24 March 2010 1 Comment

Ada Lovelace Day

Ada Lovelace Day


Today’s the day to celebrate women in technology by writing a few words about a woman you find inspiring. There’s more about Ada and how you can join in here.

I’ve read some of the blogs which have already come from all over the world and they’re brilliant. From clever mates at school, to talented podcasters, to unsung heroines. It’s a powerful insight into the nature of inspiration but most importantly a great record of female achievement.

On Friday, at an event for for 300 teenagers I asked the room to imagine a scientist. After a few seconds I asked  if anyone had imagined a woman. Just six hands were lifted.

Tonight, at the  Potluck Unconference I’ve a few minutes to talk about one woman who’s inspired me. I’m finding it very difficult to make a choice, which is why  some old colleagues from Tomorrow’s World may have  their ears burning. Friends like Judith Hann, who you’ll know and brilliant producers like  like Cynthia Page, Fiona Holmes, Dana Purvis, Caroline van Den Brul, Bettina Lerner, Sue Spindler, Sally Dixon, Teresa Hunt, Jane Aldous, Hilary McGough and Annis Barr, who made sure Judith and myself were never seen as technology handmaidens.

But while I decide, let me  celebrate my mum,  forced to leave school at 14 by her father (an engineer), who didn’t believe education for girls was important. For her, the war provided a great opportunity; she was swift to volunteer and went out to Egypt and Palestine with the WAAF, working in Signals with radar and as a wireless operator, jobs she loved.


Along with her friends,  she played a huge part in overthrowing received ideas about what women could and couldn’t do.

And later, she made sure that I had the education she missed. Thank you Mum.

12 January 2010 Comments Off

Jobs for the Future

Jobs for the Future

What do your children want to be when they grow up? A new report  ”The Shape of Jobs to Come” by Fast Future Research and commissioned by the Science : (So what? So Everything) campaign takes a look at the jobs they might be doing in 2030 , jobs which don’t yet exist.

It’s very detailed but one of the engaging conclusions is a long list of 110 “new ” professions. They’ve focussed on 20 of these, providing a projected “Day In the Life” for future careers ranging from “Nano-medic” to “Virtual Clutter Organiser”.

What about Vertical Farming?

What about Vertical Farming? More about this at http://www.chrisjacobs.com/?cat=3

The real purpose is to encourage children to see that there are many more opportunities in science and technology than they might have realised.  And that if you really want to make a difference to  a world challenged by climate change, population growth and an ageing demographic, then carrying on with maths and physics is a good idea.

Here’s the list:

1. Body Part Maker

2. Nano-Medic

3. Pharmer of Genetically Engineered Crops and Livestock

4. Old Age Wellness Manager / Consultant Specialists

5. Memory Augmentation Surgeon

6. New Science Ethicist

7. Space Pilots, Architects and Tour Guides

8. Vertical Farmers

9. Climate Change Reversal Specialist

10. Quarantine Enforcer

11. Weather Modification Police

12. Virtual Lawyer

13. Avatar Manager / Devotees - Virtual Teachers

14. Alternative Vehicle Developers

15. Narrowcasters

16. Waste Data Handler

17. Virtual Clutter Organizer

18. Time Broker / Time Bank Trader

19. Social ‘Networking’ Worker

20. Personal Branders

3 December 2009 8 Comments

The Real Geniuses of the BBC

The Real Geniuses of the BBC

On BBC Click this weekend you’ll see a few glimpses of the BBC’s R&D centre at Kingswood Warren.

If you’re a serious geek you may have heard of it but chances are you haven’t. Most people who work at the BBC are unaware of their work and only the tiniest proportion have ever bothered to go and visit.

Yet it’s one of the most fascinating and significant places in broadcasting. For the past 60 years they’ve been creating and testing key technology used in  studios and sitting rooms- from HDTV to Digital Radio, from everyday radio mics to the ambitious technologies of 3DTV we’ll enjoy in the future.

Early radio camera

Early radio camera- Kingswood Archive

Kingswood Warren - Fieldstore Standards Converter

Kingswood Warren - Fieldstore Standards Converter

  • They list their top ten successes as
    • FM Radio and RDS
    • The first switch-over, 405-line black & white TV to 625-line colour
    • Analogue TV Standards Conversion
    • Teletext
    • Digital Television
    • High-definition TV
    • DAB Radio
    • Online bbc.co.uk and beyond
    • Production Magic virtual graphics (SMART, Match of the Day, Bamzooki)
    • DVB-T2 enabling HD on Freeview in winter 2009

Walking down the panelled corridors of the neo- Gothic house, through to brick built labs, you find iconic pieces of televison history stashed in corners. Graham Thomas pointed out the enormous set used for early experiments for HDTV, which Kingswood were working on 26 years ago. He said it took 6 men with poles to lift , which is presumably why it still sits proudly in a corner, watching its flat screen progeny.

kingswood Graham and HDTV

Graham Thomas and the HDTV

One of the most curious places is the anechoic chamber, a sealed room built in the sixties lined with a metre of soundproofing foam and used for audio experiments. A live mic dangles from the ceiling as a safety measure. No sound gets in or out of this place, so if you were ever accidentally shut in, no-one would hear you scream. You can’t help but think this must have happened.

Kingswood Warren Archive . Not sure what they're testing but would like to think it's the first shower radio :-)

Kingswood Warren Archive. Not sure what they're testing but would like to think it's the first shower radio.

My producer LJ Rich in Anechoic Chamber

My producer LJ Rich in the Anechoic Chamber

We were filming so there wasn’t time to stop and quietly record the sound for you. But here’s flautist John Hackett demonstrating the acoustics  in there

You time travel around the site. Back to childhood,as you walk past the studio where they filmed Bill and Ben, forward to 2012 and the plans for  live graphics illustrating the muscle power of athletes and the velocity of their throws.You squeeze past test cards from the seventies and pattened sofas to watch a stunning demonstration of 3DTV on a 40in screen without glasses.

The entrance hall at Kingswood Warren - high tech and chandeliers

The entrance hall at Kingswood Warren - high tech and chandeliers

Test card for flesh tones

Test card for flesh tones

kingswood Warren -Radio project

Kingwood Warren - Radio Project

Kingswood Warren screenshot of Piero

Kingswood Warren - Piero

It’s well worth taking a look at the wealth of their projects on their website.

They have learnt to be patient and incredibly philosopical about their work . Andy Bowers , who now heads up the Research Department, says that when he joined 26 years ago as a trainee, one of the first projects he worked on was HDTV, deciding on the number of lines and the size of the screen. But it’s been a worthwhile wait.

Other technology is ready but waits quietly for the right moment. Surround video – where the images are shot on both a fish eye and conventional HD camera may be used to bring the 2012 Olympics to city centres, giving people the sense of being right in the stadium. Or it may bring you the ultimate game world. Or it may never see the commercial light of day.

Surround video in one of Kingswood's "sitting rooms"

Surround video in one of Kingswood's "sitting rooms"

In a matter of weeks the department will leave the tranquil  atmosphere of Kingswood  for White City, where their ground breaking work will continue. It seems a suitable moment to say thank you to these self-effacing engineers, with superb minds, who have delivered such important projects. You might like to send them a Christmas card.

We should do more to promote the work of teams like these, to inspire the next generation to share the challenges of creating the broadcasting technologies of 2050. They couldn’t be in better company.