Lasers and Gravitational Waves

Today’s Nobel Prize in physics has an interesting wrinkle to it. I summarised it in the extract above from a certain forthcoming book*. Click for a larger view. Congratulations to the winners Rainer Weiss, Barry C Barish and Kip S Thorne! There are some excellent descriptions (either for layperson level … Click to continue reading this post

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

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

Viewing the Eclipse

It’s an exciting day today! Please don’t lock your kids away, which seems to be an alarmingly common option (from looking at the news – many schools seem to be opting to do that; I wish they’d use they use some of those locked classrooms as camera obscura). Instead, use this as an opportunity to learn and teach about the wonderful solar system we live in.

Actually, to enjoy the experience, you never have to even look in the direction of the sun if you don’t want to (or if you don’t have the appropriate eclipse glasses)… you can see crescents everywhere during the partial eclipse if you look out for them. You can make a safe viewing device in a minute or two if you take the time.

Here’s an NPR video that summarises the various viewing options: […] 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

LIGO Does it Again!

I just got off the phone with an LA Times reporter about this new result (announced today in PRL and by LIGO directly), trying to get across some of the enthusiasm about this shared by a wide community of physicists and astronomers, and the reasons why. Here’s a nice New York Times article about the discovery, by Dennis Overbye. The graphic to the right is from the LIGO press release.

(Incidentally, according to Physics Today it is Kip Thorne’s birthday today. What an excellent birthday present for him!)

-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

Bolt those Engines Down…

I’ve a train to catch and so I did not have time to think of a better title. Sorry. Anyway, for those of you who follow the more technical side of what I do, above is a screen shot to the abstract of a paper to appear tomorrow/today on the arXiv. I’ll try to find some time to say more about it, but I can’t promise anything since I’ve got to finish writing another paper today (on the train ride), and then turn myself away from all this for a little while to work on some other things. The abstract should be […] Click to continue reading this post