Archive for the ‘Journal’ Category


May 26th, 2009

On Saturday I attended my first wedding of the year. The weather was absolutely gorgeous, and the whole thing went off seemingly without a hitch to the various guests assembled. Well, apart from the bride’s car breaking down, but what would life be if it couldn’t mimic a sitcom every once in a while. But in short, everyone was in a great mood, and the whole thing proceeded with a genuine sense of warmth, which was down to more than just the weather.
The fact that the happy couple were tying the knot wouldn’t come across as a surprised to anyone there. They had been together for many years already, and to anyone who knew them their marriage had become a matter of when, not if. Two people recognising and celebrating the fact that they love each other, what else could be more deserving of celebration?

You’d think so anyway wouldn’t you? Except for some people, a change of one small detail, one which I have in fact neglected to even mention in full, would change the above situation from something which should be celebrated, to something which should be prevented.

Today the Californian Supreme court voted to uphold Proposition 8, a dark stain which had made Obama’s victory in November, somewhat bitter-sweet. For the 52% of Californian voters who gave their support to the legislation, gender is far more important than love when it comes to marriage. Seemingly “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” bears a footnote ensuring that it is somewhat tempered if you happen to love someone with the same genitals as you.

“The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.”
Earl Warren 1891-1974
Governor of California 1943-1953,
Chief Justice of the United States 1953-1969

Of course, America has been through this all before, albeit in a slightly different guise. It has been 42 years since Earl Warren, a Californian, overturned Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act, and ended race based restrictions on marriage throughout the US. I’ve borrowed a quote from him, which is as valid now as it was then, and I hope that he’d approve of its usage in this context, even if it would distance him from 52% of voters in his state, and countless members of his Republican party.

Waiting for the cells

May 5th, 2009

Sitting with a pipette here within my lab
Waiting for the cells to grow.
In perfect isolation here upon the plate
Waiting for the cells to grow.

However much work you put in, and however hard you plan your experiments, there will always be the occasion when every experiment you have running hits down-time at the same point. Whether this is waiting for cells to divide and grow until they reach usable levels, or for a supplier to send a much needed antibody, there will be occasions when you end up unable to do the experiments which you have prioritised.

When downtime occurs it is a good time to catch up with reading, polishing notes and sorting out benches. It is also a good time to make sure everything is in order, and to check that you have everything ready for the work to come. There is nothing more frustrating than reaching the middle of an experiment and suddenly realising that the key reagent you needed has been contaminated. However, what is surprising is that it is usually possible to fill this time, and it is rarely time wasted; sometimes these little tasks take far longer than reason would predict.

A Collection of Thoughts

Apr 26th, 2009

A few thoughts this week, mainly as none of them were substantial enough for a full blog post.

Swine Flu

Jumping in first on the topic which is most likely to generate general interest, I’d once more like to point people at the post I wrote covering the H5N1 virus. Anton Vowl, over at ‘The Enemies of Reason’ also has a bit to say about the way the media are treating the incident, namely: Aaaargh! We’re all gonna die! Noooooooooooo!

Still, I suppose it makes a break from everyone being unemployed and moneyless.


This week I joined many other internet geeks, reminiscing about Geocities. This week Yahoo! announced that it would be closing the long running web host. In the mid to late 90s, Geocities provided the free, simple to use web space which played host to many a first website, including my own.
The sites were, on the large part, terrible. They had garish textured backgrounds, which made it difficult to read the text, and which often had noticeable seams, or induced stereoscopic effects. Animated gifs were used unnecessarily, with no concern for anti-aliasing and annoying, repetitive midi files played automatically in the background. Some text would blink on and off,whereas other text would scroll incessantly.
Most of these crimes against web design are long since extinct, confined only to MySpace and a few unread blogs. Sure, garish talking flash ads still do their own part to ensure that the web is that bit more annoying to surf, but they are an external influence, not something added directly by the site owner. In the Geocities era it was still terribly annoying design, but it was OUR terribly annoying design, and part of me will be sad to see the back of it.

New Phone

This weekend also saw me upgrading my phone, as well as spending several hours trying to convince three that I really didn’t need two accounts with them. I realise that I should probably have followed their usual upgrade protocol, but the handset I wanted wasn’t in stock, and at the time they implied that meant I’d have to choose another handset. Turns out I could have still chosen the handset I wanted; it would just have taken a bit longer to arrive. When I tried to close the old account they decided to explain all this to me, and encourage me to take the new handset back, to allow me to obtain a new, identical, handset in its place, with all the heading off to strange delivery depots that this entailed. Sure I could keep my number, but considering that I had already sent out masses of text messages giving people my new number, this no longer seemed like such a benefit. I was also unconvinced by the fantastic benefit of the loyalty points I had accumulated, when I realised that the 32p per month saving on my tariff seemed to mysteriously match up with the 2.5% reduction in VAT, which three don’t remove until the final stage of the billing process. It took me a while to convince the ‘customer retention program’ of this, and involved being on hold for an hour to an empty office. Thanks three.

The main reason I was upgrading was to take advantage of an included data-plan, without any increase in my monthly payments. The ability to access the internet on the move would be incredibly useful for things like Google maps, price checking, and of course, twitter. As an added benefit, three also offer unmetered Skype traffic, , which is bound to prove useful.

When I entered the store I was interested in looking at the INQ1, which the three brochure had advertised as the only phone on the plan. The handset looked functional enough, and felt solid in the hand, but I was a little bothered by style, which felt as though it was aimed at a market a good few years younger than me. There was also the concern that many of the features were very embedded in the phone, and although accessing facebook while on the move is a nice feature, I’m not sure that I need it tied in to the very centre of my handset.

Instead I went for the more adult looking Nokia E63. I’ve had good past experience with Nokias, and hoped that the Symbian operating system would prove a bit more flexible than the INQ1’s proprietary system. The WiFi support in the E63 will also be a nice feature to take the load off my, admittedly huge, data allowance.

I had mistakenly believed that the E63 had an inbuilt GPS reciever, after misunderstanding an entry in the menu. However, on subsequently playing with it, I have discovered that its Mobile mast triangulation system is stunningly accurate, and Google maps was able to place me at the correct corner of a crossroads.

Home Straight

Apr 4th, 2009

The end of my PhD is rapidly approaching, and suddenly it no longer seems some distant event. By the time Christmas comes around I very much hope to be out of the lab, and to have a good chunk of my thesis written up. However all of this means getting the lab work finished, or at least in a state in which it is possible to write up.

As things stand at the moment that goal has yet to be achieved, and there as still a few key experiments that need to be completed. The past week I gave the first run through of one such experiment, and am currently in the ‘debugging’ phase, in which I try to work out exactly where everything has been going wrong. Its one of those tasks which is okay in the short term, and can even be quite satisfying, but which gets demoralising if it runs on too long.

Fridays result was initially a bit confusing, until I realised that what it was actually telling me is that an earlier result was the misleading one. Fortunately everything is still in order, and it hopefully means that I’ll be able to address some of my problems on Monday. The rest of the problems however still need further scrutiny.

All this meant that I was in the lab this morning preparing materials for use on Monday. I have already decided that I’ll try and make the most of weekends between now and September, although that doesn’t quite mean pulling a 10/7. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been no stranger to the lab at weekends, but previously I have tended to use them to facilitate the weeks work, rather than as working days in and of themselves.

Post on my Poster Post

Mar 12th, 2009

This pre-poster post will probably be followed by a post poster post, post poster. I’ll keep you posted.

Well its not a post exactly, but I will shortly be presenting a poster at the Rubicon Conference in Lisbon. While this is my third European conference, it is the first at which I’ve had a chance to present. At previous conferences I have been somewhat hampered by a lack of data, but fortunately lots has come together in the last six to eight months.

Unfortunately academic posters are somewhat removed from the coloured pens and large lettering of the posters of primary and secondary school. However I’m still actually looking forward to having the chance to discuss my work with people who I don’t already see on a day to day basis. As a result I’ve been bringing together the relevant material and deciding what to present, and what to leave. My limited data means that this isn’t too troublesome, however it still isn’t possible to throw everything I have on there. Instead I need to decide exactly what story I want to tell, and what data is needed to tell it.

Unfortunately as it stands my story is still more interesting than the data I actually have available. As it stand, and data are all still suggestive, and although my hypothesis are logical, and based firmly in evidence, they haven’t yet borne fruit. Which is a shame, as there’s a good chance I have a very exciting orange tree, albeit one which could still easily yield lemons. (See what I did there! And you thought I was going to torture that analogy.)

There is also the issue of timing, which is going to make me sound like a right liar to anyone keeping count. Much of my poster is cribbed directly from a presentation I gave a month ago, and since then I have been making all the strains and materials necessary for the next steps. In the last few weeks I haven’t actually got any new data, but I have been reasonably productive. This however does mean that there are several important experiments that I have queued up to run in the immediate future. Thus the number of results I can legitimately claim to have ready in the ‘next few weeks’ is frankly a touch silly1. There is also the serious possibility that I will get at least one of those results between printing the poster and attending the conference.

Sorry, that was a particularly rambling self interested entry. More of the pretentious pseudo intellectual claptrap, ill informed opinions, or embarrassing streams to derivative dreck classified as creative to follow soon. Not to mention plenty of self deprecating attention whoring.

  1. Having said that, results in science always seem perpetually three weeks away. Just like all those inventions which are always five or ten years in the future. []