Has Hubble found the Culprit?

Recall that some years ago the Hubble telescope found a rude message in the sky:

Carina Hubble Image

It is said that many were offended by this sign. Some even thought it may have been left by their God as a sort of crude final message for those seeking meaning in the skies. Other, perhaps less imaginative people just figured it’s a random combination of shapes people are projecting onto.

Well, after much more searching through the sky for the perpetrator of the crime, it seems that the Hubble instrument may have caught a suspect on camera:
A smiling lens

Of course, until the entity is brought in for questioning, it should be granted the presumption of innocence. (And even if it was its hand, it may have all been a big celestial misunderstanding…)


P.S. The first NASA/ESA Hubble image is from a detail of gas clouds in the Carina nebula, and more can be found out about it here.

In the second NASA/ESA Hubble image the arcs of a circle that form the “head” shape are actually a gravitational lensing effect. 100 years ago this year Einstein published his General Relativity which shows, among other things, […] Click to continue reading this post


It is the 4th of July, and I hope you who are celebrating it have a good time today!

I can’t really let the day pass without sharing with you the episode of Fail Lab in which we examine fireworks and pyrotechnics with an appropriate cautionary note, and a dash of humour. Enjoy it again if you’ve seen it before, and don’t forget to check out all twelve episodes. You can read my discussion of the whole series (excellently made by Patrick Scott) starting here, and there’s more here. Click below for the episode: […] Click to continue reading this post

Debate about Forever…

This is a good one from the Onion. (I’ve not looked in on them for a while, so this was a funny thing to return to see…*) The title says it all: “Top Theoretical Physicists, R&B Singers Meet To Debate Meaning Of Forever”. Extract:

[…] at the four-day symposium, where they grappled with extant questions regarding the concept of forever that remained unresolved, such as whether forever is better conceived as an infinite, four-dimensional expanse of space-time or, rather, what one second feels like when you’re away from your girl.

“For many years, the R&B community has posited the classic notion that forever is presumed to go on and on like our love,” said Edward Witten, a string theorist at the Institute for Advanced Study, who acknowledged that while time appears to extend unendingly, it is paradoxically composed of discrete moments such as a tender embrace or a single perfect kiss. “This assertion then raises a problem of even greater […]

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The Calculus of Gender and Sexuality?

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

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

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

No, That’s the Other Guy…

sam_jackson_tvNo, I’m not Neil deGrasse Tyson. Yes, we both talk about science on TV. Yes, we both happen to be black… but no, we are not the same guy. Also: No, I am not Jim Gates. He also sometimes shows up on TV talking about physics, and he is also black.. but no, he isn’t either me (Clifford) or Neil… He’s Jim.

This attempt at humour is inspired (in part) by real conversations I’ve had (less so in recent years, thank goodness – people are maybe better about googling first?). But mostly it is inspired by this (familiar) sad, funny, and stunningly awkward conversation from Monday* (the first 2 minutes 10 seconds): […] Click to continue reading this post

Heaven Help Us

Well it is 6:30pm. It was my plan to take a nap this late afternoon (maybe early evening) but I’m not going to do that anymore. Why? Well turns out I’m appearing in a show this evening. It starts at midnight so I’m a little afraid that I might just sleep all the way through, wake up tomorrow morning and so miss my spot. So while the sleep would do me some good in order to be up so late, and functioning, I think I’ll skip it.

What’s the show? Well it’s a show on stage put on by some of the Upright Citizens Brigade. They asked me to appear as a guest – not as a character, but actually as myself, a scientist. It’ll be in front of a live audience, although they will be taping it later possible broadcast. You know how it goes with me – I especially like an opportunity to put some science out there here it is not expected so this is right up my alley. My understanding is that it’s a comedy […] Click to continue reading this post

Consulting for a Cat…

love_me_cat_stillEver 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
[…] Click to continue reading this post

Fail Lab 6: Pyrotechnics!


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!

Embed below: […] Click to continue reading this post

Coming (Very) Soon…

fail_lab_poster Fail Lab is coming in five days.

Reportedly it’ll be “a new kind of science series”, so we shall see!

That’s all I know so far as regards the launch.

More when I know more.

By the way, it relates to this, and indeed that is Crystal Dilworth, the presenter, in the poster.

Er, the picture/poster is blatantly borrowed/stolen from writer/director Patrick Scott’s twitter feed.)

-cvj Click to continue reading this post


TwentyWonder is tonight! Come along if you’re in the area. Some quotes from the site:

A mindblowing cultural mashup. One night only. Only in LA.

Art. Science. Music. Comedy. Food ‘n Drink. Weird Geeky Stuff. …and Roller Derby!

Feel the Love. All proceeds go to the Downs Syndrome Association of Los Angeles.

See you there?

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

The Fifth Feeling – All Episodes!

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*:

Ok, ok. I can’t resist posting episode 4 as well, because that doorstep conversation cracks me up every time… […] Click to continue reading this post

Scary Science?

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 […] Click to continue reading this post

Carmageddon Reaction

Atlantic Station on Gold Line East LA Branch(Scroll to the end of this post for the funny thing I actually intended to post without my own musings getting in the way…) It has certainly been a huge story, with national and maybe even international attention been given to it. Carmageddon is the name given to the event of the 405 highway being closed for a 10 mile stretch for most of this weekend, for maintenance purposes. People are warning of disaster, complaining, predicting calamities for business, stocking up on food supplies, and so on and so forth. Some people are angry, some are amused, some are confused. For the most part however, people are quietly making sensible plans to adjust their routines or plans to take account of the event. (Er, I’m not sure I’d include flying from Burbank to Long Beach among the sensible plans!*)

I’m sort of struck by the huge impact this is having in people’s minds, and it has raised all sorts of discussions, reflections, and arguments about the reliance on cars that people have, public transport, and so on and so forth. All subjects you’ve maybe read being discussed here over the years. (Search the archives and/or use the search bar to the right.) The clichés about there being “no public transport” in LA is a convenient one for all to use at times (or all the time) when we want to stay in our nice cosy cars and ignore the alternatives and the possibility of making adjustments to include even occasional use of them, but I readily admit that the West side is a lot closer to the standard image of Los Angeles in this regard than points further East (still staying decidedly North-leaning in the discussion of course – the South LA conversation is an interesting one for another time). The density of shops, cafes, and long, desirably walkable stretches with other pedestrians (yes, they do exist in LA) does indeed seem lower over there, and while there is some bus coverage, the lower density makes the flaws of that part of the transport system hurt more, and of course the subway/metro […] Click to continue reading this post

Got Your Rapture On Yet?

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:

[…] Click to continue reading this post

3D Giggles

3d-tv-without-glassesOk, so how long did it take you to spot that NPR’s 3D story today (“Advances In 3-D May Mean No Ridiculous Glasses”) was an April Fool joke? I thought it was rather excellent, and was in unbelieving mode from the moment that they began to talk about the surgery, which is utterly ridiculous, and made no physics sense to me at all. But the funniest give away was the line:
[…] Click to continue reading this post

A Physics Joke for April Fool’s Day

Since I did not manage to put together an April Fool joke this year (again!), I’ll leave you with a joke sent to me today that I’d heard some time ago, but still makes me laugh out loud since it is so close to the truth about how keen we Physicists tend to be when it comes to problem-solving, and sharing the solution, even when it is not such a good idea. I do not know the originator of the joke, but here it is:
[…] Click to continue reading this post

Bad Project


I’m guessing that a lot of you (especially those doing graduate work in Biology Labs) will just love this video, because you can relate to it. It’s about that frustrating feeling that (for one reason or another, or several) you’re stuck doing the endless project from hell… We’ve all been there. Oh, and it is done in the style of a Lady Gaga video I am told (not having ever seen or heard a Lady Gaga video, as far as I am aware, I can’t attest to this). Video after the fold:
[…] Click to continue reading this post

The Project – 1

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

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

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

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


During idle moments, when nobody is looking, we professors of the Dark Arts are known to practice various techniques. Just for fun, and to stay sharp, you understand. This was during the wait for the USC Presidential inauguration march to begin a couple of weeks ago. (See posts here and here.) As you can see, Nick Warner (right) and I (middle) are engaged in trying different approaches to a remote influence technique as Krzysztof Pilch (left) looks on at the results, somewhat amused. (Click for slightly larger view.)


All in good fun.

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Guide To Science Writing

One of the things I pointed to in my discussion of science writing issues yesterday (see previous post) was this brilliant Guardian article by Martin Robbins. Of course, the classes had already seen it, and it is several weeks old now, but if you have not seen it, you simply must. It is so hilarious and so sharply observed that it should be as widely seen as possible.

Many of the comments left are brilliant too, written in the same style.


-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Quark Constituents

quark_cheeseNoticed this on the shelves in a supermarket yesterday. (I was hunting for clotted cream, but that’s another story.) I can’t recall if I’ve known before that “quark” was also a kind of cheese.

I suspect that this might have potentially amusing physics joke uses in the future.

To further my education, I looked up quark cheese on Wikipedia. All very interesting. […] Click to continue reading this post