Science Tuesday (with some incidental Shakespeare)

Having had a wee day off on Monday (real life getting in the way), it was back to the science festival on Tuesday. I had finally met Juliet Wilson (CraftyGreenPoet) on Saturday (we’d corresponded on our blogs and twitter for ages), so it was great to meet up with another of the Clicket bloggers – Colin Shelbourn.

We arranged to meet at the science fiction exhibition at the National Library – sci-fi’s not really one of my preferred genres these days, but I did grow up on Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke so I thought I’d be interested to have look at some of the older stuff. However, it turned out that the exhibition is tiny! Just one cabinet. Interesting enough if you’re going past, but not really something to have a big detour for. Although Colin was quite chuffed to see their collection of Stargazer comics because he used to write for them (How does it feel Colin, being in a museum?)

Since we were already there, we took a look around the ‘After Macbeth’ Shakespeare-and-Scotland exhibition, which I really liked – I never knew about all the Scots who read Shakespeare in or soon after his own time and collected the quartos, and then the later Scottish Shakespeare scholars. I must go and have another look before the exhibition finishes.

After tea, writing and people watching in the museum, it was on to Ghillie Dhu for my first talk of the day, Emergency 2012. It was a really interesting talk, but not quite what I thought it was when I bought my ticket. It was about major disaster risks but from the blurb I thought it would cover a wider variety of risks than just the geological – the blurb mentioned pandemics twice.

Anyway, it seems we have enough to worry about just on the geological side! Bill McGuire explained with great clarity how melting ice sheets and rising sea levels can provoke a response in terms of volcanoes, landslides, earthquakes and flooding. It seems that many volcanoes are rather hair-trigger (the one on Montserrat goes off when it rains a lot) and it wouldn’t take much of a change in climate to make a big change in their activity. I’d also never heard of the lake in Tajikistan that’s probably going to affect 5 million people when it breaks its natural dam…

I certainly learnt a lot and I’ll be picking up Bill’s book when it comes into the library. I’d recommend you read it to. You might be surprised. I never knew that Shetland had experienced 3 tsunamis in the last 8000 years!

I wasn’t wild on the venue at Ghillie Dhu. It’s a lovely big room, and you can have beer with your talk which is rather marvellous. But I’m the world’s worst fidgeter and the chairs didn’t help (whereas I sat in the National Museum auditorium from 10 till 5 on Saturday and the only shuffling about came from my incessant tweeting). The sound system didn’t seem great at the start when Hermione Cockburn was speaking, though it was fine for the actual talk.

So it was nice to go back to the comfy museum for the second talk of the night, which was How Far, How Fast, How High? (or, as nutritionist Ron Maughan had it, ‘How Far, How Fat, How High’!) Again, a talk that didn’t do exactly what it said on the tin – it was advertised as asking what the limits of human physical performance are, but that was only addressed in the questions afterwards. Instead we had 4 interesting talks about psychology (Dave Collins telling us how weight lifters do better when they believe they’re on steroids but fall back when told it’s placebo), physiology (Andy Jones demonstrating that Paula Radcliffe really is extraordinary), genetics (Yannis Pitsiladis with the surprising result that the genes covering athletic performance haven’t really been identified) and nutrition (Ron Maughan telling us what actually works in diet and supplements). It was interesting to see what is known about improving performance in different domains and the need for all these different aspects.

So a good solid day, but not quite as outstanding as the Enlightenment Exchange. Plenty of events still to look forward to though!

Note: my How Fast, How Far, How High? ticket was given to me for free as part of the Bloggers Challenge.

Colin also blogged How Fast, How Far, How High? and some general scenes from the museum – I love his cartoons!

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