STEM Keynote

keynote_at_stem_divide_cvjAs I mentioned, a couple of Saturdays ago I gave the keynote address at a one-day conference designed to introduce STEM Careers to underrepresented students from various neighboring schools. The event* was co-sponsored by the Level Playing Field Institute, but sadly the details of it seem to have vanished from their site now that the event has passed, which is unfortunate. It was good to see a room full of enthusiastic students wanting to learn more about such careers (STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and I tried to give some thoughts about some of the reasons that there’s such poor representation by people of color (the group I was asked to focus on, although I mentioned that many of my remarks also extended to women to some extent) in such fields, and what can be done about it. Much of my focus, as you can guess from the issues I bring up here from time to time, was on battling the Culture: The perception people have of who “belongs” and who does not, and how that perception makes people act, consciously or otherwise, the images we as a society present and perpetuate in our media and in our conversations and conventions throughout everyday life, and so on. I used my own experience as an example at various points, which may or may not have been helpful – I don’t know.

My experience, in part and in brief, is this: I went a long way into being excited […] Click to continue reading this post

Mountain Sketch

I went for a little hike on Sunday. Usually when I’m here visiting at the Aspen Center for Physics I go on several hikes, but this year it looks like I will only do one, and a moderate one at that. I had a bit of a foot injury several weeks ago, so don’t want to put too much stress on it for a while. If you’ve looked at the Aspen Center film (now viewable on YouTube!) you’ll know from some of the interviews that this is a big component of many physicist’s lives while at the Center. I find that it is nice to get my work to a point where I can step back from a calculation and think a bit more broadly about the physics for a while. A hike is great for that, and in all likelihood one comes back from the hike with new ideas and insights (as happened for me on this hike – more later)… maybe even an idea for a new calculation.

maroon_bells_sketch_10_aug_2014

So I took the bus up to the Maroon Bells and hiked up to Crater Lake and a bit beyond into the West Maroon Valley, hunting a few wildflowers. I will share some pictures of those later. (I’ve heard that they are great up at Buckskin pass, and I was tempted to push on up to there, but I resisted the temptation.) I brought along several pens, watercolour pencils, and a water brush (for the watercolour pencils) because I’d decided that I would do some sketches at various points… you know, really sit with the landscape and drink it in – in that […] Click to continue reading this post

Small World

I’ve been looking at some of the many changes to Princeton, as I get the chance between sessions at the conference. A significant one for me is that Small World Coffee has really thrived and grown significantly. I can’t over emphasize how big a deal the place was to the lives of many in Princeton when it opened in 1993. Believe it or not, there was no real cafe in Princeton when I arrived the year before. The arrival of small world was a huge deal. It meant not just decent coffee, but a gathering place, a place to hang out, and a little art and performance space. Such places existed before, but on campus, and mostly for the benefit 20140625-075311-28391849.jpgof the student population. I was not a student at Princeton, although many of my friends were, so although I went to such places as well it was nice to be in a cafe that was part of the actual community that was the town of Princeton. Several postdocs loved that the place opened, and we went there a lot. Perhaps it helped balance out the ratio of trips up to New York to choosing to stay in town… Ok, just a little bit, but a significant amount. I remember my friend (and fellow IAS postdoc and neighbour at the time), Marc Kamionkowski, playing his saxophone there (sometimes putting on his “Cat in the Hat” hat for a number – he may not forgive me for mentioning this), and I’d go along to support him.

I sat there yesterday and was pleased that the expanded seating at the back meant lots of nice vistas from which I could look at other patrons without being […] Click to continue reading this post

Strings 2014 and a Return

20140623-114053-42053836.jpgToday is day one of Strings 2014, this year’s version of the official annual conference about the latest research in string theory. There’s a feeling that there is a buzz of excitement in the air, in part because (I’m guessing): (1) Well, it is the annual conference, you’re going to find out more about what’s been going on in the various corners of the field, and (2) everywhere you look there walks a giant of the field, and (3) more generally, people just like you who “get you”, and whose papers you’ve read that you’ve spent a good portion of your life thinking about, so it would be odd if you were not excited, and (4) it is in Princeton, which is sort of equal to Mount Olympus in our field, where a lot of the giants live, if you’ll permit me to mix metaphors a bit, and (5) apparently this is the largest Strings meeting since Paris in 2004. (I’ve heard that it is maybe 600 people registered, making it the biggest Strings ever?… Not sure.)

I could go on guessing about the buzz felt by others, but instead I’ll mention […] Click to continue reading this post

Song for My Father, and for Horace Silver

horace_silver

On occasion I play this, one of my favourite songs, for my father, who passed away a few years ago. I’ll play it (“Song for My Father”) again for him, but now also for the composer/pianist who wrote it, Horace Silver, who died today. Thanks for the wonderful music.

This longer live version from a concert on Danish television in 1968. Horace Silver – Piano; Bill Hardman – Trumpet; Bennie Maupin – Tenor; John Williams – Bass; Billy Cobham – Drums: (Click below or here for the video embed – the still above comes from it.)

[…] Click to continue reading this post

How I Sometimes Feel

tar_pits_entrapment_eventIn fact, the last several days have felt like this, with regards big decisions about various administrative roles I’ve been asked to consider taking on. It never seems to end, and I am terrible at saying no to as many things as I should. And I have a bad habit of doing things to the best of my ability and hence I get a reputation as the guy to ask to do a task since I did a good job last time, and so it gets me sucked in deeper into the administrative quagmire, and so on and so forth.

Rather like the “entrapment events” that happened in the La Brea Tar Pits so long ago (have a read of what I wrote about those on a field trip to the Page Museum a while back). I was wandering around the LACMA and Tar Pits grounds yesterday evening after a shoot for a show (a fun thing coming that I’ll let you know about shortly) and made a phone call to say, after ten days of […] Click to continue reading this post

Thank You, Maya Angelou

maya_angelouI heard this morning that she passed away today. I’m very sad about this, but also so very happy to have heard and read her work, a real lasting and and sustaining gift. I still remember the chills I felt when first hearing her read “Still I rise”. I’m quite sure that you’ll be seeing it reproduced all over the place in the next day or two… And I don’t feel any shame in following suit, so find it below. I’ve also included below an embed of a film of her reciting/performing it many years after its publication. It’s an even sweeter version in some ways. And here is a piece from the New York Times.

So thank you for embodying and encapsulating Hope so wonderfully, Maya Angelou:
[…] Click to continue reading this post

Highs and Lows

High:

Creating a structure for benefit of the students (for no reason other than it seems like something that can do some good) – a structure in which they can participate entirely voluntarily, and after almost two months of advertising it, and showing up in all sorts of classes to tell people about it, doing interviews about it, and so forth, and not knowing if anyone really will be bothered to get involved… getting lots (still counting) of teams of students registering. With lots of enthusiasm in various emails! Thanks everyone! It’s going to be great to see your projects develop. I hope you enjoy collaborating on making films about science – it will stay with you throughout your careers as a hugely valuable and fun thing to have done. Thanks to those faculty and staff who helped me spread the word by circulating emails, letting me show up to your classes, suggesting ideas, etc!

Low:

Dealing with faculty and staff who, despite the jobs they hold, really don’t have much interest in a new structure put in place for the benefit of the students especially if it means even slightly going out of their way to help out… some would rather come up with mountains of reasons and/or rules why they can’t or won’t help, or why I’m making their life hell for asking them if they might. They helped make this all far more stressful and difficult than it really should have been. Ugh… is all I can say. UGH!

High:

Meeting with a student today who is a freshman in physics. New to the city, new to the country, and new to this level of education. Enthusiastic about the subject and […] Click to continue reading this post

Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag (Kind Of)

brompton_small_bag(Riffing on two earlier posts.) So I’ve been doing a bit of metalwork. I decided to make some adjustments to the frame of one of my several bags that fit onto the Brompton’s front bag attachement, to use it as support for a small bag. The metalwork involved me simply sawing off the side extended aluminium bars and leaving only the central part of the support frame. You can just see it in the enlarged version (click). There are times when I do not want to have a large bag on the bike, or even medium sized. Usually, then I have the small bag on my shoulder across the chest, and that works well, but nothing beats riding with nothing on your back or shoulder. So this is my solution, and one of my leather handbags fits quite well (with the aid of a strap I made from parts bought in a hardware store, and two tiny bungees with hooks, that you can’t see) on to the neatly detachable frame. Happens to match the seat/saddle nicely, all complementing the British racing green colour.

A very elegant solution, also allowing me to keep the bag on the bike all the time, still easily doing the quick fold, and to stably tow it when fully folded too (using the […] Click to continue reading this post

Changeover Time

start_scribbleIt’s that time again. I finish a notebook and start a new one. A new book is begun with writing my name and contact information in the front part, in case it gets lost, and an old one is ended with mixed feelings, and that ending is often a bit drawn out. Notebooks go around with me nearly everywhere, and have pieces of me in them in one shape or another, and so it is hard to stop carrying one and start a new one. I’ve got bits of computations, shopping lists, partial thoughts about projects, design sketches, doodles, snippets of silent conversations between me and another person at a concert or talk (writing it down is often less distracting to neighbours than a whisper), scribbled phone numbers, film, book or cd reminders, and of course lots of practice sketches and doodles on trains, planes, and in automobiles, done almost on a daily basis, sketches done in (and sometimes of) an event, or of a interesting place or structure. (You’ve seen some of them here on the blog.) Almost everything has a date written on the page, or on a page nearby, which is hugely valuable.

changeoverIt’s a combination of notebook, journal, playground for ideas, and more. It is a joy to just open it up and flip through it and see so much of the last few months of my life and thought spread out in ink and pencil (and sometimes watercolour). Sometimes I hit on a particularly successful or interesting (or both) drawing that I love to open up and look at from time to time. You can search the blog under “sketches” for things that were in previous books. For example, a few of my favourites from this book are: Sketch of C. Tyler during her talk, sketch during a committee meeting, airline sketch of a national treasure, other airline sketches, a nice grab of a face from the subway, another airline sketch.

All of that now gets put on a shelf, since the pages have run out. It is bitter-sweet, as I also like the analogue, finite nature of the whole business. It has a lot of life written […] Click to continue reading this post

Recovery and Jumping Back in

So that was by far the most ill I’ve been in many years. The flu wore on for five days, with two and a half of them having me mostly in delirium, fighting highs and lows of fevers… quite remarkable. Then I had two extra days of eating very little, so that by time I started eating real food again on Saturday, and going outside, it was as though the world had been made anew to see and taste various things I’d not had in a while…

Ok… I suppose this means maybe next flu season I’ll finally start taking flu shots? We’ll see.

Anyway, I am reasonably sure that I caught that virus while passing through Atlanta airport on my way back from New Orleans. There, so many paths cross as it is a major hub. Spending two hours there gave me ample time to pick something up. Then there’s the plane as well, with four hours to sit in one space in contact with the things a possibly infected traveller before me had contact with. Nice.

I’ve been much better for a few days now, and semester has got going here. I’ve given […] Click to continue reading this post

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! I wish you all the best for the New Year. If I’m lucky enough to have one half as good as last year, I’ll be a very lucky man indeed.

The photo shows the cufflinks I wore last night to a very special celebration that I co-organized and co-hosted for New Year’s Eve. It was a private party and the Los Angeles Natural History Museum was the venue. We were honored to get to do the first ever New Year’s Eve celebration there! With the help of some friends (and three months of planning) we were able to turn the Hall of North American Mammals into a great party space, (with the appropriate security and so forth needed to use such a space for a safe private function), and celebrate in a sort of art-meets-science environment. Music (live and recorded), food, drink, dancing, and general merriment prevailed until the wee hours, and then we went off into the night on the Expo line. It was an excellent evening.

A great start to the year…

Now, about the cufflinks. I love them. They’re made with vintage watch movements, and you can see some of the rubies […] 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

Je Suis un Rock Star

20120612-183800.jpgSo out of the blue the other day, I got an email with this photograph in it, and an explanation for its appearance. It seems that some old friends from my school days (who ive not heard from in a long, long time) were discussing it on Facebook, and one of the people reading the comments who lives near my mum in Preston, the town where I went to school, realized that I was one of the people in the picture…!! Since I am not on Facebook* (despite some misleading pages that sometimes send people astray) he contacted me the old fashioned way via finding my email address on my website. Nice and quaint, the way I like it.

I remember this event, but had no idea a picture was taken! Since it is all over […] Click to continue reading this post

Only Ten Hours…

expo line trainOnly ten hours until the Big Transformation! The Expo line will open to the public at 5:00am tomorrow (Saturday). I think that this first major thrust to the West, connecting downtown to USC, Exposition Park and the Museums, and points West to Culver City, should be truly transformational for not just the locations involved, but the city at large.

I hope it will change minds about what is possible for public transport in Los Angeles in a huge way (the old “it doesn’t go anywhere” complaint will be heard a bit less maybe?), and connect and enrich all the neighborhoods involved. (And yes, on the personal side of things I hope it ends up, in combination with the Red Line, being better than just sitting on the bus all the way. We shall see.)

There’ll be a special schedule for this opening weekend, with the line (free to travel on for the two days) stopping at 7:00pm. I was a bit scared by this for a moment, […] Click to continue reading this post

CicLAVia April 2012

It was a perfect day for cycling, back on April 15th when the 4th CicLAVia took place. (Sorry it took me a while to report on it.) A lot of people turned out, and it was as good as it has ever been! We set of from the HelMel area again and went to Bolye Heights and back, breaking for an excellent lunch at Guisados again. Just like last time. The photo below featuring the 4th Street bridge over the LA River is my favourite single photo of the event this time:

Of course, there’s not just the one photo for you. I took hundreds of other great ones […] Click to continue reading this post

Sidewalk Colours

You see such lovely things along the side of the street if there’s time to notice. (Click for a larger view.)

This is one of the many reasons I often walk each day to and from the bus stop or subway station. You miss this stuff in a car (or sometimes even when on a bike).

By the way, I’ve updated my earlier post with photos from the LA Times Festival of Books, as promised.

-cvj

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Late Night Review

You know, I’d love to pretend that I’ve just come in from hanging out at the Edison, or the Blue whale, or some other fun place, feeling a bit concerned about my morning class on how to write equations for the shape of the universe (we do some cosmology in the General Relativity class tomorrow)… but instead I’m up at almost 1:00am because of a persistent dry cough, indigestion, and a noisy mockingbird in a tree just outside. Are these connected? I do not know. All I know is I cannot sleep.

So I blog.

It has been, once again, a crazy week. There are times when I wonder if this has become the norm, which usually leads me to valiantly fight a bit to ensure that is not the case, resulting a a withdrawal from a lot of stuff to regroup. I hope to do that soon. Although I’ve said yes to so many things, it is looking like July or August before that can happen. That’s bad.

Right now I can only remember back as far as Wednesday, where the day began with a last check of the midterm I wrote for the GR class (second midterm for them) before setting it at 10:00am. (Perhaps the most interesting thing on it was perhaps the computation of the surface gravity of a static black hole, working in Eddington-Finkelstein coordinates…) At 10:25 I snuck out of the classroom to meet with a screenwriting student who is working on a screenplay featuring a physicist character. She was seeking some advice and wanted to exchange some thoughts about the work she’s doing… I got to gripe a bit about my pet peeves about scientist characters (not just the scarcity of well drawn ones – although things have gotten better in recent years) in TV and film. Somehow the rest of Wednesday (after the seminar ended at 1:40) is a bit of a blur, but I think it did involve me leaving campus to head home to hide and do a bit of finish work on a page I mentioned in the last post. Maybe. (Oh, there was also the official opening party for Umamicatessen (new restaurant downtown) in the evening, that kept me out to almost midnight. I’ve been meaning to blog about the place since the official “soft” opening party about two months ago, but had not got to it yet.)

Thursday saw me start the day way too early (as described in that post), and the [..] Click to continue reading this post

Making it Real

I’m supposed to be writing a talk, but it’s too early to start on it. I’ve been woken up early (5:00am) and kept awake by ideas swirling around in my head, and a mockingbird’s singing – it is nesting in a tree near the house, and I think I may be doomed to listen to it every night until the Fall…

Tuesday of last week saw me hiding and working on The Project. This time, it involved a bit of stalking. Last year I wrote a story which mostly takes place in a family home, between a brother and sister. I had a very particular shape for the house in my mind. They move from room to room, and spend a bit of time on a patio at the front. This time, I decided to build the entire house and populate it with all that I needed so that I can use it as reference to design the backgrounds for the story. Some weeks before I’d started looking a bit more closely at some houses I’d seen in the area as models. It is almost like the house which existed in my head was out there somewhere in the city, and I just had to find it. Somehow it was intended to be a typical smaller Los Angeles single family home, and if I looked for it, there it would be. I saw a number of houses on my walks that looked suitable enough, and was going to choose one of them and make modifications… and then one day I found it.

I’d been walking past it every day for several weeks, and had not really been in the right mode of thought when doing so, and so had not looked at it in the right way. Also, I’d been distracted by a rather larger and grander (too grand) house almost across the street from it. As soon as I thought about what I’d designed last year, and so rejected the house across the street, I realized that this one was the house I’d been looking for all along. So I took a couple of hurried surreptitious reference photos (while walking past pretending to be fiddling with my phone), and went home and laid out some of the dimensions I’d guessed for it.

I worked up some made up floor plans (based on my story’s needs and my memory of the interior of houses like this that I remember, and then I decided to build it […] Click to continue reading this post

And Back…

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

Rock Star!

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 […] Click to continue reading this post

Documenting

Speaking of film projects involving science, I’m involved in two new ones I’ve been meaning to tell you about. I’m working on producing a short film about the Aspen Center for Physics, to be used in the upcoming 50th Anniversary celebrations. My partner in crime on this is Bob Melisso, who I’ve worked with before a number of times, and it’s already been interesting, and fun. I think that the final piece ought to be interesting at the very least. I’ve been trying to work in a very particular look and feel for the film that reflects something about the nature of the work that goes on at the center (both its content and how it is done), and so there’ll be lots of chalk, scribbling on boards, reflections on the creative process and how a place like the Aspen Center helps, and so on and so forth.

We’ll be shooting from time to time over the early and middle Spring, and doing the […] Click to continue reading this post

Obliging

On the Gold line from Pasadena to downtown on Saturday I was looking to relax a bit after a long morning of work over a meeting I had with some colleagues. I got out my pencil and notepad and was happy to find that just over the way at the perfect distance (not to close, not too far) was a fellow who was looking out of the window and obligingly keeping his head more or less in the same orientation, or bringing it back to a similar position if he looked away from time to time. So I got some good looks and built the drawing on the right, over 20 minutes or so. As a bonus, […] Click to continue reading this post