Tales from the Industry XXXVII – Firestarter

Well, Wednesday was unexpectedly exhausting, but quite a day. I intended to do a step by step report as I went along, but in the end we were too busy for me to do that, so instead I’ll give you a summary from memory. My instructions were to meet at 5:00am (yes, I know, 5:00am!) in the Temecula area with the film crew and a senior representative from the fire department. This meant leaving the night before and staying in a hotel nearby, so that I only had to get up at 4:30am instead of the two hours or more I’d have needed to otherwise. The meet went well (even with the slight confusion over two strip malls on opposite sides of the street both with a Starbucks, the meeting point…) and we set off in two vehicles into the brush.

Our goal was a particular area where we were going to take part in a key operation of the forestry and fire department (and related services the names of which I’ve forgotten) – a controlled or “prescribed” burn. The burn will act as a rather excellent analogue of a much larger issue of scientific interest, the main subject of the episode. I’ll let you actually watch the episode to learn more, so that I don’t spill the beans.

I say take part since we were not only going to film it (in 3D), but I would be – in my role as a sort of host of this segment – interviewing the Battalion Chief (Julie Hutchinson) about the burn, and then helping burn some of it myself! It’s certainly not every day one gets to help burn 100 acres – safely and legally!

It was a huge amount of fun, right from the morning briefing (6:00am), the borrowing of odd bits of safety equipment from various members of the crew so that our crew, and yours truly, were safely kitted out, to being instructed on camera by one of the fire chiefs how to use the drip torch (there’s one on the left) to set little pools of fire in the brush the required distance apart to get the required burn rate…

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Reaching Out…

So I’ve been involved in two or three shoots so far (I forget which) for the new series. It has been good, overall, since I’ve been pleased to help out with explanations of various physics ideas here and there where I can. I’ll be winding down on all this soon since (a) I must get back to working on other things, and (b) I will be going away from the area for a chunk of time, so there’s a bit of juggling going on, I think, to find some space and time to include some more contributions from me for various episodes. I think I’ll end up being in three of them, if I recall correctly, and have had to turn down shoots on various others for a variety of reasons. Most of the reasons are to do with scheduling, but at least one was simply because I figured I’d be the wrong (or at least, very certainly not the most right) guy for the job. There’s a move […] Click to continue reading this post

Tales from the Industry XXXVI – 3D at the Fun Fair

Thursday’s shooting day was tiring, but fun overall. It started in the (highly unusual) June rain that we had in the first area we shot in – Griffith Park. We were at those famous (man made) caves that you may well have seen in one or other movie Western, or TV series like the classic old Batman show, where they played the role of the batcave. Don’t ask me why we were there. I think it was just a nice backdrop for the physics I was talking about to camera, between rain showers and screaming bouts from some, er, Angry Birds*. Crows, I think they were. It was cold, and I was a bit low-spirited and off my game as a result. I did not even remember to take a picture for you…

Then we headed South -and warmer- to Knott’s Berry Farm. Now, I’d vaguely heard of such a place, but I will admit that I had no idea that it was so close to Los Angeles. We were there to shoot lots of moving, interacting bodies, as a series of analogies for some other physics issues…and this is the perfect place for that, with all the various fun rides there are within easy reach. It was fun to enter the park through the service entrance, and then emerge through a secret door in the middle of the special universe they’ve created for the customers! We wandered off to find the various things we […] Click to continue reading this post

Tales from the Industry XXXV -Tinkering with the Universe

One very good piece of good news from last month was the announcement that one of the TV series I have done a lot of work for over the last five or so years (gosh, has it been that long?) has been renewed for another season. I’m being deliberately vague here and not naming it since I do not know if it has been officially announced yet. (On the other hand, nobody has told me that it is a secret…) (You can see many of my posts on this sort of thing here.)

It’s great that the parent channel has again continued to invest in science programming, and people seem to like the show a great deal. As I’ve said here in the past, I am very encouraged by the very wide range of types of people who stop me on the street (or bus, subway, bar, cafe, plane – yes, I’ve had show-related encounters in all of these places… people who like science shows are everywhere!) to tell me they like the show, ask questions, or just say thanks for my on-screen explanations and demonstrations. It’s a diverse range of people in terms of careers, race, gender, age, and so forth, which I am very pleased to note, and I do very much hope that TV executives take note of this when making decisions about future programming for their outlets.

It is great to get the chance to contribute a little bit again, even though it takes a bit of time away from other projects (particularly right now, The Project). As far as I know, so far I’ll be in two or three episodes, although there may be more (that’s all […] Click to continue reading this post

Tales from the Industry XXXIV – Revisiting an Extra Dimension

20110221-153433.jpgBefore jumping on to a plane last week, I went to meet some filmmakers to do a quick shoot we’d arranged. They are making a series of shorts for TV and myself and one of my co-contributors/presenters from The Universe, Laura Danly (from the Griffith Observatory) are doing some on-camera bits for them. (There may be others involved too, I don’t know.)

I mention this since there are two bits of novelty, I think. The first is that it is interesting that the company that commissioned these pieces are looking for shorts (4 minutes or so, apparently), and will be interspersing them with their programming in some way that will be somewhat unusual for current TV formats in the USA. I always welcome opportunities to help put some fun bits of science out there for the public, and in short bites mixed up with other things is just great!

The second novelty is that they are in 3D. You’ll recall, perhaps, that last year I contributed to a special show that was commissioned in 3D as part of the drive […] Click to continue reading this post

Tales from the Industry XXXIII: Sometimes I Say No

…But then I feel bad about it at times, especially when there are good people involved. I was contacted on Thursday by a producer I know (I’ve worked with her before) about contributing to a TV show on a certain topic. They wanted to shoot this week. I was to talk in very specific terms about one issue, but it would be then fit into a larger topic that the whole episode is about, and the big theme of the whole series. It turned out that I also had worked with the filmmaker (writer-director) for the episode as well, on various things for the series The Universe on the History Channel that, as you know, I contribute to a lot. (See here.)

So all seemed fine. My concerns about the topic and how my contribution might be edited began to fall away, since these are good people… I spoke on the phone about some of the ideas I could bring up, and how I might try to frame things, and maybe we’d talk again about days of the week to set up the shoot, and so forth. But I asked if I could see other examples of episodes from the series, just to make sure that I was ok with it all.

It turned out that they could show me them since they were online. I looked at them […] Click to continue reading this post

Time Travel a Click Away

cvj_with_wormholeI just noticed that last week’s episode of The Universe on Time Travel, which I told you about here and here, is available online on their website. Click here to learn more about the ins and outs of it, and I show you how to make one too! Kind of.

It is a difficult subject to explain, and one that must be tempting to […] Click to continue reading this post

I Gotta Get Me One O’ These!

p-2048-1536-a738e2a5-eaa1-450b-9a0a-ed526300dc23.jpegSome of you will recognize the blue box in the picture on the left that I took recently while travelling. I have two things to mention in connection with it, but first let me mention that it is indeed what you think it is, but not really. In other words, it is in London (Earl’s Court), and it is a classic Police box (well, a modern relaunch), but it is not (as far as I am aware) also a disguised remarkable time machine owned by a somewhat eccentric renegade Time Lord. Ok?

Ok, thing number one. I don’t get the BBC America channel, but they kindly were dumping on to On Demand the episodes of the new season of Dr. Who, with the new writer and the new actor, so one day I thought I’d have a look. Just to get myself annoyed, because (sorry fans of its recent years) over the years I usually get ridiculously annoyed at how utterly stupid the show is, with lots of pointless running, and overacting, and cheap, crappy, silly plots and sets and so forth, and get even more annoyed when I remember it is mostly deliberate – we are supposed to enjoy the hokeyness in the spirit of nostalgia for the time many decades ago when it was on a super low budget but was ahead of its time. And I get more annoyed when I think that people abroad are watching this and thinking it is a prime example of great British television. Then I turn it off and ignore it for a year or two, and then do it all again. So anyway, I did that this time, back in the Spring. And guess what? […] Click to continue reading this post

New Bounty, and Homeward Bound

white_figsBack in Los Angeles, things at home started on a rather pleasant note. I went out into the garden and picked four nice ripe figs off one of the trees, still warm from the sunlight. (Hmmmm… My nemesis, Fluffy, must be napping. Or planning something very subtle.) You can see three of them in my hand to the left. A fourth did not survive the wait period while I got my camera out of my luggage.

Sunday in Vienna was as interesting as Saturday, with more outdoor components than indoors since it was a lovely day, weather-wise. I wandered the city streets a lot, and spent a fair amount of time getting a feel for them, occasionally hopping on the subway (U-bahn) or a tram to nip over large distances, or to rest my feet. Other rest stops involved cafes for a beer, or a cup of tea, and a bit of people watching, reading, or other pleasant sitting activity.

Like Saturday, I saw a lot of art on Sunday, focusing again on Austrian artists primarily, and learning about the Secession movement in particular, and several of the characters associated with it. Fascinating.

I’ll do a post or two more on Vienna later on, I hope.

I left the city in the evening, heading for a brief stop in London before setting my sights on Los Angeles on Monday. Found myself in the amusing position of watching […] 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

Bad Universe

Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy has announced what his super secret project has been. It’s a new science TV show for the Discovery Channel! It is called “Phil Plait’s Bad Universe”, and I imagine it’ll be a lot of fun and quite informative. There’s a trailer and some of his thoughts about the show here. I could not work out when it is going to air, so keep your eyes peeled*.



*Sorry. That’s such a dreadful image that phrase can sometimes project…
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Tales From The Industry XXXII: A Matter of Time

patzcuaro_clocksHere are some clocks I saw at the House of Eleven Courtyards (Casa de los Once Patios) in the historic town called Pátzcuaro (at the aforementioned lake of the same name). It was a convent, and is now a place to go and see lots of arts and crafts in action, as well as buy some. The clocks, housed in copper, mark the entrance to an entire room of copper workmanship in various forms.

The clocks have reminded me to give you an update on something else. Through some of May and June, I did a lot of work for the show The Universe, which airs on the History Channel (as you probably already know from reading here over the years. See here.). There will be, as usual, several topics covered over the upcoming season, and it will be interesting to see how the various filmmakers put together their episodes. It is worth noting that the History Channel have done something remarkable here. This is now the longest run that any cable channel has had for a science show. They built an audience with a solid show, and kept producing good episodes and gathering more (and it is worth saying, an admirably diverse set of) viewers over the years.

In fact, the show has been so successful that they are going to, I predict, pay an […] 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

She Blinded Me With Science…

The funny video below* is good for a bit of nostalgia for the time of the Thomas Dolby song, the song itself, and perhaps for the X-Files TV show (but not for me, I saw only a few episodes). Scully fans will love this, and although I never regularly watched the show, I did appreciate her character. Strong skepticism, insistence on using the scientific method, etc. Excellent. Good character overall, and broke a lot of ground as a female lead with these characteristics too.

chloe_obrian_24Now here’s an idea. Would someone please do such a video for 24’s Chloe O’Brian? (Pictured left.) She’s definitely one of my favourite technical expert engineer/scientist types on a major show, and Mary Lynn Rajskub does an excellent job giving her life, depth and likeability even though she’s fighting against all the geek/nerd stereotype characteristics they’ve endowed her with. In essence, she does it by embracing them. Her attention to detail regularly saves the day (world, city, state, whatever), and the lives of her colleagues, and in the last episode they even had her supposedly determining that light in a video was daylight by […] Click to continue reading this post

A Return

gladioliI find myself back in Los Angeles for a bit, putting Walkabout mode on pause. Perhaps to do my laundry, perhaps to chair the committee of the upcoming Ph.D. defense of my student, Tameem, perhaps to be able to sit outside in the early morning sun in a T-shirt and blog over breakfast.

The garden is full of weeds and flowers, and all is well with the world, albeit a bit blurry due to my jetlag.

Anyway, a few random things to note:

* * *

mourning_dovesAnother Spring is here, in full force. I once again snort in exasperated laughter at the bizarre claim so very many people make about Los Angeles (Southern California more generally) not having seasons, as I marvel at all the many signs of it screaming for attention. As a random example, I’m observing some mourning doves eyeing me up from nearby as they try to decide whether I’m a threat to their potential nesting sites that they are checking out. Seems that at least one pair is rather impressed with my cluster of strelitzia nicolai and want to move in. I want to tell them that I’m not the problem, but the fact that they’d be in plain sight of the crows/rooks/ravens/winged-Nazgul that pass by here a lot will be. I’ve seen them strike nests in those trees from previous years and scoop up a tasty warm meal.

* * *

Eight hours of jetlag means only one thing: […] Click to continue reading this post