JWST’s MIRI looks at Stephan’s Quintet. Courtesy NASA and the Space Telescope Science Institute
ANW’s tribute to myth, art, and engineering is both visually dazzling and a chutzponic choice for this temporary breather from the pandemic. Water is everywhere – onstage and on the audience – as a gifted cast seamlessly weaves eight stories and a coda from Ovid to impressive stagecraft. The play is sufficiently well-known that there’s no point in recapping the fables-for-grownups by Mary Zimmerman, a brand unto herself. Locally, Stephen Legawiec’s long-departed and much lamented Ziggurat Theatre Ensemble did exceptional service to myth. The Sacred Fools and Coeurage also deliver technical miracles on a budget. Zimmerman ups the ante requiring an onstage pool central to her theme. ANW has built the resources over the years to afford the rights, the engineering, and the resident ensemble to pull it all off. The costs must be astronomical especially for a barely four week run, an oddly appropriate leap-of-faith in art over economics.
On top of the usual artistic concerns and choices, director Julia Rodriguez-Elliott has to see to the safety of her performers who are feet, knees, and backs in the water as much as they are out of it. This is no mean feat given costumes (Garry Lennon), props (Shen Heckel), walking continuously on a wet stage, and a disease spread by droplets. The company has hewn to its resident artist model (six of the nine performers) although it seems to have gone away from its roots in repertory. It is interesting to note the changing of the guard having followed the company closely in the 90s to mid 2000s and sporadically thereafter. Geoff Elliott remains a constant of the motion with Rafael Goldstein and Erika Soto now regular members along with unfamiliar faces with extensive company and classical credits. That Shakesperean training pays off handsomely with uniformly rich, resonant, and nuanced voices inhabiting instead of reciting the text. It’s a heady mix of comedy, drama, pathos, and bathos. Trisha Miller is excellent as Alcyone, Sydney A. Mason as a nasty Aphrodite, and DeJuan Christopher as Ceyx. Elliott is all the fathers; Pythonesque as Helios negotiating with Phaeton (Kasey Mahaffy) as well as Midas and Cinyras navigating daughter problems. The physical demands are great as the cast have to carry one another in and out of the water throughout the piece where one slip could end many careers. The level of trust engendered by long and close collaboration must be off the charts and hard to conceive with a team assembled for one production.
But, oh, that engineering – Francois-Pierre Couture (design), Ken Booth (lighting), and Robert Oriol (sound) – deserves a loud, two-syllable, “Damn!” Even if we take the pool for granted, electricity, water, and people don’t mix. This constrains the high powered lights to surround the stage and there again from safe a distance – yet nothing essential is in shadow. Glowing orbs are undoubtedly enabled by LEDs. Their collective play off the water and onto the walls are a splendid touch – carrying the audience along waves of action floating on Oriol’s effective yet unobtrusive soundscape. And we should not take any of this for granted. Going from page to stage is a tough artistic job but no easier than taking a technical concept through design, build, test, and delivery. ANW’s timelapse shows the large uncredited crew that made it happen and glimpses the kind of backstage preparation area accessible to very few of the city’s theatremakers. Yes, there are a couple of songs but … what are you going to do? Barring extension, only five performances remain so act accordingly.
Note bene: While there are no bad seats at ANW, the raised stage does obscure the water’s surface from the front rows. There is a benefit (and certainly no harm) in going to the middle or even the back of the house. Those up front will get splashed.
Youtube Channel: A Noise Within
Based on the Myths of Ovid
Written and originally directed by Mary Zimmerman
Directed by Julia Rodriguez-Elliott
for A Noise Within Theatre Company
3352 E Foothill Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91107
Thursdays through Sundays, closing 5 June 2022
Two performances Saturdays
Running time: Ninety minutes without intermission
Performance times vary, see the theatre’s website for details
Proof of vaccination/booster required, Masks must be worn inside the theatre
Tickets through the ANW Online Box Office
Sports Illustrated quoted this Japanese proverb back in 1975 in conjunction with Cal’s championship men’s gymnastic team of that era. The adage abides with the James Webb Space Telescope now in its halo orbit around the Sun-Earth L2 point, its optics and instruments slowly cooling to their ultimate cryogenic temperatures, the better to collect the faint signs of heat from the early universe. Little has been said to the public about the instruments nestled in the big box behind the 6.5-m primary mirror. This is perhaps not surprising. There are no secrets here, just that the real science goals and the optical engineering to meet them are fiendishly complex. Friendly Neighborhood Astronomer Christian Ready tackles the challenge, explaining where the precious photons will go and what will happen to them once they arrive. The comment section clamors for more detail on the MIRI cryocooler which will take the mid-Infrared Instrument’s focal plane array below 7K. Here’s to hoping for a full video on this beast, built across the hall from me, and on which I spent a couple of weeks when the team was shorthanded.
Youtube Channel: Launchpad Astronomy
As the man said after the Eagle landed: “You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.”
The James Webb Space Telescope, largely designed, built, and tested at Space Park in Redondo Beach, has launched, raised itself from the spacecraft, deployed its 5 layer sunshield, and put its primary and secondary mirrors into place. It will take another few months for the telescope to cool in the shade and then to commission the instruments before science measurements can begin.
It has been a long and contentious wait but the magnitude of this accomplishment is worth celebrating.
Youtube Channel: Northrop Grumman
Playing the piano is damnably hard. I have accepted that I will never practice consistently or wisely enough to reach my original wildly unrealistic goals of competence and am contenting myself with slow progress and occasional discoveries. Coaxing a good sound requires talent, coordination, flexibility, and freedom of movement. There’s nothing that can be done about the first item but occasionally something in the joints unsticks enabling a small improvement in the rest. I feel kinship with weekend athletes who get that occasional moment of grace amid hours of futility.
One of the many frustrations is pressing a key in the same place with the same pressure five times in a row and hearing no sound two of those times. The hammer misses the strings by a fraction of a millimeter and flops back with a click and a dull thud. This makes any kind of phrasing next to impossible for the duffer. He either settles for good enough or goes nuts trying to adapt as the instrument itself changes with the time of day and the weather. It never bothers the professionals who figure it out on the fly.
The piano action itself is a bizarre marvel of wood, felt, physics, and prayer. It is surprising that it works at all and there are eighty eight of the bloody things that have to work consistently. It is a lot to ask, perhaps too much. Robert Grijalva of the University of Michigan explains it in painstaking detail using a model of his own invention. For those with less time, a Dutch animator posting as Hoe Ishetmoegelijk (hoe is het moegelijk = how is it possible) has a concise summary.
Youtube Channel: Robert Grijalva
Youtube Channel: Hoe Ishetmoegelijk
Silicon Valley has reshaped the earth, Hollywood has driven our perceptions of it, and not always for the better. Less well known is the outsized role California has played in understanding our universe. Mt. Wilson, Mt. Palomar, and their astronomers have had a Copernican impact on where we stand in the grand scheme of things. The word ‘vision’ gets bandied about a lot these days but George Ellery Hale had it in spades. Here’s how the two observatories that housed Hubble, Humason, Shapley, Zwicky, Baade, Rubin, and Schmidt came to be.
The third video from Corning’s Museum of Glass shows that the path to science is not always smooth and that learning from mistakes is the norm. The original 200 inch pyrex disk for the Palomar primary did not go according to plan and had to be recast. The second attempt succeeded and even so, it took ten years of painstaking grinding and polishing at Caltech before it was ready for use.
Youtube Channel: Palomar Observatory
Youtube Channel: Irish Astronomy
Youtube Channel: Corning Museum of Glass
The web’s archive of older industrial films is a recurring delight. Jam Handy, Coronet, and other firms crafted these with an attention to detail, calm explanation, and rigorous science that is harder(*) to find today when most equivalents are about sales rather than fundamentals. Jeff Quitney has uploaded a wonderful 1954 cleaned-up film to his Vimeo page on color theory and practice by the Interchemical Corporation. It begins with the importance of color to society – especially in packaging goods and people – and then gives a marvelous account of the optics involved. I’ve worked in the field for years but I learned to see things (pun intended) differently thanks to it.
The second film from 2016 looks at color in packaging through its emotional impact and its influence on design and designers. ‘Color In Sight’ resembles like Hustwit’s ‘Helvetica.’ A number of prominent designers talk about how they use and think about color in order to evoke a response, surface a memory, or reveal a part of the spectrum to the color-blind. I have no idea what I’d say to a nail-polish maker but Suzi Weiss-Fischmann (8m18s in) comes off as a fun seatmate on a long plane trip. I had a similar feeling about Helvetica’s Paula Scher. Interestingly, it is produced by TeaLeaves, a Canadian company specializing in very high-end teas for hotels. Judging by their Youtube page, they must spend a fortune on short films – many of which have little outward bearing on their products. I’ve never understood the appeal of tea but the videos are well worth a look.
(*) But not impossible by any means.
Vimeo Channel: Jeff Quitney
Youtube Channel: TeaLeaves
Baseballs are one-and-done, discarded after even the merest nick or scrape. Cricket balls are used continuously and degrade progressively after countless bounces off the pitch and strokes of the bat. Fast bowlers start off with the new ball giving way to medium pacers and finally the slow bowlers take over when the damage has been done and make the ball dance. Crafting the classic red balls for Test Matches is a fascinating blend of art and manufacture – Dilip Jajodia explains.
Youtube Channel: Dukes Cricket
It has been fifty years since a group of engineers submitted what would become United States Patent 3566717. Entitled “Power train using multiple power sources,” Baruch Berman, George Gelb, Neil Richardson, and Tsih Wang of then-TRW in still Redondo Beach described the hybrid gas/electric vehicle. As a satisfied Prius owner since 2012 and likely repeat customer, I only recently learned that the core engine technology was invented a mile from my house and possibly yards from my office.
In those seven years of hybrid ownership, I’ve often wondered what actually goes on under the hood. Niels Blaauw offers a charming overview of older implementations of the engine and drivetrain. Next, Professor John Kelly of Weber State University dives deeply into the innards of the transaxle that’s in my generation of Prius. His WeberAuto channel is a gearhead’s goldmine.
Youtube Channel: Niels Blaauw
Youtube Channel: Weber Auto
We routinely use ultrasonic cleaners to decontaminate all kinds of surfaces. A little solvent, some buzzing, and jewelry, electronic parts, and pen nibs get degunked effectively. Cavitation is responsible. It is also responsible for damaging surfaces such as ship propellers and pump impellers. The first video explains the physical chemistry behind the process and its (mostly) destructive effects. The second shows it applied to cleaning vegetables which, surprisingly, is a research problem funded by the National Science Foundation. Both videos show closeups of bubble collapse making the cleaning/damage mechanism much easier to understand.
Youtube Channel: IET Institute for Energy Technology
Youtube Channel: National Science Foundation
Addendum 25 September 2020: EPFL has reorganized its webpages and the cavitation videos have disappeared. Here is an American Physical Society report on that research.
Youtube Channel: APS Physics