Exam Heat

We had a midterm in the undergraduate General Relativity class this week. Midterm II. We’d just come off a batch of lectures on black holes (focussing on Schwarzschild and Kerr), and so it seemed very natural to focus on that as the topic. Schwarzschild is the most basic (vanilla) black hole and Kerr is the case of having rotation for a bit of extra flavour. They are both hugely important in real physics – the former for the basic phenomena and then the latter since most objects out there in the astrophysical realm are actually going to be rotating to some degree (and after gravitational collapse, probably a high degree). So I focussed on those in class.

Screen Shot 2014-04-11 at 14.45.37For the midterm therefore, I got the opportunity to have them discover properties of the (less astrophysically important perhaps) charged black hole – the Reissner-Nordstrøm solution:
 ds^2=-\left(1-\frac{2M}{r}+\frac{Q^2}{r^2}\right)dt^2+\left(1-\frac{2M}{r}+\frac{Q^2}{r^2}\right)^{-1}dr^2+r^2\left(d\theta^2+\sin^2\theta d\phi^2\right)\ ,

…and do a few computations with it analogous to what they did for the other cases in class and in homework. I hope they had fun (like discovering that for a [...] Click to continue reading this post

Festival of Books and CicLAvia

public crossword at festival of booksBy the way, for those of you in the area, don’t forget that the LA Times Festival of Books comes to the USC campus again this month. It is next week – the 12th and 13th April. The book prizes ceremony is the night before, as usual. on the 11th, and as usual there is an interesting selection of finalists in various categories that you can see online here, for example.

(Happily, there is no clash with a CicLAvia this year! – You might remember the craziness last year – The next Ciclavia is this coming Sunday, the 6th, and it is along Wilshire again. Sadly, I will not be able to attend since I must be away on a trip and do not return until the afternoon on Sunday, leaving little time to get on my bike and get down there. Do head there and enjoy it… the Wilshire route is particularly nice.)

The main Book Festival website has a lot of information up about what is [...] Click to continue reading this post

Major Honours

On Friday I had to give the keynote address at the Phi Beta Kappa induction ceremony held here on the USC campus. I did not know what that really was when asked, perhaps because my educational environment as a student was in the UK. (Although for all I know there are such things over there too, but perhaps I did not notice.) After a bit of googling I learned that this is an honours society and it is devoted to excellence in the liberal arts. It is the oldest one of its sort, apparently (founded in 1776), and these days although science was there at the start, the practice is to add “and sciences” when you say liberal arts now. Students who maintain a certain standard of grades through their undergraduate degree in a liberal arts and sciences area are invited to 20140401-093450.jpgbecome members and then there is an induction ceremony. Sadly, no secret handshakes and strange behind the closed doors practices… Well, as far as I know. (In fact, as a thank you for giving the address, I get added to the membership as an honorary member, so perhaps a packet will arrive with my instructions about handshakes and so forth, but I doubt it.)

My speech was to be something about the liberal arts and to celebrate that and to impart some wisdom to the students and their assembled parents and so forth. I was happy to oblige and after letting it stew in background in my head for some time, come Friday morning I sat down at the computer and something nice flowed out through my fingers onto the page. People liked it – a lot, I was later told. I’m still a bit surprised (pleasantly) by that. There may be a story about it later, so I’ll post a link to that when/if it appears.

To my delight I recognised several names in the list for the ceremony. There were in fact five physics majors inducted (is that the right word?) all at the [...] Click to continue reading this post

Talking with Dinosaurs

20140401-095516.jpgThursday’s event at the Natural History Museum went very well. There was a great turnout, and the audience was very enthusiastic. As you can see from the photos*, there were two fierce-looking large dinosaurs in attendance in the audience, but it did not have any effect on the overall time-keeping, and the lectures ran over the allotted time quite a bit.

But people had fun, and the museum staff were very kind and flexible, so that’s ok. I actually learned a lot from Ed Krupp’s talk about the astronomy and astronomical objects along the Silk Road from the Far East to the Middle East especially. Laura Danly gave a talk that was mostly a detailed history the Internet including at least three internet cat videos as illustration (an emphasis that I found unexpected, I’ll admit, since I was expecting more about contemporary astronomy). It was certainly a modern perspective on the Silk Road, as we promised the audience, and it seemed to go down well. The observation opportunity that Laura arranged outside (with the telescopes that were set up in the new gardens) was also well received. Jupiter and its [...] Click to continue reading this post

The Calculus of Gender and Sexuality?

So, I don’t know why, but in addition to the catalogues I get in my work mailbox from publishers of physics books or lab equipment, I’ve started getting a lot about books in the Humanities and related subjects. Is this because those publishers know of my tendency to dabble in other subject? I’ve no idea. In any case, all of those things tend to end up pretty swiftly in the recycling bin nearest the department mailboxes. A suite of lovely new books on teaching Art History is about as valuable to me as a shiny sets of vacuum pumps or electronic controllers. I’ll admit to sometimes looking through and longing for the time I’d need in order to explore such things (vacuum pumps or Art History texts)… but then into the bin they go.

Well, earlier this week a catalogue arrived and one might be forgiven for thinking that they are really trying to get my attention with this one. It is a catalogue of Gender and Sexuality texts from Ashgate, and if the image on the cover is representative (uh, as far as I know it is not!) they’ve really developed some fancy techniques in the field!

Some of the formulae are hilarious! (And I’m trying to understand the, obviously important, inequality right in the middle…) [...] Click to continue reading this post

Under Silk Road Skies

I’m doing a disturbing amount of speechifyin’ this month. One of the occasions is tomorrow, and is open to the general public. Have you been to the Natural History Museum’s “Traveling the Silk Road” exhibition yet? I went to have a look a couple of days ago and it is rather nice. I recommend it. There are even live silk worms!

griffith observatory city view at nightI’ve been coorganizing an event as part of their series of lectures that accompanies the event and I am delighted to announce that I have connected two of the most awesome spaces and institutions in the city for this one. The Griffith Observatory will team up with the Natural History Museum for this one, with a lecture and Q+A session, and then (weather permitting) a bit of stargazing in the new gardens! Please spread the word and come along: [...] Click to continue reading this post

Discovery Coincidence

chatter_sketch_arenaSome of you are wondering what I’m working on while on retreat. Well, actually there’s a nice coincidence here. I’m working on the graphic book that you may have heard me talk about a bit. “The Project” as I sometimes call it. I’ve been doing things on various aspects of it, such as reworking the description of it for various people to look at, writing new bits, and spending a bit of time pulling together various bits of the prototype story I used to start all of this back in 2010. The prototype bits have all of my experimentation and development of style and technique all over them, and so there are pages that needed a bit of rework (to say the least). So, on Monday, [...] Click to continue reading this post

Around Fifteen

While on a hiding retreat in another town or city, I like to seek out a local group that might be doing a “drop in and draw” session. You show up, pay your money, and there’s a safe environment (in a studio, a back room, upstairs of a pub, etc) for a model and artists to work on the wonderful business of capturing the human form in various media. I’m a reasonably private person so I like to keep the anonymity level reasonably high, but it does not only work. People are of course on the watch out to protect the group from perceived problems, so they ask questions. Others are just trying to make friends, and so they ask questions too. I just like to be polite and friendly, share the odd joke or remark, but mostly keep my mouth shut and listen to the various small talk that breaks out during breaks. Most of all, I want to get on with the business of drawing.

sketches_17th_march_2014_smallI went to one on Monday. This time around it was sort of amusing to me at one point when one of the organisers of the group asked me why I’d come down from LA to their small seaside town drawing group and I said I was hiding. I could sense alarm immediately (I can imagine the pictures he might have had in his mind even before I said “hiding”) and so I then went further, by way of reassurance, and said something vague but standard about wanting to get out [...] Click to continue reading this post

Discovery Clarification

I’m actually in hiding and silence for a week. It is Spring Break and I have locked myself away in a seaside town to do some writing, as I did last year. But I must break my silence for a little while. Why? Well there’s been a really great announcement in physics today and while being very happy that it is getting a lot of press attention – and it should since the result is very important and exciting – I’ve been stunned by how confusingly it has been reported in several news reports. So I thought I’d say a few things that might help.

But first, let me acknowledge that there’s a ton of coverage out there and so I don’t need to point to any press articles. I will just point to the press release of the BICEP2 collaboration (yes, that’s what they’re called) here, and urge you once you’ve read that to follow the link within to the wealth of data (images, text, graphs, diagrams) that they provide. It’s fantastically comprehensive, so knock yourself out. The paper is here.

I keep hearing reports saying things like “Scientists have proved the Big Bang”. No. The Big Bang, while an exciting and important result for modern cosmology, is very old news. (You can tell since there’s even a TV comedy named after it.) This is not really about the Big Bang. This is about Inflation, the mechanism that made the universe expand rapidly from super-tiny scales to more macroscopic scales in fractions of a second. (I’ll say more about the super-tiny below).

I also hear (slightly more nuanced) reports about this being the first confirmation of Inflation. That’s a point we can argue about, but I’d say that’s not true either. We’ve had other strong clues that Inflation is correct. One of the key things that pops out of inflation is that it flattens out the curvature of universe a lot, and the various observations that have been made about the Cosmic Microwave Background over the years (the CMB is that radiation left over from when the universe was very young (about 380,000 years old – remember the universe is just under 14 million years old!)) have shown us that the universes is remarkably flat. Another previous exciting result in modern cosmology. Today’s result isn’t the first evidence.

So what is today’s exciting news about then? The clue to the correct [...] Click to continue reading this post

Science Films Galore!

Sorry that it has taken me so long to get to posting the results of the USC Science Film Competition. It has been super-hectic. In addition to the usual things I have to do, I had to give a talk about science education to the Society of Physics Students – that went well, I heard – read and examine another PhD. thesis (twice in one week), do battle with two fronts of vermin attacks on my house, and prep a whole lot of other things I won’t trouble you with… Also, oddly, the time change seems to have left me in a state of exhaustion each day.

Enough with the excuses. What are the results, you ask? And is it true the winner was controversial?!

usc_science_film_showcase_2014_1Well, first and foremost we had a fantastic time celebrating the work of all the students in the competition. About 75 or so people turned up, making all my frantic buying of things in Trader Joe’s and so forth all worth while, and there were two screening sessions separated by a coffee and snacks break. Since there were twelve films this year (a 50% increase!) there were six per session (I curated things so that the sessions were about the same length), which worked rather well. A lot of the films used quite a bit of their 10 minute allowed duration, and so given that I pause between films to give each team a chance to take a bow, it was in danger of being a long evening, and for that I apologize to everyone, but I do think that the students should get a fair amount of individual recognition for their hard work.

Anyway, to cut a long story to medium, the standard was quite high this year, with several good films at the top that were hard to choose between, but I think the 15 judges (from academia and the film industry, with scientists and filmmakers and scientists-turned-filmmakers on both sides) got it right.

The first prize winning film has resulted in raised eyebrows from some, including the filmmakers themselves who apparently were sure that their film would be overlooked due to its content. I think that the judges got it exactly right. It is a fine example of exactly what I’m looking for in this competition- a [...] Click to continue reading this post

Showcase and Awards Today!

science_film_competition_logo_smallJust a reminder: The USC Science Film Competition Showcase and Awards are tonight (March 7th) at 6:00pm. I’ve been tallying up all the judges’ input and have the results in special envelopes to give out tonight. Very exciting. Come along (event information here), and enjoy celebrating all the students’ hard work. There will be twelve films on display!

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Cloudy with a chance of Physics

I don’t know. That’s a bit of a desperate title. But in exchange, a rather nice cloud formation, don’t you think?

clouds_3_3_2014_1

This was from the sky over Los Angeles yesterday evening (a shot of the sky in the other direction is to the right – click for larger), and my first thought was “what’s the physics behind these beautiful structures?” There’s enough regularity here to expect there to be a mechanism, but I do not know what it is. Some combination of atmospheric conditions like wind speed, clouds_3_3_2014_2temperature, perhaps some layering of different bodies of air, and so forth, resulted in this and I’d love to know more. What factors set the roughly regular size of the structures, their pretty uniform distance apart, etc? (These are typical physicist’s questions, in case you’re [...] Click to continue reading this post

Take Part in the Festival!

I’ve just returned from a rather wonderful two rainy days in Santa Barbara celebrating the work of Joe Polchinski. (See my previous post for more about this, including a few reflections.) It was a combination of high school reunion, group hug (with Joe in the center), and serious reflection about physics, now, back then, and to come. Now the great news is that pretty much everything was recorded on video, and so you can take part in it by settling down in front of your computer (or other device – those of you in the further (but pre-singularity) future can just instruct the appropriate plug-in from [Cyberdine systems ] [Tyrell Corporation] Google to stream directly to the vision centres of your brain) and view the various excellent talks and panel discussions here.

I had the honour of chairing (and contributing to) one of the panel discussions reflecting on D-branes (as I promised last post). The title was “D-Branes: Tools of the Revolution” and it went very well thanks to my three excellent panelists (Greg Moore, Andreas Karch and Samir Mathur) and many members of the gathered audience who contributed to the free-form discussion in the 15 minutes at the end. Have a look at that right along side the really interesting and lively discussion that Steve Shenker chaired at the end of the conference (which sadly I had to miss because I had to get back to LA through the rainstorm for another engagement). The idea there was to speculate a bit about the future of physics and thereby “Planning for Joe’s 90th Birthday“.

Enjoy.

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Festival of Joe

20140226-214941.jpgEarly evening. Cocktail (made with Hendricks gin, muddled tangerine, and basil…). Roast pork on the way. Old haunt.

Where am I? At Roy’s, in Santa Barbara. I’m here for a two day celebration of the work of Joe Polchinski, one of the giants of my field. It all begins tomorrow, and I am taking the opportunity to have a quiet bit of time in an old haunt. I was a postdoc of Joe’s back in the mid 1990s, just when the world of theoretical physics was waking up to the awesome power of D-branes. D-branes are a special type of dynamical extended object in physics, and Joe had discovered their importance for string theory just around that time. Roy’s opened around that time too, if I recall, and a group of us became regulars, helping it along in those early days when it was smaller than it is now. (That small group included my friend and fellow postdoc Andrew Chamblin, who passed away some years ago.)

A D-braneSo I am here to help celebrate Joe’s work on the occasion of his 60th (hard to believe that number, frankly), and it will be good to see all the people who show up, and of course it’ll be excellent to see Joe. Part of my help in the celebrations is to organize and run a panel about D-branes, which will be on at 11:00 tomorrow. I’ll be reflecting a bit on the good old days when D-branes really broke, and turned out to be the key tool of the Revolution that took place in the field. In lectures and writings from that time and long after I used to refer to them as the Heroes of the Revolution, and in honor of that and of Joe I have named this session D-Branes, Tools of the Revolutionary, or something like that. Joe helped bring about the revolution, and his tools were D-branes, you see.

I was lucky to be here as a postdoc at that time, and happily I had the good sense to be quite sure that it was going to be important to quickly spread the [...] Click to continue reading this post

Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day

Apparently it was Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day yesterday, so some might say I missed it. But as you know, I think that every day should be Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, so it is not too late! Have a look a website for it I found (here). What can you do? You don’t have to organise a huge event (although feel free to). It can all start small. Maybe for that next gift, consider (if you don’t already) buying your little girl (or someone else’s) a set of LEGO or an electronics kit (or other hands on building toys) instead of the (fill-in-the-blank-standard-girl-toy) everyone else is getting her. Go ahead and make it a pink kit, if you want, since that’s what society seems to want. Who cares what colour it is? Apart from buying, even just chatting a bit with a child about engineering in our lives, and all the people who can (and do) contribute to it would be a great thing to do.

Here’s a short film from our own Viterbi school of engineering:

[...] Click to continue reading this post

Films!

Good News Everyone!

The deadline for the USC Science Film Competition (now in its third year) passed, over the weekend. The good news is that I now have 12 films in the vault (a 50% increase on the two previous years), waiting for the next stage of the competition. They are on a wide range of topics, in a variety of narrative styles, and I’m super-excited to find a block of time and have a look at them. The next stage is judging, and I’ll be assembling the panel over the next day or two and letting them start looking at them and casting their votes.

So keep an eye out for more news soon. The showcase and awards ceremony is on the 7th of March, and I’ll be opening envelopes and giving away prizes with delight, I’m sure. I’ll also be posting films here on the blog for you to look at, once that date has passed.

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Mass Matters

I was about to do a little post about where we are in the General Relativity class. We’re about to start studying our first full non-trivial solution of Einstein’s equations. Then I had this feeling I’d done it before, so I looked, and indeed the very post I thought I’d do was first posted Feb. 13th 2008. So why not re-post it for your reading pleasure?

_________________________________________________
(First posted 13th Feb. 2008)

Well, only four weeks and change behind us in this course, and… the class (see here and here) is ready to understand this wonderful equation:

the schwarzschild solution

and all that it implies. What is it? It encodes the shape of spacetime around a spherical blob of mass of total mass M. No, don’t worry too much about the details, since this is not a lecture about General Relativity….. it is just nice (I hope) every now and again to get a look at the sorts of things we use in our day to day work. This “warped” spacetime encodes what we interpret as the gravitational field (in the old Newtonian language) due to a spherical (or, to a good approximation, almost spherical) mass. Like the sun, or the earth, or that tennis ball in the corner there*. It is an exact solution [...] Click to continue reading this post

Summing Numbers in a Small World

So here’s a slightly weird thing. So there’s been all this excitement over the web about the old old “shocker” that the sum of the positive integers is -1/12. You know, not even an integer, and not even positive. Apparently there have been articles in the New York Times and Slate and goodness knows where else… and I’ve been ignoring it all since I’m tired of what it often leads to: People wilfully using it as a device to manipulate people’s ignorance about subtleties with infinite processes to make the tired point that string theory is somehow wrong since it is based on “funny math”. I called Lawrence Krauss (who should have known better) out about it some years ago when he did that at an event I happened to attend. It’s a bit tedious, not the least because it is actually part of a wonderful field of mathematics that can get misrepresented, and of course because it has nothing to do with string theory.

So I ignored it all. Then some students in my class asked me about it. And I explained why it is interesting and so forth… Then I carried on ignoring it all.

Then a day or two ago a mathematician colleague emailed me to ask what [...] Click to continue reading this post

Straight

In class tomorrow I’ll introduce one of my favourite equations:

<br />
\frac{d^2x^\sigma}{d\tau^2}+\Gamma^\sigma_{\rho\nu}\frac{dx^\rho}{d\tau}\frac{dx^\nu}{d\tau}= 0\ .<br />

… Wait – Where did everyone go?!

Come back! I’m not expecting you to know what it means, I just wanted to talk a bit with it sort of … nearby. If you consider yourself a bit intimidated by mathematics, be assured that it won’t bite. (No more than a piece of sheet music lying nearby will harm someone who has not learned to read music.)

It turns out that it is pretty geometry! In the equation, we’ve the object
<br />
\Gamma^{\sigma}_{\rho\nu}\equiv\frac12 g^{\sigma\mu}\Biggl(\frac{\partial g_{\mu\nu}}{\partial x^\rho}+\frac{\partial g_{\mu\rho}}{\partial x^\nu}-\frac{\partial g_{\rho\nu}}{\partial x^\mu}\Biggr)\ ,<br />
called the “Christoffel symbols”. The set of objects g_{\mu\nu} (the “metric”) actually encode the properties of the space you wish to study (like the plane, or the sphere), and the equation at the top tells you what are the “straight lines” in that space. Well, in the plane (like your desktop) they are straight lines, while in other spaces they are the analogue of straight lines – if you want to go from one point to another point somewhere else in the space and desire to travel along the shortest path to do so, you want to follow such a line. It is called a “geodesic”. The equation is commonly called the geodesic equation.

231px-Longitude_(PSF)You know such lines, intuitively, in a non-trivial example. Next time you look at a globe (wait, does anyone but me look at maps and globes any more? I love them!), you’ll probably see examples of those lines drawn in. They are the “great circles”, the lines of longitude, and the equator. (Image used with permission.)

I just made a class worksheet that guides one through a bit of playing with this equation to get the class excited about [...] Click to continue reading this post

Hawking an Old Idea

On the one hand it is good to get members of the general public excited about scientific research, and so having some new excitement about something Stephen Hawking said, driven by gushingly written articles in the press and online, can be good. On the other hand, it is annoying that the thrust of the articles are largely that he’s stunned the world again with a brilliant and unlooked-for idea. People just lap this stuff up, unquestioningly. It is actually an old idea (and in fact one that is being mis-reported – see below). One’s instinct is to just say “Welcome, Stephen, we’ve been waiting for you to join us”, or “Come on in, the water’s lovely”, and just move on, but it seems so unfair. The thing that’s most puzzling in all of this is Hawking’s own paper (which is all of two pages of words – a transcript of a talk he gave in August), which makes no reference at all to (for example) Samir Mathur’s work, which has been explicitly saying essentially the same thing for well over a decade, with a very definite proposal for how it might work. That work has hardly been buried in obscurity. Samir and many other people who have liked his idea have been working out the consequences of the proposal in numerous papers for over a decade and reporting on their results at all the main conferences, and even talking to him about it (I note that Samir was in the audience during the August talk and even politely asked the speaker to compare and contrast the similar-sounding proposals). So it is puzzling that you get no hint from the paper’s citations that this is a well-considered and ongoing idea, even if (perhaps) in detail it may pan out differently from other suggestions.

light cones in  spacetime with a compact mass - a black holeWhat’s the idea?, you ask. Well, it is not, as you might get from most of the articles (somewhat confusingly), that black holes do not exist. It is that the black hole’s event horizon, thought of as a sharp “point of no return” boundary, may not exist. Instead, it is approximation or shorthand for the complicated physics (of both matter and spacetime) that happens in the vicinity of the black hole. Simply put, the horizon arises in classical solutions to classical (i.e. non-quantum) equations (such as in General Relativity) of gravity. (See an earlier post I did about them here, from which came the illustration [...] Click to continue reading this post

Unfinished Meditation

figure_27th_january_2014_1_smallAfter a long weekend of a two-day meeting of an American Physical Society committee (hosted in LA this time, so I did not have to travel far), I decided last night to go and do a drop-in-and-draw session at an art studio, to clear my mind.

The model was excellent, with a smashing hairdo and good body-awareness that made for interesting poses. I was in the mood to disappear and listen to Hendrix for three hours while focusing on the simple task of representing what was in front of me. So I did.

I’m horribly slow again. Lack of regular practice (on full figures), of course. The good news is that I have been able to hold on to some of the more important foundations that allow me to lay things out, and see forms and shapes. But it does mean that I don’t get to get to some of the finishing processes that I intuitively prepare for in the earlier parts of the drawing.

As you know from many posts of mine on the subject (see e.g. here and here) I actually like incomplete drawings where you can see a lot of the process [...] Click to continue reading this post

Collecting the Cosmos

i_2014_01_24_CollectCosmos_150x200Don’t forget that on the USC campus on Friday at 4:00pm, we’ll be kicking off the Collecting the Cosmos event! It will be in the Doheny library, and there’ll be a presentation and discussion first, and then a special opening reception for the exhibition. Be sure to get yourself on the waiting list since there’s some chance that you’ll get in even if you have not RSVPed yet. (The image is from the Visions and Voices event site, and includes parts of the artworks – by artists Victor Raphael and Clayton Spada – to be included in the exhibition, so come along and see.) The event description says, in part: [...] Click to continue reading this post

A New Group

The new semester is underway and it’s off to a good start. I’m teaching the upper division class that I designed some years ago on General Relativity and got put on the course catalog here at USC. My thought back then was that since we are graduating streadily increasing numbers of talented physics students, many of whom are now going to the top graduate schools around the country, we really should have an opportunity for them to learn in depth about general relativity before they graduate. My thinking was also that it affords them the opportunity to not only learn about one of the most beautiful and important discoveries (almost 100 years old now) about our Universe, but also to learn skills and ways of thinking about physics and calculational techniques that they do not necessarily see in other classes. For many students it will be one of the last classes they take in physics as an undergraduate, and so they leave on a mind-expanding high note, off into the world to do wonderful things with their knowledge. For others who may take it the year before they graduate (or possibly even a year earlier) it may inspire them in their growing love and appreciation for all of physics in their remaining undergraduate years, maybe even help them decide to go to graduate school. More about all this here.

So anyway here we are. I’m happy to say that once again the group of [...] Click to continue reading this post

Thinking…

thinkingHoliday time is upon us, and in this part of it, it is coming up on Christmas time. Really fast, it seems. The semester sort of petered out mid-week for me with the submission of the final grades for my graduate electromagnetism class (everybody did really well… fantastic group of students this year), and one last two hour committee meeting for another of those committees I can’t tell you about. I’ve found some time to think about some physics, and work on a new page for the book, among other things. There’s a panel [...] Click to continue reading this post

Not Struck…

…by lightning or anything. Yay.

heaven_help_us

It was fun! (See previous post for what I’m talking about.) The audience seemed to like it. I got to explain that being curious and doing experiments and forming hypotheses is somehow preferable (to some) to sitting back and saying “God did it”, and that there are a lot of nice side effects of that curiosity. (You know, increased food supply, improved medicine, better communications, travel, overall quality of life, and so forth…) We even got to talk a tiny bit about physics (somehow I got on to neutrinos…. not sure why, but then… why not?). [...] Click to continue reading this post

Heaven Help Us

Well it is 6:30pm. It was my plan to take a nap this late afternoon (maybe early evening) but I’m not going to do that anymore. Why? Well turns out I’m appearing in a show this evening. It starts at midnight so I’m a little afraid that I might just sleep all the way through, wake up tomorrow morning and so miss my spot. So while the sleep would do me some good in order to be up so late, and functioning, I think I’ll skip it.

What’s the show? Well it’s a show on stage put on by some of the Upright Citizens Brigade. They asked me to appear as a guest – not as a character, but actually as myself, a scientist. It’ll be in front of a live audience, although they will be taping it later possible broadcast. You know how it goes with me – I especially like an opportunity to put some science out there here it is not expected so this is right up my alley. My understanding is that it’s a comedy [...] Click to continue reading this post

New Tool

magnify_toolActually, this new tool is pretty old school, and I love it! There are times when I want to have a change of venue while doing rather detailed work for The Project… perhaps go sit in a cafe for a change, instead of at the drawing desk. But when not at the drawing desk, I could not use the lovely large illuminated magnifying glass […] Click to continue reading this post

Fail Lab Episode 12 – Finale

fail_lab_ep_12_still….In which Crystal and many of the crew chill out on the sofa after a long hard season of shows and express some of their gut feelings about the whole business. Well done on an excellent series of shows, Crystal, Patrick, James, and all the other behind the scenes people! (Warning: – This episode may not be for the squeamish!)

Embed below:
[…] Click to continue reading this post

Dining

lunch_timeWell, since yesterday was all about eating here in the USA (Thanksgiving, in case you missed that), I thought I’d share a partially inked panel from The Project, of a meal in progress. I got a bit of quiet time to work on it this evening, while listening to Jimi Hendrix and then Freddie Hubbard. They helped a lot. It is at times like this I wonder what insanity has come over me […] Click to continue reading this post

Fail Lab Episode 11 – Failure

crystal_adam_cvj_patrickThis episode of Fail Lab gets down to the bone of the matter: Failure. The whole point of this excellently conceived series was to look at the fail videos all over the web (as everyone does) and instead of just laughing at the people in them (as most people do), take a different path and try to see the positive in the failure. Sometimes with humour, and/or with tongue in cheek, but with an eye on looking at things a bit differently. Now this special episode turns and looks the issue directly in the eye. I have the honor of being a co-presenter of this one again, again with the excellent Crystal Dilworth, and this time we break the pattern and have yet a third person as a co-presenter – Adam Steltzner from JPL, the chief engineer of the landing stage of the Mars Curiosity mission, you might recall. Crystal and Adam are on the left. (You might also recall that we teamed up for an event earlier this year at the Natural History Museum…)

Together, we talk in the episode about the whole idea of failure, making mistakes, and of course, experimentation. We highlight how it underpins all innovation, scientific, technological, artistic… all corners of human […] Click to continue reading this post

Back to Bilbo, Again

Lorentz_DemoI’m preparing some notes for my graduate Electromagnetism class, and I’ve finally arrived at the section on Special Relativity. We will end up discovering the fully covariant formalism of the equations of electromagnetism in a few lectures, and a number of mysterious things we’ve seen over the course of the semester will be more natural in this setting, showing how marvellously Maxwell’s equations from the 19th Century, unifying Electricity and Magnetism, actually herald (actually should out loudly for!) Einstein’s 20th Century physics – Special Relativity.

But first I must review Special Relativity, going back to the basic thought experiments I like to talk about that lead you to discover it. Traditionally this means lots of scenarios involving flashes of light, and long extended objects being boosted at speed in various directions and so forth… All very fun.

Well, over the years I’ve changed the characters in the scenarios a couple of times, and now I’ve firmly (as of 2012) left Harry, his broom, Hermione, and [...] Click to continue reading this post

Consulting for a Cat…

love_me_cat_stillEver wonder what it is like to science consult for the entertainment industry? Read on. You may recall me mentioning in passing that I had an interesting time a while back on a sofa being interviewed by a cat, an owl, and a robot. Possibly you missed that remark, or tried to forget it!!! Well, the interview is now online, and you can enjoy it at your convenience. Embed below. The entirely spontaneous piece ended up being a humorous conversation that closely resembles a lot of serious conversations I’ve had with people trying to creatively mix science and a dramatic story (and in some depressing cases, documentary…) I try to help where I can, if I get the call in time! (Actually, to be fair, sometimes even the most bizarre creative free flow can end up being useful!)

The show is called Love Me Cat, and was created by Eric Kaplan, who does the voice of the cat, in collaboration with My Damn Channel. You’ll certainly know Eric’s work from things like Futurama and Big Bang Theory, for starters. I had a lot of fun on the show, and it was great to meet Eric, and all the
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Ten Things…

black_hole_phil_club_talkSo I’ve been a bit quiet as I’ve had a lot going on. This includes preparing ten interesting slides to use as props for a talk I gave this evening to the USC Philosophy Club. It was entitled “Ten Things YOU Should Know About Black Holes”. It started with the original idea by Michell in 1783 (yes, really, that early!) and ended with topics of current research (what is the fate of the singularity? What really happens at a horizon? Etc., etc…) I spoke for a while and then fielded tons of questions, and am now (I am writing a draft of this on the subway train home – uploading later) suffering from a rather broken voice due to too much talking and projection…. Gosh. But it was fun. A really […] Click to continue reading this post

Fail Lab Episode 7: Tribalism

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Fail Lab, the web series on Discovery’s TestTube channel that I’ve been telling you about, is growing in popularity. People are hearing about its unusual charms as an edgy, funny, quirky, smart vehicle for some food for thought and are going to see. That’s great. There was a review on VideoInk today that seems to “get” series creator Patrick Scott’s “Zoochosis” point of view that informs his particular style of filmmaking, and that was good to see (although I don’t agree that the hard science can get lost sometimes – this is the online world where the viewer can take charge – if you miss an idea, just scroll back and watch it again. That creates opportunity for density in making intelligent programs, and hopefully steers us away from shallow, lowest-common-denominator programming).

Anyway, episode seven is now up, and fueled by a remarkable video it delves into ideas about how we relate to each other, within and without social groups. Here’s the embed: [...] Click to continue reading this post

Big History is Coming!

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You’ll recall that I was in New York a short while ago to film some promotional material for a new TV series. It is called Big History, and it will be on History Channel’s H2 channel (and eventually on various international channels, but I’ve no idea which – similar ones to where you find the other show I’ve mentioned a bit, The Universe, I expect).

Rather than be primarily about astronomical and cosmological things, the show will focus each week on one of a list specific items that have affected our history, and take the long view about that item. How long a view? The longest known possible! So take something like Salt, and examine its role in civilization and culture, bringing in historians, anthropologists, etc… and physical scientists to trace that object back to its roots in the early universe… (the big bang, the cores of stars, etc.) Update: For you Breaking Bad fans, note that it’ll be narrated by Bryan Cranston, by the way.

Here’s one of the promo videos:

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Seminar Done

seminar_over Managed to find a little time over the last few days to lay out, draw, and ink a page in The Project. It has been insanely busy for me, so this is a little bit of a triumph in stealing some time back. It’s actually the same seminar that you saw in earlier posts (here and here). Now it is over. It remains a tradition in our field to give a little round of applause after a talk, which I find rather nice and quaint. It was a pleasure to depict that.

It is a wider view of the room, which meant (aaaargh!) drawing even more faces and bodies than before. Then there’s the challenge of doing them in different states of attention, applauding, with different faces, bodies, states of dress, etc. When I come to paint it I’ll be wanting to pick colors that together communicate the right mood for the panel and for the whole page it is part of, and so forth. It can be daunting to do all those faces, bodies, shirts, feet, and […] Click to continue reading this post