Showing a Different Way

danica mckellar from and AP articleDanica McKellar (the actress who played the girl “Winnie” in that show “The Wonder Years” that many of you might remember) has been working to try to encourage young girls to go more for “Cute and Smart”, as opposed to “Cute and Dumb”. Bottom line: Less Lindsay Lohan, and Paris Hilton, and more…. well, Danica. (I’m sure there are other Tinseltown examples here… can I have some help?).

Danica sets an excellent example of why the two (being considered attractive on the one hand, and smart on the other) are not mutually exclusive, while not suffering from the “geek” or “nerd” label that is attached by the entertainment industry to certain groups of people who enjoy using their brains a lot. She trained as a mathematician, in fact, doing her undergraduate work at UCLA so well that she did rather good published research work (NPR piece here – Update: It is actually more of a theoretical physics problem, it appears). This is from someone who struggled with the subject in sixth grade. Why is she in the news? She’s written a new book “Math Doesn’t Suck”, the aim being to encourage girls to avoid the (social) barriers to getting into mathematics. Excellent title. (I wonder if they’ll change it to “Maths Doesn’t Suck” if they publish it in Britain? “Suck” British kids have adopted from the USA cultural juggernaut, but “Math”? Not yet.)

danica mckellar math doesn't suckActually, looking at her site, I see that the full title appears to be “Math Doesn’t Suck: How to Survive Middle School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail”, which is more of a mouthful, a bit less zippy, but oh well. It’s all very Clueless, in a good way. Here’s a link to the book’s site, and it is due out tomorrow.

There’s an article1 on her recent Newsweek quote at CNN, from which I grabbed this:

“When girls see the antics of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, they think that being fun and glamorous also means being dumb and irresponsible,” the 32-year-old McKellar told Newsweek for editions to hit newsstands Monday.

“But I want to show them that being smart is cool,” she said. “Being good at math is cool. And not only that, it can help them get what they want out of life.”

but you should go and read the whole thing, by clicking here. [Update: Much better article here, by Corey Binns in Good Magazine. Extract:

“The book hones in on middle school’s trickiest points-––like fractions, ratios, and percentages—and presents them in a style that’s appropriate for the cool kids’ lunch table. Figure out your “type” in boys and you’ll understand greatest common factors. All of those iced lattes celebrities drink make multiplying fractions tasty. Plus, savvy shopping requires killer decimal skills.”


Go Danica!

In other news, I learned2 that particle physicist Lisa Randall (author of the popular book with the curious title “Warped Passages”) appears in Vogue this month. Lisa […] Click to continue reading this post

LHC Podcasts: Science Meets Science Fiction

Confession: I’ve no idea what Torchwood is, and I find the current Dr. Who shows annoying overall (there have been some good episodes that I’ve seen, but they’re swamped in a sea of such poorly thought through and simply phoned-in crappy episodes that I find it too annoying to take the risk of wasting an hour I could have better spent with my head in the oven…) Feel free to disagree with me, and I have not seen the most recent season, so maybe things are better.

LHC You TubeBut anyway, where was I? Oh, right. Someone called John Barrowman (apparently one of the stars on those shows? He plays a scientist? I honestly don’t know, but you will, if you’re a fan) took a visit to CERN (the particle physics lab in Europe you often read about here and elsewhere) to better inform himself about the intersection between science and science fiction. One of the resulting jumpy noisy and (reportedly) fun videos can be found on YouTube here. There are some somewhat interesting animations alongside some of the, er…jolly madcap fun, illustrating the physics. Following the particles along the beam-pipe to the collision is not a view I’ve seen before, I’ll admit.
Much more interesting is something they mention at the end. A series of podcasts on the LHC (the big experiment at CERN we’re all interested in and excited about). This is driven by Brian Cox (no, not that one, this one, the physicist), and seems to be in a […] Click to continue reading this post

Reality Calls

american inventor logoIn a bizarre twist, after a satisfying day of calculating I switched on the television, accidentally pressed a wrong number, and ended up on ABC just as a program called “American Inventor” was starting. I’m not really up on all these “reality” format shows, so I’ve no idea how long this has been in existence, but I must say that it was good to see a program in this format that was primarily about using one’s brain, inventiveness and engineering/construction skills! The format is a bit too gimmicky for my tastes (I’m not partial to all the forced drama and overwrought background music), but that’s probably because I don’t watch much of this sort of thing, so I probably won’t be a regular viewer. But again I must say it was good to see that such a show exists. Perhaps there are more that I don’t know about. It seems that I just saw the phase where they filter out all the silly ones (and goodness were some silly!) and pick the finalists from each city who get $50,000 worth of development money. They did LA and SF in this show, and apparently they’ll be doing the North East next. Questions you might be able to help me with: Do all these shows have a British judge on the panel to play a sort of mean guy? Is it a sort of requirement? The one other such show I’ve seen, American Idol, has that, and like a good theorist I am extrapolating wildly from two data points.

logo for design squadSeeing a reality show based on some intellectual skill actually reminds me. Even though I got a reminder from some of the people behind the show, I’m embarrassed to say that I completely forgot to tell you about the show on PBS for youngsters aged 9 – 12 called “Design Squad”. From the “about” part of their site:

Borrowing from the hugely popular reality competition format, DESIGN SQUAD is aimed at kids and people of all ages who like reality or how-to television. Its goal is to get viewers excited about engineering!

Over 13 episodes, eight high school contestants tackle engineering challenges for an actual client—from building a machine that makes pancakes to a “summer sled” for LL Bean. In the final episode, the top two scorers battle for the Grand Prize—a $10,000 college scholarship from the Intel® Foundation.

I think it has now concluded, but you can watch all 13 episodes online here. Did anyone see it? (I did not.) What did you think? You can get more involved with Design Squad by following up on this part of their website.

Design Squad was co-sponsored by the IEEE, which is excellent to see. So will the American Physical Society (and other science societies) be doing something similar, one wonders? It’s a potentially good way of getting people interested in participating in science – on prime time television. We could, for example, have members of the […] Click to continue reading this post

Poincaré on Studio 60

sphererabbitDid anyone else spot the Poincaré conjecture reference on Monday’s episode of Aaron Sorkin’s excellent Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip? (Recall that I mentioned another science reference on this show in an earlier post.) A writer is trying to find a punchline to a joke. The joke is supposed to be in the style of the headline news on Saturday Night Live… […] Click to continue reading this post

Missed Chance

The show on television called “24” has an interesting format. It is sort of meant to be in real time, and so each episode – roughly an hour long, including advertisements – charts what took place in an hour of a particular day. A whole season is one day. A very harrowing day for the characters in the show, particularly agent Jack Bauer. They are part of an counter-terrorist unit (CTU) trying to save the America from various highly complicated terrorist plots. The terrorists are obsessed with Los Angeles, it seems, which is convenient given that the unit is based in Los Angeles. Having watched two or three seasons of the show now, I’ve also come to appreciate the fact that the terrorist plots hand over to more and more complex and dastardly ones as the show goes along through the day. And the “controlling mind” bad guy earlier in the day is hardly ever the worst and most dastardly person our heroes will meet. There’ll be a really really bad guy along later on with an even worse plan than the one before lunchtime, and so forth. Another reason that it’s lucky that they’re obsessed with Los Angeles, since there’s an excellent supply of theatre and television actors here to be cast in various partsa.

What I’ve really been hoping to see is an episode of the show when Jack Bauer is not saving America/LA. Instead, he’s just… chillin’. Imagine it now: […] Click to continue reading this post