Tales From The Industry, XII – A Shooting Diary

Here’s my promised report/diary on yesterday’s adventures in film-making.

history channel shoot september6:45am Got up a bit earlier than perhaps I should have, given that I got to sleep at 1:00am. Spent a while reading a ton of email, and sending some more. Will be away from my regular professoring duties for the whole day, and so wanted to make sure the fort was held. Prepared some appropriate TV clothing (pretty much what I wear normally anyway – simple solid colours), and so forth. Attempted to beautify myself just a tad (with the usual…inconclusive results). Shower and so forth. Coffee and oatmeal, sprinkled with NPR… Read a bit of stuff on dates of historical background on material I’ll be talking about. I often forget that sort of thing, and its never ever needed whenever I do remind myself of it, so after a few minutes I decided not to bother. The core physics ideas are more important, ultimately. Spent time looking for rain gear (the micro-brolly, basically), since supposedly there’s going to be a rainstorm later (hurrah! finally!). Ready to go.

8:45am Fifteen minutes later than I intended to (how did that happen?), I set off to walk to the Sunset/Vermont Red Line subway station. Waved to a neighbour, and we exchanged pleasantries about how nice a day it was.

8:47am Walked past surprised neighbour back toward home…. briskly.

8:52am Riding the Brompton (the folding bike, for those of you not keeping up), I cycled off to the Sunset/Vermont station.

9:01am Arrive at said station on schedule (one minute late does not count in LA), and […] Click to continue reading this post

They’re Out There (Probably)

alien from the movieLet’s talk about aliens. I don’t mean people coming across the borders of whatever your country happens to be (although I did giggle a decade ago when I was given an official “alien number” by the powers that be back then – though I always regretted bypassing the “alien with extraordinary ability” status that the O1 visa gives you), I mean living creatures from beyond planet earth (it’s also interesting to consider the possibility that the seeds for life on earth may also have come from elsewhere).

It’s one of my favourite topics to consider, which is why I like to follow a lot of the remarkable things we are learning about our neighbouring planets (and other bodies like moons, asteroids, comets, and, yes minor planets like our old friend Pluto), and of course the ever-increasing variety of extra-solar planets (the ones we are discovering orbiting other stars). Overall, it gives one the sense that it is overwhelmingly likely that we are not alone (to use the tired old phrase), which to me is tremendously exciting.

I think we’ll find lots of compelling evidence that there’s lots of simple life on other bodies relatively soon, and I think that when people on the street hear of this, they’ll find it interesting enough. But I suspect that this will completely different to an […] Click to continue reading this post

A bit of Sex with your Higgs

Remember that Nick Evans (physicist at Southampton University) wrote a mystery/thriller (set in and around the exciting particle physics at the LHC at CERN) that you can download from his website? It’s called “The Newtonian Legacy”, in case you were not aware of it. It was notable for (among other things such as the pedagogical explanations, in a fictional setting, of the particle physics such as the Higgs particle being discussed a lot in the press of late – see related articles at bottom of the post) not being shy to blow the covers off the remarkably exciting life of sex and drugs we high energy physicists lead1.

Well, having got some sex and murder into the Times Higher Education Supplement[…] Click to continue reading this post

LHC Podcasts: Science Meets Science Fiction

Confession: I’ve no idea what Torchwood is, and I find the current Dr. Who shows annoying overall (there have been some good episodes that I’ve seen, but they’re swamped in a sea of such poorly thought through and simply phoned-in crappy episodes that I find it too annoying to take the risk of wasting an hour I could have better spent with my head in the oven…) Feel free to disagree with me, and I have not seen the most recent season, so maybe things are better.

LHC You TubeBut anyway, where was I? Oh, right. Someone called John Barrowman (apparently one of the stars on those shows? He plays a scientist? I honestly don’t know, but you will, if you’re a fan) took a visit to CERN (the particle physics lab in Europe you often read about here and elsewhere) to better inform himself about the intersection between science and science fiction. One of the resulting jumpy noisy and (reportedly) fun videos can be found on YouTube here. There are some somewhat interesting animations alongside some of the, er…jolly madcap fun, illustrating the physics. Following the particles along the beam-pipe to the collision is not a view I’ve seen before, I’ll admit.
Much more interesting is something they mention at the end. A series of podcasts on the LHC (the big experiment at CERN we’re all interested in and excited about). This is driven by Brian Cox (no, not that one, this one, the physicist), and seems to be in a […] Click to continue reading this post

Back To the Future

fifties science fiction spaceshipThe BBC Radio 4 program Archive Hour was just brilliant on the weekend. Here is the synopsis:

Adam Hart Davies looks at some of the predictions made in the past by scientists, programme-makers and politicians about how future society and technology would develop. He explores some of the moral and ethical dilemmas arising from mankind’s thirst for new inventions, new technologies and new ways of life.

(Image right: Chesley Bonestell painting for a cover of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1950. See more art from that era at this excellent site.)

It brings to the issue a lot of archival footage of interviews, debates, and other material. There are interviews with many interesting people, including scientists and science fiction writers. The role of science fiction (the really good stuff, not the stuff that’s purely space opera… although sometimes it is hard to know which is which without the benefit of hindsight) is discussed quite a bit too.

There are the usual discussions about mobile phones, communications satellites, and the like, well-known things that were anticipated by writers of fiction, but the programme is much more interesting than that, reflecting upon the impact of various technologies and medical techniques (e.g. heart transplants) and how they were regarded and debated at the time, since they were often seen as either assaults on, or enhancements of (depending upon point of view) our humanity. This discussion is all in aid of reflecting upon us in the present. (Consider carefully the face transplant, for example, and how people react to what that means…)

There’s also very interesting discussion of the moral/ethical responsibility of the […] Click to continue reading this post

Novel Physics

Well, I got an email from my dear friend and collaborator Nick Evans on Tuesday, and in all the craziness of my work week, I forgot to do this post. In the email, he says:

nick evansWe talked on a few occasions about the need for physics to meet popular culture… sooo.. over the last 2 years I’ve put together a novel about particle physics… it’s quite high level – aimed at A-level science students really… but hopefully it’s fun… I was really playing with mixing a novel and popular science… it’s mainly LHC science …[…] … we’ve done it as a web book Outreach project. [link here]

If it intrigues have a read…

So I’m passing it on to you. I’ve not found the time to read it, but I trust Nick enough to know that it is certainly worth a look. (To resolve a possible transatlantic confusion, I should mention that “A-level science students” in what he said does not refer to “grade A science students”. It refers to a specific subject level in the UK school system.)

Enjoy! (Come back and let us know what you think…)

-cvj

(See also blog comments by Nick’s former student, Jonathan Shock.)
Click to continue reading this post

Poincaré on Studio 60

sphererabbitDid anyone else spot the Poincaré conjecture reference on Monday’s episode of Aaron Sorkin’s excellent Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip? (Recall that I mentioned another science reference on this show in an earlier post.) A writer is trying to find a punchline to a joke. The joke is supposed to be in the style of the headline news on Saturday Night Live… […] Click to continue reading this post

Work on the Play Day

science play cartoon cvj“The Play’s The Thing!” you yelled, as you got out of bed this morning. Well, at least for today. Today, you’ll mostly be sitting in one place with manuscript, paper and pencil. Scribbling. Crossing out. Scribbling some more. Making notes, etc.

Yes, today is work-on-the-play day and it will be very interesting, since you’ve not looked at the thing for a long time due to other commitments. Certainly not since it was read by real actors with real people in the audience at the Pasadena Playhouse during the Summer, although you could not attend, due to being out of town. You wonder if it was as fun as the other public reading, and whether readings will ever be as magical to you as that first private one.

Looking at the manuscript with fresh eyes, you’ll form the opinion that it has become a bit […] Click to continue reading this post

Strings on Sunset

So I heard something on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip just now. (This is the new show written by Aaron Sorkin that I instinctively started to watch a couple of weeks ago because I like his writing, and it is actually a drama about the process of writing, so what’s not to like? -Ok, I’m a bit bothered by the overall annoyingness of the lead actress’ performance, but I imagine she’ll get better.)

I caught a line that went something like “we’re not looking for a girl with a phd in… string theory or anything, ok? There’ll be at least half a dozen women there who’ve […] Click to continue reading this post

Visions and Voices

This year, there’s going to be even more to do on the USC campus to broaden your mind, and several events which link USC with off campus venues such as theatres, museums, and performing arts centers. The (then) new Provost, Max Nikias, announced his “Arts and Humanities Initiative” in his … Click to continue reading this post