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Last weekend to went to Manchester, and if I'm ever going to write it up it needs to be before this weekend... I went partly to see E, and indeed we had a good time catching up, eating dim sum (veggie choice looked fine on the regular menu but hardly any on the carts- still, what there was was nice), shouting ourselves hoarse to be heard in a student bar, and going round Afflecks, a large many-independent-shops emporium. But the proximate reason was Uncaged Monkeys- Robin Ince and Brian Cox presenting Science, with funny in it. The Apollo was sold out with as geeky an audience as I've ever had the pleasure of being in, and it was excellent. (A couple of short podcasts from Oxford and Glasgow here if you want a taster.)

Let's see, who was there. Ben Goldacre, talking about not accepting authority and the problems of not publishing negative results; responded to the round of applause as he came on with "it's the tank top, isn't it?" (Robin pointed out that he looked like he was auditioning for the 12th Doctor.)

Matt Parker, a mathematician (or number ninja) brought in number theory sneakily by trying to work out a barcode's check digit in his head, and suggested a fun thing to do with Sudoku.

Brian ("I've played the Apollo before, in 1989, I was on the keyboards standing about... here") Cox: Robin brought him on with a George Formby impression, and he responded that he now finds it hard to say the word "universe" any more- "I just hear Robin's stupid southern voice trying to impersonate me". He did a quick spin through astophysics, CERN ("it's next to the runway at Geneva airport to make it easy to give scale on the photos") and the deep field photo- "If you're playing the Wonders of the Universe drinking game, you'll be rat-arsed by now"- and talked about the gravity probe B results from earlier in the week, which confirmed Einstein and as a result are very very wierd- I'm sure they're lots of places online.

They asked for questions to be tweeted in over the interval and answered them afterwards. (Quite a lot of them were to Brian saying "Why don't you come back to your job here, then?") Let's see, there was one about gravity slingshots, one about "are numbers real" which ended with Brian saying admiringly to Matt "You've just said that reality is a subset of your discipline", and one about apocalypses after 2012, which went very off-topic as a result of Matt bringing in that Mayans used base 20 and Ben saying that he couldn't see how you can count on your toes.

Then! There was Helen Keen doing some stand-up about the US space programme (and stamps with space-cats on them). I think I've loved every act I've seen with a Venn diagram in it, and hers was an excellent example. (What overlap links the Apollo programme with Raiders of the Lost Ark?)

Helen Arney, on ukulele, with a song about sex in the animal kingdom and one about Countdown.

Finally, Simon Singh, with a nice bit about perception and playing songs backwards. He then demonstrated that light is a wave using a ruler and a laser pointer, and electrocuted a gherkin to show that elements emit different wavelengths of light, and zoomed through deducing that the universe is expanding, ending up with the Katie Melua song 12 Million Light Years.

It was all finished off with the "pale blue dot" bit from Sagan's Cosmos. It worked really well as an evening, excellent fun. ( I believe there are still tickets to the last date of the tour, the Hammersmith Apollo on Tuesday. Go go!)
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I went to a TV recording on Saturday, a pilot for a show called Lab Rats which will be on BBC3 in the autumn. I enjoyed it; it was co-written by and co-starring Chris Addison (whose radio series Civilization is available on CD), who has a very nice witty and unpredictable turn of phrase. Plus it had Ford Prefect Geoffrey McGivern in it. About the filming )
I was sort of hoping this would be my show the way "The IT Crowd" was for many geeks; it's set in a biology lab! Hooray! Unfortunately they just missed doing the science right.

I could forgive The IT Crowd the irritating "computer-illiterate girlie who is obsessed with shoes" stuff because the atmosphere was spot on. This isn't, quite- it got scientists wrong, and so the characters, though funny in themselves, don't make me believe that they are biologists as opposed to any random group of co-workers. Getting a Nobel just is not the major drive in scientists' lives. (For a start, you can only know what discoveries have been world-shaking many years after they're made; trying to work out now what lines of research might end up getting a Nobel in twenty years would be an exercise in frustration.) Needing to publish to keep your funding, wanting to get ahead of the Smith labs in Ohio, and even the love of research for its own sake, yes; ambition, on the whole, no. (Not to say that they aren't human and don't dream of maybe winning a prize one day. But it isn't what drives their work.)

A more minor niggle )
So, poot, not what I was hoping for, WSoD didn't get enough lift. Also there were some slightly creaky plot devices, one of which made the ending a tad predictable... (forgivable- first-time sitcom writers.) But hell, any show where the director looks carefully at his monitors and says "can we have another bucket of slime over Chris, please" has something going for it. Plusses: Nice remorseless working-out of the situation, inventive subplotting, nice character interaction, witty dialogue. (Loved Cara and the Christmas decorations; Cara and the 700 lemons; Cara and the fan; and the others were pretty funny too- Alex and the simmering pink-lab-coat situation; the comfy chair; the statue.) I'd watch it, if I could get BBC3.


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