Monthly Archives: March 2010

Ada Lovelace Day, March 24th, 2010 – Maggie Aderin-Pocock, space scientist

If you missed the hullabaloo last year, the inaugural Ada Lovelace Day on 24th March, 2009, was created to celebrate the achievements of women in technology by pledging to write a about a favourite woman who has worked with technology, dead or alive – this could also be a mentor, role model or inspiration.

Last year I wrote about Delia Derbyshire, bobmother of electronica, this year I’m writing about space scientist, Maggie Aderin-Pocock, with whom I have share a love space and especially The Clangers and the Moon!

Born in Camden to Nigerian parents, Maggie has been fascinated by space since she was a child. The Clangers introduced her to the idea of ‘space’ and when she was six years-old she came across a book that inspired her ‘it had this astronaut on the cover floating in space with the Earth behind him and I thought wow, I really want to do that!’ Later, watching Star Trek and Carl Sagan’s ‘Cosmos’ on the television inspired her ambition to be an astronaut, but on mentioning this to her teacher the response was to suggest nursing instead. Aged 15 and disappointed by a telescope she brought from Argos, Maggie attended a telescope building class and built her own.

At school she was diagnosed with dyslexia and as was a common outcome at the time she was put into a remedial class. This was not the best start for a space scientist, but her father helped her nurture her ambitions and interests and as the internet had yet to evolve, Maggie spent a lot of her time in the library. This made her dreams of space travel seem more obtainable ‘thanks to his support it seemed entirely reasonable to me that with hard work, a black girl with learning difficulties would soon be travelling from inner London to outer space’. With this help Maggie did well in her exams and gained four A Levels in maths, physics, chemistry and biology and went on to study physics at Imperial College, enjoying her studies so much it led on to a PhD in mechanical engineering.

Since leaving university, Maggie has worked on many projects, her first was at the Ministry of Defence but being a pacifist she had qualms about working for the military, so she endeavored to work on projects which had positive goals in helping people, such as hand-held instruments to detect landmines. Still dreaming of space, Maggie moved on to Imperial College in 1999 to work on a high-resolution spectrograph for the Gemini telescope in Chile – it probes the heart of stars by converting the starlight gathered by huge telescopes into the component rainbow colours, and then analyses them to work out what’s happening billions of miles away. She is presently working at Astrium on observation instruments for the Aeolus satellite, which will measure wind speeds to help the investigation of climate change. Maggie is also helping to coordinate the development of the Mid-Infrared Instrument for the James Webb Space Telescope, the planned replacement for the Hubble, and working with Imperial College on other infrared instruments for monitoring climate change.

Maggie is committed to inspiring new generations of astronauts, engineers and scientists – she has spoken to about 25,000 children, many of them at inner-city schools telling them how and why she is a scientist, busting myths about careers, class and gender as she describes her journey from a dyslexic kid with dreams to respected space scientist. She holds a Science in Society Fellowship awarded in 2006 by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), as well as Honorary Doctor of Staffordshire University for her contributions to the field of science education and an MBE awarded in 2009.

She still wants to travel into space – her dream job to build a telescope on the moon. She says: ‘from the age of three, I wanted to get into space and I still do. It’s been the driving force of my life really, that desire to get out there one day.’ And for later plans ‘I want to retire to Mars, some people choose gardening; I choose Mars’. When Maggie was recently a guest on Radio4’s Desert Island Discs, her one luxury to take with her was a telescope.

List of articles that helped me glean info and quotes for this blog post:

Science Careers – Reaching for the Stars
Staffs University – profile on Maggie
Telegraph – Let’s inspire the next generation of scientists
Royal Institution of Great Britain – Maggie profile


Women in Technology #3

This month’s WIT went to W1 for a civilised evening of pizza, puds and lively chat.

Jamillah Knowles gave us an insight into the history of Radio 5’s Pods & Blogs – a weekly podcast since 2007 and the BBC’s first. Pods & Blogs takes a look at world events from the perspective of the online community, many pushing the boundaries of technology. We also heard some facts about the Ouch Podcast from Gids.

There was a discussion on Twitter etiquette, different approaches to using it for business purposes and personal use.

Jamillah and I gave a short report on some of the fab sights at last weekend’s Maker Faire in Newcastle – from tesla coils to soldering teens. I mentioned the inspiring talk given by Mitch Altman and the key to Noisebridge Hackspace which I now have on my keyring as a symbol of Hacker ethics of excellence and also visit the SF hackers. I also described how Hackspaces work and their open policy.

There was also a hilarious confessional session on our worst email cockups, which I’d love to tell all on, but should prolly follow table NDA rules 😉

Re. WIT news, I’m still trying to set up a workshop on public or presentation speaking. I haven’t had any luck with finding sponsorship but may go along to Toastmasters to find out if we could use some of their methods.

Maker Faire 2010, Newcastle

It’s Wednesday and I’m just reflecting on a fantastic weekend at Maker Faire, part of Newcastle’s ScienceFest. Since the inaugural UK Maker Faire, last March, I’ve been raving about what a good time I had and have been looking forward to the next one. In case you haven’t heard of this event before, it was started in the US by O’Reilly the tech book publishers and is an event mixing technology, science, craft, art, music and anything else in the pursuit of fun through learning. It’s a fab event and attracts families, hobbyists, scientists and geeks, plus lots of interested folk who are drawn by the hullabaloo!

As I don’t think words could describe the event adequately, I’ve made a video of some of the Makers and sights of the show!

This year, for starters I’ve seen musical tesla coils, scientific experiments, a LED cocktail table, a robot that solves Rubix cubes and hexapods – plus I’ve seen tons of making in workshops where anyone could dive in and get their hands dirty; soldering, coding, knitting, icing and all manner of hands on geeking 🙂 I had the most wonderful time catching up with friends as well as playing with and hearing about their amazing projects at the show.

I also went to a very inspiring talk by Mitch Altman, one of the founders of the Noisegate Hackspace in San Francisco. He explained to an attentive audience what happens at a hackspace and some of the ethics behind it, including the open to all policy and the Maker’s Bill Of Rights ‘if you can’t open it you don’t own it’. I came home clutching a key to Noisebridge to remind me of their motto ‘be excellent to each other’ and to arrange a visit to the hackers of SF 🙂

My partner in crime for the weekend, Jamillah Knowles, has a lovely Radio 5 Pods and Blogs piece on the event (don’t forget to listen to the fab podcast) and my colleagues in BBC R&D went along too.

Yay Woo & Hoopla for GameCamp 2010!

I can’t believe it’s been two years since the first GameCamp, an event chocka with amazing talks and fun. It was also a place where I met a fab bunch of people, many whom I now count as friends & colleagues.

Skip to 2010 and again it seems like the right time to have some more gaming fun, so *drum_roll* I’m delighted to pimp a fabulous day of whatever floats your boat in the way of gaming and play…

On Saturday, 12th May we’ll be spending the day indulging, discussing, deconstructing and celebrating our love of games at Whittaker House, Richmond, the lush offices of eBay / PayPal / Gumtree – massive thanks & props to Dees and Steve for sorting this out for us!

So what is GameCamp?

GameCamp is a one-day unconference. If you haven’t been to an unconference before, it ‘s an unstructured event where the attendees fill in the schedule on the day – basically rock up and bring something to the mix. In terms of GameCamp, this could be for example: a talk on game design, a demo of something wonderful you’ve made or played, a passionate discussion on an aspect of gaming that interests you or something more esoteric around the act of play – it’s totally up to you!

So there’s no list of speakers, it’s up to you to come prepared (or just a bit prepped with an idea if you can waffle on your subject) and ready to add your name to the board. There are several streams running concurrently, usually about 7 or 8 of about 25 mins each and if you’re not talking or leading a discussion, you can take your pick of what you fancy attending. There are small and large talk areas to suit various approaches and interests.

We’re going to give away 150 tickets (yes they’re free!) in a couple of tranches, so if you miss the first one due to being on a train, picking up your cats from the airport or stuck in a meeting, you’ll get another chance, but bear in mind they go on a first come first serve basis so keep an eye on the time as we anticipate they will go quickly!

*[see update below] The first tranche is up for grabs on our Eventbrite registration page on Friday 12th March at high noon. Don’t forget if you miss this first set of tickets, we’ll be announcing the next tranche soon so make sure you check the GameCamp blog, @GameCamp on Twitter or Facebook event page (please note, adding yourself to this page doesn’t guarantee tickets, they are only available via the Eventbrite registration page).

We’ve got some very cool sponsors, but we’re still looking for a couple more, so if you’re interested in sponsoring lunch, some after event beers or tourney prizes, do get in touch with me or one of my fabulous co-conspirators: Philip Trippenbach, Rachel Clarke, Katy Lindemann, Mark Simpkins and James Wallis.

Happy gaming!

*UPDATE: Yikes, something went wrong with our booking system on Eventbrite – sadly all our ‘birds’ flew at once and the tickets were all snapped up by eager gamers within half an hour, so I’m extremely sorry if you missed them :’-(
All may not be lost though, as we hope anyone who can’t make it will let us know and we will redeploy the tickets – we have a waiting list here