Friday, February 20, 2009

Catching up

The lack of activity here in the past month or so doesn’t reflect any on my part; rather, frantic preparations in respect of the previous item have left me not a moment free. I now know the East Midlands line and Platform 1b of Derby station rather better than I might have wished. I’m about to head back up that way with a bag full of powdered magnesium, but don’t tell the guard. If the village hall of Matlock Bath doesn’t vanish in a puff of smoke, Paracelsus and his strange world will emerge at the end of next week. There are more details here.

In the meantime, I have been writing some things. There is an article in New Scientist here on using carbon nanotubes for desalination. I used to be a bit sceptical when ‘desalination’ got thrown in as one of the putative applications of nanotechnology; now I’m persuaded that it is a real and exciting possibility.

If you can bear to hear another word about Darwin, my round-up of the crop of books on the great man (but mostly the magisterial new volume by Desmond and Moore), published in the Observer, is here.

Everyone seems to be talking about ‘science and Islam’ – BBC4 has done a series, the World Service is working on another, and I have reviewed two books on the subject in the Sunday Times here here. One is Ehsan Masood’s nice little history, which accompanies the BBC series and is as good a primer as one could wish for.

Then there is my monthly column for Prospect here, but you’ll need to be a subscriber to see it. Sorry, I usually post them up here before editing, but there’s no time this month…

There has been a smattering of reviews of my novel thanks to the release of the paperback. The Observer was a bit sniffy (here), but more troublingly, failed to understand the main themes (“the censoring effect of scientific orthodoxy [and] the questionable morals behind scientific research” – makes it sound like a crank’s manifesto). The Telegraph was nicer (here).

And I discovered a very interesting paper questioning the supposedly unique origin of silk technology in ancient China (here). As a committed Sinophile, I find this news arouses mixed feelings – but heck, China has enough innovations to its credit regardless.

Finally, I’m speaking on pattern formation at one or two places in the coming weeks: first at the Words by the Water literary festival in Keswick, Cumbria on 1 March (Patricia Fara, who is speaking before me that morning, has a very nice new history of science coming out soon), then at the Royal Institution on 10 March. This is in connection with my three books on the subject, which are due to start appearing at the start of March, published by OUP.