Tag Archives: Michael Faraday

Bookwitch bites #107

I was awfully tempted to suggest the Resident IT Consultant’s cousin look in the place where it was ‘meant’ to be. But it felt wrong to state the obvious, even though lost things often are precisely where they should be. It’s just that we fail to see them.

She didn’t quibble with the statement that she had borrowed his book, or that he deserved to have it returned. She just wasn’t quite sure what book it was, so offered up another tome on Faraday over dinner on Saturday night. It was the wrong one. But once she got home, she looked again, and there it was. On the shelf, in plain sight.

Oh well, it’s been found. The Resident IT Consultant will be happy again.

Speaking of happy, I was happy when Wendy Meddour sent me the link to her and super daughter Mina May’s appearance on Woman’s Hour on Thursday. I knew they were doing it, but at the time I ‘was on the train’ and couldn’t listen, and by sending me this link, Wendy saved me searching all of the – no doubt excellent – hour for their eight minutes.

I am very pro this kind of mother and daughter collaboration. The two of them did a great job, and Mina May not only draws like an adult, but she sounds older than twelve. Much older. She will go far.

PP for President! More happiness with Philip Pullman being elected President of the Society of Authors. At least as long as it doesn’t stop him from the odd spot of writing. We quite like Philip writing.

Murdo Macleod and press photographers with Philip Pullman at Charlotte Square

I’m fairly sure authors like readers to be reading, too. I have to admit to having not touched my book for a couple of days. I’m calling it a reading holiday. Doing other stuff, like ‘knowing’ where the cousin put Faraday. And I did ‘touch’ my book, actually. The Grandmother showed an interest in it, so I had to retrieve it from her side. These Scottish relatives do like to pick up other people’s books…

Selling the Royal Institution

No sooner had the Grandmother suggested we sell the Royal Institution, but someone is actually wanting to do that very thing.

Although, I suppose not the RI as such. The RI are the ones being forced out of their ‘home,’ the rather nice building in Albemarle Street, where Michael Faraday used to work.

I hope it’s a false alarm, and by that I mean perhaps someone will come up with the money to save it. But why do I feel like this? In most cases I would shrug my shoulders in a pragmatic kind of way, because I’m not surprised by either mismanagement or hard times. ‘These things happen.’ All the time.

But this is the Royal Institution. It’s the Faraday link.

But as I said, we were thinking of selling the very same building, albeit in the shape of a painting. Apparently it was commissioned by Faraday. And according to family lore, once it was painted, it lived under his desk for a very long time.

It was eventually framed by the Resident IT Consultant’s grandfather, and is currently hanging on our wall. At first it was on sufferance, because as pictures go I didn’t like it much. But once the idea of selling it was broached, I realised I’d got used to it.

I suspect we will keep it, because it’s not worth a lot. The story of it being close to Faraday’s knees is probably more valuable.

Royal Institution

As for the other building, I hope someone nice and rich will find they have money to spare. The problem though, is that by doing the place up, the RI have priced people like us out of going there, even if we lived close enough to consider frequenting it for talks and other events.

The Gaiman effect

WordPress sent me their cheery stats for 2012. There really does not seem to be much one can do about Neil Gaiman. His fans create havoc when they land here, and very welcome havoc it is too.

Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell

At least the post about Neil – and Chris Riddell, actually – was written during 2012. As WordPress pointed out, some of my most popular ones are oldies, which means my writing has staying power. Apparently. They suggest I should write more about these topics. Which, apart from Mr Gaiman, seem to have been me (cough), Terry Pratchett, the Barrowmans and Cats with Asperger Syndrome.

Sort of a varied selection, then?

You came here from 162 countries, and Twitter sent you. Or Eoin Colfer, or John Barrowman. But funnily enough you were mostly interested in me (again), Oliver Jeffers, Liz Kessler, Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Faraday.

Stats are weird, but then, so am I.

Here’s to 2013 when I will not be taking things quite as easy as I ought to. You can see how the W – for witch – wobbles above the fireworks. Tired already.

Wordpress 2012 blogging report

If she sees one coming

Grandmothers! We were enjoying tea and Christmas cake (except for me. I had Stollen, on account of sensitivity to all that brandy I had been pouring over the cake since October), and as so often happens, the conversation strayed to Maths and other intellectual topics.

When that last happened a few days earlier, Son moved closer to his mother in order to escape the numbers and funny words discussion, in exchange for something suitably light for the two of us.

But at this point the Resident IT Consultant entertained his mother – the Grandmother – by showing her the new Brewer’s. She browsed for some minutes before pointing out they’d got Fermat’s Last Theorem wrong. She read it out, with the Resident IT Consultant and Dodo all nice and alert, and Son and me turning our eyes heavenwards.

As it happens, she was right. It is wrong.

We moved on to secondhand bibles, as you do. The Grandmother works in an Oxfam bookshop, and they get lots of Bibles in, and they sell like hotcakes. She displays all the various kinds of Bibles, and when she returns they have all sold and she has to start over again.

What a ‘shame.’

Something they also have lots of but which doesn’t sell the way of the Bible, is The Da Vinci Code. It might once have been an Oxfam bestseller, but if she sees one coming, she throws it out.

That’s the spirit!

After Fermat, they moved on to Faraday’s complete letters. Someone found a letter where it was mentioned that Mrs Giles would have been very happy to see him. Faraday, that is. The Grandmother was surprised to find the volume she was holding only covered a few years of Faraday’s life (there are six in total), and marvelled at quite how many letters got written back in the olden days.

I’m thinking the stamps didn’t cost 50 pence in the 19th century.

Bookwitch bites #85

Hope is spreading, or at least I hope it is. There was an excellent article in the Guardian Education this week, featuring the new professor of reading at Liverpool Hope University, Frank Cottrell Boyce. It’s such a good thing to have, don’t you think? Hope, reading, Frank. All good. And I loved the photo of Frank, which I am not stealing for here, so you will just have to click.

I could do with reading help myself, on occasion. (Not to mention writing/spelling. When looking for the link above I accidentally called Frank rank. Sorry!)

But it’s my speedreading when out and about that catches me. I saw some ‘weird bras’ in M&S recently. Wired, witch! And at Piccadilly station a stall was selling trolls. It was really tea and rolls. Just as well they didn’t also stock etceteras. Our Pendolino catering manager last week advertised drinks, sandwiches, snacks and etcetera.

As water levels are rising (Will we ever be able to mow the ‘lawn’ again? Not with a brocked lawnmower, we won’t. But the rain isn’t helping.) I am thinking of the house a few doors down from us. It’s for sale, and it offers 6 bedrooms and large garden with cellars.

At the opposite end of 6 bedrooms is the tiny flat in the IKEA magazine, where the stylist has persuaded the occupant to install eight Billys. ‘They are great for books, crockery, clothes, shoes… Åsa came up with the idea of displaying my novels in them too.’

I thought that was the whole idea. Or else someone has a novel meaning of the words displaying or novels.

Speaking of novelties, this blogging madness is spreading in a most uncontrollable fashion. There is now a Simply Maths blog, which I feel compelled to recommend. If nothing else, it has a quite reasonable interview with Professor Frank James, of Michael Faraday correspondence fame. It mentions kangaroos on Vesuvius, among other things.

A shorter, but different, interview with the same professor on the same topic (minus the kangaroos) can be found here. It would appear that this blogger had a bit of a ‘close encounters with professors week,’ since there followed the tale of getting pretty close to Brian Cox. He is quite cute. But not as cute as the lion cub.

Excuse me, I’m beginning to drool. I’ll leave you with this full morning’s worth of clickiness.

From dolphins to torpedo fish

The dolphins ‘belong’ to Nick Green, from earlier on Thursday, while the torpedo fish – much to my surprise – turned up in the Michael Faraday launch talk by Professor Frank James in the evening. It’s not as outlandish as it seems. The fish can generate electricity in some form, and that’s something Faraday was interested in.

Professor Frank James

The serendipity I have mentioned led us to the London launch of Faraday’s letters, and more serendipity still provided a half hour interview with Frank James before the event at IET. That’s when my common sense kicked in, and I said we’d love to, but that any interviewing had better be done by the Faraday descendants, because they might understand what it was all about. There is only so much pretending I can manage.

So the Photographer and the Resident IT Consultant shared out the time between them, and very pleasant it was to sit back and just enjoy the talk. For me. All in all it was one of my more relaxed interviews. Good questions were asked, and interesting answers from Frank means we have something to look forward to reading (when someone else has typed it all up).

Michael Faraday

Earlier in the day the Resident IT Consultant had hared off to Highgate cemetery, only to be fobbed off by the forced guided paid for tours of the place. So, no grave photograph. We do have the Faraday statue from outside the IET to offer instead.

Faraday descendants

We’d barely been introduced to Frank when the Resident IT Consultant whipped out the family tree to show him. Our bit, since clearly someone who has spent 25 years on Faraday will have seen something of trees already. Later on Frank introduced us to someone who’s not called Blaikley, but who was descended from one, and who had his own family tree to brandish. So there they were, comparing trees, and seeing where they might connect. (As a mere outsider, I gather this non-Blaikley gentleman is the cousin of the people who lived near great aunt A and were her support in the years before she died.)

Michael Faraday

My Photographer was able to take pictures of the exhibits of old letters, including one where Faraday had written first in one direction and then the other, apparently to save on paper. That’s not all she did. Picking up freebies was equally important, and I have to say that the photo of Faraday on those bookmarks is disturbingly similar to what the Grandfather looked like (if you disregard the hair style).

The archivist at IET mentioned they had wanted to do Faraday tweets, but found that he was always rather lengthy and that tweets would so not have been his style. (Now, who does that remind me of?) She thought blogging would have been more Faraday’s thing. (That sounds about right.)

There were copies of The Complete Corresponcence of Michael Faraday for sale, or rather, to look at, with a view to ordering. I was awfully tempted, because £315 is a pretty good price for what’s a lot more elsewhere. Common sense prevailed, however.

The Complete Correspondence of Michael Faraday

After drinks and some very agreeable canapés it was time for the talk from Frank. He admitted that if he’d known he was in for 25 years of research he might have had second thoughts, but reckoned he’d still have gone ahead. Ten years was his first estimate.

The talk centred on Faraday’s religion, the Sandemanians. They don’t sound particularly easygoing, but it’s an interesting subject nevertheless. Frank gave a brief background to Faraday’s early life, how after seven years of learning book binding, he left it to study science. For someone so seemingly sensible it was a surprise to hear that Faraday looked into seances – scientifically, of course – and that his work covered both lighthouses and the torpedo fish.

Faraday letter

Ada Lovelace was an acquaintance (we saw one of her letters), and it seems that Mary Shelley’s father William Godwin was a Sandemanian friend of Faraday’s (so the Frankenstein connection has almost come full circle this week).

After Frank James’s talk, philosopher Mark Vernon presented his rather different point of view on science and religion, which when it came to question time almost led to blows between members of the well informed* audience and Mark. Almost. So it was a good thing when we could all troop out for more drinks and nibbles.

Had we not had a train to catch I’d still have been there eating cheesy breadsticks.

*I have to say I didn’t entirely understand the questions, but they did seem to have a lot of opinions.

Not as much news as I would like

Look on this brief post as your emergency early morning ersatz Bookwitch post. You know me. There will obviously be more. Later.

We went to London yesterday for all sorts of jollities. The aforementioned Faraday event with Professor Frank James in the evening. And before that a meeting with Nick Green, the long time Bookwitch favourite.

It was more of a family outing than ever before. Usually I take one lucky family member to various happenings. Thursday’s trip involved two of them. Yes, I invited both Daughter/Photographer to come, as well as the Resident IT Consultant, who got special dispensation for a spot of witch travelling, seeing as it was for Faraday.

This will not be repeated anytime soon.

Faraday’s letters

Serendipity is a curious thing.

Great-many-times-Uncle Michael Faraday wrote a lot of letters. (Just think how many more emails that would have been, had he had access to computers and the internet. Emails are so quick to write and send.)

Anyway, Professor Frank James has been working on editing Faraday’s letters for twenty years or more, and the sixth and final volume of The Correspondence of Michael Faraday is finally being published by the IET (The Institution of Engineering and Technology).

The Correspondence of Michael Faraday, volume 6

That’s 800 pages of letters, and I daren’t even think how many letters the whole six volumes comprise. It’s hardly the sort of thing one would sit down and read straight through, but it would be fascinating to be able to dip into.

Later this week on 14th June, “Prof James and philosopher Mark Vernon will give a talk, ‘Victorian and contemporary scientists’ which will explore Faraday, the great scientist and the devoted Christian, and if these two notions – science and religion – are necessarily at loggerheads.”

The serendipity I mentioned was that someone would just happen to send the press release about this talk to Daughter. Most teenagers would ignore that sort of thing, but thankfully the name Faraday means something to her, even though she doesn’t get on quite as well with her Great Uncle’s particular kind of Physics as he did.

But I trust we’ll get there.

The Story of Physics

‘There are even university level equations’ said the Resident IT Consultant. I’m ashamed to say that I wouldn’t recognise one of those if it came up and bit me, so will take his word for this. It could also be an indication he was moderately impressed by The Story of Physics, written by Anne Rooney.

As I was saying only yesterday, we have been living in the land of physics this last week. It’s exams time, and all that. (Not suggesting this book would stretch quite that far, but…) Anyway, TSoP is full of all those terms I was so unfamiliar with only a short time ago.

Like mechanics, which is not necessarily something that happens to your car. It even becomes maths at times. Thermodynamics. Relativity. All excellent stuff. And for the innocent bystander, this book can take them a lot closer to the real deal. According to Anne TSoP is primarily meant for adults, ‘for filling in those embarrassing gaps in knowledge and stumbling across fascinating nuggets.’ Fun reading, in other words. But she reckons teenagers will like the book, and that it can fill gaps left by GCSEs and even A-levels.

So, what I should really do, is keep it somewhere close, so that every now and then I can reach out and read a suitably sized chunk, slowly learning all sorts of things. Because while reading it all in one go like a novel is possible, it’s not to be recommended if you actually want to take facts in.

It started with the old Greeks. Maybe even earlier. I’m always amazed by what they knew so long ago. In fact, mechanics is what keeps buildings from falling to pieces. The stones keep each other in place. (So not mortar, then?)

TSoP has lots of pictures and interesting bits about all these learned men and women. There was the woman who gambled, using maths to help her win, and using her wins to fund her science. Sad stuff like being frozen to death by a Swedish Queen, or having French revolutionaries chop off your head. Marrying some cleverclogs, who can’t even go on honeymoon without doing science.

So many discoveries took a lot of hard work. Some came about by accident when they weren’t even looking.

The thing is, I recognise many of these people. So I must have come across them before. Then there are all those who have given their names to things we all know about; like Hertz and Ohm. A tremendous number of Nobel prize winners. And 4xGreat Uncle Faraday. (Not mine, I hasten to add.) He is all electric.

I’m doing my best to believe that Eddington was not actually David Tennant, but it’s hard. There is a picture of yesterday’s birthday child, Stephen Hawking, floating in zero gravity. I had no idea the atom bomb was first thought up by H G Wells in a novel. And did you know Terry Pratchett didn’t make up those elephants on top of the turtle?

You know how you often feel that if only someone would write a book that explains a certain something intelligently and concisely, then you’d buy it? Well, this is it, if your certain something happens to be physics. I will definitely try to become more knowledgeable with its help, although it would have been easier twenty years ago when my grey cells were more agile.

Who’d have thought I could become all enthusiastic about a book on physics?

Festival fix

The trouble with taking Offspring places is that they get ideas. Take Daughter, for instance. She wanted to attend the Science festival in Edinburgh this Easter holiday. She asked if I’d come with her. ‘Not likely,’ said I. My strength has been sapped enough by the book festival that I don’t need to do another one, however interesting it sounds. ‘Go on your own,’ said I.

General Sutton's hat

So she did. She’s been getting ideas in more ways than one, so she registered as press. Of course. The press officer is the same as for the book festival, so she has renewed her acquaintance with General Sutton.

Luckily she opted out of doing the whole two weeks as she originally planned. A week has been long enough, and she is beginning to appreciate the logistics I’ve previously sorted for her, and which she now had to work out by herself. Hah! There is a difference to traipsing after someone else, and finding the path on your own.

Our Dynamic Earth

It appears as though she has consorted with only Doctors (the science kind) all week. Most of them appear to have the right to use the title Professor, too. The third time the director of Our Dynamic Earth saw her at an event he came up to speak to her. Other than Professor Monro she has hobnobbed with Iain Stewart off television, and Neutrino-man Frank Close. And some Drs engaging in Victorian style fun, where they tried to kill off half the audience.

Iain Stewart

Frank Close

The Faraday Cage

Very relieved that Faraday’s cage actually worked. Not that I dare doubt the principle of it, but even so… I would never get inside a metal cage and let someone zap it/me with electricity.

Another thing Daughter has had the pleasure of discovering, is how much work goes into blogging about the event, after the event. Her H2O adventure didn’t simplify this one bit, but you can cope with most things if you have to.

Two blogs are also more work than one.

And I suppose it’s handy being able to ask learned people stuff that might help with your impending exams.

I need to make it clear that I did not ask permission to blog about this.

Sorry.