Archive for the ‘Journal’ Category

My Thesis: Wordled

Dec 17th, 2010

When I turned my 2010 facebook status updates into a word cloud, I was unsurprised to see the word thesis looming large at the centre. It has certainly been one of the defining elements of the year for me, and facebook was a good outlet. By contrast, my twitter feed was probably more dominated by the election, and the associated politics; I can’t know for sure, as ‘2010 in statuses’ didn’t seem to look back beyond the past few days.

On seeing my facebook status cloud, a friend, who has had a similarly thesis dominated year, suggested turning my thesis into a word cloud. So I did.

Thesis Wordle

A word cloud of my thesis


I was amused by the huge ‘et al’ in the centre, a suggestion that perhaps I has spent more time talking about other people’s work than my own. The rest of the cloud is quite pleasing, an abstract in single word chunks. The dominance of the slightly generic ‘protein’ and ‘proteins’ is perhaps unsurprising, yet I am surprised at how comparatively small ‘gene’ and ‘genes’ are. It is a weighting which is entirely consistent with the focus of the thesis, but still feels at odds with my background in genetics.

Submitted, home and with wheels

Jul 31st, 2010

About a week and a half ago I finally submitted my thesis, 40 months lab-work condensed into a document that was worryingly thinner than most. However, you work with what you have; padding the document with unnecessary figures and paragraphs will only serve to increase the length, to the detriment of the quality. As a secondary benefit, a short thesis also means that there is less to be familiar with for the viva, although I’m sure it will not work out that way in practice.

With the thesis submitted, there were few reasons to remain in Edinburgh; the viva itself isn’t until September. So last Saturday I headed south on the train, met my parents and a brother in Birmingham, and then headed off with my parents back to their house. For the first time in five years, I was back in my childhood room, not living out of a suitcase. It also meant, that for the first time in a year, I could get my desktop set up with a decent broadband connection again.

One of the problems with being back home, is the isolation. While I can’t pretend that my village is some rural backwater, without sewers, running water or electricity, it does lack basic facilities, such as a place to buy Jaffa cakes when you get a sudden craving at 8.30 pm. ┬áThis dire lack of Jaffa cake suppliers is made even more apparent when you consider the colour of my driving license: it’s green. The inability to drive may seem surprising for someone who grew up in a rural area, but despite the obvious usefulness of the skill, cars bore me, and early attempts at learning soon made it apparent that I wasn’t exactly a natural. Then it wasn’t long before I was off to university, and for the past eight years I have not only not needed a car, but have been living in situations where its often easier not using one. I’m sure I will learn eventually, but I’m wary of doing so, and then not driving for a few years.

Yet now I’m back in rural Wiltshire, and while I don’t intend to be here long, it is certainly far longer than I could cope with being housebound. On top of this, a somewhat lacking public transport system means that I’d be constantly relying on parents or other people for lifts, which is neither polite, fair, or convenient. This is especially true over the next two weeks, as my parents will be in Spain, and the drive back would require I give them a couple of days notice, hardly convenient; oh, and it might break the polite and fair requirements as well.

Without the ability to drive four wheels, I have instead settled on two, and have purchased my first bike for several years1; it has also been ten or more years since I last cycled. While they say that you never forget how to ride a bike, I was still a bit cautious as I set out on it for the first time. Last night I began with a simple ride up and down the road to make sure everything was flowing smoothly, and today I took it for a short 6 mile round trip to a local walking spot. Fortunately it appears that I do still remember how to ride a bike, and failed to have any embarrassing crashes. The trip also revealed that I need to raise my handlebars slightly, and to tilt the saddle back, something that will depend on my finding a suitable Alan key. The bike however does give me mobility, and in concert with the rail network it should mean I can get almost anywhere. And who knows, perhaps even if I do fail to drive a car for a few years after learning, I’ll slip back behind the wheel with similar ease to slipping back behind the handlebars.

I hope to get back to writing some of the more structured blog entries shortly, once I’ve had a bit more consideration about how I intend to use this website in future.

  1. A Trek 7.0 FX, if you are interested, or even for that matter, if you are not. []

555.5 gigabytes, approximately

Feb 25th, 2010

Collection of storage media


The Twenty Twelve Photography project is still underway, and can be followed on flickr. The uploaded files are lagging behind a bit, but so far I have only forgotten a day, and even then I remembered only 53 minutes too late.

The photo here is fairly atypical, with the collection being of more interest than the photo itself. I’ve tried to gather together as much storage as I could, although stopped short of sticking an entire spindle or two of DVDs on the desk. Similarly the total storage capacity is based on advertised capacity, and thus ignores issues such as formatted capacity and differences between kilobytes and kibibytes. The floppy disk is there more for show than anything else, I don’t even own a floppy drive. While the diversity of formats and capacities is interesting in its way, what is more surprising is how many of them are redundant. The iamakey performs the role previously taken by a hoard of floppy discs, and even the blank CDs and DVDs rarely get used on a day to day basis. Indeed, formats and devices has become the determining factor in how many bits of storage media we’ll need, far more than capacity.

Meanwhile, in other news the thesis progresses, albeit slower than I may like. One of the most disheartening aspects of the thesis is seeing the flaws in your data, especially when you weren’t aware of them before hand. It is an unfortunate element of the PhD, that by the time you’ve learnt one of its lessons, it is often too late to do anything about it. Despite promising myself that I’m never doing another — A promise distinctly easier to keep than most — part of me still feels that if I did do it again, I could do a vastly better job. Of course, this ignores all the critical health troubles brought on by the further stress this would impose.

As well as the photography, I’ve also been giving consideration to this site. In the past I have bemoaned how the organic evolution of this place has caused a lot of the earlier content to have lost its context. This is becoming increasingly important when I realize that I shall be entering the job market shortly, and while I don’t intend to put my url on my CV, I can’t pretend that an employer wont Google me. When they do, I’d prefer that it is obvious what was written when I was sixteen, and what was written yesterday. Even the name of the website dates back to my early days on the internet; I haven’t gone by Jasp for a long time.

There is also the evolution of the web. CSS3 now has decent support in most of the web browsers, and HTML5 is close to being finalized. My online identity is spread across the worlds of flickr, twitter, facebook and several online forums. While pages like my lifestream help bring some of these elements together, I still see room for a greater fusion of these elements under a dynamic, exciting and modern looking website. Unfortunately seeing that this needs to be done is easier than doing it. I’ve tried several abortive designs, and all of them have ended up looking more bland than the current template. As a personal website this place provides no obvious theme to latch on to, and trying to represent ‘myself’ in design terms is challenging for someone who isn’t a professional designer. However, I hope to have a new design of this site up within the next few months, possibly with a new domain name to follow shortly.

Backup Archaeology

Nov 14th, 2009

In sorting through old CDs during a cleanout before a move, I discovered some old backups. The one from 2001 contained A-level coursework, and a ‘My Music’ folder of two albums. (Bless) The 2003 disc contained a txt file with the following:

TODAY I AM GOING TO EAT A PEACH. NOT A VERY BIG PEACH MIND YOU BUT A PEACH NONE THE LESS. TO BE FRANK I AM LYING, YOU MAY HAVE GUESSED THIS. I AM JUST STUCK AS TO WHAT TO WRITE AS MY PIECE OF CODE, SO I DECIDED TO MAKE SOME THING UP. DO NOT THINK I AM BAD FOR MAKING THINGS UP. I ONLY TOLD A LITTLE LIE, I COULD HAVE TOLD ONE MUCH BIGGER, LIKE I HAD A PET ALIEN OR WAS THE PRESIDENT OF A SMALL THIRD WORLD COUNTRY. INSTEAD I SAID I WOULD EAT A PEACH. IS THAT SO BAD.

I have no idea why I wrote that, or felt the need to back it up.

I’m tempted to rescue a few of the old website designs to show how this place has changed over the years.

A quick apology

Jul 1st, 2009

I’m sorry that I haven’t been blogging recently, but unfortunately life is currently somewhat busy. I’m in the final three months of my PhD, and stress levels are rising. This has not been helped by having to arrange a move, as I’ll have to leave my current flat at the end of July. In Edinburgh this is somewhat difficult, as it means finding a place in the middle of festival season, somewhat complicated further by my requirement for a short term let.
I don’t mean to pretend that I’ve had no time for kicking back, but unfortunately it has meant that I’ve wanted by free time to be somewhat less productive than composing blog entries. Of course, I’m sure I’ll more than make up for this when I come to write my thesis, and blogging and twitter suddenly feel like huge distractions.