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

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

News from the Front, XIII: Holographic Heat Engines for Fun and Profit

I put a set of new results out on to the arxiv recently. They were fun to work out. They represent some of my continued fascination with holographic heat engines, those things I came up with back in 2014 that I think I’ve written about here before (here and here). For various reasons (that I’ve explained in various papers) I like to think of them as an answer waiting for the right question, and I’ve been refining my understanding of them in various projects, trying to get clues to what the question or questions might be.

As I’ve said elsewhere, I seem to have got into the habit of using 21st Century techniques to tackle problems of a 19th Century flavour! The title of the paper is “Approaching the Carnot limit at finite power: An exact solution”. As you may know, the Carnot engine, whose efficiency is the best a heat engine can do (for specified temperatures of exchange with the hot and cold reservoirs), is itself not a useful practical engine. It is a perfectly reversible engine and as such takes infinite time to run a cycle. A zero power engine is not much practical use. So you might wonder how close a real engine can come to the Carnot efficiency… the answer should be that it can come arbitrarily close, but most engines don’t, and so people who care about this sort of thing spend a lot of time thinking about how to design special engines that can come close. And there are various arguments you can make for how to do it in various special systems and so forth. It’s all very interesting and there’s been some important work done.

What I realized recently is that my old friends the holographic heat engines are a very good tool for tackling this problem. Part of the reason is that the underlying working substance that I’ve been using is a black hole (or, if you prefer, is defined by a black hole), and such things are often captured as exact […] Click to continue reading this post