On Dermatology

“If you believe that men and women have equal rights, and then someone asks you if you’re a feminist, you have to say yes. Because that’s how words work. You can’t be like, “Yeah I’m a doctor who primarily does diseases of the skin.” “Oh, so you’re a dermatologist?” “Oh that’s way too aggressive of a word, not at all, not at all.”

– Aziz Ansari

On Children’s Stories

“To write fairy stories for children, to amuse them, to divert restless children, sick children, to keep them out of mischief on rainy days, seems of greater importance than to write grown-up novels. Few of the popular novels last the year out, responding as they do to a certain […] characteristic of the time whereas, a child’s book is, comparatively speaking, always the same, since children are always the same, […] with the same needs to be satisfied.”

Lyman Frank Baum

International Prototype Kilogram

In order to keep track of what a kilogram is, there exists a unit of metal which serves as the official world benchmark. This special piece of metal is known as the International Prototype Kilogram.

A replica of the IPK, kept under three glass bells.

A replica of the IPK, kept under three glass bells.

The International Prototype Kilogram, or IPK, is a right-circular cylinder made of 90% platinum and 10% iridium. Both its height and diameter are only 39.17 mm, due to the extremely high density of platinum (almost twice as dense as lead and more than 21 times as dense as water). Iridium was added to improve the IPK’s hardness while still retaining the beneficial properties of the platinum, being extreme resistance to oxidation, average thermal and electrical conductivities, and low magnetic susceptibility.

The IPK as well as six sister copies are located in Sèvres near Paris, France. Outside of France, 42 countries have one or more national prototypes of their own.

The kilogram as a unit of mass is always equal to the mass of the International Prototype Kilogram. However, the IPK has been gradually gaining weight through adsorption of atmospheric contamination ever since it was introduced in 1875 by the BIPM (Bureau International des Poids et Mesures). As a result, the kilogram as a unit of mass is constantly getting lighter.

“You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.”
– Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

Like almost all seven base units in the International System of Units, the kilogram is a completely arbitrary value. It is not based on any existing natural value – at one point in history, it was simply decided that what we now know as a kilogram, would be a kilogram from then on. The second, however, equals one sixtieth of one sixtieth on one twenty-fourth of the time it takes for the Earth to rotate around the Sun, and is thus based on a physical, natural value, albeit not a universal one.

The metre was similarly once based on an actual object, the International Prototype Metre. In 1960 it was decided that the definition of a metre would be changed to ‘the length of the path travelled by light in a vacuum during a time interval of 1299,792,458 of a second.’ Consequently, the kilogram is the only remaining value in need of an international prototype.

The seven SI base units - Kelvin, second, metre, kilogram, candela, mol and Ampère.

The seven SI base units – Kelvin, second, metre, kilogram, candela, mol and Ampère.

The IPK plays an important role in determining the values of many units, both clearly weight-related units as well as seemingly unrelated units like the lumen (luminous flux). One newton is defined as the force necessary to accelerate one kilogram at one metre per second squared. The joule is defined as that which is expended when a force of one newton acts through one metre. The watt equals one joule per second. The candela, the unit for luminous intensity, is defined as the magnitude of an electromagnetic field, in a specified direction, that has a power level of 1/683 watt per steradian at a frequency of 540 terahertz. And finally, lumen is defined as emission of candela per solid angle of one steradian (squared radian).

The long-term solution to the increasing weight of the IPK and subsequent devaluation of other units is to liberate the SI system’s dependency on the IPK by developing a practical realization of the kilogram that can be reproduced in different laboratories by following a written specification. The units of measure in such a practical realization would have their magnitudes precisely defined and expressed in terms of fundamental physical constants.

“Weight doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t. I mean, it does if you’re a model or whatever.”
– Meg Cabot, Queen of Babble

On Teacher’s Advice

“When you meet with opposition, endeavour to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.”

– Bertrand Russell

Courtship Ritual of the Red-Eared Slider

red-eared slider

Trachemys scripta elegans

The red-eared slider is a semi-aquatic turtle owing its name to the bright red spots on the side of its head.

Additionally, they are called ‘sliders’ because of their ability to slide off rocks and logs and into the water quickly when startled.

The red-eared slider, or Trachemys scripta elegans, is native to the United States and Mexico, but is a popular pet all over the world due to its low maintenance.

The shells of adult males are roughly 5 centimetres smaller than those of females, but their claws are longer. These help them to hold on to a female during mating, but are also used in courting displays.

During courtship, the male swims around the female and flutters or vibrates the back side of his long claws on and around her face and head, possibly to direct pheromones towards her. The female swims towards the male and, if she is receptive, sinks to the bottom for mating. If the female is not receptive, she may simply swim away or become aggressive towards the male. Courtship can last 45 minutes, but mating only takes 10 minutes.

Henry Cavendish

Henry Cavendish was a British theoretical and experimental scientist most famous for his discovery of hydrogen. He was born on 10 October 1731 in Nice, France and died as one of the wealthiest men in Britain in 1810.

This is what Cavendish made hydrogen gas with.

This is what Cavendish made hydrogen gas with.

Cavendish communicated with his female servants only via notes and added a staircase to the back of his house to avoid contact with his housekeeper.

Some believe he may have suffered from a form of autism, but just about everyone will admit that he was a scientific genius. He’s best remembered as the first person to recognise hydrogen gas as a distinct substance and to determine the composition of water.

In the 1700s, most people thought that water itself was an element, but Cavendish observed that hydrogen, which he called “inflammable aire” reacted with oxygen, known then by the name “dephlogisticated aire” to form water.

Cavendish didn’t quite understand what he had discovered, in part because he didn’t believe in chemical compounds (he explained his experiments with hydrogen in terms of a fire-like element called phlogiston).

“Young people must break machines to learn how to use them.”
– Henry Cavendish

Nevertheless, his experiments were groundbreaking. Like his work in determining the specific gravity – basically the comparative density of hydrogen and other gases with reference to common air – it’s especially impressive when you consider the crude instruments he was working with.

He went on not only to establish an accurate composition of the atmosphere but also discovered the density of the earth. But for all of his decades of experiments, Cavendish had only published about twenty papers.

“Nothing happens until something moves.”
– Albert Einstein

In the years after his death, researchers figured out that Cavendish had actually prediscovered Richter’s Law, Ohm’s Law, Coulomb’s Law and several others. If we had had to deal with them all, we would have had to call them Cavendish’s First Law, Cavendish’s Second Law, and so on.

Film Terminology

Abby Singer: The penultimate shot of the day. Named after production manager Abby Singer, who would frequently call “last shot of the day” or “this shot, and just one more,” only to have the director ask for more takes. Also called ‘martini shot’.

Alan Smithee: A notorious pseudonym used by directors unwilling to have their own name mentioned in the credits of a film when they weren’t happy with the final cut. Its use was discontinued by the Directors Guild of America after the 1998 satire Burn Hollywood Burn about the practice – a huge box office failure starring Eric Idle – revealed the alias to the public.

“Alan Smithee is the name used when directors disown a film, either because they’ve lost control of the final cut, or because it’s simply too awful to admit to. Smithee’s oeuvre include such classics as Hobgoblins II, Boggy Creek III, Hellraiser IV, and most famously, Dune, where he co-directed with David Lynch.” – Stephen Fry, QI series A

Best boy: The chief assistant in charge of people, equipment, and scheduling the required quantities for each day’s work. The origin of the term is from ‘pre-union’ times when the line between the Grip (mechanical) and Electric departments was less rigid. When the head of either department needed another body temporarily, he would go to the head of the other department and ask him to “lend me your best boy”. By default the second in charge of either department came to be known as best boy. Female chief assistants are also called ‘best boys’.

Blacklist: This originally referred to actors and directors shunned by Hollywood during the 1950s for alleged ties to Communism. It now refers to the annual ‘blacklist’, an insider survey that compiles the year’s best unproduced screenplays.

Champagne roll: Usually at 100 film rolls, or sometimes 100 hard-drive downloads on a digital shoot, the cast and crew get a celebratory glass of champagne.

Chekhov’s gun: “One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn’t going to go off. It’s wrong to make promises you don’t mean to keep.” This quote by Russian writer Anton Chekhov gave birth to the principle requiring that every element in a narrative be necessary and irreplacable, and that everything else be removed.

Chyron: Text graphics which appear at the bottom of a screen used to describe time, place, or name of person on screen.

Cowboy shot: A shot framed from mid-thigh up. Earned its name during the filming of many westerns, when this was a common framing used.

Dolly: A small platform for the camera, designed to roll along special tracks. Although Steadicams have reduced their use, dollies have certain unique strengths. In particular, they are still used for the so-called Vertigo shot, where the camera zoom in while the dolly moves backwards, severely altering the perspective.

Dope sheet: A list of scenes from the script that have already been filmed. An accurate dope sheet is the responsibility of the assistant cameraman.

Dutch tilt: A shot composed with the horizon not parallel with the bottom of the frame. Used frequently by Orson Welles and in Batman movies.

Giraffe: A mechanically extendible and manipulated boom microphone.

Honeywagons: Portaloos.

Hot set: A set where set dressers and prop persons have finalised placing furniture and props for filming a scene and on which a scene is in the process of being shot; labelled thus to indicate that it should not be changed or disturbed.

Jib: The arm of a mechanical crane.

Macguffin: A term used by Alfred Hitchcock to refer to an item, event, or piece of knowledge that the characters in a film consider extremely important, but which the audience either doesn’t know of or doesn’t care about. A notable example is the briefcase in Pulp Fiction.

Magic hour: The short time before sunset when light levels change dramatically and very quickly.

Matte shot: A shooting technique where painted artwork (ordinarily on glass) is combined in-shot with live action, to create the illusion of a grand backdrop. Although old-fashioned, it’s still used by Peter Jackson, director of The Lord of the Rings, Avatar, and King Kong (2005).

Off-book: When an actor has completely memorised their lines and cues, they are described as being off-book – no longer in need of their script.

“I don’t dream at night, I dream at day, I dream all day; I’m dreaming for living.” — Steven Spielberg

Ozoner: Slang for a drive-in theatre.

Pick-ups: Footage filmed after shooting wraps, usually of minor shots. In the case of The Lord of the Rings, however, pick-up shots were major and essential. Peter Jackson even went so far as to film several pick-ups for the extended edition of The Return of the King after the film had won eleven Oscars.

Quota quickies: Low budget films made in the UK in the 1930s. The Cinematographic Films Bill passed in April 1927 stipulated that all UK cinemas would have to include a proportion of British films in their programmes. The percentage varied, rising to 20% at one time. The ‘quota quickies’ were generally of a quite low quality, although some have turned out quite good.

Scene chewing: An extreme, over-the-top performance that dominates the screen. ‘Chewing the scene’ (or: ‘chewing the scenery’) suggests that actors are so engaged in their histrionic portrayals that furniture pieces and backdrops are left with big dental impressions.

Shemp: Named after Shemp Howard, the third stooge in The Three Stooges. Howard died in 1955 while still working on a film. A stand-in was used, but the director made sure his face could not be seen. Nowadays, anyone appearing on screen whose face is not seen and who has no lines is called a (fake) Shemp.

Sleeper hit: An unpromising or unpublicised movie that suddenly attains prominence and success.

Sprockets: The tiny square holes on both edges of a piece of film that fit onto the notches of a film projector.

Squib: A small explosive device that simulates a bullet hit or very small explosion.

Sword-and-sandal-epic: A colloquial term for an epic film set in Roman times or any other period, real or imagined, in which characters use swords and wear sandals.

Red herring: In a way, the opposite of Chekhov’s gun. A red herring draws attention to a certain element in a narrative in order to mislead.

Rhubarb: Background conversation by extras. So-called because extras were often asked to mutter the word ‘rhubarb’ to produce the effect of genuine conversation, with their mouths moving convincingly. Also known as ‘walla’.

Rotoscoping: Little used nowadays, this was once an invaluable technique for producing high quality animation and was a favourite method in Soviet cartoons. It refers to the time-consuming process of shooting scenes with actors in live-action, and then tracing over those images to produce an animation.

Whip-pan: When the camera pans particularly quickly, resulting in motion blur. This is often used to sneak in a hidden cut.

Wilhelm scream: Originally recorded as a sound effect for the film Distant Drums in 1951 and named after the character who yelped it out, this distinctive scream was archived in the Warner Brothers sound effects library, and was subsequently used in countless films, first simply as a generic stock scream, and later because sound supervisors and directors used it in their films as a sort of touchstone or homage to earlier films.

Winnebago: The giant trailers that stars occupy when not required on set.

Zoopraxis: An early movie process developed in the 1870s, which involves a disc that includes serial pictures being rotated in front of a light source, to create a sense that the objects projected were moving.

“Cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s out”
― Martin Scorsese