About Neil

Welcome to my blog. This is a repository for all the stuff I don’t have an other home for – like kit reviews (particularly optical products), technical articles and general thoughts.  But who am I?

I have a range of interests, originally developed as a child which include optics, microelectronics (thanks to my uncle, John) and opto-electronics, programming (thanks to BASIC on the Acorn Electron from the age of eight), music and space. My teenage years had been spent building all manner of electronic devices (from disco lights to burglar alarms and even a doorbell for deaf people… almost certainly the very first!) as well as thrashing any piano I could get my hands on. My programming moved to more advanced concepts like fractal algorithms and finally into HTML when exposed to the World Wide Web for the first time while at the University of Kent reading Physics with Space Science and Systems.

Whilst studying, I discovered I had far too many free hours in the day – not all of which could be comfortably spent at the bar, so I started a business using some skills in database design that I had learnt whilst working on a document management system for Railtrack (the predecessor to Network Rail) as holiday work back in 1996. By the time I had graduated I pretty much had a full-time job, designing and maintaining process-management databases for regulated businesses in the financial, pharmaceutical, educational and transport sectors. Big projects and enjoyable challenges that were interesting mainly because our approach would tend to be fairly innovative – we developed platforms that provided much greater security and scalability than traditional methods, improved functionality and significantly cut development time.

Whilst building a system for a charter airline, something interesting happened that would change my direction. The shop beneath our offices became available and (on a whim really) I made the landlord an offer to take it over. After several months he finally accepted (it was a pretty low offer!) and in 2008 I opened Astronomia, an astronomy store located on Dorking High Street. Astronomia grew beyond all our expectations, and spawned several spin-offs, including company that builds bespoke home observatories, an education-led outdoor events business, a daytime optics business and a theatre company (more on that below).

As an astronomer, I’ve been a regular speaker for audiences as diverse as the Royal Automobile Club, Rotary Clubs, various astronomical societies and the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust. My particular passion is in the beauty, simplicity and awe of the universe, which I explain in planetarium-style talks entitled “Tour of the Night Sky”. I also speak on telescopes (particularly Hubble and ALMA but also technically on amateur instruments), the solar system (particularly Mars and the Sun) and space exploration.

With Astronomia, I also began training astronomers to get more out of their hobby.  With the help of some fantastic volunteers, I have taught over 1,000 people to use their telescopes, and with John Slinn, I’ve held a number of specialist training days for astro-photographers.

Most recently, we launched the natural progression of these talks – a fully produced theatrical experience entitled “Tour of the Universe”. Showing in October 2014 at nine theatres nationwide, I was joined by guests including Jane Green, Chris Lintott, Rhodri Evans, Will Gater, Mark Thompson and Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock for what can only be described as “a cross between Graham Norton, Top Gear and Astronomy!”. Reviews were excellent.

Since the closure of Astronomia in early 2015 (along with Viewpoint Optics) I have continued to design and build observatories for Outsideology Limited.  I’m also working on a couple of other long-term projects (in the fields of computing, design and astronomy – more on that soon) and I remain actively involved in astronomy education.