Unexpected Throwback!

Wow, I’ve really got something good for Throwback Thursday! A large white envelope arrived in my mailbox*, addressed to me in handwriting. My first thought was that it was yet another sheaf of papers with someone’s very earnest “Theory of Everything”, helpfully sent along for me to discover that indeed the science world has “got it totally wrong”: the universe is in fact made of (fill in the blank – let’s say parmesan cheese?) which interacts via (hungry angels tethered together by fondue strands?) and so on and so forth, and all I have to do is “work out the math for me because it is not my strong point” and it’ll all work out… “you’re welcome”.

But no, it was not. I don’t open things like this without caution, for various reasons, and often I throw them away, but there was something strangely familiar about the writing and so I took it away to (maybe) open later.

Then it struck me. It was my handwriting! Huh? How could that be? Was I […] Click to continue reading this post

It’s Time for the County Fair!

It’s that time of year again. For me, County Fairs have a charmingly old-fashioned quality to them, and I love to visit what might be considered some of the more boring aspects – the various crafts on display (shelves of pots of jam, pies and cakes, and so forth, knitted and crocheted items, and so forth), and the old games (hitting things with hammers, etc.) And of course sampling a tiny bit of the the terrible (but tasty) foods you get to eat!

I have a story (told within another story) in my forthcoming book that takes place at a fair (that illustrates an interesting scientific idea – but not one you’d guess at all, I’ll bet), and two years ago I went location scouting at the LA County Fair to get reference material for some of the various drawings I did for […] Click to continue reading this post

Angel’s Flight Lives!

Today marks the day when, after a long closure, the lovely tiny railway called Angel’s Flight in downtown Los Angeles re-opens. There is a news piece here for example. It was a common feature of what some called the “Asymptotia Tour”, meaning that back in the day, readers of this blog who visited LA and happened to meet me might well be shown this hidden gem of the city. Well, all those years ago (before it closed) I ended up capturing it (or a version of it) on the page as part of the setting for one of my dialogues in my forthcoming book, The Dialogues: Conversations about the Nature of the Universe (MIT Press, 2017). The images above show some fragments of two pages in the book, featuring the railway.

In Spring 2010, I took a sabbatical semester and decided to spend most of it in hiding (in some cities in Europe), telling nobody what […] Click to continue reading this post

Book Notifications!

I wonder if others get notifications from Amazon about my book as often as I do… anyway, please note that it is due to appear (depending upon who you believe) in 6-8 weeks or so, so please consider beating the rush and pre-ordering… also note that the discount for doing so is shrinking a bit as compared to earlier, so move fast! Amazon link here, but your favourite store (local or online) will likely have it at that price too!

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

I Went Walking, and…


Well, that was nice. Was out for a walk with my son and ran into Walter Isaacson. (The Aspen Center for Physics, which I’m currently visiting, is next door to the Aspen Institute. He’s the president and CEO of it.) He wrote the excellent Einstein biography that was the official book of the Genius series I worked on as science advisor. We chatted, and it turns out we have mutual friends and acquaintances.

He was pleased to hear that they got a science advisor on board and that the writers (etc) did such a good job with the science. I also learned that he has a book on Leonardo da Vinci coming out […] Click to continue reading this post

It Can be Done

For those interested in giving more people access to science, and especially those who act as gate-keepers, please pause to note that* a primetime drama featuring tons of real science in nearly every episode can get 10 Emmy nominations. Congratulations National Geographic’s Genius! (Full list here. See an earlier post … Click to continue reading this post

American Cinématheque Event

Tonight at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica there’s a special screening of the last two episodes of the current season of the National Geographic drama Genius, about the life and work of Albert Einstein. After the screening there’ll be a panel discussion and Q&A with the show runner Ken Biller, the actor T.R. Knight, and me, in my capacity as the science advisor for the series (as I’ve discussed earlier here). The details are here, and admission is apparently free. It will be moderated by Corey Powell. (Image is from National Geographic publicity.)

Also, apparently if you arrive early enough you’ll get a free Einstein mask. So there’s that.

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Writing Hat!

Well, yesterday evening and today I’ve got an entirely different hat – SF short story writer! First let me apologize for faking it to all my friends reading who are proper short story writers with membership cards and so on. Let me go on to explain:

I don’t think I’m allowed to tell you the full details yet, but the current editor of an annual science fiction anthology got in touch back in February and told me about an idea they wanted to try out. They normally have their usual batch of excellent science fiction stories (from various writers) in the book, ending with a survey of some visual material such as classic SF covers, etc…. but this year they decided to do something different. Instead of the visual survey thing, why not have one of the stories be visual? In other words, a graphic novella (I suppose that’s what you’d call it).

After giving them several opportunities to correct their obvious error, which went a bit like this: […] Click to continue reading this post

Almost Within Grasp!

I just noticed! The book is now in MIT Press’ Fall 2017 catalog, and so you can see the cover and read the blurb they wrote about it! See the full thing here (a pdf; on page 9). Alternatively, here is the online page for it. (I can also reveal what I could not say before: Frank Wilczek kindly agreed to write a foreword for it.)

This. is. so. exciting.

I don’t know about how you pre-order yet, but when I do I’ll let you know.
Update: I also noticed that you can pre-order at a special price on Amazon! The link is here. (Pre-orders are helpful, so don’t be shy… 🙂 )

-cvj
Click to continue reading this post

Silicon Valley

I’ll be at Silicon Valley Comic Con this weekend, talking on two panels about science and its intersection with film on the one hand (tonight at 7pm if my flight is not too delayed), and non-fiction comics (see my book to come) on the other (Saturday at 12:30 or so). … Click to continue reading this post

Advising on Genius: Helping Bring a Real Scientist to Screen

Well, I’ve been meaning to tell you about this for some time, but I’ve been distracted by many other things. Last year I had the pleasure of working closely with the writers and producers on the forthcoming series on National Geographic entitled “Genius”. (Promotional photo above borrowed from the show’s website.)The first season, starting on Tuesday, is about Einstein – his life and work. It is a ten episode arc. I’m going to venture that this is a rather new kind of TV show that I really hope does well, because it could open the door to longer more careful treatments of subjects that usually are considered too “difficult” for general audiences, or just get badly handled in the short duration of a two-hour movie.

Since reviews are already coming out, let me urge you to keep an open mind, and bear in mind that the reviewers (at the time of writing) have only seen the two or three episodes that have been sent to them for review. A review based on two or three episodes of a series like this (which is more like a ten hour movie – you know how these newer forms of “long form TV” work) is akin to a review based on watching the first 25-35 minutes of a two hour film. You can get a sense of tone and so forth from such a short sample, but not much can be gleaned about content to come. So remember that when the various opinion pieces appear in the next few weeks.

So… content. That’s what I spent a lot of time helping them with. I do this sort of thing for movies and TV a lot, as you know, but this was a far […] Click to continue reading this post

Quick Oceanside Art…

So an unexpected but very welcome message from my publisher a while back was a query to see if I’d be interested in doing the cover for my forthcoming book. Of course, the answer was a very definite yes! (I knew that publishers often want to control that aspect of a book themselves, and while some time ago I made a deliberately vague suggestion about what I thought the cover might be like, I was careful not to try to insert myself into that aspect of production, so this was a genuine surprise.) I’m focusing on physics research during this part of my sabbatical, so this would have to be primarily an “after hours” sort of operation, but should not take long since I had a clear idea of what to do. I worked up two or three versions of an idea and sent it along to see that they liked where I was going and once they picked one (happily, the one I liked most) I set it aside as a thing to work on once I got finished with a paper (see last post) and the (prep for as well as the actual) trip East to give a physics colloquium (see the post I never got around to doing about that trip).

Then I had terrible delays on the way back that cost me the better part of an extra day getting back. So I worked up some of the nearly final art and layout […] Click to continue reading this post

BBC CrowdScience SXSW Panel!

They recorded one of the panels I was on at SXSW as a 30 minute episode of the BBC World Service programme CrowdScience! The subject was science and the movies, and it was a lot of fun, with some illuminating exchanges, I had some fantastic co-panellists: Dr. Mae Jemison (the astronaut, doctor, and chemical engineer), Professor Polina Anikeeva (she researches in materials science and engineering at MIT), and Rick Loverd (director of the Science and Entertainment Exchange), and we had an excellent host, Marnie Chesterton. It has aired now, but in case you missed it, here is a link to the site where you can listen to our discussion.

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Some Panellists…

SXSW panel groupMy quick trip to South by Southwest was fruitful, and fun. I was in three events. This* was the group for the panel that was hosted by Rick Loverd, who directs the Science and Entertainment Exchange. We had lots of great discussion about Science in Film, TV, and other entertainment media: – Why it is important to make films more engaging with richer storytelling, to help build broader familiarity with science and scientists, and so on. There were insights from both sides of the “aisle”: I spoke about what the kind of work I do in this area, coming from the science side of things and Samantha Corbin-Miller and Stephany Folsom discussed things form their points of view of writers of TV and Film. (I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I’d recently (last Summer) looked at Stephany’s work in detail: She wrote the upcoming movie Thor: Ragnarok, and I had studied and written notes on the screenplay and met with the production team and director to give them some help […] Click to continue reading this post

Upcoming Panels at SXSW

(Image credit: I borrowed this image from the SXSW website.)

It seems that even after finishing the manuscript of the graphic book and turning it in to the publisher*, I can’t get away from panels. It’s a poor pun, to help make an opening line – I actually mean a different sort of panel. I’ll be participating in two (maybe three) of them this Saturday at the South By SouthWest event in Austin, Texas. I’ll give you details below, and if you happen to be around, come and see us! This means that I’ll not get to see any of the actual conference itself since two (maybe three) events is enough to wipe out most of the day, and then I jump on a plane back to LA.

They’re about Science and the media. I’ll be talking about the things I’ve […] Click to continue reading this post