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July 7th, 2013

Public, like a frog

I spent eleven hours on Friday with a documentary crew from the BBC, to give them about five minutes of film for an upcoming documentary on our evolving sense of who we are in the universe. They were interested mostly in our Carte du Ciel telescope, which was used for the first photographic survey of the sky from 1890 - 1970.

I do not have high expectations of the program. From their description of where they planned to go with it, it sounds like yet another rehashing of The Same Old Stuff. Documentary filmmakers (with rare exceptions) are not secure in their knowledge of history – or perhaps, do not have sufficient confidence in their audience – to produce anything more than well packaged "common wisdom." It's not as much work to produce (or watch) a show that merely reinforces what you think you already know. Indeed, from that point of view, I have mixed feelings about lending my presence to the project. My major excuse for doing it is that, at least, the folks who see me for five minutes may become aware of the existence of a Vatican Observatory.

On the other hand, after my experience with them I came away with a much greater admiration for the crew and the presenter (Brian Cox) for their professionalism, attention to detail, and most of all their patience. Good footage really does need ten takes. If one day of this was long and exhausting to me, I can only imagine how grinding it must be to do this day after day; with the added worries about weather and budget and legal paperwork. I do not envy any of them their lives.

I did a brief tweet about their visit, and as a result I've gotten several dozen comments and retweets, mostly from total strangers who are Brian Cox fans. [edit: "several dozen" is now approaching 100.] Apparently they watch his shows because they like his hair. I likewise do not envy him that sort of attention.

In other news of unwanted attention, a friend of a friend has plowed through the deranged writings of the UFO kook I mentioned in an earlier post, going where I would not dare to tread. From his description of that guy's books and web sites, the writer is a full-bore charlatan. Among other things, I am told, he is offering as freebies when you buy his book, downloads of two of my books, including Brother Astronomer. They are, of course, under copyright. McGraw Hill might have something to say about that…



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