Tuesday, 20 July 2010

xkcd and Mister Rogers

Much as I enjoy xkcd like any other nerd, I sometimes find Randall Munroe's sense of humour grating: self-satisfied, snarky, and (especially in sexual matters) boastful and oversharing. (This latest part may well be pure wish-fulfilment on his part: I'm ignorant of his real-world life.)

But just to keep me on my toes, here is his tribute to Fred Rogers, a mainstay of American children's television, of whom I was previously ignorant. It is hard to imagine someone with a more different sensibility.

The NYT's 2003 obituary for Fred Rogers offers more information.

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

On StarStuff today: Matter and antimatter

You can hear me in the current issue of ABC's online StarStuff program, talking about recent results from the MiniBooNE and MINOS experiments at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory ("Fermilab") outside Chicago. Our segment starts about ten minutes into the program. [A ?permanent? link to the MP3 can be found here: starstuff20100630.mp3; the file is 15MB.]

Both experiments have presented preliminary results that hint at differences between matter and antimatter — specifically, kinds of differences that should not occur on our current understanding. And so there has been a certain amount of fuss.

Unlike the work mentioned in the previous post, which concerned mesons, the new results are from experiments on those most fascinating and frustrating of elementary particles, neutrinos. Complicating the interpretation is that there are anomalies in earlier MiniBooNE data which are still not understood.

If you're after a written version of the story, there is an article at PhysOrg.com.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Coming up for air

I guess it's kind of obvious that I've been preoccupied in the last six months. One of my preoccupations has now reached its conclusion: our most recent major paper on CP violation has just been published in Physical Review D. (A publicly accessible version can be found on the physics preprint server:
arXiv:1003.3360 [hep-ex].) The short version is that CP violation is important in answering the question "how is it possible for you to be here?". (Note that I didn't say that the question was "why are you here?". A lot hangs on that distinction.)

I discussed some of the issues briefly in a previous post on the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physics.

More on other things soon.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Scott on Streep, and the Eighties

The reputation that Ms. Streep earned for her work in those films retains more luster than most of the movies themselves. Sandwiched between the endlessly mythologized Golden Age of ’70s New Hollywood and the now almost equally sentimentalized decade of the American Indies, the ’80s are comparatively bereft of nostalgic movie-fan affection or revisionist critical love. And yet the respectable films of that era may represent the last gasp of a noble middlebrow ideal. They were ambitious, unapologetically commercial projects intended for the entertainment and edification of grown-up audiences, neither self-consciously provocative nor timidly inoffensive. Some of us grew up on movies like “Sophie’s Choice” and “Out of Africa,” and our fondness outlasts the sense that we eventually outgrew them. Nowadays “Kramer vs. Kramer” and “A Cry in the Dark” would be scruffy little Sundance movies. “Out of Africa” would be in French. “Silkwood” would be “The Blind Side.”

Ms. Streep — grave, scrupulously attentive to the nuances of performance, imbuing every gesture with the values of craftsmanship and respect for quality — was not only the star of so many of these ’80s Oscar movies, but also the most recognizable embodiment of their aesthetic...
A.O. Scott's full article, on the occasion of Meryl Streep's 16th Academy Award nomination, is here on the NYT movie site.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Someone old, nothing new, someone French, someone blue; someone radiant, some history, and a good point

Some things I noticed recently:

One gets a much more measured treatment of the ongoing disaster in Haiti from the NYT than one does from the TV news in Sydney: even the ABC. That's not unusual, but it's still disappointing.

A biologist's love-letter to Avatar. The film itself: wow. The praise is all true, and some of the criticism is true too. This old Alien fan certainly enjoyed the fact that Sigourney Weaver was having the time of her life, both as her character, the splendidly named Dr Grace Augustine, and as that character's alter-ego, a cheeky twentyish eleven-foot tall blue chick with a yen for basketball. (Another nice nod to the Alien films, there.) And amidst all of the reactions to the film, it was very instructive to read a discussion with the Osservatore Romano reviewer whose previous remarks have been taken, as they say, out of context.

The remarkable American strongman Joe Rollino has has died at 104

The director Eric Rohmer also died recently: the NYT has both an obituary and an appreciation by A.O. Scott. I have only seen a few of his films but would happily see the rest, just on that basis. If it were 10 or 15 years ago, I'd expect SBS to put on a retrospective. But now?

In other cinema news, there is a good NYT article on the wonderful Laura Linney: longstanding theatre and film actress, a superb talent with a sharp mind and a professional's attitude, always a little under-the-radar and a little under-rated on the street. And wasn't she superb as Abigail Adams?

The NYT has put out an interactive timeline on the Science and Politics of Climate Change, with links to various historical stories, for example from 1956 and from 1979: the latter of these being the rough period that I would have become aware of the issue. I find this interesting because, as a science brat with all sorts of age-innapropriate concerns and sources of knowledge (and values, and prejudices, and ...) it isn't always obvious to me what other people had access to, when, and on what terms. This article appears to have been from a supplementary section of the paper: a good paper, admittedly, but a regular daily nonetheless.

xkcd on the truth lying between two extremes