Stephen Hawking and the Brave New World

There’s a new show in town and it invokes the departed spirit of Tomorrow’s world, on Channel 4 Stephen Hawking presents the Brave New World. The irony is not lost on me.

This a science sketch show where a host of celebrity scientists talk about the new discoveries they find exciting.    It’s very utopian.  There’s not much discussion of the implications.  Technology is only presented in a benign light and, such as in the case of exoskeletons, where there are obvious military uses these are glossed over.  That’s both refreshing and slightly irritating.  All of the scientists appear to talk about these emerging tech’s with that gosh-wow world view that I’ve only ever seen in some of the early 20s science fiction that I’ve read.  But it is a worthy successor to Tomorrow’s World -t at least tries to show you the potential of some of the R&D that’s going on out there.   It doesn’t patronise as much as Bang Goes The Theory or have the pure entertainment feel of Brainiac Science Abuse.  It’s worth checking out and then remembering that even the much-missed Tomorrow’s world covered the development of the Cruise Missile* as a worthy technological pursuit.

Watch the show anyway.  It’s certainly a great place to mine ideas from.

* It’s doubtful that those 80s presenters imagined seeing them fired at civilians 20+ years later.

uh oh Mr Roboto

Adam Curtis (take a look at the blog roll) is about to release a new series called All Watched over by the Machines of Loving Grace.  I can’t wait.

Adam Curtis is a brilliant documentary maker.  I think his work needs to be seen, in particular: the Power of Nightmares and the Century of the Self.  His new show (see trailer below) seems to be about techno-utopian fantasies though the only way to be sure is to actually watch the series.  It starts on May 23rd.  Watch it.

End of Line.

Lies, Damn Lies and… the Joy of Stats.

I never thought I would admit to being excited by a television show about statistics* but BBC4’s new show is brilliant.   For once I am not going to complain about the BBC’s obsession with chasing after the ITV crowd.  Instead I’ll refer you to  this article by the Guardian.  Watch the video.  This is science (mathematics anyway) displayed in a manner that’s entertaining and educational.  If only my maths teacher had had the tools to do this I might be doing a different job now.

The Joy of Stats is currently on BBC 4.  Watch it.

And this isn’t the only show that the Beeb has made recently that’s actually impressed me.  There’s also the Beauty of Diagrams and David Attenborough’s First Life (which I hope they come back to and do more episodes).  It’s been a golden month for documentaries.

* Maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised because I did watch a fantastic documentary about fax machines a few years back.

Stick your Xfactor somewhere smelly

For a change, rather than be annoyed with the Beeb, I would point out a couple of shows I actually enjoyed.

Let’s start with First Life.

If you’re not from the UK it’s hard to understand how much of a cultural icon David Attenborough is.  He’s been presenting wildlife shows on the BBC for many decades now and he always brings a calm, knowledgeable, authority (tinged with wonder) that makes his documentaries completely compelling.  He never veers into mawkish sentimentality or anthropomorphism and so you’re left with a clear message that Nature, for all its cruelty and arbitrariness, is a beautiful thing.

His new show First Life looks at the origins of life.  Attenborough shows how fossils demonstrate the increasingly complexity of life and the myriad of unusual forms.  There are a reconstructions but these serve to illustrate points – not add drama.  All in all this is TV that I highly recommend.

And then there’s The Beauty of Diagrams: Episode 1 the Vitruvian Man

Most of us have seen the Vitruvian Man but how many know why it’s called that or why Da Vinci drew it?  I knew some of the history already but the BBC’s pet mathematician Marcus Du Sautoy really brings it all together with his enthusiasm for the subject.

Here’s the BBC’s description

He looks at Leonardo da Vinci’s world-famous diagram of the perfect human body, which has many layers from anatomy to architecture, and defines our species like no other drawing before or since. The Vitruvian Man, drawn in the 1480s when he was living and working in Milan, has become one of the most famous images in the world. Leonardo’s drawings form a vast body of work, covering every imaginable subject in spectacular detail: from feet, skulls and hands to muscles and sinews; from hearts and lungs to buildings, bridges and flying machines.

Vitruvian Man perfectly synthesises Leonardo’s passions for anatomy, for the mechanics of the human body and for geometry. It is also full of surprises, illustrating an ancient architectural riddle set out 1,500 years earlier by the classical writer Vitruvius about the relative proportions of buildings and men; a riddle that, even today, still fascinates and beguiles experts and viewers alike.

Interesting stuff!

Forsooth! Boringness on the Beeb

Blighty is a strange old place.  Wherever you go you can hardly move for tripping over the crumbling remains of empire.  Of course that’s big news in the tourist trade, “Look there’s a castle! Oh look there’s a palace!  Gosh, real royalty!”  The Empire’s days are over (though we don’t tell that to the tourists) or mayhaps not if you watch British television.  Looking for something to have on while I spoon peas into my mouth I stumbled across Garrow’s Law.

This is a very strange show: mix one part period drama to one part courtroom drama with a pinch of social consciousness.  In this episode we see Mr Garrow hired to investigate insurance fraud in the slave trade – murky stuff among rum coves.  Everyone speaks in that weird Pride and Prejuidice diction even though they are clearly wearing modern sensibilities.  Of course everyone is well scrubbed and wearing the most vibrant of colours.   It’s the sort of backward looking frivolous tosh that the beeb regularly churns out.
And the really strange thing is William Garrow was a very real person!

M’luds, I am given to understand that this moving-picture show is on its second run!  Forsooth indeed.

Wallace and Gromit’s not so grand day?

I just watched this Television show. I stumbled across it on BBC’s iPlayer. It’s reasonably interesting in a childish way… and that’s what I thought it was – a children’s show.  Well, I was surprised to discover that it aired at 7:30pm which is otherwise known as prime British Family Telly time.  So I am a bit confused and I have to ask, what is this point of this show?  Is it showcasing Wallace and Gromit, is it showcasing invention?  What did the producers actually want to do here?  What it appears we have is some sort of odd halfway house where vignettes about inventions (which are actually interesting) are interspersed with unfunny jokes.

Because, let’s face it, we can’t have intelligent television about science and technology for families can we?  And we all know that scientists are either humorous boffins or filled with sinister intent. As we don’t want to scare the poor people of Blighty as they tuck into their peas I can see the producers opting for the humourous boffins.

And getting it wrong.

Compare this with Horrible Histories, which is a surprisingly entertaining kids show which doesn’t treat the little Kevins of the world as dolts.