Here and there, two beams intersect, and through your headphones, two audio samples blend. As you step away from a light source, the voice in your headphones – an airman’s memoir, instructions to ground staff, a loved one’s letter, a child’s recollections – slowly fade.
It wasn’t until they were testing their system that Malikides came across the pre-history of this “li-fi” tech. Alexander Graham Bell invented it, using sunlight and a deformable mirror to send sound information across space.
Visiting IWM Duxford for New Scientist, 5 July 2017. The artist Nick Ryan showed me round his new sound sculpture, DX17.
The rule used to be that if you wanted to study something you went out and shot it: the rifle was as much part of your kit as your magnifying glass. The Maoris of Polynesia, aware of the value Western visitors put on souvenirs, used to catch people, tattoo their faces, decapitate them and sell their heads to collectors. The draughtsman aboard Charles Darwin’s ship the Beagle had a travel box lined with the tattooed skin of dead Maori warriors.
Visiting Tattoo: British Tattoo Art Revealed, National Maritime Museum, Falmouth for New Scientist, 1 July 2017
“Something about your grip here is stopping her moving,” frets the choreographer. “Can we get his hips to go the other way?”
Visiting a rehearsal of 8 Minutes, Alexander Whitley’s Sadler’s Wells main-stage debut, for New Scientist, 17 June 2017
Show dates are here
Above the exhibits in the first room of Hello, Robot, a large sign asks: “Have you ever met a robot?” Easy enough. But the questions keep on coming, and by the end of the exhibition, we’re definitely not in Kansas any more: “Do you believe in the death and rebirth of things?”; “Do you want to become better than nature intended?”
Visiting a stand-out touring exhibition for New Scientist, 6 June 2017
Science fiction enters clad in the motley of costume drama: polished, chromed, complete, not infrequently camp. But there’s always a twist, a tear, a weak seam. This genre takes finery from the prop shop and turns it into something vital – a god, a golem, a puzzle, a prison. In science fiction, it matters where you are and how you dress, what you walk on and even what you breathe. All this stuff is contingent, you see. It slips about. It bites.
To introduce a New Scientist speaking event at London’s Barbican centre on 29 June, I took a moment to wonder why the present looks so futuristic.
At 1.30pm on Thursday 28 September, I’ll be bringing Stalin and his scientists to New Scientist Live at the Excel in London. Further details here.
On 16 August at 2pm I’ll be bringing Stalin’s scientists to the Edinburgh International Book Festival. More details here.
At what point does a practical problem become an existential one? When do we have to admit that not everyone can experience everything – and what do we do about that? Forgery is no solution because good forgeries are, by definition, as exclusive as originals: if the original turns up, the forgery loses all value. But what if we undermined cultural norms to the point where fakery was the norm?
A visit to the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam and the Tinguely Museum Basel for New Scientist, 13 May 2017.
“The aim of my work is to create a visually attractive image that draws the viewer in, then shocks them with what is represented,” artist Mandy Barker explains. “This contradiction between beauty and fact is intended to make people question how their shoe, computer, or ink cartridge ended up in the sea.”
A short feature for New Scientist, 22 April 2017
He ended up on this island in this rather beautiful part of the country, on a very beautiful lake with the Ural Mountains in the background and flowers awaiting him on his doorstep—and far in the distance, men with dogs and some barbed wire.
I talk to Marina Koren of The Atlantic about the Soviet Union’s system of special prisons.