So yesterday I managed to spend my first whole day at this years Cheltenham Science Festival. having no money is always an issue, but I still found plenty to do, and meeting up with three friends we enjoyed the sunshine and headed down to the Imperial Gardens to check out the stands behind the Town Hall.
Local educational publisher Nelson Thornes had done a discovery trail for children, and while I did not participate I did see some of their beautiful science books for young adults and younger children. I enjoyed an ice cream courtesy of a friend, and we tried to have a look at the Educational Lego tent but it was packed with schoolchildren and they had to turn some parents away, so we moved on to Area 42, a fascinating little tent with a number of really interesting displays about actual scientific research projects.
I chatted to two brilliant research students from the University of Southampton, working on non-titanium memristors, fascinating stuff on (I think) breaking the limits of silicon, but soon became lost! I then had a long chat about science, scepticism and religion with Jens Christensen, a Cambridge research student who is developing a fascinating mobile phone technology that replaces traditional touch screen technology with a much cheaper acoustic based system that uses a single microphone and a algorithm that detects where the signal is coming from on the screen by the shape of the waveform. Conceptually simple, it seemed a viable and very inexpensive possibility for future touch screen tech, but I expect the physics involved is far from simple! There were loads more display stands – these were just the two which immediately seized my imagination. It was fascinating to see the innovative cutting edge stuff going on in UK universities.
Jens seemed genuinely surprised by my religious faith — but that seems to surprise a lot of people! I joked with Jens about the Festival crowd: quite a few interested teenagers which was great to see, lots of pretty young women (far more than at the Literary or National Hunt Festival) and generally a much younger vibe than the other Cheltenham Festivals. There seem to be science journalists everywhere, which seemed a bit over the top, as cutting edge research is probably more likely to be found in the journals than here (though Area 42 proved me wrong!), but it was really nice to see them all running around anyway! anyway Area 42 is open till 8pm tonight and tomorrow so do go take a look, as it is free.
Also free was the Zooniverse demonstration. This is awesome; anyone from the very young to the positively ancient can help do real science, log in, create a profile and start measuring moon craters, transcribing weather reports from early 20th century ships logs, counting boulders on the moon or many other fun projects that work on the wisdom of crowds to self-correct. Awesome, I’d encourage everyone to take a look. They kept us entertained for a long while, and I plan to start playing with the site very soon, as it has so much potential to contribute in a more interesting way than the old “donate spare processor time” things: these projects use humans and the computer together to do some real science, and look highly entertaining. Recommended, go check out the link!
While I was trying to persuade my friend David R that the only way to chat up girls was to actually approach them, in a non-threatening manner, find a natural pretext and strike up a conversation, he seemed highly hesitant. As I talk to everyone irrespective of age, gender or number of tentacles this comes naturally to me, but Dave seems shy. So in the evening we went with Barby to another one of the excellent Cheltenham Skeptics in the Pub Science festival Fringe events, The Science of Flirting.
I had heard of Dr Harry Witchel, the physiologist, and associate him with heart problems of a different type (and I think amino acids and SSRI’s – his academic research is far ranging and impressive). It was really fun therefore to see him talk about something very different, “How to Flirt Effectively”. He has just written a book on music I wanted to pick up but sadly I was a couple of hundred short when my money finally came through today so I’m on bread and water this month, but I will do when I have cash again.
I did not know what to expect, but he was superbly entertaining, with a talk pitched at the popular level and illustrated with film clips, which should be compulsory for shy college kids. Body language, acceptable and unacceptable eye contact, the twelve mannerisms by which men flirt and the fifty plus that women employ, and so on. All delivered at great speed with wit and panache, I think that is the only appropriate word for it. Shame he did not have longer, and more of a shame that I did not take notes!
Despite having a vague interest in the academic literature of the subject, I learned a great deal, and wish I could pass on some of what I learned. Banter not sarcasm is one essential point: you can playfully insult someone in a backhanded compliment, but actual insults and sarcasm fail. The dance of body language, posture mirroring etc was really fun to see explored: body language is a horrifically complex subject, but this was truly fun to talk about. Witchel is a huge amount of fun – here is a reel of clips from his various media appearances —
I seemed to get on with Dr Witchel, and we talked about academic politics, the insanity of university life, how dating differs in the USA and Britain and how to pick up women (and men) and successful relationships till well past eleven. He seems to combine an excellent academic research career with a huge amount of fun pop media appearances! If you ever have a chance to see him, go — he is excellent fun. and also, if you are interested in flirting or dating, and at uni, well check out the academic literature — it won’t do you any harm and you may learn something, even if like me you are happily in a relationship. 🙂
Of course like everyone I seem to meet this week Dr Witchel is a huge fan and personal friend of Dr Richard Wiseman, who I occasionally mention on this blog. 😉 I had chatted to Dr Wiseman online the night before, and he seems to have taken my review of Paranormality with good grace, which is kind of him, but then I learned he is doing three Science Festival events, one tonight with Robin Ince, and two tomorrow. I will miss the talk with Jon Ronson on Paranormality — I need to eat somehow till I get money again, and I could not justify eight quid in the circumstances, but hey, I have got tickets to go to the Playhouse tomorrow and see Richard perform a seance. Ironically it will be the second time I will have observed a seance there this year, the last time being at the Paranormal Festival a few months back. I might check out where the ghost photo was taken that I featured on my blog earlier in the year, the ghostly diminutive figure. 😉 However in the morning I am up early to see Lord Rees talk on Life in the universe as David kindly bought us tickets, and then my Science Festival will come to an end and I will once again immerse myself in the thirteenth century.
I have really enjoyed this years Science festival, and hope to se emore of you there next year!