Tech Talk with Alan Duffy

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Jan 11, 2017

by ALEX GREIG, Online Writer

The passionate astrophysicist has no trouble using the latest technology to explore the galaxy. Just don’t ask him to find his own house.

What was your latest technology purchase?

A DVD player, because I broke the last one. I create universes on supercomputers but I still can’t get a DVD player to work.

Which social media platforms do you use?

Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Twitter’s the one I use most, to the annoyance of my wife. I love that you can reach out to anyone in the world. Maybe George Clooney won’t write back to you but [physicist] Brian Cox does and that’s pretty good!

Has anyone followed you on Twitter who you were really excited about?

I took a screen grab when Wil Anderson followed me back. I was like, “Oh my god, it’s the Gruen guy!”

What apps do you use?

I love classics like podcast apps and Shazam. I also have lots of science apps. If you ever see a weirdo with their phone to the sky, it’ll probably be me finding the name of a star. SkySafari and SkyView Free are cool.

SEE ALSO: Travelling with Hamish Blake and Andy Lee

Have you had any ideas for apps?

An app to explore the galaxy so you can zoom out from where you are and have a wander through the universe. But then my friends created them; they’re called Cosmic Eye and Cosmic Universe. I was like, “You stole my idea” [laughs]. Of course, I never told anyone that idea... but still.

What technology can’t you live without?

I’ve outsourced my ability to find stuff to Google Maps. I could tell you where we are in the galaxy but I can’t find my own house.

Are we too reliant on technology?

We’ve become cyborgs without realising
 it. We’re outsourcing ever more of our brainpower and memory to our devices.
 I guess it’s a good thing if your phone hasn’t run out of batteries but if it has, it’s horrifying. When you can’t remember the number of your partner, you think, “Maybe we need to keep some things in our minds.”

What technology do you wish existed?

I’m excited about virtual reality – I could walk through a simulated galaxy. I think we’ll be there in the next two years. We’ve already created a prototype; it’s just not very good yet.

Are you a gamer?

If a game can’t run on my phone, I don’t have it any more, sadly.

Did you play Pokémon GO?

I didn’t – and I didn’t understand what was going on! My students were walking around like zombies with their phones out. I thought they were using the space app to see if Venus had set.

SEE ALSO: Catching up with Michael Klim

What websites do you visit the most?

BBC for news, HubbleSite for the latest Hubble Space Telescope results and my own to see if anyone’s actually visited my page. Usually it’s just me.

Apple or Android?

Apple has locked me so hard into their ecosystem that it’s a straitjacket. I love it but, having said that, I use Google for almost everything that’s not the actual hardware.

When you’re flying, what tech do you take?

My phone and 13-inch MacBook Air. I like to go a little old-fashioned, too, and have something made of paper with me – it’s so critical for your eyes.

Real books or ebooks?

I still feel like you have to read a book by turning pages. Until ebooks can spurt a little bit of old, musty book smell in my face, it’s just not going to work for me.

What will be the next big thing in technology?

Personalised medicine is already happening. We haven’t got to the point where our phone prompts us to eat an apple, not chocolate, but we’re about to. And I like chocolate so that’s scary – healthy but scary.

SEE ALSO: Tech Talk with Tim Ross