Monthly Archives: June 2012

Communication Woes: Every young couple in love… on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The other day a friend asked me what my favourite picture was.

I had to think for a few minutes. Hmm.

I have beef with some art. Sometimes I just don’t get it.

I once stood in the national portrait gallery looking at something abstract. I was trying to see the merit of it, to see if I could “get it”. I really was trying. But I found myself saying out loud, “Well, this is bollocks”.

I was more surprised when an older aristocratic looking lady standing nearby me, wearing a wide brimmed hat and matching dress, suddenly said “Yes. Yes, I think you’re right.” and walked off.

Aaanyway, that’s not really my point.

What I actually answered with was: The pale blue dot.

Now, if you’re a (big?) popular science fan, you probably already know what the pale blue dot is. But if you don’t “The pale blue dot” is a picture taken by Voyager-1 in 1990, when it was almost 4 billion miles from Earth. That’s it, just there on the right.

See that little bluish-white speck about half way up the brownish stripe?

That’s us. Everyone.

I’m thinking this picture is my test. But before I say more about that, let me quote the late Carl Sagan, who convinced NASA to take the picture. His words describe what this means far better than mine ever would. Continue reading


A Crisis of identity: Am I a scientist?

When meeting people for the first time, friends of friends, and that kind of thing, one of the questions most people ask, including myself is: and what do you do?



This very question has precipitated in me a sense of dread of late.

I’m no longer a working scientist. So, can I still call myself a scientist? I’ve yet to be published anywhere in print (it will happen I tell you!). Soooo, what am I? Can I call myself a science writer yet? I’m not sure. Do I have to be paid to do something before I can be called that? Where’s the rule book?

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The Infinite Monkey

Physics professors having comedic breakdowns trying to say a name, anxious producers, engineers of the tiny and general mirth.

That pretty much describes my Monday at the recording of the Infinite Monkey Cage.

Aside from the usual hosts of Brian Cox and Robin Ince (who it was generally agreed wasn’t angry enough… but was still very funny) we were joined by engineer and materials scientist Mark Miodownik, and the engineer Eleanor Stride. The third guest was an excellent bonus, in the form of the screen writer, director and comedian Andy Hamilton.

A moment of anxiety was enjoyed by all when I realised my blasé attitude – having been once before – meant that the queue I didn’t think was forming was indeed forming, but just round the corner …

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Being Ben Goldacre’d…


Retweeted by Ben Goldacre. Destroyer of bandwidth and blogs.

This little blog, which I originally wasn’t going to advertise especially, suddenly went from trundling along at about 20 views/day to a spike of 2.5k…

Do you know what that does to my visitor stats? Do you? It makes my normal stats imperceptible noise.

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