Five years. That’s how long I’ve been blogging, and that’s how long it’s taken me to get around to writing an ‘About…’ blurb for this site. This is more than a little ridiculous, and probably a tad counter-productive given that some really rather interesting people have cropped up in the comments here on occasion, and they’re quite likely to have thought ‘who the heck is this oik and why am I reading his ramblings?’ Well, now they can find out.
But equally, most of you know full well who I am, what I do, and all that (and yet still you’re reading… maniacs). In the interests of helping both audiences, the actual ‘About’ bit is after the break:
On the day I left my hometown of Hull, the local newspaper’s headline was ‘Historic Kipper Factory Razed to the Ground.’ I wasn’t responsible. After a year working at the Royal Institution in London, I read a degree in physics. Well, sort of – it involved rather more chemistry and physiology than is normal for a physics degree. And history. And philosophy. T’ch, Cambridge – what can you do, eh?
During my degree I did a smidge of research back in the RI’s labs, and helped run the student wing of the British Association. I occasionally claim to have been involved with Footlights, but frankly there’s not much evidence for that.
After graduating I consulted my friends’ ‘List of Types of People We Should Know From University.’ Since ‘civil servant’ and ‘research scientist’ were already taken, and ‘management consultant’ was rather over-subscribed, I took the only remaining entry: ‘Novelist.’ That hasn’t worked out. Yet.
TV career blah
I ended up applying for precisely one television job, and landed it mostly on the grounds that I could fix bicycles. Knowing about the history of science and being able to make props helped too: we made the original Adam Hart-Davis vehicle Local Heroes for BBC2 for a couple of years, then I met a guy in a pizzeria and went to Yorkshire TV to make a new children’s science show, The Big Bang. From there I stumbled into another children’s series, the venerable How2, and I ended up bouncing between the two series for the next few years, working my way up through the ranks. Somewhere in there I made a couple of specifically education series, one of which won an RTS Education Award.
Overall, I’ve made more science series for children than Johnny Ball. It was all rather lovely, until in 2004 factual children’s TV in the UK fell apart. The BBC cancelled all their shows (and still haven’t replaced them, as of early 2006), and The Big Bang died too. Only How2 continues, and the most recent series has been sitting on a shelf, ready for broadcast, for almost a year. It’s not clear exactly what happened; 2004 was a very strange year.
Looping back a bit, 2001 was an odd year also. I made Science Shack, another AHD series that should have become what Mythbusters is now, but didn’t for a variety of reasons. Immediately after that, I got dragged into a CITV Christmas show that was more-or-less an update of Swap Shop. In about three weeks I coded an online trading system featuring end-to-end hard encryption, and finally got it running with hours to spare… at 3am on Christmas Day. Not bad, considering that my original hosting provider pulled out at 10am on 23rd December.
In 2005 I made Mechannibals, a not-as-ghastly-as-you-probably-think-if-you’ve-seen-it (but still pretty bad) engineering challenge show; Scrap It!, a make&do series for Discovery Kids that was cheap, on-budget, and tremendous fun to make; and I wrote The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures for five.
When asked, I claim to make ‘popular science’ programmes. Experiments, demonstrations, engineering, comedy, historical sketches – they’re not documentaries, and they’re not ‘entertainment’ in the usual TV sense. ‘Rigorously factual and amusing to watch’ is the general idea. Some people seem to think this is a rather old-fashioned approach – I just think they’re sore because they’re no good at it. Both views may be correct.
Not TV blah
I’m a suspiciously general-purpose geek. I’m sporadically a photographer (and occasionally a half-decent one), but that’s taken a back seat while I mope about how tragically terrible my lenses are. I’m slowly getting back into cycling – I used to tour rather often, but the emphasis now is on ‘slowly,’ and my theories about packing for cycle camping haven’t been tested since the invention of Gore-Tex. Given half a chance I could be a total typography nerd (I’m a fan of Mrs Eaves and FF Maiola Pro), and I wish I knew more about buildings, trees, and rocks. I’m surprised how much I can remember about birds, however.
The computer end of my geekness is largely Mac-based. I’m a huge fan of OmniGraffle, NetNewsWire and Final Cut Pro. The current crop of social-ish web-ish apps interest me for their utility in the sorts of projects I do – that is, ones where small groups of people are brought together at short notice, to be highly creative, to very tight deadlines. Blogs, wikis, BaseCamp, SubEthaEdit – I’ve used them all in anger, in some cases for more than five years. One of these days I’ll find time to get into Rails, since there are a couple of things I’d like to do with it…
Current (March 2006)
As of this month, I’ve (temporarily?) turned my back on broadcast TV in the hopes of convincing NESTA that an utterly fantastic scheme I have is, indeed, so marvelously brilliant they simply have to throw a shedload of money at it. If I’m right, wonderful things could rise from the ashes of 2004. If I’m wrong… er… I’ll be very skint and looking for a proper job in a bit of a hurry, and a generation of kids won’t go into science and engineering even more than they’re not going to already.
Random stuff not covered above
For reasons that have never been adequately explained, I live in Glasgow. Which is in Scotland, is not in England, but is in the United Kingdom. I’m sorry if that’s confusing for some visitors, but I didn’t write European history.
The rest of my family now lives in Leeds, which is a bit of a shame since until a couple of years ago, so did I. I don’t see anything like enough of my niece and nephew.
Music? See my Last fm page. Right now, it’s listing my top ten artists as Franz Ferdinand, The Rolling Stones, Thievery Corporation, Tommy Guerrero, Morcheeba, The Go! Team, JTQ, The Greenhornes, Zero 7, and Stravinksy. Which is a pretty fair picture.
Books? Curiously few, of late – but in general rather many.
I’ve signed the Official Secrets Act (but can’t tell you why, durr); there are at least two other lines in my Special Branch file; there was once an arrest warrant out for me; one of the most dangerous things I’ve ever done was hand a can of Coke to a friend who’d just eaten an entire bag of extra-strong mints.
I’ll likely add more stuff here at some point, but for now I’m bored of narcissism.