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?

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Drouth termination! Free rain!

by Suw on December 8, 2008

Sometimes, I just love spam:

Drouth Termination and Then Free Rain

How can anyone resist free rain? It’s usually so expensive here. I wonder how well Mr Sander does with plagues of locusts or, in a surprise reversal of fortune, rains of frogs?

Although isn’t offering services such as “drouth termination” somewhat heretical for a self-confessed Christian businessman? Surely that’s God’s job?

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Money as debt

by Suw on October 13, 2008

This is a fascinating video, one very pertinent to the current economic situation. It’s the sort of video that makes you wonder why you never asked the question “Where does all the money come from?” The answer is not what you think. (Via Euan.)

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Underfloor heating

by Suw on June 30, 2007

I find it weird when I hear people on TV saying things like “Underfloor heating is quite new in the UK” when the Romans were doing it two thousand years ago. Never fails to amaze me how slow we are to rediscover stuff our ancestors knew.

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by Suw on April 4, 2007

I just deleted the last five comments on CnV by accident. Sorry! If you commented and your comment is gone, please don't take it personally!

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The dread sigil Odegra

by Suw on June 27, 2006

OK… I think this is the most bizarre piece of spam I have ever received.

Dearest Internet Personality,
My name is Cabe Unger, and I have a passing interest in occult symbols.
I am trying to spatially define the mythic “Odegra”, but have been unable
to find matching illustrations from independant sources.
I have thus far seen a bas-relief serpent, a crude ink drawing, and a written
description that likens the Odegra to the M25 London orbital motorway,
but I would really like some more input, preferably one from a historical
source, or a fraud so well done that it can pass for historical.
As you come up as one of the major Odegra hit pages on internet search
engines, I, of course, assume you to be one of the world's leading specialists
in Odegra research.
If you do ndeed have any background information on the actual visible shape
of the dread sigil Odegra, I would be exceedingly pleased to recieve your
Yours in Almonsin-Metatron,
Yogsotot Neblod Zin,
Shalom, Zie Gezunt,
Cabe Unger

Huh. I'm one of the world's leading specialists in Odegra research. Who knew? The only time I have ever mentioned it was the day that I found Neil Gaiman's blog. The really bizarre thing is that if you Google for 'odegra', that post does indeed come up tops, just above 'Odegra Limited'. Neil comes 5th, and after that the results appear to be in Polish.
I'm not sure what this means, on a day when I am supposed to be going to karaoke tonight, with a hot, itchy, infected tooth. Probably that it's going to rain the whole day. Oh, wait, the evil portent foreshadowing that was Wimbledon.

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Dying silk

by Suw on April 4, 2006

I rather stupidly put 70 quid's worth of silk skirt through the washing machine. It is, to say the least, a shadow of it's previous silky black self. I mean, the dye hasn't washed out completely or anything, but it now has a grey sheen to it that it didn't have before but which makes it look old. I know silk is tricksy stuff. Any tips on restoring it to its former glory?

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My boyfriend's friend's friend's boyfriend to his boss:

“I really am trying to see things from your point of view, but I just can't stick my head that far up my ass.”

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Cameron: I'm listening to the show. you make me laugh
Suw: glad i make someone laugh. although, weirdly, i listen back to the show and somehow make myself laugh, even though i know what i said.
Cameron: I'm sure there a psychiatric condition for someone who laughs at themselves
Suw: narhahassicism?

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Just fyi really, I'm on Radio Five Live again tomorrow morning, live at 10.30am on the Julian Worricker show talking about blogging and, more amusingly, life blogging the whole thing. So keep hitting refresh and leave your comments on the blog for the show's producer to read through.
Tomorrow afternoon, I'm talking on a panel discussion about copyright at RESFEST, along with I think about a gazillion other people. Apparently Cory Doctorow is going to be on the same panel, which sort of makes me somewhat superfluous as we'll just be in violent agreement with each other, except he'll be far more eloquent about it.
And whilst I'm at it, I'm going to be MCing and speaking at BlogOn 2005 this year, 17-18 Oct, Copacabana, NYC. You probably already know that, but it's worth mentioning just so that you can ensure you get your tickets in time. More to the point, I'll be in NYC for a few days afterwards, so if you want to meet up for a vodka then let me know.

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