and start booking your tickets (free) for the various panels you plan to visit.

I’m also looking forward to the Book Awards on the night of the 20th. It’s always fun and interesting, with a great reception at the end. I’ve no idea if I’ll get tickets to all that this year (but I hope so, since three friends of mine are presenting [update: see here to purchase some]), but in any case it’ll be interesting to hear the results of the awards in the various categories again this year. The list of nominees is here. [...] Click to continue reading this post

Rough Pages

Well, it’s a time-consuming process (continuing the new work on The Project mentioned in a recent post), especially when you put in more detail than really needed on what is supposed to be a rough layout. Sigh… Anyway, I’m several pages along in layouts for a story I wrote a while back, and I’m flipping ahead from time to time and wondering how long this beast is going to end up being! In any case, it’s a fun topic (or topics) being explored in this one. I’m wondering if I should try to find a way of splitting it into two stories or perhaps [...] Click to continue reading this post

Infinity Coincidence

So here’s an interesting sequence of events. On Tuesday in the QFT class I finished the lecture on Renormalization Group Flow, and the idea of a “beta function”, unpacking the results we’d accumulated from QED and quartic scalar field theory to use as illustration. The key result, for those of you about to scroll away (or the few of you who have not, but are hovering over the scroll bar), is as follows. Never mind what a beta function is right now. The issue at hand concerns whether it is positive or negative for a force of interaction being studied. A positive beta function tells you that the strength of the interaction between constituent things (particles, etc) gets weaker as you work at lower energies… This is an important result in understanding how Nature behaves in a variety of situations… one way of seeing variety is to look at different energy scales, and sometimes what seems familiar takes on different character. The converse is true… that positive beta function tells you that the interaction gets stronger at higher energies… Energy is also rather like the inverse of distance scale too, so high energy is akin to shorter distance scales (higher resolution), and low energy like longer distance scales (grainier resolution). In other words, looking at stuff in really tiny detail means using higher energy… and the nature of that stuff can change when you look at that sort of resolution since the way things interact changes… For electromagnetism, for example, we see that it gets stronger the closer we look, digging more deeply into the structure of the atom, say, probing the charged constituents of the nucleus once we’ve understood electrons. The result is that you see the electromagnetic interaction changes, ultimately turning into something else… (it merges with one of the nuclear forces, in fact…but that’s a story for another day)

So anyway one of the things I ended the class with was the idea that if you had a negative beta [...] Click to continue reading this post

Looking Back and Forth

Somehow after Wednesday I lost track of time, in a sense, in the natural course of having another very busy week. There were several things competing for time, and some of them may be of interest to you. (Left: Some lovely pink gladiolus flowers that have sprung up in my garden.) The Nobel Prizes kept coming, of course, with some very interesting winners announced. In addition to the ones I mentioned already in two earlier posts, I’ve got to find some people among our faculty who’ll be willing to spend 10 to 15 minutes making some informal remarks about the Who/What/Why aspects of the prize at one of two lunches I’ll be hosting in the coming weeks about the Nobel Prize. I’ve mentioned this before. It is an annual event I’ve tried to get going as part of the Dornsife Commons (formerly known as College Commons) series. I’ve locked in Physics and Peace, and want to get people for all the others. This year I know that if I have problems with Chemistry, I can step in if need be, although I’d rather not have to do that – I want to broaden participation, not do everything myself. Look out for those lunches (see here) and come along!

Speaking of doing everything myself, I’ve been continuing the weeks long struggle to get support, interest, and participation for the Science Film Competition I told you about earlier. Having spent a lot of time meeting with many faculty and other parties to build support and understanding, getting lots of faculty to make announcements (one time even coming down from Santa Barbara to campus to give a ten minute announcement in a class at the film school and going up again after!) and so forth – and thanks everyone who has helped! – I decided to amplify my focus on tackling [...] Click to continue reading this post

Handbook Extract, 2 – Warnings

In addition to the CMC staff handbook, I also got the mechanical crew handbook, which was originally drawn by Jim McEleny, and then revised in 1974 by Ted Mullings, who I told you about in the earlier post. The pages are more sparsely done in this one, but there’s still some great humour here and there… (Click for larger views….) [...] Click to continue reading this post

Handbook Extract, 1

Not long ago I was in Leadville, a mining town you get to from Aspen by going over Independence pass and then down into the valley. (It is apparently North America’s highest -in elevation- incorporated town, being at over 10K feet… Its roots are in gold and silver mining, starting back in the mid 19th Century.) I love visiting the big store that sells all sorts of curiosities and antiques there, and then after wading through lots of bits and pieces, going to the saloon bar for Irish coffees.

This time I actually bought something. Two things in fact – Some old handbooks for mine crew personnel of the Climax Molybdenum Company, from 1978. They are quite small, about 5 by 4 inches, but they are packed with delightfully presented dos and don’ts about how to do the job, including safety practices, and warnings about what might go wrong if you do things the wrong way. I particularly love the fact that the pages are [...] Click to continue reading this post

On Physics, Spiritualism, Fiction, and Non-Fiction

On Monday evening I chatted with Deborah Cloyed, author of the recently released novel “The Summer We Came to Life”, which I finished reading over the weekend. The conversation was recorded for Rare Bird Literature’s Rare Bird Radio site, and so you can listen. (Embed at the end of this post.) We talked about her use of various physics ideas (Copenhagen and Many Worlds quantum mechanics interpretations, parallel worlds) in her skillfully crafted novel about four friends, loss, the afterlife, and friendship.

At this point, some of you are yelling “Run, run for your life, Mr. Scientist!”. But No. No, no, no. I think that’s a mistake. Deborah is, first of all, writing a novel, not trying to push some self-help book that cherry picks a few ideas from science, conflates them with some stuff people want to hear, and trying to make a buck out of it. Second of all, she really loves the science, and seems to have read a lot about the subject, unusually widely. You don’t ignore someone who really cares about the subject and wants to know more, especially when they want to include it in the work they are producing. So when we were introduced a while back, she thought it would be fun and interesting to have a conversation about various things, and I agreed. I got the chance to comment (at her request) about what I thought she was doing with the science, and how the final result worked, I got to ask her what she thought of it, and from there we talked about lots of related topics, including the whole idea of mixing [...] Click to continue reading this post

Thumbnailing

Been back on The Project a bit more in recent days, mixing it in with various physics thoughts, projects, physics related duties, and so forth. More on some of that later. I’ve been writing some new pieces for the work, and have been flowing nicely at times. I write both in words (scribbling in my notebook in H pencil) and images, this being the point of some of what I’m up to. (See my discussion about the nature and intent of the whole business in earlier posts collected here.) So I write words, but also think about how the reader’s eye will move around the page, communicating intent, story, emotion, and concept, and so the words are supplemented by -and often guided by- little “thumbnail” images I scribble as well. (Actually, this is not so different from how I do my physics research, and I know that this is quite common. We think and reason using a mixture of words, images, equations, and so forth, and looking in my notebooks on physics will show a lot of commonality with my notebooks for The Project. Part of what I hope The Project will achieve is to help the general reader learn that this happens, while also benefiting from it by reading the form/medium they are reading…)

In the more familiar language of film, in my job as writer and “artist” at this stage, I’m directing the action as I write, and sort of doing the first pass at editing too, keeping in mind also things that will be taken over by my director of photography, costumer, editor, set designer, and so forth. Oh, those are also me in this case, since [...] Click to continue reading this post

Movie Notes

Going to the movies this weekend? Lots of interesting choices, but perhaps you especially want to see some portrayals of people in academic careers by some of the hot young phenoms. Well, here are two you might not have considered, both films released May 6th.

1. Observe Nathalie Portman as an astrophysicist in Thor. I don’t find this to be too much of a stretch since the actress always seemed to me to radiate an intensity and intelligence that would help make such a role believable, even in films where everything else is rather a disaster as far as believability is concerned. (cough, cough, Star Wars prequels, cough, cough) Well, it turns out that Thor is not the disaster I thought it would be and is rather well put together, all things considered (this is one of several Marvel characters that I was underwhelmed by in the old days). So go for Portman, stay for the hammer, lightning bolts, and other stuff. Turns out the physicist aspect of her performance was not as well studied as her ballet in that other film, but oh well. It was not like it was the central issue of the film. But enjoy all the Einstein-Rosen bridge mentions!

2. Observe Jessica Alba as a mathematics teacher who loves numbers in An Invisible Sign. Now, er, this for me was casting that did not bode well, but to be fair,[...] Click to continue reading this post

Revolution!

Ah. Should have mentioned this before. Tomorrow I’ll be talking at Revolution Books. No, I won’t be stirring up political buzz or anything like that, rallying the troops, singing the songs and so forth. Sorry to disappoint. I’ll be there doing what I usually do – trying to put a bit of science out there among the rest of the culture where it belongs. I ran into Keith James of Revolution Books in the market one day some time ago and he recognized me from a tv show explaining science – and I was hanging out with a writer friend whose work he was a fan of, and so it was a two-birds-one-stone thing for him, stopping us to say hi. He raised the idea of me coming and explaining Einstein’s Relativity at the bookstore, and I readily agreed. It has been a long time in the making -largely due to me- but we finally settled on a date, and it is tomorrow. I also suggested that I put them in touch with a friend at the Griffith Observatory so that after my [...] Click to continue reading this post

Festival Activities, 2

A week has passed since the festival and I’ve not posted any more information about it. This is partly a result of being preoccupied with several other things, including organizing yesterday’s workshop… which seemed to go very well, by the way. See previous post for an update.

I thought that the festival was simply great. I attended many more panel discussions than I had before, and that may have been a good thing since it meant that I mixed outside and inside a bit better than I have in the past, meaning that I was less likely to get tired from the heat or from simply being on my feet all day. I ran into several friends out enjoying it, some themselves on their way to or from panels or presenting at stages. It works really well at USC, and it seems that people were really enjoying the new layout, and the better access to the festival overall afforded by the numerous public transport links I saw people enjoying (had to miss a 200 bus on the way from MacArthur Park to the campus because it was full of people heading to the festival before 10:00am on Saturday. Nice to see.)
[...] Click to continue reading this post

Festival Activities, 1

Well, it was wonderful yesterday. Maybe my best time at the festival over the several years I’ve been going, possibly because I visited more of the ticketed panels, mixing those in with the wandering outdoors looking at the stalls and stages. Might do some more today…

In the meantime, here’s my favourite picture from yesterday. I like it for several reasons, not the least because it symbolizes a major aspect of the whole thing that I consider important – family and the joy of reading – but, well, have a look and see what you can see… (click for a larger view).

festival_of_books_2011_cvj

[...] Click to continue reading this post

Festive Weekend!

It has been another rather busy week this week (including a marathon seven-hour video interview!) and so posting was a bit light. I apologize for this, including for not getting to blogging about an event (or cluster of events) that I’ve been gleefully waiting for since the news broke last Fall that (as I’d mentioned back then) the LA Times Festival of Books is now being hosted by USC. This is something I fantasized about many years ago, in fact – I simply think it is a better fit for the city of Los Angeles for many reasons.

Anyway, the first festival of the new era is tomorrow and Sunday, with a wonderful program that can be looked at on the LA Times website. It will continue to be the largest literary festival in the USA (and perhaps beyond?), and it is hoped that it will get even larger… Next year, we’ll have the new branch of the subway system running, giving three stops at the campus (hurrah!), but in the meantime there’s a dedicated shuttle bus connecting USC to Union Station downtown and the Convention Center (not to mention all the many regular public transport links), and so you don’t have to bring your car to the area to deal with parking issues.

As you know from my blogging about all this in previous years (see list of links at the end), in a sense the whole thing kicks off the Friday night before (tonight!) with the [...] Click to continue reading this post

Quite a Lot On

michael_ondaatje_1It was quite a busy week for me, and so all those moments I meant to stop and post thoughts and observations seemed to evaporate as I went from one thing to the next, with rather full days. I hit the ground running on Monday with several extra things on the calendar including being an external member of the committee for a thesis defense in the Chemistry department. Always useful and instructive to look in on what one’s colleagues are up to, and it was a rather nicely written thesis well defended.

The evening saw me at Bovard Auditorium to attend a pleasant visit by author Michael Ondaatje. My colleague from English and Comparative Literature, Hilary Schor, always super-enthusiastic about great authors, gave an introduction and then he came onto the stage and read a few extracts from his work before having a rather nice conversation with Hilary. Then the audience joined in with questions and comments of their own. While it was not full, it was a decent audience for this event, given its type, and I was happy to get the perfect seats I got. I had not done an RSVP, and came as a walk-in only to discover that some of the people on the door knew me and arranged for me to sit in the reserved seating for special guests. Only then did I remember that I’m on the committee that partly was responsible for this event [...] Click to continue reading this post

Major Moon-Milk Opportunity!

Tomorrow’s full moon is going to be the closest to us in 18 years, apparently. It’s called a supermoon by some, and no doubt some will try to link it to many major events here on earth, both natural and man-made (if you’ll forgive the distinction). I won’t do a long post about this issue, but instead refer you to Phil, who is excellent on the science of this and related subjects.

What I will say instead is that all commentators seem to have missed that this is the best opportunity in years to gather moon-milk! Get out your ladders and buckets and go for it!

What am I talking about? At my last birthday I was given* a lovely collection of stories by Italo Calvino, and the first one is entitled “The Distance of the Moon”. It begins with a description of the fact that a long time ago the moon orbited much closer to the earth, as you may know, and then weaves a delightful story from there. The story involves reminiscences, by the narrator Qfwfq, about those good old days when the moon came so close that once a month (yes, I know) the earth’s inhabitants would take boats out onto the sea to the where the moon came close and climb up a ladder to its surface to gather the much-desired substance known as moon-milk. A lovely extract follows: [...] Click to continue reading this post

The Project – 4

So, a huge number of decisions went into getting the work to where I wanted it to be, and I’ve shown you samples in various previous posts, some collected here. But where does it all begin? It starts with the idea or concept that I am thinking about, and conversations which will form the dialogue for the piece in question. I start fleshing it out more, perhaps with a setting beginning to form in my mind. Maybe pencil drawings begin to take shape, and I start laying out pages, capturing the beats of the conversation, and the visuals that might get used. Characters (the people who will be in dialogue) begin to assert themselves by this point as well.

Incidentally, this is a place where sometimes the iPad comes into its own, and it is a great tool at several stages of all this. This project is one of the reasons I got the iPad, although I could not tell you at the time I got it back in the early Summer since I was not revealing what I was working on then. (Much of the other stuff I happily discovered about the iPad that I blogged about a while back (here, here, and here) are actually nice bonuses. I got it primarily to help me with development aspects on this project that had little to do with those other features.) I draw rough layouts on the iPad sometimes, and I can store all my rough ideas and print them out, modify them, call them up for later viewing, and so forth. I can carry work in progress with me, reference photos from location scouting, etc. It is also good for practice sketching, and sometimes, using it, I’ve grabbed some nice quick drawings of people in a meeting or in a bar or on a bus. Drawing from life is an important skill to keep up. The iPad is not used in final production on the graphic novel though. I work at a level of detail and complexity that the iPad would not be able to [...] Click to continue reading this post

New Semester Approaching

I’m feeling strangely cold, although the heating is on and I’ve got a jumper (“sweater” to readers in the States) on. It has been this way all day, so I suspect it is something to do with my frame of mind. I’m feeling a bit reflective with it too, so I’ll think out loud (as it were) a bit before going to bed early.

Well, it is almost time to start another round of teaching. This semester, starting Monday, it is a graduate course that I’ll be teaching, the second part of a year’s sequence of string theory that we teach from time to time. My focus will be non-perturbative issues, focusing on much of what has been forming the foundation of research in various areas of string theory since the 1990s. Should be fun. Some of the material will come from my book, D-branes, that was published back in 2002. It seems so long ago now. I actually looked in it today, as I was discussing a research issue with a colleague, and could not recall some details. Happily there was a chapter with it all in there. That’s rather nice. The book serves me well as a personal reminder of things I used to have at my fingertips all the time back then, and as a bonus, lots of people around the world still use it as a handbook/guide/intro/etc, I hear.

I joke, of course. The cart and the horse are the other way around.

Speaking of books, I’ll be doing my best to continue working on the current book project, with all the excitement and adventure in developing it. (And the occasional [...] Click to continue reading this post

The Project – 3

(Monday:) Sitting at the airport waiting for a visitor to arrive. Might as well tell you a bit more about The Project. (This is the third in a series of posts unveiling The Project. See here and here for the earlier ones.)

So the sample I ended with in the previous post was, I presume you have realized, a little attempt at irony and humour. While it does take a while to bring about the transformation of technique that I wanted, and while it has taken some time to explore and then make choices about the various techniques I want to use, it would be hilarious if that was the product so far. But this is not a joking matter. The whole process is very slow indeed, even when ticking along nicely, and additionally of course I’ve got this Professor gig I’m doing for most of my waking hours. So…

Anyway, samples of what I am doing are in order. Well, what I’ve worked up so far, in a prototype story, is only really an example of one story. So the whole thing won’t look like what you are about to see, for better or worse. This is because the outcome of trying to decide what visual style to use for the project was that I would use more than one style. Some stories will call for different styles.

Another key element I mentioned earlier is that I am having the dialogues (by the way, the working title is: The Dialogues. Yeah, I’m tricky that way…) take place in real settings, some of them may be familiar to you. So go right ahead and guess away. Here is a skyline from page one of the prototype story, helping to set the scene*…

arena_extract_1

This prototype story, called The Arena, has a pair of characters accidentally (er…or maybe not accidentally!?) meeting again and picking up on a conversation. You can see one of them below and to the right, in one of my big scene-setting splash panels [...] Click to continue reading this post

The Project – 1

It is midnight and I really should get to sleep in order to wake up and work some more on editing the final exam for my class so that it can go to the printer by noon. But I’ve got several pokes from people clamouring to find out what The Project actually is, and I promised yesterday I’d start to spill the beans. Thanks for the interest! I think I’d better get at least some of it out there or I’ll have an angry mob by morning! So here goes. I will drag out the draft I sketched yesterday and beat it into shape:

So, as you may have guessed, The Project, which I’ve been mentioning here since a post way back in February, is a writing project, but it is somewhat different from what you might expect. The bottom line is that I hope that at some point into future you will be able to purchase a copy of your own, and that you will find it instructive, exciting, and enjoyable. At least.

Yes, it is a book about science. However… Well, here’s the thing. Over many years, people (friends, colleagues, potential agents and publishers, blog readers, etc) have been asking me when I am going to write my book. You know, the popular-level book that every academic who is interested in the public understanding of their field (as you know I am from reading this blog) is expected will write at some point. To be honest, I have given it some thought over the years, and it has been something I figured I might do at some point. In fact, several different ideas have occurred to me over the years, and I may well implement some of them at some point.

But a major thought began to enter my mind well over ten years ago. In my field, there is a rather narrow range of models for the shape of such books, usually involving about 80% of it being a series of chapters covering all the standard introductory material (some relativity, some quantum mechanics, and so forth) for the lay reader, before culminating in a chapter or two of what the researcher really wants to tell them about: some aspect of their research. This is a fine model, and it is great that people continue to write such books, and I will no doubt use that model one day, but to be honest, I don’t think there is any urgency for me to add to the canon yet another one of those books. Moreover, if you line examples of that type of book up against each other, you see that the [...] Click to continue reading this post

Midterm Matters

The midterm elections are being held across the USA today, and I am sitting on the sofa at home having a late dinner after giving the second midterm to my large physics class, but the title of this post refers to midterm feelings of mine that have to do with being in the middle of the semester. I realized the other day that I’ve been feeling like all of a sudden I was hugely busy with lots of things, feeling rather drained of energy on some days, and generally feeling pulled apart by doing too many things, helping out on too many tasks, and writing reports and letters and so forth. Then I checked the blog from around this time last year and discovered that in fact I was having the same sorts of feelings last year at around the same time. So I think there is maybe something about the Fall semester that means that by the middle of it one is (or at least feels) enmeshed in a near-quagmire. Perhaps. Anyway, part of my response to all that was to be quiet the last few days and take it easy on the running around. So that meant I did not go off to the West Hollywood Halloween Carnaval*, nor did I do a bunch of other things going on over the weekend. Instead, I worked quietly at home on the Project and made some pleasing progress, with only the odd trip out now and again, mostly centered around shopping for groceries, fresh fruit and vegetables from the farmer’s market, and so on. Good Times.

The Project. Yes, I keep mentioning it but not talking about it and again I [...] 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

West Hollywood Book Fair

west_hollywood_book_fair_1The West Hollywood Book Fair was fun to visit yesterday, even through the huge heat wave we’ve been having. I struggled through the heat to a bus stop and was rewarded with one almost immediately I arrived, to my relief. Even the bus seemed tired as it trundled along through the sweltering city to West Hollywood, where I jumped off and wandered into the grounds of the event. I poked around the stands with books, authors, and other people on display, chatting here and there with interesting people.

I was not on a panel this year (see last year’s report here and here – I don’t think there was anything on science or science-writing this year), so decided to listen to a [...] Click to continue reading this post

A Dream Come True!

Wow! There’s a major piece of news that was announced today that basically exactly fits with a dream I have every year. Furthermore, I have been taking part in some meetings with all the University’s Deans, the President, and other key officials, about major aspects of USC’s future endeavours, and when the issue of strengthening the role of USC in the life of Los Angeles came up, I intended to mention my dream, but we ran out of time yesterday so I decided I’d mention it at today’s lunch meeting instead. So today at lunch I was about to be called on to make the point about local roles, and I’d decided to give the specific examples I had in mind. I was going to suggest that we seek for things analogous to UCLA Live, and to the LA Times Festival of Books, as things we can do to open our doors to the city (even more than we do) and become well known to more people near and far as a regular contributor to the intellectual life of the city (I mean beyond the huge number of people who come to us for an education, and the many public events that we already host and/or sponsor). But I was not called on because the President, Max Nikias, looked at his watch and said he had an announcement to make since it was just past the embargo time that was put on the story.

What was his announcement? The LA Times Festival of Books is going to move to USC starting next year! (See also here.) We’ll be enlarging it, and bringing back the awards ceremony to the way it was, etc.

You’ve maybe read my many posts here about the LA Times Festival of Books, and [...] Click to continue reading this post