Wednesday, 5 November 2008

TED Talk: Rives on the Internet

I saw this video on the TED website and it put a huge smile on my face. As part of my work over the last few weeks I've become mildy addicted to the videos on TED. A significant portion of my hard drive is now consumed with videos from the site. All of them are free to download, free to promote, free to pass on. Go and see if there are any there that catch you fancy - I would be very much surprised if there is not something for everyone.

My personal favourite: Joshua Klein talking about the intelligence of crows, and how he designed a vending machine for them to use. Quite simply, one of the best talks I've ever seen.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

So What Happened?

Basically, I finished my writing every day for a month, got caught up in tutoring for three days on a workshop and then started working from home. For some reason it felt like when I was at home I had to work, even though when I was doing my PhD (and working for the grad school for those three weeks) it never seemed to bother me if I wrote two or three blog posts some times.

Has been an interesting couple of weeks. I've got another two workshops lined up over the coming month, and have been commissioned (in the first instance) to spend a day developing an outline for some new online resources for the university's Graduate School. I'll be doing that this week, before the workshop this Wednesday to Friday, and if the man at the top is happy on Thursday then it looks likely that I will be commissioned to actually make the resources. I'd say there's about a 75% chance that that will happen, he seems really up for it.

Above and beyond the financial reward for doing it, there are two other reasons why it would be very good for me to do it:
1). It gives me valuable experience of actually being able to do these kinds of things, developing resources being the other half of the job that I'm carving out for myself.
2). By developing multimedia resources it gives me a very cool showreel of things that I can show potential clients.

An added bonus is that the man at the top has said that I can sit down with him and copy his list of contacts for people in his position at other institutions, and then he'll give me some pointers on what to put in a general letter/leaflet that I can send out.

So all is going well, even if I feel like some times I'm not progressing as quickly as I would like. I've been to a couple of courses on being self-employed, and also one on tax for the self-employed. Just have to keep on top of my records.

So there it is. All is well. Just a bit busy. And National Novel Writing Month is just around the corner!

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Day 30 - Work Work Work

Thirty days. All done.
I wish that this post was longer.
But it isn't.
Work was busy today - and tomorrow, when I start tutoring, it will be even busier!

More soon.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Day 29 - End In Sight

A short post today: London was good, especially not going around all of the sites as I've tried to do in the past. We didn't go to Hyde Park or the Houses of Parliament, or Downing Street or Leicester Square, or the West End or Soho. The Tate Modern on Saturday was tiring enough by itself! Lots of interesting things in there, some cool pieces... And I can now say that I have seen a video of a naked man rubbing cream on himself, jumping up and down a bit while wearing a monkey mask.

It was just so nice to have a weekend away from the norm. Maybe I said that at some point in one of my phone posts, I can't quite remember. I finished reading Hyperion by Dan Simmons, which was an interesting book but which left me a bit bemused at the end. Watched a lot of Stargate SG-1 at my friends' flat, went to church yesterday morning for the first time in a long time, and that was alright too.

This morning coming back I had just under an hour to spare and breakfast to get at Euston (by the way, in case you don't know, and despite what you might have heard about its services, the London Underground is amazing). Ended up getting some breakfast thing from Burger King - tasty, but bad idea, a bad, bad idea.

The salty, starchy, crisp hash browns which are no doubt incredibly bad for me kickstarted a need for junk food that I don't often get - and this lunch time when I went out to get some samosas I ended up coming back to the office with a caramel slice and a can of Coke!!!!!!!

For a long time my Coke habit has been once a year, if that... It's been twice in the last two months now... I think I might be getting addicted again. I don't even like the taste really, I just saw the red can and needed it...

Right, another half an hour in "work" and then home. Going to the library this evening, time to take my books back and find some other fun stuff to read: fingers crossed for a good popular science book and maybe a book on magic tricks!

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Day 28 - Weekend in London

Ah, this is the stuff. Don't get me wrong, I think London is way too big, way too noisy and way too crowded for me to ever want to live here - although, you know, never say never - but if you're visiting there is always something to do.

It's the middle of Sunday afternoon, and we've just got back to the flat after church and lunch and a wander across and around London Bridge. Yesterday we had a lazy morning followed by a walk to the Tate Modern (there's a post coming, possibly tomorrow, on modern art) then came home, had a roast and watched TV while chatting away. Brilliant.

It's been really great just to get away and out of the regular routine for a couple of days - even though the routine lately has been highly irregular - and to have a break. It shocked me a few weeks ago when I realised that this was going to be my only holiday for the year; I've had days off, but none in a row, and I've not been away except for work-related stuff.

That said, my life is pretty exciting (and a little scary) lately with all of the changes that are going on. I'm glad to have this break but I don't want to be away for too long - there's so much great stuff going on in my irregular life!

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Day 27 - Metropolis

This will be quite a disjointed post I think, seeing as how it is being written from my phone and my phone doesn't give me a great indication of sentence/paragraph length.

Another reason it will be quite disjointed is that what I'm going to say hasn't really been thought through properly; this is also a reason why the post might be on the short side, as my argument and points run out of steam.

In coming to London for the weekend, and having spent a good portion of the week thinking about lots of different things relating to futurism, society and open source concepts, I'm wondering whether humans are really meant to live in such massive social and physical constructions. We (in the UK at least, and to some degree I think in the US) see the same headlines rolling around all the time, at least it feels that way...

"Climate change" - "Obesity/Healthcare" - "Terrorism" - "Financial Crisis"

All of these are really complex issues, and we see on the TV and in the papers - well, on news sites - how people are trying to make a dent in them: renewable energy, reducing carbon footprints; education for the young on the importance of living healthily; preaching tolerance and reducing civil liberties; ... hmm, has anyone got an idea of how we approach the economic downturn?!

However it has occured to me that all of them have a root cause that I think is being completely overlooked: we did this to ourselves, not recently, but years and years ago when our ancestors started moving into cities... When we stopped buying food locally and instead bought preserved food shipped from halfway around the world, and later ready meals pumped with calories and chemicals but no nutrition... When we started on a path of exploiting "less developed" nations (for their own good, naturally), preaching "do as I say, not do as I do"... When we bought into the idea of centralised economies and currencies, piggybacking finances from one institution to another, and all the while spend-spend-spending because "hey, why not? And it keeps the economy going!"

We poisoned the well. We got too big for our britches.

Is the real root problem capitalism, and those sneaky, shady, omnipresent corporations? Is it governments running agendas, playing games above our heads? Is it just our own apathy, saying "it'll all work out, now move out the way, Big Brother is on"?

While I can't quite articulate my reasons on the subject yet, I'm beginning to wonder if the problem isn't just something as simple as this: as the size of a society grows the chances of that society failing increases exponentially...

These are all just thoughts, no conclusions, observations without solutions, tapped out on a small object of metal and plastic that wouldn't be possible without modern society.

More soon.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Day 26b - Sleepwalking to Dystopia

I saw this shocking post on the rollout of biometric radio chip embedded ID cards for migrant workers in the UK - with the added thing that this was a pilot scheme that would eventually widen its arms and embrace the whole population - and literally sat with dropped jaw and stopped heart.

Have you ever read a story or seen a film about a dystopian future? 1984, V For Vendetta - heck, even Equilibrium - we read or watch these and shudder, and think "Well at least that couldn't happen to me, to us, at least we're safe in our world." And we think, what must have happened for that world to come into being? How could a society let that happen? How could we allow the authorities to take our rights away from us, how could we let them spy on us all the time and make us feel guilty just for walking down the street, worried that we would be stopped for no reason?

We are living in the back story. This - the world today - is the prequel to that society.

Day 26 - Off To London

The last time I was in London was about six months ago, and I was there for only about six hours all in all (I was invited to give a talk in Essex, and didn't have time to stay over, literally there for the afternoon). I've never actually stayed in London more than one night, and although I've been there for a day's sightseeing before I've never been for a weekend or a short break.

Quite looking forward to it; have no big plans, other than trying to see if I can persuade my friends who I'm staying with to go and see Avenue Q - I don't really know if it is there sort of thing or not, but I've wanted to see it for quite some time now, and I've never seen a West End show.

If the weather's nice then we might go for a bit of a wander. I like the area around the Embankment, and Hyde Park is quite nice on a sunny day. Taking my camera and going to force myself to take lots of photos, it's quite difficult for me. I like taking pictures so that I can have something to look back on, but at the same time it always seems like something I forget to do because I'm so busy trying to enjoy myself in the here and now.

(my two weeks in Japan was an exception - I had to fight to stop myself from taking pictures there, and also struggled with the number of pictures I could take. Am thinking that for my road trip next summer I'll be figuring out some kind of external hard drive arrangement so I won't be limited on the number of pics I can take)

Sunday will be interesting, as am going to church with Chris and Charlotte; it's the first time I will have been to church in over a year (save for my nan's funeral in April). I've not been mainly because I don't know where I would worship. My previous church just didn't feel like home any more, and the other churches in the area similarly don't feel like they have much to offer in terms of worship or people of my own age. My mum's started going to a new church, so I might try that with her one Sunday. Anyway, this Sunday will be interesting I think, possibly challenging.

Alright then, back to work. I will keep the blogging up over the weekend, but probably from my phone, so posts might be a touch short, or possibly expressed strangely (I find that the small screen effects sentence and paragraph length when I've written on it in the past).

Have fun, see you next week - four more posts to go before I finish my goal!!!

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Day 25 - DO NOT WANT

Admittedly some of my blog posts over the course of the month have been a little light on content, but today was the first day when I've woke up and really struggled to think about what I might write. Not to worry, I thought, something's bound to strike me at some point over the morning.

Well, it did. It struck me and knocked me down.

Now, before we go any further (and because I hate spoilers myself) let it be known that I am going to be talking about the book I Am Legend and the recent film starring Will Smith. I might even find myself talking about The Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price or The Omega Man. Let's see what happens.

Once again, SPOILERS!!!

Empire posted today about plans to make a prequel to I Am Legend. The title of the article was enough to make me sigh deeply, and then look heavenward and ask God, "Why? Why??? WHY?!?!?!"

I've wrestled with my thoughts on I Am Legend since I saw it for my birthday in January. It's one of my favourite books ever, a book that I read at least once a year and have done so since I was 17. It's amazing, it's just fantastic. The protagonist isn't a superman or exceptional in any way other than the fact that he is the last man alive in a world of vampires. He is an ordinary man surviving in extraordinary times. That he then goes on, and motivates himself to try and understand why the world has turned out the way it has gives us a brilliant story, one of the best in science-fiction and certainly the best vampire story (as many have claimed) since Dracula.

Why is it then that every film adaptation of it has somehow got it wrong? Strangely, the first, The Last Man on Earth, gets it most right, keeping 90% of the story and putting Vincent Price in the title role - only the slightly ropey direction and lifeless supporting cast (even for vampires) undermines it. One has a sneaking suspicion watching it now that the same script made with a bigger budget would be really interesting to watch.

The Omega Man just made me laugh for the most part: jettison the vampires, throw in some crazy Luddites and a group of young and groovy kids who've somehow survived while Charlton Heston lives it up in an apartment fortress... Where would I begin? Where would I stop?!

And then there's I Am Legend... I was quite hopeful about this. The trailers promised quite a lot, and one can't deny that there is an unsettling beauty in all post-apocalyptic films of a similar bent (28 Days Later springs to mind) where one sees the cities that we all know, not in ruins, just unpopulated, or overgrown. You can't really fault Will Smith either, who really gives it his all. There are two big failures in the film: the first is the script, which throws out the vampires again in favour of people "infected" and all but rejects the notion of these different humans forming their own societal structures (there are faint traces of it, but they're totally unexplored, and lead to the audience having to make some pretty big leaps to jump the plot holes); the second is the use of CGI to create superhuman monsters which nearly all look the same and hardly ever look convincing.

I appreciate the different narrative structures in novels and films, and that some times in adapting works of fiction from one medium to another (or even one time setting to another) changes must be made. But why do we have to change the plot so much? The ending of the film just didn't fit with the book at all, and the "legend" was the final insult, taking away all the dark poetry of the final page of the book and turning it into something mealy-mouthed and wishy-washy.

(I have to confess that I didn't say this at the time when I saw it; I went out for my birthday with a friend who I was hoping to form a relationship with. Afterwards, over dinner, I was a bit non-committal about the film - I praised the look of it a lot I think - and tried to impress on her that the book was much, much better)

And now, now a prequel is in the works? Just... Why??? Is the box office the only thing that matters any more? Wait, am I kidding myself, was there anything other than the box office that ever mattered? What would a prequel add to the story?

We know how the world got to the way it is: the film showed us that in flashbacks. We know that Robert Neville will survive, because he's in I Am Legend. We know what happens to his family. So what does that leave us with? An action film of set-pieces, showing the last days as the population of New York are whittled down and Robert Neville plays scientist in his basement?

Sigh. Rant over. Hollywood, if you're listening, when it comes to adapting works of fiction in to films think about the following: you're adapting something because you think there is a fan base for it. You're adapting it because you think that there is something good about it (however we want to define "good"). Novels are not films, I accept that, but keep this in mind: change of pace, not change of plot.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Day 23 - Worst Case Scenarios

I've been reading Open The Future for a while now; in some of the things that I think about in connection with science and science fiction it has certainly helped make me aware of things that futurists think about, the level of complexity that they go to in working on their predictions.

In my work that I've been doing with the graduate school I've been thinking about themes for workshops that are going to be run over the next nine months for first year graduate students. Some of these are on things like the future of energy production, meeting the water needs of a growing global population and something that I think is really exciting: "mind and the future of humanity".

Whilst doing some browsing on Open The Future I came across an eschatological taxonomy, that is a classification of end of the world scenarios. While the results get more and more unsettling as you read down, they're also really interesting to read just what it would take for these situations.

Case X is supposed to be the kind of ultimate direction we're headed according to some writers: humanity evolves into hyper-intelligences living alongside artificial intelligences running on computing platforms of smart matter, orbiting in shells surrounding the sun, planets dismantled to make more smart matter, every piece of matter in the solar system just soaking up sunlight and thinking, thinking, thinking...

(Case X+X in the comments of the taxonomy made me laugh out loud. Luckily no-one was around)

How optimistic/pessimistic are you about the future of the world/human race? Where do you see us heading?

Monday, 22 September 2008

Day 22 - Another Way to Die

Recently I asked people about their favourite Bond themes, and I wasn't quite sure why I did. I know that I was listening to the "Best Of Bond" at the time, but I've been doing that a lot recently.

Why? Could it be because Quantum of Solace is coming out soon? Very possibly.

Forget the film for now though, what's the Bond song like? People said it was going to be Amy Winehouse, then they said it would be Duffy - finally Alicia Keys and Jack White were announced as the lucky/unlucky two (delete as applicable, Bond songs are a double-edged sword for the performers I think).

And now the song is out there for people to listen to, and you can listen to it here. I quite like it - it doesn't grab me in the same way that "You Know My Name" did, but there's something new there in that it's the first Bond theme duet. It's quite funky, and I wonder how that'll work... I think for me, I can't quite picture the title credits with this music, but I'm sure that far smarter people than me are at work on it.

What do you think?

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Day 21 - Iron Chef

My youngest sister moved out to go to music college last Sunday. The house has been a little bit quieter since then, but I think we're still trying to find our "family dynamic" now that there is one less person living here.

One thing that we're doing is to take it in turns to cook; previously the cooking was shared by my mum and youngest sister since they were usually the ones who were first home from work. My first turn to cook is coming up on Tuesday. I think I'm making something with pasta: when I started to tell my family about what I was thinking of doing (minced beef, onions, garlic, grated carrot, peas, tomatoes and a little tomato puree with pasta) my sister screwed her face up and said, "Ergh, I'm not eating that."

It's the same whenever I cook - I'm not a really experimental chef or anything, I always look for recipes and/or try to emulate things that I've seen elsewhere (at least when I cook for others; I have been known to make some truly awful things for myself after wondering What will that taste like?) but my family always moan. They moan before I cook, they moan when I come to them and ask a question... They usually have no choice but to agree afterwards that the end result wasn't half bad, but still I have a reputation as being the worst cook in the house.

Yes, I did recently serve my mum sausages that were raw in the middle (I took them back and finished them!).

Yes, I have cooked lemon and lime chicken that my sister christened Chicken a la Fairy Liquid (and then admitted that it was pretty tasty).

Yes, I burned a croque monsieur the first time I made them (it was one of the first times I ever cooked, and I ate the burnt one - they have never, ever let me forget that I burned it).

My family don't seem to understand that I want to be a better cook, and that a bit of encouragement rather than putting my cooking down would probably help, as would not moaning if I ask them a question. Anyone want to volunteer to tell them?

If I think on I'll take a picture of the resulting meal and divulge my secret recipe on Wednesday!

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Day 20 - Fun and Games

Was so nice to have a lie-in first thing this morning. My goodness, I think I really needed it.

Today is going to be pretty good I think; a group of friends from uni are going to go around to our friend Freddie's house for the afternoon, the plan being to watch some Asian cinema and play some computer/video games. Later in the afternoon we're going to make some pizza as well. One of the people coming is going shopping at a Kurdish/Turkish market this morning and so we're going to try our pizza with some Turkish sausage that she's picking up.

Am I boasting about my cool Saturday plans?


What are you up to this weekend?

I think tomorrow I'm going to start planning some of the things I need to do this weekend. I need to get the ball rolling on registering as self-employed. I need to order myself some business cards. I need to start writing addresses down for the network of contacts I need to build in order to get as much out of this year as possible.

And I'll try and update Racing Entropy as well! Have let that go by the wayside a little bit since I've been writing here every day. Blogging every day has been good in that I've rediscovered what I really like about blogging - but I don't have enough hours in the day to cover two blogs! From the start of October I'm still going to continue to blog every day, but will probably have to split it between the two.

In November things will inevitably slow down as NaNoWriMo arrives...


Friday, 19 September 2008

Day 19 - Curious Symmetry

It was recently the BA Festival of Science in Liverpool, and of course the maths department was involved. One of our prominent researchers, Lasse Rempe, was involved in organising a big seminar on chaos and fractals. Shortly afterwards he was asked by the BBC to produce an audio slideshow talking about why this is a really interesting area, and I think that the finished three minute piece is really interesting - and even if you don't really get any of the maths involved it produces some stunning looking images.

It was a big surprise then when I saw that io9, a science-fiction and science blog that I recently started reading, had linked to the same thing today! I forwarded it on to Lasse and also some of my friends from the department, who were all surprised at it being picked up by another site on the internet.

Other than that, I have nothing else to report today: I am absolutely shattered from a day spent running around for a conference at the university... 11 more days of daily blogging to go! Hopefully some of them will be interesting posts too!

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Day 18 - Tired!

This working for a living is tiring! Why can't I just continue to get paid for surfing the internet and doing the odd bit of research?

I'm kidding, I'm really loving what I've been doing this week so far; has been really interesting, have had lots of great conversations with people that have really given me some thoughts and insight into this area I'm trying to get into. Was also great to sit in on sessions between tutors and their groups and get a feel for the dynamic needed to facilitate personal development effectively.

Have also been given some encouragement to develop things that have been discussed in the office, so am hoping that I'll be able to write notes for some case studies down in the next few days and present them to the director of training, see what he says. Might even be developing some podcasting/multimedia resources with the graduate school, so that's pretty exciting.

Spent the morning today looking into registering myself as self-employed (question: should I trade just under my name or should I come up with a company name, and if so what should it be?), and then some time this afternoon helping with setting up for a one day conference tomorrow.

It's all great, it's been a great week - but I am knackered! I got too used to getting up after 7, pottering around and taking it easy before going in... Another early start tomorrow, but then the weekend is here...

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Day 16 - Changing Traditions

Day two of my employment with the graduate school, and interesting things feel like they are developing! It's nice to know that others think you are a valuable person to have around: the director of training for the grad school came around before and said that he was glad I was here and if he could he would have me around all the time in a glass box ready to smash open in case of emergency.

Which I think was a compliment...

Also been picking one of the tutor's brains this morning on being self-employed in Britain today and how one goes about doing that and making sure all legal requirements are satisfied. For a long time, even though I've been going down a route kind of in academia, I have had a feeling that I would like to be self-employed. I'm not blind to the hard work and possible instability involved in that - my father was self-employed for many years while I was growing up, and I remember that life wasn't always easy for us financially when I was little (although I didn't recognise it at the time). His father was self-employed for his whole life, and his father before him.

I think that while I was growing up I romanticised "being your own boss" a little, but never knew where I could apply that in my own life, or where I might be able to apply it when it finally came time for me to leave education (as a student) and find work. My dad worked as a market trader and also in fairgrounds, my grandad did a lot in his life and knew about fairgrounds, mechanics, general DIY, everything really. I don't know much about my great-grandad (Josiah), but I do know that he started his own business with a handcart, buying bags of sawdust and wood chippings from a lumberyard and carting them somewhere else where he could sell them at a profit. He saved and expanded, got a horse and cart and was able to do more, and eventually moved into fairgrounds and amusements I think.

(I remember being told, although I have nothing to back this up except my memory, that at some point my family had the first portable kinoscope in England, and would show early film demonstrations at fairgrounds; like I said, I have only a relative's word on this, but it would be amazing to find out if that was true)

Times have changed. Fairgrounds are for the big boys now, the established ride owners, and the markets were on their way out over ten years ago. So maybe I won't keep the "family tradition" of self-employment alive in that respect, but perhaps I will be reinventing it for myself, taking the skills and knowledge I have out there and being self-employed my way.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Day 15 - Halfway There

Britain - indeed the world - is heading for a recession. We're told every day on the BBC that this is a certainty. Food prices are on the increase, petrol prices have only just started to come down after the price of oil dropped and we're warned about the worst winter fuel prices in ages. Banks collapsing, banks being bought by governments in order to prevent further economic downturns, it's all doom and gloom.

So why did I receive a random letter today offering me a credit card? Why would any financial group offer me a credit card if we're in such desperate times? And - unbelievably - I would get £100 (nearly $200) just for signing up. Then I saw that the typical interest rate was 39.9% APR.

And that explained it. Obviously they hadn't done their research and noticed that I hardly ever use a credit card, have no debts (other than my student loan) and haven't got a mortgage or a car or any of the other things that would mark me as someone worth a gamble on for racking up debt.

Do people really go for these things? I was shocked when I checked the small print: "typical APR" might be 39.9% but could go as high as 59.9% APR depending on which "bracket" you fell into!!!

Despite recessions and economic downturns, has anyone else been offered dubious credit cards and loans lately?

First day on the job was alright; I think it will be better tomorrow, the participants have nearly no contact time with tutors tomorrow, so hoping to pick the brains of the tutors on the course and get some tips about putting together case studies and developing sessions. And if that doesn't really happen and my workload is as light as it was today then I'm going to try writing a piece of fiction that has been going through my mind.

(I promise this a lot, I should just put half an hour aside every day... I should, I should)

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Day 14 - Robinson Crusoe

Just a short post today; I went to the cinema this afternoon (The Dark Knight called me back for a third viewing) and in my travelling I've come within twenty pages of the end of Robinson Crusoe, which I'm reading for the first time.

I've really enjoyed reading it, and I'll put a more full review up over on Racing Entropy at some point over the next few days (as time with my job allows); I've loved reading of Crusoe's resourcefulness, and also of how his faith develops over his years on the island. In the final quarter of the book a sentence really jumped out at me though, and I felt I just had to share it.

Crusoe looks within reach of leaving the island, having found some allies (after nearly thirty years of solitude) but the course that they are about to take is dangerous, confronting many armed men. Someone points out that they are in a terrible situation, and that they might be injured or killed in the attempt.

I smiled at him and told him that men in our circumstances were past the operation of fear.

Anyone else read Robinson Crusoe? I've really enjoyed it, and felt I had to read it since it is said to be the first novel in the English language.

More this week, nearly halfway through my month of daily writing! My how time flies.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Day 13 - Overclocked

It hit me about an hour ago that I'm in work on Monday! This is exactly what I wanted - to be working - but it's just dawned on me that I can't continue getting up at 7:30 and then commuting in about 10am after a leisurely breakfast (shall I have scrambled egg today? or weetabix?) and reading blogs. No sir, from Monday I'll be out of the house by 7:30 most days!

(well, for the next two/three weeks at least...)

I'm actually quite excited about it all, as I think I might have let on yesterday. It feels like there is a sea of possibility opening up in front of me and I just have to brave enough to paddle out from my island in my little canoe and see what I can find.

(excuse the oceanic imagery, I'm two-thirds of the way through Robinson Crusoe)

As with NaNoWriMo, I'm finding that once my brain gets itself turned on creatively with one thing all sorts of other things start opening up as well. That maths puzzle that has been giving me trouble? I thought of a new approach to it! Bit fed up with some of the games I've been playing? Heck, I'll download some game making software and make my own! Lost about where to start with the editing of my first novel? Totally open up the first act, double the length of that at least, take the imagery from the first chapter but place it in a different context, lose the twins from the bookshop and shorten the chapters, rough it up a bit. Just write!

This is my thesis: commit to one thing, get fired up about it and then all the rest will start coming too.

It works.

(irregular service resumes tomorrow, have a good Saturday night!)

Friday, 12 September 2008

Day 12 - Serendipity

Don't you just love it when a plan comes together?

Today is my last day in Room 524, my working "home" for the last four years. Thinking about the future hasn't worried me per se but it has been something that has been on my mind of late, I have to admit. I had ideas for how to get to where I want to be (i.e., surviving financially for the next ten months while building up my experience in the area of postgraduate skills training) but didn't know what the route to accomplishing those goals.

So I arranged to meet someone more in the know, pick his brains a bit and try to get my foot in the door. I was hoping that I might be allowed to come in and observe a few workshops, see how things ran, that was what I was praying for I guess.

My prayers were more than answered.

So. Let's tick these things off as they came through:
1). I'm going to be employed as a tutor on a career skills workshop in November ("enterprise skills") for four days. Good experience and a decent wage, very high hourly rate.
2). I asked if I could observe a workshop; I was told yes, and oh, there's one starting next week... Actually so-and-so is away and we're a bit short-handed... What are you doing for the next two/three weeks? Result: two/three weeks employment now (general temp wage but experience and more foot-in-the-doorness means I'm very happy indeed), starting first thing on Monday.
3). Since we're going to employ you in November and you've not done one before it would be good for you to get some more experience... Well, we'll employ you as a tutor on one of our first year skills workshops some time before then - and we'll pay you the normal tutor rate for that too. It was at this point that I was mentally doing my little happy dance.
4). As part of my observations in these various workshops I'll be looking at developing some resources too, sessions and case studies for groups to consider. There's potential that after they are trialed here they could become part of a much larger collection of resources that are available nationally!!!

Reality Check: It's early days for all this I know, and I don't want to get too carried away with all the excitement. However, I think I'm off to a good start and I'm so thankful that this has all come together. I had faith that it would; something similar happened as I was finishing my Masters and faced with the prospect of sudden unemployment and imminent financial hardship - not quite what I was facing this time, but it feels very good that things have lined up once more. I knew that they would, but had no idea just how well things would come together.

I'm going to throw it out there to the audience: what do you think of serendipity, when things just come together and give you a really great set of circumstances? When have you experienced it in your own life - or do you think it's just a load of rubbish?

In all this happiness I am still quite sad at leaving Room 524. There's still a few things to do, empty the recycling bin, steal some office supplies, pack away the electronic Cyberman that I got for one birthday... I'll miss this place, but things have been winding down for a few weeks now. It will be strange not being here, but I'll still be around. My place of work for the next few weeks is just two buildings over, so that might be even stranger, to be around but not be here.

"But then again, all good things must come to an end..."

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Day 11 - Several Links

Well, following the LHC being turned on yesterday we all seem to be doing fine. Fortunately someone out there is keeping an eye on things for us!

I've just downloaded Cory Doctorow's latest book, Content, a collection of essays and talks on "technology, creativity, copyright and the future of the future." I've really enjoyed Cory's fiction, and I like his writing (usually found first over on Boing Boing) on things like copyright and civil liberties. It's downloadable for free under a Creative Commons license, so if you want something that is guaranteed to be interesting to read then go take a look.

You can go and watch someone demonstrate their homemade wrist-mounted flame cannons here. OK, so who really needs wrist-mounted flame cannons - but what a great piece of engineering!

Karl Pilkington has started a blog to help promote his next book (Karlology, what a brilliant title); there's only a few entries up at the moment, but this is sure to get interesting over the coming weeks...

It's my penultimate day in my office at uni; have moved nearly everything home, starting to feel a little wistful. Or at least I was until I had a meeting this morning which offered some very promising things for me to think about. Some quite exciting things actually. I should hear back about one of them this afternoon or possibly tomorrow morning - and if I do and it's all good then I will reveal all!

1:35pm and I'm starting to hear my stomach growl. Hopefully a friend is going to swing by soon and we'll grab some lunch!

Yours hungrily,

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Day 9 - Split

My head is banging. I don't know why. It started just after I got from lunch with a friend who is visiting for the BA Festival of Science; we went to a place I knew of but had not visited in nine years of being at the university. The food was really tasty; all this time I've been getting samosas on the days I haven't brought sandwiches when I could have gone for salmon goujons, potato wedges and peas... Maybe it's just as well: my waistline would have increased and the contents of my wallet would have decreased in direct correlation.

Headaches. They're like colds, they're just so inconvenient...

Since coming back from lunch have spent my time setting up the address book on my new webmail account (which is, incidentally, with GMX). Then sent out the usual mass emails, "Hey everyone, this is my new address..." I think I'll be going home soon, have taken paracetamol, but it now feels like the headache -formerly contained on the right side of my head - wants to party all over the inside of my skull.

Just waiting for a break in the clouds and then am going to make a run for it I think.

What are you all up to this fine Tuesday?

Monday, 8 September 2008

Day 8 - Busy Busy

I had a few things that I was going to write on today, but none of them were coming together as I had originally thought. And then I saw the following video over on io9 and I knew that it was all I needed for a blogpost. Videos like this are the reason that popular culture is just awesome...

Like I said: awesome!

Have had a reply to one of my tutoring ads today, which is good; have half finished the transfer of files from my uni desktop, going to load up a suitcase on wheels with stuff that I have to take home (even after putting over 5000 sheets of paper in the recycling there is still a ton of stuff to take) and then if I get a chance this evening I'm going to think about a piece of flash fiction that has been running through my mind for a few days.

A question to the writers out there: do you have any strategies for getting stuff written? How do you beat the procrastination demons? I have a few things that I've tried before, but they only seem to work during NaNoWriMo...

Right, back to work - listening to "The Best of Bond... James Bond" - which leaves me with another question: what is your favourite Bond song? Song, bear in mind, not film: I really like "A View To A Kill" by Duran Duran but think the film is pretty dire.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Day 7 - Free Reading

Why haven't I been a member of the library for years? I remember that I gradually drifted away from being a member of my local library about nine years ago because I was slowly becoming dissatisfied with the book selection; at the time I was reading nothing but science fiction, and having read most of the books from their sci-fi collection that I fancied I just stopped going and switched over to buying books.

Amazon helped keep the cost of buying down, as did 3-4-2 offers at Waterstones - but at the end of the day books aren't all that cheap anymore (in the UK; I think mass market paperbacks in America work out much cheaper than the average paperback here), and with me being between jobs at the moment I decided that it was a good time to give the library another try.

Time has changed two things: firstly the library's collection of books has had the best part of ten years to grow; I spent a very happy half hour just wandering around and taking it all in, then selected a couple of sci-fi books that I had thought about buying before - but was now willing to take a chance on - and "Physics of the Impossible" by Michio Kaku, a book that I had heard about and looked interesting (and was!). It was a book I would never have bought, yet being able to borrow it from the library allowed me to learn a lot of really interesting things.

The other thing that has changed with time is me: I read more than ever now, and am much more open to reading fiction from different genres. Nine years ago I would never have thought to go and look through the crime fiction section; when I went two weeks ago I was looking for Henning Mankell, Mickey Spillane and many other authors to see what kind of selection was on offer. I also had a wander around the general fiction section, noting authors and books that I will borrow in the future.

If you aren't a member of your local library I would recommend you check it out!

(Note: I was not paid or persuaded by any group, agency or person for this public service announcement)

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Day 6 - A Saturday of This and That

It's Saturday evening, I've had a fun day of wandering around Liverpool, looking at posters for the BA Festival of Science and catching up with my friend Julia who is showing a poster there. Less fun was trying to avoid the crowds who were all out to see La Princesse (click here to see my photos, if giant metal spiders interest you).

Have been doing a bit more thinking about tutoring maths; I wrote a little about a different model for tutoring in another place (well, the fact that I was thinking about it and not getting very far) and someone suggested that I could put up videos of me tutoring, or of me explaining some basic concepts and then put some email contact details at the end. I'm intrigued - it's not a direction I was even thinking of going in, but could be tempted to explore.

A few days ago when I first mentioned maths tutoring Bilbo asked me where I was when he was having trouble with maths in college! I thought I'd open the question up to the audience: what didn't you get about maths in college/high school?

No plans for Sunday as yet, but am sure something will come along. I've just bought a bookcase to try and do something about the rampant entropy in my bedroom; I think tomorrow I'll try and organise things a bit more, maybe finish my library book ("Accelerando" by Charles Stross) and then work on doing some more C++ programming.

Yessir, since finishing my PhD I am living the high life...

Friday, 5 September 2008

Day 5 - Lull

Took the day off today. Was hoping to get a bit of work done this afternoon, but it just never happened. Suddenly it was dinner time, and then suddenly it was 8:30! Where does the time go?

This morning I went to see La Princesse, a giant metal spider that has been created as a piece of art/theatre for Liverpool 08. It's amazing, a genuinely wonderful thing to behold.

Then this afternoon and this evening I've been thinking about how/if one can apply Cory Doctorow's approach of giving his books away for free to the act of tutoring... It's a long story, and I'll try to post something coherent on it tomorrow. I started to write about it earlier but it just wasn't coming together.

I'm tired now. More tomorrow. I leave you with a picture of La Princesse.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Day 4 - Thursday Thirteen

Thirteen Things I'll Miss Now I'm Finished With My PhD
1). Brilliant Internet Connection - need I say more?
2). My friend Rachel - I started my PhD at the same time as her; she's already left for a job in Canada, and I miss her terribly already.
3). My office - it's noisy at times, cold in the summer, boiling in the winter, but it's been where I've worked every workday for four years.
4). Having the time to sit down, take an idea and just run with it.
5). Conferences - "What's that? You want to pay for me to go to the south of France for two weeks? Oh, OK, I suppose. That week in Newcastle when I went to the bar with the dancing cowgirls almost finished me off, but I suppose, if you insist..."
6). An abundance of people willing to explore interesting ideas at the drop of a hat.
7). My desk - it's in my office, but it's great to have a workspace, right next to the window, well lit, big space... I look up and there's the wall with my posters and postcards... I've already had to take them down to make things easier for going.
8). Teabreak at 11am - I can always make myself a cuppa, but it's not the same if it's not made by Joan, the department's tealady...
9). An abundance of people willing to talk rubbish at the drop of a hat.
10). Teabreak at 11am redux - four years of sitting down for half an hour to chat about all kinds of things; a necessary break from research.
11). Two words: stationery cupboard.
12). Eleven minute walk to the comic shop!
13). Memories associated with the department... Too many to list.

All good things come to an end, and that's not a bad thing... New beginnings are always around the corner.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Day 2 - Ugh

"Mummy, what world record shall I break?"

"Well darling, you could try sitting in a bath of beans... Or maybe remembering pi to a certain number of places... Or well, you could even train for years as a top athlete and try to set a record in one of the semi-useful things like running or swimming, something like that."

"What if I just put a load of snails on my face?"

"Um, that might do it too..."

I saw this on Boing Boing and was totally grossed out. Ricky Gervais talked about bizarre world records in one of his podcasts ("If you can run 100m backwards in 12 seconds then turn around, because I think you could run it forwards pretty quick too!"), but this takes the cake, it really does. Just... Why? The original story was posted on the Daily Mail website, and in it the girl describes the sensation but not the why behind doing it. The picture I've put in here is OK, but you'll have to go and look on the Daily Mail for the picture of her with all 25 snails on her face.


Guiness World Records have rules covering people putting snails on their face. Think about that!

Monday, 1 September 2008

Day 1 - The Bad Beginning

Apologies to Lemony Snicket for borrowing his title... I've decided that this month I'm going to try for one of my 101 things, number 22: "Blog every day for a month on Cognitive Blindspot." I've neglected this blog quite a bit over the last few months as I've finished up my PhD, and it's about time that I started writing more often. September is going to be a busy month for me, but then so is nearly every month: the whole point of National Novel Writing Month (coming soon...) is that busy people can actually find time to do more things so long as they set themselves goals to work on.

A daily blog post, every day, for the whole of September. Will be good to get writing practice in for November...

Am currently working on setting myself up as a private maths tutor, as well as trying to get my foot in the door on various postgraduate training related things. Had wanted to set myself up independently on the maths tutor front, but have slowly come around to the idea that I might have to go through an agency in order to get names... This is a bit rubbish because it means that I will have to give a cut of my earnings away, but at the same time at least I can almost guarantee that I will have clients (it worked very well last time, which was five years ago).

We do what we must I suppose.

So, in the coming weeks: Wordless Wednesdays, Thursday Thirteens, random reportage and some thoughts on things that I've been thinking about.

Stay tuned.

Friday, 29 August 2008

The Open Road

It suddenly dawned on me just now that I hadn't shared a very important piece of news on this blog! I mentioned it on my 101 Things in 1001 Days blog earlier this week, but it's too cool a piece of news to keep to just one blog: next summer, me and my friend David will be going on a road trip across America!

As it says over on that post, details are coming together, mainly because David works abroad and it's easier to have discussions now while he is here rather than at other times in the next ten months while. We have a basic itinerary together; the broad strokes of the route we have planned is "New York, Washington, Nashville, Memphis, Chicago, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco" but there's time for this to change. I've insisted on Denver because I have a friend in Fort Collins; David has insisted on Memphis because he wants to go to Graceland.

We've both insisted on Las Vegas: neither of us really gamble, but we have heard from too many friends who have been there before that it is just a great place to visit.

We're very open to suggestions of destinations along that route, and if anyone has suggestions or advice on good/cheap motel chains to stay in then we'd be very happy to hear from you!

More on this in the coming months...

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Wordless Wednesday - Almost!

This is an almost Wordless Wednesday, in that this one paragraph directs you to do one thing: go to this location, download the recording of Clair de Lune, allow yourself to take five, sit back and listen.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Christmas in August

Christmas might be many months away, but when I saw this yesterday I was just tickled so much that I had to share. I talked a little bit about Karl Pilkington recently over on Racing Entropy, I just love the way he describes how he thinks about things, especially stories about his own life.

In other news, I took my thesis to get bound yesterday, should get it back by Friday at the latest! Looking for holiday possibilities - four and five star resorts on the Costa del Sol seem quite nice, and aren't that expensive as all-inclusive things. Only problem is that none of them say whether or not there is complimentary wi-fi access in guest rooms...

Monday, 11 August 2008

Seal of Approval

After nearly four weeks of waiting on my examiners to get back to me, I decided to write to them last Friday and check how things were. The word came back (promptly) and told me...

...that everything was fine! They're happy with my corrections!!!

My internal is going to sort out the paperwork tomorrow, and after that I just have to get three copies bound and submit officially. Oh, and then graduate in December - but that's just the formality really, to all intents and purposes my PhD will be over.

Four years is a long time. And yet it seems like no time at all. I remember turning up for the first day of my PhD - heck, I remember turning up for my first day of university, remember the start of my first lecture (the lecturer said, "There's an Arabic proverb: three things come not back; the said word, the sped arrow, and the missed opportunity. Don't waste your time while you're here!") - and now all of a sudden four years has gone by. What happened?

I have a few things that I have to take care of here, some of the things I mentioned before, and then things like talking to my supervisor about publishing papers and so on. Will start moving some of my stuff home today I think. Job hunting has not been successful, but in a way I was hoping that it wouldn't be, I was hoping that I could take the time to take a holiday in September. It looks like I'll get my wish!

No plans yet, although I've started to look. noisms, as per usual, has failed to get back to me about whether or not there is a good time to visit in September, so am looking elsewhere. Had thought about doing a whistlestop tour of various US states, but then stories about border policies concerning laptops, digital media and books has put me right off.

So now I'm toying with the idea of just going to a resort in the south of Spain for two weeks. Lie by the pool every day, read a few good books, do some writing, maybe work out a bit. Just something relaxing... I'll let you know what I decide!

Oh, and over on Racing Entropy I've finally gotten around to doing some flash fiction writing! It's amazing how much time writing a 250-1000 word story can take... I'm going to have to really try hard to reach my goal of writing another 100 of these before I turn 30. Anyway, my first piece is up here, and feedback is most definitely welcome.

More soon!

Wednesday, 23 July 2008


Have nothing booked holiday-wise this year; has been difficult to book something when I've been going after jobs and waiting on my examiners to tell me if my corrections are OK. I've been waiting for noisms to tell me if there is a good time to visit him in Japan sometime in September.

Now, thanks to a link from Boing Boing (which is fast becoming my favourite blog, and I know it's been around forever but I only started checking it about three weeks ago) I think I might just go to Japan in September regardless of whether noisms is free...

Basically, girls in cosplay dress guide you around Akihabara! Genius!

(also on Boing Boing, an interesting post about raising a chimp as a human...)

Tuesday, 22 July 2008


Took the day off yesterday to do a few small errands, go on a little walk and then stand on the riverside with about a bajillion other people and watch the start of the Tall Ships Race as it left Liverpool. It's not that the ships weren't impressive, because they were something special to look at - it was just the waiting around, the delayed start... By the time a dozen ships had finally passed us (with the promise of another fifty something to come) my mum and I were just a bit fed up.

Oh well, at least it was a nice day.

A little too nice... Finally we got a little sunshine. Just before we left the house I thought it might be a good idea to take some sun cream, you know, just in case. While I was there, standing on the riverside, I thought it might be a good idea to put a bit of cream on my neck and arms, because the sun was shining down on them, and I was facing away from the sun.

I never thought to put any on my face or - and this is crucial - take my sunglasses off.

Cut to yesterday evening, 8:30ish. "Nathan," my family say as one, cracking up, bent double with laughter, "Go and look in the mirror." To use their (rather cruel) words, I "look like I've auditioned to be Batman's sidekick." I'm not really red, not badly sunburnt, but enough to really see where I had my glasses on.

Sigh. The little things are sent to try us.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

What To Do?

When I posted about Dr Horrible a few days ago (and by the way, you have until midnight tonight to go and watch it for free - it's brilliant, watch it!) I forgot to mention that I submitted my corrections on Tuesday. Quite a good feeling to get them handed in, but then comes the stress from just waiting to hear if they're going to be accepted. So far I've just had my external write to say that he got the file... No idea how long I'll be waiting.

Still, it's not all stress. Sent off my passport renewal form on Wednesday, so am hoping that I'll have my passport soon, have the freedom to travel. Have come up with a plan for the next few months (if the jobs that I'm currently applying for don't come to anything), and am sure that I will survive by giving maths tuition.

It's sunny today, but still pretty cold. Crazy that it's July and we've had virtually no summery weather at all this year. The wind's picking up again too. All probably the result of global warming, but well, one would hope that a side effect of global warming would be that it was warm...

Today: write postcards, write one piece of flash fiction, get down my plan for a piece of maths I'm working on (no rest for the wicked), and I'll also probably spend some time sorting through things for my other 101/1001 challenges.

So... How are things?

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Dr Horrible's Sing-Along Blog!!!

This morning I watched the first part of "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" and it really is a winner. Great characters, catchy songs and a neat reversal of the superhero-can't-be-with-the-woman-he-loves trope. And it's also very, very funny! Act I was released yesterday, Act II goes live tomorrow and Act III follows on Saturday, and they're all online and free - but only 'til Sunday! So act now!

(after that I think you can get them from iTunes, and a DVD will apparently be out in due course)

Seriously, I can't recommend this highly enough for sheer entertainment value: go and watch Act I right now!!!

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Long time no blog

The corrections are almost done. Almost. This weekend I'm sitting down and reading through each chapter just to look for typos or clumsy sentences. Two down, five to go. Make the corrections Monday and Tuesday, send the drafts off to my examiners and cross my fingers...

I'd like to say that life then gets back to normal, but given that that will pretty much be the end of my PhD days, it won't really be normal any more. The job hunt goes on, but nothing has concrete has come up yet - I've found an opening in Edinburgh that I'm going to apply for, but I'm currently looking at going on an extended holiday of sorts in September. Hoping to come back and start providing private maths tuition again after that in order that I'm not hitting my savings while I look for more permanent employment.

Am hoping to also get into the swing of accomplishing things from my list of 101 things. One thing that I'm going to start working on is sending 101 postcards; if any of you want a postcard from Liverpool then let me know! Email me at "Nathan (dot) Blah (at) googlemail (dot) com" and who knows, in the near-ish future one could be winging its way to you...

Smells like dinner is almost ready, so I'd best be going. More from me soon I hope.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Easy like Sunday morning

Apathy has set in with my corrections. Have only a few big things left to do, but feels a bit overwhelming, and overwhelming has now progressed to "oh I really can't be bothered."

Am going to try and think about my corrections today, but am also planning on writing a short story as part of my 101 things in a 1001 days challenge. Although I started one a while ago, it kind of lost its way; I think one which just came to me when I woke up yesterday morning has some legs, and I even have a title in mind, again, which just came to me.

But is it any good? Time will tell.

Also need to sit down and sort through things in my room today. Moving out is a while off yet, but need to start lightening the load that I'll be taking with me. Charity shops and eBay will be taking a lot from me over the next few months I think!

What does Sunday hold for you?

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

"Wordy" Wednesday - Rabbit

This is not going to turn into a blog where I just post links to cool things on Youtube... Well, I'm not actively looking to turn this into that kind of thing!

Instead of a Wordless Wednesday, as I've done a few times in the past, this video is quite wordy - in fact there are words all over the place.

Oh, and it's also (in my opinion) a little disturbing. In a good way.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Very poor choice of words

Sigh. Still over a month until The Dark Knight comes out in the UK...


Thursday, 19 June 2008

Two Weeks?! Really?

Kind of surprising to me that it is over two weeks since I last wrote on here (not quite sure why noisms hasn't been writing either). Lots of this and that been happening, so I'll try and fill you in a bit.

(if you're interested that is - if you're reading this then perhaps you are)

Have started work on the corrections for my thesis. Has been going quite well all in all. Had to spend last week at home because the office was getting painted (except that never happened, the painters never turned up, and this being the University of Liverpool no-one is surprised); I got a lot of done in terms of planning my corrections, but not much in the way of actual corrections. Was this because I had ordered the first three seasons of The X-Files on DVD (they were very cheap)?


This week I've got a lot more done; finished most of the corrections in two chapters, updated all of the diagrams that needed changing, and corrected typos and grammar problems that I'd noticed in three other chapters. I spent yesterday working from home, and actually got quite a bit done; I was reworking one of the chapters, and when you get into it you can really let yourself go in thinking about how and why you decided to arrange things the way you did. It's crazy! Everything seemed so straightforward before, but now things are looking so much better in this chapter. It's quite cool to be working on it.

What else? Not having much luck on the job front. Haven't seen anything in the last week or so that I fancy; although I am starting to look further afield and trying to think of things that I could do that are slightly out of my area but I might be suitable for. Am also looking for a holiday this summer - the big debate at the moment is whether or not to consider going abroad as I need to renew my passport. Saw a return flight to Dublin for 2 pence including taxes which was a bit of a bargain. Am looking a bit further afield as well, but waiting to hear back on a few things.

Downloaded Firefox 3 for my laptop yesterday. Shiny. Not sure how the RSS feed stuff works yet - for some reason, despite mastering LaTeX, Maple, understanding the basics of webpage design and so on, I just can't quite figure out how to get RSS feeds to work... Want to set up and configure Thunderbird soon too, get myself ready for the day when I'm kicked out of the office and have to rely on my setup.

And that's about it. Read a few good books. One was Cory Doctorow's "Little Brother" which you can download and read for free under a Creative Commons licence; it's a good near-future thriller with some interesting points about the rights of individuals during times of crisis, and along the way I learned some pretty useful things about the digital world we live in now.

More soon, am trying to get back into a regular updating pattern.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

That's It?

I had the viva for my thesis yesterday, and passed.

There was no parade, nor was there a party, an award, a presentation of the key to the city or a clip of me on the evening news.

Not that I was expecting any of that, but I was expecting something. Feels like a bit of an anticlimax. I mean, yes, sure, I've passed my viva and that's great, it really is - but it feels like there should be something more after three and a half years of work.

It's possible that I'm still just too exhausted from spending three hours standing and talking and doing stuff on the blackboard to really appreciate the significance of it all and bask in the knowledge that I have my PhD...

(or will do when I complete my corrections in the next few months and then attend a graduation ceremony in December)

I am happy that it went well! I should be writing a little more frequently in the coming weeks and months now that the pressure is off: my next big challenge is to find a job...

More soon.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Friday, 23 May 2008

Those Damned British Badgers

Stop the presses. British soldiers can "categorically state that [they] have not released man-eating badgers" into Basra.

SAS Staff Sergeant or Man Eating Badger? You decide.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Those Naughty, Naughty Athletes

Blimey, the athletics world is really going down the pisser, isn't it? This last 12 months, not only have we had Marion Jones being convicted for lying about her use of performance enhancing drugs; we have also seen Tim Montgomery get a 46-month prison sentence for check fraud and Dwain Chambers launch a High Court appeal to have his lifelong ban for doping overturned in the name of Unfair Restriction of Trade.

The last one is easily the most interesting. The name Dwain Chambers probably won't mean much to people outside the UK, but his story is an interesting and instructive one. Once mooted as a possible candidate for the fastest man in the world and Britain's best sprinter by a long shot, a few years ago he was found to have been taking practically every drug in the book, from THG to HGH to insulin, and banned for two years by the World Anti Doping Agency - but for life by the British Olympic Association. He's now fighting to have the latter ruling overturned by mounting a legal challenge and claiming that the British Olympic Association is unlawfully restricting his ability to make money as a professional athlete.

Dwain Chambers. Cheating.

The nerve of the man is incredible, but what's even worse is that he seems to think that, by dishing the dirt on the methods used by drugs cheats, he should be allowed off the hook. It's almost like he's been watching Goodfellas and thinks he can pull a Ray Liotta - then maybe get on a cushy deal with a witness protection scheme. (Although it's fair to say he wouldn't be able to get into the Olympics then...) In any case, I'm always dubious about people asking for "second chances" in situations like this; I think when someone is genuinely contrite they tend to slink off into shameful oblivion, not clamour for another bite at the cherry. If anything, to do what Chambers is doing is to rub his crime in the face of other, honest athletes all over again.

I wonder if athletics will ever be able to resurrect its image after the hammer blows it has been getting in recent years. Worse than the cheating of people like Chambers and Marion Jones is the cynical lying which they practiced for so long. Jones especially used to be strident in her condemnation of drugs cheats, while she was committing the same crimes all along. The hypocrisy almost feels worse than the act itself.

Anyway, it's difficult to imagine a kid waiting for the Olympics this time around and the chance to watch a true great like Carl Lewis or Michael Johnson in action. Instead the overwhelming feeling will be, I think, "When's it going to come out that the gold medalist has been rubbing himself all over with testosterone cream?"

Friday, 16 May 2008

A Strange and Portentous Article

There was a very weird article on the BBC website today, discussing Hillary Clinton's "exit strategy" from the Democratic candidate race. Go ahead, take a look. See if, when you get about halfway down, to the Bad Tidings sub-section, you find it as strange as I do.

I mean, what? Are we really living in a world where journalists are analysing Hillary Clinton's withdrawal from the race and seriously suggesting that she won't listen to senior democratic figures who are white males (Al Gore, Harry Reid) nor black males (James Clyburn) telling her to quit, but she might listen to white women about it? That really seems to be the inference we're supposed to draw: society in America (or, at least, society within the Democratic party) is now so stratified that women won't even listen to men for advice any more and white people won't listen to black people.

This is a white woman

It's... I'm not sure what the word is, but it's definitely something. My suspicion is that political journalists have become so used to analysing Clinton's support in terms of white women and Obama's in terms of African-Americans that they've managed to enter a sort of collective alternate reality where such things really are important. I can't seriously imagine that it really is the case that Hillary Clinton would only accept being told to quit if it came from a white woman. I refuse to believe that anybody would take such things even subconsciously into consideration, and I find it worrying that journalists are entertaining the notion that they might.

These are not white women

Journalists are silly people, you know. They really are. The more news I read, the more often I come to this conclusion.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Thursday Thirteen

Thirteen Pieces Of Software I'm Installing On My New Laptop

1). OpenOffice - because Microsoft Office doesn't cut it anymore.
2). Adobe Acrobat Reader - the version it came with was quite out of date.
3). DivX - a codec, but an important one!
4). Adobe Premiere Elements 2 - how can I be an auteur without video editing software?
5). Adobe Photoshop Elements 4 - because the camera never lies...
6). Darwinia - because everyone needs a fun game to play.
7). Civilization IV - well, a game or two...
8). Firefox - once you've tried Firefox, you never want to go back to Internet Explorer.
9). Inform 7 - I'm planning my first interactive novella!
10). SNES Emulator - OK, so maybe I need more than one or two games...
11). AVG Internet Security 8.0 - better safe than sorry.
12). A TeX editor - looking around for one at the moment; important for me to be able to keep writing maths professionally.
13). AudibleManager - so I can finally take the original Ricky Gervais podcasts home with me!

More soon.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Thursday Thirteen

Thirteen Things I Look Forward To Doing In My 101/1001 Challenge

1). Edit/rewrite my 2006 NaNoWriMo novel.
2). Attend a live opera.
3). Visit the US.
4). Write 101 pieces of flash fiction.
5). Buy a laptop (working on it...).
6). Make a short animated film.
7). Learn ten card and coin tricks.
8). Re-read all of Calvin & Hobbes.
9). Write another three NaNoWriMo novels.
10). Replay and complete Resident Evil 4.
11). Watch 25 classic films I should have seen but haven't.
12). Buy a Wii.
13). Learn to cook ten meals well.

The full list is on Racing Entropy here!

More soon.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Tuesday, 6 May 2008


After a lot of thought over the weekend, and especially some sleepless nights, I decided not to put myself forward for graduating this summer.

Why? Well, I reckon I've put too much work in to the last three and a half years to go and worry and stress and rush my way through my corrections and risk messing everything up at the final hurdle. In the next month or so I have to prepare for my viva, collect together some files and work for a couple of papers, possibly prepare for and have a job interview (and if not, then keep on searching for gainful employment), maybe even go off for UK GRAD training to get tutor training...

It's a busy and stressful enough time, without burdening myself with the added stress of worrying as to whether or not I could complete my corrections in under a week.

Feel so much better since I decided that. First round of exam invigilation this morning went well, a mixture of reading through my thesis and reading Iain M. Bank's "Matter".

And I started the day wonderfully by watching the new trailer for The Dark Knight... Glee!!!

More soon.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Bank Holiday Blues

When I was a kid I always looked forward to Bank Holidays; for those not in the know, Bank Holidays in the UK are Mondays in the year when traditionally banks and shops were closed, and people were entitled to the day off work. These days it's just the banks and schools, and some offices perhaps, that get the day off. When I was a kid all of the shops would be closed too.

When I was a kid we kind of looked forward to Bank Holidays, because there was always something to do. Either I'd go and help with my mum and dad on a bank holiday market, or me and my sisters would sleep over at my grandmother's house. Sometimes we'd go on trips with my mum, there was always something happening.

At 27, Bank Holiday Mondays don't seem to have much going for them. I've been at a total loose end all day (nevermind the rest of the weekend), bouncing from reading 'Matter' by Iain M. Banks, to shopping for a laptop , to watching 'Walk The Line'...

Hmm, doesn't sound so bad when I put it like that...

More soon.

Sunday, 4 May 2008


It's a three day weekend in the UK (the May Bank Holiday), but I've had trouble relaxing and enjoying myself in any way really... The main obstacle is due to a meeting I had on Friday afternoon; I can't say exactly what it was all about, but one thing that came out of the meeting was a suggestion that I could still graduate in the summer graduations (June 30th).

Great, huh? Why would that be stressful? Well... The final deadline for when all corrections, paperwork and my three hard bound copies would need to be finished is ten days after my viva. But while that is the ultimate deadline, there is a closer deadline that one department has which could mean I would have to be finished just two days after my viva... Given that the binding process required by the university is usually a next-day service, if there is no lee-way in the two day deadline then I have no chance of graduating this summer.

So I have to email that department, in order to find out exactly what has to be done by when, but I also have to email the graduation ceremonies division as the deadline for submitting your intentions regarding graduation was Thursday (of course!). My mum pointed out on Friday evening that I also have to look into hiring academic dress for the ceremony - except unlike my undergraduate degree graduation I'm not 100% certain at this point that I will graduate, so don't know if I can even book a gown and mortarboard. I'm trying to ask all these people what needs to be done and by when, totally unsure of whether I can even get my corrections turned around in that time frame - until the viva I won't even know if I have minor corrections!

Sending these emails on Friday whilst it was all fresh in my mind was necessary, but has subsequently meant that it's been on my mind all weekend... It was so much simpler when I was just going to graduate at Christmas and I only had my viva to think about.

Exam invigilation for the next two weeks, so plenty of time to prepare for the viva... And with about a month to go before the viva there's bags of time to get totally freaked out about the whole prospect...

More soon.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Only in Japan

There's one of those stories on the BBC website today that tends to make people in Western countries scratch their heads and say, "Only in Japan": it's about a local council worker who accessed 780,000 pornographic websites over a 9 month period while supposedly at work. (During the "peak" of this period - if that's not an unfortunate phrase to use in the circumstances - he was hitting 177,000 a month, which works out at around 20 for each minute he was at his desk. That's each minute, I say again. Each minute.)

What's more unusual about the story is that the man in question wasn't sacked; he was just demoted and lost some pay. This is for presumably doing nothing for nine months except look at porn. I'd heard that Japan has some very proactive labour laws, but blimey. I wonder what he would have had to do to get the sack.

Actually, scratch that. I don't wonder about that at all. Let's pretend I never brought the matter up...

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Prudes and Lebanese Eyes

I'm back now, after a few weeks of being a busy bee. Well, more of a lazy bee, I suppose. One of the ones who drinks pure alchohol and guzzles all the honey.

Anyway, I'm going to come over all postmodern and 'laddish' here with my first entry back, and say, straight away, I'm in lust with Haifa Wehbe, the former Miss Lebanon, who I have just discovered thanks to this article. Damn that evil BBC and its articles about beautiful women.

It's an interesting read, actually, I must confess. And of course, like most men regarding Playboy, I only read it for the, er, article. The head honchos of Bahrain's parliament, you see, have decided that Wehbe is just too damn good looking to give a concert in the country, lest it cause riots and mayhem and other wailing and gnashing of teeth amongst the male populace of the country.

It's a strange world. I can understand social conservatism on most issues - in fact I suppose I am a social conservative in general terms. And I can see the argument whereby religious people might not want to be tempted into sinful thoughts by an attractive member of the opposite sex. But I'm much more of the persuasion that the human body is a wonderful, natural thing, whose beauty should be cherished. Also, I like girls.

I apologise if this entry is somewhat incoherent. Blame Ms. Wehbe's eyes. Praise God for those eyes.