Monthly Archives: June 2011

What a Week Out of this World!

I am about to start off on my US trip but wanted to post a blog about this week because a) if you want people to read your blog (and who doesn’t ?) then you have to post regularly and b) this will be the oddest couple of weeks that I have had.

It started off on Monday when I went to London to record the BBC Radio 4 show, “The Infinite Monkey Cage” with resident hosts, Robin Ince & Brian Cox and guests Andy Nyman (the creative genius behind Derren Brown & the West-End hit, “Ghost Stories”) and Prof Richard Wiseman(Britain’s best known psychologist). We talked about the science of the supernatural, why do some people believe and I brought along a dowsing bombdetector. I am only going to say that I had great fun and you can hear the show broadcast on July 4th in the UK.

Robin, comforted by Brian, gives birth while Richard assists with the delivery

Me & Jon about to go on

Then on Thursday, I did a gig with Jon Ronson who is currently touring with his current book, “The Psychopath Test.” This book is now in its 4th week in the New York Times bestseller list and Jon was in fine form. I heard Jon’s talk at the Cheltenham Science festival but this time it was more of interview and discussion in front of the 400+ audience at St. George’s in Bristol . I think we really got a banter going and all seemed delighted. I didn’t stick around afterwards as I wanted to go to a party and Jon was headed for Glastonbury the next day. I knew that there was something big going down in my neighbourhood.

I can’t say more about who was hosting the party or where it was but it was star-studded event with the likes of Damian Hirst, a bunch of movie people and of course, if you haven’t worked out from my Tweets, megastars U2, who were headlining at Glastonbury. And yes, I schmoozed shamelessly. I was delighted to discover that the Edge is a science fan. Bono liked my Dundee colloquilism of “Twa bridies and an inning in and aw” (translation: “Two savoury pastries please and an onion one as well”). Anyway, I had a blast but could not, and frankly did not, want to take photographs. The next night they rocked the Pyramid stage at Glasto and I experienced a distorted delusion of pride by proxy. How sad am I? And how cool was it that they did a live link to the orbiting International Space Station?

So now I am off to the US to do a bunch of work/fun related stuff in NYC but heading off to be a minor star of my own as the keynote speaker alongside one of the greatest living legends, Dr. Buzz Aldrin at the Llamasoft conference. I thought you’d appreciate this clip of Buzz demonstrating he has a sense of humour.

Name dropping? Yes, absolutely – guilty as charged. I will be talking about this celebrity cult status and how some of us seek out association with other famous individuals to validate our self-worth in my next book. Am I nervous about meeting Buzz? Yes. of course, but somehow this week is just shaping up fine.


Filed under book publicity, General Thoughts, In the News

A Wee Pee

An expensive leak

If you have ever been to a public swimming pool then I am pretty certain that you will have swallowed water with a very diluted sample of someone’s else’s urine. People, and especially young children pee in swimming pools. Normally no one gives it a second thought but when a Portland 21-year-old man urinated in the Mount Tabor reservoir, administrators decided to dump the water supply at a cost of $36,000.

I reckon that he probably produced no more than a third of a gallon whereas the reservoir holds 7.8 million gallons. Urine is relatively sterile and even if he had hepatitis, I am reliably informed that the virus would not survive long. And of course, in some cultures, drinking urine is considered therapeutic. I am not advocating that practice but emptying the reservoir is somewhat of an over-reaction by the authorities. What’s more is that dead animal carcasses regularly turn up in the reservoir and yet, the authorities do not take any actions. When asked about the decision to drain the reservoir, administrator David Shaff said,”Do you want to drink pee?” When pushed further on the scientific rationale, he retorted, “Answer the question. It has nothing to do with scientifically. Most people are gonna be pretty damn squeamish about that.”

This incident reveals the strength of essentialism as well as scientific ignorance. No wonder homeopathy is perceived as being effective.


Filed under In the News, Weird Story of the Week

The Flying Dutchman’s Ark Royal

Add to Shopping Basket

You have only got one month left to put a bid in for HMS Ark Royal that has been put up for sale on the internet. According to the website, the  former aircraft carrier is currently “in stock” but the price estimate is not available. Potential buyers are invited to view the Ark Royal though if they make a bid, they have to provide a brief outline of your intentions for the massive warship. Apparently, restocking and embargoing Hong Kong is not appropriate. It is most likely to be chopped up for salvage. Shame, seems it could be the ultimate rich boy’s toy boat.

Maybe Johan Huibers, an old world Dutch Christian should have considered buying the Royal Ark rather than embarking on a folly to recreate the biblical Noah’s Ark. At 3,000 tons and 450 x 75 feet wide, it is much smaller than the 10,000 ton, 630 by 110 feet Ark Royal. It will also probably end up costing him more (£1,000,000) than the scrap value of aircraft carrier. Still he is a man driven by the conviction that building a replica Ark will inspire people to follow the Old Testament. I didn’t think that even Christians believed the Ark myth anymore.

The Dutchman's Noah's Ark

He plans to sail the Ark into London for the Olympics next year and has asked Mayor Boris Johnson for permission. Knowing the tactfulness of our Boris, I expect he’ll say yes and then blast the boat out of the water with the de-commissioned guns off the Ark Royal. At least there should be a pirate boarding raid.


Filed under In the News

New College of Humanities Set to Put the Cat Amongst the Pigeons

Today we learned of the launch of the New College of Humanities founded by 14 leading academics and to be headed up by AC Grayling who is the first master of NCH. From looking at the website, it appears that this landmark in higher education has been very much driven by the silver-maned philosopher as much of the publicity and some of the staff appear to come from Birkbeck. The roll call of the professorate is very impressive and I am amazed that this was organized without any hints or rumours reaching the rest of academia. They include

It is a shame that there was not a stronger diversity and representation of female academics.  It also seems that despite the claims that their student staff ratio is going to very low for tutorial-based teaching, I could only find three teaching staff (2/3 are female). From what I can understand, most of the superstar academic professorial positions are honorary but Dawkins for example will be delivering some of the lectures. In what is a very convincing video summary, AC Grayling explains that the degree (affiliated with the University of London) will be built around three core units, 1. Logic 2. Scientific Literacy & 3. Ethics. Each student will have to pass an entrance interview and the expectation is that these are going to be the best of the best.
Of course, what really grabbed the headlines in the press today is that the NCH will charge £18,000 per year – double the current cap on University fees. How is the UK government going to respond? What about the rest of the Russell group of British Universities? Maybe NCH can get away with this initiative as its running costs are going to be comparatively low as it does not require the infrastructure of traditional universities that teach very expensive science courses.
In any event, this appears to be a very clear finger in the eye for the higher education policy makers and a challenge to capping tuition fees. I will be watching this space very closely.


Filed under General Thoughts, In the News

Brian’s Sea Cheese & Dugong Collider

I have a soft spot for sea cows especially the manatee when I first encountered them in Florida. One of these docile bohemoths of the sea, the dugong, is also one of Professor Brian Cox’s favourites.

Who says, physicists can’t be funny?


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Filed under General Thoughts