Fail Lab Episode 10 is available on Discovery’s Test Tube Channel, or on YouTube. It focuses on responses to dangerous situations. Crystal Dilworth and Heather Watts do a great presenting job once again, and as a bonus, the brain-dog makes an appearance this time!
I’m preparing some notes for my graduate Electromagnetism class, and I’ve finally arrived at the section on Special Relativity. We will end up discovering the fully covariant formalism of the equations of electromagnetism in a few lectures, and a number of mysterious things we’ve seen over the course of the semester will be more natural in this setting, showing how marvellously Maxwell’s equations from the 19th Century, unifying Electricity and Magnetism, actually herald (actually should out loudly for!) Einstein’s 20th Century physics – Special Relativity.
But first I must review Special Relativity, going back to the basic thought experiments I like to talk about that lead you to discover it. Traditionally this means lots of scenarios involving flashes of light, and long extended objects being boosted at speed in various directions and so forth… All very fun.
Well, over the years I’ve changed the characters in the scenarios a couple of times, and now I’ve firmly (as of 2012) left Harry, his broom, Hermione, and [...] Click to continue reading this post →
Ever wonder what it is like to science consult for the entertainment industry? Read on. You may recall me mentioning in passing that I had an interesting time a while back on a sofa being interviewed by a cat, an owl, and a robot. Possibly you missed that remark, or tried to forget it!!! Well, the interview is now online, and you can enjoy it at your convenience. Embed below. The entirely spontaneous piece ended up being a humorous conversation that closely resembles a lot of serious conversations I’ve had with people trying to creatively mix science and a dramatic story (and in some depressing cases, documentary…) I try to help where I can, if I get the call in time! (Actually, to be fair, sometimes even the most bizarre creative free flow can end up being useful!)
The show is called Love Me Cat, and was created by Eric Kaplan, who does the voice of the cat, in collaboration with My Damn Channel. You’ll certainly know Eric’s work from things like Futurama and Big Bang Theory, for starters. I had a lot of fun on the show, and it was great to meet Eric, and all the
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Here’s the next episode in the excellent web series Fail Lab, on Discovery’s Test Tube Channel. It’s all about testicles. Clearly no more motivation is needed to encourage you to watch. It’s in a slightly different style than the previous ones… An amusing format change, in fact. Of course, there’s still amusing shenanigans going on in the lab…
Fail Lab Episode 6 has a lot of things blowing up, so that’s good, right? We actually had a lot of fun mixing in a little bit of comedy with the science. (See an earlier post I did after shooting this episode.) I hope you have fun watching it! As a bonus, everybody’s favourite, petal the brain dog, makes an appearance again. Well done once again, director/writer/producer Patrick and his team for their work on making it such a visual treat – and James, it was fun to write with you and Crystal!
Tuesday means there’s a new episode of Fail Lab, the online series on the Discovery channel Test Tube that I’ve told you about! (See several previous posts, listed below.)
Today’s excellent episode is about rodents. This is a subject I care about a bit since I’m in constant battle with them in the garden, as some of you who follow that part of the blog know… This might be why I think the actual “fail” video this episode is based on is hilarious!! Have a look at the episode, which is a lot of fun:
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This is by far the most provocative (and cleverly playful with your expectations) of the episodes so far. See my earlier posts for background on this creative, playful, and grown-up web science series. (List of posts below.) Have a look at the new episide, and stick with it all the way through before passing judgement. Warning – if you’re of the squeamish persuasion, maybe don’t look at it over lunch.
Fail Lab Episode 3 is up at Discovery’s Test Tube channel. This week talks about electricity a little bit, again in the context of an online fail video that we unpack a little. I say “we” since this time I’m on the show (accidentally showing off my energy-manipulating powers in public again – I really need to stop doing that).
It was a lot of fun to help out with the show that day, and (for better or worse!) there’s a bit more with me on the way, and of course lots more of the whole Fail Lab series to look forward to.
Episode two of Fail Lab is up now! (I told you quite a bit about this new series on the Discovery web channel Test Tube last week.) This is another excellent quirky and fun one, talking about the dynamics of sexual selection that’s going in all those fail videos you see online, where the guys are making a pig’s ear of some trick or other. This week you get to see the show’s brain on display too!
Because I love classic Queen, and because I work on string theory, but mainly because he did such a great job on everything (writing, production, puppets, singing…) I had to share this video with you, made by Tim Blais at a cappella Science:
Last year I mentioned the fantastic work of Julien Bobroff and his collaborators in developing an impressive science outreach program that does wonderful demos of the physics of the quantum world, using superconductors (and other things). He gave a talk about it at the Aspen Center for Physics and took part in some discussions about outreach at a nearby conference that David Pines had organized. Well, he’s written an article about the program and it appears in this month’s Physics Today and it seems that you can get it for free if you go here. I strongly recommend it since it might give you some ideas about how you might go about explaining some of the science you do to people (if you’re a scientist) or it might excite you to learn more about the science if you are not already familiar with it. Maybe even a show featuring science that might be coming near you one day, and/or go to a science fair.
THe great thing about the article is that it is passing on lessons learned – sharing both good and bad news. One of the the frustrations for me about the whole science outreach effort that is done by so many of us is that we’re largely reinventing the wheel every time we decide to do something, and moreover it isn’t actually always the wheel. We’re trying stuff and we’re not measuring its effectiveness, and we’re not sharing much about what works and what does not, so the outreach effort goes only so far, largely. It is one of the reasons you read me writing a lot about trying to do different things beyond just the usual- putting science where you don’t always expect it, since most of what is done is picked up by people who are already predisposed to pay attention to the science, which does not expand the reach of the outreach very much. Julien picks up on an aspect of this issue nicely. Quoting [...] Click to continue reading this post →
Wow! This is exactly the kind of thing I’ve been hoping to see more of! When the report on this started on NPR about having students do music and video about science topics, I groaned a bit (while making breakfast) when I heard the Watson and Crick mentions in the clip in the background, saying to myself that it is so unfair that once again, Rosalind Franklin is being forgotten and a whole bunch of kids will miss the opportunity to learn about the nuances involved in doing science, and miss that she did such crucial work on this most important discovery…. I continued making my coffee, listening to the report with half an ear…. and then! …more of the clip was played and a girl’s voice came on, singing a bit about Rosalind Franklin, and then I realized that this was exactly the story they were telling in the video*. The whole NPR report, by Adam Cole, is here, with a short video doc. It is about not just the Rap B.A.T.T.L.E.S. doing songs and videos about various science topics, but also about other programs as well, started by people such as Christopher Emdin at Columbia, and others. Excellent.
I’ve embedded the Franklin/Watson/Crick video below. It was made by students in the Bay area, guided by Tom McFadden at Stanford. I think this is great piece of work since they did a great job on production, particularly with casting and costuming everyone to play the principals, cutting in reaction shots and so forth… It’s a real film! And for a change, for a popular rap about science that a wide variety of young people might be attracted to, this time the music is actual contemporary rap (which usually means well thought out lyrics combined with rhythmic devices that are definitely post 1980s, and not just a bunch of lines recited over a corny background beat – see another excellent example at the end of this post) which is great! An amusing and poignant extract:
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So, last July, we had a huge landmark with the discovery of a new particle key to how our universe works – we now know it is a Higgs particle, something we’ve been waiting for a very long time. See many earlier posts about that.
This July, just this weekend, we had another huge landmark – a British tennis player won Wimbledon!! (Ok, I’m only partly serious about listing this alongside the Higgs result…) I am actually doubly excited about this, because in addition to Andy Murray actually winning, my old favourite player Ivan Lendl was coaching him. Lendl, a fantastic player, was a symbol of determination and hard work during his playing career, but never won Wimbledon, so [...] Click to continue reading this post →
Today’s CicLAVia was, in my opinion, almost perfect. It was always my dream for it (long before it actually got off the ground) to be an event that closed all of Wilshire from Downtown to the beach, to allow the city to celebrate car-free-ness on a regular basis. For me, having Wilshire be the route would make it a core location that meant the city was serious about the event, would mean a lot of participation linking East and West, and perhaps most importantly, would give a lot of room, since Wilshire is a really wide street. Perhaps that it is a long way off to have the whole of Wilshire be used, but they came close to the dream by having a Wilshire one today. The route ran from where Wilshire starts (at Grand) all the way out to LACMA at museum square at Wilshire and Fairfax. I rode it with a friend in the middle of the day and it was a lot of fun. See below for some of the things we did. Also, watch the timelapse video I made (embedded later) which has some fun stills embedded in it as well.
You might recall some of the things that I felt the need to mention concerned me after the last CicLAVia. In that post I was most concerned about the narrowness of the route (they only used half of Venice for much of the way) and the fact that the resulting compressed group of people got even more compressed with the numerous traffic stops that there were. It was unpleasant and possibly dangerous. Well, there was not a hint of that here. They had both sides of Wilshire open, and relatively few traffic stops. This meant a lovely free flow of traffic for people of all speeds, ages, and mode of transport. The other main concern I had was that the event did not leave enough time for people to explore the route, leaving a number of people stranded, which is not good for a lot of people who are infrequent riders – they’ve got to get home cycling in traffic that they might not be ready to do yet. Well, today they extended the time by two hours, making it run from 9:00am to 4:00pm. Brilliant. I suspect that helped also with the potential congestion since people participating get spread out over a longer time.
Overall, I must congratulate the organizers for a nearly perfect event. Now if only we can have Wilshire open all the way to the beach for a CicLAVia, I’d be in heaven.
(Actually, just a few weeks ago I did my own all-Wilshire CicLAVia when I was heading to a couple of events at Westwood and Santa Monica. I started out planning to take my bike on the 720 bus but ended up giving up on the whole thing – there was a dreadful 45 minute hole in the schedule that made me horribly late for the first event and too many pushy people fighting to get on when the bus did show up – so I just cycled the whole way. It was a lot of fun, and helped me let off steam…but I’d love to participate in a whole group of LA residents doing it one day…)
[caption id="attachment_14281" align="aligncenter" width="499"] The crowd watching Devo on stage at the Natural History Museum’s 100th Birthday celebration (click for larger view)[/caption]The 100th Birthday party at the Natural History Museum was fantastic! Adam Steltzner’s talk was excellent and it was a pleasure to be the MC and introduce him and run the Q&A. (It was a tall order for me to fill Michael Quick’s shoes, but I gave it a shot.) The audience was really great, and there were several great questions. The wide shot (click for larger view) at the top is a panorama shot of the outdoor concert stage, with Devo just starting their set (GZA of Wu-Tang Clan was on just before). I took it* while standing under the fin whale skeleton that is the centerpiece of the new Otis Booth entryway pavilion that was unveiled just minutes earlier. (See more about that space and other new exhibits here.) Here are a couple of shots (click for larger view) from Adam’s session, where he gave an inspiring talk about the engineering of the landing of the Curiosity Mars rover, with reflections on space exploration in general**:
[caption id="attachment_14261" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Adam Steltzner talking about the Curiosity Mission at the Natural History Museum’s 100th Birthday bash[/caption] [...] Click to continue reading this post →
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.
Memorial Day was fun. There was a gathering at a friend’s house down near the LA River. At some point in the afternoon lots of people went down to the river banks to look at the lovely scene there, with people fishing, cycling, and kayaking (and other sort of boats) along some stretches. This is not at all what people expect of the LA River, so it was good (once again) to see a different reality shine through the standard images. Focusing on being good company, I only started [...] Click to continue reading this post →
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 [...] Click to continue reading this post →
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 interviews 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 [...] Click to continue reading this post →
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 [...] Click to continue reading this post →
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!
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 [...] Click to continue reading this post →
[caption id="attachment_12548" align="aligncenter" width="499"] Space Shuttle Endeavour and escort, flying over the California Science Center, its new home where it will soon be on display.[/caption]
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…)
[caption id="attachment_12549" align="alignleft" width="300"] Shuttle Endeavour and escort, with the Natural History Museum just in view below. It is approaching the California Science Center.[/caption]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 [...] Click to continue reading this post →
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 [...] Click to continue reading this post →
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 [...] Click to continue reading this post →
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 Click to continue reading this post →
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 [...] Click to continue reading this post →