Making An Impact

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Those of you who follow my ramblings on Twitter as well as on this blog will have witnessed me get very over-excited by an online comic called 2D Goggles, or The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage. This elicited high levels of geek squee from me because it combines: a) Ada Lovelace, one of my scientific heroines; b) Charles Babbage (see a), substituting hero for heroine); c) Victorian steampunkery; d) Brunel (swoon); and best of all, e) copious interesting historical notes by the author of the comics, Sydney Padua, following each part, with some fascinating information about Lovelace, Babbage and the whole scientific and engineering ‘scene’ of the 19th Century.

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The Kate Bush Conjecture

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People may complain about the BBC (I certainly do from time to time), but one of the joys of a public service broadcaster is that they can produce shows which would never survive the hurly-burly, lowest-common-denominator world of commercial broadcasting. The Radio 4 programme More or Less is one such programme. It's about numbers, mathematics and statistics, and — while mathematics is certainly not my strong point, and I view statistics as a necessary professional evil — I love the show.

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iPhone version of Papers

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I'm a very keen user of Papers, the Mac software for collecting and organising a collection of journal articles and their associated PDF files. It never fails to impress colleagues when I pull it up and do a quick search to find some paper we've just been discussing. Now I won't even need to be in front of my computer to impress them, because Mekentosj have just released a version of Papers for the iPhone.

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Aurora photography

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I came across some spectacular photographs of the Aurora borealis on Astronomy North. I've been fascinated by the Aurora since I was a child, and it's a long-held ambition of mine to actually see it in person at some point (borealis or australis, I'm not fussy about my Auroras). I've been in Scotland a couple of times when there has been a brief display, but I missed it both times, which really annoyed me.

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Royal Institution Christmas Lectures 2008

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I've really enjoyed this year's Royal Institution Christmas Lecture series -- 'Hi-tech Trek: The Quest for the Ultimate Computer', given by Prof. Chris Bishop. For readers outside the UK, this is an annual lecture series on some aspect of science, primarily intended for children. I've watched some of the lectures in other years, and they are sometimes a bit patchy. However, I thought that Chris Bishop did a fantastic job of explaining quite difficult concepts, accompanied by the requisite number of explosions, feats of dare-devilry and maths problems disguised as magic tricks, and yet he avoided the trap of patronising the audience.

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LHC

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Like many other people, I was following the events surrounding the switching-on of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN yesterday with great interest. The BBC has had some quite good coverage, particularly The Big Bang Machine, however I felt a bit frustrated with some of the explanations. On all of the coverage of the LHC we learned that: It is 27 km in circumference It is cooled close to absolute zero (about -271°C) Twin proton beams will be accelerated to speeds very near to the speed of light The protons will then be collided, resulting in them being "

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Barefoot walking

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This is something I meant to post about ages ago, but forgot about. Via Denyerec, I read an article which suggested that going barefoot is healthier for your feet. It's a long article, but an interesting one, and confirms a suspicion I've had for a long time that shoes -- even sensible ones -- constrain your feet and make you walk in an unnatural way. The conclusion seemed to be that heavily padded shoes make people plant their heels down much harder than they would with bare feet, thus placing more stress on all the joints of the leg.

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Thinking with Tinderbox

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I've been trying to write another grant proposal recently (a seemingly Sisyphean task for academics), but I ended up a bit stuck. It was a collaborative idea that a colleague and I sketched out last year, but which -- for one reason or another -- ended up on the back-burner for a while. I was really struggling to pull it together. We had plenty of ideas, but I was having trouble rearranging and grouping them into a sensible structure and seeing gaps that needed to be filled.

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Twitching

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I took part in the RSPB Garden Birdwatch today, and spent an hour noting down the maximum number of each species of bird visiting the garden within the selected hour. As well as being quite fun, and a good way of encouraging people to notice the bird life going about its business in their gardens or local parks, it's also a scientific exercise, gathering important data about the temporal and geographic changes in species numbers.

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Quantum mechanics

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Quantum mechanics blows my mind. No matter how many times someone patiently explains (usually with the help of ping-pong balls) that it is possible for atom-sized objects to exist in two places at the same time, or to be both a particle and wave at the same time, I end up saying, "Wha... Bu...?" and looking gormless. Inside my head, my inner Scotty1 yells into an intercom "The engines cannae take it, Cap'n!

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