Thursday, August 31, 2006

New think tank with an interesting back story

Readers who work in the UK education system may have heard the recent news that Ph.D. students at the University of Sussex have formed a "break away" research centre of their own, named the Sussex Centre for the Individual and Society.

When I first heard of this, I was immediately reminded of Margaret Thatcher's famous saying that "There's no such thing as society, there are individual men and women, and there are families". Sure enough, one of the founders of the Centre, Erich Kofmel, is a self-confessed right wing activist. Of course, they're entitled to their views, and I would never dream of using this blog to espouse a purely political agenda.

However, things get a little more interesting when one performs a Google search for "Erich Kofmel". He appears to have been accused by the Evening Standard (and, later, the Observer) of being a rogue landlord who took advantage of vulnerable overseas students.

I happen to agree with him that UK education is woefully underfunded, but I do think that it's rather rich to complain about it whilst (allegedly) ripping off fellow students.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

"Here, hare here"

I'm all for describing things in terms that most people can grasp. For example, in my forthcoming book I make the point that if a transistor (the fundamental building block of computer processor chips) were the size of a (UK) postage stamp, then ten years ago, the average chip would be the size of Snowdonia National Park in Wales. With the advances in chip miniaturisation that we have seen in the last decade, the same chip in 2005 would be the size of Iceland.

Readers of the New Scientist will be aware of an ongoing discussion of the use of Wales as a metric (hence my tongue-in-cheek reference in the book). However, I'd like to draw your attention to a far more insidious comparator: the human hair.

There seems to be an unwritten rule of science journalism: any article dealing with micro- or nano-scale technology must, at some point, compare the scientific breakthrough in question with a human hair. Some recent examples are here, here, here, and hair.

I'm not questioning the quality of the science, or even that of the writing, I'm just sick of seeing constant references to hair in popular science articles (maybe because I'm losing mine!)

Monday, August 14, 2006

Japanese edition

Readers in Japan will be able to pick up Genesis Machines at some point, as the Japanese language rights have been acquired by Nikkei BP. I'll post more when I know the regional publication date (of course, I realise that if you're reading this you may have no need of a Japanese language edition, but I just thought I would mention it).

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Genesis Machines publication event

Firstly, apologies for the lack of recent updates - we've been busy moving house.

We've arranged an event in London to coincide with the publication of Genesis Machines. This will take the form of a panel discussion at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), and is being organised in association with the Royal Institution.

I'm delighted to say that our publicist, Annabel Huxley, has succeeded in attracting a world-class line-up (and me!). The panel will comprise:

The event will be chaired by the scientist, writer and broadcaster Vivienne Parry, whose previous work includes presenting Tomorrow's World and the Aventis Prize-shortlisted book The Truth About Hormones.

It promises to be an enjoyable evening, hopefully informative and perhaps even a little provocative. Full details are below, and I'll look forward to maybe meeting you there.

Genesis machines: engineering life

Tuesday 14 November 7.00pm

Panel: Dr Martyn Amos, Prof. Stephen Emmott, Oliver Morton and Vivienne Parry.

Venue: ICA, The Mall, London SW1Y 5AH
Tickets cost £10, £9 concessions and £8 RI Members. Call 020 79303647 or visit to book tickets.

In association with the ICA, the Royal Institution and Allen Lane Publishers.