Fail Lab Episode 10 is available on Discovery’s Test Tube Channel, or on YouTube. It focuses on responses to dangerous situations. Crystal Dilworth and Heather Watts do a great presenting job once again, and as a bonus, the brain-dog makes an appearance this time!
Embed below: Click to continue reading this post
I’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
Time for a quick visit to the kitchen. I woke up one Sunday morning with the urge to make a cake. I’d thought about a simple sponge cake for some reason in the days leading up to it, and that must have planted the seed. I was busy and so did not immediately jump into it. But I woke up the Sunday in the mood. (I think it was last Sunday.) So I looked at what I had lying around and remembered that I had some old dates that were needing a purpose. They’d dried out a bit and so were not so great for eating directly, but certainly had a use in cooking. A short time later I had a date and walnut coffee cake sitting on the counter waiting to be eaten.
It was all gone within a short time, and so this morning I thought I’d make some more. The pictures you see are some of the steps.
It is pretty simple, being a fairly basic (baking soda risen) batter. The key novelty is to put together a cup of dates and a cup of walnuts, all chopped, Click to continue reading this post
Fail Lab Episode Nine, all about Aggression, is now online. See earlier posts (listed below) for thoughts about this excellent series on Discovery’s Test Tube.
(By the way, (spoiler alert) in the video they analyze this week, that looks like a bit like a Wing Chun move (and stance) to me… albeit a tad sloppy. And I note that it was used to end the aggression. A win for positive use of martial arts!)
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I was sent* this delightful short film recently. It is by Shixie (Xiangjun Shi) done as a graduation project at Rhode Island School of Design. It seems that it won prizes – quite understandably! – at a number of short film festivals, including one about science communication (which reminds me of the one I run). The film is entitled “Why Do I Study Physics?” and it is a lovely piece of writing and hand drawn simple animation that’s very Click to continue reading this post
Ever 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 Click to continue reading this post
Sunday saw me spend a bit of relaxing time in the morning at a breakfast bar sketching a colourful pan of tomatoes, apples, and a yellow pepper. I spend ten minutes doing a quick pen and ink outline sketch of all the elements, which was fun and pleasingly simple enough.
But then I decided to lay on some colour and so pulled the sketch into Brushes on Click to continue reading this post
So 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
Here’s the next episode in the excellent web series Fail Lab, on Discovery’s Test Tube Channel. It’s all about testicles. Clearly no more motivation is needed to encourage you to watch. It’s in a slightly different style than the previous ones… An amusing format change, in fact. Of course, there’s still amusing shenanigans going on in the lab…
Here’s the embed!
Click to continue reading this post
The garden is quite dormant right now, after a busy Summer. But not as dormant as I thought. I spotted these a week ago, to my surprise, and gave them a bit of extra time. Today, I harvested them, mostly because they are close enough to ready, partly because Fluffy is very active in all trees outside, gathering Fall finds, and anything round seems fair game for being picked, and then mostly discarded. (Because of a fortuitous alliance with Flitty, which can raid my traps for nuts without being caught, annoyingly, Fluffy is difficult to control right now.)
Anyway. A pleasant arrival in the kitchen…
It has been a long and tiring week so far and I decided that I needed to withdraw for a little while. So I left campus early and went on a wander downtown. My goal? It is the last day of the worldwide Big Draw month of October (but see below*) aimed at raising awareness of drawing (you may have seen events in your own town – maybe even participated in some), and I’ve been so busy I’ve not done much outdoor on-location drawing this month (not counting subway drawing) and so I thought that I’d get one in on the last day. My own little contribution to the local Big Draw LA, if you will.
Anyway, I considered doing some well-celebrated landmark like one so many of the splendid buildings available (Union Station, Central Library, Eastern Building, Walt Disney Concert Hall…), and as I walked I pointed myself in the direction of some of these, but just after I turned away from the library on Fifth, heading to Pershing square, I saw what I wanted to draw. If you stay on Click to continue reading this post
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:
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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), starting this coming Saturday night.
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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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
I just spotted (a bit late) that Steven Weinberg (one of the giants of my field) has written a piece in the New York Review of Books entitled “Physics: What We Do and Don’t Know”. I recommend it. He talks about astronomy, cosmology, particle physics, and by casting his eye over the arc of their recent (intertwined) histories of ideas, experiments and discoveries, tries to put the Standard Models of particle physics and of cosmology into perspective.
The article is here. Enjoy!
(P.S. Follow this link to find a summary of articles by him for the NYRB. Lots of good reading to be found there.)
Fail Lab Episode 6 has a lot of things blowing up, so that’s good, right? We actually had a lot of fun mixing in a little bit of comedy with the science. (See an earlier post I did after shooting this episode.) I hope you have fun watching it! As a bonus, everybody’s favourite, petal the brain dog, makes an appearance again. Well done once again, director/writer/producer Patrick and his team for their work on making it such a visual treat – and James, it was fun to write with you and Crystal!
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Friday’s meeting was rather nice. There was a really good turnout (especially from UCLA) and so in the end we had the perfect combination of an attentive and receptive audience and four really good speakers. As per design of the whole thing, plenty of time was allowed for discussion and pedagogy, and so I got the feeling that people felt really comfortable raising points during the talks and also chatting further during the breaks and lunch and dinner. It was really good to catch up with friends and colleagues from groups in the area, Click to continue reading this post
Oh! I forgot to mention that the next Southern California Strings Seminar is today! It is being hosted for the first time by the group at UC San Diego. (Thanks Ken!) There’s a webpage with the talk schedule here.
Now, better head there….
Creating a structure for benefit of the students (for no reason other than it seems like something that can do some good) – a structure in which they can participate entirely voluntarily, and after almost two months of advertising it, and showing up in all sorts of classes to tell people about it, doing interviews about it, and so forth, and not knowing if anyone really will be bothered to get involved… getting lots (still counting) of teams of students registering. With lots of enthusiasm in various emails! Thanks everyone! It’s going to be great to see your projects develop. I hope you enjoy collaborating on making films about science – it will stay with you throughout your careers as a hugely valuable and fun thing to have done. Thanks to those faculty and staff who helped me spread the word by circulating emails, letting me show up to your classes, suggesting ideas, etc!
Dealing with faculty and staff who, despite the jobs they hold, really don’t have much interest in a new structure put in place for the benefit of the students especially if it means even slightly going out of their way to help out… some would rather come up with mountains of reasons and/or rules why they can’t or won’t help, or why I’m making their life hell for asking them if they might. They helped make this all far more stressful and difficult than it really should have been. Ugh… is all I can say. UGH!
Meeting with a student today who is a freshman in physics. New to the city, new to the country, and new to this level of education. Enthusiastic about the subject and Click to continue reading this post
I realized just now that since I set a midterm exam on Monday for the graduate electromagnetism class, and since there’s only one midterm for the class, it really is… midterm. The semester is sort of half over already. And indeed, a glance at my calendar shows this to be more or less true. I’ve mixed feelings about this since on the one hand it is a busy and tiring semester and I’m glad to have it go by, but on the other hand… slow down life! What’s the rush!? Yes, I definitely keep wanting to make sure I stop to smell the flowers, or what’s the point?
The midterm itself (Monday, in class) was fun. Or at least, I found it fun to put together on the weekend. There were no complaints from the students, so I hope that means I got the balance about right. We shall see during class tomorrow, when Click to continue reading this post
Tuesday means there’s a new episode of Fail Lab, the online series on the Discovery channel Test Tube that I’ve told you about! (See several previous posts, listed below.)
Today’s excellent episode is about rodents. This is a subject I care about a bit since I’m in constant battle with them in the garden, as some of you who follow that part of the blog know… This might be why I think the actual “fail” video this episode is based on is hilarious!! Have a look at the episode, which is a lot of fun:
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Last night’s event was wonderful. The actors had such passion, and it was all done with great pacing and flow. This was a most marvellous play reading – the cast’s performances felt so fully inhabited by the text of the play that it hardly felt like a reading at all.
They (Nike Doukas as Margrethe Bohr, Arye Gross as Neils Bohr, and Leo Marks as Werner Heisenberg) and director Jack Rowe, should be very proud. They did very little rehearsal for this, which is makes it all the more impressive.
I gave an opening address* (and also introduced the evening**, as usual forgetting to introduce myself…) and the text of my address follows:
Good evening and welcome!
Yesterday, the Nobel Prize in Physics was announced. You might recall that it was for the discovery of the mechanism that gives all elementary particles their masses. A profound mystery about the universe was solved. While that’s a wonderful thing, and many people acknowledge that, many people don’t connect anything about that quest to understand the universe to themselves.
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I’ve been thinking about the early 20th Century recently, and the development of quantum mechanics, as a result of re-reading Michael Frayn’s play Copenhagen. There’s going to be a staged reading of it tonight at USC, put on by the School of Dramatic Arts, and I’ll be giving an opening address. I sat in a bar late last night over a fine oatmeal stout, thinking a little bit about what I might say in the address, and I expect I’ll put the finishing touches on the brief sketch of ideas while sitting on the subway to work this morning. We shall see. I’ll try to remember to post the text of it here if it turns out to be not entirely dreadful.
I’ve very clear memories of this play, and my first encounter with it. I was lucky to get to go to a special pre-opening performance of it when it debuted in New York (in the year 2000) I and got to meet and talk to Michael Frayn (and if I recall correctly, Claire Tomalin) about the writing of the play at the after-party at Sardi’s – a very interesting conversation it was too. I also (by a happy coincidence) got to sit next to Freeman Dyson during the performance, and was able to glance over occasionally to see the delight on his face at seeing old acquaintances of his brought back to life. (Well, I learned afterwards that this was the reason for the delight…)
(Image from Playbill.com)
This is by far the most provocative (and cleverly playful with your expectations) of the episodes so far. See my earlier posts for background on this creative, playful, and grown-up web science series. (List of posts below.) Have a look at the new episide, and stick with it all the way through before passing judgement. Warning – if you’re of the squeamish persuasion, maybe don’t look at it over lunch.
Well done, once again, everyone involved!
Episode embedded below: Click to continue reading this post
This morning the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics was announced, and it was given to Francois Englert and Peter Higgs for the 1964 theory of what’s now often called the Higgs mechanism, recently directly confirmed experimentally by the Large Hadron Collider at CERN (as you might recall) by the finding of the Higgs particle. You might recall that the mechanism, also associated with the term “symmetry breaking”, is responsible for the masses of the elementary particles, as has been discussed here and elsewhere a lot. (And recall, that it has little to do with the mass of everyday objects, as people sometimes say. That’s a different matter… everyday objects’ mass is dominated by their binding energy… coming from the forces that hold them together… not the Higgs mechanism.)
The first thing to say is “Congratulations!” to the winners. It is sad that Robert Brout (Englert’s co-author) passed away before he could get the prize as well. A nice thing you can do is take a look at the actual papers that are central to the citation in Physical Review Letters right here, as the APS have made them specially available. It’s good to take a look at what the actual papers look like, to get a sense for how our field works, so go ahead. I also recommend the lovely book of Frank Close, “The Infinity Puzzle” for a very good presentation of much of the ideas and history of this and related chapters in the field of particle physics.
My own thoughts on all of this are mostly of delight, but there’s something else there as well. Without a doubt, it is great to see particle physics and the pursuit of Click to continue reading this post
(Riffing on two earlier posts.) So I’ve been doing a bit of metalwork. I decided to make some adjustments to the frame of one of my several bags that fit onto the Brompton’s front bag attachement, to use it as support for a small bag. The metalwork involved me simply sawing off the side extended aluminium bars and leaving only the central part of the support frame. You can just see it in the enlarged version (click). There are times when I do not want to have a large bag on the bike, or even medium sized. Usually, then I have the small bag on my shoulder across the chest, and that works well, but nothing beats riding with nothing on your back or shoulder. So this is my solution, and one of my leather handbags fits quite well (with the aid of a strap I made from parts bought in a hardware store, and two tiny bungees with hooks, that you can’t see) onto the neatly detachable frame. Happens to match the seat/saddle nicely, all complementing the British racing green colour.
A very elegant solution, also allowing me to keep the bag on the bike all the time, still easily doing the quick fold, and to stably tow it when fully folded too (using the Click to continue reading this post
I must say that I had fun doing this drawing (click for larger view), and it was a long time coming. After returning from New York I decided that after a lot of tiring travel back and a long day of work the next day that I would keep the momentum from the plane drawings and go and relax and do a drop in and draw at a studio for a few hours.
It has been a long time since I’ve popped into a studio to draw a model and I am happy to say that I was not as frustrated in the end as I thought I might be due to lack of practice. (In fact, it is best to try to enjoy getting done what you can get done, and not get frustrated since that just makes things worse…) I was a bit slow, yes, but was happy that the processes of how I draw best came together readily, and by the Click to continue reading this post
I did an interview last week Tuesday with the channel CU@USC. It is a chat show, and so I did the sitting on the couch thing and so forth. All very amusing…
…And hopefully useful. I am spending many hours each day building awareness for this year’s USC Science Film Competition, an annual project you might remember me starting back in 2011, and stressing over a lot. And then again in 2012. It continues to survive for another year. This is year three, and although it has given me many grey hairs, I fight on, because I think it is of value to get students from all fields, whether scientist or engineer, writer or filmmaker, journalist or artist, to learn to collaborate in the art of telling a story that has science content. (Actually, learning to collaborate to tell a story about any issue of even moderate nuance is an important skill, science or not.) Anyway, the interview material is now up online and so you can have a look here. (The site uses flash, so might not work on some devices.)
I speak about the competition and also my own take on bringing science to film both fact and fiction (which for the latter especially is probably different from many others in that I don’t think it is always productive for a scientist in a film project to be Click to continue reading this post
Fail Lab Episode 3 is up at Discovery’s Test Tube channel. This week talks about electricity a little bit, again in the context of an online fail video that we unpack a little. I say “we” since this time I’m on the show (accidentally showing off my energy-manipulating powers in public again – I really need to stop doing that).
It was a lot of fun to help out with the show that day, and (for better or worse!) there’s a bit more with me on the way, and of course lots more of the whole Fail Lab series to look forward to.
Here’s the embed (direct link to Test Tube version here): Click to continue reading this post
I’m going to admit something maybe a little naughty right now. One of the things I was most looking forward to about the whole New York trip was the plane ride so that I could spend time drawing. It has been a long and busy several weeks into the semester already and that means that I’ve been not getting as regular drawing practice in as I’d like. So the airline downtime (blogged about here and here) is actually rather a welcome activity since I can bring out the sketchbook and draw. I’ve been regularly requiring myself to work directly in ink, so this means no correction of mistakes as one goes along. To proceed in drawing, you incorporate poor decisions about lines you’ve made into the drawing if you can, and move on. It also means that you learn to look more closely and think a bit more about line choices, and what you’re trying to capture.
Anyway, this fellow was sitting on a hydrant on one of the streets bordering Click to continue reading this post
I find myself in New York for a few days. (Sorry for the gap in blogging this week!) The blurry picture summarizes one of my favourite things to immerse myself in when in the city. A great upstairs bar on the corner of 2nd street and avenue A, and a great band of young jazz players that gives one hope that the art is not dead.
My main business was earlier today, at a studio in Brooklyn, shooting some promo material for the new big documentary show on the History Channel (probably on H2) that will air later this Fall. I’m not sure if it is out there what the new show is so I will hold off until I know what I can tell you. Needless to say it involvs science, and I think it mixes science and other topics together in a nice way that makes for a nice concept for a show. More later, I hope. Here’s a shot with me in the middle of the setup*! Charmingly made up to give he impression of a star field, perhaps, when viewed through the A and B cameras:
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By the way, I’ll be on the local TV show CU@USC tonight (6:30pm – live), talking about things like communicating science, science and film, and of course the USC Science Film Competition that I run that I’m trying to let students and faculty know about as much as I can. (Perhaps we’ll talk about other topics as well. We shall see.) I’ll also be joined by Simon Wilches-Castro, a student who was in the competition two years ago. He did the lovely animation for the film on fractals, called Yaddda Yadda Yada.
If you watch (live stream here), I hope you enjoy it!
Here’s the film: Click to continue reading this post
Interesting (and maybe not surprising) decision over at the Popular Science website* concerning comments on articles. It’ll probably remind you a little bit of my post from a few days ago about the kinds of behaviour surrounding blog discussions of research in my field. At some point, especially for a complex subject and in times when people are not inclined to really dig deeply to learn the issues, it all can get very counterproductive.
Episode two of Fail Lab is up now! (I told you quite a bit about this new series on the Discovery web channel Test Tube last week.) This is another excellent quirky and fun one, talking about the dynamics of sexual selection that’s going in all those fail videos you see online, where the guys are making a pig’s ear of some trick or other. This week you get to see the show’s brain on display too!
Embed below. Enjoy! Click to continue reading this post
Late September is late in the season, and many of the tomato plants have given up due to the heat of the Summer, but the Carmelo variety is one of those that hung on:
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The current look of this page is temporary. There’s a technical issue so I had to Click to continue reading this post
Meanwhile, poor Matt Strassler, who means well, is re-discovering the frustratingly convenient (for some) fact that blogs (or is it blog readers?) have no memory for stuff that has scrolled off the page, so attention-seekers get to make the same deliberately wrong claims and misrepresentations they did before, and that were thoroughly addressed before, and a whole new bunch of people who want to learn a bit of science will be drawn in to a non-debate, not knowing that none of this is new. Attention-seekers get the attention they desire, and since attention is the main point for them (not actual progress in science, oh no, not at all!), they succeed.
Matt is discovering this now… By trying to discuss a little nuance about what recent discoveries at the LHC may or may not mean for string theory, he has wandered into the same old tired shouting match about string theory with attention seekers who have nothing better to do but put their hands over their ears and yell misleading slogans from the sidelines to generate fake controversy, and/or split the world into pro-string vs anti-string which is so simplistic and, frankly, juvenile. An interesting game, if you’re up for it, would be to look at the noise in the long comment stream there, and then look at almost any of my Scenes from a Storm in a Teacup posts (from 2006!!!) and the long comment streams accompanying them (look at, for example IV, V, and VI), and see if you can see the same sorts of patterns. I deliberately collected those posts together to form a partial* record of some of that time’s discussion for precisely this purpose, for those who care to read and see that all attention-seekers (who have no real interest in letting science research run its course) have to do is wait for a while and then start yelling the same faux claims all over again to get attention, sell books, enlarge their mutual admiration society membership, etc.
You know, all this behaviour is hardly different from that of the annoying squirrels I have to deal with at my fruit trees from time to time. Not being so good at cultivating Click to continue reading this post
Because I love classic Queen, and because I work on string theory, but mainly because he did such a great job on everything (writing, production, puppets, singing…) I had to share this video* with you, made by Tim Blais at a cappella Science: (Embed is below…enjoy!)
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So episode 1 of the new show I told you about, Fail Lab, is live!
And now I can tell you what it is about.
I think the core concept is a nice idea. You know all those “fail videos” that are so popular online? It’s all about laughing at people who’ve been filmed with something going wrong… they’ve been trying a trick that fails and they get hurt, or an accident happens, or something like that. Well, rather than just laugh about it and make fun of the people in the video, Tosh.0 style, the show is (in a fun, and yes, decidedly edgy, way) built around trying to find a bit of science in the fail video. In fact, the idea is that at the end of the segment, presenter Crystal Dilworth (a smart young scientist on the neuroscience PhD program at Caltech) discusses (and in some instances, argues) with the guest scientist presenter about whether the video is a success or a fail, and sometimes it is a success for showing science! Each week on Discovery’s new(ish) TestTube Channel (excellent name) there’ll be a new episode (Tuesdays around 9:00am) coming up, so stay tuned.
It’s fun (with puppets, dancing, music, and a great eccentric set for the lab!), and will be definitely playing on the edge for some (perhaps too much for those who are skittish about mixing sexuality with science), but from what I’ve seen, the show looks to be on Click to continue reading this post
Well, the seminar is still in progress, as you can see from the picture, but my work on rendering it is completed, more or less. (One never stops tinkering at these things, but I’m going to move on.) This is the more refined version of the rough I showed you a couple of posts ago here. This panel is part of the opening splash page for this particular story of the graphic book project and so what you’re actually seeing is one of three tiny inserts on top of a larger establishing-shot kind of splash/bleed page. So the truth is that it’ll be so small on the page that almost nobody is likely to Click to continue reading this post