Saturday, 23 November 2013

Doctor Who and Me

As you’ll undoubtedly know by now, within the hour, millions of people will be tuning into The Day of the Doctor, the 50th anniversary episode of Doctor Who. And whilst thousands of people in the UK have flocked to the official celebration in London this weekend, my own build-up has been quite tame in comparison; I’ve re-watched the BBC Proms special, caught up on the blogosphere, and stocked up on my cider of choice in anticipation.

But the cherry on the cake came last night, as I had the good fortune of attending the launch of Doctor Who and Me, the new exhibition at the National Media Museum. Doctor Who and Me exhibits the sheer magnitude of the Doctor Who fan culture that has arisen over the past fifty years. But this isn't a zoo, where we stop and stare at the hardcore nerds; this is at its simplest a celebration of fandom, the inspiration the franchise has generated, and the widespread dedication to a show that has stolen so many hearts.

"I don't think I'll fully understand why an eccentric 50- year-old sci-fi series means so much to me, but it's fired my imagination and intrinsically helped shape the person I am"

Fan art 

Fan collections

"Doctor Who is important to me because of its message of hope... that everyone, no matter how insignificant they feel, is important"


It’s free, so if you’re in the neighbourhood, head over to Bradford!

I’m excited for The Day of the Doctor tonight. I don’t quite know what to expect. Season seven and its finale didn't wow me as I hoped it would (some gender stuff, some characterisation stuff, and the shaky Clara/timelines concept were a big turn-off) but I’m awaiting tonight’s episode all the same.

And that’s something I like about the limitless Doctor Who fan community – sure, I have a few things to whinge about from time to time (no shockers there) but there’s always a space to share in the common joy, hilarity, or even our frustrations in healthy debate.

So here’s to the next fifty. Whether the show will still be going or not, this weekend has demonstrated that it won’t be forgotten. So I hope that if you’re watching tonight, be it at a screening, at home, or desperately trying every illegal trick to get it through Internet Magic, you have a great time whether the episode meets your expectations or not. Doctor Who is so much more than the sum of its parts, and I’m looking forward to sharing some of the excitement on this special birthday today.

And can I say in advance, because I know it's about to happen: calm down with the live tweeting. Honestly. You’re going to miss the good stuff!

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

The Great White Silence

It’s always tricky deciding between conflicting events of the Manchester Science Festival. As the last day of the festival approached and I umm'ed and ahh'ed over the events programme, I eventually settled on a screening of The Great White Silence at the Museum of Science and Industry to finish off the jam-packed weekend. Intrigued by the topic, and having been to MOSI’s intimate pop-up cinema before, I felt that this wasn’t one to be missed - so I headed over to the 1830’s Warehouse, found a comfy spot in the gallery, and settled into the blankets (a welcomed addition for a film that will leave you feeling chilly!)

The Great White Silence takes us on a journey through Robert Falcon Scott’s Antarctic Terra Nova voyage, using the fully restored footage of expedition cinematographer Robert Ponting. From games with penguins, to rounds of football in temperatures of minus 70, Ponting takes us through the joys and hardships of their two-year adventure, interspersing the ethereal landscape and eerie soundtrack with his witty and revealing commentary.

Ponting is successful in bringing beauty and life to a landscape that will remain alien to most of us, yet at the same time leaves us with no illusions about the sheer terror of the aptly-named Great White Silence that stretches to the South Pole. After being beaten to the Pole by Roald Amundsen’s Norwegian team, the expedition quickly becomes ill-fated upon the return journey; we see how adverse weather and dwindling food supplies take a heart-wrenching toll on the team, with each man battling on, unwilling to hold back the others.

When the team meet their fateful end only 11 frustrating miles from the one-ton supply depot, Scott’s diary entries, a mix of disappointment and pride, prompt the question of whether such a heartbreaking loss was worth it in the end. But ultimately, The Great White Silence captures the spirit of adventure at its purest, and a fundamental truth that has both helped and hindered our history; that man will bear the costs and battle to the ends of the Earth for the sheer pleasure of raw discovery. A sentiment reflected in the poignant final words of Captain Lawrence Oates, and the immortal words of Tennyson that mark where they lie:

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

A moving and fitting end to this year’s Manchester Science Festival.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Manchester Science Festival 2013: Top Ten Under a Fiver

It’s that time of year again.

The nights are colder, the evenings darker, and the word ‘Christmas’ is beginning to elicit heavy groans and detailed accounts of winter spending plans. 

But there’s one respite to break up the cold and the gloom of the season ahead. Manchester Science Festival has rolled around again, and it kicked off this week! You can see the full programme here; from bugs to brains, from Dalton to Doctor Who, #MSF13 is once again delivering whatever your background and interests.

And with that in mind, I've put together my (heavily biased) top ten list, to share with you some of the best MSF highlights that won’t break the bank.

Top 5 Free

Where Will Your DNA Take You? 3rd Nov
Discover how geneticists investigate our DNA ancestry, and learn more about what biology can reveal about our ancient history.

Dark Matters, 1st Nov
An evening dedicated to the dark side of our brains. Talks, demonstrations, games and performances.

Will We Ever Read Minds? 29th Oct
What is the future of brain imaging? Will we ever be able to definitively know what someone is thinking?

Science, Technology and Medicine Gallery Tour - 1st Nov
A free guided tour at the People's History Museum, exploring how science, technology and medicine have shaped our society. 

Innovations in Transport, 31st Oct
A question quite topical given the recent controversial HS2 plans – Brian Simpson MEP discussed how transport will develop between the cities of the future.

Top 5 Paid

Chasing Ice, 27th Oct, £5
Part of the Ice Lab programme, Chasing Ice captures the planet’s drastically changing climate across the span of a year.

Science Showoff, 25th October, £5
What it says on the tin – jokes, performances, demonstrations, and geeky showing off!

Girl Geek Dinner: Meet the Scientists, 30th Oct, £5
Join researchers and role models as they discuss science, society and what it’s like to be a woman in STEM. Five pounds for pizza and great company – what’s not to love?

Self-Cloning 101, 26th Oct, £5
Join Madlab and learn the basics of microbiology, cloning and genetic modification with E. Coli.

Rocket Cars at Fab Lab, £5, 31 Oct/1 Nov, £5
Get your hands into rockets and aerodynamics at this Fab Lab workshop where you'll make and race your own rocket powered cars.

It seems like only yesterday that we were running all over the city trying to squeeze in the best of the best of last year’s programme. If I have any advice from the 2012 festival, it’s not to do anything half-heartedly; it’s tempting to try and pack more into a day than you should, but don’t wind up trying to see so much that you actually experience very little. Stay to absorb the Q&A’s, chat to the scientists and the people involved, and you’ll really capture the essence of what makes MSF so engaging.

Well, that was an incredibly difficult list to narrow down. What are you looking forward to in this year's Manchester Science Festival?

This is part of a series of posts on #MSF13: I'll be doing my best to take it all in, blogging as I go! Find me on Twitter @brightarrows

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

An Impromptu Ada Lovelace Day Post

I’ve recently been fortunate enough to be accepted into an internship with an organisation that promotes women in science and technology. Readers of the blog might guess that this is right up my street, and they would be right – yet, to say that it has been eye-opening would be an understatement.

I spend my working day coordinating with women in STEM fields from all backgrounds, and this week, I've been delving further back into history. When I was asked to put together a list of fifty prominent women in science across history, I accepted the challenge with glee - yet amidst my excitement, doubts were a’niggling. I can talk about the importance of Ada Lovelace, Rosalind Franklin, and Marie Curie, but… fifty others? Fifty, from a gloomy backdrop of institutional historical sexism? After my passionate monologues about women in science, encouraging role models and the importance of research, was I about to show my wonderful new employers that I wasn't up to the task?

I was right, in a way. Fifty was going to be a problem... In that it was too small a number.

It took all of two minutes to smash my nervous misgivings, and to instead replace them with the much more satisfying feeling of “how the hell am I going to narrow this down?” 

And though I was excited to read account after account of amazing, prize-winning, world-changing women, I was also sad, confused and a little bit ashamed that these names were so new to me (and I know that's true for many others, too).

So that’s the source of my post today. Not to rehash article after article about the “top ten”, or the ones we “should really know about" - that stuff's already going to be inescapable on a day like today. But rather, to tell you proudly from one naive adult on our fourth Ada Lovelace Day, not to be fooled or disheartened - women in science have existed for a long, long time, elbowing their way into the field with sheer intellect, innovation and a refusal to take “woman” for an answer. Screw the system bias. Gurl got stuff to do.

So with that in mind, do make a point to check out the inspirational stuff on the #ALD13 Twitter hashtag while it's still going strong. I also enjoyed these contributions at the Guardian.

Happy Ada Lovelace Day, everyone!

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Magneto Cosplay & Fab Cafe's Geek Night

Hey Autumn?

Rebecca here.

Slow the fuck down.

It's been a fast-paced month - I've been kicking around in Scotland, headed down to London for the Wellcome Trust science writing prize (which I'll post about soon), and I've happily settled into my lovely new job, which is taking up the bulk of my time these days.

And though I've been making sure to wind down and do things that I enjoy, I still feel like it has been a long time since I was able to really get creative with something. But with Forbidden Planet's Geek Night on the radar, what could be a better excuse to go into cosplay mode?

There were a few reasons I opted for Magneto - aside from being my favourite X-Men character, his costume is bright, colourful, beginner-friendly and easy enough to put together with limited funds. I also love gender-swapped cosplay (this Han Solo - amazing) and have wanted to try out some great male characters for a while - this seemed as good a time as any! I felt a bit self conscious at first, as it's not really a costume intended for a body shape like mine, but I quickly forgot about that in having so much fun doing it.

I'll start with the helmet.

Having never made a helmet before, I scoured the internet for advice (as you do) and found a brilliant tutorial from EpicFantasy on Youtube - if you follow the below video, there isn't much more I need to add here.

And with the above on hand to reference, I set off paper mâché-ing for the first time since my childhood - Art Attack flashbacks, anyone?

I spread the process out over a few weekends, but you could easily bash this out over a single weekend if you have a desk fan to hand to speed up the drying.

Some general tips:
  • Be gentle if you choose to sand it down
  • Normal superglue is fine if you don't have a hot glue gun
  • Hairgrips work wonders holding the front piece in place while gluing/letting the glue dry 
  • If anything goes wrong, don't stress - either redo it, or accept it and call it "artistic licence". It's supposed to be a fun project rather than a chore, after all. Happy crafting!

The Rest

I've seen a lot of variations online when it comes to the clothes, and you could definitely find a way to do this with a skirt/dress if you wanted to make it more feminine, but I opted for the below:

I already had several of the necessary pieces lying around, which made the body of the costume quite easy, but for the gloves and the boots, eBay kept it nice and cheap.

Geek Night II: Revenge of the Geek

Costume'd up, I headed out to what was a brilliant evening at Fab Café. I'm kicking myself for not taking more pictures, but it was all a bit of a whirlwind - we were treated with Streetfighter (in which I shamefully lost every single match), Companion Cube cookies and Mjolnir cake, a geek quiz and raffle, live bands, artwork auctions and lucky bags. If you aren't jealous, you should be.

Some of the costumes were immense - The Scarlett Witch, HitGirl and Tony Stark were among my favourites. The Thor's were brilliant too, though we didn't quite resolve whether Magneto could lift Thor's hammer (people, get back to me!). I was sad to leave at the end of the night after all the brilliant variety - regular clothes seemed so boring in comparison! It was amazing to meet so many hilarious and interesting fellow geeks (a few of which I probably owe an apology for acting like a rambling weirdo) and to chat and joke about mutual interests. Though I must say, out of all the Dr Horrible fans I met, not one was open to duets. Not. A single. One. Disappointed, fellas. Disappointed!

I'll leave you with the haul from the lucky bags, kindly put together by Forbidden Planet; all in all, they know how to put on a good night!

Sunday, 18 August 2013

What I've Been Up To: The Restart Project

I can't say that I'm a very hands-on person; in fact, I'm the type of person that older people think about when they grumble about how useless the young are nowadays. But I'm determined to change that - after all, I don't want to end up as a useless walking pound-sign to every repair shop in town, throwing money I don't have away on simple problems. Computers seem like a good place to start in my quest to gain more independence; I'm notorious for abandoning broken equipment, leaving it all in a perpetuate state of sadness and dust. And though I've been around computers all of my life, I've never stopped and taken the time to open one up. So last week, after hearing about the Restart Project on Twitter, my sister and I headed down to the Maker Faire at the Museum and Science and Industry, broken toys in tow!

The Restart Project are a brilliant organisation.They are all about encouraging better sustainable relationships to our electronics, and do so by running workshops empowering people to repair and encouraging creativity in the community. They are based in London, but the wheels are in motion to set up a Manchester group, so watch this space!

My sister sought help with opening up her external hard drive, which has been broken and rattling around for some months now. As for me, what started out as a few questions turned into quite a project; for the first time in my life, with some wonderful assistance, I stripped my Acer Netbook piece by piece, discussing where the problems might lie along the way.

Here's me and the big sis, getting stuck in with the team!


The team didn't take a "watch us and learn" approach; rather, they encouraged us to get stuck in with our hands, which made for better learning. Not once did I feel patronised, overwhelmed or confused by buzzwords; these guys are so passionate about what they do, and managed to turn a time-consuming and intricate task into something that can be incredibly fun and instructive. It's fair to say that we left the event with a lot more reward than we bargained for - we feel so much more confident about disassembling our devices and following complex instructions, and we've already planned our next repair session for my sisters old laptop. What can I say, we've caught the bug. And for someone who has never even seen a motherboard before, this was an incredibly empowering achievement - thank you, Restart Project! Follow them on Twitter here!

My only regret is not factoring in more of the day to visit the other stalls; we spotted soldering workshops, 3D printers, and even had a quick intro to the many things you can do with a Raspberry Pi.

See you next time then, Maker Faire!

Thursday, 1 August 2013


Put on your Sunday clothes, there's lots of world out there....

Damn, that's catchy.

And WALL-E is amazing. 

It started on BBC Three last night just as we were about to go upstairs, which was a nice surprise - it has been years since we last watched it, so we couldn't turn it down! It was especially fun watching it together after reading The Pixar Theory (mind. blown.) and trying to catch the crossover with other Pixar films. We spotted the Pizza Planet van, but not Rex and Hamm from Toy Story, among other things; we'll have to pay more attention next time!

I'm rarely able to describe science fiction as charming and lovable, but WALL-E manages to tick those boxes despite depicting our Earth as a hopeless, abandoned wasteland. The film is beautifully paradoxical in that it's both adorable and depressing - I love how it ends with the seeds of change, but it raises harsh questions about the true social cost of the convenient life that corporations promise, and it's hard to shake off the image of the lazy and tech-addicted overgrown babies that represent the future of the human race. (And there's a bitter irony as I articulate my disapproval of such a future on my own personal screen, from my comfortable reclining position in bed, as my partner rests next to me in the same position. Introspection, ahoy). 

Feels nice to watch our humble AI servants guide us back to civilisation, doesn't it? Doesn't it?

Yet amidst the inevitable self-loathing of our destructive, gelatinous existence, there is beauty, wonder, hilarity and love. Perhaps there will be hope for us after all.

I love that there's is so much richness to unpick in WALL-E, especially the roles of the AI on Axiom, and to what extent they can be blamed as the antagonists, but I'll keep this short for now because I have to get up and move around before I have a philosophical crisis over my morning of cake and Twitter (thanks, WALL-E, laziness will never be the same again). But for now, it turns out there's also a short film about BURN-E, the repair bot we get a brief glimpse of, and it's adorable.

"You had ONE job!"

Have a nice day, everyone!