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Richard Dawkins interview

24 Sep

It’s not every day you get to meet Richard Dawkins. In August, I visited the great man at his Oxford home to interview him for BBC Focus magazine. Topics of conversation included his 40-year run of books (beginning with The Selfish Gene in 1976), the evidence for evolution, the possibilities of extraterrestrial life, and the public reaction to The God Delusion (anyone who’s not seen this video of Dawkins reading out some of his hate mail should remedy that now).

You can read my interview in the October 2015 issue of BBC Focus:

dawkinsinterview

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Pablo’s First Christmas

9 Dec

Here’s a competition I couldn’t resist. Children’s writer Susanna Leonard Hill has launched her fourth Annual Holiday Contest – a December tradition that has hitherto passed me by. The task this year: write a children’s story of 350 words or less in which wild weather impacts the holidays. Here’s my effort:

 

Pablo’s First Christmas by James Lloyd (349 words)

Like most parrots, Pablo had never heard of Christmas. After all, not many animals celebrate Christmas in the wild and windy jungle.

But, one December, Pablo had a rather unexpected adventure.

It all began when he was out looking for some breakfast. He’d just spotted some nice, juicy mangoes when a hurricane appeared out of the blue, ripping through the trees and sucking him into its spiralling winds.

Whooooosh! Before he knew it, Pablo had been carried high above the clouds, and when the hurricane finally died down, he found himself in a quiet, suburban street. Christmas lights shone overhead, and the ground was dusted with a layer of fine, untrodden snow.

“How pretty!” said Pablo, smoothing down his feathers. He peered through the window of the nearest house. Inside was a beautiful Christmas tree, glittering with baubles and tinsel, and around it were three children, excitedly opening their presents. Rich smells of roast turkey wafted through the letterbox as Pablo watched them play, but as much as he wanted to join in, he was already missing his home.

“Brrrr,” shivered Pablo. “It’s much too cold here for a parrot. I’m going to go home and show all the other animals how to celebrate Christmas.” So Pablo spread his wings and flew off towards the jungle.

When Pablo arrived home a few days later, the other animals hurried towards him.

“Where have you been?” they asked.

“Well, you’ll never guess,” said Pablo. “A hurricane swept me away to a cold, faraway place where they celebrate Christmas.”

“What’s Christmas?” they asked.

“Oh, it’s amazing,” said Pablo. “There’s snow and there’s lights and the humans all give each other presents.”

“And what do they eat?” asked the lion.

“Roast turkey,” said Pablo. “It smells delicious!”

“You know, there aren’t any turkeys in the jungle,” said the crocodile, a mischievous glint in his eye. “We’ll have to find another bird instead.”

Pablo noticed that all the other animals were looking in his direction, their mouths drooling.

“Oh guuuuys!” said Pablo. “Come on!”

And from that day on, he never mentioned Christmas again.

 


Check out all the other entries on Susanna’s blog here.

Sam at the Window

7 Jul

I recently finished a children’s story called Sam at the Window. Most of it was written a year or so ago, but I’ve just had it illustrated by a wonderful artist called Stefania Manzi.

The story’s about an old fisherman who spends his days watching the world go by from his window, until his routine is disrupted by the appearance of a pint-sized Viking warrior… you can read it below (click the ‘full screen’ icon in the bottom right to make it bigger).

 

Recent writings…

9 Feb

Some of the recent writing shenanigans that I’ve been getting up to…

  • I’ve written an article for the ever-brilliant (and now Wellcome Trust-funded) Guru magazine about the science of dancing. Guru is well worth a look if you haven’t checked it out yet… plenty of thought-provoking articles to get your teeth into (and it’s free to download as well). The February/March issue is out now.

Science of dancing

  • The March 2013 issue of BBC Focus magazine features my interview with Silas Beane, a theoretical physicist who thinks he’s found a way to test the idea that we’re all living inside a Matrix-style simulation. Mind-bending stuff…

Living in a simulation?

  • I’ve also been finding time to write a few short pieces of fiction, including “Little Death” (the story of a trainee Grim Reaper), a poem about history called “Hitler was a Milkmaid” and some other bits and bobs.

A wee update

1 Aug

Things have been a bit quiet here lately, so I thought I’d post a quick update with some of the stuff I’ve been up to.

First off, I’ve contributed an article about gunshot forensics (the idea of using the sound of a gunshot to help solve a crime) to the new issue of Guru magazine, out today. This issue also features articles about GM foods, social media, and the Fukushima disaster, and you can download it for free here.

I’m probably slightly biased, but I reckon Guru does a great job of making science accessible and easy to digest. The magazine is now in its 7th issue, and it’s really exciting to watch the number of writers and followers  growing by the month.  Good work, Dr Stu and co.

Elsewhere, I’ve written a piece for the current issue of BBC Focus magazine about the history and future of television (cool fact: the first TV viewers in the 1930s were called ‘lookers-in’), and I’ve also been writing regular blogs for the magazine’s website. Finally, I recently covered a news story for physicsworld.com about one of the most controversial debates in geology – how hotspot volcanoes such as the Hawaiian Islands are formed.

Anyway, that’s all for now folks. There’ll be another (more interesting) blog post before too long. Toodle pip.

Quantum physics goes to the movies

30 Mar

This movie shows one of the most beautiful – and mind-boggling – experiments in physics: particles behaving as waves as they pass through a diffraction grating.

Each speck of light represents a single molecule that has passed through the grating. If the molecules obeyed the laws of classical physics – the laws that describe the motion of everyday, macroscopic objects – we’d see a pattern corresponding to the slits in the grating, as if we’d thrown a load of blackcurrants through some railings (as you do).

Instead, we see an interference pattern, even though the molecules go through the grating one by one. This can be explained by each molecule having its own wavefront which goes through all the slits at once – it’s a bit like a blackcurrant turning into a wave (of Ribena?), rippling through all the railings, and combining again into a blackcurrant as it hits the wall. Crazy, I know.

This phenomenon is called wave-particle duality, and this movie is the first time it’s been captured on camera for large molecules. As physicists carry out these kinds of experiments with larger and larger molecules, they’ll be able to understand more about the differences between the world we see around us and the strange, surreal world of atoms and molecules.

If you’re interested in finding out more, I wrote an article about this movie for physicsworld.com – click here to have a read.

Johnny and the Wig

17 Nov

I thought I’d post up this children’s poem I recently finished called “Johnny and the Wig”. The illustrations were drawn by the fantastic Victoria Bjørge.

Truth be told, it’s not very science-related, but there are a lot of stars, and a visit to the Moon…

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