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All posts for the month October, 2007

Online TV?

Ever heard of Joost? I hadn’t either until last spring, when a producer I’d talked to at a meeting called to ask if we’d be interested in having one of our shows featured on Joost. “What’s a Joost?” I asked. He went on to explain that it was a startup company, formed by the inventor of Skype, to push TV content onto people’s home computers. We checked it out; rather interesting, and we figured it couldn’t hurt to put some content on there. So, we submitted our Hubble Vision fulldome video show, but remade it as a “TV” format presentation. Joost is still in Beta, but you can check out Hubble Vision on the SpaceRip channel. Give it a vote to make sure it stays up when Joost goes “live”!

The show’s about the Hubble Space Telescope and takes viewers on a tour of the loveliest and coolest pics returned by this grand old orbiting observatory. It’s the first and only spacecraft I ever had anything to do with as a grad student, and it was the topic of my first book (co-authored with John C. Brandt, of the University of New Mexico). Hubble keeps cranking out cool pics and I’ve been telling its story for more than a decade! So, go check out the show and tell me what you think!

Taking Pride in a Great Project

Occasionally I refer to the work I did for Griffith Observatory as “my exhibits.” Of course, I didn’t do <i>all</i> the work on them myself; there was an extremely talented group of designers making all the visuals look good. But, even as I was responsible for all the writing you see on the Griffith exhibit panels, I relied on a team of amazing curators, people who were there to answer questions, find data for me, give feedback on the writing, and, in general, be the endogenous goads that all successful writers need to help make the work look good for the readers. The curatorial team was led by Ed Krupp, director of Griffith Observatory, a long-time colleague and writer himself. It also included several astronomy professors from the SoCal area, the former program supervisor at Griffith (the now-retired John Mosley, another long-time colleague), the director of the exhibit program Mark Pine (who is now the deputy director at Griffith), and a former prof of mine named Bruce Bohannon. While it was my job to write the exhibit panels for the whole building, which required that I come up with approachable language for a huge variety of topics in astronomy, I couldn’t have done it without those folks. So, even if I say those are “my” exhibits, it’s only in a manner of speaking; they belong to all of us who worked on them for several years, bringing the wonders of astronomy to a huge and diverse audience.

And now, of course, they belong to the visitors who come to Griffith to learn about astronomy.

I thought about all those curatorial folks and all the meetings we had in 2005-2006 as I wandered around Griffith last week on my latest visit. Each panel has a story, a number of discussions and meetings behind it. In some cases they were easy to write; in other cases, they took many iterations before we were all pleased with the effort.

It wasn’t just the science that we had to work to discuss; I had to carry around in my head the “persona” of the voice that shaped those words. Actors and writers often talk about “voice” and “characterization” as aspects of telling a story. Such things do speak to people; when you read a story somewhere, it’s got a “voice” that speaks to you, that tells you the narrative. An actor’s character has a story behind it, something that the actor has to use to bring the character alive in performance. The same thing happened with these science panels. Each one had a backstory, a voice. That’s because science itself has a voice. As an institution that brings one of the coolest of all sciences to life&mdash;astronomy&mdash;Griffith has a voice that voice tells the story of astronomy. It was my job to bring that voice to life. And now, it’s everyone else’s “job” to listen and learn and hopefully enjoy.