Why I won’t patent my brilliant idea

In the past 30 years, I have driven about 8,000 miles in France in right-hand-drive cars. And I would be lying if I denied that one or two of those miles hadn’t been driven on the left-hand side of the road. This scared the life out of me. One second’s inattention elevated my risk of dying in a gruesome accident to levels previously experienced only by 1950s racing drivers or country and western singers. Yet driving on the other side of the road is surprisingly easy — provided you start out on the other side of the road. The error occurs in the first minute of driving: setting off at

Saying yes slowly is what’s hampering progress today

One of my long-held beliefs is that evolutionary biology should be taught extensively in schools. There may be some objections from religious fundamentalists, but these are silly. Evolution does not tell you anything about whether or not God exists; it simply proves that, if he does exist, he really hates top-down central planning. In any case, it would pay to teach evolution in schools even if evolution were not true — for the simple reason that by understanding evolutionary mechanisms, you are gifted with an entirely new way of looking at the world. In the words of the computer scientist Alan Kay: ‘a change in perspective is worth 80 IQ

Master of disguise: the British genius who concealed whole Allied battle lines

Early one morning in October 1874 a barge carrying three barrels of benzoline and five tons of gunpowder blew up in the Regent’s Canal, close to London Zoo. The crew of three were killed outright, scores of houses were badly damaged, the explosion could be heard 25 miles away, and ‘dead fish rained from the sky in the West End’.  This is a book about the weird, if obvious, intersection between firework manufacture and warfare. It is, ostensibly, the biography of Frank Brock, a hero of the first world war. And if it were the work of more ambitious literary hands, Brock would have been all you got: his heritage,