Interviewed by Front Line Genomics for 'The Short Read'

For the second time in my life I am flattered to say that I have been interviewed by Front Line Genomics. The last time this happened was when I was a scientist…this time I feature in their 'The Short Read' segment where I provide some answers about what I'm up to now at the The Institute of Cancer Research

Read the interview online:

Talking about death and not dying on stage: Keith does Science Showoff!

A few weeks ago I performed a short stand-up comedy set as part of Science Showoff, a regular series of events which are billed as 'chaotic cabaret for science lovers'. Science Showoff is the wonderful brainchild of Steve Cross, who is to science and comedy what peanut butter and jelly is to sandwiches (well, American ones anyway). The idea is to make science fun, entertaining, and (hopefully), funny.

I love presenting and I've always considered myself to be someone who puts a lot of humour in my presentations and I always try hard to make my talks engaging. So Science Showoff seemed like a logical thing for me to do. However, there is a big difference between a science presentation with hints of comedy and a comedic presentation with hints of science.

In addition to having presented at a variety of levels (from lab meetings up to to international conferences) I've also played several gigs in various bands. So I'm not particularly nervous about the idea of getting up in front of strangers. Initially, the idea of performing stand-up comedy didn't really faze me at all, but as the date of the gig came closer, I felt much more anxious than I was expecting to feel.

The most challenging aspect of Science Showoff is that, as a newcomer, you get a 9 minute slot. This goes by very quickly and if you want to tell some sort of story with a beginning, middle, and end, there is very little room for making on-the-fly alterations.

I found myself rehearsing my material in more detail than I have for most presentations that I have given. There is very little room for 'chaff' in a 9 minutes! My original version of my talk probably ran to about 30 minutes and I had to just keep cutting more and more material to hone it down (maybe they'll end up as deleted scenes on the DVD version).

I feel I made things harder for myself by deliberately choosing a topic which initially might seem bereft of any humour potential. My title was: 'Seasonality of Death'. When I first volunteered for this, I knew that I would be doing a slide-driven presentation but I dramatically cut back on how many slides I would normally present and I chose slides that were strong on visuals and kept text large and legible.

The result of my efforts is included below. I'm pleased with how I did, especially with respect to the timing of all of my content. I'd certainly consider doing this again if the opportunity arose and I think it is a great exercise in making you think about all aspects of your presentation skills.

Thanks again to Steve Cross for the opportunity.

That's no moon…but it is one of my favorite places to visit in Davis

Some may know it as the UC Davis Social Sciences and Humanities Building, but for me it will always be the Death Star. It's an amazing building…well technically it is a collection of many interconncted buildings, all packed with awkward, imposing angles. It is very easy to get lost in the innards and courtyards of this building, and this (intentional) design feature is part of the charm.

No two corners (or windows) appear to be the same and there are many steps that lead you to dark nooks and crannies. Perfect spots for plotting the destruction of those Rebel scum.

If you have never visited the Death Star, then you should give yourself to the Dark Side (at least once!). Here are some black and white photos that depict the Death Star in all of its raw and powerful beauty.

Click on the pictures to enlarge…

Thoughts on the unpredictability of which social media posts will be popular

I tweet a lot and I write a lot on my blogs, especially on my ACGT blog. Sometimes I write things where I think: This…this is the one that will go viral. And of course it never happens that way. The more I try to engineer a meme, the less likely the chance of success seems to be. This is why my concept of a #MexicanTweetOff never went anywhere, and that no-one seemed to get the joke in my recent #IamSpartacash tweet:

But then there are those tweets and blog posts which I think won't be of that much interest to anyone, but turn out to be the most popular things I've ever written. This week has been surprising in that two of my social media posts have taken on a life of their own.

Everyone loves a good gnome story

First, I spotted the opportunity to have a bit of fun with Genomics England. Last Thursday was a big news day for them with the project being featured in Nature. So after seeing the piece in Nature early on Thursday morning, I came up with this:

This tweet went on to have over 40 retweets and Genomics England ended up featuring me in a storify article on Friday about their news of the previous day. To date, that tweet has reached an audience of over 67,000 people on twitter!

Microsoft as a tool for bioinformatics

Then on Friday I was trying to find an image to use in a talk. I wanted to make a point about Excel often being an inappropriate tool for the management/querying of biological data, and just wanted a picture of Excel containing some sort of biological data. I was quite surprised by the image that I eventually found, and immediately shared it in a quick blog post:

Admittedly. the 'NFSW' part of the blog post title was a tactic designed to deliberately provoke curiosity. I tweeted about the blog post on Friday afternoon, a time which normally doesn't provoke a lot of interest (many of my European followers will have gone to bed by this point).

But it seems that this post hit a nerve and it has subsequently taken on a life of its own. Currently, there has been 64 retweets and 44 favorites, and now it is being spread on Facebook. By the end of Friday, it had become the most read item on my blog for the entire week (this never happens for posts I publish on Friday afternoons). I assumed that traffic would die down on Saturday but that didn't happen. By the end of Saturday, the post was my most read article of anything I have posted in the last 4 months.

At this point I assumed that things would surely quiet down on Sunday, but that didn't happen either. Traffic to my blog doubled compared to Saturday, and the post has now become the most viewed article of anything I have written in 2015, with almost 3x the page views compared to the next most-read article.

I guess the message here is that I should stop trying to predict the popularity of my social media posts!

Writing a new book

Just a quick note to say that I am currently writing a new book with the help of Michelle Gill and Ian Korf. This will be a follow up our Unix and Perl to the Rescue! book. The name?

Unix and Python to the Rescue!

Snazzy eh? You can find out more details about why we are doing this on the newly revamped Rescued by code! website (it didn't make sense to keep on using the unixandperl.com website anymore).

A flag for Davis, California

Yesterday was flag day in the United States. So it seems a fitting time to launch my idea for a flag for the city of Davis, California. Davis currently has a logo, which incorporates a Penny Farthing bicycle, but this is not a good choice for a flag as it breaks many rules of good flag design.

Here is my proposed design (you can also download a larger version without the border):

The video below explains what this design symbolizes. I shall contact the Davis City Council with my idea, but I would love it if they organized a proper flag designing competition, open to all residents of Davis.

Flags can be rallying symbols that a city can unite behind. Flags can also give people a sense of pride about where they live. So let's have a flag for Davis, California!