Sunday, May 25, 2014

Computational Cosmologist Tom Abel: Simulating the Early Universe
Show for May 25, 2014

It still seems crazy to me that physicists can say anything with confidence about the cosmos circa 13.7 billion years ago. But they can, thanks in part to a gift from the heavens called the cosmic microwave background radiation. It was produced about 400,000 years after the Big Bang, and it captured a snapshot of the cosmic scene at that time, and perhaps much earlier, as explained in this previous 7th Ave Project interview. But after that flash of light, preserved today in microwaves, things went dark for 100s of millions of years. And when they got bright enough again for our telescopes to make anything out (by virtue of the look back effect), everything had changed. Where there had been only atoms and particles, now there were stars, black holes, even whole galaxies.

Though we lack any direct information from the “dark age” in which all this cosmic creativity took place, Tom Abel of Stanford University is reconstructing what might have happened. He and colleagues are using sophisticated mathematical models and some badass computing hardware to simulate the birth of the first stars, galaxies and other structures. In effect, they’re using computers to “predict the past.” Tom and I talked about how the universe got made, and how it made us. Tom has done some back-of-the-envelope calculations on where our atoms came from, and the numbers are head-spinning.

Click the play arrow above to hear the interview, or the download arrow on the upper right to get your own mp3.

Tom Abel colleague Ralf Kaehler and his team at Stanford are using Tom’s simulation results to create movies of the youthful universe.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Nikil Saval: The Great Cubing of America
Show for May 18, 2014

In 2006, Fortune magazine estimated that 40 million Americans worked in cubicles. How did an innovation “reviled by workers, demonized by designers, disowned by its creator” (as Fortune put it) conquer our workplaces? And were things so much better before? What forces have driven the evolution of office space, from the cramped digs of Victorian-era clerks to the big open offices of the 20th century to the modern cubicle farm? Nikil Saval pondered these questions when he was trapped in a cubicle in his first full-time job, and finding no comprehensive history, wrote one himself. He and I discussed his new book, Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace.

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Click the play arrow above to hear the show, or the download arrow on the right to get your own mp3.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mother’s Day Mixtape
Show for May 11, 2014 

On a day and at a time when I knew much of the listening audience would be otherwise occupied, with the radio serving as sonic wallpaper at best, I decided to go with a musical show. Maybe a medley of tracks from my large back catalog of musician interviews. But when I was going through past programs selecting tunes, I noticed a number of songs actually had to do with motherhood in some way or th’other. So what eventuated was a hybrid: a collage of musical numbers and accompanying conversation on maternal themes. Here’s a list of featured material, with links to the original programs.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Unorthodox Marine Biologist Asha de Vos
Show for May 4, 2014

Growing up as an aspiring marine scientist in Sri Lanka, Asha de Vos didn’t have any local role models – other than sci-fi writer/undersea explorer Arthur C. Clarke. At times she’s had to make her own way with a combination of persistence, pig-headedness and duct tape. That hasn’t stopped her from becoming an expert on a population of “unorthodox” blue whales and a noted ocean conservationist.

We talked about Asha’s path to ocean science, her defining moment (involving whale poop), the wonders of cetology, her efforts to protect whales from ship collisions, and how she’s inspiring a new generation of marine biologists.

Click the play arrow above to hear the show, or the download arrow on the right to get your own mp3.

Learn more about Asha at her website.

Asha was a 2012 TED Fellow and had the honor of being muppetized:

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Singer-Songwriter Meklit: All in Good Time
Show for April 27, 2014

It took Meklit Hadero a while to realize she could be a singer, and a while longer to start recording, but man, has she made up the distance. Over the last few years she’s released a series of impeccably produced albums showcasing her own craftily written songs as well as some pretty beguiling cover versions, moving seamlessly from jazz to soul to hip-hop, indie rock, folk and even a little country. Her supple, spirited vocals invite comparisons to Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone, Nora Jones and Joan Armatrading. But she has a sound all her own, drawing on musical influences in all the aforementioned genres as well as the Ethiopian pop she heard growing up and the North/East African music she’s been exposed to in her work on The Nile Project, which she co-founded.

Meklit and I surveyed her discography, including her new album We Are Alive, while talking about her life and career, her exuberant approach to performance and the way creativity takes its own good time.

Thanks, Mwende and BAVC for your assistance!

Learn more about Meklit and her music, including her latest release, at meklitmusic.com

Click the Listen arrow above to hear the show, or download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose “Save Target As…”)

Click here for more 7th Avenue Project music interviews

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Richard Rodriguez: Darling, A Spiritual Autobiography
Show for April 20, 2014 

I’ve been reading Richard Rodriguez’s essays and cultural criticism for years. I finally got a chance to talk to him with the release of his latest collection, Darling. In this interview, one of my favorites from 2013, we talked about faith, love and loss; Judaism, Christianity and Islam as “desert religions”; his own relationship to Catholicism and his argument with the “new atheists”; the role of women in his emancipation as a gay man; and the essay as “the biography of an idea.”

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Fady Joudah: Poetry, Medicine, Power and Dispossession
Show for April 13, 2014

Fady Joudah is a physician, a poet and the son of Palestinian refugees. And in so labeling him, I run the risk of doing exactly the sort of categorizing he and his writing resist. Fady is deeply suspicious of the way linguistic habits, packaged narratives and institutional norms buttress social inequities and occasional iniquity. So what’s a practicing doctor and serious poet to do? We discussed how Fady responds to the challenge in both of his vocations. Including:

  • Readings from Fady’s books The Earth in the Attic, Alight and Textu
  • Poems of witness based on his work in an American VA hospital and in Darfur with Doctors without Borders
  • Verses from Mahmoud Darwish, recalled from childhood
  • Poetry in the age of smartphones
  • The refugee experience, dislocation as the modern condition, the illusion of “home”

  
Fady Joudah’s book The Earth in the Attic won the Yale Series of Younger Poets award in 2008. He has also just been named a 2014 Guggenheim Fellow in poetry.

Click the Listen arrow above to hear the show, or download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose “Save Target As…”)

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Comedian/Actor Kumail Nanjiani
Show for Apr 6, 2014

With the HBO sitcom Silicon Valley about to debut, this seemed like a good time to re-broadcast my 2011 interview with Kumail Nanjiani, who has one of the lead roles in the new series. Kumail talked about growing up in Pakistan, learning American culture and humor from the movies, becoming a comedian in the US, the typecasting of South Asian actors, how to confuse a racist and more.


Kumail (far left) and fellow stars of HBO’s Silicon Valley.

Click the SoundCloud play arrow above to hear the show, or the download arrow on the upper right to get your own mp3.

Click here for more 7th Avenue Project comedy interviews

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Rebecca Goldstein: Why Plato (and Philosophy) Won’t Go Away
Show for March 30, 2014

Rebecca Goldstein says some of her best friends are “philosophy jeerers,” convinced that anything philosophers can do, scientists can do better. She begs to differ, and offers the grandaddy of Western philosophy as exhibit A. 21st-century America has a surprising amount in common with Athens c. 400 BCE, Rebecca says, and Plato still has a thing or two to teach us moderns. She shows how well the 2,400-year-old-man has aged by transporting him to our own times in her new book Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t go Away. Rebecca and I talked about the world of the ancient Greeks, the death of Socrates, the relevance of Plato and what philosophy is good for. Also the difference between a toga and a chiton.

Plus a bonus segment: just how timely is Plato? Philosophical rapper Dr. Awkward makes the case in rhymes.

Click the Listen arrow above to hear the show, or download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose “Save Target As…”)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Echoes of the Big Bang: Cosmologist Anthony Aguirre on BICEP2
Show for Mr 23, 2014

Big physics is on a roll. It seems like only yesterday we were applauding the discovery of the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider. And then this week came word that the BICEP2 microwave telescope at the South Pole had found evidence of gravitational waves from the inflationary epoch – a glimpse of the universe at the time of the Big Bang, or maybe even before. "Holy crap!" was my reaction, but I needed something more for a radio show, so I got in touch with Anthony Aguirre. Cosmic inflation is one of his specialties, and I thought he’d be a great person to explain the new findings. He was. And I stand by my initial assessment: holy crap!

For more background on inflation theory, our 2011 interview with Anthony is an excellent start.

 The BICEP2 was built specifically to detect evidence of gravity waves in the cosmic microwave background radiation. And whaddya know – it worked.

Click the Listen arrow above to hear the show, or download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose “Save Target As…”)

Sunday, March 16, 2014

East-West Spirituality, the Recovery Movement and the Birth of the Psychedelic Age.
Show for Mr 16, 2014.

From 2012: writer Don Lattin discussed the overlapping lives of British writer Aldous Huxley, new age trailblazer Gerald Heard and Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson. Don, a former religion reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, also talked about his own addiction and recovery.

You can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Physicist Howard Haber on the Higgs Boson
Show for Mr 9, 2015

Among those popping the champagne when the discovery of the Higgs boson was announced in July 2012 was Howard Haber. And deservedly so. He’d been studying and theorizing about the Higgs for decades, long before it became headline fodder, and before a sales-minded book editor gave it its sensationalistic nickname. Howie wrote about the then-notional particle in his 1978 doctoral dissertation and co-authored a definitive text on how to find it, The Higgs Hunter’s Guide, in 1989. Though we’ve touched on the Higgs in previous shows, we’ve never gone into detail on the backstory and theoretical significance. I thought it was high time we did, especially as a new documentary film on the Higgs search – Particle Fever – was about to debut in our area (sponsored by the Santa Cruz Institute for Particle Physics, which Howie is affiliated with).


I lifted this slide from a presentation by Howard Haber; I hope he doesn’t mind.

Click the Listen arrow at the top of this post to listen to the show, or you can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Bonus audio: Howie discusses the nature of fields, including the Higgs field and quantum vacuum. Click to listen.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Pledge Drive Time

Our March 2, 2014 show fell during the radio station’s spring pledge drive, so we ran a selection of excerpts from past shows, all of which are on this site in their entirety. Thanks to everyone who contributed during the drive.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

John Beckman on American Fun
Show for Feb 23, 2014

Noah Webster, channeling the prejudices of his time, defined “fun” in his 1828 dictionary as “sport; vulgar merriment; a low word.” But John Beckman says vulgar and low are exactly the point. Home-grown, salt-of-the-earth American fun, John contends, is democracy at its best, a way the plebes and proles throw off their bonds, declare their humanity and épater the overseers, elites and killjoys (like Noah Webster). John traces the history of rebellious fun in America from the Massachusetts colony of Merry Mount in the 1620s to the Merry Pranksters of the 1960s, and from the Sons of Liberty to flappers and jazzmen, b-boys and punks in his new book American Fun: Four Centuries of Joyous Revolt. 

Click the Listen arrow at the top of this post to listen to the show, or you can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Naturalist and Ophidophile Harry Greene
Show for Feb 16, 2014

Harry Greene is a much-admired natural historian and herpetologist with a soft spot for black-tailed rattlesnakes. He’s spent years in the field studying venomous serpents, when not in the classroom or lab (he’s currently a prof at Cornell; before that he was at UC Berkeley, where he taught and was curator of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology). Harry’s a very thoughtful guy and serious writer, as evidenced in his new memoir Tracks and Shadows: Field Biology as Art. We talked about his career, about field biology vs. theory and experiment, about the wonders of snakedom, some of his favorite rattlers (especially “Superfemale 21”), and life and death in the natural and human worlds. 


Two-fisted herpetologist Harry Greene.

Click the Listen arrow at the top of this post to listen to the show, or you can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)