That Serial Film Crime…

After all these years, I still have that little pain inside about what I think is one of the greatest missed opportunities (nay, crimes) in the history of film: that Guillermo del Toro did not get to direct the Hobbit due to all the delays in New Zealand over strikes (if I recall correctly), and so after two years of development he (and all his staff) packed up and moved on with their lives…. leaving Peter Jackson to take over the reins. That pain is right there next to those three jabbing pains inside that still feel a bit raw every time I get a reminder about how the films actually turned out overall. Just seeing a poster can set me off. (There are of course some nice set pieces in them here and there, but memory of them is rapidly erased by the overall wrong tone, silliness, and pandering to the need for pointless action sequences at the expense of common sense.) It’s old news now, but it still really hurts.

And it is nothing to do with the fact that […] Click to continue reading this post


Yesterday, an interesting thing happened while I was out in my neighbourhood walking my son for a good hour or more (covered, in a stroller – I was hoping he’d get some sleep), visiting various shops, running errands. Before describing it, I offer two bits of background information as (possibly relevant?) context. (1) I am black. (2) I live in a neighbourhood where there are very few people of my skin colour as residents. Ok, here’s the thing:

* * *

I’m approaching two young (mid-to-late teens?) African-American guys, sitting at a bus stop, chatting and laughing good-naturedly. As I begin to pass them, nodding a hello as I push the stroller along, one of them stops me. […] Click to continue reading this post

Thankful for UnThanks

On the strength of Becky Unthank’s guest appearance on a wonderful and heart-rending song (“So to Speak”) on Sting’s fantastic 2013 album “The Last Ship”, I decided to hear more. Wonderful… It is impossible to properly describe Becky’s voice and the (sometimes terrifying) shivers it sends down my spine when she brings out certain aspects of it that somehow constitute a vocal embodiment of a warm sea breeze: rich, complex, open, vast, with shades of gentleness and power at the same time. I can’t explain it, which frustrates me since I am usually reasonably good at that. And Rachel’s voice is wonderful too, in a different way. And then the two together produce that other fantastic indescribable vocal phenomenon – sibling harmonies! See e.g. here.

And taken altogether (and with Sting’s album), they remind me fondly of the North East of England that I got to know for a while…the people of Newcastle, Durham, Sunderland and surrounding villages…Sigh*.


(*and reawaken a nostalgia for a time (of shipbuilding and the sea) that I really never knew. ) Click to continue reading this post


So here’s a funny thing. I had to renew my driver’s licence the other day, in person at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). It was time to get a new picture and have my eyes tested. Somehow, because I’ve not found time to get to the optometrist for some time beyond when I was due, the ‘eyes tested’ part began to worm its way into my mind. What is the standard? (I could not recall from last time, it has been so long.) What if my vision is not as clear as it should be? Will they withhold the renewal? With recent events at home, this is the worst time to not have a license, etc. This all began as a low murmur in my mind but it steadily rose in amplitude as I got to the DMV, waited in the appointment line, got my waiting ticket, and sat down to meet my assigned official.

I actually love sitting in places in DMVs for while. (I know, it is weird. I also like dentist’s visits, although for different reasons, but that’s another story. You get it – I’m odd, let’s move on…) There’s something about the slice of life one gets in such places where almost everyone, regardless of walk of life, has to go at some point. There are all sorts of people, interactions, arrangements of workspaces, fascinating little stations for different functions, and signs, endless signs hanging on walls and from ceilings reminding people of things, reminding me of little village post offices in Britain. …It is all very interesting, and full of sketching opportunities. I prepared to get out my notebook and a pen. But then I noticed the set up for eye testing. There were charts up above each group of DMV office stations. They seemed very close to where the applicant would stand, so I imagined there was some arrangement with mirrors I could not yet see that would make them be visually further away. Surely.


I need not have worried, on two counts. The first is that the letters are remarkably, (almost ridiculously, it seemed to my worried mind) close. The second is hilarious to me. As you can see from the picture (click for larger view), FLEPT each line you are supposed to read is a permutation of the same five letters! F-L-E-P-T […] Click to continue reading this post

New Live Model!

Sorry I’ve been quiet here the last week. I was busy with helping complete the acquisition of a new drawing subject! Within 24 hours of said acquisition, I found a few minutes to do a quick pencil sketch of him (as it turned out) in my notebook, through my profound lack-of-sleep fog. (I did a little bit of extra chiaroscuro finish work on it later on.)


This is a whole new challenge, since: (1) his physical features are of course quite different in proportion to the usual grown-up faces I often draw, (2) when he is actually still enough to draw, I really ought to (2a) be catching up on […] Click to continue reading this post

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.


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


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


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!


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!


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 I’ve 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 – sigh) (**Update 27th Dec. 2014 – actually, now I’m back on FB as of 10th November 2014.) 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 1983 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