March 2010

ALD10: Maggie Philbin

by Suw on March 24, 2010

Photo by Benjamin Ellis

If you were a teenaged geek in the 80s, you were probably glued to the TV set every week for Tomorrow’s World. It was certainly unmissable viewing in our household. The idea that we might perhaps catch a glimpse of the future was tantalising, but not as tantalising as the fact that the show went out live and sometimes, well, things didn’t go according to plan. Kieran Prendiville in particular seem to suffer regular calamity.

But the person I remember most clearly from those years was Maggie Philbin. She co-presented the show from 1985 until 1994. I was 14 when she started working on Tomorrow’s World and going through the ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ discussion quite regularly. My school careers advisor was no use: She just said “Well, Susan, you seem to be quite good at everything, so you can do whatever you like.” Right, well, that helps me narrow things down!

Yet there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to go into the sciences. I mean, why wouldn’t I? Maggie Philbin was up there, using technology live on TV and if she could do it, so could I!

Although Maggie told us a lot about the future, I’m not sure that anyone knew which of the inventions that featured on the show were going to make it. Maggie herself wrote:

I would love to say I recognised their significance immediately but often the technology was fragile or incomplete – a mixture of space age and Stone Age – and the real potential was hidden.

The fax machine, sat-nav, bar-code reader and digital cameras did all become commonplace, and all passed through Maggie’s hands (except the camera, which she had to ‘demonstrate’ without having the actual thing!). Of course, she also demoed the “the fishing rod that lit up in the dark, the washing line that sang when it rained and the electric blanket that knew where your hot bits were”, and we all know what commercial successes they were!

(If you want a bit of a flashback, the BBC have several episodes of Tomorrow’s World online, including their 21st Anniversary show.)

When I was watching TV as a kid, I’m not sure that I realised how important it was for me to see women like Maggie Philbin and Judith Hann – another Tomorrow’s World presenter – demoing technology on TV. For them, talking about tech was second nature and in the Tomorrow’s World team they weren’t relegated to the soft and fluffy stories, but showed us real, proper inventions. I had never heard the word ‘geek’ back then, but if I had I would have recognised not only myself in that word but also these intelligent, articulate women whom I watched avidly each week.

L-R: Peter McCann, Maggie Philbin, Judith Hann

And really, this is what Ada Lovelace Day is about: creating role models for girls (and other women) around the world. I don’t think we have enough smart science and technology shows on TV at the moment. Whilst the BBC has produced some great programmes, there’s a distinct lack of female scientists and technologists on TV right now. Where are our own home-grown Maggie Philbins and Judith Hanns?

{ Comments on this entry are closed }


by Suw on March 22, 2010

A couple of days ago a volcano called Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland erupted in a classic ‘curtain of fire’. The photos and video of the event are pretty, as well as pretty impressive.

There are some fab photos on Flickr too, and more footage on the BBC.

It’s times like this I really wish I was still a geologist. Over the years I’ve had crises of confidence about whether I should have stayed in geology or not. Those don’t happen any more, mainly because of Kevin. Had I gone back to academia I would never have met him and I would be infinitely worse off. But yet, I do still yearn for science. I think sometimes that I try to take a scientific, evidence-based approach to social media precisely because my scientific side is not being satisfied.

I’ve always struggled to balance my creative and my scientific sides. At university, there wasn’t enough room for me to be creative. In fact, being creative felt like a burden. I remember sitting in paleo lab sessions and so very carefully drawing my specimens to an artistic standard that was unnecessarily high. I’d get three or four specimens done, when I should have finished 10.

My first job out of uni was in science publishing. I was an ‘editorial assistant’, which meant I did lots of admin. That didn’t satisfy any of my intellectual or creative needs at all. When there was talk that the company was going to open a geology title, I lobbied in favour and put myself forward as a candidate for the editor’s position. They didn’t encourage such behaviour and, realising that I had nowhere to go, I left.

That was the last time that I’ve been in an even vaguely scientific environment. These days I think I’m making headway on satisfying my creative needs. My writing and bookbinding fills me with excitement and happiness. Perhaps the changes that Kevin and I are making right now will allow me to start to satisfy my scientific side too.

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

Second attempt

by Suw on March 20, 2010

Inspired by the How To Bind A Book video (sadly not embeddable) and the books I bought, I had a go at my first hard-back pamphlet this week. I sewed two blank paper signatures and trimmed them square (-ish, as I don’t know where my set square has gone to!) to form the innards of the book, or “book block”.

I then found a random bit of cardboard that I could cover with a nice sheet of paper that was left over from when I was designing wedding invitations two years ago! I cheated a bit and used the spray mount glue that was also left over from making invitations. I know that PVA or wheat paste is preferred, but I’m going to use everything I have lying around the flat for my practice booklets before I start buying new stuff. I then attached the cover to the book block using endpapers.

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with the result. I have learnt a little about measuring and allowances for the spine which will play into my next attempt. The booklet still gapes, and even squishing it under a pile of heavy books hasn’t fixed that, but I think that’s related to the issues around having not quite enough play in the spine area. I also feel like I didn’t sew the signatures together tightly enough. There’s a gap between them in the middle of the book and although it’s not a significant problem it does look unsightly.

Right, now the photos:

The cover has little metallic flecks in it:

Booklet 2

The endpaper! Not brilliantly glued down, but still, functional:

Booklet 2

If you look at the biggest size of this photo on Flickr, you can see that there’s a bit of an unsightly gap between the signatures. Need to get my sewing tighter:

Booklet 2

I really can’t wait to get myself onto a bookbinding course! I’m considering raising the money to pay for it via a Kickstarter project in which I publish Argleton as a hand-bound pamphlet. Whaddayareckon? Good idea?

{ Comments on this entry are closed }


by Suw on March 19, 2010

Making a blank booklet is one thing. Binding a book full of text and pictures and stuff is definitely the other, mainly because you need to get all your pages in the right order. Unfortunately, the right order is not 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…

If you think about an 8 page booklet, made of two sheets of paper each with four pages on, the 1st page (the front cover) is on the same sheet as the 8th page (the back cover). On the other side of that sheet you’ll have pages 2 and 7; the second sheet will be 6 and 3, then 4 and 5 (the centre spread).

Although it’s really not that complicated this ‘bookletisation’ – more properly called imposition – can get a bit mind-bending if you’re doing a book that’s made up of lots of smaller booklets – more properly called signatures. So let’s say you have a 64 page book, and you’re going to bind it using 4 signatures of 16 pages printed on 4 sheets of paper (each with 4 pages) that will be folded in half and sewn in the middle. That means that your page order starts:

16 – 1
2 – 15
14 – 3
4 – 13
12 – 5
6 – 11
10 – 7
8 – 9
32 – 17
18 – 31
30 – 19
20 – 29 etc.

The pattern is relatively straightforward, but you wouldn’t want to be laying it out by hand! Instead there’s imposition software which takes a PDF ordered normally and then shuffles it all about depending on how many sheets of paper you have in each signature.

Searching the internet for something that works for Mac, I came across this great review of the three main ones: BookLightning, Cheap Impostor and CocoaBooklet. After looking at all three, I decided to go with Cheap Impostor, as it is shareware, which means that I can play with it immediately and pay for it when I know I’m actually going to use it properly. So far, it does the trick perfectly.

I took the most recent version of Book of Hay and ran it through, printing it out on A5 sheets to fold into an A6 booklet. It’s kind of amazing to see your work in proper book form, rather than as one long document on screen. It really changes your relationship to it. It is no longer just a long stream of words, it’s actually broken up in to proper pages and, as you read it, it behaves like a proper book. I can see this being very useful in the writing process, as it will give me a better sense of what the final thing will read like.

I can’t wait to get Argleton, my current short story effort, finished now so that I can get the first draft bound up into a pamphlet. I’m trying to think about what sort of binding would be best for it, what would match the contents most accurately. It’s a whole new way of thinking about writing and it’s bringing back some of the excitement that has been missing over the last few months.

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

From end to end

by Suw on March 13, 2010

A few weeks ago I went to The Story and listened to Cory Doctorow read aloud his The Story So Far, about stories, books, publishing and bookbinding:

She’d clearly bound them herself. Someone had taught her to really sew, her gran, maybe. You could see it in the neat stitching that ran along the binding and the spine, holding together the nylon and the denim, taken from a pair of jeans, a backpack. The end-papers were yellowed page three girls, strategically cropped just below the nipples.

About three nights later, I dreamt that Cory had given me loose printed pages of The Story and that I had hand-bound them together to match the binding therein described. The idea of binding books has been taking up space in my brain ever since. I’ve continued to dream about it, think about it, Google it, watch videos about it and Twitter about it. The idea won’t let me go.

Yesterday, I went to Falkiners on Southampton Row, a bookbinding store and stationers wherein I could quite easily blow my credit cards. The staff at the bookbinding counter, downstairs in case you’re wondering, were both kind and helpful. I’m always a bit nervous going into the inner sanctum of shops about whose craft I know next to nothing, but the chap who spoke to me was warm, welcoming and gave me the basic necessities to get me started.

I also got a couple of books about bookbinding and watched a few videos. (The chap at Falkiners actually recommended searching through YouTube as apparently there’s a wealth of help there.) Last night I finally got a chance to make a 16 page pamphlet, with a sewn binding and a simple card cover.

It turns out that this bookbinding lark is incredibly simple and yet also horribly difficult. What you have to do to bind a book is quite straightforward, but making it not look shit is a real art. This slightly rubbish photo, courtesy of my iPhone, depicts my very first effort.


I have a very long way to go indeed, but even though the journey will be long, my destination is an exciting one: I hope that in the not too distant future I’ll be binding copies of my own stories. A full end-to-end process, from the imagination to a physical artefact that I can hold in my hands. Maybe it’s just that I work too much in the ethereal world of the interwebz, but the idea of creating something solid and permanent makes the process of writing that much more attractive. I don’t just want to say “I wrote this”, but also “I made this”.

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

Two weeks to ALD10!

by Suw on March 10, 2010

From the Ada Lovelace Day blog…

There are just two weeks to go until Ada Lovelace Day 2010, and we still have a fair few bloggers, Twitterers, podcasters, web comic artists, and videocasters to recruit. We have 1114 pledgers and need 1958 more people to sign up. That’s a challenge with only 14 days to go, but if everyone recruits just two more people, we’ll still make it!

There’s loads of stuff going on around Ada Lovelace Day this year. We have events in London and worldwide (Copenhagen, Dresden and Montreal, with the promise of others to come). The London Potluck Unconference, to be held at the Centre for Creative Collaboration in Kings Cross, 6.00pm onwards, still has some places left, so please nab yours now, whilst you can.

We have T-shirts on their way – we’re just polishing off the design and hope to get them up and ready for you to buy very soon. We also now have an Offers page which currently carries a 10% discount from the lovely people at AdaFruit Industries. Again, we hope to have more there for you soon!

If you’d like to get involved, then our main need at the moment is promotion. We need to get more people signed up, and here’s how you can help:

  • Send a Tweet, update your Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn status
  • Write a blog post about Ada Lovelace Day
  • Email your friends and/or relevant mailing lists
  • Post an item on LinkedIn or Facebook Groups
  • Encourage other people to do something to promote Ada Lovelace Day!

There’s more info on how to help, including a Tweet you can just cut and paste, on the blog!

We do have more goodies in the pipeline, so stay tuned for more news!

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

Cat lift

by Suw on March 4, 2010

The entire ensemble is operated by the cat, via sensors:

I am sure Grabbity and Mewton would love one of these!

{ Comments on this entry are closed }