February 2009 Archives
February 27, 2009
For the record — and since the irregular reader might take my previous post to be somewhat, er, rude about the British Council — I had a blast on Wednesday. A bunch of International Climate Champions have this week gathered in Edinburgh for a week of workshops run by Laura and Sarah. They roped me in to do some media and journalism stuff on Wednesday, mostly (I think) to give themselves a break.
It was… interesting. It’s very hard to pitch that sort of thing, given that all one knows about the participants is that their backgrounds vary and their ages range from ‘late high school’ through to ‘recent graduate’. Hence, they span just about the fastest rate of change of knowledge one ever achieves.
So I think my workshop was perhaps a little simplistic. On the other hand, I don’t think basic journalism is rocket science, and sometimes it’s important to be reassured that the bit you need to know really isn’t any more complex than bearing in mind a couple of handy maxims.
Anyway, the really important part of Wednesday was nothing to do with me; the British Council had arranged an afternoon visit to the Scottish Parliament. 50 of us were, it transpired, too large a group for most of their rooms, so we convened in… the debating chamber. Ah, OK, that was cool. The Scottish Minister for Climate Change, Stewart Stephenson, did a cracking job of speaking little and listening lots.
The most significant aspect, however, was that the visit happened at all. When you’re 17, the idea that decision-makers are just older versions of you is completely gob-smacking. It was lovely to watch the realisation dawn on so many faces.
Climate Champions: great project. Sure, it struggles with being trapped in the sort of baroque structure favoured by any globe-spanning organisation — but that doesn’t stop it being a terrific thing to do. Finding exceptional individuals and bringing them together is rarely a bad idea.
February 22, 2009
“The effort [of writing] is too much to make if one has already squandered one’s energies on semi-creative work such as teaching, broadcasting or composing propaganda for bodies such as the British Council”
Recently, I’m spending chunks of time more-or-less teaching; in the past, I’ve done lots of broadcasting, and I continue to do the web equivalent; on Wednesday I’m working for the British Council.
It’s a relief to know I’m in good company in finding such endeavours detrimental to my general creativity. The concept of ‘semi-creative’ work, meanwhile, is one I shall shamelessly appropriate.
February 17, 2009
One of the things television engineer Jem Stansfield and I have spent many a happy hour sketching is a reaction-thrust flight system using water as the propellent. We had all sorts of plans, but could never quite convince ourselves it was worth doing on, say, Scrapheap Challenge.
I’m rather delighted, then, to see the JetLev Flyer. A 100+ horsepower pump, housed in a little boat, shove water up a hose and into a backpack at stupid pressures. Which you then use to blast yourself upwards.
It’s ridiculous, but apparently it works — video here. Brilliant.
Oh, and the Telegraph are all over the story again. They’re hot today.
Congrats to the Newcastle Science Festival team first on their dashing new website, and also for their neat little splash story which has gone a bit bonkers this morning — they’re running a survey to see if Geordies really do go out without their coats more often. A delightful bit of fluff which the Telegraph appear to think is proper, serious science. Scientists don’t have a sense of humour, obviously. The story also made the Sun.
[Update: BBC Look North piece. Yay!]
Secondly, Bletchley Park hosted a twittering geeks meetup yesterday, which I wish I could have joined. @StationX is Our Man Inside Christian Payne/Documentally; Sue Black is also campaigning on Bletchley’s behalf; she has an article in today’s, er, Telegraph. I’m not a fan of that article, as it happens, but don’t let it put you off signing the petition.
Congrats to the Galaxy Zoo team for Galaxy Zoo 2, new today. Alongside the Twitter stream for the Mars Phoenix lander, this is up there amongst my favourite online science engagement projects. More, they’re doing real science with it rather than ‘just’ communication.
There’s an excellent summary of what’s happened so far, from which you’ll find links to papers current and future.
February 15, 2009
While I’m on the subject of crappy-but-oh-so-polished American sci-fi shows:
Heroes. Really, does anyone care any more? At this point, the best possible outcome would be for the whole thing to be some grandiose arthouse piece that’s deliberately going to loop back on itself, so at the end we’re not merely apparently back where we started, but actually back where we started, to the very last detail.
Or maybe that already happened. Twice. I lose track.
Battlestar Galactica, meanwhile: aw, sheesh. The show’s always lurched from ‘astonishingly bold and fabulous’ to ‘oh, for heaven’s sake, this is awful’. Often within the same scene. By the end of last week’s episode I was almost willing to give up on it; this week I’m glad I didn’t, because the cylons are back. I’ve said it before, but like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park the cylons are much more rounded, believable, and internally-consistent characters than the humans.
When they have a mutiny they really go for it. They don’t play it out in barely 60 minutes then pick up next week as if nothing had happened. Ahem.
It’s that inconsistency of pacing that really bugs me. Somewhere, in all the B-roll and discarded scenes and rough cuts, there’s an outstanding, epic, triumphant series. Filtering through the 48-minute/four ad-break structure, however, the producers have only ever managed to coax glimpses of that show. What we get, then, is a tantalising impression of what might have been, but tragically isn’t.
Five episodes to go, and I’m sticking with it. I’ve come too far not to, now. And at least I know it finishes, unlike that dross Heroes, which could already be recycling plot elements for montage-show repeats, for all the sense it makes.
Actually, that would explain a lot.
For what it’s worth, I find myself tending towards the opinions expressed at the yellow/red end of the reviews gathered by Metacritic. Opening episodes are never straightforward — too many characters, too much exposition — so maybe I’ll dip back in around show five and see if it makes any more sense.
Positives? Dushku is surprisingly good. Also: this was the second stab at an opening episode. I’m hoping the execs meddled more here than in the rest of the series, and left Whedon to get on with the rest of it.
I should know, by now, that when an old TV chum calls and begins, all a-fluster, “I need your help…”, I should:
a. Run away. Or, failing that:
b. Insist on a contract before saying anything even vaguely helpful.
Having not learned this lesson, a show on which I did a bit of ad-hoc (also: mostly unpaid and entirely uncredited, ahem) consulting is on BBC2 tonight, Richard Hammond’s Engineering Connections. 2030. It’s also on at 1900 tomorrow, oddly. Or you might have seen it last year on National Geographic.
It’s not half bad, actually. Certainly, compared to where they were a couple of weeks before shooting, it’s ruddy amazing. Props to director Kenny Scott, firstly for calling foul on the turgid script he inherited, and secondly for pulling off what was more-or-less a completely different concept, in a month.
I may be miffed with the production company, but in their defence they did let Kenny go ahead with his piano-and-bike-pump concept that became the show’s centrepiece. Eighteen months on from my involvement, what really smarts is that somebody else thought of that before I did.
Watch the show. They need the ratings, and who knows, they might get the format right if there’s a second series.
Oooh, hello. This thing’s still working, then? That’s good.
Busy times. SciCast continues apace. Yes, I know it’s a few days since I uploaded any more films, I’ve been working on the site for our judging panels. It’s a separate/hidden site, so don’t bother going looking for it. Heck, there are passwords, secret handshakes, and quite likely monsters, too.
Last Monday saw the first Scottish Science Communicators’ Conference, organised by Glasgow Science Centre. The penny-dropping moment as people who’ve previously been isolated realise they’re part of a broad community never gets old. I did a workshop in the morning, took photos in the afternoon — coming soon to my Flickr stream — and chatted to a bunch of folks in the evening, including the very entertaining Richard Wiseman.
Wednesday I was at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh running a video skills workshop for their public engagement staff and a couple of interested researchers. It was a somewhat intense day, but a heap of fun — they’re a capable and enthusiastic bunch. We bashed around a few ideas for a new project they’re running, and I think found a workable way of doing it. In fact, I rather got the feeling that I earned my keep for summarising everything into eight words. I like days like that.
Thursday and Friday I spent in part trying to double my media drive space. As of today, I have an external chassis, four terabyte drives, and an eSATA ExpressCard that’s 48 hours late. But that’s another story, for another time.
February 6, 2009
February 2, 2009
I should probably retweet this, but until I integrate the Action Streams stuff with the main page, not so many of you will see it. Oh, actually — more people follow me on Twitter than read this blog, come to think. Ah, well, too late to back out now.
Incidentally, they’re saying that South-East England has had the heaviest snow it’s seen in 18 years. Funnily enough, I was working in London, the winter of 1991. We had a couple of inches, and all the transport packed in. So I shoved my walking boots and woolly hat on, and walked in to the lab: Kilburn to Piccadilly. Central London was almost completely shut down. Oxford and Regent Streets were empty, barely anyone bothered.
The lab was shut, so I spent the day hopping between the few shops that were open, looking for a dinner suit in the January sales. I’m still caught out by how badly London copes with a little snow; I’ve never thought of a couple of inches as being anything much. Ah, well.