Well, I’m exhausted, and so am certainly not going to give you a full report on everything right now. I hope to do another post with my usual time-lapse video of the ride some time later (but soon). They are uploading from my camera right now. All I will give you right now is a shot of the crowds at a typical stop along the route. Also, I will say a few words that will probably get me into trouble.
The bottom line is that I remain a huge supporter of cicLAvia, and the idea that it is planting in everyone’s minds – getting out of your cars and cycling. This is especially important for a city like LA. And it is not just for all the environmental reasons, to do with energy use, air quality, and so forth. I can go on about those but I won’t. See earlier posts for that sort of thing. It is also because many people get to properly see their city in these events, which is really important. You can’t see it from a car – and I don’t just mean all the buildings and wonderful hidden gems I sometimes talk about, but I mean the other people who live in the city with you. That’s a big deal, and an important one for when it comes to how we all work and live together. I’m also very excited that the organizers tried this cross-city route, linking East and West, getting West side based people involved in the fun. And overall I enjoyed today a lot… I love the event and will keep coming and keep supporting it.
So were you, back in 2008, among the many wondering what a Quantum of Solace was, and probably coming up blank? Did you eventually give up and put it out of your mind? Well, there’s another quandary at large that might trouble you for a while, and for the same reasons as before. Royal Caribbean International have launched the new name for their new oceanliner(s).
It is… wait for it… “Quantum of the Seas”. (I learned this from an ad break during the Oscars last weekend.) Now, the “of the Seas” bit continues a tradition of names over the Continue reading ‘Another Quantum’
A while ago I got an email out of the blue from an enthusiastic young fellow who wanted to do an interview with me on camera for his YouTube channel. After we bounced emails back and forth a bit and I got a sense that this was both legitimate, worth supporting, and that I had time to do it, we agreed that we’d meet to do it. So we met at the excellent Mystery and Imagination bookshop in Glendale, and he set the camera running and threw a bunch of questions at me. We talked about all sorts of things from dark matter, the LHC, supersymmetry and string theory to trumpets, jazz clubs, and noir films.
It was fun, and you can find the results on his YouTube channel (here), that he hopes to populate with more interviews with people working in science and other topics. He’s got an interview with mathematical physicist John Baez up there already, so go and look.
Below I’ve embedded the interview with me, for your convenience.
…Well, it is a lot of other things too, all marvellous, but it was quite a surprise to me that science, the love of it, (and to some extent, the method of it) is so overtly celebrated in the film. I’m a huge Tim Burton fan, and so that was a bonus for me since I was already predisposed to like the film, when I went to see it several weeks ago. I love the depictions of the suspicions and the misunderstandings, the boy hiding away and doing his Continue reading ‘Frankenweenie is a Love Letter to Science!’
Recall the mock science doc I pointed you to earlier, the Fifth Feeling? Well, all the episodes are now online in HD, on Funny Or Die. You can see the remaining episodes (3, 4, and 5 since I posted) now, or watch them all, since they look great in HD. (Or maybe because you’re simply a huge Ray Wise fan from the good ol’ Twin Peaks days..?) Here’s episode 1 again to get you started if you’ve not seen the setup, and from there you can jump to the others*:
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*).
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 Continue reading ‘So Good They Named It Twice’
Ack! As you know, it has been an incredibly busy semester for me, but I still try to find time to tell you a bit of what is going on. Not long ago I got an email from the TED people asking me if I’d like to talk at one of their events. This event is for young people, called TEDYouth. It’ll be on November 17th. Well, this is such a good cause – how can I not do this?
You can see the announcement of the “incredible lineup” of speakers on TED’s site here. (I linked the photomontage they used there.) I’m looking forward to being in the audience to hear some of these guys talk!
So of course, I now find myself a week behind where I should be in terms of preparation, and in the middle of a whole bunch of other deadines…
Somewhere in all the craziness (that has partly been responsible for the light posting of late), yesterday I had time to rush over to a lab to do some demonstrations for a new TV show that is upcoming. It went rather well, since some time was found to prepare all the logistics for it, and one of our lab demo experts, Angella*, did a great job of sourcing the things needed and testing it out beforehand. My job (after helping with the logistics of getting the operation off the ground and connecting some of the dots to make the shoot happen) was to show up and talk about the science and do the demonstrations.
It was about conditions on some of our popular neighbouring planets, and so in addition to holding models of the dear things and talking a bit about them to camera, I engaged in some demonstrations. The demos were simple enough – showing how to boil water at room temperature by simply dropping the pressure, and showing how sulphuric acid wreaks havoc with sugar by sucking the water out of it, making an impressive black column of carbon… fun!
I was glad to be doing some science discussion for public consumption again as we did not shoot any new episodes for The Universe this Summer (as in previous years)… They are still working through the backlog of shows we shot from last year, apparently. Part of the recent craziness was dashing off to another part of town last week to shoot some segments for another show entirely (some online material for a Continue reading ‘Playing with Planets’
Space Shuttle Endeavour and escort, flying over the California Science Center, its new home where it will soon be on display.
Wow, that was amazing. So a group of us (Aimee, Amy, Tameem, and myself) decided to go down to the Rose Garden, across the street from the USC campus and in the grounds of the Califorina Science Center where the Shuttle will be housed. Of all the places in LA where there will be a flyover, surely we ought to get a good view from there. Also, the Rose Garden gives access to a large piece of sky, so even if it does not come super-close, we ought to get a good chance… That was the thinking. (A major landmark here was that this is the most USC people I’ve ever seen in the lovely Rose Garden – not counting people on their way to a game at the Coliseum…)
Shuttle Endeavour and escort, with the Natural History Museum just in view below. It is approaching the California Science Center.
Well, it worked far better than we imagined. The shuttle eventually appeared from the West, and people began to cheer and wave, and snap pictures and so forth… We all felt very lucky that they did that pass…. you could see the fighter plane (?) escort, and there it was appropriately (sort of) over the buildings where it will live out its days… We’d talked about what it meant to see the very last transport flight of a shuttle, the end of the shuttle program, the future of manned spaceflight, and so forth. We, and the Continue reading ‘Flyover!’
The Space Shuttle Endeavour will fly (or will be flown by its carrier plane) over Los Angeles this morning, paying special attention to various LA landmarks. Don’t forget to look up! I’ve heard it will be around 10:30am, but double check since I might have heard that time incorrectly. I plan to start looking out by 10:00am, down on the USC campus, since the California Science Center (across the street) where the Shuttle will be housed, is one of the places it will specially fly over… More here.
On Tuesday I headed to Santa Monica. Two dear friends of mine had invited me to a private screening of a film they’d just completed, one as writer+director, the other as producer. The film was a labour of love, and I’d not heard much about its progress since earlier in the year, and so I was delighted to be back in town to go to it. I took a friend along, and we decided to leave early enough to go to the beach for a little while – the traditional antidote to the high heat of the last several days.
To cut a long story medium, at some point I was wading up to my knees in the water. I’d just replied in reassurance that I’d be quite fine still wearing my glasses (with sunglasses attachments on) since I was not going to swim when a larger than average wave surged forward and knocked me off my feet with such stunning force that I thudded to the bottom on my knees, and my face and hands got tangled up in seaweed! Moments later, the undertow pulled everything back I and I was standing back up, fumbling with seaweed, and missing my glasses! This began a period of considerable activity at the sea, with large surges and strong pullback so that it was difficult to stand still to look for anything, and moreover, it was impossible to see anything since the sand was churning around too much.
It all seemed very funny to me. It was clear after a while that there’d be no reappearance of my glasses. No amazing story where the sea threw them back out after a while, twisted, maybe missing the arms, but at least useable for some kind of vision… There were simply no glasses to be had. Luckily, my friend had driven us, so I did not have to worry about that. There was little time to dash back home to get an old pair and return for the screening. I’d have to figure out how to manage without them. Now bear in mind that I am very short sighted indeed. If I was sitting five feet Continue reading ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the…’
It wasn’t all lecture halls, discussion rooms, and cafeterias for the workshop. The organizers arranged for a boat tour last week, and we all sat on one of those splendid long, wide and low tour boats that you often see on the canals in Amsterdam. It was nicely equipped with a bottle of wine at each table, and the crew members handed us each a glass of sparkling wine as we embarked. Very nice. There was a lot of fun chatter from each table for the whole trip around the canals (so much so that they stopped the attempts to inform us over the PA system about some of the sights we were seeing, since the sound was drowned out by the conversations), covering (from what I could hear) a wide range of topics from well beyond physics to matters concerning topics presented in the workshop.
With the Aspen Center for Physics film almost completed (see several earlier posts, e.g. here, here, and here), various things get set in stone once and for all, so that other things can be built on top of them. At some point, I had to be certain of the final form of the voice over, so that Dave (the editor) can lay it in and time various transitions around it. This was done on Friday along with a huge rewrite of the whole film script, and lots of work on picking b-roll footage and other material to illustrate the film and create atmosphere. Once my co-producer/director Bob had glanced at it and made some helpful remarks (always good to have more eyeballs to spot any mistakes that could get frozen in) I was ready for Monday’s exercise – recording the final voice work. No turning back, no second chances, since we need to deliver the film this week.
While I’ve directed a bit before, I’ve not ever had the chance to direct a hugely experienced star actor, so this was going to be a blast! A while back, over food and drink at a party, my friend Harry Lennix (who loves contemporary physics – that’s in fact why we met, years ago) had generously agreed to do the voice narration for this project, and I was very pleased since it was his voice I had in mind since late August Continue reading ‘Voice of God’
This film is simply delightful, although in the context of the article I read about it* in (in the May 14th 2012 New Yorker, “Here’s Looking at You” by Nick Paumgarten – about domestic use of unmanned drones and all that is in store of us there), also a Continue reading ‘Flying Robot Band’
Don’t forget (if you’re in the Los Angeles area), 10:00am to 3:00pm tomorrow is CicLAVia. This is the fourth one. The weather looks like it will be perfect for cycling, and there’ll be even more stops for food and drink than before. More information at their website here (click here for the expanded route that debuted last time). See earlier posts (linked below) on the previous events, and I’ll re-embed one of the time lapse films I made so you can ride along with me:
Well, that turned out to be a very productive Walkabout. I set up an office there, taking some of the essentials of the things I was working on and disappearing for most of the week. No computers, just pens, pencils, and paper. My office? A chair and a shelter made of thin fabric, string, two poles, and some large stones to weigh down the pegs against the wind. The shelter was against the sun, since I was in Death Valley, camping. As I sometimes do.
My routine was simple: I’d wake up at about sunrise or shortly thereafter and after a visit to the restrooms across the way to freshen up a bit, I’d get my old whisperlite stove going to make some water boiling for tea. Once that’s done, I’d make a pot of oatmeal for breakfast and sitting eating it while flicking at the gnats that seem to begin to swarm during the morning’s first heat, I’d watch the morning move along for a while, with campers across the way getting ready for their day’s hikes or drives in the area. (My hiking boots and other gear were with me just in case I wanted to hike, but that was not my focus, and I didn’t in the end.) Next I’d make a large pot of coffee (sweetened with dark brown sugar), have a cup of it then and there, and pour the rest into a thermos flash for consumption during the day. Then I’d wash up everything, put them away, and take my work materials to my office, situated just behind my tent. By then, most people have left for good or for the day in the neighboring campsites, and it is quiet, except for the large ravens that tour the Continue reading ‘And Back…’
Just got back from stalking the biggest rock star in town. It is the centerpiece (wrapped in white material for the trip to reduce damage) of what will be the Levitated Mass piece by Michael Heizer, at LACMA, and it has been trundled over the last ten days or so from Riverside to Los Angeles in little late night journey, and as I speak is heading to its resting place at LACMA down Wilshire Boulevard. The picture is it when it was passing USC (my place of work) at about 10:45pm Friday night, trundling down Figueroa. This $10 million operation (involving a huge entourage Continue reading ‘Rock Star!’
Now that we’ve finished the shoot, I’ll tell you that we were shooting at The Paramour, a wonderful old house in one of the Silver Lake hills of some renown. It is part of the Canfield-Moreno estate, famous for being a mansion built for a silent movie star and his bride. It has recording studio facilities used by lots of musicians of all sorts (you’re maybe heard recordings that were done there), and it is used a lot for filming. You can read more about it here.
The above sketch is one I did there yesterday while waiting (and waiting, and waiting) for the various scenes I was to appear in. I chose this part of the house because that’s where craft services was and it was one of the places people were allowed to congregate when not involved in shooting. There are more beautiful parts, but then… you see those in photos all the time anyway. It’s time this side got some attention. I did 90% of the pencil work on the spot, and finished it up and splashed some (digital) paint on it in the early hours of this morning (Inexplicably, I got up at 4:30am and have been up for four hours now… I think I am going to try to have a nap before going off shopping). I was also going to share with you some sketches of people playing a dice game (karaki? I did not know it before) that we used to pass some of the time, but I didn’t finish any of them, sadly…
The rest of the shoot? Yes, it went well. I brought an extra layer of clothing against the cold, but it was still very cold, especially since this time most of the filming was outside. The afternoon was ok, as there was a bit of sun, and, helpfully, a pig was roasting, so we could stand near the heat from that. Yes, you read me right… there was indeed a pig being roasted. It was for a scene involving a picnic, followed by revelry later (hired revelers were bussed in for the night-time craziness), with several of us standing round talking about random topics as the film crew wove in and out of our groups, catching snippets of conversation. Lunch later on involved eating the pig (not on camera). I had a monologue coming up later on in the day, and so I memorized it in the Continue reading ‘Hanging Out at the Paramour’
Today is supposed to be a return to page layout on The Project. I’m rusty as all hell, not having done that for a while. I’ve been procrastinating a bit, and various errands have intervened, and more will – but I want to get down to it. This is the stage where I try to get all the beats of the conversation and other action all mapped out, before more detailed design of the settings, and before doing tighter (i.e., more detailed) pencils.
To knock the rust off, I decided early this morning to play with simplified mannequin figures. These little guys are great because they are very expressive, while being composed of only a few lines.
The mask I wore to two Halloween parties last night. (Click for larger view.) I got the raw mask at a costume shop and then built some interior support into it to have it sit over my glasses without pressing on them uncomfortably… Then I inked and painted some symbols on it. The idea? People often get scared when I mention science or Continue reading ‘Scary Science?’
So there are two workshops going on here at the KITP in Santa Barbara that pertain to issues in condensed matter physics. (You may recall that I am here for some of the week, and in LA at USC for the rest of the week – adds up to a full week each week.) One is Holographic Duality and Condensed Matter Physics (often referred to as AdS/CMT), concerning applications (I’ve told you about this here before) of techniques from string theory to issues in condensed matter theory and experiment, and the other is Topological Insulators and Superconductors. there are people from both communities on both workshops, and so it is an exciting and interesting time.
The KITP Fall picnic was yesterday, and this means that there’s the traditional football (i.e. soccer) contest between workshops. Not to resolve physics issues, you understand, but to blow off some steam before getting down to the business of eating all the food… Well, at the top of this post and in the following, you can see some pictures of the process of the string theory crowd getting slaughtered for a change:
After just having walked down a few minutes from Electric Pass Peak back towards the Pass (the peak is a fun 13635 ft / 4156 m elevation), I remembered to take this short panorama to show the surroundings. You can see the peak just descended in the middle of the film, and just before you’ll see Cathedral Lake in the distance, along with the meadow of wild flowers through which the hike to the peak takes you.
The last day or two I’ve paused from various things due to various other things intervening and competing for time. For work toward the project in the in-betweens, I’ve decided to do a bit of study (really, re-study and move things forward a bit) of head construction… mostly working on two key things: (1) Variety of types and (2) more solidity and, er, sculptedness…. This will help with improved production and character design and so forth later on, for The Project.
All while still keeping speed at a good clip. At the right is a quick study I did toward the end of the day today. It is rough, and I am focusing on overall structure, so forgive the crudity. I’d been working entirely with pencil earlier in the day, so this was a change of medium, and a change of pace, that is often useful for getting nice flow. The medium? I used the app Brushes on the iPad. So there’s the one thin stroke of black, using a stylus. I’d done a rough framework of blue underneath first, for layout and bulk.
Well, Wednesday was unexpectedly exhausting, but quite a day. I intended to do a step by step report as I went along, but in the end we were too busy for me to do that, so instead I’ll give you a summary from memory. My instructions were to meet at 5:00am (yes, I know, 5:00am!) in the Temecula area with the film crew and a senior representative from the fire department. This meant leaving the night before and staying in a hotel nearby, so that I only had to get up at 4:30am instead of the two hours or more I’d have needed to otherwise. The meet went well (even with the slight confusion over two strip malls on opposite sides of the street both with a Starbucks, the meeting point…) and we set off in two vehicles into the brush.
Our goal was a particular area where we were going to take part in a key operation of the forestry and fire department (and related services the names of which I’ve forgotten) – a controlled or “prescribed” burn. The burn will act as a rather excellent analogue of a much larger issue of scientific interest, the main subject of the episode. I’ll let you actually watch the episode to learn more, so that I don’t spill the beans.
I say take part since we were not only going to film it (in 3D), but I would be – in my role as a sort of host of this segment – interviewing the Battalion Chief (Julie Hutchinson) about the burn, and then helping burn some of it myself! It’s certainly not every day one gets to help burn 100 acres – safely and legally!
It was a huge amount of fun, right from the morning briefing (6:00am), the borrowing of odd bits of safety equipment from various members of the crew so that our crew, and yours truly, were safely kitted out, to being instructed on camera by one of the fire chiefs how to use the drip torch (there’s one on the left) to set little pools of fire in the brush the required distance apart to get the required burn rate…
This short video from the Fluke Corporation showing various vibrating objects slowed down so you can see the motion is quite lovely. You get to see some key physics happening at a more manageable speed. It is often illuminating! Enjoy*:
Seems that everyone is talking about this game called Angry Birds… when they are not playing it on their phone, at least. The last time (and one of the few times) I think I played a computer game was in a pub in Trieste in 1991 when I was a graduate student visiting the ICTP for my first international physics school (gosh I so miss that place). The game was tetrus. I loved it. Knowing my obsessive nature, I decided long ago to stay away from things like that, since I worried that I’d get into computer games in a big way and then never get anything done again. Ever. So I still don’t play computer games, even now. I suppose I passed the point where I’d have got into them, and so now they don’t really interest me so much, other than as an interesting social phenomenon…
So everyone has been talking about the craze for Angry Birds, and the fact that they’ve been distracting themselves with it between things at every opportunity. That’s fine, really, and all well and good. I didn’t really know what it is in detail (some friends tried to fill me in a bit the other day, so I am less ignorant than I was last week) on Thursday during the shoot when I happened to see an amusing way of being able to say that I’d been playing angry birds without actually playing angry birds.
Thursday’s shooting day was tiring, but fun overall. It started in the (highly unusual) June rain that we had in the first area we shot in – Griffith Park. We were at those famous (man made) caves that you may well have seen in one or other movie Western, or TV series like the classic old Batman show, where they played the role of the batcave. Don’t ask me why we were there. I think it was just a nice backdrop for the physics I was talking about to camera, between rain showers and screaming bouts from some, er, Angry Birds*. Crows, I think they were. It was cold, and I was a bit low-spirited and off my game as a result. I did not even remember to take a picture for you…
Then we headed South -and warmer- to Knott’s Berry Farm. Now, I’d vaguely heard of such a place, but I will admit that I had no idea that it was so close to Los Angeles. We were there to shoot lots of moving, interacting bodies, as a series of analogies for some other physics issues…and this is the perfect place for that, with all the various fun rides there are within easy reach. It was fun to enter the park through the service entrance, and then emerge through a secret door in the middle of the special universe they’ve created for the customers! We wandered off to find the various things we Continue reading ‘Tales from the Industry XXXVI – 3D at the Fun Fair’
I only noticed this late in the day, but had to point it out! There’s a Les Paul tribute on the google home page today. If you go there, you’ll find that there’s a set of playable guitar strings there… You can strum them, pick them, etc., and even hit the record button below it all to record your experiments. Then it gives you your own URL with your result! Continue reading ‘Google Guitar!’
Yes, I went with some friends to see His Purpleness last night, at the Forum. Remarkably fun show, with tons of great music. He played and played and played, including some long James Brown style jams where he channeled much of the master’s moves and stylings, and – yes! – brought on Maceo Parker as a guest for a lot of the evening’s proceedings. (Who is Maceo Parker, you ask?! The familiar also saxophone soloist on a lot of the famous James Brown hits…) He did so many of his songs, including some of the great hits known to all, and some of the songs that he’s written that have been made famous by others, such as “Nothing Compares 2 U”**.
So at the end of last week, it was that time. I’d been doing temporary countermeasures over the past month or two to put it off, but it was inevitable. I tried to run Illustrator, the program with which I do my painting for The Project, and while opening, it stopped and complained – I’d run out of hard drive space. Somehow, since what feels like only yesterday, I have filled (well, with 4GB spare) 320 GB of had drive space with…. Well… Who knows what? Lots of little bits of everything, I expect. So after a bit of research, I decided to go wild and get a 750GB 7200 rpm drive from Seagate – new on the market this year, apparently. Usually I wait for new things like this to have their creases ironed out, but it seems that they’re really just gluing two smaller drives together, and their 500GB version of the same thing seems to be thought of as reliable, so I decided what the hey. And this whole series of drives is called the Momentus, so surely that’ll be a good thing too.
This meant a fast trip to the always-fun Fry’s Electronics, in Burbank, about which you’ve maybe read a post from me before. Fast because it closes at 9:00pm and I was leaving the house at 8:30pm, but wanted to get it so I could begin the cloning process (see later) overnight, so as to get back to work on the computer the next day.
The trip was great, as I expected, made even better by the fact that the things I wanted were actually on the shelves – said hard drive (a steal at $99), an enclosure for it to make it USB accessible ($9.99) while I clone my existing drive to it, and some tools ($13.99), since Apple, fresh in their new role as Evil Empire, keep changing the screws on the inside of their electronics to odd sizes and shapes to discourage DIY work, trying to force you to take it into their amusingly called Genius Bar… Happily, people have been making screwdrivers to undo the five round pointed head screws on such models and selling them in kits. I found one. Hurrah! (Turns out that I did not need the one for the pentascrew… it was introduced on a different model than mine. The smaller Phillips head driver was good to have though, and as Continue reading ‘Momentus Mingus’
Well, it’s 7:00am on Rapture Day and what am I doing? Drawing. I’ll do a bit of gardening later. It’s not a bad way to go, really.
…And then I’ll check back online to see some more funny reporting on the oddly Raptureless Rapture Day, like this Guardian article I’ve been looking at. So far, the most fun has been looking at the headline of various articles, such as:
“After the Rapture, who will walk your dog?” (NPR)
“Apocalypse Now. … No, Now!” (HuffPo)
“Apocalypse Not Now: Rapture fails to materialize” (Guardian)
(I may update with others later.)
…And although I tend not to read comment streams in newspapers and YouTube and so forth, because of all the general ickiness, I’m making an exception for these articles. My favourite so far is way down on the comments on the Guardian article…. people had been making lots of good jokes, and then someone wrote:
This weekend is the JPL Open House! You might recall from my visits there in the past (or, at least, my reports on them – see e.g. here) that it is a fun and informative time. I recommend it. It runs from 9:00am to 5:00pm today and tomorrow, and you can go along to see what’s up with various JPL/NASA missions, hear about future missions, learn the science and technology behind various equipment and the various science goals, and much more.