Sunday, March 21, 2010

Pheaturing Paul Parsons

Hello, welcome to a Sunday entry of the Phile. Thanks for stopping by. So, my wife just told me I am being replaced. The new sod is coming tomorrow. A little British humor there. The world’s smallest man passed away. He’s the guy that never sat in front of me at the movies.
Congress is getting ready to vote on President Obama’s healthcare bill. It’s going to be a close vote. House Democrats say it could be a real tickle fight. Sarah Palin is campaigning with John McCain for his reelection in Arizona. There’s an unbeatable combination. Did you have a good St. Patrick's Day? I drank my first bottle of green beer, and I felt horrible. It turned out to be Scope. We’ve had some great match-ups so far for March Madness. BYU vs. Florida; Old Dominion vs. Notre Dame; Obama vs. Fox News. One of President Obama’s childhood friends just found a photo of Obama as a schoolboy taken more than 40 years ago. It’s just him and some kids, playing little Barack’s favorite schoolyard game, “Give the Speech.” I don’t know if you guys knew this, but Obama was a great ball player when he was a kid. But naturally, the other team never let him pass anything. A Wal-Mart employee in Michigan was fired after he tested positive for medical marijuana. Customers at his store were like, "I knew the official greeting wasn't 'Wassup bro?'" So, I was at work yesterday and I looked up and was like whoa, that is the coolest thing ever! I almost wet myself with excitement. Sometimes I really love working for Disney! This is what I am talking about.

Yes, I am a geek. You know I love inspirational posters, right? Well, I found this one and I was very upset. I thought I was the only one that drew this. Guess I was wrong.

Okay, because it's Sunday, here is...

And now for the saddest news on the Phile.

Fess Parker
August 16, 1924 - March 18, 2010
Less Fess.
Peter Graves
March 18, 1926 - March 14, 2010
You ever been in a casket before, Joey?

The geek news has taken two extremes as of late. Now, as the summer season draws near, we're getting all kinds of little bites as some big movies move into production. The hunt for Captain America continues. HitFix reports that Ryan Phillippe has been called up for a screen test, and Deadline Hollywood Daily countered with a report that Channing Tatum had been invited to test. (So, basically they're looking at the entire cast of Stop-Loss.) DHD is practically claiming Tatum is a done deal if he just accepts the offer Marvel may give him. Variety reports that C2 Entertainment is adapting Red Eye Press' "Dana Valentine" series into a film. Valentine is an assassin who enjoys a typical contract killer's life, always in danger, ducking her past, endangering those around her. It turns out Mickey Rourke won't be the father of Conan the Barbarian. Vulture reports Rourke will take a part in Tarsem Singh's War of the Gods instead, and Ron Perlman will play Corin. Said Taghmaoui has also joined the cast as "a leader of thieves" who is saved by Conan, and joins his cause. Filming on Marcus Nispel's Conan is supposed to begin this week in Bulgaria. According to The Hollywood Reporter, young Dakota Goyo will be playing Hugh Jackman's son in Real Steel. He has Resurrecting the Champ and Defendor to his name, so it seems to be kismet he'd be hanging around with Wolverine in a boxing movie. If you want major spoilers on Thor, Captain America, and The Avengers, Latino Review has gotten very friendly with a secret Marvel source. Read at your own peril! Finally, MTV has the tale of how Christian Bale was almost Superman in Wolfgang Petersen's Batman vs. Superman, a Warner Bros film that would have pitted the two heroes against each other. "It was pretty close [to being made]," said Petersen. "And then the studio got a single Superman script I think from J.J. Abrams at that time, and [Warner Bros. chief] Alan Horn was so torn – because it's such a fascinating concept to do a Batman versus Superman film. And I still think it would be to do that. But the studio decided to try separate version of Superman and Batman, and then maybe think about down the road if you want to bring them together in one film." Geek Talk is sponsored by Heroes Landing, the coolest comic book shop here in Clermont. Check them out at

According to Biblical crackpot William Miller, Christ would return sometime in the year following this day in 1843. After Jesus failed to appear by the next March, Miller claimed it was the result of an arithmetic error and recalculated the deadline to be October 22, 1844. The Lord was AWOL on that date also.
In 1962, A bear becomes the first creature to be ejected at supersonic speeds.
The federal prison at Alcatraz is closed.
In 1976, David Bowie and Iggy Pop were arrested on suspicion of marijuana possession in New York. They were released on $2,000 bail. The charges were dropped.
Mobster Angelo Bruno killed with a shotgun blast to the head while he waits in his car after dinner. The Genovese family thus asserted Philadelphia's traditional claim to Atlantic City. His replacement is his former capo Phil "Chicken Man" Testa.
Actor Dudley Moore arrested for beating his girlfriend. Charges were dropped at her request and Moore married the foolish woman.
British police report that two shots were fired during a Nas concert at London's Brixton Academy. The audience panics and runs off, nobody is harmed. The gunplay occurs in spite of the presence of over 100 security staff members and security checks at the door. By the way, Brixton is where my dad is from.

Okay, today's guest is the author of the 6th book to be pheatured in the Peverett Phile Book Club, "The science of Doctor Who". He is the editor of monthly science and technology magazine BBC Focus, and has contributed popular science articles to publications ranging from the Daily Telegraph to FHM. He holds a DPhil in cosmology and is a lifelong worshipper of "Doctor Who". Please welcome to the Phile... Paul Parsons.

Me: Hello, Paul, welcome to the Phile. Congrats, sir, your book is the 6th book in the Peverett Phile Book Club. So, how are you?

Paul: Hi Jason. I'm very well, thank you. Nice to be here.

Me: You're based in England, right? Whereabouts?

Paul: I'm in Bath, which is a city down in the southwest corner of mainland England. I recently moved in to the city from Castle Combe, a nearby village which was used as a location for some of the scenes in the new remake of the Wolfman. My house was the apothecary shop!

Me: Let's talk about your book "The Science of Doctor Who". When did you decide to write this book?

Paul: Quite a while back, actually. It was in 2005, when the first series of the relaunched show, with Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor, was being broadcast over here in the UK. People had done the science of "Star Trek", the science of Star Wars and so on, and it just occurred to me that no one had actually done the same treatment for "Doctor Who". I'm lucky enough to have an agent who found a publisher interested, and the book was published in the UK in 2006. An updated US edition is currently being prepared for publication by Johns Hopkins University Press and which should be out over the course of the next few months.

Me: Are you a scientist, or is this just a hobby of yours?

Paul: I used to be a scientist. I was a research astronomer at the University of Sussex, which is down on the south coast of England, until about 1997. I got a little weary of working on the same thing day after day though and so made a sideways move into science journalism, writing articles for science magazines like New Scientist and Focus. It was great because I still got my fix of science every day, but got to see a wider cross section of the subject - and got to deal with all the exciting new discoveries.

Me: What are some of the things you explain in the book? Time travel, the TARDIS, the Doctor having two hearts?

Paul: Yes, they're all in there. As are regeneration, the Daleks - there's even a chapter on the science of glamorous assistants, which still makes me cringe each time I read it... One of the things I was quite surprised about when I was doing the research for the book was the sonic screwdriver. It turns out devices like sonic screwdrivers are already used for fixing parts together in modern factories. The idea is to make a focussed beam of sound waves which are then fired at the screw. The sound waves set up high-frequency vibrations in the screw, that cause it to rattle along in the direction of the screw threads to either tighten or loosen (the direction is controlled by rotating the beam). That’s the basic idea but it turns out that real-world sonic screwdrivers can do more than just turn screws – just like the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver. They can cut through metal and even solder electrical wires in place – in fact, that’s the main thing they’re used for in factories. The trouble is that these tools are really short-ranged, reaching for just a few thousandths of a millimetre. Upping the power so that the Doctor can use the screwdriver from a distance of a few tens of metres or so, as he does in the show, would require a hefty power source – much bigger than anything the Doctor could fit in his pocket.

Me: Do you think time travel is possible?

Paul: Well, in actual fact people have found that it already is possible. Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity showed that if you travel really fast - close to the speed of light - then what happens is that time actually slows down. So, for example, if I got on a spaceship and flew off at close to lightspeed for say a year I might come back and find that two years have passed on Earth. So effectively I’d have travelled a year into the Earth's future. And scientists have actually managed to prove that with experiments. But that’s going into the future. What’s even more interesting is travelling into the past. The scientists say even that might be possible. They imagine things called wormholes, which are tunnels through space and time, which they say with a little jiggery pokery can be turned into shortcuts to the past. Building one with today’s technology would be very difficult. But the fascinating thing is that they are theoretically possible – there’s absolutely nothing in science as we understand it to rule time travel out. And that’s amazing. So look out for those time travelling tourists from the future!

Me: I like to believe there's alternative worlds out there myself. What about you?

It's certainly possible. One interpretation of quantum theory is called the 'many worlds view' which says that every time some sort of event happens with several possible outcomes then there are parallel universes where all these various outcomes actually take place. So there are universes where John McCain is president of the US, universes where I'm interviewing you because you wrote the book, and universes where Elvis really is alive and well and living in an apartment in Denver. The theory goes on to say that it's a kind of 'interference' between these parallel universes that gives rise to the spooky effects of quantum theory, such as particles being in two places at the same time.

Me: Did the book take a long time to write, Paul?

Paul: No, it didn't. The UK publisher wanted to get the book out in time for David Tennant's first season as Doctor. Allowing time for the book to be produced and printed, and the time for contracts to be signed and all that, that gave me about three months. People say you often do your best work under pressure though, and sure enough in 2007 it was longlisted in the UK Royal Society Prize for Science Books!

Me: Have you been a "Doctor Who" fan all your life? I have since the Pertwee days. Who is your favorite Doctor?

Paul: Yes, pretty much as long as I can remember. Tom Baker was my Doctor – he of the awesome scarf. He now narrates "Little Britain", which I believe got an airing in the US a year or two back.

Me: To write a book like this and to have the TARDIS on the cover on the UK version, I am guessing you needed permission. Who did you get permission from? The BBC I am imagine.

Paul: That was what should have happened. They were a bit cross. We hadn't realised that the BBC had acquired the public call box as a trade mark from London's Metropolitan Police. So we changed the cover of the paperback which I think it looks better anyway, to be honest!

Me: Have you heard feedback from any of the folks involved with the TV show?

Paul: Colin Baker, who played the Sixth Doctor, loved it. I'd sent him a copy of the manuscript while it was in editing and he came back with a quote for the cover saying something like "there should be a copy in the glovebox of every Tardis", which was lovely!

Me: Sir Arthur C. Clarke wrote the intro to the book. Did you ask him personally, or did he offer? That is pretty cool he did it. He died in '08, right?

Paul: I asked him. This was back in 2005, when the first draft of the book was in production for the UK audience. I'd already interviewed him with my journalist hat on. So I just asked and he said yes.

Me: Did you ever read Michael White's book "A Teaspoon And An Open Mind"? I read reviews of your book, and everybody says yours is better.

Paul: I haven't actually read it, I must confess. Though I agree most of the reviews do seem to favour mine - sorry, Michael! Michael used to be in the Thompson Twins though (classic UK 80s band) so I think he still out-cools me, all things considered.

Me: Are you gonna be doing a lot of book signings behind this book, or any publicity over here in America?

Paul: I don't know what kind of marketing plan JHUP have for the book's release in the US. I did quite a lot of promotion in UK, talking at science festivals and centres, and to do the same in the US would be a lot of fun. There's still a lot of your country that I haven't seen yet too, so it would be really nice.

Me: Are you planning on writing another book, or was this just a one of? How about a book called "The Science of Fringe". That would really take a long time and a genius.

Paul: I've just finished writing another book actually. I'm not sure I'm allowed to discuss it ahead of all the marketing bumpf, but think along the lines of 'everything you always wanted to know about science but were afraid to ask'! I think it should be published in the US around November time. I haven't seen "Fringe", sadly. It always takes ages for good US SF to make it over onto UK terrestrial TV, but I'm sure it will soon.

Me: Are there any other sci-fi shows you watch? What about "Lost"?

Paul: No, I've not watched "Lost" either. I think I must be one of the few people who hasn't. I thought the first series of "Heroes" was awesome - though sadly it just seemed to gradually lose its edge in the seasons I saw that followed so I bailed out. Other shows... I'm a fan of "Buffy", "Star Trek" original series and "Next Generation" (not mad on the other spin-offs though). The UK series "Primeval" (time traveling dinosaurs) was terrific, but - as with all good things - it's come to an end, ie been cancelled!

Me: Thanks for taking time out to do this interview. Tell the Phile readers where they can get a copy, and I wish you luck. Let me know when your next project comes out, Paul. Take care.

Paul: It's a pleasure, Jason. "Science of Doctor Who" is published in the US by Johns Hopkins University Press in May/June 2010. Copies should be in most book stores and online. Though if you can't wait till then you should be able to import a paperback copy of the UK edition from

That does it for another entry of the Phile. Thanks to Wikipedia, and of course Paul Parsons for a really cool interview, and to Heroes Landing. The next entry of the Phile will be a week from Tuesday on March 30th with musician Kevin Rowe and the announcement of the seventh book in the Book Club. So, until then, spreads the word, not the turd. Bye love you bye.

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