Posts Tagged ‘comedy’

Bizarro Comedy Show – Two Funny Heads (Piraro & Malow)

On 9/11 this year I’ll be performing at the legendary Purple Onion with my friend, the legendary Bizarro cartoonist Dan Piraro:  The Bizarro Comedy Show: Two Funny Heads.

Says Dan about me: “This guy is a longtime friend and a total pro. He’ll show me up, big time. I should actually be opening for him but it’s my show so tough monkeys.”

Actually, Dan is incredibly funny and inventive on stage, and the most prolific artist I know. He publishes a new cartoon EVERY DAY!  That’s seven new jokes a week, plus he draws them by hand in pen, scans them into the computer, and colors them himself.

We previously did a 10-state, 20-city, 30-show tour of political comedy (“Bizarro’s Politi-Comedy-a-Go-Go”) during the ill-fated last presidential election season, along with pals Michael Capozzola and Jeff Kreisler.  We had hoped to play a small part in unseating the incumbent, but, alas, failed.

However, this time, we are so certain to see a regime change that we don’t even feel the need to do political humor, per se.  Although you can always count on Dan to have some biting commentary on the state of the union.  This time, at the Onion.

Tickets for the Sept. 11 Purple Onion show can be purchased here.

Science Foo Camp 2008: Chapter 1 – The Wiki & What I Missed

[I’ve made one previous SciFoo post, in anticipation (and trepidation) of the approaching weekend.]

Where to begin? How to capture the essence of such an overwhelming experience? Nature! O’Reilly! The Googleplex! 200 certified science geniuses! No less than four (4) Nobel Laureates! And other incomplete sentences!

By design, Science Foo Camp has no real agenda until we get there and create it, and even then, it’s completely flexible. But, about three months in advance, a wiki was established for everyone to post to with descriptions of ourselves and ideas for sessions we’d like to see or lead. This was a great opportunity to learn a little bit about our fellow campers and to be that much more prepared by the time we got there, since time would be so precious.

[Note to Lee Smolin: I’m not sure about the rest of the Universe but, at SciFoo, the flow of time is very real and very fast.]

If you ever get the chance to attend SciFoo, take advantage of the wiki. Start early. Most of the campers posted brief bios with their areas of research and interests and links to homepages, blogs, companies, and organizations.  For the ones that didn’t, there’s Google.  If they’re at SciFoo, you won’t have any trouble finding ’em. Most of them have Wikipedia entries.

My only wish for “improving” the amazing creature that is SciFoo would be to lengthen it just a bit. I want more!  Perhaps extend the Friday and Sunday to full days. Give us just a little extra time to take it all in. There are so many fascinating people, so many intriguing sessions.  There’s no way to meet everyone or attend every session you’d like. With as many as fourteen (14!) simultaneous sessions in each hour time slot, no matter how much you experience, there’s still a sense that you missed out on a lot of cool stuff.

Of course, even if it were a week long, I’m sure I’d feel the same.

Betsy Devine\'s morning session

For the first session of the weekend, I missed Carl Dietrich’s “Energy for Long Distance Transportation” because I wanted to catch Betsy Devine’s “5-minute Talks by Smart People About Web 2.0 Tools for Science” (featuring Tim O’Reilly, Esther Dyson & Anne Wojcicki, Chris Anderson, Barend Mons, and Victoria Stodden).

And I missed Carl again, for the last session of the weekend, when he talked about his flying car, because I wanted to see Brother Guy Consolmagno explain why the Pope has an astronomer (and a meteorite collection!).

I really should’ve been at “Transforming Education – Making Science Fun and Relevant for Kids and Students,” but I wanted to hear Aubrey de Grey, Chris Patil, and Attila Csordas talk about Aging and Life Extension.

After a fascinating chat Saturday morning with Eric Wassermann on the 15-minute shuttle ride from the hotel to the Googleplex (about the experience of spirituality and the illusion of consciousness), I would’ve loved to have sat in on his session a few hours later about the ethics and implications of brain enhancement. But I also wanted to contribute to “Seducing the Public with Science” (initiated – on the wiki – by John Gilbey and Jenny Rohn – and including Tim O’Reilly,Seducing the Public - Tim O'Reilly, Marc Hodosh, Kevin Grazier, et al Ann Druyan, Marc Hodosh, Ben Goldacre, Eugenie Scott and others). And, at the exact same time, I was missing NASA Ames Director Pete Worden’s session on Settling Mars, and “LHC: The Universe and All That” with Brian Cox, Max Tegmark, Martin Rees, and Betsy’s husband, Nobel Laureate Frank Wilczek!

Impossible choices that have to be made!

I missed Paul Stamets’ session on How Fungi Can Save the World, as well as Paul Davies’ session on Multiple Origins of Life and a “Shadow Biosphere” on Earth, and sessions on the WorldWide Telescope and brain reading neural prosthetics, the future of quantum computing, 23andMe, building better climate models, and several more – all in the Saturday 4pm time slot – because I wanted to sit in on a session with Lee Smolin, Max Tegmark, and Garrett Lisi called “Incubating Adventurous Science and the FQXi.”

It wasn’t until Sunday morning, when I got into a great conversation with the wonderful Dan Janzen about caterpillars and moths, that I realized I shouldn’t have missed his presentation the day before on DNA barcoding the world’s species – all 10,000,000 of them.

But what could I do?  I was up to my ears in dark matter – picking the brain of Patricia Burchat, head of the Physics department at Stanford, who helped me finally understand how we could know – from our narrow vantage point – that the expansion rate of the Universe has increased.

I could go on. And on. Expanding like the Universe. And that’s what the weekend was really about.

Looking over the list of campers, I figure I had substantial, interesting conversations with at least 50 different people, on probably 50 different topics – plus, I attended about a dozen sessions, asking questions or contributing comments during quite a few.

And I entertained perhaps the smartest crowd I’ve ever played with 45 minutes of science humor at my own surprisingly well-attended session, Saturday night after dinner (while, just down the hall, Martin Rees and Nick Bostrom led a somber discussion called “Existential Risks & Global Catastrophic Risks.”)

There was something for everyone.

In the end, there were some people – like Jim Hardy and Chris Patil and Brian Cox and his wife Gia Milinovich and John Gilbey and Nick Bostrom and David Bauer and Lars Jeppesen and Simon Quellen Field – with whom I had multiple chances to chat. And, yet, there are scores of people I never met. I had no idea (until I was back home in San Francisco) that there were four Nobel Laureates among us; I met only one. On the final day there were some faces that didn’t even look familiar to me… had they really been here all weekend?

[more to come]

Symmetry Breaking Reviews Rational Comedy for an Irrational Planet

I’ve been writing up my notes from Science Foo Camp, anxious to get something online about the unconference that ended a week ago already, and from which I’m still on a serious high.  Meanwhile…

symmetry breaking has a new review of my “Rational Comedy for an Irrational Planet” show.

symmetry breaking is a blog supplement to symmetry – a great particle physics magazine that explores not only the science but also the people, the culture, and the policies of science.

It’s published every other month by the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center – national laboratories funded by the Office of Science of the US Department of Energy – and, therefore, the magazine is available for free – in print as well as online – to anyone.  Subscribe here.

The review is written by David Harris, editor of symmetry, who attended my show at the Punch Line Comedy Club, here in SF, last Monday, August 11, immediately following SciFoo weekend.

He also invited me to write an essay on being a science comedian for the print version of the magazine.

Thanks, David!

Stand up straight!

My mother used to tell me to “stand up straight.”

It was one of her favorite things to say: “Stand up straight!”

Many other people, I have discovered, also grew up hearing that phrase. It’s nearly universal. As if mothers were programmed to say it. In fact, I believe mothers have been telling their children to “stand up straight” longer than we realize. Perhaps even to pre-human days.

What if that were the driving force behind the evolutionary trend to walk erect?

Mothers nagging their children up the evolutionary ladder:

“Stand up straight!
“Don’t drag your knuckles when you walk!
“What’re ya born in a tree?
“You want the other families to think we’re not evolving?”

“No, mom…”

Then: “How many times do I have to tell you?”

And, therein lies the origin of mathematics:

“How many times?…well, if I put the three here and carry the one….”

Conservation of Mass

I noticed a long time ago, whenever my mother would lose weight, my father would gain weight. And when my father lost weight, my mother gained weight.

It was like the Conservation of Mass, within our family.

Being the young scientist that I was, I developed a theory to explain the facts: You see, you never actually lose weight….you just give it to somebody else.

Fat can be neither created nor destroyed. It’s one of the basic laws of the universe. You need to know the laws if you’re gonna live here.

Science Comedy Video

A montage of some of my science comedy routines, taken mostly from two events at the Marian Koshland Science Museum of the National Academy of Sciences (in 2006 and 2007).

A couple clips from my 2008 performance appear earlier in this blog (on cell phones and Karma) and more are coming soon.

Why is the sky blue?

Once, when I was maybe ten years old, I asked my dad, “Why is the sky blue?”

A pretty reasonable question for a little ten-year-old scientist. But he wasn’t in the mood.

He said, “Go ask your mother.”

And I thought: Great, she knows.

I turned from my dad, and headed toward the kitchen, knowing I was one step closer to having my answer.

And as I rounded the corner, I was experiencing the thrill of the Scientific Method. I was following in the footsteps of Galileo and Isaac Newton.

And, to a certain degree, I was correct. I was, indeed, one step closer to my answer. Not the answer, but an answer.

There she stood. I took a deep breath, and asked her, “Mom, why is the sky blue?”

And I’ll never forget her response:

“Because I said so.”

At first, I was in awe of my mother. Later, I learned not to trust her in matters of science.

(The real reason the sky is blue has to do with light scattering by oxygen and nitrogen molecules. The Usenet Physics FAQ of UC Riverside has a good explanation – including the role Albert Einstein played in proving it was the air molecules themselves that were responsible and not particles of dust or droplets of water vapor suspended in the air)

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Yarmulke

I’m a Jew from Texas – a relatively rare breed, we can’t even propagate in the wild.

So, before my migration to Northern California – which is counter to the eastward migratory pattern characteristic of my kind – a migration which, over time, deposits us in the Sunshine State like calcium carbonate on a stalagmite – I had the opportunity to make sociological and psychological observations of an uncommon species.

I hope to someday publish my findings and share with the world these curious and fantastic tales.

The working title of my book is The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Yarmulke.

Brian Malow on Edison, Cell Phones, Vista…

An excerpt from “The Final Frontier?” presentation I gave at the Marian Koshland Science Museum, in Washington, D.C., April 10, 2008.

Mostly about cell phones, but a bit about Thomas Edison and the light bulb, Las Vegas, Windows Vista, and cost-benefits analysis.

More to come…

PaperOpus

Too Much Sodium

My sister told me recently that she won’t eat Chinese food anymore because it has too much sodium.

But isn’t that ridiculous? To single out one element from the Periodic Table? You’d have to have a pretty sensitive palette:

“Oh, I don’t eat Mexican food… too much magnesium!

or

“Waiter, I’m sorry, I asked for the beryllium on the side…”

or

“Nothing ruins a ham and cheese sandwich like a tad too much molybdenum.”

How many times have you said that?

Personally, I love Chinese food. I don’t care if there’s plutonium in it… it might be a little hot, but I’m eating it.