Teen genius

14 Nov
November 14, 2012

I spent today at the TeenTech event in Guildford, as an ‘industry ambassador’. This partly involved not being as male or boring as they might expect a science person to be, while trying not to have hair like Einstein. I think I just about managed the first two, but  failed miserably at the last one (naturally curly hair and damp autumn days do not mix…).

Still, it was a great day, spent with a great bunch of lads from Tonbridge School who were more enthusiastic about science and technology than any teenagers I have ever met. One even had to be dragged away from questioning a geologist so that we would be in time for the next session (I think the geologist was as surprised as I was). They, and the other kids, were a creative bunch too. In the ‘innovation zone’ section, they were asked to design a mobile phone app to solve a common or everyday problem. The suggestions were fantastic – from ‘Pathfinder’ – an app that takes your to-do list and provides you with the most efficient way to get it done, to ‘i-Sight, an app to test your eyes using your phone, and (my personal favourite) a time-keeping app that beams the time into your subconscious so that you will never be late again. I’d pay 69p for lots of them.

TeenTech  is the brainchild of Maggie Philbin, presenter of the BBC’s flagship science show Tomorrow’s World back in the 1980’s. The kids who took part were way too young to remember the olden days when Maggie Philbin demonstrated what then looked like crazy inventions (mobile phones, the first flat-screen TV…) but it didn’t really matter. From what I saw, the teens left the event buzzing about science and tech and the cool things that you can do with it that they got pretty much the same message as we kids of the 80’s did from watching the telly. Science is cool, kids. Now go and invent something new…

The Last Walk

03 Nov
November 3, 2012

Sometimes a book comes along just at the right moment. ‘The Last Walk’ by Jessica Pierce definitely came at the right time for me. A few weeks ago, while reeling from the news that my beloved dog, Molly, has cancer and might not see this Christmas, my editor – who knew about the Molly situation and was going through something similar with his cat – sent me a copy of the book and asked me to review it for New Scientist’s Culture Lab blog.

At first I wasn’t convinced that a book about making ‘end of life’ decisions for pets was what I really needed, nor did I feel like I needed to rub salt into the wound by learning how a dog experiences ageing, pain and death. But I soon changed my mind. The book is partly a touching journal chronicling the last few year Pierce’s dog Ody’s life, and partly the results of her investigations (as a bioethicist) into whether and when it is right to put an animal out of its misery. What does misery look like to a dog anyway, she asks. And how are we supposed to know when enough is enough? Unfortunately, there are no clear answers. There is much controversy in scientific circles about how animals experience pain and clearly there is no way to ask them how they feel. This much I knew, but ‘The Last Walk’ reassured me that science can’t give me the answer any more than my own gut instinct, and that is quite comforting. While Molly is still wagging her tail and having a go at chasing squirrels I can put that decision off for a little bit longer.  And when it comes I will feel just a little bit more prepared. Maybe…

Read my review for Culture Lab here.

Me and my girl

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