Wednesday, 31 October 2007


I wouldn't normally waste blogspace on reality TV, but if I'm honest I have a very soft spot for Strictly Come Dancing. I am therefore one of the disgruntled masses who are incredulous about the premature eviction of Gabby and James. Not that Penny and Ian should have gone either, but it was ridiculous that this was the composition of the dreaded 'bottom two.'

I mean seriously, let's compare this (skip to 1:30):

with this horror (skip to 1:15 if you want to spare yourself extra pain):

In one word: hmph!

(It's ok, guys, normal service will resume shortly)

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Libraries Gave Us Power

library books Originally uploaded by timetrax23

I am a firm believer that local public libraries are Very Important. They enable anyone to access information for free, provide a focal point for the community, and promote literacy, which is a Good Thing. Libraries should be cherished and supported. So there.

As to the last time I actually used our local library? Well..ahem...erm... it was a while back. Sufficiently far that I can't remember. I can make excuses about local libraries not providing sufficiently specialist resources for a post-grad, but the reality is that I like buying books. I like buying them, I like owning them. I even enjoy reading them, although it would be a lie to say that I've read every one that I own.

I was in Waterstones the other day, casting around for something new to read, and was suddenly faced by the rather unappealing prospect of paying £8.99 for a 220 page Penguin Modern Classic. This seemed more than a bit excessive, and the local library, the source of so much enjoyment during my childhood and teens, suddenly came to mind.

So today I made my first trip there for ages, and came away with said 220 page classic, a contemporary novel and a modern history book. All free. No extra consumption, no worries about where I'm going to store them. Should have done it sooner. I hearby resolve to make better use of my local library.

When did you last visit yours?

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Moral Relativity


Sunday, 21 October 2007

What would Noah do?

It seems that SPCK, a Christian publishing firm and chain of booksellers, has been having trouble lately. Following a takeover from a charitable trust, various changes have been made to the management that have unsettled things to the extent that vast numbers of shop staff are resigning, and the chain looks as though it might go under. I won't go into all the ins and outs (of which you can read more here and here), but I was rather struck by one of the quotes on the Cartoon Church blog:

“Every time someone buys from Amazon, rather than from a bookshop, that is
another nail in the coffin of a Christian retailer.” - Wesley Owen* Spokesperson

This made me feel a bit of a pang of guilt, given that I have used Amazon on more than one occasion to purchase 'Christian' books. So, I went to have a look at the SPCK online catalogue to see what they had in the way of youth ministry resources.

What I found was...nothing really. Which isn't to say that they don't sell anything I would want to buy, but that their website is rubbish. The only options are to look at 'New Releases', 'Bestsellers' or to do a search for titles, authors or publishers. There is a 'category' search, but you have to use one of their predefined terms which, although containing a wide range from 'Adventists' to 'Zoroastrianism', manages to completely omit 'youthwork' or 'youth ministry'. So how am I supposed to find anything, if I don't know that it exists in the first place? How are you supposed to browse? At least Wesley Owen's site allow you to do that.

It doesn't take a genius to make a business useful to its customers. And much as it would be sad to see the demise of a Christian bookshop chain, it doesn't seem that they want to actually help their customers. So what should I, as a Good ChristianTM, do to help keep them afloat? I guess the only option is to do my browsing on Amazon, and then search by title on the SPCK site, and buy the books at a higher price. I'm not really convinced, though, that a business should rely so heavily on Christian charity to keep its head above water.

*Another Christian bookshop chain.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Another humourous interlude

Haven't posted any cartoons for a while and this one made me smile:
Cyanide and Happiness, a daily webcomic
Cyanide & Happiness @

[PS. If anyone has any suggestions on how to edit the html to make it small enough to fit on my blog properly, please tell me!]

Friday, 19 October 2007

Coming of age

I'm not sure I like personalised marketing. Well, I'm not sure I like marketing in general, but the personalised sort can get just a little bit too...personal.

I turn 25 quite soon, and I haven't yet decided whether this calls for a quarter-life crisis. Someone, however, seems keen that I should have one. I possess a loyalty card for a well known high street purveyor of cosmetics, medicines and the like. Periodically they send me vouchers to get money off or acquire more points on products I frequently buy, or more expensive equivalents (what a surprise).

The most recent mailing I received from them, however, offered me discounts/extra points on the following items:

  • Own brand pain relief tablets
  • Glycolic Peel
  • Dermatological eye patches - 'a temporary eyelift effect without surgery'
  • Support tights.
What do you think they're trying to say?


Woo! According to sitemeter, my blog has now had over a thousand hits. Some of them were even from other people! Gosh.

Thank you to the individual who did a Google search for 'London Review of Breakfasts' and got this entry. It was your hit that pushed the counter over into four figures. I hope you found my post helpful!

Monday, 15 October 2007

Joni Mitchell may have lamented that they 'paved paradise and they put up a parking lot' but it turns out that New York's yellow taxis aren't all bad for the environment. According to an article in Resurgence magazine, over the next few years, the city's taxis are going to be replaced by hybrid vehicles

This is a really positive move for New Yorkers who will experience cleaner air as a result. But I think it's also a fantastic publicity opportunity for greener transport in the US. On the basis of what I've learnt from a book I've nearly finished reading, it seems that our transatlantic cousins have a bit of an addiction to the internal combustion engine, and the car industry has something of a reluctance to move on. If an increased domestic demand for hybrid vehicles develops, however, perhaps it'll act as the trigger for change.

(This post is in honour of Blog Action Day. Oh, and I was originally going to call it 'Big Green Taxi' until I looked again at the Resurgence piece and realised they'd got there first. Darn.)

Monday, 8 October 2007

Anatomy of a PhD

Most PhD vacancies in the UK come with 3-4 years funding attached; even if you haven't written up your thesis in that time, the research council will stop paying you.

Now the layman might reasonably assume that this structure suggests that the student spends 70-90% of the available time gathering data, and the remainder writing this* up in the form of papers and a thesis. Fourteen months into my lab-based PhD, I'd like to suggest an alternative structure:

Year 1
Month 1
- Learn where stuff in the lab is kept.
-Try to understand the title of your research project.
Month 2-12
- Learn the basic techniques for your research. This may involve having them demonstrated, trying them for yourself, then repeatedly needing reminders of the finer points of which you forget a different one each time you carry out the experiment.
Month 2-8
- Potter
Month 8-12
- Feel like you're starting to get some command of what you're doing. Then learn a whole new bunch of techniques and feel like a newbie again.
- Have an unsettling conversation where someone says to you 'Oh, did nobody tell you that X is done like this...?' Feel a bit peeved/confused/stupid.
- Be told that something is easy/straightforward and then come up with every mistake in the book.

Year 2 Getting down to some serious work. This may involve:
- Generating weird data that prompts every senior/more experienced person you consult to say, "Ooh, that doesn't look good. I don't know what's causing it though."
- Fail to find any helpful advice for your problem in the literature. Know deep down that your bizarre data is ten thousand times more likely a glitch in the experiment than a significant discovery.
- Develop a force field that causes every piece of equipment you want to use to break or malfunction.
- Write 15 drafts of your transfer report (to have your study upgraded from 'MPhil' to 'PhD' status)
- Have serious doubts about (i) your research methods (ii) the validity/importance of your overall study (iii) the purpose of your own existence.
- Discover that coming in on a Saturday is no longer a weird concept.

Year 3 (please, God)
- Finally get some of your experiments going.
- Bid farewell to any residual social life
- Generate that much longed-for data.
- Write up.

So I'd estimate around 6 months of useful data generation in the whole process, and a few marbles lost along the way. I hope the taxpayers are happy.

*Yes, I know 'data' is a plural, but talking about 'these data' sounds a bit unnatural and poncy outside of the context of a research article.

Sunday, 7 October 2007


Apparently, clergy who wear dog-collars out in public are at risk of being attacked, and should remove them when off-duty, according to a study by National Churchwatch.

Now, obviously I don't want clergy (or anyone, for that matter) to be subject to attack, publicly or privately. But I have a few issues with this advice. Firstly, it only serves to play into the hands of aggressors. If somebody is provoked to violence by something like that it says far more about the aggressor than it does the concept of wearing a dog collar. Secondly, it seems to be another example of Christians having to make concessions to secularism when other religious groups aren't; if you replace the words 'clergy' and 'dog-collar' (which in itself is not a very complimentary description of a 'clerical collar') with 'Rabbi' and 'Yarmulke', I would imagine a fair degree of outrage in certain quarters that people were having to take these steps to ensure their safety.

Finally, I would quibble the notion of 'off-duty' clergy. Certainly I think it would be unreasonable for parishioners to harangue their clergy with non-urgent matters in Tescos, but the idea that clergy are ever truly off-duty mistakens religious vocation for shift work. Religious dress can be a signal to other people of adherence to a particular belief system, but it can also be a reminder to oneself of one's commitments.

(And before you ask, I don't think that what I've written there is at odds with my earlier post about abstinence jewellery in schools. Different issue).

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