Ships and Knobs…

[Extract from some of my babble that night:] “…”science advisor” which is such a confusing and misunderstood term. Most people think of us (and use us) as fact-checkers, and while I DO do that, it is actually the least good use of a scientist in the service of story-telling. As fact-checkers, usually engaged late in the process of a film being made, we’re just tinkering at the edges of an already essentially completed project. It is as if the main ship that is the movie has been built, has the journey planned out, and the ship has maybe even sailed, and we’re called in to spend an hour or two discussing whether the cabin door handles should be brass or chrome finish…” [I went on to describe how to help make better ships, sent on more interesting journeys..]

Photo from here. Original FB version of this post here. Click to continue reading this post

Speed Dating for Science!

youtubespace panelLast night was amusing. I was at the YouTubeLA space with 6 other scientists from various fields, engaging with an audience of writers and other creators for YouTube, TV, film, etc.

It was an event hosted by the Science and Entertainment Exchange and Youtube/Google, and the idea was that we each had seven minutes to present in seven successive rooms with different audiences in each, so changing rooms each seven minutes.

Of course, early on during the planning conference call for the event, one of the scientists asked why it was not more efficient to simply have one large […] Click to continue reading this post

Screen Junkies: Science and Jurassic World

So the episode I mentioned is out! It’s a lot of fun, and there’s so very much that we talked about that they could not fit into the episode. See below. It is all about Jurassic World – a huge box-office hit. movie_science_screen_shotIf you have not seen it yet, and don’t want specific spoilers, watch out for where I write the word spoilers in capitals, and read no further. If you don’t even want my overall take on things without specifics, read only up to where I link to the video. Also, the video has spoilers. I’ll embed the video here, and I have some more thoughts that I’ll put below.

One point I brought up a bit (you can see the beginning of it in my early remarks) is the whole business of the poor portrayal of science and scientists overall in the film, as opposed to in the original Jurassic Park movie. In the original, putting quibbles over scientific feasibility aside (it’s not a documentary, remember!), you have the “dangers of science” on one side, but you also have the “wonders of science” on the other. This includes that early scene or two that still delight me (and many scientists I know – and a whole bunch who were partly inspired by the movie to go into science!) of how genuinely moved the two scientist characters (played by Laura Dern and Sam Neil) are to see walking living dinosaurs, the subject of their life’s work. Right in front of them. Even if you’re not a scientist, you immediately relate to that feeling. It helps root the movie, as does that fact that pretty much all the characters are fleshed […] Click to continue reading this post

Tales from the Industry XXXX – Relative

relativity_shoot_1(Click images for larger view.)
Last Tuesday was a bit unusual. I’ve been chatting for a while with the people making a new BBC/PBS(NOVA) special in celebration of it being 100 years since Einstein’s presentation of the field equations of General Relativity, and that was the day we’d arranged to have an interview of me saying a few ideas to camera, and also doing a demo or two for fun. It was a very tight schedule, and a lot had to be arranged since one of the demos involved me sitting on the back of a flat bed truck at a desk (apparently in an office), looking up and explaining something, only to have the camera reveal the larger context in which the conversation was taking place. Well, the office set and desk were abandoned for various reasons, and then we got held up for almost two hours because the campus safety people turned out to have been confused (?) by the director’s careful notes in advance of the shoot and did not realise that the flatbed truck with me and the furniture and the cameraman would actually be moving. Even though it was intended to move at only a snail’s pace, it violates their safety rules to not have everything strapped down with safety harnesses. It qualifies as a “stunt”, and they were not expecting one. So there was a lot of back and forth over walkie talkies and in person and so forth, and persons with little golf carts coming and going, until some of the crew dashed off to Autozone to buy several cargo straps that, after application, seemed to make everyone happy.

I climbed up and allowed myself to be strapped in too. Before it all got started I asked about how exactly I was to unstrap myself if for some reason the flatbed […] Click to continue reading this post

100th Birthday Bash!

If you’re in town on Sunday 9th June, I strongly recommend coming along to this! The Natural History Museum is having its 100th Birthday celebration with an all day series of events. There’ll be new spaces and exhibits opening, including the new gardens they’ve been building for some time, and so there’s plenty to explore that will be new, and partly outdoors on a (hopefully) lovely day. (See here for an LA Times article on some of the changes.) As the day draws into the evening, there’ll be a real party brewing, with bands, DJs, bars, and so forth (see below). Kicking off the evening part of the proceedings at 6:30pm will be a talk and Q+A with JPL’s Adam Steltzner (of the Mars Curiosity Mission), in a spot hosted by me.

Adam’s a great guy, with lots of interesting things to say and a great sense of […] Click to continue reading this post

On Art, Fairy Tales, and Creativity


“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

Do you know who said that? I’ll break the post here to give you a moment to think about it. I’m not going to ask for the answer in the comments since you have Google on your side, but you can, if you like, share in the comments whether you knew or guessed it right before you moved to the rest of the post below to learn the answer. (Image above is an illustration by Walter Crane for ‘Snow White’ (1882).) Continuing… […] Click to continue reading this post

Categorically Not! – The Worlds We Make Up

kc_frankThe next Categorically Not! is this coming Sunday September 13th. The Categorically Not! series of events that are held at the Santa Monica Art Studios, (with occasional exceptions). It’s a series – started and run by science writer K. C. Cole – of fun and informative conversations deliberately ignoring the traditional boundaries between art, science, humanities, and other subjects. I strongly encourage you to come to them if you’re in the area. Here is the website that describes past ones, and upcoming ones. See also the links at the end of the post for some announcements and descriptions (and even video) of previous events. (Image above right is from the inside of the jacket of KC Cole’s book on Frank Oppenheimer, who will be celebrated in this month’s Cat Not! as you’ll read below. I talked a bit about the book here.)

The theme this month is The Worlds We Make Up. Here’s the description from K. C. Cole:

[…] Click to continue reading this post

Laser is Coming Soon!

Well, here it is. After lots of interruptions over the last 24 hours, I give you the trailer for Laser, the next of my films. I think it is a bit more playfully enigmatic than the trailer for the first film. (I’ve only just (half an hour ago) finished recording the music for it, and so it really is being rushed to you straight from the cutting room, as it were.)

See earlier posts for my thoughts about the project, and see the trailer for the first film here, and the actual first film, Shine a Light, here. Sorry it is so late… the semester started and I got swamped. See my chatter about that here.

Anyway, here it is! Enjoy!


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Ten Things That Go Boom!

the_universeWell, ok… Boom is not quite accurate, but the idea is that there will be ten kinds of blasts/explosions/major_energetic_events discussed tonight on the History Channel’s The Universe:

The Universe is full of explosions that both create and destroy. The Chicxulub impact on the Yucatan peninsula, which may have wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, was two million times more powerful than the largest nuclear bomb ever detonated on Earth. But guess what? That’s only good enough for the very bottom of the Biggest Blasts top ten list. This episode works its way up through supernova explosions and gamma ray bursts all the way to the blast that started it all–the Big Bang.

Sounds good doesn’t it? There’s a lot of good people contributing again, so I know it’ll have some good material and explanations.

In addition, I’m reasonably confident I play a role in this one…This one was a blast (sorry) to film. You saw some posts earlier reporting on some of the filming. Assuming they used the material I did with them, you’ll get to see why I was at the […] Click to continue reading this post

Tales From The Industry XXIX – Dune

death_valley_shoot_2_1There was a 24 hour period from 3:30pm Monday to 3:30pm Tuesday where I was engaged in a seemingly insane enterprise. My original plan was to document it here as one of my “24”-style blog posts, but since about 9 hours of it involved nothing but me screaming along to various songs (there’s something marvellous about singing “Roooooxx–anne!!! You don’t have to wear that dress tonight!!!….” and repeating “Put on the Red Light! Put on the Red Light!…” while whizzing along – fast!- on a road trip. I don’t know why), and five and a half hours asleep, I’ll spare you the details of each hour.

So what was the mission? To head to Death Valley. Yes, one of the hottest places on earth at this time of year! Why? To film something for The Universe (that History channel series I sometimes appear on). After my experiences of last Monday, you’d think I’d swear off hot filming situations for a while, but there you go. The physics involved is interesting, and it was an opportunity to get across some rather fun and interesting material (that you don’t usually see on TV) and so I went for it.

So since I had an afternoon meeting at 2:00pm with a Dean and some other […] Click to continue reading this post

Acrobatic Angular Momentum

airealistic_at_edisonIt was a routine Wednesday night down at the Edison bar, downtown Los Angeles, last week. This means: Fun with Acrobats!! It is part of their weekly “Incandescence: the Dark Side of Light” series, where throughout the night there are performers all over the floor of the bar, more set piece things on the stage, and rather splendid feats being performed from various points of the ceiling. The theatre group is called AiRealistic.

I thought I’d make a little film for you, of what (come to think of it) might make […] Click to continue reading this post

A Little Priest

sweeney_todd_snapTim Burton’s film Sweeney Todd is utterly brilliant. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen it since its release in 2007, but it hasn’t grown old for me at all. The Sondheim songs are so well done, for a start, and Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter are especially wonderful as the leads (along with the excellent Alan Rickman and Timothy Spall, of course). I caught a bit of them again on HBO the other night and delighted all over again at darkly hued songs such as “A Little Priest”. How many other songs about eating people are quite so excellent? (Lyrics here if you can’t catch them all.) Enjoy: […] Click to continue reading this post

Red, Yellow, Blue, Green…

red yellow green blue…among other colours.

View of the day from the garden. (Winter. Number x in a limited series of y.) (Click for larger view.) The rains have gone for a while. The sun is back, with clear blue skies to close out the year.

I’m trying to rest. Well, I’m working on various projects at home, mostly. Colours are on my mind a bit in one of these projects, actually. Later today I’m going to be down in the (only slightly mad-scientist) workshop making a portable screen on which to project films.

Projecting onto the wall is good, but I want to make a silver-grey screen with a dark border that will really pop the colours out. Some of this is about not projecting onto […] Click to continue reading this post

Goodbye Eartha Kitt

eartha kitt (Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)Sad news from the entertainment world today. Eartha Kitt died today. I thought I’d mark this with a post here. What a wonderfully odd character she was! I’m often a big supporter of those who march to the beat of a different drum, and she certainly fits the bill.

There’s an excellent Washington Post article by Wil Haygood describing a lunch with […] Click to continue reading this post