Happy Birthday, Leaping Robot!


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The first time the blog leaped…5 December 2012

A few weeks ago marked the one-year anniversary of my first Leaping Robot blog post. It was the end of the teaching quarter here so I didn’t have a lot of time to stop and reflect on it. But now that I’m done writing lectures and grading exams, I can do a little of that.

As I wrote in my first blog post, Leaping Robot serves several functions for me. First, it’s a place to play with and share material that I left out of my Visioneers book. I had a limit from the press of about 90,000 words. The original draft came in around 135,000 and the final version went out the door at about 110,000 words. So, there was some substantial cutting. I saw Leaping Robot as way to include some material I cut from the book and also to expand on some ideas and characters that had to be somewhat condensed.

The blog has also been a way to engage topics and issues that come up in current events – so far, this has included things like the place of “tech intellectuals” in contemporary discussions about technology, regulating nanotechnology, or Obama’s new brain mapping initiative. I’ve also been able to tie my interest in science fiction with some historical interventions and musings. It’s also been an occasional forum for guest blog posts. Karen Rader wrote a great piece about the Exploratorium while Nicole Archambeau took journalists to task for their sloppy deployment of “medieval” as an adjective (in this case, the context was asteroid mining).

Finally, I’ve always viewed the blog as an experimental space, a sandbox of sorts to keep some of my tools as a writer sharp while having a pleasant environment in which to toss up some new ideas and see how people react. One of the great pleasures is being part of the larger community of historians of science and technology who are active in blogging, tweeting, etc.. The ICHSTM meeting in Manchester this past summer was a great chance to meet some of these folks in person.

Who reads Leaping Robot? Good question. Stats from Google Analytics tell me that most of my readers are in the US – about 75% – with the UK coming in second.  It’s been a source of constant surprise to see which posts get the most attention. Charles Day at Physics Today occasionally shares my blog posts on the magazine’s Facebook page. Because some 500,000+ people “like” PT on Facebook, this helps bring about an order of magnitude more readers to Leaping Robot. This was seen most clearly in my recent post about Michio Kaku…some 2500 people took a detour to Leaping Robot because of the Physics Today shout-out. This post was also the first that brought any real negative sorts of comments. Apparently, Kaku has a pretty vocal group of supporters who appreciate his musings on fringy physics stuff.

So – what’s next? It’s been challenging to keep the blog up to date. So far, the average has been about a post every week or so. I’m hoping to start using the blog to play around with some research material I have for new projects. On the horizon is a new book project about the interaction of artists and engineers…I’m also working on an article about DNA nanotechnology and another on how astrophysics became a form of information science. Time permitting, some of this new work will pop up on the blog in coming months.

In the meantime, best wishes for the new year…and thank you for reading!

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