Luncheon Reflections

LIAH_Hawthorne_luncheonYou know, I never got around to mentioning here that I am now Director (co-directing with Louise Steinman who runs the ALOUD series) of the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities (LAIH), a wonderful organisation that I have mentioned here before. It is full of really fascinating people from a range of disciplines: writers, artists, historians, architects, musicians, critics, filmmakers, poets, curators, museum directors, journalists, playwrights, scientists, actors, and much more. These LAIH Fellows are drawn from all over the city, and equally from academic and non-academic sources. The thing is, you’ll find us throughout the city involved in all sorts of aspects of its cultural and intellectual life, and LAIH is the one organisation in the city that tries to fully bring together this diverse range of individuals (all high-acheivers in their respective fields) into a coherent force.

One of the main things we do is simply sit together regularly and talk about whatever’s on our minds, stimulating and shaping ideas, getting updates on works in progress, making suggestions, connections, and so forth. Finding time in one’s schedule to just sit together and exchange ideas with no particular agenda is an important thing to do and we take it very seriously. We do this at […] Click to continue reading this post

Chalkboards Everywhere!


I love chalkboards (or blackboards if you prefer). I love showing up to give a talk somewhere and just picking up the chalk and going for it. No heavily over-packed slides full of too many fast moving things, as happens too much these days. If there is coloured chalk available, that’s fantastic – special effects. It is getting harder to find these boards however. Designers of teaching rooms and other spaces seem embarrassed by them, and so they either get smaller or disappear, often in favour of the less than magical whiteboard.

So in my continued reinvention of the way I produce slides for projection (I do this every so often), I’ve gone another step forward in returning to the look (and […] Click to continue reading this post


lunch_timeWell, since yesterday was all about eating here in the USA (Thanksgiving, in case you missed that), I thought I’d share a partially inked panel from The Project, of a meal in progress. I got a bit of quiet time to work on it this evening, while listening to Jimi Hendrix and then Freddie Hubbard. They helped a lot. It is at times like this I wonder what insanity has come over me […] Click to continue reading this post


Yes, I found a bit of time to work on a page of the book. Here’s the development of a panel (click for larger view):


Indeed, the original rough sketch (done back during my Spring break retreat) shows that the panel was conceived a little differently. But then I decided to have a page with more fully rendered backgrounds, and so shifted the view in most of the panels […] Click to continue reading this post

Colour and Culture

colour_scribblesI spotted* this lovely post from a year ago about colour, culture, and language that I thought I’d share. What does the map of colour and colour names look like as you move from culture to culture. And are there universal aspects to it, or is it pretty random?

I find this a fascinating topic, and so was delighted to see this post, which addresses a lot of the questions. (You’ll find links there to an episode of Radiolab that was on a similar topic. I recommend that too.) Coincidentally, two pages before the part of my notebook where I’m doing a computation right now is a […] 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

Lunch and Work

Productive day yesterday, more or less. Yesterday’s lunch break (in my undisclosed coastal town) saw me take a pack lunch over to the beach, for a bit of reading while I sat in a change of scenery. I’d brought the bike, and so it was nice to be able to pack up some things I might need, like a beach towel, a portable seat (just in case…. I did not use it in the end…), my notebooks, and some reading materials on the ipad (I was reading a bit of Paradise Lost, in fact), and carry it in the bike basket. (Actually I did use the portable seat… but not for sitting. I used it as a stand for the camera that took the shot above right.)

What am I doing on The Project? I’m mapping out and editing one of the stories. It has turned into quite a long one with lots of complexity, relatively, speaking. This means that I need to be careful about designing the layout on the page, and actually try to get a good sense of how everything fits so that I pace things properly, and page things out in the right way. So I am thumbnailing carefully, going beyond simple thumbnails and doing a first pass rough of the page. It slows the writing down, but will save a lot of time later on. Also, when I turn myself back into the penciller/inker and come to draw all the pages carefully, my job will be much easier, and quicker, as I’ll have the directions in the written script and the page layout sketch to guide me. I’ll be able to focus more on being the artist and less the writer at that stage. See the right for a laid out page.

Actually, using the brushes application on the ipad has been very valuable for this. I’ve not used it much in recent times, and so it was fun to rediscover it. I’ve been using […] Click to continue reading this post

Thumbs and Scripts

So, after a bit of time away from the process, this weekend saw me make some progress on The Project. I realized that I had too many things fragmented, scattered in several places, both physically and in my mind. This means that when I come to pick up where I left off (and breaks from it – sometimes long ones – are necessary since I have my Physics Professor gig which is first and foremost, you understand…) it can take all the available time to get back into the saddle since I am pulling the fragments back into foreground. So I’ve decided to sharpen up the process a bit and try harder to send clear notes and assignments to myself in the future. For example, as writer, I need to prepare things so that they are in a good final state with clear conventions in a full script, so that when I come to it later as penciller, I’ve got all I need to get stuck in and move things along, sending messages along to future me at the next step, and so on. It means I’ve got to do less of the business of leaving things un-fleshed out because I think I’ll do that bit at a later stage – That later stage might be months down the line, and by then I’d have forgotten the core of the idea that I was going to build in at that point… You get the idea.

So my task for the next several sessions is to turn all the stories I’ve written so far into full scripts, and finish the bits that are unfinished in each one. What do I mean by full script? Well, over the last two years I’ve done a lot of it in notebooks and in […] Click to continue reading this post


Here’s the first slide of my TEDYouth talk from Saturday. It was time consuming but fun to draw all those hands and tiny items of various sorts. The whole talk was about what I call “hidden structures”, which in a sense is what my field (high energy physics, particle physics, cosmology, string theory, etc.,) is all about. To help motivate it all, I started by talking about opening up your smart phone and figuring out how it works by taking it apart and discovering the components inside, and using the rules of how to put them together to deduce the structure of other things (see that second stage of the slide being delivered on stage*).

Since I’m hugely into getting people to learn by really getting stuck into things […] Click to continue reading this post

So Good They Named It Twice

Well, it is great to be back in New York. Multiple times this year – hurrah! I’ve just got back from the Times Center where all the speakers have been running through their talks to smooth out kinks of various kinds (technical glitches, run time, etc). The senior TED people are here sitting in the auditorium and one by one we come up and go through things to give us a chance to get familiar with the stage, and to hear any thoughts or comments. (See tiny picture on the left.) People have done really good jobs preparing, and so most comments are simply ones of congratulations, with some small suggestions here and there with regards points of confusion, or sound levels, or run time. We’ve got six minutes. You heard me right – I must explain all of particle physics and research in string theory in six minutes. I like my challenges… Well, I spent a lot of time designing the content of the talk […] Click to continue reading this post

Slow but steady…

…Progress? I hope so. I lost about 7 hours yesterday. Hours that I’d planned for working on the slides for TEDYouth and (mostly) finishing them. There was a weird problem on the computer I use that seemed to seep into Illustrsator as well. Somehow dragging a file to copy or move it somewhere else would not work, and this meant that in Illustrator if you tried to drag an object to a new position, it would fail to complete the operation, generating a copy in the place you moved it to but not erasing the original… It would then freeze. I tested this out in so many different ways to see that it was not damaged objects or files… then eventually decided to reinstall the entire operating system (Lion). Of course, this is no […] Click to continue reading this post


Somewhere in there, somehow, I am keeping my head above water…just. But then I decide on something equivalent to tying extra weight to my ankles. Last week, while deciding on what I would talk about in the short time I have, I decided to do the whole TEDYouth talk graphic novel style of course… Which means hundreds of drawings… Why do I do this to myself? (I can recycle some of this for The Project, I suppose…) So I sat in the sun on Saturday afternoon […] Click to continue reading this post

Metropolis II

Chris Burden’s Metropolis II, on display at LACMA, is a lot of fun. I was at LACMA recently, catching up with an old friend, hanging out and chatting for a while on the lawn. It was a pleasant afternoon to spend a bit of time talking about life and work outside, wandering into the museum to look at at an exhibit for a bit, and then resting outside in the late afternoon sun again, before going to see something else.

Anyway, the Metropolis II installation was fun, and very interesting. I can’t help […] Click to continue reading this post

Nostalgia Furniture

New acquisitions. I’ve been a fan of the work of Marcel Breuer for many years now, going back to my first postdoc in the early 90s, at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. There, I lived (over three years) in some lovely 1957 apartments designed by him, with furniture of his design in them too. (It’s a bit different now, I understand.) The Wassily (or, Model B3) chair is one of my favourites of his, and two days ago, when I got an email from a friend I’d not heard from in a while that she was getting rid of a leather-finished pair of them, I went to see them as soon as I could (especially when I heard of their colour, which I’d decided would match my floors rather well). I came back from the visit with (after some negotiations and handing over of payment) the pair and set them up.

Yes, they are just as wonderful as I recall (and this set is particularly well made – very good reproductions), beautiful, very comfortable, and a good fit for my living room… […] Click to continue reading this post

Science Film Logo

So, here’s yet another project I’ve been working on. I forgot to tell you about it. After the success of the short films I produced and directed (etc) two Summers ago (remember? Shine a Light and Laser), the next step was to get more people involved in the film-making, to learn more about how it is done, and what is involved, both on the science side and the film-making side. Specifically, I want students from both sides of the divide (science, and film, journalism, communications, etc) to have to work with each other to learn more about communicating science.

So, Anna Krylov (Chemistry dept., and a collaborator on an NSF grant) and I wrote a […] 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


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

Nine Points

Although the planning of a panel on a page is entirely freehand pencil or pen work, it is indeed the case that sooner or later I start detailed placing of subjects, and I often use perspective to do the layouts. Not just for skyscrapers and so forth, but for down to earth things too. I do it the old-fashioned way, which is repetitive and time-consuming, but I must admit – It is fun! Take some time to look at everything around you – real or represented in drawings, photos, etc – and you’ll likely see perspective cues that help give sense of depth and placing. It is all about geometry, which our universe seems to like a lot, and which we use to navigate in it. Learning a bit of this geometry, and how to build it in projection in two dimensions on the page (and it is much easier than this sentence makes it sound!) allows one to make reasonably convincing recreations of the universe (or simulacra of your choosing) and how we perceive it. Real artists (not hacks like yours truly) use geometry a lot, in one way or another, to interpret, represent, or distill aspects of the world, and so in a sense, they are companions on the same road as those of us in (especially) the physical sciences.

Babble aside, here you can see parts of the interior of a cafe taking shape. I did it using three-point perspective*:


This will be the skeleton upon which I build the flesh of the rest of the piece. It is based on my knowledge of a real cafe that I location-scouted (well, I happen to drink coffee there from time to time), but you’d never get this view without (a) perhaps being able to fly, and (b) removing the ceiling. Trying to be somewhat discreet in this […] Click to continue reading this post


working_photoRemember the skyline in an earlier post? Well, I forgot that I’d taken a snap of myself doing the inks for it last month, knowing that I’d ultimately be sharing it with those of you curious about the process. So there you can see me about half way, inking with a cartridge ink pen on the 11 in. x 17 in. Bristol artboard where it sits as a sort […] Click to continue reading this post

Soft Lights

p-1600-641-b0c2b19c-c025-46ff-bc2f-11db94b9158e.jpegIt has been a quiet week here on the blog, and there are many reasons for this. They are mostly all to do with me having a very busy week at work and at play. Work has seen a great deal on the usual fronts of teaching, research, and service, and I’ve also made some progress on The Project. Play has been good, varied, valuable and constructive.

Right now, I’m popping off to bed to get some sleep before getting up to go over to UCLA for the second day of the Southern California Strings Seminar. Today, day one, was excellent.

I will be giving you an update on various aspects of all those above things shortly, but right now I will leave you with a moody photo of some strings of lights at the Edison, that bar downtown I sometimes mention here. I had an excellent evening down there on Thursday night.

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