Saturday, July 04, 2009

From The Old, Weird...

Two of my favourite musicians. They make a guest appearance in Cowboy Angels.

Happy Birthday, America

Friday, July 03, 2009

Advertisments For Myself, Part Whatever

I was interviewed for BBC Radio 4's Leading Edge as part of its investigation into public engagment with science. You can listen to the programme here (might not be available to people outside the UK).

And I have a short short story in the July/August issue of Discover magazine, as does Bruce Sterling. Despite a fairly elastic brief, we somehow both ended up writing about the end of Big Science. Are we onto something? Bruce's story is of course far wittier, but here's how mine begins (it's called 'Shadow Life' by the way):
It all started when Jack scored on eBay a multichannel femtospectrometer from a probe that never, in the end, went to Mars...

Thursday, July 02, 2009


A live jam* by Pink Floyd in the BBC studios during coverage of the Apollo 11 landing (by then, even the BBC had bought into the 60s). I watched the BBC coverage, but don't remember this - I assume it was transmitted after the LEM touched down and my sister, brother and I went to bed. A few hours later, my mother shook us awake: because Armstrong and Aldrin couldn't sleep, the moonwalk had been brought forward to 4 am British time.

An article in today's Guardian describes how the BBC nearly missed the crucial moment:
"I stayed in the studio, because I had nothing else to do, listening to the air-to-ground transmissions from Houston," says Burke [one of the presenters, long with Patrick Moore and [EDIT, see comments] Cliff Michelmore]. "And after about half an hour, Armstrong and Aldrin started doing the kind of thing you do if you're going to get out. So I went upstairs and said to the guys, 'Look - they're going to get out.' They all said, 'No they're not - the flight plan says they're not.' I said, 'Well, they're doing all the things they'd do if that was about to happen.'"

You can imagine the next bit being enacted amid a sea of paper cups and discarded scripts, in standard-issue BBC accents. "There was a long pause, and somebody said, 'You do understand that this means us broadcasting all night?' This had never happened before in the history of television. I said, 'Well, you know, if you want to cover it ...'

"They said, 'OK - but if we stay open and nothing happens, you'll never work again.' So we did it, and we had to go to Alexandra Palace." A car was called, and Burke sped to north London, where he readied himself to talk the viewing public through the images that would soon be relayed to Earth.

*EDIT The audio is a recording of the live jam; the video is a collage of various lunar excursions.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

A Little Gosh Wow

I've been out and about this week, first to a Physics For Fiction meeting at Imperial College, organised by Dave Clements, in which scientists met and mingled with science-fiction writers, and gave a variety of excellent talks about their work. Great fun, especially when I got to talking with Subu Mohanty about his work on brown dwarfs. Today, I was at the World Conference of Science Journalists to take part in a panel organised by Oliver Morton. The centre of London drenched in sunlight under a hot blue sky and Westminster Abbey looked like bleached coral by Max Ernst: a cover for J.G. Ballard's Drought.

Seen at the Physics For Fiction meeting:

An HD movie of the (deliberate) crash of the Japanese probe Kaguya (Selene) on the surface of the Moon.

An animation of the orbits of stars around the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A* at the centre of the Galaxy. Watch SO-2 and SO-16. When these two stars swing in close around Sag A* they're moving fast.
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