Science Films Galore!

Sorry that it has taken me so long to get to posting the results of the USC Science Film Competition. It has been super-hectic. In addition to the usual things I have to do, I had to give a talk about science education to the Society of Physics Students – that went well, I heard – read and examine another PhD. thesis (twice in one week), do battle with two fronts of vermin attacks on my house, and prep a whole lot of other things I won’t trouble you with… Also, oddly, the time change seems to have left me in a state of exhaustion each day.

Enough with the excuses. What are the results, you ask? And is it true the winner was controversial?!

usc_science_film_showcase_2014_1Well, first and foremost we had a fantastic time celebrating the work of all the students in the competition. About 75 or so people turned up, making all my frantic buying of things in Trader Joe’s and so forth all worth while, and there were two screening sessions separated by a coffee and snacks break. Since there were twelve films this year (a 50% increase!) there were six per session (I curated things so that the sessions were about the same length), which worked rather well. A lot of the films used quite a bit of their 10 minute allowed duration, and so given that I pause between films to give each team a chance to take a bow, it was in danger of being a long evening, and for that I apologize to everyone, but I do think that the students should get a fair amount of individual recognition for their hard work.

Anyway, to cut a long story to medium, the standard was quite high this year, with several good films at the top that were hard to choose between, but I think the 15 judges (from academia and the film industry, with scientists and filmmakers and scientists-turned-filmmakers on both sides) got it right.

The first prize winning film has resulted in raised eyebrows from some, including the filmmakers themselves who apparently were sure that their film would be overlooked due to its content. I think that the judges got it exactly right. It is a fine example of exactly what I’m looking for in this competition- a [...] Click to continue reading this post

On CU@USC Tonight

By the way, I’ll be on the local TV show CU@USC tonight (6:30pm – live), talking about things like communicating science, science and film, and of course the USC Science Film Competition that I run that I’m trying to let students and faculty know about as much as I can. (Perhaps we’ll talk about other topics as well. We shall see.) I’ll also be joined by Simon Wilches-Castro, a student who was in the competition two years ago. He did the lovely animation for the film on fractals, called Yaddda Yadda Yada.

If you watch (live stream here), I hope you enjoy it!

Here’s the film: [...] Click to continue reading this post

Science on Screen – Primer

Well, that was a hugely fun evening! The Cinefamily screening of Primer was sold out to a packed and enthusiastic audience. (That alone was worth it…) I met Shane Carruth back stage for a few minutes and immediately was impressed. I like people who take the time to think carefully about what they are going to say before saying it, visibly carefully weighing what was just said in the conversation and then adding to it in an interesting way. He’s one of those people. So I knew that the panel discussion was going to be great.

[caption id="attachment_13780" align="aligncenter" width="480"] Hadrian Belove, Shane Carruth and Clifford Johnson at Cinefamily screening of Primer. (Photo: Charles Constantine)[/caption] [caption id="attachment_13782" align="aligncenter" width="480"] Hadrian Belove, Shane Carruth and Clifford Johnson at Cinefamily screening of Primer. (Photo: Charles Constantine)[/caption]

We started off with an introduction from the executive director of Cinefamily, Hadrian Belove, who introduced us and asked me to say a few words before the film began. I kept it brief, and started by congratulating Cinefamily on doing the Science on Screen series, saying that it is an important thing to do (which it is -it is part of a Sloan funded national program; more here) and then went on to say [...] Click to continue reading this post

Primer, and More…

I learned last week that there’s a new regular item in the New York Times’ science section where Jascha Hoffman does a round up of a few notable Science events, books, etc., around the nation. It is noted this week that Cinefamily starts up its new Science on Screen series (funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation) starting starting Wednesday night with the excellent film “Primer”. (Photo is from the website.) If you don’t know it, and if you’re in the area, go and see it! As a bonus, you’ll have the writer/director of the film, Shane Carruth, present for introductions and Q&A. He’ll be accompanied by some scientist dude called Clifford V. Johnson who, according to the website, will [...] Click to continue reading this post

USC Science Film Competition 2013 – Results!

There’s a news article out about the results of the USC Science Film Competition that you might like to read. It is by Susan Bell and it is in USC Dornsife News here. In there, you’ll find interviews with one of the winning teams of students, as well as with me. I talk about my reasons for running this competition each year and what I hope to achieve. (Photo courtesy of USC Dornsife.)

The showcase and awards ceremony, held on January 23rd, was a success, and it was a pleasure to meet with many of the students who participated, and feel the buzz of excitement in the room. Thanks everyone who participated, including the panel of judges for their hard work. Once again, the Anton Burg Foundation supported the competition (funding things like the large prizes I had the pleasure of giving away) and we’re all very grateful for that.

Ok, well of course you want to know the outcome, right? Well, here goes. I’ve included the titles and membership of the interdisciplinary teams below, along with [...] Click to continue reading this post

Frankenweenie is a Love Letter to Science!

…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

Premiering…!

You might remember that during the Spring and early Summer I was deeply embroiled in making a film. (See several earlier posts, e.g. here, here, here, and here).) It was a short film to celebrate the 50 year anniversary of the Aspen Center for Physics, and I was keen (in my role as filmmaker) to give it a treatment that benefits from my being a theoretical physicist, and one who is familiar enough with the Center, all in order to get the right tone of the film. (Jump to the end of the post if you want to see it without more background thoughts.) There’s a spirit of the Center that is quiet, reflective, and inspiring of thoughts that need time to be explored, so I definitely did not want the usual loud, buzzing, overly busy type of film that you often see about science activity. It did not seem appropriate. Working with Dave Gaw (who was an awesome principal cinematographer and editor for the project) and with Bob Melisso (who shared some of the production and direction work with me), I think the result strikes the right note overall. A fun side note: I got to design a number of unique (and definitely handcrafted) elements for the look that I think you’ll like and recognize from other visual work of mine you’ve seen on this blog, and just as with my earlier film projects from 2009 (see here and here) it was a real buzz to help figure out how to make them fly, and then see the elements come together in their final form up on screen.

People really seemed to like the film a lot, from what I’ve heard. (It was shown extensively at many of the Summer events celebrating the 50th at the Center.) So while it did take a lot of my time, it seems like it was time well worth spending since [...] Click to continue reading this post

USC Science Film Competition – A New Year!

…And here we are again! I’m launching the second year of the USC Science Film Competition as of, well, a few seconds ago. Please go to the website to learn more. You’ll find a collection of links at the very end of the main page, along with a slide show, talking a bit about last year’s successful inaugural competition. I’m hoping for a competition at least as exciting and interesting (er, in all the good ways!) as last year.

If at USC, spread the word, please! I especially need faculty to help encourage [...] Click to continue reading this post

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the…

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

Nostalgia for the Light

Have you heard about the film “Nostalgia for the Light“, by Patricio Guzmán? As you know, one of my main cares in the business of communicating science broadly is having it be mixed up nicely with the rest of the culture (not making it a lecture all the time). This helps reach broader audiences, for a start. In a sense, this looks like a film that is doing that. It seems it was released in 2010, but is appearing on some big screens for the first time this year, in some places. I’ve not seen it, but it is soemthing I intend to see, based on the synopsis alone. I thought I’d mention it to you.

The summary from the Guardian film site says “Drama in which a group of Chilean astronomers’ search for the origins of life is contrasted with local womens’ efforts to find the bodies of loved ones killed by the Pinochet regime.”

There’s a trailer here:[...] Click to continue reading this post

On Screen!

I had a pleasant surprise yesterday. I went along to the public lecture of Ralph Cicerone, the president of the National Academy of Science, since on the one hand his talk was entitled “Contemporary Climate Change as Seen Through Data”, so it was interesting to me, and on the other hand I was to be part of a group taking him to dinner later on. I went into the auditorium and lo and behold there was Rosie Wyse (Aspen Center for Physics President) up on the screen…! They were showing the film (what film? see e.g. here, here, and here) in the time leading up to the start of the lecture, as people were arriving. It was nice to see it up on a large screen being enjoyed by an audience…

Overall, the reports back are that everyone seems to love it, and that it has been [...] Click to continue reading this post

All Work and No Play…

One of my favourite scenes from the vast world of film is the one in the Shining where Wendy Torrance (Shelley Duvall) discovers that all her husband Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) had been writing on the typewriter for so long (when he was supposed to be working on his book) was “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”, again and again and again. There’s something utterly chilling about this, as the tension in the film has been building steadily, and the discovery reveals another seemingly solid foundation crumbling away…

The Eye film museum in Amsterdam is fantastic. For a start, it is in a wonderful building (see right -click for larger view) that you get to by taking one of the small ferry boats across from the Central Station, a fun journey. Right now they are having [...] Click to continue reading this post

Voice of God

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

H4 Project – Kickstarter

I’d like to draw your attention to an exciting project that my dear friend Harry Lennix is working on. It is called H4, and combines the two parts of Shakespeare’s Henry IV into a film. I have mentioned it in previous posts once or twice, (I did a few vista to some of the locations), and now it is post-production. There’s an effort to raise extra funds to allow the film to be completed and find its way to audiences where I expect it will be both entertaining and educational, given the goals that Harry has for the project. Have a look at the film below to have it all explained to you, and then head over to the kickstarter page if you want to help out!

-cvj

Click to continue reading this post

Science Fiction Special

Just as I left for my shooting trip last week, I had a moment of indecision. I wanted to take something to read during airport and airplane downtime, but wanted to travel light. The books I wanted to take felt a bit big in my bag, somehow, largely because I could not decide what I was in the mood for and so was in danger of bringing more than one. Then I remembered that I was behind on New Yorkers, and was taking my iPad anyway. So I made sure the New Yorker was updated on it, and what did I see waiting for me to delve into on the plane? The special issue on Science Fiction!

It is an excellent issue, with contributions from lots of authors, including several short reflective pieces from legendary authors like Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. Le Guin, Margaret Atwood, and William Gibson and newer authors like China Miéville and Karen Russell talking about things like how they found their way into fiction and science fiction, and its role as a gateway to the larger literary world. Of course, there are also the usual reflections about the snobbery and separation into high and low culture that existed in the early days (and that still persists today) for literature as well as film and TV when it comes to science fiction (see a related discussion here), many of which are humorously done, and will be familiar to many readers from their childhood…. I strongly recommend getting that issue if you do not already subscribe. It may well still be on magazine stands…

In related news, Ray Bradbury died on Monday, I heard on the radio yesterday. This is [...] Click to continue reading this post

Crunch Time

I’m on the bus on the way to campus, it is pouring with rain, the heat is too high on aboard the bus, and I am late. And a bit tired. I was up until 1:00am crunching numbers. The main stage of the judging for the science film competition ended last night and I went into the system to do the data analysis. I’d designed a spreadsheet on which each of the ten judges give a score for each film in eight different categories which I tried to make roughly orthogonal. I set it up so that they could go to an online form (having viewed the films on a private channel on YouTube) and enter the scores, an action which in turn populates the spreadsheet for me. (Google docs rocks!) They could also enter optional comments about each film that could be useful for any discussion that needs to be had. So what I was doing was slicing the database of scores to see if I could get a ranking of the films to take into a face to face meeting with some of my fellow local judges today. Then I wanted to find ways of laying it all out in a way that was easy to read for everyone and in the end this morning I printed out a giant version of the entire spreadsheet on several sheets of 11×17 and glued them together to make a big colour coded foldout for us all to sit around.

The films? I’m delighted with the turnout as it shows the kind of variety of film I’d hoped would be produced. There are eight films, with films that are illustrated explainers on the one hand (with with animation or live action or sometimes both), through drama and narrative, to reflective overviews of a topic on the other, sometimes venturing into art inspired by science ideas.

(Above is a graphic made by Laurie Moore In Dornsife communications from stills of the films.)

This variety makes for a hard task in coming up with the prize winners, since [...] Click to continue reading this post

Tense Moments

I’ve tried not to be worrying about it, but nevertheless there was a bit of concern today as I logged into the account and looked to see if any films had arrived. I did this a few times between other things like teaching and working on issues to do with another film project, and each time there was nothing. I was confident that there were some films on their way, since various students from the teams who entered the film competition had emailed me about various clarification issues (duration, what does midnight mean exactly, etc.) and so I know that not all of the 19 teams who submitted their application to enter the competition in October were going to be no-shows… but how many would “not all” end up being? This is the issue you get when you set something up, advertise as much as you can, and then sit back and hope that people come. You never know until they do. The same thing happened with the pre-registration phase. I’d been running around doing as much as I could to build awareness since the end of August, but until the very end I did not know if I would get a single entrant. In the end 19 teams (around 90 students) got involved!

So here I am again. There’s no turning back… the splendid theatre is booked for the showcase, the judges have been selected, the upload space is sitting waiting, the [...] Click to continue reading this post

Tales from the Industry XXXVIII – Improvising

For the second half of today I was involved in film-making again, but this time not the usual science documentary material, but something else. What, exactly, I am not at liberty to tell you since I don’t really know, if the truth be told. It is going to be a rather beautiful-looking piece of work, with an interesting narrative arc, and… well that’s all I know. I was cast in it a while back following an interesting story in and of itself. I’d made friends with a really engagingly interesting bartender at a bar downtown that specializes in rum, a while back…(a year? more?) We had a great time chatting about ideas in science, the arts, and beyond, and did that “let’s stay in touch” thing that people do a lot, which may or may not really happen…

Some months later, the same fellow came to see me in my office to tell me about this film he was making, and that he’d like me to come and be in it. At the end of the conversation, somehow I still knew nothing about the film and what I was to be doing in it. I was just going to be in a splendid house somewhere, talking to people, and… [...] Click to continue reading this post

Movie Notes

Going to the movies this weekend? Lots of interesting choices, but perhaps you especially want to see some portrayals of people in academic careers by some of the hot young phenoms. Well, here are two you might not have considered, both films released May 6th.

1. Observe Nathalie Portman as an astrophysicist in Thor. I don’t find this to be too much of a stretch since the actress always seemed to me to radiate an intensity and intelligence that would help make such a role believable, even in films where everything else is rather a disaster as far as believability is concerned. (cough, cough, Star Wars prequels, cough, cough) Well, it turns out that Thor is not the disaster I thought it would be and is rather well put together, all things considered (this is one of several Marvel characters that I was underwhelmed by in the old days). So go for Portman, stay for the hammer, lightning bolts, and other stuff. Turns out the physicist aspect of her performance was not as well studied as her ballet in that other film, but oh well. It was not like it was the central issue of the film. But enjoy all the Einstein-Rosen bridge mentions!

2. Observe Jessica Alba as a mathematics teacher who loves numbers in An Invisible Sign. Now, er, this for me was casting that did not bode well, but to be fair,[...] Click to continue reading this post

Inception, Abridged!

So have you seen Inception yet? Recall my discussion of it in an earlier post. I thought it was excellent. Ok, so if you have not seen it, scroll on to another post. If you have, then you might love this**. I found it hilarious and quite brilliant. It’s a very funny idea worthy of wider recognition, and so I thought I’d share with you and hope you share it with others. Now, it is sort of important to know that you have to bear with the video quality and also let yourself get used to Steven Beacon (the performer) and his somewhat frenetic delivery for several minutes so that the actual Inception part (and how he performs it) that comes later is properly appreciated. So stick with it (and you don’t have to understand all he says in the leading up parts of the act)… it’ll be worth it. (Jump to about 07:30 if you are really busy…) Remember, it probably won’t make any sense or seem the slightest bit funny if you’ve not seen the film.

Ok. That’s enough intro. The video is just after the fold. Enjoy!

[...] Click to continue reading this post

New Bounty, and Homeward Bound

white_figsBack in Los Angeles, things at home started on a rather pleasant note. I went out into the garden and picked four nice ripe figs off one of the trees, still warm from the sunlight. (Hmmmm… My nemesis, Fluffy, must be napping. Or planning something very subtle.) You can see three of them in my hand to the left. A fourth did not survive the wait period while I got my camera out of my luggage.

Sunday in Vienna was as interesting as Saturday, with more outdoor components than indoors since it was a lovely day, weather-wise. I wandered the city streets a lot, and spent a fair amount of time getting a feel for them, occasionally hopping on the subway (U-bahn) or a tram to nip over large distances, or to rest my feet. Other rest stops involved cafes for a beer, or a cup of tea, and a bit of people watching, reading, or other pleasant sitting activity.

Like Saturday, I saw a lot of art on Sunday, focusing again on Austrian artists primarily, and learning about the Secession movement in particular, and several of the characters associated with it. Fascinating.

I’ll do a post or two more on Vienna later on, I hope.

I left the city in the evening, heading for a brief stop in London before setting my sights on Los Angeles on Monday. Found myself in the amusing position of watching [...] Click to continue reading this post

But is it Real? (Part Two)

Ah. Well, I was reserving the title of this post for a followup post to an earlier post about physics research. But, the film I went to last night at the wonderful Vista theatre was so engaging, and so excellently done – on the themes of dreams and memory – that I thought I’d use it.

escher_penrose_stairsChristopher Nolan has done it again! Inception (both written and directed by him) is yet another (remember my discussion of the Dark Knight two years back) example that shows that it is possible to make a big budget Summer Blockbuster that does not treat the audience as idiots. It tells you from the opening frames that you’re going to have to pay attention and think during the film, and that interesting ideas and themes are going to be explored, and it certainly lives up to that promise right through to the end. It is thrilling on all sort of levels, and for those who don’t care about ideas, there’s plenty of stuff blowing up and crashing into stuff to keep them happy.

I am going to say absolutely nothing more about it (more or less) since one of the [...] Click to continue reading this post

Laserfest Videos

laser_beamI think I mentioned a while back that as a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Laser, there was a video competition on Physics Central to make a fun video about the Laser. They were put on YouTube (tag is laserfest, I think) and then there was voting at some point (I imagine), and winners were chosen. You can see them here. Congratulations to the winners!

Actually, I think the whole playlist of Laserfest video entries is here, and you can jump through them by clicking the link to the next one in the top right hand area.

Are you aware of Laserfest, by the way? Go and check out the website and join in the celebrations of the Laser!

I should mention that the competition has all meant good news for my work as well. I [...] Click to continue reading this post

He Had Problems…

vaderYeah, there was something wrong with that Darth Vader guy, don’t you think?

An official diagnosis was reported in the journal Psychiatry Research. Seems the poor fellow was afflicted with a personality disorder. This is the claim, anyway. There’s a post about it here that’s worth looking at*. The most entertaining bit (for me) is probably the comment stream from the rabid fanboysandgirls (as you might imagine for something about Star Wars).

For me, the best insights into the fellow are to be found in his blog which I remember from a few years back. Still quite brilliant. (Be sure to scroll to the bottom and read the posts in reverse order to get them in the right order.)

Back to the diagnosis post. One of my favourite comments, after all the people [...] Click to continue reading this post

Alternative Synopses

Will is annoyed by the Karate Kid (2010 version, not the 1984 version), not the least because with Jackie Chan involved, you’d be expecting… Kung Fu right? Weren’t we supposed to have stopped confusing the forms back in the 70s or so? People are up in arms about this all over the web it seems. I’ll lay off the whole thing since I’m not an expert in the etymology of the terms anyway, but more to the point I’m just tired of having my childhood memories cynically smacked around by pointless remakes, if the truth be told.

Anyway, to help himself vent, Will wrote some amusing synopses for other remakes Hollywood might do where the details are… modified. Here are a couple I liked: [...] Click to continue reading this post

Summer Fun…

Ah, now that Springtime is firmly settled in (been several weeks now), it is time for the next major season. What is that? Summer Blockbuster season! It’s already been underway, the highlight so far (in my opinion) being the clever and tongue-in-cheek “Kick-Ass”, which I suspect will be the best of the bunch of the (dismayingly rapidly growing) superhero movie genre for this year.

kick_ass_vistaOne of my favourite movie theatres, the Vista (a classic old movie palace that has not been chopped up into bits, like so many criminally have, but instead kept in excellent condition with great seats, huge screen, and wonderful sound) always has a treat when showing the superhero-type movies: The manager dresses up in a (sometimes charmingly saggy) costume to match the title character. Here he is (on the right – click for larger view) as the character Kick-Ass, where the (forgive me) lameness of the costume is this time actually appropriate (you have to watch the movie to understand fully why). See an earlier one here.

Enjoy!

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Tales From The Industry XXXI – An Extra Dimension

I went off into an extra dimension yesterday. Well, in a manner of speaking. No, this was not anything to do with my string theory work!

I was being filmed in 3D.

3d_cameraThere’s a bit of a 3D revolution going on. There have been a lot of 3D movies out lately. Some are better than others, and a great deal more are to come very soon, as you probably know. Many major filmmakers that you probably regard as “serious” filmmakers have 3D films in the works. There’ll be 3D TV channels appearing soon in the UK and probably elsewhere, and they’ve been selling the TVs already, both there and in the USA (and I imagine, in other places).

There are lots of questions you’ve no doubt asked yourself: Is the technology here to stay? Is it just a gimmick? Is it just a ploy to combat piracy? Is it a new aspect of the visual form that creative filmmakers can genuinely use to enhance the story-telling? Has that happened yet? And so on and so forth…

I’ve been asking myself those questions too. I did not expect, however, to be part of the revolution (if that is what it is) and be filmed in 3D, so soon, for a TV show. My [...] Click to continue reading this post

Inspiration and Dedication

jaime_escalante_by_robert_gauthierYou might not have heard of him, so I thought I’d mark the passing, on Tuesday, of the mathematics teacher Jaime Escalante. (Photo on right by Robert Gauthier.) He was an extraordinary teacher who passionately believed in the abilities of the many East Los Angeles students from disadvantaged and traditionally ignored backgrounds he taught, enduring the ridicule of his colleagues to press on with the job of teaching them as well as he could, challenging them to reach impressive heights of mathematical ability, especially considering given the circumstances. Some people might know some [...] Click to continue reading this post

A Return

gladioliI find myself back in Los Angeles for a bit, putting Walkabout mode on pause. Perhaps to do my laundry, perhaps to chair the committee of the upcoming Ph.D. defense of my student, Tameem, perhaps to be able to sit outside in the early morning sun in a T-shirt and blog over breakfast.

The garden is full of weeds and flowers, and all is well with the world, albeit a bit blurry due to my jetlag.

Anyway, a few random things to note:

* * *

mourning_dovesAnother Spring is here, in full force. I once again snort in exasperated laughter at the bizarre claim so very many people make about Los Angeles (Southern California more generally) not having seasons, as I marvel at all the many signs of it screaming for attention. As a random example, I’m observing some mourning doves eyeing me up from nearby as they try to decide whether I’m a threat to their potential nesting sites that they are checking out. Seems that at least one pair is rather impressed with my cluster of strelitzia nicolai and want to move in. I want to tell them that I’m not the problem, but the fact that they’d be in plain sight of the crows/rooks/ravens/winged-Nazgul that pass by here a lot will be. I’ve seen them strike nests in those trees from previous years and scoop up a tasty warm meal.

* * *

Eight hours of jetlag means only one thing: [...] Click to continue reading this post

Waterfall

My Walkabout finds me in Madrid for a little while, and I find myself reporting joyfully on rain, once again. Not because it has been raining an unusual amount here, but because of a production I went to the other night. It was primarily a dance event, celebrating and dramatizing the work of poet Frederico Garcia Lorca during his time in New York in the 1920s. The choreography was by (I’ve forgotten… will find ticket and update shortly) [update: Blanca Li. Title: ¨Poeta en Nueva York¨] with flamenco as the primary form, mixed with several other dance traditions. dance_theatre_stillThere was a lot of good and enjoyable work to see, but I’ll admit to being blown away by the theatre’s (and associated production staff’s) ability to suddenly create a rainstorm on the stage, and sustain it for a prolonged period while one of the dances (using the water, as you can see) used it to great and stunning effect. I had to sneak a (no flash and no disturbing of neighbours of course) photo for you. Click for larger view.

A bit like the first time you saw Jurassic Park back when it was first released and utterly groundbreaking visually, I (and maybe you?) spent time thinking, “this is amazing!”, “how did they pull off this illusion?”, before concluding that maybe the [...] Click to continue reading this post

The Creative Science Studio

I received an email the other day asking me if I had any connection to the new initiative announced at USC recently (link here), talking about a new partnership (involving USC and the NSF) for increasing and improving the amount of science in entertainment and media products such as films and television shows, and probably more. It is called the Creative Science Studio, or CS2. You’ve read me talk about these sorts of projects on the blog a huge amount, and so I won’t repeat the motivations here (you can find earlier thoughts if you look under some of the categories this post is in for other posts on the subject).

One of the fallouts (fallsout?) of being a dabbler, behind-the-scenes-agitator and general troublemaker is that one can never really tell what are all the final projects, initiatives (and so forth) that come about as a result (at least in part) of one’s actions. In trying to significantly move forward things such as this (involving public [...] Click to continue reading this post

Categorically Not! – Grand Challenges!

So yes, the Categorically Not! series was a bit thin on the ground in the last several months. I think KC was a bit busy travelling to tell people about her Frank Oppenheimer book.

Well, it is back on the calendar, and I probably should have mentioned it earlier, but the next one is tomorrow, so I thought I’d remind you. Remember that the series of events is 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.

The theme this month is Grand Challenges!. Here’s the description from K. C. Cole: [...] Click to continue reading this post

Cameron and Avatar

Somehow I forgot to point this out last Fall. There was an interesting article by Dana Goodyear in the New Yorker on James Cameron, creator of so many giant films you may know of, and of course, of the recent juggernaut Avatar. It is definitely worth a read, as is Goodyear’s related chat online with readers here.

I went to see Avatar in its proper setting (late night showing in the Dome at the Arclight of course) a fortnight ago and can report a few things of interest:

* The cheeky alternate name Smurfohantas (I heard this name on Kermode and Mayo’s BBC Radio 5 show) is not far off the mark if you are in a cynical mood. It’s a very standard story, rather straightforwardly told, but using striking tall blue people. (There is nothing wrong with re-telling stories, by the way, so don’t get me wrong. Arguably, most stories are in large part old stories). I just don’t see this version as particularly well told, just merely functional. There’s a slightly more interesting angle buried under there somewhere about the whole idea of avatars, and maybe even something about disability, and so forth, but only if you really really dig for it.

* It is not a great film, but it is an interesting and entertaining film to watch. I have a soft spot for Cameron’s work since I do like his use of strong female characters in the genre as well as his anti-war, suspicion-of-corporation, and environmental [...] Click to continue reading this post