Archive for the ‘TV’ Category

The sound of science

January 26, 2012
Sound waves

The sound of science?

Do you remember the strange and mysterious noise of dial-up internet? My memory of that sound is as vivid as those images that come flooding back when you smell the scent of something long-forgotten. Remembering that dial-up noise – expressed in a tweet I saw this week as ‘beep boo beeeep ejwlekl’ – takes me straight back to the 90s when we used to put up with horrifically ugly webpages that took literally seconds to load (how were we ever so patient?).

I think I got a bit overexcited about this noise at the time – when we finally got the internet at my house, I used to pick up the phone just to listen to the sound of the data streams whizzing back and forth. The image I had in my mind was something like that green symbol cascade from The Matrix.

Typing this post over my wireless broadband, I feel like some of the magic has gone (even though invisible broadband in the air is a hell of a lot more ‘magic’ than an old-fashioned cable). So I started wondering what other ‘sounds of science’ are out there – things that our children will laugh at when we’re old, and that we’ll have a hard-to-explain nostalgia for?



TV scientists – Sherlock and the nerd stereotype

January 9, 2012

Another well-used cliche

The BBC’s new series of Sherlock is total nerd porn. It’s the sort of programme that makes me shout possible plot developments at the TV screen in a vain attempt to show that my brain still works. It’s not an exaggeration to say that realising the significance of the combination Sherlock entered into Irene Adler’s safe (her vital statistics – score!) was one of my main achievements of 2012 so far (the other was a non-disastrous drive from Hampshire to London through biblical rain after a ‘driving break’ of about 6 months).

Anything that allows me to indulge my love of nerds gets my vote. Especially if it legitimises this minority view by translating it into brilliant prime time TV that arrives exactly when you need it, giving me an excuse to reimmerse myself in all the Sherlock Holmes stories (which I’ve already read about 20 times). But there’s one fly in the ointment. Does this not-so-guilty pleasure perpetuate a damaging nerd stereotype? (more…)

The strange and beautiful science of decay on BBC4

December 14, 2011
Slime mould

Slime mould - just one of the many stars of 'After Life' on BBC4

A few weeks ago I had a moan about how the BBC’s flagship nature series Frozen Planet struck me as being a bit content-light. But I’m happy to say I’ve had my confidence restored – thanks to an amazing documentary on BBC4 called After Life: The Strange Science of Decay.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a single programme that packed in so much fascinating science. Centred around a ‘model home’ filled with food that gradually decayed over 8 weeks, the show touched on insects, bacteria, fungi, slime moulds, military sandwiches, forensic science, and the evolution of life on Earth. And it was all held together by Dr George McGavin, a really charming and down-to-earth presenter who expertly conveyed how exciting and important decay actually is. (more…)

BBC’s Frozen Planet – big budget YouTube?

November 3, 2011
Adelie penguin

"I preferred 'Life on Earth' actually..."

Anyone who enjoys wildlife documentaries has to clear a space in their diary for a new BBC series – especially if it features the patron saint of the natural world, David Attenborough. And Frozen Planet is one big budget, time-lapse-photography-and-sweeping-helicopter-shot-filled extravaganza.

I’ve been oohing and aahing my way through the first two episodes, but watching last night’s made me realise that sometimes wildlife documentaries are really just high-concept versions of those ‘cute animals doing stupid things’ videos you get on YouTube. Now in my opinion that is no bad thing – I can watch baby penguins falling off things for hours – but I have to admit it made me miss the glory days of Life on Earth, one of the best TV series I have ever seen.  (more…)

Sending a warning 100,000 years into the future

September 27, 2011
Radiation danger sign

What would this mean to future generations?

The accident at Fukushima in Japan has made the problems of nuclear power seem much more immediate. But in reality the main issues are very very VERY longterm. Thousands of years longterm. The real question isn’t whether we should forget nuclear energy (not really an option), but what to do with nuclear waste.

Nuclear power is generally very safe, but as Jim Al-Khalili said on Horizon recently, ‘what’s so special about nuclear power is our dread of radiation’. We’re horrified by the idea of an invisible, harmful force that we can’t control. And this was exactly what fascinated me about a documentary I saw recently – Into Eternity.

If you’re wondering what the world is doing about all that nuclear waste, then this film is really worth a look. It focuses on the world’s first permanent repository for spent nuclear fuel – a deep vault cut out of solid rock. It’s called Onkalo. (more…)

This post was inspired by the science of genes

September 14, 2011
DNA helix

Gene science: coming soon to a face cream near you

I really miss that L’Oreal slogan ‘here comes the science bit…’ – especially when they followed it up with ‘concentrate!’. My biochemist boyfriend was especially enraged by those shampoo adverts promising to ‘add key aminos’ to your hair. ‘IT ALREADY HAS ALL THE AMINOS IT NEEDS – IT’S MADE OF PROTEIN!!’ he would howl at the TV.

But these days they’re skipping the science bit altogether – sad times. So I’ve been left wondering what the advert for L’Oreal’s ‘Youth Code‘ skin cream is all about. The first time I saw it I waited eagerly to hear what craziness would come after the promising beginning saying that this new product is ‘inspired by the science of genes’. But I was disappointed. There was nothing else.


Why I love Sheldon Cooper

August 24, 2011

If you’ve never seen The Big Bang Theory, you might assume it’s some tragic sitcom about a load of teenagers trying to get laid ‘with hilarious results’. Thankfully you would be wrong. It’s actually about four physicists (although the getting laid bit is about right), and if you love nerds you need to watch it.

Clearly a LOT of people love nerds, because if you Google ‘big bang theory’ the first result is the show’s Wikipedia page (which does have spoilers). You’ll have to scroll down a bit further if you’re interested in the actual theory about the big bang. I wish I could say the show challenges prevailing stereotypes about scientists… except it doesn’t. But somehow I don’t care, because the character who steals almost every scene, Dr Sheldon Cooper, is my new not-so-secret crush.


‘Mad scientist’ Tom wins The Apprentice

July 17, 2011

Tom’s won it! As Dara O’Briain said, ‘it’s a win for the nerds!!’ – and for nice guys too. Let’s hope this engineer proves Lord Sugar wrong and does turn out to be a success in business. They’re going to be creating some sort of back-building chair together (perhaps combined with nail file – watch this space).

Once again Tom had to cope with some tired stereotypes. One of the interviewers described him as a ‘mad scientist’ – I didn’t realise square glasses were the only qualification you needed for that. But he kept his cool, although his business plan did sound like it needed some science communications finesse. There wasn’t much plain English going on here – apparently the word ‘chair’ was conspicuous by its absence. Perhaps he called it a ‘gravitational stress reducing device’ or something equally snappy.

Despite some bumps in the road (he was usually on the losing team) he was a good role model for the nerds – intelligent, creative, polite and sensible. This series of The Apprentice billed itself as being all about ideas for business – so inventor Tom really deserved his win. As he said himself, ‘I think this result shows that nice guys come first.’

The Apprentice: blaahdy awful scientist stereotypes

June 17, 2011

Engineering - not necessarily a character flaw

The Apprentice really isn’t the place to go if you want to see evidence-based decision-making in action. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an episode where they actually listen to a focus group (apparently they’re too ‘focused’, according to Natasha). But then again these guys aren’t scientists – if anything they’re more like lab rats in some sort of twisted psychological experiment testing whether the fittest really do survive.

But there’s no need for the programme to take quite such a dim view of science. We’ve already had poor Edward endlessly apologising for being an accountant after being ditched in episode 1 – doing maths is nothing to be ashamed of! And this week we hit rock bottom – poor Glenn was actually fired just for being an engineer.