Thank You, Maya Angelou

maya_angelouI heard this morning that she passed away today. I’m very sad about this, but also so very happy to have heard and read her work, a real lasting and and sustaining gift. I still remember the chills I felt when first hearing her read “Still I rise”. I’m quite sure that you’ll be seeing it reproduced all over the place in the next day or two… And I don’t feel any shame in following suit, so find it below. I’ve also included below an embed of a film of her reciting/performing it many years after its publication. It’s an even sweeter version in some ways. And here is a piece from the New York Times.

So thank you for embodying and encapsulating Hope so wonderfully, Maya Angelou:
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Freedom’s Ring

It is Martin Luther King day today. I noticed something I’d like to share. A team at the USC School of Cinematic arts in collaboration with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute created an excellent animated mural (for want of a better term) to accompany the famous “I Have a Dream” speech. I recommend checking it out, here. From a USC news article about it, I learned that it:

“… allows viewers to scroll through the speech while learning about its history and context. Viewers can move phrase by phrase, see where King broke away from the written text …”

It is decorated by lovely drawings (which, as you might guess, is of course what caught my eye in the first place) and text and images. It uses a suite of software called Scalar, a platform designed at the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture at the school. It looks rather wonderful actually.

Go and re-live the speech once again, here.

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Another Quantum

So were you, back in 2008, among the many wondering what a Quantum of Solace was, and probably coming up blank? Did you eventually give up and put it out of your mind? Well, there’s another quandary at large that might trouble you for a while, and for the same reasons as before. Royal Caribbean International have launched the new name for their new oceanliner(s).

It is… wait for it… “Quantum of the Seas”. (I learned this from an ad break during the Oscars last weekend.) Now, the “of the Seas” bit continues a tradition of names over the […] Click to continue reading this post

Thumbs and Scripts

So, after a bit of time away from the process, this weekend saw me make some progress on The Project. I realized that I had too many things fragmented, scattered in several places, both physically and in my mind. This means that when I come to pick up where I left off (and breaks from it – sometimes long ones – are necessary since I have my Physics Professor gig which is first and foremost, you understand…) it can take all the available time to get back into the saddle since I am pulling the fragments back into foreground. So I’ve decided to sharpen up the process a bit and try harder to send clear notes and assignments to myself in the future. For example, as writer, I need to prepare things so that they are in a good final state with clear conventions in a full script, so that when I come to it later as penciller, I’ve got all I need to get stuck in and move things along, sending messages along to future me at the next step, and so on. It means I’ve got to do less of the business of leaving things un-fleshed out because I think I’ll do that bit at a later stage – That later stage might be months down the line, and by then I’d have forgotten the core of the idea that I was going to build in at that point… You get the idea.

So my task for the next several sessions is to turn all the stories I’ve written so far into full scripts, and finish the bits that are unfinished in each one. What do I mean by full script? Well, over the last two years I’ve done a lot of it in notebooks and in […] Click to continue reading this post

One Today

I *loved* the Inauguration Poem by Richard Blanco, and I loved the way he read it at the ceremony. It was by far my favourite thing of the day, although there were several things I liked about the event (or collection of events). Of course, you’ll have guessed that the phrases about teaching geometry in class, or about windmills generating electricity, or about having equations to solve, were highlights for me, but it was not just those things that delighted. The overall ideas of sharing and community (One sky, our sky; one ground, our ground, etc.) just fit so well with my view of the world, as you know from this blog. I’ve included the text in full below, and at the very bottom, an ABC video of him reading it. I hope you read it too!

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“One Today” – Richard Blanco

One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.

My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:
pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights,
fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows
begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper — bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us,
on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives — to teach geometry, or ring up groceries as my mother did
for twenty years, so I could write this poem.

All of us as vital as the one light we move through,
the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day: […] Click to continue reading this post

Subway Guy

It has been quite the busy period the last few days, so much so that one is tempted (but not overwhelmingly) to neglect to take note of wonderful things like the discovery of a planet in the Alpha Centauri system, or the awesomeness of my group of students in my graduate electromagnetism class who all did quite well in the midterm I set them. But I took […] Click to continue reading this post

LA Times Festival of Books 2012

Don’t forget the big event of the Spring! The LA Times Book Festival is the weekend of the 21st and 22nd April, and we’ll be hosting it on the USC campus. The website is here for more information, and start booking your tickets (free) for the various panels you plan to visit.

I’m also looking forward to the Book Awards on the night of the 20th. It’s always fun and interesting, with a great reception at the end. I’ve no idea if I’ll get tickets to all that this year (but I hope so, since three friends of mine are presenting [update: see here to purchase some]), but in any case it’ll be interesting to hear the results of the awards in the various categories again this year. The list of nominees is here. […] Click to continue reading this post

Weekend Poetry and Cycling

cicLAvia picture from 10-10-10For those of you located in the area, I should mention two events close to my heart that are taking place this weekend. One is the Dead Poets’ Slam, this Saturday at 7:00pm at the excellent Skylight books. This is one of the always great Smart Gals events, organized by Christine Louise Berry. She’s got together an excellent collection of readers to throw down against each other under this year’s theme, “Monarchs vs. Minions”.

You should know that these annual slams are slammin’. They are not simply people sitting around reading poetry, but animated passionate people really breathing living flame into the poetry and throwing it at each other for points and glory! There’ll be judges* giving out these points, famous victories, and fragments of the defeated left […] Click to continue reading this post

The Project – 1

It is midnight and I really should get to sleep in order to wake up and work some more on editing the final exam for my class so that it can go to the printer by noon. But I’ve got several pokes from people clamouring to find out what The Project actually is, and I promised yesterday I’d start to spill the beans. Thanks for the interest! I think I’d better get at least some of it out there or I’ll have an angry mob by morning! So here goes. I will drag out the draft I sketched yesterday and beat it into shape:

So, as you may have guessed, The Project, which I’ve been mentioning here since a post way back in February, is a writing project, but it is somewhat different from what you might expect. The bottom line is that I hope that at some point into future you will be able to purchase a copy of your own, and that you will find it instructive, exciting, and enjoyable. At least.

Yes, it is a book about science. However… Well, here’s the thing. Over many years, people (friends, colleagues, potential agents and publishers, blog readers, etc) have been asking me when I am going to write my book. You know, the popular-level book that every academic who is interested in the public understanding of their field (as you know I am from reading this blog) is expected will write at some point. To be honest, I have given it some thought over the years, and it has been something I figured I might do at some point. In fact, several different ideas have occurred to me over the years, and I may well implement some of them at some point.

But a major thought began to enter my mind well over ten years ago. In my field, there is a rather narrow range of models for the shape of such books, usually involving about 80% of it being a series of chapters covering all the standard introductory material (some relativity, some quantum mechanics, and so forth) for the lay reader, before culminating in a chapter or two of what the researcher really wants to tell them about: some aspect of their research. This is a fine model, and it is great that people continue to write such books, and I will no doubt use that model one day, but to be honest, I don’t think there is any urgency for me to add to the canon yet another one of those books. Moreover, if you line examples of that type of book up against each other, you see that the […] Click to continue reading this post

Nobel Prize for Literature 2010

This morning’s announcement reminds me of an author I’ve yet to read any works from:

nobel_picture_literature_2010The Nobel Prize in Literature 2010 was awarded to Mario Vargas Llosa “for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat”.

The press release is here. I hope to hear more about this man and his work next week. I’m organizing the Nobel Lunches again this year (and event I told you about last year that I started with the support of the College Commons) and so I will be spending the next several days trying to find […] Click to continue reading this post

West Hollywood Book Fair

west_hollywood_book_fair_1The West Hollywood Book Fair was fun to visit yesterday, even through the huge heat wave we’ve been having. I struggled through the heat to a bus stop and was rewarded with one almost immediately I arrived, to my relief. Even the bus seemed tired as it trundled along through the sweltering city to West Hollywood, where I jumped off and wandered into the grounds of the event. I poked around the stands with books, authors, and other people on display, chatting here and there with interesting people.

I was not on a panel this year (see last year’s report here and here – I don’t think there was anything on science or science-writing this year), so decided to listen to a […] Click to continue reading this post

A Dream Come True!

Wow! There’s a major piece of news that was announced today that basically exactly fits with a dream I have every year. Furthermore, I have been taking part in some meetings with all the University’s Deans, the President, and other key officials, about major aspects of USC’s future endeavours, and when the issue of strengthening the role of USC in the life of Los Angeles came up, I intended to mention my dream, but we ran out of time yesterday so I decided I’d mention it at today’s lunch meeting instead. So today at lunch I was about to be called on to make the point about local roles, and I’d decided to give the specific examples I had in mind. I was going to suggest that we seek for things analogous to UCLA Live, and to the LA Times Festival of Books, as things we can do to open our doors to the city (even more than we do) and become well known to more people near and far as a regular contributor to the intellectual life of the city (I mean beyond the huge number of people who come to us for an education, and the many public events that we already host and/or sponsor). But I was not called on because the President, Max Nikias, looked at his watch and said he had an announcement to make since it was just past the embargo time that was put on the story.

What was his announcement? The LA Times Festival of Books is going to move to USC starting next year! (See also here.) We’ll be enlarging it, and bringing back the awards ceremony to the way it was, etc.

You’ve maybe read my many posts here about the LA Times Festival of Books, and […] Click to continue reading this post

Summer Reading: Of Bookstores and Lemon Cake

There’s something enduringly lovely about local independent bookstores. I love stopping by to visit them, try to give my local ones the first shot at supplying me with a book I’m looking for, but most of all I value them as community centres at the heart of the villages (real and virtual) that exist in our neighbourhoods, even in a vast city like Los Angeles. People gather and linger at them, bonding over the written word for the most part, but sometimes just for the sake of gathering and lingering. In that role they are a lot like public libraries, another favourite of mine. Much of what I said can apply to the large chain bookstores too, but somehow I find them less likely to have that community feel that independent stores have. I’m not sure why (location? focus? less of a personal touch in the organization of the material?), but this is the way it seems to me. (I’m speaking about the USA; the feel of bookstores is different to me in different countries.)

aimee_bender_reading_3Last night, after a quiet evening meal after a long day of working on the Project, I went for a nice long walk, heading to Skylight books in Los Feliz. (That’s the neighbourhood at the base of the hills of Griffith Park, in case you don’t know.) My friend and colleague Aimee Bender was launching her new (long awaited) novel “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake”, and I thought I’d go along to support the launch, hear about the book, and absorb a bit of the buzz. And buzz there was, since in addition to […] Click to continue reading this post

The Festivities Begin!

LA Times Festival of BooksSo this weekend the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books takes place. This is a two day celebration of books that takes place on the UCLA campus that is a joy to attend each year. I’ve blogged about it many times in the past and you can look at previous posts from the list below. The website for the festival is here.

As you may recall, the night before the festival – that would be tonight – there is a ceremony to announce the winners of the LA Times Book Prizes, with a great reception at the end with lots of interesting people and (often) great conversation. The list of nominated books can be found here, and it is interesting again this year. Here, for example is the science and technology list: […] Click to continue reading this post

The Write Stuff

A little while ago, this season’s edition of the USC College magazine came out, and it is available online. Notably, it is featuring writers and writing, and there are several pieces in there about both faculty and students and their writing, in various forms. There are articles about superstars such as TC Boyle and Aimee Bender, as well as pieces by excellent writers such as California Poet Laureate Carol Muske-Dukes, and M. G. Lord. I recommend having a read of it.

It is with a mixture of mild amusement and embarrassment that I mention that among all that excellent writerly material is, perhaps oddly, an article on yours truly. It is about this blog, what it is about and for, and why I do it. (The blog is, of course, not to be mistaken for great writing, and so I will apologize personally to Aimee […] Click to continue reading this post

Gaiman in the New Yorker

This week’s New Yorker has an article by Dana Goodyear on Neil Gaiman. There’s also an online chat with him and Goodyear and readers here. I like a lot of Gaiman’s writing and am impressed with his imagination. It is interesting to note that such a prolific and influential talent has managed to not become a household name. This might be beginning to change. As a result I myself a bit conflicted, as I often am in this situation when someone like this, whose work I’ve followed for years (or that I’ve simply privately noted is really excellent, early on), is maybe about to break into mainstream recognition. I’m happy for them, want to share them with my friends and the world at large while at the same time being a bit worried about it having […] Click to continue reading this post

On Art, Fairy Tales, and Creativity

grimms2

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

Do you know who said that? I’ll break the post here to give you a moment to think about it. I’m not going to ask for the answer in the comments since you have Google on your side, but you can, if you like, share in the comments whether you knew or guessed it right before you moved to the rest of the post below to learn the answer. (Image above is an illustration by Walter Crane for ‘Snow White’ (1882).) Continuing… […] Click to continue reading this post

Murakami’s Birthday!

Haruki MurakamiI’ve spoken about Haruki Murakami, one of my favourite writers, here before (Image right by Elena Seibert). See my earlier post, which highlighted an essay of his. Well, I learned from The Writer’s Almanac that it is his birthday today. Since I’ve been thinking a lot about great writing recently, I thought I’d celebrate by noting it here to you on the blog. Do go over there and read a bit about what Garrison Keillor and his writers say about him. Extract:
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The Read

I’m taking a short break from it while I wait for my soup – that wonderful soup I made a huge vat of last night, using the essence of the left over carcass of a roast chicken I served on Christmas day combined with various delicious vegetables from the farmer’s market – to heat up for dinner. I need the break, as I’m mentally exhausted. Although I strongly feel like having a nice evening glass of wine, I am forbidding myself from having one since I must stay sharp for much longer this evening, despite my exhaustion. So a bit of blogging about my ongoing task will somehow serve as my relaxation. Oddly enough. Well, let’s see if it does.

I’ve been wandering an incredibly striking landscape, with such remarkable variety, detail, texture and hue. There are features that move me to tears at times, reduce me to fits of uncontrollable laughter at others, but mostly intense reflection throughout. I should be simply enjoying it for its own sake, drinking it in where I want to, letting it simply wash over me at times, while at others, cupping some of it in my hands and looking at it close up, before letting it flow away and moving on. But I do not have that freedom. Instead I have to look at it all with a view to ranking various features over others – putting it all into some sort of order. This is a terrible task to have to do, since so very much of it is simply wonderful in its own right, and there’s hardly any meaning to ranking some parts over the other.

What on earth am I talking about?

Well, as is so often the case with some of the things I get myself involved in, I can’t tell you much detail, since the process itself is ongoing, and rather sensitive. I’d not […] Click to continue reading this post

Margaret Atwood

I’m not normally a giddy fan of anyone, but I’m super-excited! Margaret Atwood is talking at UCLA on Friday about her new book (The Year of the Flood, sequel – kind of – to the excellent Oryx and Crake) and I managed to snag a ticket online to see her. (There’ll be readings from the book and also some illustrative performances/enactments by actors and musicians.) I was scalped 25% on the ticket price in “service charges” by ticketmaster, which left a bad taste in my mouth, but then I remembered her voice and wit and humour and it somehow made it all ok.

If you’ve not read any of her work, perhaps begin with The Handmaid’s Tale and go from there. I love her brilliant writing style, wit, cleverness, humour and searing […] Click to continue reading this post

More Book Fun!

bookfair_homeMark your calendar for Sunday! The West Hollywood Book Fair is on from 10 am to 6:00 pm that day, and there’s so much to see and do with readings, panels, discussions, authors, special celebrity guests, food, exhibitions, writing workshops, discount book offers, signings, swag (no doubt), and so forth. I’ve not been before, but as you know from reading here I’m a big fan of cities going gaga over books for a while, being a regular visitor to the LA Times Book Festival when it comes in the Spring. The calendar of events and much more about the event can be found at the website here.

Here’s another thing. Despite the fact there was no mention of a spankingly splendid […] Click to continue reading this post

Poetry Slam!

On Sunday evening (perhaps after a lovely day at the Festival of Books), come along to the Mt. Hollywood Underground for a fun evening of poetry, organized by Smart Gals in the Speakeasy series! There’ll be food, fun, and even celebrity (!) poetry judges, (plus me), on the panel. There’ll also be live music form the Red Maids. Here’s some of the description from their website:

L.A.’s intentionally lowbrow, literally underground literary salon returns! Now running as a seasonal series, Smart Gals’ Speakeasy celebrates National Poetry Month with its fourth annual Dead Poets Slam. Year one, the Suicide Poets stood down the Natural Death Poets by but a few points. Year two, the Men took on the Women. Year three pitted East Coast against West Coast. And now, Smart Gals’ Spring Speakeasy presents a fresh challenge, ripe for a country with new leadership: Citizens vs. Expatriates. Many and mythic are the artists, writers, and otherwise sensitive types who have fled these United States to seek creative support and more responsive international audiences. Recall Langston Hughes’ Parisian sojourns, Hemingway’s romance with Spain. Smart Gals will pit die-hard American denizens against those who chose to disembark. Our criteria? The poet in question must live abroad for no less than four years, the length of one presidential term. Can poet-of-the-plains Carl Sandburg defeat Eurocentric Gertrude Stein? When dead poets enter the slam ring, there is no sure victor.

Hosted by Noël Alumit (Letters to Montgomery Clift, Talking to the Moon), the Dead Poets Slam levels the creative playing field by forcing seasoned performers to throw down anonymously. […]

To find out who’s performing and judging (besides you in the crowd), go to the […] Click to continue reading this post

Love Burns

It was Burns’ night last night, and I do love hearing his work read out loud. It is quite wonderful to read too. It’s his 250th birthday (Hmmm… something else to add to the year of celebrations of big anniversaries along with Darwin and Galileo). One of my favourites, which you possibly know, is the following (reproduced here in tribute):


A Red, Red Rose
Robert Burns. (1759–1796)

O MY Luve ‘s like a red, red rose
That ‘s newly sprung in June:
O my Luve ‘s like the melodie
That’s sweetly play’d in tune!

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I:
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry:

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only Luve,
And fare thee weel a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ it were ten thousand mile.

Now go to NPR and listen to Alison Jones read it out quite wonderfully, after having a […] Click to continue reading this post

Presidential Poetry

More encouragement (see my earlier piece about education and about science and more science) comes around the matter of poetry and the presidency. Larissa Anderson, on Weekend America this Saturday, reported on the president-elect’s evident interest in poetry. Derek Walcott was featured in the piece as well (I was pleased to hear this since I like his work, and it is also good to hear about the work of a Caribbean thinker on the national stage – it does not happen often enough for my liking) and had some very interesting things to say. From the transcript of the piece (see that link for audio):

Walcott says it’s good for people in power to read poetry because human beings are complex and contradictory, and poetry can capture that. Like in Langston Hughes’ poem “Theme for English B” when the black student writes to his white teacher, “Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me. / Nor do I often want to be a part of you. / But we are, that’s true!” Or in Walt Whitman’s line, “I am large — I contain multitudes.”

Walcott likes the idea of a president who reads poetry and thinks about this kind of human truth. Someone who can see beyond the act of political posturing.

Then he read his recent poem, “40 Acres” that he wrote for Obama, which I thought was rather good. He also described some of the process of writing it – also excellent to hear. Finally, the piece reported on something he said that reflects my own […] Click to continue reading this post

Summer Reading: Fresh Air From Pollan

I’ve been meaning to tell you more about Michael Pollan. I’ve been planning a post or two about Summer reading, and was going to discuss the books of Michael Pollan to kick off a possible series. That plan was hatched in the late Summer of 2007… then the Fall came, and then the Winter and Spring… then Summer of 2008… never got around to it. Drat. (Checking back, I see that I started the series by talking about Haruki Murakami, here. So I’ll call this part of the series too, even though it is not really Summer.)

Anyway, the good news is that Pollan was on Fresh Air (NPR) yesterday, and as usual he was excellent:

In an open letter to the next president, author Michael Pollan writes about the waning health of America’s food systems — and warns that “the era of cheap and abundant food appears to be drawing to a close.”

The future president’s food policies, says Pollan, will have a large impact on a wide range of issues, including national security, climate change, energy independence and health care.

Here’s the link to the audio. Before you rush off to that, let me continue what I was going to say, at least in brief.

Pollan has risen to prominence, justifiably, mostly as a result of his excellent book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History Of Four Meals”. It is a delightful examination of the food industry, charting the route of much of the food that you eat […] Click to continue reading this post

Yvette on LHC Poetry

yvette cendesAha! Regular commenter Yvette Cendes (over at The Chocolate Fish) has thrown down the gauntlet! She thinks that we can come up with more, and better, poetry about the LHC. The successful LHC song of Kate McAlpine (deserving of thunderous applause for raising awareness) should clearly be considered just the beginning. So she starts off the challenge to you all with some work of her own, which I shamelessly reproduce below. (Go over to her blog to submit your new writing – or do it both here and there. Up to you.) (My money’s on our regular commenter Elliot producing a marvellous LHC haiku or something like that.)

Yvette calls it an LHC Poetry Slam. Hmmm. I submit that it should be an LHC Poetry Event, or LHC Poetry Collision, or…. anyway, here’s her poem, and wow – true to form, it is good! […] Click to continue reading this post