... but I stopped. Now I'm a dad, and may blog again...

Thursday, December 08, 2011

469: Uncaged Monkeys

So what were you doing last night? Watching football? Buffing the soles of your feet? Eating cheese and crackers? Drinking three cups of tea, going to bed then waking up a bit later needing a big wee? Well done, good for you, it sounds like you had a lovely time. Who, me? Oh, yes! Well I was watching Tim Minchin live performing 'White Wine in the Sun' on guitar, accompanied by Professor Brian Cox on piano. It was the glorious, sentimental, schmaltzy and perfectly perfect in every way ending to an evening of comedy, music and science, with jokes from Tim, Robin Ince, and Helen Arney; science lectures by Prof Brian, Ben Goldacre and Simon Singh; and an amazing short film by Adam Rutherford editing together NASA footage from all 135 Space Shuttle missions.

I laughed, I cried, I learnt about the enigma machine, publication fraud in medical trial data, the history of the universe, and the pope being a motherfucker protecting priests when they were getting fucking fiddly. I heard many jokes about Professor Cox's fondness for pointing and gazing wistfully up toward the heavens. I was amazed and gladdened by the crowd of 2600 people that had turned up for three hours of science lectures and in-jokes about scepticism in a rock venue, the Apollo, where I have previously seen Judas Priest, Kraftwerk and Zappa Plays Zappa.

Simon Singh, with his hair in a hi-top fade, showed us a genuine original Enigma machine, and used an emulator from his laptop on the big screen to describe the inner workings of that legendarily tricky-to-crack message encoder. Seeing one explained using the emulator – and hearing about how after the war the British government kept the cracking secret, gifted machines to allied governments like Australia, and then spied on them – was very interesting and enlightening. It was also a bit like, hearing a new one, to use a rock gig term. Much of the discussion from Cox and Goldacre was not new to me, but it's always good to be reminded and to relearn in different ways, and they are both entertaining in their knowledge and presentation.

Adam Rutherford's Space Shuttle video was amazing (but his preamble talk was rambling and boring); unfortunately I can't find it online yet, so you'll just have to take my word for it. For a similar sort of thing I recommend the movie For All Mankind, which is edited together footage from all Apollo missions to the music of Brian Eno. Tim came on and did some of my favourites, talked about his wife (like he does) who he is attempting to rebrand as his VELP (Vaginaly Endowed Life Partner) and a very funny observation about how his 35 year old wife managed to escape the Nazis in Poland, 1939. Talking, laughing, singing, powerpoint... then I got on the tram, then I fell asleep: The End.

P.S. If you genuinely have no idea what I'm going on about I recommend listening to The Infinite Monkey Cage, Robin Ince and Brian Cox's BBC R4 comedy and science show.

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