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

Some Action

sample_sketch_dialogues_30_08_2016I think that the Apple Pencil is one of the best things the company has produced in a very long time. It’s good for both writing and sketching, and so is especially useful in all aspects of my work. I got one back in the Spring when the regular-sized iPad pro came out and it has been a joy to work with. I thought I’d share with you a video stroke by stroke logging of a quick sketch I did with it this morning on the subway on the way to work. The sketch itself is above and the video showing how I made it is embedded below. Yes, it’s another version of the people you saw here.

This is typically how I produce some of the rough work for the book, by the way. (I still also use good old fashioned pen and paper too.) Since some of you have asked, the answer to whether I […] Click to continue reading this post

Existence Proof

imageThe picture is evidence that bug-free Skype seminars are possible! Well, I suppose it only captured an instant, and not the full hour’s worth of two separate bug-free talks each with their own Q&A, but that is what happened. The back story is that two of our invited speakers, Lara Anderson and James Gray, had flight delays that prevented them from arriving in Santiago on time and so I spent a bit of time (at the suggestion of my co-organizer Wati Taylor, who also could not make the trip) figuring out how we could save the schedule by having them give Skype seminars. (We already had to make a replacement elsewhere in the schedule since another of our speakers was ill and had to cancel his trip.)

Two Skype talks seemed a long shot back on Sunday when Wati had the idea, but after some local legwork on my part it gradually because more likely, and by lunchtime today I had the local staff fully on board with the idea and we tested it all and it worked!

It helps that you can send the whole of your computer screen as the video feed, and so the slides came out nicely (I’d originally planned a more complicated arrangement where we’d have the […] Click to continue reading this post

30 Years…

…but apparently, no black people use Macs. Well, you’d get that impression from Apple’s 30 year celebration video (which I was all excited to watch at first), and from the 30 year timeline on the site (which has one face per timeline). In the video, of course there’s some black people dancing and playing basketball (‘cos, you know, that’s all we can do), but when it comes to images of who’s using the machines and being creative with them… a parade of (often smug) white people and a few asians. Really Apple? Out of 30 people representing the past, present and future of your product that apparently “changed the world”, you can’t find even one black face to pretend to use it for your celebration? And of course, I fall into the trap and link to their site like an idiot for you to look at what I’m talking about. Go for it.


-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Just Jiggle It

Frustratingly, I lost several hours this weekend on a new computer problem, when of course I’d planned to work on several things before turning my attention back to teaching and other matters of the week. I needed to install a new piece of software and strangely my computer’s optical drive could not read the CD-R that it was on. The computer kept reporting a blank disc had meen inserted. I checked on another computer and the disc was fine so the problem had to be with my computer. I tried to get it to recognize an audio CD but that was rejected outright. But what was the problem exactly? Investigation involved taking care to restart, attempt to reset firmware, PRAM, etc., trying to figure out how to run the hardware test (on a late 2008 unibody model macbook pro), etc. The latter involved me discovering that the hardware test software was no longer on the machine (since upgrading to Mountain […] Click to continue reading this post

While Appearing

Well, yesterday evening turned out to be very interesting. I went to two things, my main mission being to get the chance to stand up in front of the groups of students and tell them about the USC Science Film Competition. The first was at the Academy for Polymathic Study (what better set of students to interest in this than the ones signed up to do things in the spirit of polymathy?), during the late afternoon “Polymathic Pizza” series. (I’ve presented in that very series myself, talking about the idea of “Play” in science and how important it is for creativity and discovery.) Happily, my friend and colleague Tara McPherson from the School of Cinematic Arts was presenting, and so after I told the students about the competition, I sat and listened to her presentation, since I had some time before the next thing. It was marvellous, and the students were very engaged. Tara took them through the arc of her academic interests over the years of her career, showing how she morphed from (mostly) traditional humanist to someone who researches and explores the role of all kinds of media in popular culture, helping to explore and create new forms of journal, new ways of presenting data, and studying the impact of media. I recommend looking at the journal Vectors for an example of a journal that is designed to present works that would not work as well in traditional print (e.g., being able to have a scholarly discussion of a piece of video media is helped a lot by being able to show it alongside your argument – not so easy in a print journal), and then head over to Scalar, created by the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture (which Tara directs) which is collaborating with a number of University presses on various approaches to new platforms for new media in academia. She also mentioned various examples in the scientific side of things with regards using distributed media for things like crowdsourcing important data.

I had to leave before she finished, so did not get to ask her the question on many of your minds: what is the origin of the (playful?) choice of names Vectors and Scalar?

Then I went over the School of Cinematic Arts to meet another friend and Colleague, […] Click to continue reading this post

Lightning in a Bottle

Did you hear yesterday’s Fresh Air? It was very interesting indeed, being, as it was, about a subject that you probably know interests me a lot – electric cars. The guest was Seth Fletcher, and he was talking about electric cars, hybrids, and so forth. Not focusing on far futuristic matters so much as what is possible now (with all the exciting things going on in the market), and where we might go next in terms of the development of the science and technology needed to continue to change our world by moving away from gasoline as our primary energy source for transport. A lot of his focus in on the development of batteries, and he does a good job of explaining […] Click to continue reading this post

Momentus Mingus

So at the end of last week, it was that time. I’d been doing temporary countermeasures over the past month or two to put it off, but it was inevitable. I tried to run Illustrator, the program with which I do my painting for The Project, and while opening, it stopped and complained – I’d run out of hard drive space. Somehow, since what feels like only yesterday, I have filled (well, with 4GB spare) 320 GB of had drive space with…. Well… Who knows what? Lots of little bits of everything, I expect. So after a bit of research, I decided to go wild and get a 750GB 7200 rpm drive from Seagate – new on the market this year, apparently. Usually I wait for new things like this to have their creases ironed out, but it seems that they’re really just gluing two smaller drives together, and their 500GB version of the same thing seems to be thought of as reliable, so I decided what the hey. And this whole series of drives is called the Momentus, so surely that’ll be a good thing too.

This meant a fast trip to the always-fun Fry’s Electronics, in Burbank, about which you’ve maybe read a post from me before. Fast because it closes at 9:00pm and I was leaving the house at 8:30pm, but wanted to get it so I could begin the cloning process (see later) overnight, so as to get back to work on the computer the next day.

The trip was great, as I expected, made even better by the fact that the things I wanted were actually on the shelves – said hard drive (a steal at $99), an enclosure for it to make it USB accessible ($9.99) while I clone my existing drive to it, and some tools ($13.99), since Apple, fresh in their new role as Evil Empire, keep changing the screws on the inside of their electronics to odd sizes and shapes to discourage DIY work, trying to force you to take it into their amusingly called Genius Bar… Happily, people have been making screwdrivers to undo the five round pointed head screws on such models and selling them in kits. I found one. Hurrah! (Turns out that I did not need the one for the pentascrew… it was introduced on a different model than mine. The smaller Phillips head driver was good to have though, and as […] Click to continue reading this post

Robot Realities

Not long ago, I noticed that the cleaning robot was ill. It would start its cleaning cycle, run very fast for some seconds, and then make one of its warning noises and stop. This was a few days before my guests were due to arrive for the holidays, and I’d planned a big session of extra attentive house preparation, involving me putting up curtain rails for some new drapes in the living room, installing various shiny fittings in a spare bathroom, and a few other things like that, while the plucky little robot would run around all the floors and give them a good clean. So I had a dilemma – spend time trying to get it well, or use that time to do the floors myself? A bit of googling revealed that the warning noise was signalling something about a sensor possibly going bad. Did I want to spend the time heading to Fry’s electronics to see they had the sensors? Then digging around inside replacing them, with all the soldering, etc., that would entail? Fun, but time-consuming. After a day or two, I decided to do an investigative poke around the interior of the patient, just in case it might just be a matter of clearing or re-seating the sensor array…You never know.


The innards are delightfully put together! The iRobot people deserve some congratulations for good design. It took little time to take the thing apart, and it is very modular inside, with various components popping out quite nicely. It had a lot of dust in several places, notably. I got out my can of compressed air to blow dust out from various tight corners, and put it all back together after a short while. I got it started again and it seemed to run normally, until I noticed that it was missing a key […] Click to continue reading this post


Ack! It is September already. Somehow the last few days got away from me and I prepped a number of posts, but then they did not make it to the blog. One of them was another followup to the Friday iPad post (see also here). I wanted to show you one of the things I did in class on Wednesday. Recall that I am experimenting with using the iPad with Note Taker HD in class to simply sit with the students and work through solving problems with them on “paper”… a sort of fireside chat, if you will. The first experiment was on Wednesday, and I did it a little slowly at first, but I think it’ll be just great. Bear in mind I’m just scribbling with my finger here… I think I’ll try using the stylus I got the other day for variety. Click for larger versions.

classroom_chat_1 classroom_chat_2
[…] Click to continue reading this post

A Letter For You…

Well, there was a lot of interest in the iPad discussion I started on Friday, with hundreds of people viewing the post, and several interesting comments either put after the post or sent to me in email. Note taking to the device via handwriting seemed to be a major thing that people are keen on, and I admit that it is also something that, as I said in the Friday post, made me see the device firmly as a primary work tool here on out. But some are unsure, perhaps unconvinced. So, I decided to reply to many of the comments by writing a letter, including a diagram of sorts. I did it on screen, while riding the bus home, using the excellent program Note Taker HD that I told you about in the post, mostly in “edit 2” mode, allowing for compact and relatively neat writing with just my finger. Here it is (just click on an image of a page for a larger view, and be warned that a few full stops (periods) at the end of sentences did not show up so well in the images):

letter_to_readers-2010-08-30-page-1 letter_to_readers-2010-08-30-page-2
[…] Click to continue reading this post

My Office in My Handbag: The iPad as a Serious Work Tool

l-1560-1321-fb0479b6-b1bb-4da3-87f6-d149fe2833c8.jpegOne of the things I’ve been meaning to tell you about is my recent explorations of the capabilities of the iPad. I’m extremely impressed with it, and want to tell you a bit about how I use it in case it might work for you. There is a lot that is being said out there, and lots of yelling and whining about what it is not, and so a lot of people are a bit confused, it seems. I’ve a nice chunk of time here on the bus, heading home from my first day back on campus, just after the end of my first class of semester, where in fact I used the device a lot, and so this is a good time to begin to tell you a bit about it.

Bottom line? The small bag I carry that you can see in the picture to the left contains everything I need for a huge number of day to day work tasks, for the research, teaching, and administrative tasks that are part of the standard Professor gig, and a whole lot more. It is all I carry, even on a longer business trip.

The main complaint that a lot of people had was based on dashed expectations. Lots of us, and I include myself in this camp, wanted Apple to produce something like a tablet computer. A “real” computer. One that you can program and so forth like you might do your laptop or desktop, or at least run a lot of applications that are considered the business of serious computers these days, even if not writing machine code or C++ or FORTRAN…(You know, the stuff of Real Programmers.)

So typically, when the iPad is discussed, people give a list of queries about what they want it to do, and if it does not do those things, it is dismissed as a toy, essentially. End of discussion. You can find lots of shouty discussions about the iPad on the web, with lots of accusations about how Apple let people down, and the phrase “dealbreaker” being tossed around as though its some discussion about dating criteria. Ok, so the iPad might not work for you, but make sure it is really for the right reasons.

The bottom line, I realized after having my own list of disappointments, is that the more useful approach might be to figure out what sort of things it does well, and to not think of it as a failed laptop or tablet, but an opportunity to learn a new workflow […] Click to continue reading this post

The Universe Returns – In 3D!

universe_glamour_shotSo I mentioned recently that we’d been filming for the fifth season of The History Channel’s The Universe, earlier this month and during some of the previous two. Well, I learned the other day to my surprise that the new season starts airing next week!

On Thursday 29th July at 9:00pm (8:00pm central, but check local listings) the first episode will air. It’s a survey of some of the wonderful things in our solar system. You can find a synopsis here.

Now do you remember that I did a post at some point about being filmed in 3D, and […] Click to continue reading this post

Tales From The Industry XXXI – An Extra Dimension

I went off into an extra dimension yesterday. Well, in a manner of speaking. No, this was not anything to do with my string theory work!

I was being filmed in 3D.

3d_cameraThere’s a bit of a 3D revolution going on. There have been a lot of 3D movies out lately. Some are better than others, and a great deal more are to come very soon, as you probably know. Many major filmmakers that you probably regard as “serious” filmmakers have 3D films in the works. There’ll be 3D TV channels appearing soon in the UK and probably elsewhere, and they’ve been selling the TVs already, both there and in the USA (and I imagine, in other places).

There are lots of questions you’ve no doubt asked yourself: Is the technology here to stay? Is it just a gimmick? Is it just a ploy to combat piracy? Is it a new aspect of the visual form that creative filmmakers can genuinely use to enhance the story-telling? Has that happened yet? And so on and so forth…

I’ve been asking myself those questions too. I did not expect, however, to be part of the revolution (if that is what it is) and be filmed in 3D, so soon, for a TV show. My […] Click to continue reading this post