TEDx Talk cartoonBack in December of last year, just before the Christmas break, I was wrapping up in the office one evening when I got a phone call from the organisers of the first TEDxMacclesfield, scheduled for the following April, they wanted a talk on the SKA. Out of eight talks, this would be the science one. With the project being headquartered 12km from the town, they wanted more people locally to hear about it.

Having in the past been inspired by TED Talks on astronomy, been a volunteer translator for TED, and helped my colleague Maria Grazia prepare her TEDxManchester talk, I immediately said yes.

I approached a colleague to do this one and we decided to focus on Big Data, a hot topic at the moment as more and more experiments are expected to produce huge amounts of data. Weekly two-hour long evening meetings with TEDx ensued to get everything we could say about the project on paper, find a driving theme and hammer out a script.

Unfortunately, in early March, my colleague had to pull out because of a work trip on the date (which turned out to be cancelled in the end). TEDx were about to announce the speakers and they needed a name…so I stepped in.

If you think giving a TEDx Talk is just like giving a presentation in the office, think again. As Tim Urban from Wait But Why – who gave a TED Talk – puts it:

The issue is, a TED Talk is not a speaking gig. In a speaking gig, I stand in front of a group of people and say stuff. That’s not what a TED Talk is. A TED Talk is a widely-distributed short film, except the only actor is my face and the only plot is me saying words out of my face and the only choreographer is my nervous pacing and awkward arm-flailing, and instead of a bunch of cuts and different shots and a long editing process, there’s just one do-or-die take, with no second chances.

Yup. There are also no notes allowed, very few slides and you can’t improvise because there is a strict time limit, so I had to learn my 5-pages long script by heart, until I could recite it in my sleep. If you’d like to learn how this feels and about the theory of different presentation styles, it’s worth reading Tim’s post, available here)

And so weekly meetings continued and we refocused the talk on collaboration and the passion that drives us – the things I could talk about without being *too much* out of my depth. Not a bad thing, since that was to be the theme of the day anyway I learned later.

In the last week, we got a coach to help us with our stage presence and finally, the dress rehearsal. That’s when I learned that my talk was to be the last one of the day, the conclusion. That’s probably as bad as being first. I nearly died, and that’s probably why they hadn’t told me before.

Until the last minute, I kept forgetting bits of my talk. And then, all too soon, D-day arrived. Waiting as every single one of my fellow speakers went through the same ordeal made this the longest Saturday morning I’ve ever had. My turn came, and here’s the result…I hope you enjoy it!


Space: the next frontier!

I haven’t written on the blog in a very, very long time, but what better opportunity to do so than a monumental space achievement!

Look at this video. Simply amazing. This is real footage! This rocket went to space, came back and landed itself on its own on this unmanned floating barge in the middle of a choppy ocean. This makes it reusable, and thus dramatically lowers the cost of sending things to space.
The 14-year old private company behind this feat – the vision of one man – has done what no space agency has ever done in 60 years. “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants” said Isaac Newton, and thus SpaceX builds on decades of innovation & expertise in space technology by governments agencies like Roscosmos, NASA & ESA, to take us beyond and break new ground.
A revolution is taking place in terms of how we access space, and who can access space. What an exciting time to be alive!


The Martian: a promising upcoming scifi movie!

The Martian is coming out in November, and it’s looking very promising!

The movie stars Matt Damon as a stranded astronaut on Mars who must survive until a rescue mission can be put together. The movie, directed by Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Prometheus, etc.) is based on the best-selling novel by Andy Weir.

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Wanderers – a short film by Erik Wernquist from Erik Wernquist on Vimeo.

Yesterday I discovered this must-watch video. A futuristic short-film, beautifully crafted, based on digitised real images of real Solar System locations and narrated by Carl Sagan’s hypnotic voice. The end result? a beautiful, inspiring video.

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Bringing space back to people

This weekend I discovered Ambition, a mind-blowing short film. Ambition brings the story of the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission to the screen. If you don’t know about it, Rosetta is a space probe that was sent 10 years ago to rendezvous with a comet, and after recently arriving, in a few weeks will drop a probe on its surface to study the origins of water on Earth (thought to come from comets). It’s a truly audacious mission that had never been attempted before.

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