Monday, 14 December 2015

My 2015 Reading List

As many people are looking for presents at this time of year I thought I would round up some of my favourite books that I read in 2015 (along with a few other favourites).

My plan was to write full reviews of all of these books but somehow it is the end of the year and I never quite managed it. This year has gone by so quickly.

If you have any suggestions of your own please add them below. I am looking for a few new reads over the holidays

So You've been Publicly Shamed, Jon Ronson
I really enjoyed this book and the follow ups Jon has done with people who have become well known for all the wrong reasons due to exploits, mishaps and misinterpretations on social media. It starts to think about how and why people behave like they do online and it could go into a little more depth but is a great read to make you think about how mob mentality, anonymity and online behaviour in general can be a powerful tool but also a dangerous force.

How to Thrive in the Digital Age, Nick Harkaway 
A great, short, positive discussion of where we are today in the digital era. It explores a lack of control in the online environment and risk but also the huge opportunity we all have.

Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread - The Lessons from a New Science, Alex Pentland 
This is a brilliant book about how effective networks can be created. It's data and experiment led and includes evaluations of interventions that companies have put in place to provide a creative and idea rich environments. It's focused on offline rather than online networks but there is some discussion of the use of social media. The author quotes his own studies for most of the book and I would have liked to have seen more of an alternative perspective but for anyone who works with ideas and/or people this is highly recommended.

The Man Who Changed Everything: The Life of James Clerk Maxwell, Basil Mahon 
A great biography of Maxwell, it does get pretty heavy on the physics but I like that they haven't skipped on the science as often happens in books about scientists.

River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze, Peter Hessler
I read this book while I was in China and it really helped me relate to the country and the people I was meeting. It took me a little while to get into the book at first but once the writers journey in China settles a bit it becomes really good. Even if you don't have an interest in China it is an excellent read. I want to read his follow up now.

Lost At Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries
If you like stories about people and stories about the weird things people do and get up to then you will enjoy this collection of short stories. Easy, enjoyable reading.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot
If you haven't read this book yet then you need to. It's an incredible story of rapid scientific development alongside a family story of understanding. I read this book when it first came out but it is one of the most important books that I have ever read and so I wanted to include it on this list. 

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

PechaKucha, Androids and Line: Science Communication in Japan

The last week of my Churchill Fellowship was spent in Tokyo, Japan. I learnt an immense amount about Japan, it's attitudes to science, engagement initiatives and its use of social media ... did you know Japan has a social network called Line? No, me neither... My short trip also included a PechaKucha presentation, a debate about whether we could love robots and a meeting with the ultimate in robots, ASIMO.

Tokyo was incredible. I completely fell in love with its chaos, speed and the people.

During my week I went along to the PechaKucha nights and spoke about my Fellowship and my journey in science communication. You can watch it below. If you don't know what PechaKucha is, you have 20 images and 20 seconds to talk about each one. It's a challenge but great fun.

The night was really enjoyable and there was about 250 people there. I really enjoy running the PechaKucha nights in Aberdeen so it was fantastic to meet with the founders and organisers of the nights. It's amazing that PechaKucha nights now run in over 800 cities around the world. All the PechaKucha team have been great to chat to via email and they were just as great in person. The other talks from the night were really fantastic too so you should check them out.

ASIMO and how the Earthquake changed how Japan interacts with science

I was privileged to meet with staff from Miraikan, Japan's National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. Also, the home of ASIMO.

I learnt how after the 2011 Earthquake the centre was closed due to some damage and during this time the team started to think about how they could still interact with the public without a physical science centre. They set up a Facebook and a website to gather science questions from the public and the sites were inundated with queries. Responses were created by the science communicators and scientists who they approached to answer questions. This dialogue seems to be ingrained within Miraikan as there are an unlimited number of opportunities to share your own views on science and our lives.

The team at Miraikan, Tomonori Hayakawa, Yuko Okayama and Chiharu Yamada from the science communication, office of International Affairs and Public Relation sections.

The exhibits include the science and scientists too, you can participate in real experiments. My favourite exhibit was about the future of data and technology, Anagura: "It is a research laboratory for sharing people's information and turning the connections into a powerful force for humankind."

The Anagura exhibition, the round projections on the floor followed you as you moved around and interacted with the stands.

I got a little excited about the shop...

Could we fall in love with an android?

My first few days in Tokyo were spent at Tokyo Tech with Professor Kayoko Nohara and found out more about her work into research into translation and science communication. They have run a number of science cafe's but created a new, more interactive format that fuses art and science in a 'creative cafe'. These Creative Cafe's involve the audience in the event and sound like a fantastic exploration of science beyond the lab and lecture format.

I also met with Professor Tom Hope at Tokyo Tech and was lucky enough to attend his 'Think Aloud' session where I debated whether we could ever fall in love with androids and what it means to be human and the concept of love with students who are practicing their English skills and discussing science and societal issues at the same time.

The students also chatted to me about how they use social media (Facebook, Twitter and Line). Line is a little like Whatsapp and WeChat but is used to plan social events and connect with others of similar interests. It's also popular because it's 'stickers' which include dancing rabbits and other things..

How many graduates from your university have traveled to space?

Later in the week I met with the public relations team at the University of Tokyo. They have developed a bilingual digital resource to connect people with the UToyko Research. Discussing with them I learnt what happens when one of the Professors you work with is awarded the Nobel Prize, how the general community in Japan is pretty interested in science and technology and is also trusting of science and scientists. GMO's, climate change, vaccines are not topics of 'debate' in Japan.

We had a great discussion with a wider group of staff about interactions via social media and the challenges of having to ensure that both English and Japanese translations are included. Many manage not one, but two social media sites that are the same but differ in their language. It's also challenging because the descriptors and language used for a Japanese audience aren't always what they would like to host in English.

They had a great shop on their beautiful campus too. The shop sold not only University of Tokyo branded goods but objects, items and information about spin out companies from the University and their own branded Sake, created from a strain of yeast they thought was destroyed but was found in the university archives many years later.

The University of Tokyo campus

Participating in an experiment looking at walking styles at Miraikan

See you soon Japan!

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