Thursday, 29 December 2011


As a pre-Christmas treat we went back to see the great Uncaged Monkeys team at the Hammersmith Apollo on 14th December in A Night of 200 Billion Stars. This was perfect timing, as the day before had been Cern’s moment in the limelight with their hints of the Higgs particle. I was a bit worried that there would be a bit too much repetition from the show we had seen in May, with many of the same names appearing, but this was a whole new geek-fest.

The preshow of music and powerpointy images was suitably interrupted by a computer error message, and then Robin Ince opened the show and performed his compere role beautifully.

Things got off to a good start for me with Simon Singh illustrating how the people that think there are messages encoded in the Bible have misunderstood things a bit. My favourite bit though was when he showed us his own Enigma machine in action, taking it apart to show us how it works, then putting it all back together and doing some more typing, with an explanation of how the codes work and can be broken.

Ben Goldacre had a fairly short and angry slot for this show, talking about publication bias and what he sees as a massive medical scandal. The next big highlight was Adam Rutherford’s video tribute to all of the Space Shuttle missions, played very loudly. I saw one of the shuttle launches in the late 1990s, and it brought back some of the exhilaration I felt then. Here it is – play it loud for best effect.

After the interval we had the twitter Q&A which produced this lovely image of the oldest and geekiest boyband in history

We then got on to Brian Cox who, in honour of the Cern events had ditched his planned lectures to replace them with an explanation of what the findings could mean. This he did admirably, so that at the end I understood what the Higgs particle does, and why it is important. Unfortunately, every time I moved my head from then on, bits of understanding leaked out of my ears, so I’m afraid all I can tell you now is that you need to get Brian to explain it to you, and it will make perfect sense. We also got a skype link with a couple of the scientists in the Cern canteen. Hearing the Hammersmith Apollo applauding scientists was a lovely geeky thrill.

Tim Minchin took the last slot and performed a new song Woody Allen Jesus written for the Jonathon Ross show, then produced Ed Sheeran to sing Prejudice with him

The evening ended with Brian Cox accompanying Tim Minchin to White Wine in the Sun which sent us out feeling suitably mellow. We had a lovely time and it was a joy to find so many other people finding the ideas around science inspiring.

A few days later, there was a mini twitter storm when Tim Minchin’s Woody Allen Jesus song was cut from Jonathon Ross’s Christmas show.

I don’t think that the song was offensive, although not one of his best, and if it was cut to avoid a Daily Mail storm, then ITV was truly cowardly. Coincidentally, but with perfect timing, I happened to be reading Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods over Christmas, and think that maybe he has the right attitude.

Perhaps it is time to relax a bit, so here is Tim Minchin giving a sentimental explanation of why he loves Christmas, accompanied by Prof Brian Cox. Joyful, a bit cheesy and contains no gods unless you count sex-gods.

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