Monday, July 30, 2007

The Simpsons Embiggen String Theory!

From the Scientific American blog, an interesting look at how the fake Simpsons term "embiggen" became used in a scientific paper on string theory:

How a Fake Word From the Simpsons Ended Up in a Perfectly Cromulent String Theory Paper

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Science Fantastic

Prof. Michio Kaku, author of Hyperspace, Parallel Worlds, and other books, has a fascinating weekly radio show called "Science Fantastic." It's part of the Talk Radio Network.

Science Fantastic, hosted by Dr. Michio Kaku

Today, I was delighted to appear on the show, answer questions about science and the Simpsons, and express my opinions about artificial intelligence, time travel, parallel universes and so forth. In between, they played a lot of fun clips from the series. It was a very enjoyable interview.

Another story about my book has recently appeared in the New Jersey Courier Post:

Local author pens 'Simpsons' science book

Friday, July 27, 2007

Moe's in Springfield

Today offered a perfect Simpsons experience. I caught the 9:30 AM showing of the movie, which I thought was amazing! For the most part, the film managed to capture the magic of classic episodes of the series.

Then I went to Moe's in Springfield (Pennsylvania) for the genuine Simpsons experience. It's run by a Simpsons fan named Chris, and has Simpsons murals everywhere, and "Duf beer" on tap. (The single "f" in "Duf" is probably for avoiding trademark infringement.)

At Moe's today there was a 5 hour radio broadcast with Philadelphia's legendary rock DJ, Andre Gardner of WMGK. He has one of the most extensive Beatles record collections I'm aware of, and chooses selections from these every Sunday for "Breakfast with the Beatles." Here's a photo of the event (with Andre holding a copy of my book), taken by V.R. Morales:

Thursday, July 26, 2007

From D'oh to Dudley: How Science and the 'Simpsons' Became a Match Made in Heaven has an interesting story about Science and the Simpsons, which includes interviews with Dudley Herschbach, Michio Kaku, Rob Baur, Al Jean and me:

From D'oh to Dudley: How Science and the 'Simpsons' Became a Match Made in Heaven

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

If You Love Science Like Homer Loves Doughnuts

Philadelphia City Paper recently selected my book as an "Arts Agenda Pick," calling it a "fun, superbly, nerdy read." Here's a link to the story:

In the Event That... You Love Science Like Homer Loves Doughnuts

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Interview with Technica Magazine

Powell Bookstore's Technica science magazine recently interviewed me about my interests and background and has published my responses online. Here's a link:

Technica Q&A

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Plopper the Pig

Could Plopper the Pig, also known as Spider Pig, be the runaway favorite character in The Simpsons Movie? Perhaps it's time for pigs to enjoy a revival. I'm sure Miss Piggy would agree!

As a PBS special "The Joy of Pigs" points out, pigs have a surprising allure.

The Joy of Pigs

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Meet the Geeks

From Seed Magazine, a look at the scientific backgrounds of some of the show's writers:

Meet the Geeks: A Chat with the Science-Savvy Writers Behind The Simpsons and Futurama

Multi-eyed Monstrosity

The Simpsons Crazy site reports that there may be a new secret character in The Simpsons Movie that is a multi-eyed monstrosity in the proud tradition of Blinky.

Ned Flanders seems to be saying, "Hi-dily-ho Multi-Eyed Neighborino!"

The Girl Can Write

Canadian blogger Lorette C. Luzajic, whose blog is called "The Girl Can Write," has written an interesting overview of books about The Simpsons:

Awaiting The Simpsons: The

Here's her mention of my book:

"don’t miss out on Paul Halpern’s What's Science Ever Done For Us: What the Simpsons Can Teach Us About Physics, Robots, Life, and the Universe. It would be Lisa’s favourite of the bunch, providing a guide to science themes in our favourite show. It illuminates objective realities that get lost in our subjective cultural analyses and teaches us about genetics (is Homer dimwitted by genes?), nuclear power, and the colonization of Mars."

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Three-Eyed Haddock and Other Fishy Tales

Perhaps some of you saw the New York Times item:

"The oddest fish in the sea… a haddock caught off Boston, which was found to have three perfect eyes, the third in the middle of the head."

For those of you who don't recall the story, don't worry, because it appeared in the paper eighty years ago!

Was the optically-gifted haddock one of Blinky's remote ancestors? Or was there something fishy about the whole tale?

The answer is....

revealed in my book (sorry no spoilers allowed!)

Friday, July 6, 2007

Homer's Last Theorem

There is a great website about mathematics on the Simpsons, run by Dr. Sarah J. Greenwald, Appalachian State University and Dr. Andrew Nestler, Santa Monica College. It features fun discussions of how the writers on the show spent considerable time developing inside jokes about mathematical theorems that would flash on the screen for just a few seconds. Ah, the joys of geekiness!

Check it out at:

Science, Simpsons and Procrastination has a story with the intriguing headline "Science, Simpsons and Procrastination."

Wow, three of my favorite things!

If you can make it past all the commercials, you may find this entertaining:

Science, Simpsons and Procrastination

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Book Signing Tour

I'm gearing up for a book signing tour in support of:

What's Science Ever Done for Us? What The Simpsons Can Teach Us About Physics, Robots, Life, and the Universe.

So far, my schedule is confined to the mid-Atlantic region of the US, but if any of you have extra airline tickets lying around that you don't need, I'd love to visit other places too :)

Please join me, if you can, at any of these events:

Friday, July 13, 9:00 PM, Shore Leave Science Fiction Convention, Baltimore

Sunday, July 22, 12:00 PM - 5:00 PM, XPoNential Music Festival, Camden, New Jersey

Monday, July 23, 7.30 PM, Barnes and Noble, Downtown Philadelphia

Thursday, August 2, 7:00 PM, Barnes and Noble, 82nd and Broadway, New York

Sunday, July 1, 2007

An Animated Education

According to researchers at the Institute for Science Education in Scotland, the Simpsons, Star Trek and other television shows with scientific content offer a great way of teaching science to kids. Perhaps it's not surprising that kids are more likely to pay attention to lessons learned in cartoons and adventurous science fiction than through pure lecturing. An article about this educational research appeared in The Scotsman:

Simpsons a Scientific Revelation

Mmm, Donut-shaped Universes

What is the shape of space? Does the universe extend indefinitely, like an endless plain, or does it have limits?

A new theory of space proposes that if you travel in any direction for a sufficient time you'll end up back where you started. It's like the behavior of the pieces in the classic video game Pac Man; whenever a blob disappears from the left it reappears on the right and vice-versa. Mathematically, such an interconnected space is called a "toroid" or donut-shape.

You can trace two different kinds of circles around a donut (with icing perhaps) showing the ways it is connected: a big ring around the outer edge and smaller circles that pass through the hole. Three-dimensional space, if it is indeed toroidal, would have three perpendicular ways of traveling around it. Light would take many billions of years, however, to complete such circles, if it could do so at all.

Scientists are currently examining the fine details of the cosmic microwave background--the relic radiation leftover from the Big Bang--to figure out if and how the universe connects up with itself. Could we living in a colossal donut or something more like flatbread?

Curiously, in the Simpsons television series, Homer proposed his own donut-shaped universe theory. It was on an episode where Cambridge physicist Stephen Hawking guest-starred. Hawking humorously remarked, "Your idea of a donut-shaped universe intrigues me Homer; I may have to steal it."

Indeed, the long-running animated series has numerous references to astronomy, physics, math and other fields. Many of the show's writers have scientific backgrounds and try to mix in science with the humor.

Explore donut-shaped universes, androids, aliens, time-travel, invisibility devices, teleportation and other amazing science on the Simpsons in my new book:

What's Science Ever Done For Us? What the Simpsons Can Teach Us About Robots, Life, and the Universe

Invisible Ray

Could science ever produce invisibility cloaks, as in Harry Potter or Wells' Invisible Man? When Ray Romano visited The Simpsons, in the 16th season episode "Don't Fear the Roofer," Ray was invisible to everyone in Springfield but Homer. Could rays be invisible in real life?

Remarkably, Dr. John Pendry of Imperial College, London, has been investigating what are called "metamaterials" that possess the strange property of diverting light. Possessing negative indices of refraction that make light bend opposite to its usual fashion, such metamaterials redirect rays around objects in such a way that these bodies cannot be seen at all. Could it be that invisibility cloaks are just around the corner? Who could have seen that coming?

Swirling Legends from the Southern Hemisphere

Do sinks and bathtubs in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres drain differently? In the Simpsons episode "Bart vs. Australia" Lisa claims that they do because of what is called the Coriolis Effect. Is that fair dinkum (for real)?

I asked Australian physicist Joe Wolfe, an award-winning science educator, to imagine what he would say to Bart and Lisa if they visited him at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. Here's how he pictured such a scenario:

"G'day Bart and Lisa! Delighted to meet you.

So, water in the bathtub. As you've come all this way, let's take some time to look at this carefully. Sydney is suffering a drought at the moment, but in the interests of science, let's put several centimeters of water in the bath, the sink and the hand basins at my place. We'll also put these pieces of wire in the plugs so that we can pull them out without disturbing the water. Now let's go across to Coogee Beach and catch a few waves while we leave the water settle -- we're allowing any currents caused by filling the basins up to die away..."

What do Bart and Lisa discover when they return??

Find out the rest of the story and the surprising answer to the Australian draining mystery in:

What's Science Ever Done For Us? What the Simpsons Can Teach Us About Robots, Life, and the Universe

The Simpsons Can Boost Your Mental Health

An Australian psychiatrist and a director/cinematographer will be presenting a conference report on how watching The Simpsons affects viewers' understanding of mental health issues. See the following story for details:

The Simpsons Can Boost Your Mental Health

The Evolution of Homer Sapiens

The Simpsons episode, "Homerazzi," that recently aired in the US has a fantastic couch scene, brilliantly tied into evolutionary science. The scene begins with Homer as a single-celled organism swimming beneath the primordial ocean. Each time the cell divides it screams out "D'oh," until we witness a cacaphony of these cries. Eventually it evolves into a Homer-fish, then a Homer-amphibian that cautiously crawls onto land. The pace picks up, and then we see the first Homeroid (Homer Sapiens, perhaps) slouching on two feet. A succession of Homers in history follows, including Victorian Homer. Finally modern Homer arrives at his sacred couch and joins his family.

The punchline: Marge scolds him: "What took you so long!!!"

Eat My Lab Coat

Prolific science writer Michael Gross, author of Light and Life and numerous other books and articles (and a regular contributor to Chemistry World), wrote a terrific article in the Guardian back in 2003 called "Eat my Lab Coat" about the value of watching the Simpsons for its science. Here's a link:

Eat My Lab Coat by Michael Gross.

He maintains an intriguing blog that spans topics ranging from biochemistry and politics to Shakira. Check it out:

Prose and Passion

What's Science Ever Done For Us?

I'm pleased to announce that my new book on the science and humor behind classic Simpsons episodes is now available:

What's Science Ever Done For Us? What the Simpsons Can Teach Us About Robots, Life, and the Universe

It features amusing scientific discussions of questions raised on the long-running series such as:

* Does Lisa possess the dreaded "Simpson gene?"
* Are there really three-eyed fish?
* Could radiation cause Mr. Burns to glow?
* Does the Coriolis force affect household appliances?
* Is Homer truly a man of many dimensions?
* Could a fully conscious robot brother replace Bart?
* What could a talking astrolabe tell us?
* Which prominent scientists have appeared on the show?
* If Springfield and the world are threatened with destruction is there hope for the human race?
* Could the entire universe be shaped like a donut?

Many of the Simpsons writers have scientific backgrounds and have included intriguing references to their fields in a number of episodes. "What's Science Ever Done For Us?" is an entertaining guide to these issues, just in time for the upcoming Simpsons Movie.