Monday, October 29, 2012

State of The Union

I have Jonny Lee Miller on my TV as Eli Stone.
During commercial break I have Jonny Lee Miller on my computer as Sherlock Holmes.
In between, I google Jonny Lee Miller to see who Jonny Lee Miller is.
And somewhere Jonny Lee Miller weeps for the best years of his adult life he spent honing his craft.

The Business of Acting: Serious Bloody Thing

Friday, October 19, 2012

Get A Better Argument

So I found this on Facebook, 'shared' nearly 44,000 times the last I checked.

Since Science is obviously a person, as is indicated by Gervais, I figure she must be weeping right now (because Science has feelings and is insecure and always needs to be one up on Religion - that pesky & incovenient cousin). She's probably distraught over how folks make such unscientific & simplistic arguments to defend her virtue (like arguments of Religion that folks use to defend the virtue of the ladies).

I can't be sure, but if Science were anything like me (and she's got to be, right?) she'd be wondering why these mullahs of Atheism forget this: the gun used to shoot the child in her head for wanting to go to school was created by Science, designed expressly for shooting at living things. In that sense, culpability - in varying degrees - lies with both parties.

Science doesn't like to be told things like this - especially when she's trying so hard to trump Religion using the platform of logic.

And because she knows there are plenty of great ones, she wishes these defenders of hers would get a better argument.


Carl Sagan on Charlie Rose (at 7:45 he talks about religion): 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

What Gives Us Mass

Growing up in classrooms where a brand of fascist physics held sway in the steel cold grip of NCERT, we never looked beyond Rutherford's atom. There was no such thing as the Standard Model and everything was particulate & unquestionably spherical. 
The electron was life of the party, hopping about in celebrity circles, making all the difference between one kind of compound and another.

Considering that we rote-learned the Periodic Table built on its back...
Considering its firstborn, Hydrogen, seemed to be 75% responsible for our existence (and the existence of Boyzone, whom we loved in those days)...
...No one really talked to us about the proton at all.

There's a light drizzle as we stand beneath the belly of the Globe. There's a lull in filming so we begin to chat. She's a revelation to me and she's mildly uncomfortable about it. "Everyone always wants to talk to me about being a woman scientist," she says, exasperated.

I cringe inwardly because, to be honest, that's what interests me the most about her. In spite of a higher voice trying to steer conversation to matters of scientific importance, I realise I'm starving to know how a young girl from smalltown India, grows up through the '80's to become (a) a particle detector hardware expert (b) a permanent employee at CERN and (c) the top honcho for all the upgrades of a CMS sub-detector. My mind is screaming "But you're an Indian woman!!" There's an urgent need to crack this code.

Don't get me wrong, I don't doubt her mind. Her remarkable intellect is above any discussion of gender or nationality. I'm not such a fool
I'm trying to understand what else sets her apart from me. Or what set her apart from me 25 odd years ago, when she emerged from an Indian university and earned a first-class ticket to this mecca of particle physics. I want to know if she ever hesitated. 


Experiments at the Large Hadron Collider are said to be 'paradigm shifting' landmarks of our times. Whenever they run, they perform profound feats like recreating conditions similar to the universe a billionth of a second after the Big Bang and attempting to describe the Higgs boson: that thingamijig that gives everything (you, me, Boyzone) mass, etc.

As the name suggests, the LHC collides hadrons to achieve these ambitious goals. Hadrons like protons. Two protons accelerated in opposite directions at 99% the speed of light, meeting along the 27kms tunnel only to smash up against each other. Much of this catastrophic rendezvous proves to be beyond our visual imagination and it will take mathematics to make complete sense of it.

Infact, before the LHC began its first run, there were those who panicked that such colliding protons would hasten the end of the world. Instead, they gave us new science.


On camera, she is vibrant and engaging when talking about her physics, her workplace and the exciting ventures she'll be part of in the LHC's next phase. It's hard not to look at her animated face and be very aware of her fate, inextricably bound with the most fascinating discoveries of our time.

I see an opening and take my chance. I ask her to tell our viewers what it's been like being Indian, female and making it big. "Tell those young girls watching that they can be scientists, physicists, hardware specialists even though they're in traditionally male domains. Tell them, tell them!" 

She falters, her confidence wavering. Like a bloodhound, I pursue my track relentlessly, egging her to talk about her personal story. But she needs a moment. She composes herself and then looks askance to the director, who nods yes. 
Her answer is a public service announcement. It's one I've heard a million times before, about believing in dreams and not giving up. The bloodhound's scent has run cold. 

Ok, I want to whine, screw the viewers. Screw gender or being Indian. Screw your smalltown upbringing and all that it came with. Tell me your secret: Did you ever question your talent? Were you ever ashamed of being the odd one out, did you ever regret your intellect? Did you ever balk at winning the biggest trophy in the room? Did you skip a beat before accepting your entitlement? Did you ever second-guess your worth?

On the 4th of July 2012, CERN holds a live webcast to unveil an astounding discovery. 
Director-General Rolf-Dieter Heuer announces: "As a layman I would now say I think we have it." 

'Bumps' in data from two LHC experiments show that the Higgs boson has finally been detected. Thanks to a bunch of enterprising protons, it has graduated from being a theoretical construct to a highly probable, experential reality.
There's mad applause. A snow-haired gentleman in the audience wipes his eyes.
We'd always known we had mass. But, I guess, it had been really important to know why.

Sidebar: Watch Sheryl Sandberg Talk About Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders

Friday, October 12, 2012


Move over Cumberbatch, there's a new Brit in town. He is at CERN (and no, I did not meet him. I did think I saw Peter Higgs, but it turned out to be the guy who cleans the bins).

But before that he did this:

 My imaginary life is so exciting, my real life can barely keep up.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


As the rest of us bumble about wondering how to make brave television in these times of manufactured reality and formulaic cowardice, BBC2 forges ahead.

Just finished watching 'The Song of Lunch'. If you love the English language, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson and moving pictures, do give this one a go.

Then, if you're anything like me, scour the internet for a free download of the poem by Christopher Reid (because that's exactly what a poet needs - someone stealing from him). It is an absolute joy.

I don't know what it is: the precise imagery of the text, an inspired screenplay that manages to have its own voice or the sheer pleasure of watching Thompson & Rickman (oh that voice reading those words!) act. I wish I could calibrate the exact mixture that creates such potent experiences. But I can't. Maybe that's why I enjoyed it so much.