Dr Simon Makin has been writing and contributing to Guru Magazine for some time now. Tirelessly churning out great articles for Guru, we are delighted to welcome him as the latest member of the team. He has a particular passion for covering the latest science and technological discoveries and is the lead reporter in the magazine’s news section (‘Reporting the news you might have missed…’). We love what Simon does, so it seemed fitting that he adopted the role of our first ‘News Guru’.
So, in true journalistic fashion, we interviewed with Simon, so you find out about the man behind his headlines…
SIMON MAKIN INTERVIEW: A KEEN EAR AND A HOT MOUTH
GURU: Simon, welcome to the Guru team! Tell us a little about who you are and your background.
I studied electronics at university but hated the job I got when I graduated, so after that company folded I looked around for something more interesting. I managed to land a job as a research assistant in the psychology department at Reading researching auditory perception. That was the most interesting job I’d ever done, so after the grant ran out I went out and got myself a master’s and PhD in these areas. After several years as a post-doc back at Reading, I decided to take a leap of faith and try to get into something I’d been thinking about for years – science writing. I moved to London to do a journalism diploma and since then I have written for Scientific American Mind, New Scientist, and of course, Guru – so it seems to be working!
GM: Why get involved with Guru Magazine?
SM: Science is advancing rapidly and becoming more and more integral to every aspect of our lives. Because the world we live in is growing increasingly complex and incomprehensible to many people there is a desperate need for more publications aiming to explain cutting-edge science to a wide range of readers. Guru has high production standards and covers important topics in a really accessible way – in an effort to reach people who might not normally read about this stuff. In other words, it’s exactly the kind of thing I think we need more of and by getting involved I get to ply my new trade while hopefully contributing to something that deserves to succeed.
GM: What really lights your fire and gets you excited?
SM: Cool science, live music and great fiction. My favourite TV show ever was Six Feet Under, but most recently I’ve been glued to The Walking Dead. Hmm, seems to be a death theme going on there – I’m not morbid honest!
GM: Tell us about a typical day in the life of Simon Makin.
SM: I’ll get up and have a game of online poker with my coffee before starting to look for things to write about. I’ll scan news wires, journals, Twitter, etc., looking for potential leads to cool stories. Then it’s lot and lots of reading. Mostly sat in my kitchen, but occasionally I’ll make a trip out to a café or library. On a good day this is followed by bursts of writing, or if I’m already writing something that usually takes up the whole day – often into the early hours if I’ve got deadlines. If I’m not up against it then I’ll call it a day around 8-ish, make a curry, pour a glass of red, and stick on an episode or two of The Walking Dead.
GM: You researched auditory perception. Did you discover anything interesting?
SM: Yeah, human hearing has a really clever way of telling the difference between a sound and the distortion the surroundings impose on it as it travels from the source to our ears. It then compensates for these distortions so that we hear sounds correctly wherever we are – up to a point.
GM: Tell us one thing about you that no one knows about.
SM: I suffer from imposter syndrome – a creeping feeling that you’re not really competent for or don’t belong in the job you’re doing, accompanied by the fear that you’ll be found out and exposed as a fraud. This has got much better since I started writing for a living, but it’s still there, lurking in the back rooms of my psyche…
SM: I’d like to say Nicola Tesla. He was the archetypal mad scientist and pioneered everything from electricity and wireless communications to X-rays. He even claimed to have built a death-ray. He was such a genius, and so far ahead of his time, that we still can’t reproduce some of the things he did because he rarely wrote anything down – it was all in his head.
Unfortunately he lived on milk and crackers in his later years (he also hated jewellery and shaking hands, and couldn’t bear the touch of human hair, although he loved feathers…), so he wouldn’t make a great dinner guest.
In which case, it would have to be Philip K Dick. He was the author who single-handedly revolutionised what science fiction could be in the 60s and 70s. It’s often written on his book jackets that he “made most of the European avant-garde seem like navel gazers in a cul-de-sac”, but although his stories explored mind-blowingly profound philosophical issues, they read a lot like pulp adventure fiction, so anyone could enjoy reading them. To me that is the sign of a truly great writer. Anyone with a bit of education can dazzle and obfuscate, but it takes true talent to really communicate complex things in simple ways. He was the master of the fiction of unreliable realities, but always with a moral core of simple human values.
He was also almost as bonkers as Tesla. Having dabbled extensively with drugs, including speed and psychedelics, he went a bit off the rails, and in the 70s claimed to have been visited by a “vast active living intelligence system” that bathed him in a pink laser beam and deposited huge amounts of information in his brain. There’s a film based on the novels Dick wrote about these experiences, which, frustratingly, only seems to be showing at festivals so far.
Or perhaps Leonard Cohen –he’s a living legend but a model of humility; or Neil Gaiman; or Charlie Kaufman; or Chris Morris; or Chris Nolan… Can I just have a party instead?
And I’d serve Tom Yum Goong, because it’s one of my favourite things in the world, followed by a curry of some description.
GM: Sounds tasty… welcome aboard!
Simon J Makin
is an auditory researcher turned science journalist. Originally from Liverpool, he has a degree in electronics, a Master’s in speech and hearing sciences, and a PhD in auditory perception. He worked as a post-doc in the psychology department at Reading University for several years, before recently taking the plunge into journalism. Tweets as @SimonMakin. Blogs as Heisenberg’s Hamster.
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