Archive for the ‘pop culture’ Category

Introducing Kanye Wilson

September 15, 2009

So much to write about these days, but unfortunately too little time in which to write it. So, at the risk of giving too much attention to people who do not deserve it, I’d like to make a very quick proposal for a new comedic musical duo. Based on events I’ve heard about over the last few days, I’d like to see combined the musical stylings, uncontainable ego, and microphone swiping antics, of Kanye West with the unfettered and uninformed outbursts of Rep. Joe “You lie!” Wilson.

Think of it! The merged talents would provide background noise music for any occasion, from inconsequential award shows to presidential addresses. This duo would be untouchable, meaning probably nobody would touch it. I can imagine:

I see the emotion in your eyes, that you, try not to show*
— You lie! You lie! —

The audience gamut would be covered, from, what is in Kenye’s mind, the voice of a generation, to the voice of stark raving right wing lunatics. Well, to be fair, Wilson may not be totally stark raving, but they do seem to have found his voice. I suspect that was calculated. Also, to be fair, contrary to the sentiment expressed during his short temper tantrum, he has voted for providing taxpayer money for healthcare for illegal immigrants in the past, which Bill HR 3200 (the bill in question) will not do.

* From West’s song “Addiction”. Not being my style, I’m not that familiar with his material, but tried to find something vaguely health care related, for what it’s worth.

District 9 review

September 8, 2009

Well, we finally went out and saw the movie District 9. For its intent, this movie was quite well done. In the extremely unlikely event aliens would ever come here, and if they were in the sad shape these aliens happened to be in, I would hope that the outcome would be different. Sadly, in this hypothetical situation, I can see this movie as being not too far off the mark. In the movie, the worst of humanity was put on display for our visitors. Humanity’s inhumanity to others who are different, to themselves, along with a healthy dose of greed and superstition. The reason this is somewhat plausible is because this is stuff we’ve seen before. With European colonization of the Americas, to apartheid in South Africa, to Nigerian witchhunts, to the genocide in Rwanda. The fact that people do notice these things and that there is moral outrage is a sign of progress, but it seems we have a significant ways to go to raise the bar.

Possible spoilers below the fold.
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Battlestar post mortem

March 23, 2009

Well, the Battle Star Galactica (embedded video) series finally ended this last Friday night. A fairly decent series. Perhaps a bit too much religious hocus pocus for my taste, and I think they could have made a better story without it. A more grand, ambitious and even human story. But I guess they were making a sort of Hindu-like, cycles of the universe type of thing as one of the central themes of the show, along with some “mystery” about behind the scenes “forces”. So, what about the ending?

Spoilers ahead (if you haven’t caught up yet)!
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Einstein on the history channel

January 18, 2009

Tonight at 10:00 P.M. Pacific Time (at least in my frame of reference), the the History Channel will feature the story of Albert Einstein. It was already shown on Nov. 17th, but I didn’t have time to watch it then. If, like me, you missed it, be sure to catch it this time around as will I.

You may recall that in 1905, Einstein had somewhat productive year as per published papers. Five of them in fact. They ranged from introducing the concept of special relativity, to explaining the photoelectric effect and Brownian motion. Of course, special relativity fundamentally changed how we view space and time and how one must take care of how such things are measured. In spite of changing how we view reality at a fundamental level with relativity, he received the Nobel Prize for explaining the photoelectric effect. This merely had the effect of laying some of the foundations for all quantum mechanics.

Of course, the special theory of relativity worked for inertial frames. Frames of reference that moved at a constant velocity relative to each other. Think of a car moving at a constant velocity of 60 mph relative to the ground. An observer on the ground measuring phenomena in the car, and an observer in the car measuring the same phenomena will agree on the laws of physics. If the person in a car throws a ball at 5 mph towards the front of the car, he’ll measure the ball’s speed as 5 mph, but the observer on the ground will measure it as 65 mph. That makes sense. But there are 4 equations called Maxwell’s equations which describe all electromagnetism. Embedded in these equations is the speed of light. The startling implication is that the speed of light in a vacuum is part of “physical law” and so both observers must agree on its value. The resolution of this problem leads to the special theory of relativity.

Interestingly enough, not only must space and time coordinates transform, but carrying this forward leads to equations which describe how velocities, and momenta transform. This leads into how forces transform. Following the force transformation give an interesting result. Two charges at rest with respect to each other have only an electrostatic force between them. But if they are in a reference frame moving with constant velocity respect to another, the other observer sees a modified electric force and another force dependent on the velocity of one of the charges. This turns out to be due to a magnetic field. So relativity provides a link between electricity and magnetism. Following, this one can see how electric and magnetic fields transform into each other in different frames of reference. How exactly this works may be a bit nonintuitive, but I hope to find some time into making that into a posting one of these days. Of course, if you want to jump way ahead, check out the wiki. The stuff on electromagnetism is a bit more mathematically formal than how I intend to discuss later, if I ever get around to it. But I hope the average person can take away something.

Of course, what interested Einstein afterward, was how to extend this to noninertial reference frames. This lead to the general theory of relativity which relates a gravitational field to noninertial frames and shows show space can curve and time dilation effects are observed in the presence of gravitational fields. That’s a can of worms for a completely different post.

Truly one of the greats of the 20th century.

Culture, science, and world domination

December 6, 2008
The Big Bang Theory

The Big Bang Theory

A sitcom, of all things, has recently attracted the attention of various science themed blogs, here, for example. This is “The Big Bang Theory”, which appears Mondays on CBS. Since I have a strong interest in scientific communication and having a better representation of science in popular culture, I thought I would throw in a few thoughts about this show and frame it within a larger context.

I must confess, I kind of like this show, and if I happen to be eating dinner while the t.v. is on, I’ll probably watch it. The Halloween episode, where one of the characters dresses up as the Doppler effect, was pretty imaginative. Professor of Physics and Astronomy David Saltzberg, from UCLA, helps with some of the physics related punchlines and writes the white board equations for them. This part is pretty well done. The characters, although clearly caricatures, seem to be folks I wouldn’t mind hanging out with once in a while. Mrs. LiquidThinker (also a scientist) does not care for the show so much. I do understand her reasoning that the show is simply placing scientists in a stereotypical light of “nerdiness”. In truth, my former colleagues and coworkers at the University were far more well rounded with interests ranging from sailing, weightlifting, movies, etc., and most seemed far more socially adept then the caricatures on the show. After all, we’re all just people like everybody else.

Another drawback of the show is that the one female scientist to which we have much exposure, is just as “nerdy” as her male counterparts (not that there’s anything wrong with that). The main woman character who is “socially normal” just doesn’t get physics and seems to have no interest. Although it is certainly true that many normal people have no interest in physics (can’t understand that myself), this does seem to be playing to the stereotypes. What would be nice in the story line is to have this character start to understand some of the more basic concepts discussed by her neighbor friends, become interested, and start down the road towards a physics degree. Of course, one doesn’t jump from Newton’s 3 laws of motion to quantum field theory in 1 semester, so I have no idea how something like that could fit into a sitcom format. Of course, the writers are free to call me, if they wish.

In any case, this seems to be a good first step in an attempt to humanize scientists and expose some scientific thinking in popular culture. Along those same lines, I was pleased to see Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye put in appearances on Star Gate Atlantis recently. Nice touch. In fact, there are other recent developments to have more exchange and input from the scientific community into popular entertainment as exemplified by The Science and Entertainment Exchange program from the National Academy of Sciences. It would be great to see a bit more about how science is really done in some of our popular entertainment, and hope that the type of evidence based thinking which lies at the heart of science will percolate into the public mind.

On the other hand, we still have Barbara Walters, who recently named her Ten most fascinating people. Barack Obama I could see, but Tom Cruise? What about Nobel prize winners or others who have actually made a real contribution to society? I guess we still have a ways to go, if Barbara Walters is in any way a measure of popular culture.

I would be most happy to see in entertainment the type of scientists I have known and worked with. Normal people working on interesting problems and often making society a better place in the process. That being said, there will always be a soft spot in my heart for the evil mad scientist, and I hope that fun character doesn’t completely go away.

That’s all I have for now as I have to go back in my basement and continue various diabolical experiments. World domination is so time consuming.