Podcast Appreciation, 1

This is the first in a short series of posts about some favourite podcasts I’ve been listening to over the last year and a half or so.

This episode I’ll mention Comics Alternative, Saturday Review and Desi Geek Girls.

But first, why am I doing this? The final six months of work on the book was a very intense period of effort. That’s actually an understatement. There has been no comparable period of work in my life in terms of the necessary discipline, delicious intensity, steep learning curve, and so much more that is needed to do about 200 pages of the remaining final art needed to complete the (248 page) book. (While still doing my professoring gig and being a new dad.) I absolutely loved it – such challenges are just a delight to me.

I listened to music a lot, and discovered a lot of old parts of my music listening habits, which was fun (I’d have days where I’d listen to (and sing along to) all of Kate Bush’s albums in order, then maybe same for Sting, or Lee Morgan…. or scream along to Jeff Wayne’s awesome “War of the Worlds” Rock musical.) But then I got to a certain point in my workflow where I wanted voices, and I reached for radio, and podcast.

Since I was a child, listening to spoken word radio has been a core part of[…] Click to continue reading this post

A Monday Interview

On Monday 28th April at 8 PM Eastern time (5 PM Pacific) I’ll take part in a live radio interview that you might want to listen to, on a show called Alpha Centauri and Beyond. I guess I’m in the “Beyond” bit? I don’t really know anything about the show except that they like to bring people on to discuss ideas, and when I get a call to come and help sprinkle a bit of science, you know I’m likely to say yes if I can spare the time.

You can see a link to the details here, and you can listen online. As you can see it is advertised as being about me explaining string theory. Well of course that billing is nothing to do with me – I can’t hope to explain any complicated subject like that in the time available – but if asked I will do my best to try and motivate some of the ideas behind the subject. I hope it will be a fun interview and that […] Click to continue reading this post

A Treasure Trove!

As I’ve mentioned before, I listen online to Radio 4, one of the BBC radio stations I love for its variety, breadth and depth of programming. Between it and NPR affiliate KPCC, my day is usually rather full of (spoken-word) radio of a wide variety. I’ve noticed that Radio 4 has been doing a programme called “A History of the World in 100 Objects”. The Director of the British Museum does a 15 minute programme on each of 100 objects and talks about aspects of its historical significance. (If you think you don’t like history (maybe bad experiences in school or something like that) this might be a great way back into the subject for you. Not liking a subject is usually, I find, an issue with how it was presented to you and not with the subject itself.) It’s a lovely way of quickly plugging into aspects of world culture in interesting ways, and rather reminds me of the short series that we here at USC in the College Commons called The Cultural Life of Objects, organized by my colleagues Anne Porter and Ann Marie Yasin. (See also the Collections event, and my post about it.)

The BBC series is about half way now, and it has been quite wonderful. I strongly recommend it to you. Here’s the marvellous thing: The entire series can be podcast […] Click to continue reading this post

Organized Skepticism

(The title is an important way of thinking about what science is all about, at least in part. It is one of the things mentioned and discussed in the lectures discussed below.)

martin_reesThe annual Reith Lectures at the BBC over in the UK are under way. This year, they are given by a giant of astrophysics, Sir Martin Rees. I strongly – very strongly – recommend listening to these lectures. There are four of them. Of the senior superstars of science who I’ve come to know a little, Martin Rees comes across as one of the most gentle and quietly thoughtful I can think of while at the same time being sharp and insightful on all sorts of aspects of science (not just the confines of his field). I mention these characteristics since they are of great value to me – I tend to be repulsed by the practitioners of the more arrogant style that is also common in prominent (and not so prominent) scientists, no matter how good their science might be. He’s the President of the Royal Society, the Astronomer Royal, and the Master of Trinity College (Cambridge), among other distinctions, and so naturally is called upon to express views on a range of topics about science, including how it intersects with society.

Indeed, the intersection between science and policy issues and society is the subject of the first of his lectures. The whole series is called “Scientific Horizons”. The first […] Click to continue reading this post

Mathematics in Your Business

Terry Gross interviewed Scott Patterson and Ed Thorp on NPR’s Fresh Air. I heard it yesterday. It was very interesting to listen to Thorp in particular, a mathematician, describing his curiosity about how to construct a system for beating various gambling games, and going from there to the stock market, in effect becoming one of the earliest of the “quants”,

Thorp and the people who use such systems have come to be known as “quants” — it’s a reference to the quantitative-analysis techniques they employ — and their stories are told in Scott Patterson’s new book The Quants: How a New Breed of Math Whizzes Conquered Wall Street and Nearly Destroyed It.

You can hear the interview here, and read an extract from the book. Very interesting are the questions about what they think really went wrong in the market crash of […] Click to continue reading this post

Help from the Bugs

On NPR ’s morning edition the other day there was an interesting piece by Nell Greenfieldboyce about a lovely piece of research on the effects of various cultures of microbial organisms in our stomachs on how we extract nutrients from food. The key point is that what lives in our stomachs and how it interacts with what we eat is a key consideration in worrying about issues like nutrition, obesity, and other issues. I recommend listening to the audio of the piece, which you can find (along with a transcript if you prefer) here. (Actually, while searching for the audio for the story I found a related story by Robert Krulwich from almost exactly a year earlier. You can listen to that here.)

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Summer Reading: KC on Science Friday

frank_oppenheimer_book-coverScience writer KC Cole (also a professor at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication) has written a biography of Frank Oppenheimer. She’s been working on it for a very long time and it has just been released, so if you look around, maybe she’s doing a reading/signing about it somewhere near you. (Some events are listed here. Los Angeles readers, she’ll be at Skylight Books tomorrow afternoon.) It is called “Something Incredibly Wonderful Happens: Frank Oppenheimer and the World He Made Up”. She was talking about it last week with Ira Flatow on NPR’s Science Friday. You can get audio here. Or you can listen to it embedded here and read on: […] Click to continue reading this post

Summer Reading: Sheril on Science Friday

unscientific_america_book-coverI don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Sheril Kirshenbaum and Chris Mooney have written a book, “Unscientific America” with an excellent discussion about science literacy. You know from reading here that this is a favourite issue of mine (look under categories such as science and society), and by far the primary reason I blog, and do the various other activities I mention such as appearing on TV and radio shows, consulting for film, theatre, TV, etc, contribute to popular level articles, making films, and other things. It is vitally important, if we are a truly democratic society, for all to participate in the conversations we have about science – whether it be about issues to do with medicine, lifestyle, environment, energy, or just for its own sake: it is part of our culture. Sadly, science (and scientists) is still on the margins of the national conversation – people are afraid of it, giggle about how bad they were at it at school and then decouple from the conversation, mostly only pay attention to bleak or incorrect pictures of it in the media and entertainment (or for political gain), and so on and so forth.

What Sheril and Chris are doing in the book is examining the extent to which this […] Click to continue reading this post

Down The Line on Strings

The (spoof) phone-in “Down The Line” on Radio 4 last week was brilliant! It featured a guest talking about science, with a particular focus on his dislike of string theory, and with the callers (the usual brilliant cross section of UK phone-in archetypes) taking the discussion all over the place: Doctor Who, soccer, “female scientists”, gay daleks, and so on and so forth.

My favourite question: “Why do they have to keep mucking about with the […] Click to continue reading this post

The Keeling Curve

keeling curveToday on NPR’s Morning Edition they played a piece by Madeline Brand that aired in 2007 about the Keeling curve, and the man behind the curve, Charles David Keeling. As you may know, the Keeling curve (above) is a striking demonstration of the steady increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, as measured from one location (on top of Mauna Loa in Hawaii) by one very simple method over almost 50 years.

It is a lovely story of dedication and determination that resulted in a simple, striking, […] Click to continue reading this post

Galileoscopes and More

This year is not all about Darwin. There’s even more fun to be had. It is the International Year of Astronomy. It is 400 years since Galileo Galilei looked at the night sky using a telescope, and this is regarded by some as the birth of modern astronomy. There’ll be lots of celebratory events and discussions taking place under this banner, and of course it is a wonderful opportunity to highlight and kindle interest in Astronomy, so keep your eye out for lots of such events. The theme is “The Universe: Yours To Discover”, which I think is rather good, don’t you? See the official website of IYA2009 for more information. Here’s a BBC World service piece about it, in the form of an interview with Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees. (That same page has an audio visit to the Vatican’s Observatory, Castel Gandolfo (a facility previously mentioned on the blog here), which might be of interest.)

I wonder whether you’ve heard of the Galileoscope. It is one of the “cornerstone […] Click to continue reading this post

Darwin in the Air

You’ll begin to notice a lot of discussion of Charles Darwin soon. Why? It is his 200th anniversary, and also 150 years since his Origin of Species was published, and so many people and organizations will be celebrating those landmarks. I did a couple of posts last year on Darwin that are worth a look, one about Darwin’s presentation of the evolution idea to the Linnean Society (150th anniversary of that last year) and the other about the wonderful Darwin Online project. See here and here.

Earlier this week I noticed that BBC Radio 4’s excellent series In Our Time (which I’ve mentioned a number of times here and will again) did a four part special documentary on Darwin. I’ve not listened to it yet, but I’ve a feeling it’ll be good. (I’ll be dropping all four parts onto my phone for listening to in those idle moments on some travel I’m about to embark upon.)

Snipping some of the synopses: […] Click to continue reading this post

Gervais and Merchant on Mayo

ricky gervais and stephen merchant on mayoRicky Gervais and Stephen Merchant were on Daily Mayo for half an hour yesterday. It was a good bit of fun unscripted chatter that’s worth a listen. They were really there to plug the new boxed set of the TV show Extras (which if you have not seen you should put high on your list of viewing priorities – it is quite brilliant), but of course they were also there to mess around a bit.

They asked for a higher standard of question to be emailed in by the viewers, and so I wondered whether anyone would send in some science ones – maybe some physics ones. Sure enough there were. […] Click to continue reading this post

Brian Eno on Singing

Like singing? Think you can’t? No use for it?

Have a listen to Brian Eno on the issue. He was on NPR’s This I Believe this morning talking about singing. Extract:

I believe that singing is the key to long life, a good figure, a stable temperament, increased intelligence, new friends, super self-confidence, heightened sexual attractiveness and a better sense of humor. […]

[…] a capella singing is all about the immersion of the self into the community. That’s one of the great feelings — to stop being me for a little while and to become us. That way lies empathy, the great social virtue. […]

More here. Take a moment out and sing out loud for a while!

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Summer Reading: Fresh Air From Pollan

I’ve been meaning to tell you more about Michael Pollan. I’ve been planning a post or two about Summer reading, and was going to discuss the books of Michael Pollan to kick off a possible series. That plan was hatched in the late Summer of 2007… then the Fall came, and then the Winter and Spring… then Summer of 2008… never got around to it. Drat. (Checking back, I see that I started the series by talking about Haruki Murakami, here. So I’ll call this part of the series too, even though it is not really Summer.)

Anyway, the good news is that Pollan was on Fresh Air (NPR) yesterday, and as usual he was excellent:

In an open letter to the next president, author Michael Pollan writes about the waning health of America’s food systems — and warns that “the era of cheap and abundant food appears to be drawing to a close.”

The future president’s food policies, says Pollan, will have a large impact on a wide range of issues, including national security, climate change, energy independence and health care.

Here’s the link to the audio. Before you rush off to that, let me continue what I was going to say, at least in brief.

Pollan has risen to prominence, justifiably, mostly as a result of his excellent book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History Of Four Meals”. It is a delightful examination of the food industry, charting the route of much of the food that you eat […] Click to continue reading this post