Posts Tagged ‘physics’

Guest hosting Dr. Kiki’s Science Hour with Greg Gbur

For the next few weeks I will be guest host of Dr. Kiki’s Science Hour on Leo Laporte’s TWiT network. Dr. Kiki is out on maternity leave, having just given birth to a beautiful baby boy 20 days ago! Previous guest hosts have included Phil Plait, David Harris, and Jeri Ellsworth.

The show streams live every Thursday on TWiT at 4pm Pacific/7pm Eastern. For other time zones, do the math! You can also watch or download it later.

For first-time visitors: in addition to my science-flavored stand up comedy, I also make science videos for Time Magazine’s website. That link will send you to my vids on Time.com, or you can click the VIDEO tab above and see them on this site. Quite a variety of topics in science and science fiction. I am also a contributor to Neil de Grasse Tyson‘s radio show StarTalk Radio.

Follow me on Twitter: @sciencecomedian
Subscribe to my YouTube videos: youtube.com/sciencecomedian

“Let There Be Light!” – my first show will be about light and weird science facts. My guest is Greg Gbur, an associate professor of Physics and Optical Science at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, specializing in research on theoretical classical optics. Since August of 2007 he has blogged as “Dr. SkySkull” at Skulls in the Stars, where he covers optics, the history of physics, historical weird fiction, and the interconnection of these subjects. Greg also co-founded the history of science blog carnival The Giant’s Shoulders. He has over 60 peer-reviewed publications and is the author of the upcoming textbook, “Mathematical Methods for Optical Physics and Engineering”.

- Follow Greg on Twitter: @drskyskull
Skulls in the Stars blog
- Go directly to the Weird Science Facts category on Greg’s blog
- Greg’s recent invisibility article on Scientific American
- Read his very in-depth post The Saga of the Scientific Swindler! (1884-1891)

When the show is available, I will post the video here and perhaps some additional notes and links. Please follow me on Twitter, subscribe to my YouTube channel, and get on my Email list.

Next week my guest will be science writer extraordinaire Carl Zimmer!

Thanks for stopping by!

Bad Science in Star Wars

FORA.tv has a short video of me performing at the recent Wonderfest science festival in Berkeley.  I’m talking about bad science in science fiction movies, and the example in the clip is a classic moment from Star Wars…

Link to video on YouTube

Link to video on FORA.tv

Wonderfest

Sunday, November 7, 2010. Once again I am thrilled to be performing at Wonderfest – the Bay Area’s long-running festival of science.  This is their 12th annual event – and my third time participating.

As always, it’s a 2-day event – Saturday on the Stanford campus and Sunday on the Berkeley campus.

I am only attending Sunday, November 7, at UC Berkeley’s Stanley Hall.  I will perform and then moderate a dialogue:

3pm:  Science Laughs with Science Comedian Brian Malow

4pm:  Moderator for  “Do We Understand the Structure of the Universe?” – a dialogue between Lloyd Knox, a physics professor from UC Davis, and Chung-Pei Ma, an astronomy prof from Berkeley

And, in between my two slots, you can enjoy a live podcast of “This Week in Science” with my friends Dr.Kiki and Justin!

Helium – So Long and Thanks for all the Balloons!

Somehow this didn’t make it into the blog earlier – our Time.com video about helium.  A flight in a zeppelin, a visit with the Balloon Lady, and the end of an era?…

Related Post:
Science Comedian Riffs on Hydrogen and Helium at Ignite

Year of Science – JetBlue and Cell Phones

In conjunction with the COPUS Project’s Year of Science – and the March theme of Physics and Technology – I offer up a bit of humor on bad website usability on the Jet Blue website and also a couple thoughts on cell phones – loud users and shrinking sizes.

Do you think we’ll live to see implantable cell phones?…  or the end of obnoxiously loud cell phone talkers?  When will they realize that technology is here to relieve the strain on their voices?

Astronomy in Science Fiction

When I attended the University of Texas, in Austin, back in the last century, I took a few astronomy classes and the most interesting one was called “Astronomy in Science Fiction.”

Through the fog of memory that sits like interstellar dust between me and Total Recall, I can only say with a level of certainty limited by more than just Heisenberg’s equations that we read at least one novel for the class – Tau Zero by Poul Anderson – and numerous short stories,Tau Zero by Poul Anderson including the classic “Nightfall” by Isaac Asimov and a few Larry Niven stories.  I’m pretty sure “There is a Tide” was one of them, and perhaps “The Hole Man.”  I recommend them all.

We read the stories and then we discussed the astronomy and science concepts contained in them.  It was fun and educational, a great way to teach and learn science.

Mike Brotherton had a similar idea, which is not terribly surprising, considering he’s both an assistant professor in the department of physics and astronomy at the University of Wyoming, and a science fiction author himself.  He’s written two hard-SF novels – Star Dragon and Spider Star – and some short stories, one of which is featured in his new anthology (one of the perks of being the editor of a book is the increased odds of being included in it).

Diamonds in the Sky is available for free online and was funded with a grant from the National Science Foundation.  How cool is that?

According to Mike’s website, its purpose is…

“to provide stories with ample and accurate astronomy spanning a range of topics covered in introductory courses.  Instructors in high school and college may these stories useful, as some students may learn concepts more easily through story than from lecture.  Fans of science fiction with good science should also enjoy these stories.  Contributions include both original stories and reprints from some of the top science fiction writers working today.”

One of the stories, “Planet Killer,” is co-written by my friend, Kevin Grazier, who is a planetary scientist at JPL and the editor of The Science of Michael Crichton, The Science of Dune, and the upcoming The Science of Battlestar Galactica (he’s also science advisor to Battlestar).

I mentioned Diamonds in the Sky in the new article about me at The Manitoban Q&A: Brian Malow, science comedian.

Early in the interview, student journalist Trevor Bekolay asked about the role of storytelling in teaching science and we talked a bit about science fiction’s influence.  It was certainly a big influence in my life – and continues to be.  I credit Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Larry Niven, in particular, with captivating me early on with their creative use of real science concepts in their science fiction.

It’s a great way to get acquainted with science – in the context of an engaging story.

Check out Diamonds in the Sky for free online.

Links:
Diamonds in the Sky

Q&A: Brian Malow, science comedian

Related post: 
Science Comedian in The Manitoban

Mike Brotherton and the Science Comedian

Mike Brotherton has a really nice blog post about me.  Mike is a science fiction writer who also happens to be an associate professor at the University of Wyoming in the department of Physics and Astronomy.  Quasars are his specialty!  And there’s a lot of great content in his blog.  Check it out.

I’m ecstatic that, of the two jokes he singled out for mention, one is an analogy that rarely gets the laugh I wish for it.  It’s about the ability of a virus to take down a human.  We must outweigh them by a factor of a billion or more.  It’s the ultimate David and Goliath…  “It’s like Luke Skywalker taking out the Death Star in a little X-Wing Fighter.”

Well, it is, isn’t it?

He also says this about the embedded video:

Next time I teach an introductory science class, I’m going to show some of these. I might be able to deliver a couple of the simpler jokes and fit them into lectures. I’m a good lecturer, but not great, and waking people up with a smart joke that has some real science in it isn’t pandering, it’s educating.

Too often I think thatI just get depressed about the never ending battle with ignorance and science illiteracy, with the folks who reject our best knowledge because it contradicts their political or religious beliefs.  Getting people to laugh and want in on the joke is probably a better method of doing something other than preaching to the choir and bringing in some people who want to chuckle, too.

Thanks, Mike!

I haven’t read his two novels yet – Star Dragon and Spider Star - but they’ve been praised by David Brin and Paul Di Filippo.  They are hard SF and have been compared to the books of Larry Niven and Robert L. Forward.  Sounds good to me!

Year of Science – January – Why is the sky blue?

If you don’t already know, let me be the first to tell you: 2009 is the Year of Science!

It’s the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species and the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. Abraham Lincoln was also born on the exact same day (and year) as Darwin, and Lincoln would found the Academy of Sciences.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Galactomatic-1000 (TM) Basement Universe

…Basement Universes aren’t just for basements any more! The Galactomatic-1000 comes with an attractive imitation wood-grain negative-matter case that makes it perfectly at home in your den or family room. The case reduces its total mass to zero, so you won’t have to worry about imploding your house into a black hole, or discoloring the walls with unattractive gravitational redshifts (**)…

(**) Although the Galactomatic-1000 has no mass, it still has volume, so a shipping and handling charge will apply.

- Carl Feynman,
Extropy #13

Once upon a time there was a little transhumanist magazine called Extropy.  I probably still have an issue or two around here somewhere. Most of the content was serious but I remember this one fake advertisement for The Galactomatic-1000 (TM) Basement Universe.  It was hysterical.  Science comedy at its best!

Written by Carl Feynman, computer engineer and son of Richard Feynman, the piece appeared in Extropy #13 (6:2), Third quarter 1994, page 39.

The magazine and the Extropy Institute itself are now defunct.  But god bless the internet for its archival uses.

Witness the glory of…  The Galactomatic-1000 (TM) Basement Universe!

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]