Tales From The Industry XXIII – Big Bang Theory

Thursday is my first day I can take a breath this week. The last few have been crazy and so I’ve not found time to edit that bubble video I promised, but it is coming. I hope I can get to it tomorrow.

Today is still full of stuff here and there, including a referee report, another report, some administrative things for my class, and then another attempt to think through a thorny puzzle on a research project. The class admin should have been done last night since Thursday and Friday are supposed to be free of undergraduate teaching issues, according to my agreement with myself. However, we had a seminar visitor – Rene Meyer – and so after my class ended at 7:00pm, instead of doing the administration I went to get a bus to downtown to meet with him and my student Arnab for dinner, at the excellent Blossom, one of my favourites down there. There was a bit of walking around to show them some of downtown’s lovely hidden treasures in the form of so many elegant buildings that are ignored by most. (Yes, people, there are restaurants and cafes and things open downtown at night. And of course bars. Go see.)

Now on to the other thing:

still from the show big bang theory

As a result of a phone call that came through while I was hosting Rene yesterday, it […] Click to continue reading this post

Help Me! Heeelp Meee!

the fly operaSorry. Didn’t mean to cry wolf, but I always think of that great (as in camp and amusing) ending scene when I think of The Fly. The movie, anyway. (That’s in the original 1958 movie version – clip at bottom of this post.) Now there’s an opera! I am not joking. David Cronenberg has teamed with composer Howard Shore to create an opera. (You know the work of both of them rather well, actually, from film work together, and separately – Shore did the wonderful music for films such as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Cronenberg the film director needs no introduction.) I love the play on Da Vinci’s iconic drawing for the production’s publicity and so forth. See above right.

The artists are of the opinion (and I agree, in principle) that the themes visited in the story are powerful and resonant enough for an opera. Science, science ethics, new technology, fear of same, mercy killing… and presumably devotion to a cause, […] Click to continue reading this post

Dance Experiments

Since it is Friday night, and almost time for the biggest and best street fair on the annual calendar in Los Angeles ([update: not counting the Halloween Carnaval!] the Sunset Junction Street Fair – they shut down several blocks of Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake for two solid days of fun [update: oh dear]), it is time to recall the excellent careful series of scientific experiments in blowing apart stereotypes performed by Dave Chappelle, assisted by John Mayer (along with two other musicians when they do the controls at the end).

The video quality is not perfect, but this is simply hilarious, and rather well thought out. It is presented as though it is a set of experiments, with a control group, and […] Click to continue reading this post

Welcome Invasion

paraphenalia for discussion magnetism

“Invasion” in the sense of something that took me away from my regular time usage, I should say. I just spent an interesting period of time this morning viewing a pilot for a new TV show. It has a large science component, and will be on one or other of the Discovery Network’s channels. I appear in it (talking mostly about magnetism), and I blogged about some of the filming of it here.

I have to say it was a pleasure to spend a bit of time looking at the (nearly) finished product and commenting here and there on the script and so forth. The concept of the show is really good, and they manage to carry it out with humour while still getting […] Click to continue reading this post

Tales From The Industry XXI – Another Go At An Einstein Film

Well, since they’ve actually done a press release about it, I suppose I don’t have to be so coy as I was in the last post. This is about the film company I was doing some consulting work for on an interesting project with and interesting screen-writer.

The company is called Hero Pictures, and they have an interesting mission statement, and a rather splendid website (which I recommend… love the little hero guy) which tells you more. One of their projects is a film about Einstein. Working title is “The Private Lives of Albert Einstein”. They’ve bought the rights to a couple of books on him, brought in a screenwriter (see my thoughts on him and working with him in the previous post), Ron Bass, well known for his work on projects like Rain Man and The Joy Luck Club, Snow Falling on Cedars, among many other films.

It was fun to work with him on this, however briefly. He’s super sharp and gets the […] Click to continue reading this post

On “Do-Overs”

I love “do-overs”. Not because I want to change anything in particular about my life, but because they are so rare, and so interesting. On my way to Vancouver on Monday, I got to do one.

We (myself and the other passengers) boarded our flight at Denver. I usually get on the plane early, and so have the change to watch people go through their routines of boarding and all that entails. After that was all, the plane full of passengers waited for the plane to get ready, doors to close, and so forth. It did not happen. After a while, the pilot came on and explained that they were trying to fix the radio, and it would be another half an hour. So we waited. After another long while, the pilot came on and said that they did not expect that the radio would get fixed in a timely manner after all, and so they were going to try something else. We would “de-plane” (a word I hate by the way – what is wrong with the perfectly good word “disembark”?) and all make our way to another gate where eventually another plane would arrive, and we’d take that one. It would be exactly the same type of plane. We would keep our ticket stubs and just re-board an hour and a half later.

I wandered for a bit, found something not too repulsive to nibble on (seems to get harder and harder in some airports), was disappointed by the meagre bookstore once again, and otherwise killed some time. Then the boarding started again. A “do-over”. Everybody would be going back to the same seats, it would be exactly the […] Click to continue reading this post


Ok, so which one of you is responsible for this? (Since I started writing the post, I’ve since learned the answer – see below.)

futuramas professor farnsworth with wittens dog

I was watching the 1999 Mars University episode of Futurama some nights back. It’s the one where Professor Farnsworth teaches (among the many excellent lines: “I can’t teach, I’m a professor…”) a course entitled “The Mathematics of Quantum Neutrino […] Click to continue reading this post

Where Many Paths and Errands Meet

[Typed in a cafe on Tuesday at about 3:45pm. It’s just a rough collection of thoughts about various recent meetings and activities:]

Interesting day so far. One of those “my office is everywhere” days. I’m on the West side, in Santa Monica, where I’ve a number of errands to do. Also I get to work and have some meetings in between. I try very much to corral everything to one part of town so that I am not driving around too much, adding to the general junk that we all pour into the air without thinking. So I brought my bike with me to connect the dots that I intend to go between while in the area (a couple of cafes (coffee and work), the beach/boardwalk (lunch and work), a mechanic (they’re changing brakes on my car and diagnosing a Noise), one of the English shops (for tea supplies), an electronics store (to shop for memory), a grocery store, possibly a bookstore, possibly the public library (to work and ‘cos it’s just really nice)…).

While reading some notes by one of my students on a project we’re working on, and eating lunch down on the boardwalk/beach wall near the chess-players, I reached for my phone to send him a text with a question. As I did this I looked up at the passers-by and one of them was familiar! It was someone who used to be a postdoc in one of the other groups in the department, who used to share an office with the very student whose notes I was reading! Funny when that happens… We chatted for a while about things (such as career stuff concerning the interesting research life that can often found in various commercial settings), and he seemed interested in my […] Click to continue reading this post

Ferrous Thoughts

I spent an awful lot of time as a child and teenager tinkering with various projects. I’d have lots of projects on at any one time, brewing in my head for a while, and making their way to notebooks and scraps of soldering iron, meter, …paper, then to elaborate drawings showing the technical details, and ultimately to some sort of realization in the real work, some percentage of the time. In the Summer time, I would probably have one Big Project and that would occupy my thoughts for a great deal of time, and would involve a lot of hiding away doing things. Lots of these projects would involve electronics (increasingly as time went by and I Learned more and my various part time jobs could support more) and there’d be lots of tinkering with all sorts of items, and a constant feature would be the soldering iron, one not so different from the one that you see to the right.

Well, one of the many things I liked about the Iron Man movie (yes, I was right there to […] Click to continue reading this post

We Interrupt This Broadcast…

One of my favourite topics to think about, since I was very young, is the effect that direct contact with intelligent alien life would have on our society. It would be transformative, I think, whether it be initially seen as for good or ill. Of course, most imaginings of such an event usually considers the “ill” aspect. I was chatting about the issue recently with a friend of mine while hiking the other day and then I recalled that I forgot to do a blog post on last week’s Sunday night radio listening, part of which was about just this very topic!

war of the worlds tripod illustrationThe show was in two parts (both good… more on the second later) and the first was a 1994 recreation of the classic War of the Worlds broadcast of 1938. You know the one, I hope… It was a CBS radio broadcast by the Mercury Theater company, masterminded and led by Orson Welles, and was a Howard Koch radio adaptation of the 1898 H. G. Wells novel. As you may know, the radio show created a huge panic among the listening audiences at the time, brought on by a combination of the relative newness of the medium (it was done in the style of a series of on-the-scene breathless news reports) and the general atmosphere in world politics at the time. (There’s a rather good Wikipedia collection of information about it here.)

All of this puts me in a nostalgic mood, since during some of my school days I loved that War of the Worlds rock musical concept album by Jeff Wayne from 1978 (I knew of it only in the early to middle 80s), with a star-studded cast of musicians (Justin Hayward, Phil Lynott, Julie Covington, David Essex and Chris Thompson), and the wonderful voice of Richard Burton as the main protagonist (a journalist). Anybody else remember that? From so many listenings to it, I used to be able to sing along to every note and word of that album! Probably still can, even though I’ve not heard it in so long. Altogether now – Uuuu-Laaaa!!!, or Come on Thun-der-child!!… Here’s a Wikipedia link.

Anyway, I highly recommend the recreation of the broadcast. Find an hour and curl up next to your computer and pretend it’s a warm old valve radio. Leonard Nimoy plays […] Click to continue reading this post

Tales From the Industry XVII: Jump Thoughts

A commenter asked how the aforementioned movie viewing and panel discussion went on Friday (movie: Jumper), and so I thought expand a bit on the answer I gave:

It went very well. We were at the School of Cinematic Arts, at USC. We had a full house in the Norris Theatre, which was great to see. Most of the audience was students from the SCA, I think, with some of the faculty present, and people from the film’s parent studio, and several others. For the panel, present were two of the film’s producers, the visual effects supervisor, costume supervisor, production designer… basically, the perfect people to have a discussion with about the physics! I won’t try to list all names since I did not catch all of them and don’t want to mis-credit people for being there who weren’t.

Teleportation physics aside for a moment, I’m very impressed with how they realized […] Click to continue reading this post

Planck Meets Fleming

So yesterday at Pinewood Studios they announced the name of the upcoming second James Bond film in the new series that (excellently, in my opinion) re-envisions the Bond movie universe. Last year’s first one was “Casino Royale”, you may recall. Did you hear what the next one will be called? […] Click to continue reading this post

Categorically Not! – Science Goes Hollywood

Reza Aslan at Categorically Not!The next Categorically Not! is on Sunday January 27th (upcoming). The Categorically Not! series of events that are held at the Santa Monica Art Studios, (with occasional exceptions). It’s a series – started and run by science writer K. C. Cole Reza Aslan at Categorically Not! – of fun and informative conversations deliberately ignoring the traditional boundaries between art, science, humanities, and other subjects. I strongly encourage you to come to them if you’re in the area.

Here is the website that describes past ones, and upcoming ones. See also the links at the end of the post for some announcements and descriptions (and even video) of previous events. (Above right and left: Reza Aslan speaking on the origin of various ideas in Religion at the event entitled “Beginnings” on 16th December, 2007. Click right one for larger view.)

The theme this month is Science Goes Hollywood. Here’s the description from K C Cole:

Despite our prejudices to the contrary, Hollywood and Science have a lot to say to each other. Take special effects: Nothing Disney dreams up can […] Click to continue reading this post

Alan Alda Chats With KC Cole

kc colealan alda scientific american frontiersTomorrow afternoon at 4:00pm there’s be an interesting conversation on campus for sure. It’ll be between the science writer and journalist KC Cole and the actor Alan Alda. He’s such an interesting person, and (among other things) currently presents Scientific American Frontiers.

KC’s always so good at steering these conversations, so while I’ve no idea […] Click to continue reading this post

I Am Cranky

will smith in i am legendSo I took my mum and my brother (passing through on his way to the CES) to the new Arclight (Sherman Oaks) to see “I Am Legend” last night. I’ll admit that it has some things going for it. Overall it is not the disaster one might expect, given the direction in which big-budget “science-fiction” projects like this headed by action stars usually go. Furthermore, it might be said to be a bit of progress to have the main character be a scientist, and one of African descent as well, although I’d have been more impressed to see the scientist character actually using the scientific method – inference, deduction, hypothesis testing. The placeholder for being a scientist here was still the usual – surround the character with fancy equipment, give them glasses and a lab coat, and get them saying a few sciencey-sounding things. Hollywood – please listen up: That’s not what science is!!

So it was basically an action movie with more than the usual puddle’s worth of emotional depth, for a change. Very good performances and so forth and more or less well put together. It did not have the feeling of being written by committee, and so forth. So worth a look.

On the other hand, one main thing has been bugging me all day. If the rabid infected […] Click to continue reading this post