Monday, 30 July 2007

Something to work on

As the first anniversary of starting my PhD draws very close (gagh!), I've realised that, whilst I am committed to what I'm doing, I still have a long way to go as far as being a good technician goes. There's certainly a bit of a discrepancy between what I write in my lab book and what it will need to look like in a paper one day. For example:

"Sample X – not entirely great

Slide messy – wash went a bit awry "

Precision. Yes, that's what's needed.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Ginger's Guide to London Streets: Photos

It occurs to me that if I carry on being as snap-happy as I have been for the last couple of installments of my guide, it won't be long before I reach the limits of how much I'm allowed to upload onto this blog. So I've decided to set up a Flickr photostream to accompany the series. It can be found here. Happy browsing.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Not so white coats

People go into scientific research for different reasons. Some people in response to an intellectual obsession. Some because they want to Make a DifferenceTM. Contrary to what old horror films would have you believe, few people go into it for nefarious purposes. So I did feel some degree of pity when I learnt about the unfortunate Thomas Midgely Jr., an American scientist who not only developed CFCs, but also put the lead in petrol!

It's quite something to make one discovery that has damaging consequences, but two is a little excessive. (For the uninitiated, CFCs are the refrigerants that have damaged the ozone layer, and leaded petrol contributed to air pollution). Mind you, whilst Alfred Nobel's regret that his invention of dynamite earnt him the moniker 'The merchant of death' prompted him to create the famous peace prize, Midgley didn't seem to do much to extricate himself from promotion of leaded petrol, even though he himself experienced the negative health effects. Ironically, it was one of his other creations that resulted in his death; having contracted polio, he created a pulley system to aid him in getting in and out of bed, which unfortunately resulted in his strangulation a few years later.

It can be difficult to predict the future implications of scientific endeavour which appears to be morally and technically sound at the time. I feel that scientists do, however, have a responsibility to try to act if it turns out that unexpected harm is a consequence of their work; to tame the monster they have created, as it were. Midgley didn't seem to try, and this is one of the reasons that, for all the technical validity of his major works, his is not the sort of career one should look to when wanting to find examples of good scientific practice.

Granny knows best - wrap up well.

BBC NEWS UK Call to stop patio heaters sale

And quite right too.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Morrrrny Stannit...

Ah, you've got to admire The Evening Standard's ongoing love of doom. You just know that one of their headline writers cannot wait for the day of the apocalypse, just so they can send out 'The End is Nigh'. In the meantime, however, they have to satisfy themselves with this.

Friday, 20 July 2007

The day the (independent) music (shop) died...

Gagh! Another loss to music retailing!

Following the recent closure of Fopp it seems that another of my favourite music shops is ceasing to be. Essential Music in Greenwich Market is set to close. It was time for its lease to be renewed, and the management were only offered the option of a 10-year lease, and decided that they couldn't commit themselves to such a long period in a changing marketplace.

Part of the blame has been directed towards internet music sales. The irony for me is that Fopp and Essential Music were pretty much the only places that weren't websites where I would still purchase CDs, having gone off a lot of the other music retailers. In fact a trip to Greenwich Market rarely lacked a visit to Essential Music, and coming away empty-handed was even rarer.

Sigh. Things change I guess. A sad day for independent record sales south of the river.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Ginger's Guide to London Streets #4: Fournier Street, E1 (or NW1?)

Over to another part of the E1 postcode and this time Fournier Street. Something that I've noticed, particularly in this area where there is a long history of a lot of these places, is the wide variation in the style of street signage, even on a single street. Parliament Court was a particularly striking example - the sign at the opposite end to the Jack the Ripper graffito was rather bizarre - presumably it was either put there by the council (in which case it's incredibly shoddy), of a member of the public (which would show a curious dedication to signage).

Anyhoo, back to Fournier Street, whether that be in English or an alternative language. I'm not quite sure what point someone was trying to prove with their scribbling (top left) over the 'E1' postcode and replacing it with 'NW1' - perhaps some disgruntled resident was pretending they actually lived in Camden?

Fournier Street appears fairly residential (left) but nonetheless has several points of interest. On the corner, where it meets Commercial Street, is large pub called The Ten Bells (right), which looks as though it has had the same knocked out of it. At the other end of the street is Brick Lane, so we're definitely getting into East London territory.

The street is also book-ended by two quite contrasting places of worship. At one end is the imposing Christ Church, Spitalfields. At the other is the (apparently closed for refurbishment) Brick Lane Jamme Masjid. The latter had an interesting looking sundial near the top of the frontage - I have no idea whether this is a common feature of Masjids, or whether it was perhaps an original feature of a listed building. In The City/East End you never can be sure - I gather there's a building somewhere that has been a Church and a Synagogue and a Mosque at different points in its history.

The housing threw up some interesting sights as well. On one side of the road the houses looked a lot grander than on the other, which seemed to consist more of converted shops, judging by some of the shuttered windows. Not entirely sure why one house had British and French flags dangling out the windows, but I suppose it was Bastille Day. I can't guarantee they would be there for future visits! The most charming residential feature I saw was a house that had obviously been divided in two at some point, but instead of going for the conventional '11a' and '11b', the two homes were labelled '11' and 'Eleven and a half'. (Click on the picture at the bottom for a decent view).

Finally, in one of the more curious pieces of local-authority labelling I've seen, some of the bollards had 'LBTH' on them. It took me a moment or two to confirm my instinctive assertion that 'This isn't Lambeth!?' and realise that it presumably stands for 'London Borough of Tower Hamlets'. A strange measure - perhaps they are worried that if they don't label them, some other council will pinch them. I guess this way they're safe from light-fingered councillors. Unless they are from Lambeth, of course...

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Ginger's Guide to London Streets #3: Parliament Court, E1

I don't often find myself in the City of London (as opposed to the City of Westminster) but I was over there yesterday with a couple of hours to kill and a camera in hand. So don't be surprised by the next few entries being clustered around that area.

Parliament Court is a real hidden gem. I've only been able to pin its exact location down on one map out of three since I got home. Even Google Maps doesn't show it properly - just points to an blank space in between other streets. A passing glance suggests nothing but a fairly empty alley, and I probably wouldn't have noticed it at all if a couple of people weren't stood there looking at a grafitto/mural at one end of it. They were saying something about Jack the Ripper. It may well have been in 'tribute' to his presence in the area, but I doubt the original ever carried a spray can. Like Londonist, I wasn't convinced that, although in a stencilled style, it was the work of Banksy, but it was certainly eye-catching.

I figured I might as well go down the alley, not expecting to find much else, except perhaps for an alternative view from which to take a photo. I was rather startled, therefore, when I came across an even more striking graffito, this time very like a Banksy piece: an armed man firing doves out of his weapon.

I've been trying to work out if I've now seen a Banksy in situ for the first time. On the one hand, the black and white colour scheme, and the stencilled look of the gunman were very reminiscent of his work. On the other, it seems less elaborate than a lot of his
other stuff. The doves looked like they had been block printed on, rather than stencilled, although I don't know if this is significant. Also, it didn't feature his tag, but rather a somewhat undecipherable signature (below). Googling got me nowhere (it just bought up the Londonist article), and looking at maps of the locations of his work doesn't tell me anything either.

So, I'm thinking it probably isn't. But it was a really great piece, and a wonderful surprise to see down a street that I could very easily have ignored. If anyone has any idea who created it, please leave a comment!

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Signs of Geekdom, Part 5

Following on from my earlier series, here are a few observations to add from today's 'achievements'. You know you're a geek when:

  1. You really don't have much to do in the lab that day, but because you've promised to go to a lecture in the evening you stick around instead of sneaking off. You kill some of the time by reading a comic strip about a bunch of PhD students who waste time in between research by surfing the internet, and chuckle quietly to yourself about the irony.
  2. You take a trip to the library and get a warm fuzzy feeling of nostalgia thinking of the days before the bulk of your academic reading involved piles of research papers.
  3. You borrow a few books and feel quite excited by the fact that, due to it being the summer holidays, the 'standard loan' books that you'd usually be able to keep for 8 weeks aren't due back until the 1st October! Woohoo!


Alternative Energy

I promise I'll get back to writing proper posts, but I thought this cartoon from was great. (Even though I'd like to point out that it's a herb, not a spice.)

Edited to add: the fact that I keep posting cartoons on my blog during the day is in no way linked to having a slow week in the lab and trying to avoid doing useful stuff like reading papers etc.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Personal Space Invader

Cyanide and Happiness, a daily webcomic
Cyanide & Happiness @

Monday, 9 July 2007

Semi Finals

Oceans FC continue to dominate, whilst Shrek United are knocked out in the semis of the three-way football World Cup.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Let the Memory Live Again...

Ooh. The Museum of London (to which I pay unreasonably little attention considering I'm a Londonophile) has launched a new project: Map My London. The idea is to 'map' your emotional experiences of London, categorised into a number of themes: Love and Loss, Fate and Coincidence, Beauty and Horror, Joy and Struggle, Friendship and Solitude and What Else?

It's a fascinating idea, and it will be interesting to see how it develops. I don't know how long they're planning to keep it open. I'm not entirely convinced that the site is wonderfully designed. It's quite hard to get a nice neat summary of what it's all about from the home page with its random windows popping up. Londonist do a better summary (once you get past the fanciful intro!) and I found a text-only page on the Map My London site which is a little easier to read.

Right, off to check what other people's experiences of my favourite haunts are...

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright

Some wonderful bits in this week's Now Show on Radio 4 regarding the attempted terrorists attacks:

SP: Well, we all had a lucky escape this week as Britain was saved from two terrorist attacks by the fact... that it's Britain. First, two would-be bombers failed to remember when attacking Glasgow Airport that it would be full of Glaswegians. People who would have no problem repeated punching a man in the face even while he was on fire.

'Glaswegian': Smoking in a public place, eh? Take that, pal.

SP: And in London, one car bomb was only discovered because a drunk clubber fell down some stairs, while a second car bomb was towed away by traffic wardens for being illegally parked. The situation couldn't be more British if Michael Caine was standing outside Glasgow Airport, shouting: 'You're only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!'


SP: Amidst all the fear and panic, what these events showed, I think, is the advantages of taking global warming a bit more seriously. If we switch to a low carbon economy it would greatly help the fight against terror.

'Journalist': I'm here outside Glasgow Airport where, at 3.13, two terrorists attempted to ram the terminal entrance in an electric G-Wizz town car. Witnesses say the two-seater approached the terminal at speeds of up to 28 miles per hour, and smashed up against the revolving doors to the building, only to find that the door had a more powerful motor than the G-Wizz, and the car was soon trapped. One of the men then strapped several solar panels to himself and waited to catch fire...


JH: There was a lot of speculation, of course, as to whether the recent wave of failed car bomb attacks were the work of Al-Qaeda. The general consensus is that it was, but to be honest I'm not so sure. Think about the location of the first one: a nightclub called Tiger Tiger. I don't think it was Al-Qaeda. I'm pretty sure it was the work of William Blake fanatics. "Tiger, Tiger, burning bright"? We are dealing with fundamentalist poets.

It is our goal to bring down a reign of iambic pentameter on anyone who does not appreciate the work of the romantics or the poets of the Renaissance. It is time to get metaphysical. We are the poetry terrorists. Who do you think has been planting those 'Poems on the Underground'? That's right - those nice posters are ours. Death to the limerick! Wordsworth be praised!

JH: They're dangerous, of course, but they're not as bad as the 'suicide poets'. They go to training camps in Japan to learn how to commit haiku.

Well, you've got to see the funny side, haven't you?

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Ginger's Guide to London Streets #2: Stephen Street, W1

So, Stephen Street. Off Tottenham Court Road, and really rather dull. Which doesn't make it an ideal candidate for my guide, but I have a diversion in mind.

When I first considered selecting this street I thought to myself, 'But there's nothing on it'. I've walked down it a few times an
d had no recollection of there being anything of note. It just looked rather officey (see right).

But, stick a camera in my hand and challenge me to actually write about something of interest, and I'll start paying attention. I was rather surprised, therefore, to discover that this humble road is actually home to the library of the
British Film Institute! I could probably be forgiven for this oversight though. You'd have thought such a place would feature an enthusiastic display of the best of British cinematography. Or even the mediocre stuff. A celebration of recent BAFTA and Oscar successes by British actors perhaps? But no, a rather dull building with very little to entice you (left). Hardly inspiring.

Why on earth is this not-very exciting thoroughfare on my personal radar then? For an indirect reason: every time I see the road sign I think of Parklife by Blur, as
Stephen Street was the name of the producer.

Doing a bit of research I discovered that he in fact had a hand in each of their first five albums. (Interesting that his involvement ceased prior to the release of 13, which is my least favourite Blur album by far.) And now I discover that he was also part of the team behind The Queen is Dead by The Smiths. So I'm more of a fan of this guy's work than I realised! Nice to know that the Kaiser Chiefs are still keeping him in gainful Employment.

Seems like a good excuse to celebrate Blur's name-checking of London places and life:


It's six o'clock on the dot and I'm halfway home/ I feel foul mouthed as a I stand and wait for the underground/ And a nervous disposition doesn't agree with this/ I need something to remind me that there's something else.

Blue Jeans

Air cushioned soles/ I bought them on the Portobello Road on a Saturday*/I stop and stare awhile/A common pastime when conversation goes astray.

Best Days

Bow Bells say goodbye to the last train/Over the river they all go again/Out into leafy nowhere/Hope someone's waiting out there/For them

Country House

City Dweller, successful fella/Thought to himself, "Whoops - I've got a lot of money"/Caught in a rat race terminally

Ernold Same (narrated by Ken Livingstone)

Then Ernold Same caught the same train at the same station/Sat in the same seat with the same nasty stain/Next to same old what's-his-name/On his way to the same place with the same name/To do the same thing again and again and again/Poor old Ernold Same

For Tomorrow

London ice cracks on a seamless line/He's hanging on for dear life/So we hold each other tightly/And hold on for tomorrow.

London's so nice back in your seamless rhymes/but we're lost on the Westway

Jim stops and gets out the car,goes to a house in Emperor's Gate/Through the door and to his room then he puts the TV on/Turns it off and makes some tea, says, "Modern life, well it's rubbish/ I'm holding on for tomorrow."/Then Susan comes into the room/She's a naughty girl with a lovely smile/Says, "Let's take a drive to Primrose Hill, It's windy there and the view's so nice/London ice can freeze your toes/Like anyone I suppose/I'm holding on for tomorrow.."

He Thought of Cars

There's panic at London Heathrow/Everybody wants to go/Up into the blue/But there's a ten year queue.

London Loves

London loves/The way people just fall apart/The way you just don't stand a chance/The mystery of a speeding car.

Tracy Jacks
Tracy Jacks saw a Harley Street doctor/Who prescribed healthy living/But he's getting past forty/And all the seams are splitting.

So, a bit of a diversion really. But that's what this is all about.


*Incidentally, I thought Yahoo's lyric's search was supposed to put an end to mondegreens. It records this lyric as 'ports of Bello Road'. Honestly!

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Reflections on Prominent Public Figures

Quite a few high-profile figures in the news in the last couple of days. How they have presented themselves has lead me to conclude the following:

  • If you are a new PM having to make your first emergency address to the nation, and your predecessor was known for being media savvy, at the very least you could straighten your suit, stand up straight, and perhaps work on how you talk head-on to camera.
  • If you are a member of the royal family, you probably shouldn't clap along to music as you just look daft and your timing is invariably out.
  • Goodness knows how many thousands of pounds of private education and military training seem not to have rendered certain individuals capable of public speaking without consulting cue cards every five seconds.

Just my two pence worth, anyway.

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