Monthly Archives: December 2011

Hitchmas Special – 26th December 2011

Rather than celebrate Christmas, we thought we should probably celebrate the life and work of Christopher Hitchens, who died on the 15th December. So please join us for this very Pod Delusion-type look at his life.

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Obit (0:49) by Dave Cole
Hitch and religion (8:40) by Cory Hazlehurst
Hitch the Historian (15:46) by Rich Godbehere 6:36
Post-9/11 Hitch (23:42) by Mohammed Fahad (read by Alex Foster) 5:36
Regime change? (30:03) by David Eastman 4:14
Twitter Censorship? (35:40) by Dave Cross 6:12
Tweet inserts are by Sean Ellis
Music by Milton Mermikidies

December Round Up

It hasn’t been an especially busy month for James and I but we did manage to catch a few interesting events around London.  Generally, if we don’t get interviews at an event we still feel like we need to tell you about it.

Holy Quarks at the Wellcome Trust

So first up was Holy Quarks, put on by the Wellcome Trust.  It was a Saturday conference with music on the Friday, however we only made the Saturday event.  It was an interesting attempt at bridging the growing divide between science and religion.  The arguments that some people advanced at the conference was that they two can work together.  It started with an interesting talk (with lovely pictures) Felicity Powell who  put together the exhibition on charms.  While saying she was a rather secular person herself, she nonethless enjoyed working with such interesting objects – some extraordinarily tiny.  The highlight for us though, was Alom Shaha‘s talk on Science vs Religion in the Classroom.  It seemed to be the most honest of the talks of the day, arguing against what many of the speakers were trying to convey.   He told about the conflict in his classroom and gave every day evidence that there is a a conflict, or at least a very stated tension between what he has to teach and what many of his students believe.

I got slightly annoyed with the talk titled Science, Faith and Doubt: Lessons from history byThomas Dixon as I didn’t agree with the examples he used.  It’s rather easy to say there isn’t a conflict between religion and science in the 17th century (even with Galileo) as *everyone* had to be religious.  Even in the 18th century this was largely true.  Where the interesting conflict arises in the 19th century with the professionalization of science.  As well, he quoted a later version of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, rather than the first edition.  This could be pedantry but it was this quote:

“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

instead he quoted the sixth edition:

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

Which could be an entire lecture in itself.

I do enjoy these types of conferences and it is interesting to see what arguments are being used to bring the two – religion and science – together.  It is a worthy endeavour to see where there isn’t conflict to ensure that we aren’t succumbing to a fallacy but I think I’m going to need some more evidence before I believe there isn’t a problem.

Ghosts of Christmas Lectures Past

The second big event that we went to was the same day at the Royal Institution for The Ghosts of Christmas Lectures Past, MC’d by the seemingly omnipresent Robin Ince.  I’m beginning to think he’s actually The Doctor for his ability to fly around the country and put on so many shows.

We’ve been to quite a few events this year, covering them and recording them for you, our voracious listener and I can say that this was one of the best events of the year.  Robin and the RI had assembled a wonderful group of passionate science fans to present to us some of the best stuff from Christmas Lectures past.  Now, I am new to the whole Christmas Lecture thing and so I don’t have a favourite or even a deep knowledge of them.  However, I now have a new desire to trawl the RI archives and learn everything about them after this event.

So the format was pretty straight forward – Robin Ince hosted and introduced guests and they each gave a short talk on who was their favourite Lecturer or in the case of Helen Arney, their favourite technician!  Topped off by the fact that we were in the Faraday Lecture Theatre just made it a lovely night.  Matt Parker (who will also get a mention in the next section) probably got the most ooos and ahhs with the wave machine used in the first maths Christmas Lecture by Professor Sir Christopher Zeeman in 1978.  The dialogue between Professor Zeeman and the BBC about the use of formulae on screen was hysterical.

Adam Rutherford touched on a issue that is becoming more important to me: the brain and gaming.  As I’ve become increasingly interested in the Xbox and the gaming joy it provides, I have also been annoyed by the scaremongering of Dr. Susan Greenfield.  I even did a bit of a historical rant about it on our Questival Special. Adam’s use of Fruit Ninja to demonstrate how our brains change was excellent.  It will be interesting to see as the gamer population ages and takes over that of those non-gamers in editorial positions if this sort of thing will just go away.   It is nice to see someone standing up for it now though!

Another person who will make an appearance later on was Professor Andrea Sella from UCL who did marvellous things with bubbles and also was responsible for the ether left out for so long!

The brilliant thing about the lectures was the unabashed love song to science.  Everything was marked by a profound sense of joy and awe towards science.   The night seemed to capture the idea of wonder in science and how it is conveyed to a popular audience through these lectures.  It was an absolutely captivating event and one that I personally would love repeated.

Infinite Monkey Cage

I also managed to go to two Infinite Monkey Cage recordings, which were hilarious.  The first was with Nick Lane, the above mentioned Adam Rutherford and Tim Minchin.  The second was this week with Roger Highfield, Richard Dawkins and Mark Gatiss.   I think the BBC should never let go of the Infinite Monkey Cage; in fact it should have more science based programs.  Maybe a skeptical one too.  With a news-magazine format…

Anyway, you will be able to listen to both of these if they tickle your fancy.  A particular highlight was Richard Dawkins telling everyone to have a Merry Christmas – possibly because I know how much it must annoy the Daily Mail.

9 Lessons and Carols

The latest event was,  of course, 9 Lessons and Carols for Godless people.   What is becoming an annual event, with its fourth sell out year, was excellent.   For me, it is only when 9 Lessons comes around that it really does feel like Christmas.  I hope Robin never stops organizing them, or at least when he tires of it, passes the mantle on to other such science enthused comedians so we can continue to have our own unabashedly science and holiday fuelled festive celebration.

The only possible problem for me at any of these kind of events is that we generally see a lot of them throughout the year and so could potentially get repetitive.  However, largely this was brand new material from most of the comedians but there were also a lot of new faces for me which was excellent.

The entire night was lovely, the right sort of tone and honest celebration of both the festive season but also what we all love, science and geekery.   It’s hard to say who the highlights were as it was all pretty much brilliant.  Helen Keen was on form as usual – I admire the amount of history of NASA she knows.  Basically, I appreciate any healthy interest in history (we might be recording something with Helen in the new year, so watch out for that, maybe!).  The other Helen of the night,  Helen Arney’s clever swap of Santa for Cerny in a rendition of Santa, Baby was inspired (if you are lucky, you might get it hear it on the Infinite Monkey Cage on the 26th but only if they manage to secure the rights for the tune).    Another wonderful musical number was Gavin Osborn singing about Carl Sagan and Voyager 1 and 2.  Perhaps, made more resonant with me after our interview with Ed Stone!

As I mentioned above, Matt Parker makes another appearance with his talk about the two mathematicians that predicted the future.  As I said on Twitter, the self-referential graph material was inspired.  There’s a phrase that probably doesn’t get used a lot, unless perhaps, you know Matt Parker.  Another RI Ghosts of Christmas Lectures past alumni Andrea Sella had a rather….illuminated talk?  Which involved lighting gases on fire, including in a 4-5 ft test tube that belched flame out the top!   The final act of the night was Mark Thomas, who is always pitch perfect.  I had not seen the People’s Manifesto tour which is what he mainly talked about so I was at least very entertained.

There are still some 9 Lessons and Carols gigs left, though they are all sold out.  However, just keep an eye on Twitter as usually there are a few people who can’t make it and you can snap up some of the tickets.  But if you can’t make (or really, even if you do) you can always see Festival of the Spoken Nerd in the new year!

So that was our December!  Some familiar faces, Helen Keen, Helen Arney, Matt Parker and of course, Robin Ince who we hope are not getting terribly sick of us.   But also some new people who look forward to seeing much more of like Andrea Sella and Alom Shaha.  It was a very science-y December but the celebration of wonder and curiosity is what I really remember.   I hope I can keep up with all this next year, even though I should be starting my PhD in the history of the secular movement.  Luckily, the who overlap quite a bit so just expect long diversions into 19th century science history 😉

Happy Christmas and have a fantastic New Year!

Can you help our Hitchmas Special?

So we’ve had the sad news that Christopher Hitchens has died. Given that he was such and important and influential figure in our.. movement.. or whatever the hell this is, we’ve decided that if we can get enough material together next week’s programme won’t be a Christmas Winterval special, but a Hitchmas Special.

As we’re not best placed to properly reflect on Hitchens, nor did we ever get the chance to interview him (though do have a listen to the superb Little Atoms episode featuring Hitch) I want to do it a bit like how we normally do the Pod Delusion – in addition to featuring reports on Hitchens and his work, I want to spin off of topics that are related to his work and are interesting.

As he was such as important figure though I want to open this out a bit more than just our contributors, does anyone else want to contribute to such a programme? Deadlines are tight – we need to put this to bed on Wednesday 21st.

Some ideas I’d like to see include:

  • Attacking sacred cows – Hitch was famous for this, anyone have any interesting tales of other people who have gone against the grain (a la slagging off Mother Theresa), and turned out to be actually right?
  • Hitch’s contribution to skepticism as a movement – what did he bring to the table?
  • Who is the next Hitchens? Can we prematurely enoble someone as “the next Christopher Hitchens?”

…and so on. If you’ve got any other ideas for features we could have, let us know in the comments below. And if you’d like to contribute, drop me a line on

Episode 115 – 16th December 2011

This week we tackle the biggest story out of the LHC Higgs announcement earlier in the week: Why did they use Comic Sans?! We speak to the font’s creator. We also speak to the man behind the BBC Micro, and science writer Marcus Chown about his new book which is based on an iPad app… and much more!

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Higgs Update (2:26) by Kash Farooq (ft Jon Butterworth)
Comic Sans (11:50) by James O’Malley (ft Vincent Connare)
BBC Micro (19:05) by Salim Fadhley (ft Steve Furber)
Anti-Vax Folk Fest (26:54) by Andrew Gould
Solar System: From iPad to book (33:40) by Liz Lutgendorff (ft Marcus Chown)
Sesame Street Socialists (42:47) by Tom Hodden
Festival of the Spoken Nerd (47:48) by Liz Lutgendorff (ft Matt Parker, Helen Arney & Steve Mould)
Science Cabaret (55:38) by Dean Burnett
The sketch at the end is by David Lovesy & Brian Two

Help deputy-editor Liz!

Follow-Up Links:

Festival of the Spoken Nerd Tickets

You can buy FOTSN tickets online here.

To get tickets for £10 instead of £12, you’ll have to call the Bloomsbury box office on 020 7388 8822 (or visit in person) and quote “GEEK PARTY” to get the discount. This has to be before December 31st.

Episode 114 – 9th December 2011

This week we find out whether the claims about “Earth 2.0” are too good to be true, catch up with the Voyager probes, and back on earth we discuss whether sharing NHS data is wise and discover the truth about H&M’s computer generated clothes models.

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Kepler-22b (2:55) by Kash Farooq (ft Robert Simpson)
NHS Data Sharing (13:22) by David Eastman
Virtual Models at H&M (17:41) by Steven Sumpter
Voyager’s Final Frontier (22:30) by Liz Lutgendorff (ft Ed Stone)
Corporate Responsibility (33:06) by Adam Jacobs
Declining Education Standards (39:10) by Peter Rowlett
Tribal Scientist (45:11) by Kylie Sturgess (ft Michael McRae)
Humans Are Amazing (54:44) by Drew Rae
The sketch is by David Lovesy & Brian Two
The Godel Song is by Ben Jones

Help deputy-editor Liz!

Follow-Up Links

I love you all – thanks for everyone’s support and help

So you may have spotted the rather urgent sounding blog post last Friday morning. I was about to start this next sentence with “without revealing too many details” – but it’s probably a bit late for that given that my first instinct was to spread the word rather than play it quietly, talking in riddles like they do on Mad Men – but our deputy editor, Liz Lutgendorff has rather unfortunately lost her job.

Don’t worry – I’m not sacking her from the Pod Delusion (that would certainly make things awkward when we’re sat watching telly together) – it was her real job. Y’know, the one that pays the bills. The blog post with her CV on was posted maybe within 20 minutes of us finding out (I was sat across from her when she received the e-mail). My interest in this, for those of you who haven’t figured this out yet, is that I live with her and she is my partner. And any emotional nonsense aside, I can’t afford the rent on our flat alone.

So anyway, the reason I’m writing this post is because it turns out that our listeners, our followers, our friends and our community are absolutely amazing. Upon the alarm being raised you lovely, lovely people starting retweeting, researching and calling in favours. And whilst Liz hasn’t found anything just yet she’s already received lots of leads to follow up – including some which seem rather promising.

So THANK YOU EVERYONE. I LOVE YOU ALL. You’ve all been amazing during this, er, time of need, if I can use such a phrase when it’s not linked to either bereavement or tragedy (either way, it’s a bit of a pisser). It really is heartwarming and humbling to see everyone helping her out – I’m not a good enough writer to accurately articulate my gratitude towards everyone.

If you’d like to help out Liz in the meantime, you can find her CV and contact details here. I can vouch for her being amazing – though if you’ve listened to the Pod Delusion you’ll already know that. Or if you’re feeling generous, why not subscribe and donate a fiver (or a tenner) a month to the Pod Delusion?

Urgent: Deputy Editor Liz needs a job ASAP

Okay guys, our deputy editor Liz Lutgendorff has lost her job and needs a new one. I (James) live with her and as a result if she doesn’t secure a new job soon we may lose our house. So if anyone reading can please offer Liz any help, it would be greatly appreciated. If you can help her please get in touch – she is based in London. Here’s some details:


Project management: Planning, research, logistics, quality control, Prince2 Foundation attained

Research: Participation in numerous research projects, primary and secondary source expert, archive research, survey research, business research

IT skills: MS Office (Excel, Visio, Word, Outlook, Power Point), solid understanding of SQL queries, web-admin, community based forums, Salesforce (CRM), wikis, HTML, Photoshop, Google Apps

Editing/Proofreading: Copy editing, proof reading, marketing, expert in alternative format processes, audio/video editing

Event planning: Logistics, organization, speaker sourcing, speaker liaison

Communication: Social Media: (Twitter, Facebook, etc), blogging platforms, online forums, international meeting set up, phone/video conferencing set up, email, telephone, face-to-face meetings, CEO level contact with multinational corporations, interviews


Birkbeck College, University of London (2010)

  • Masters Degree – History

University of Western Ontario (2004)

  • BA (hons) – History


Prince2 – Project Management 2011

  • Passed with certificate

ISO 9001 – Internal Auditor 2010 (updated)

  • Passed with certificate

Contact Details

  • E-Mail:
  • Twitter: @sillypunk

Episode 113 – 2nd December 2011

This week we discover the plight of the Canadian Air & Space Museum, find out why the Venus Transit is significant and hear how a time traveler decided to come back in time… and then spend his time sat on internet messageboards.

[Direct MP3 Link] [Podcast Feed] [Add to iTunes]

URGENT: Our deputy editor, Liz Lutgendorff has lost her job. We live together in London and are at risk of losing our home if she is out of work. Can you help? Find details of her skills and qualifications here. Please spread the word.

Canadian Air & Space Museum (1:39) by Liz Lutgendorff (ft Rob Godwin)
Economic Woe (10:59) by Pete Hague
Venus Transit Expedition (19:25) by Kash Farooq (ft Huw James)
Confidence & Class (28:59) by Dean Burnett
Timetravellers (39:22) by Leila Johnston
Christmas Traditions (45:16) by Tom Hodden
The sketch at the end was by David Lovesy, Brian Two and Steve Clark

Follow-Up Links:

Pod Delusion Extra:

Various Plugs:

A Walk On Part – The Debate

As featured in episode 112, there’s a new play on at the Soho Theatre based on the diaries of former Labour MP Chris Mullin. To mark this the Soho Theatre also hosted a debate on politics and the arts, chaired by Channel 4 News political correspondent Michael Crick and featuring Labour MP Diane Abbott, LibDem MP Don Foster, artistic director Steve Marmion and John Hodgkinson, who played Chris Mullin in the play.

You can hear the play here: (And go see the play, it’s ace!)

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