Carried in on a Litter

By Phil Plait | May 11, 2005 11:13 pm

Note added Thursday, May 12: Oops! I forgot to mention, the Eighth Skeptics Circle of blogs has been posted at Pharyngula’s place. And in keeping with my own blog entry below– nyah nyah, mine’s mentioned first!

This has been quite a week for me. Bear with me; I have a point to make, though not a terribly serious one.

First, I did a series of on-camera interviews for a telecourse I am helping edit. Basically, it’s like a TV series to accompany a well-known astronomy textbook; students watch the show to supplement the material in the book. I was hired to help edit the scripts– fact-check, add color commentary, that sort of thing.

There are many famous astronomers interviewed for the program, but sometimes we find later that there are some holes, some topics that we missed, and we need another on-camera talking head to verbiate and plug those gaps. I volunteered to do that, and we did the shots the other day. A crew consisting of the scriptwriter and the transcriber/editor/jane-of-all-trades came to my house to do the filming, and we spent a fun morning getting a bunch of interviews shot. I enjoy doing this sort of thing. It’s a bit like the blog; I get to ramble a bit, shoot off my mouth, except this time it’s on video and I can make silly faces and gesticulate a lot.

Then, that night, an interview I did for Penn and Teller‘s TV show on Showtime, called, ah, something I can’t print here and remain family friendly, finally aired. It was on the Moon Hoax, and I was worried I might look foolish, but in fact it turned out pretty well.

Then, the next day (today!) I did a radio interview. I also got an email asking me if I’d be interested in talking on TV about NASA’s upcoming Deep Impact mission. We haven’t worked that out yet, but still!

And what the heck, I’ll abandon any pretense of false modesty here and also say that I was very pleased with the feedback on my blog entry about science and why it’s cool. I wasn’t sure how it would float, and I was mildy surprised and very happy so many people liked it.

So it’s been quite a week, as I said before. This kind of stuff can easily go to one’s head.

I am not what you’d call a celebrity, really. I won’t be falsely modest, here– I loathe that sort of coyness and find it very insincere. I’m just being honest. A lot of people know about my site and all, and I’ve been on radio and TV and all that. I like to say that I’m famous among a very small group of people. My wife has a co-worker who said it much more concisely. He said I’m “secretly famous”. I love that phrase. The irony suits me.

But it’s funny- I go to skeptic meetings and such, and get treated like a celebrity. People stop me in the hall, I sign autographs in my book, things like that. It was pretty embarrassing at first, but I understand it– I still have my own heroes, and sometimes I can’t believe I get to hang out with folks like James Randi, Michael Shermer, and duh, Penn and Teller. So I understand the idea of celebrity fandom, though when I’m on the receiving end it feels… hmmm, "blasphemous" is the wrong word, but it’ll do.

I can see where some celebrities get full of themselves and lose touch with reality (cough cough J-Lo cough cough). I’m in no danger of that, but still… as a trained scientist, I have to allow for the possibility. So I have a failsafe mechanism, a tried-and-true device that will ensure I never get a big head. Are you ready? This is heady stuff:

I make sure I use scoopable cat litter for my cat, Gizmo.

And I also make sure it’s flushable. Nothing, and I mean nothing puts you back in your place like scooping redolent, fetid cat crap into a pie plate, walking it down the hall, and flushing it down the toilet. No matter how late I get home from some invited lecture, I always stop in the laundry room and scoop. I am, in the end, a slave to my cat’s somewhat inefficient digestive system.

As long as my cat is alive, I’ll stay grounded. Maybe we should make sure all our politicians have cats like mine. This country would be a better place.


Comments (22)

  1. Wow you have been busy!
    where do you get the time to do all this?

  2. Michelle Rochon

    A busy week! That must be pretty interesting… But I wasn’t expecting that text’s ending… 😛

    Simple things DO keep you in touch with reality. That’s the problem with big celebrities, they DON’T do simple things anymore. They buy an automated dishwasher that takes the dirty dishes off your table the second you’re done eating and washes it in 20 seconds! Well… that probably doesn’t exist. But you get the point. They don’t wash the dishes then put it in the dishwasher like us (I always found that ironic. Rinse the dishes, then put it in the dishwasher…).

    Do they wash their cars? Mow their grass and curse at that motor which won’t start up? Or hum… do they clean their kitty’s litter? Most likely not.

  3. hale_bopp

    I am a cat person…cute little guy.


  4. Jesse

    See, as I see it, there are 3 kinds of celebrities, A list, B list, and C list.. and as I see it you are a C list, which is the best list to be.

    ‘A’ list are the usual hoopla of hoi polloi. ‘B’ list are those unrespected folks who make trash regardless of their intentions. But C list are usually genuinely creative and/or intelligent folks whom have something to contribute, but due to their stance on things they will never garner true wide spread noteriety/acceptance/respect.

    But again, I could be totally wrong about this…..

    Regardless, keep up the good work.

  5. Hey!

    I used to be a regular visitor to the BA site but haven’t been there in a while (though I did pick up your book). Then the other night I’m watching Showtime and there you are! –I like Penn & Teller’s attitude and skepticism but sometimes they lose their best points in their snarkiness–

    So I went back to BA and lo and behold, you have a blog! A natural fit for your web presence, it seems to me. I’ll blogroll you and start reding regularly. Keep up the good work!


  6. monolithfoo

    Hey I too saw you on Penn & Teller’s show. I’d TiVo’d it and was watching really late… but I HAD to wake up my wife and do a ‘see See SEE, IT”S HIM!’. In hindsight I’m suprised I didn’t get more brusing :).

    Great job btw. If you are interested There are a few video blogs cropping up. There used to be a great show called ‘The Screen Savers’ that is unfortunately no more. But there was this guy on it named ‘Kevin’ that also did some internet amature video stuff… I think he still does. Mostly about tech tho. It was at Also I just found

  7. Nigel Depledge

    Yep, that’ll keep you in touch with reality. I don’t think I’ve encountered anything that smells worse than a cat’s litter tray (especially if the cat has …. how shall I put it? … an upset tummy). Actually, come to think of it, there’s a substance called ethane dithiol that smells really foul … but that’s the only thing I’ve encountered that smells worse.

    BTW, BA, I tried to follow your link to the website of Penn & Teller’s show, only to find it is only accessible from the US. What’s that all about?

  8. Oh, you’re a foreigner? We’ll need a sample of your brain tissue first. :-)

    I have no idea why that would happen. You’d have to take it up with the folks at Showtime. Sorry.

  9. Say, do you know about Wikipedia? I noticed when you link stuff its often to university websites, but Wikipedia can explain a lot concisely as well. I was just curious though, or was wondering if you contributed.

    Plus, there’s nothing easier to correct (or if its totally correct, be lauded for) than an open source encylopedia!

  10. Nigel Depledge

    The BA says:
    “Oh, you’re a foreigner? We’ll need a sample of your brain tissue first. ”

    That should be easy enough: I’ve left pieces of my mind in replies to several of your blog entries. :-)

    Yes, I’m a foreigner as far as the USA is concerned (I’m British). I don’t understand why this would make me an unsuitable audience for P & T’s website. Do they include frequent cultural references that would be lost on people from outside the US? Because we have no contact whatever with US culture here in the UK (said with a tone of amused irony).

  11. Glugg

    BA: good to hear that you make sure that your head doesn’t grow. You have all the reason to pat yoruself on your shoulder though. You’re the Carl Sagan of the web, man! The stuff you’ve written here on your site is what inspired me to study physics in the first place…

    So, anyway… if you ever come to Sweden, drop by at my house and go for a walk with my dogs. Picking up dog poo from the streets is bound to get you down to earth too – belive you me…

  12. Mendel

    awwww, cute cat I would reply with cat pics of my own but since I can’t do that, I’ll just give a link to some of the cutest… (oh btw I’m not advertizing, I just genuinely feel those kittens are cute :)

  13. aiabx

    Let it go to your head. You’re doing good work. In a world where Paris Hilton and Tom Cruise can be famous, we *need* you. You are one of the intelligent celebrities. Penn, Teller and Randi can’t do it alone.
    -Andy B

  14. Maruuga

    Speaking of Paris Hulton… when will the secret Bad Astronomer sex tape be released…?

  15. Enzp

    Your kitty looks like mine, including a propensity to perch.

    But as you climb up from C list, you can have your people do the cat thing for you. You do have people don’t you?

  16. Bad Astronomer is a great astronomer, but he’s too much of a PC sissy to print the word bad word deleted. Talk about mincing words. But, as everyone knows, exposure to any profanity turns our children into violent killers.

  17. You are entitled to your opinion, Francois Tremblay, but on my site I call the shots, and I prefer not to be the one exposing kids to bad language.

    And calling me a “sissy”? Are you serious?

  18. Nigel Depledge

    Francois Tremblay: very interesting point. Of course, many of the words that are considered profane today were just words like any other as recently as 200 years ago. In the past (most particularly pre-Victorian ages), it was far more profane to use a word like “Crikey” (a contraction of “Christ kill me”) than to use certain words that refer to the reproductive process. Yet today the situation is reversed.

    Also, you are, of course, being sarcastic in your comment about children becoming killers if exposed to profanity. The problem is both smaller and larger. Smaller, because children and teenagers who constantly use profane language are not very pleasant to be around and are hindering their ability/opportunities to develop social skills; larger, because it is so much more widespread than death by violence.

  19. time to close this thread BA. Someone let a “Heaven’s Gate” dude in…It will sometimes happen when you leave the door open for to long. 😉

    Exellent Blog, Keep up the great work!

  20. I’m sure you won’t see this, Phil, but I felt compelled to add a post little more than three years after the last one :-) What make/model/brand of kitty litter do you use? I’ve seen regular (e.g. clay-like) flushable litter and scoopable, yet non-flushable litter, but not both scoopable and flushable. So whaddya use?! – g^2

    P.S. As the Chief Poop Scooper of a dog day care, as well as managing the aforementioned litter box for three cats, apparently I’ll be well-grounded until I’m in-grounded. . .

  21. Cyn

    That’s too cute Phil!

  22. I don’t own a cat.

    My cat – a black & gold tortoiseshell named Zosma after Delta Leonis (click my name for more info) – owns me. 😉

    Actually so does my dog. Durnnit, how’d I end up being bottom of the pack in my own house?! 😮

    PS. Zosma loves getting right up in my face between me and the keyboard when I’m on the computer – she’s sleeping now in the *good* computer chair beside me.


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